05 February 2012


Not long after Young One was born, Richard and I joined some friends for a fortieth birthday celebration at their home in Fusaro. I was 32 at the time; he was, ahem, older than me. We’d been to their house a few times before and had spent many times together with most of the people in attendance, but this particular party stands out in my memory. I was the youngest; with this group of friends, I was always the youngest, young enough to be the child of some. I think the strong lingering memory is the result of the combination of me settling into my role of new mom with an unpredictable newborn and the strong personalities of a couple of very different women.

In this overseas lifestyle, I find myself collecting quite an eclectic group of friends who come in and out of my life. I don’t mean the American verses Italian friends; even within those two very broad groups, the people I have connected with over time are often very different from one another. I think it’s an inherent part of being the outsider. For me, it has been an absolute blessing, even a life-changing aspect. I have a friend who is a retired college soccer coach turned sommelier and another friend who, along with her husband, just served two years in the Peace Corps in China, after retiring from over twenty years of teaching overseas. One friend led the union for years, while another is the lawyer who counsels management. I have a couple of conservative Texans that I hold dear to my heart, as well as a couple of  liberal Californians; you know, the kind who visit chiropractors. Christian. Atheist. Straight. Gay. Young. Old. With teeth. Without. Liberal. Conservative. (Okay, not so many conservatives.)  I’ve had friends die. I’ve seen babies born. I’ve seen ugly divorces. I know couples who couldn’t be more committed to each other. Teachers, farmers, engineers, stay-at-home moms, enlisted military members, designers, runners, lawyers, shop owners, artists, secretaries, and factory workers; they are a diverse group. Each contributes to the woman I am today, which is a bit different from that 29-year-old woman I was when I first arrived in Italy. I’m admittedly closer to some than to others, but this shared experience bonds us all.

My life before moving to Italy was not like this in any way; everyone was the same. And it was a “same” that I loved…still love, very much. There is comfort in sameness. South Louisiana sameness works for me. It helps define me. (Okay, so admittedly, I did tend to go against the grain a bit, even then…but I wasn’t very unique in the way I did that. Same.)

Back to the party.

I’m at this party, and the festeggiata is in the kitchen with her much-older, handsome husband, flitting about with her mid-drift exposed, reminiscing about her life, specifically what it feels like to be forty, which according to her, of course, is nothing less than fabulous. Knowing her, I am sure that twenty, thirty, (and, soon, fifty,) have been equally fabulous.  And because of that, I quickly dismissed her words, attributing them to her denial of the aging process. She had had her babies when she was much younger, on the dirt floor of a hut in Greece (I don’t make this stuff up), and was now experiencing forty with a senior in high school, another son already in college, and a husband who adored her. I wanted to tell her, “Hey, Linda, you are 40. It’s all downhill from here, but that's okay. That's life. Embrace it. Quit fooling yourself. And go put some clothes on, for Pete’s sake. You are 40, not  19.” My smug, new mom, know-it-all, 32-year-old-self was not buying her line of “Fabulous at Forty.”  Clearly she had issues. The wrinkles were showing on her perfectly tanned face, even if she still had a perfectly svelte and toned body.

And then another friend, who was approaching 60, chimed in things about “it” only getting better with time. “It,” I suppose can only mean that thing we call life. She, too, is a character who used to proudly share that she’s had the same red hair for at least 20 years; she would order red hair dye #34 and bring it from one beautician to another as she moved around the globe. That practice, by the way, stopped during her time in the rural village of China. She’s since gone grey and looks stunning. Funny how that works. It was she and her husband who threw a co-ed baby shower before the arrival of Young One, with all guests dressed in pink, this friend with abounding energy. She reminded me of Mrs. Roper, but smart and perpetually cheery, and her husband was no Stanley. She, too, spoke knowingly and proudly on this “Life at Forty and Beyond” theme that filled the kitchen. I’ve never met their only son because he had gone off to life in the States by the time we became friends, and we seemed to miss his visits. I have heard, a lot, about him, though; this year's Christmas letter revealed that he is now married and living in NYC, loving every minute of that. I was sure he was gay.

All of the friends I collected during those few years living in Naples have moved on to other things, other places. I keep in touch with some better than others. Their exploits continue to be quite diverse, just as the diversity of new people I have since befriended continues.

