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On Saturday it hit me. Like it really hit me.


When Sean said, “It’s this weekend.”


And I said, “My birthday is this weekend?!?” [Wide-eyed look.] “Like this coming weekend. On Sunday?!”


[Wheels in my mind start to spin. Wide-eyed look remains.]


Why the surprise? I’ve been openly talking about it for some time now. And on numerous occasions, I’ve even caught myself saying things like, “Look, I’m nearly 40 years old …” And I seemed totally fine with it.


But this Saturday, while standing in my kitchen with Sean, it landed.


My 40th birthday is less than one week away. On Sunday, February 4th, I turn 40.


I know some will read this and think, “Really, all of 40. What’s your point?” On Saturday evening, I ran into a dear (almost 70-year-old) friend. And when I started telling a long story that somehow ended with me realizing that my milestone birthday is within sight, in his notorious deadpan (actually, sometimes I think he reserves his best rolled eye look just for me) look and voice he said, “I have absolutely no sympathy for you.” And then his friend chimed in and said, “I can’t even remember my 40th birthday!”


I know it’s not 65. And it’s surely not my 90th. But 40 kind of seems like a big deal, now that it’s past something to casually say, and more of a reality.


My best 40th birthday memory comes from my dad’s “surprise” party in 1993. As luck and a small town would have it, someone had spilled the beans, so he knew. And we all knew that he knew what he knew. So that evening, my parents and us three kids headed to the party’s destination (the backroom of a bar on Main Street) in the family car. (I think us kids were with because we had first gone to Sat evening church … before going to the bar … I’m not making this up.) My brothers and I even got to go in and check it out. (I know, I repeat myself; but it was Bowman in the 90s, life was wild.)


We took in the sights of the bar (awesome) and the setup. Among other décor, my mom had ordered Dad a special for the night, and fancy, … boob cake.


(A few years ago, I was like mother, seriously? She laughed and remained steadfast that it was funny then and now. She’s always had a wicked sense of humor.)


Everyone surrounded Dad, which I’m sure he loved, but hated (Dad was a pretty quiet and reserved guy) and we had to immediately go home with our grandparents. And by all accounts, he had a really great night surrounded by those he loved most (except of course his middle child).


I don’t even remember my mom’s 40th birthday a few years later. There was just something about my dad turning 40 when I was in 4th grade. It meant that I had a really old dad. And it wasn’t just me who had that sentiment. A while back, when I told my doctor I was close to my birthday, he recounted his father turning 40. He could picture him in his chair, sipping a beer, with some receding hair. When he looked at what would become a hairless circle, forming on the back of his dad’s head, he thought to himself, “This is it. He only has a few years left.”


I surely don’t feel like I only have a few years left. And to my knowledge, no one is making me a naughty cake. But as of Sunday, my 30s are a thing of the past. And boy were they something. Enough to definitely give me pause for reflection.


In February 2014, my middle child was about to spark growth inside of me. In February 2015, I was on the verge of leaving the law firm I knew, with a toddler and month-old baby in tow, and beginning my own. In February 2016, my wildest dreams at Stebbins Mulloy were taking root. In February 2017, I felt the crushing weight of my out-of-control life. In February 2018, I tried to celebrate, but nothing was easing the pain I felt. In February 2019, you could have popped my face and wrung out my heart. In February 2020, the world was on the brink of shutting down and I was on the verge of bringing forth a new life. In February 2021, I received the best gifts of all, an Elton John themed party and a Covid vaccine. In February 2022, I was coming so close to my newest dream, a published book. And in February 2023, my family surprised me with an Unwillable-themed book party, and Dad wished me happy birthday for the last time.


My 30s, that were all supposed to be a time of reaping the benefits of the hard work of my 20s, and the beginning of the rest of my adult life. My 30s, that brought me new friends, places, ideas, dreams, and the completion of my family of five. My 30s, that were so up and so down. The years that really gave and really took.


I’ve composed myself since Saturday. I can now officially say, again, “I’m almost 40.” And I’m not afraid of the decade to come.


Because if the past is the best predictor of the future, I can honestly say, "I’ve got this."


I’ve aimed and I’ve achieved. I’ve been down and depressed. I’ve had my heart broken wide open far too many times to count. I’ve lamented the past and started anew. I’ve regrouped and rebuilt. I’ve overcome. And if needed, I can do it again.


My 30s demonstrated that life is fragile. And to handle with care. They taught me to believe in myself no matter what. They showed me that I have unbreakable will. And they proved to me that if you Just Keep Swimming and always believe in the promise of Better Days Ahead, that life will somehow work out.


Because it has. Life has worked out so well for me.


Ready or not 40, here I come!






“And you, you’ll be blessed

You’ll have the best

I promise you that

I’ll pick a star from the sky

Pull your name from a hat

I promise you that, promise you that, promise you that

You’ll be blessed” ~ Blessed by Elton John

And as a special bonus to the post, here's a picture from my actual 21st birthday (and yes, that's a real sling and my umpteenth shoulder dislocation from basketball) and my roommate's 21st. Ahhh, youth. If only I could celebrate 40 with a pirate hat, cowboy hat, and giant beer ...


/ / The JM Stebbins blog is an autoimmune encephalitis blog from former lawyer and autoimmune encephalitis survivor, Jackie M. Stebbins.

Jackie M. Stebbins is also the author of Unwillable: A Journey to Reclaim my Brain, a book about autoimmune encephalitis, resilience, hope, and survival. / /


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