Tomorrow, I turn forty. It boggles my mind that another decade has rushed by and that I'm now solidly middle-aged. (gulp). Luckily, most of my friends are going through the same thing, so I'm in good company!
I've been thinking a lot about my mom. She was diagnosed with cancer shortly after I turned thirty and passed six months after my birthday. Her death kicked off my thirties and dramatically changed my life. I was left shattered. I still miss and think of her every single day. As I approach this milestone birthday, I've been missing her even more.
She always claimed that her forties were the best decade of her life. I've been trying to wrap my mind around this, because if you look at some of the crap that she went through, it just seems like an impossible statement. My mom had me a few months before she turned thirty-eight and by the time she was forty-two, my father was asking her for a divorce. They had been married for almost twenty-five years and he was cheating on her. He was also an alcoholic and was planning on taking his half of the house they mutually purchased, leaving her in a financial bind. By all accounts, she was devastated and didn't want a divorce. It turns out, the divorce never happened, because my father killed himself in a scandalous (front page headline news)- murder/suicide with his new girlfriend. So my mom was in her early forties and now a widow/single mom with a toddler. This is all heavy enough, but a few years later my mom was diagnosed with cancer. The cancer came right as she was promoted at work and she had to step-down from her new role. All of this crap happened, so how could she think her forties were so great?
I never had the chance to ask her, so this is just me giving my best guess. I think her forties were extremely difficult, but I think she chose to reframe it. She chose to look to the positive. With my father, she had a husband that she loved very much and married when she was eighteen, but it was also a drama-filled, stressful relationship. He was a mess. With him gone, her life got lighter. She could raise me the way that she wanted, without having to worry about his input or shared custody. She was able to keep her house. For the first time in her adult life, she could do things her way. With the cancer, she beat it. And with her job, other opportunities came along. Although the decade started out rough, I think ultimately her forties were a time where she felt strong and empowered.
I'm not sure what my forties will hold for me, but if my twenties and thirties are any indication, I'm ready to expect the unexpected. Life is amazing and unpredictable. It's a wild ride.
Here is the rollercoaster that were my thirties....
This picture was taken at our family brunch in Pasadena on my thirtieth birthday (August 12, 2007). I'm wedged between my aunt and uncle, who both died in 2013. My mom is in the brown top in the lower-right. She was definitely sick in this picture, massive weight-loss, but had not been diagnosed. My ex-husband, who I divorced a few months after my mom died, is in the lower-left. The woman in the grey-top is a close-family friend, who I'm still in touch with. It's so strange to think a decade later, four of the people in this family picture are gone from my life.
My mom died on February 4, 2008 and had been a volunteer for the senior patrol with the Glendale Police Department. The police department insisted on organizing her funeral, which was pretty incredible with hundreds of people in attendance, including the police chief and K-9 unit. My mom was active in raising money for the dogs! The police department planted a tree in her honor at a local park. Here is a picture of the tree celebration that my aunt and I attended on the Arbor Day in 2008. We are with one of the police officers and my mom's senior patrol partner.
My thirty-first birthday was a big deal, as it was the first birthday without my mom. I had a few celebrations. My aunt and uncle took me to our favorite restaurant: Niuport 17. I also had a party with two of my childhood best-friends, Julie and Fanny. I felt and continue to feel, very loved.
Speaking of feeling loved, many of my friends had their first babies around the time my mom died and I feel honored to have been included as part of their lives. I come from a very small family (I'm the only person left in my family), but I've always felt included as an extra family member in the lives of my friends. I absolutely love being "Auntie" to their kids.
The summer after my thirty-first birthday, my ex-husband officially moved out of the state and we are not in contact. Thankfully, our divorce was amicable and he even stayed to help me renovate my childhood home and waited until it was ready to move into. Although the divorce was absolutely necessary, I'm grateful that he didn't make it harder than it had to be.
By the end of summer, I was living alone for the first time, back in my childhood home.
It was a very difficult transition for me. I'm not someone who easily embraces change and I felt lonely. Luckily I was surrounded by friends and neighbors who refused to leave me alone. No wallowing allowed! It helped that I had a few roommates.
My elderly cat, Spotless. Spotless lived until 2009, having to be put down the week after my birthday. I also got into a car accident the same week, hitting a parked police motorcycle. Of course, I knew the Glendale police officer involved and it was a mortifying experience. He thought it was hilarious and no one was hurt. This picture was taken when Spotless was a kitten. I hope it's needless to say, but just in case...I didn't keep a single piece of my mom's furniture!
I had Nicolette, who is still alive and is now an elderly cat. Here's a picture from when she was still young.
On Easter Sunday in 2009, I found a blue parakeet sitting on the grass in my aunt and uncle's backyard. We couldn't find its owners, so I named him/her Cadbury and bought a green mate, named Jellybean. I had them until 2012, when Jellybean died and I gave Cadbury to my aunt's housekeeper.
Slinky came into my life in the spring of 2010. He was a rescue from a bad situation and I adore him.