During this talk in the kitchen, the husbands remained silent during this flurry of conversation about forty. Smart, smart, men. Both of these couples had been married for at least twenty years by then. I don't think Richard and I were even married at this point, but he didn't say much either. Eventually the men moved out to the terrace to pursue manly things, leaving me alone with the women. Others hadn't yet arrived, so these two giant personalities dominated the space like a couple of Ya-Ya's in the Sisterhood, yakking it up, even if no one was indeed listening. I was. 

I didn’t say much either. I just listened to both of them go on and on and on as they drank too much wine. My hormones were still a mess. My body was odd. This baby I was holding had her own mind about things. Richard was clueless…loving, but clueless. They truthfully began to annoy me. I didn't leave the room because the baby was finally content. I doubted that we would even be friends if we all lived in, say, Louisiana. Hello. I’m the new mom here. Hello. Baby in arms. Hello. I just accomplished the miracle. Hello. What could be more important in this room than me and my new baby. Don't you know that it's time to focus on me. Me. My Baby. Don't hate me because I'm only 32. You had your chance. Enough already with all crap about getting older being So. Damn. Good!


Self-portrait @ 40

Here I am. And yes it is.
So. Damn. Good.
And I can only say that you won’t understand until you, too, are forty.

Hurry up, already. The party has started.
And to my friends who are forty: So happy to finally join you.

Today, when we make the grand birthday toast at lunch, I will raise my glass in honor of Linda and Jayne, and, you too.


  1. Last night I had a dream I was living with my parents in the tiny house where I grew up. I hadn't gotten married, I didn't have kids, but I was 39. I could remember my 20's and all the things that happened, but for the life of me I couldn't remember one thing of my 30's. I can only imagine this dream was anxiety about not doing enough with myself in the last decade. I am really looking forward to 40 and the possibilities of more things outside the "home."
    Wishing you a very Happy Day!

  2. Your life seems so glamorous, Dana! Did you know that? Thanks for sharing this fantastic story!

    Happy Birthday!

  3. I turned 39 yesterday. A couple of people mentioned to me: "Well, just one year before the big four o."

    Really, I don't care. I've lived through 39 years and am getting younger every day.

    Yes, I am looking forward. Things are starting to come together now. Clarity. Clarity is key

    Happy Birthday!


  4. Happy Birthday, Dana! What a wonderful story.

  5. Happy Birthday, Dana, and cheers! :)

  6. Happy, happy birthday!! I just turned 35. - and had a lot of the same thinking. I think "it" really does just get better and better.

  7. Happy Birthday! I will trust you, but also hold tightly to my 30s for a few more years.. XOXO

  8. As I get ever closer to 40, I hope you are right. Miss and love you,


  9. Happy new year, bella!!! ;)

  10. Love the story because it s so true. Welcome to the club!!!! However, I am not looking forward to the time when illness dominates the conversation.

  11. Thank you all for your kind comments. And, Emily, I am so NOT glamorous!

  12. Happy Birthday Dana...So amazing of you to speak your thoughts and truth....
    And get ready, cause if you think 40 is something, wait 'til you get to the 50's...Bam!!! It gets even better...

  13. love this post, dana. happy belated birthday! you give me hope!!! especially since the thirties aren't feeling so great at the moment. and i agree with emily about the glamorous life. totally!

  14. Happy Birthday! As a person who is turning the big 4 0 this year I appreciate such a personal and positive post. I've been doing a lot of thinking about 40 too. The only thing, so far, I know for sure about this age is that I would never, ever give up the confidence and stability that I feel in myself. I feel grounded by own two feet. Something given to me by age and life experience. Maybe that is the gift we get at 40.

  15. Another thought - I'm not sure if it actually gets *better* at 40 or 50. Perhaps we're just now wise enough to see and enjoy the good that was always there. Hmmmm.

  16. True, wise, is probably correct. Confidence, clarity, stability.
    I can own my intuition like never before, which is likely a result of experience more than anything.

  17. Happy Be-lated Birthday, Dana! Loved this post and the way it wove back and forth and eventually to that beautiful self-portrait and your strong, celebratory words. I'll be joining you in one more year. Hope this year brings you continued clarity, heaps of joy, and lots of revelry.

    P.S. I can so relate to your experiences on leaving and loving that sameness of South Louisiana and the interesting mix of friends that come with all of the moves.