Holidays were hard. My mom always made the same turkey meal with the same sides for both Christmas and Thanksgiving. We decided that we needed to change that tradition. We went out to dinner at a restaurant for Thanksgiving and my aunt made prime rib for Christmas. My mom always went nuts with decorating for the holiday, but I kept it simple with a miniature tree. Here are a few pictures from our first Christmas without mom. The dog is my aunt and uncle's pup, Molly. It was not my idea to put clothes on her!
In my early thirties, I was still working for Universal Studios Hollywood, where I spent fifteen years. I loved my job, mostly because of the friends that I made working there. In 2011, I had to leave Universal because of nerve damage. I couldn't type as much as I needed for the office work that I was doing. I was offered an alternative position, but declined, because at that point, I was taking care of my aunt and uncle. They both were declining in health and increasingly needed my help. I even moved my cats to their house, with the intention of moving there permanently.
Here is a picture of me at Universal. My office was in the Simpson's attraction!
My early-thirties were fun: traveling, concerts, plays, theme parks, et... My social life was busy with friends and boyfriends. I'm grateful to say that although none of the relationships ultimately worked out, I dated good men, whom I respect. No jerks! I'm also close friends with nearly everyone that I was friends with when I started my thirties and I've picked up a few new ones.
In early 2012, I met a dashing Brit named Dan. It was a whirlwind. An overwhelming, all-consuming, passionate courtship! Despite both being divorced, we didn't hesitate to move in together after the third date. Crazy right? This meant that I didn't permenantly move to my aunt and uncle's house, but I still spent 3-4 days a week in their home.
Since care-taking was my first responsibility, I worked a few odd-jobs. I had a short stint at my favorite department store: Nordstrom. They were a good company to work for, but I'd rather just shop there. I also worked as a dog walker. It's hard to beat getting paid to play with puppies!
I went on my first trip to Europe in the winter of 2013 to visit Dan's family in England. It was amazing and exceeded my expectations. I've been back six times. In my thirties, I also traveled to = Spain, France, Gibraltar, Sweden, Belgium, Netherlands, Wales, Scotland, Canada (both coasts), Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. I've visited several states for the first time : Alaska, Utah, Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Rhode Island. In my thirties, I saw Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and Glacier Bay National Park. I rode in a hot air balloon and a seaplane. I went white water rafting and swam with sting rays.
A few weeks after we returned from my first trip to England, my uncle passed away from heart and liver failure. Although not unexpected, it was a devastating loss. I had a really special bond with my uncle.
Dan proposed to me in the summer of 2013 at Highclere Castle in England, which is where they filmed Downton Abbey! We eloped at the Aria in Las Vegas on November 2, 2013.
A month after our wedding, my aunt had a major back surgery. Although the surgery seemed to go well, a week later, her kidneys began to fail. She passed away a few days before Christmas in 2013. It was shocking and so unexpected. Aside for distant relatives that I've never met, my aunt was my last blood relative. I feel really blessed to have had the opportunity to take care of my aunt and uncle before they passed away. It gave me the opportunity to get to know them and to develop a very close relationship, that might not have happened if we hadn't had such a small family. I also got to witness how their friends really loved and helped them. It made me treasure my own friends (extended-family) even more!
Luckily, when I married Dan, I also inherited a large family! I never thought that I'd have kids, but I now have a wonderful stepdaughter and stepson who live in Sweden. They make me laugh, drive me crazy, and surprise me with the most unexpected moments. Truly, they enrich my life in ways I never expected. I have nieces, nephews, sister and brother in-laws, who live in England; a huge extended family whom I love to visit. My mother-in-law has a fabulous sense of humor and loves books as much as I do. I was also very close to my father-in-law, Dave, who passed away in 2016. Early in my relationship with Dan, Dave visited from England and I took him to Disneyland. If you want a crash-corse in getting to know someone, spend an entire day at a busy theme park with them. We had a blast!
Here's a picture of a 2015 mediterranean cruise that we went on with my in-laws and kids.
In 2014, we sold my aunt and uncle's house, which had been their home for my whole life. We used part of the money to buy a fixer-upper second home in Big Bear Lake.
The house is mostly finished now, but we took it down to the studs and spent several years on the renovation project. I also used money from my relatives to go back to school. I completed a three-year fiction writing certificate course through UCLA Extension. I'm proud to say that I finished in two years with taking more classes than required and I finished with honors. I also had my work-in-progress manuscript nominated for the Kirkwood Prize. I'm still working on my manuscript, but I know it will get done in my forties!
Last summer, Dan got offered an amazing job opportunity in Portland, OR. We've spent the last year living in downtown Portland in a high-rise apartment. It has been a huge adjustment and a big adventure. I've spent most of the year working on my manuscript and staying out of the rain.
We had to sell my childhood home when we moved to Oregon. This was really tough for me. Luckily, one of my closest friends was our agent. She helped ease the transition. It also helped that we got a ton of offers that were well-above our asking price and I had a good feeling about the couple we sold to. They even had a cat named Penny!
We are celebrating my birthday in Big Bear Lake with my mother-in-law. At the end of August, we are moving back to Big Bear, as Dan's company is allowing him to try working from home. I don't think Big Bear is likely going to be our home for long, but it will be nice to actually use the home that we spent so much time and energy having renovated. I look forward to starting the next decade of my life back in California!