On Turning 37 & Riding Through Paris In A Sports Car

Me in my gown on my 37th birthday. (rare Mom photo - iPhone was unattended & 4yr old pounced. Doesn't get more real than this!)
Me in my gown on my 37th birthday. (rare Mom photo – iPhone was unattended & 4yr old pounced. Doesn’t get more real than this!)

One of the perks of being married to an older man (7.5 years) and having a fair number of close girlfriends who have already turned 40, is that I feel relatively young when my birthday comes around each year. They’ve already turned 35 or 36 or 38, have complained about getting old and have commented on my relative youth.

In addition, I grew up in an era where having an “older” mom was unusual. My mom might easily be ten years older than her “peers” – my friends’ moms. This gave her the benefit of a decade of hindsight from which to reflect upon how silly it was that she thought herself “old” at 40, or 50 or whichever milestone someone ten years her junior might be celebrating. A lot of her mantras (which I have written about already) such as “youth is beauty” or “you can’t put an old head on young shoulders”, as well as her wise “old” outlook on age, contributed to my view on the birthdays and “ageing”, for want of a better word. I have no issue telling anyone my age – hence the title of this post!

(Sidebar: In SA, in any case, I would probably prefer to leave my age off my CV if possible, because I think that one of the unintended consequences of BEE and/or of being part of an economy undergoing huge transformation, is ageism. It certainly shocked me in the workplace, when I was last part of it – before the Rinderpest admittedly – age and thus experience, unless there was an incredibly intimidating title to match, were mocked rather than revered. But that’s merely IMHO – in my humble opinion).

Yesterday was my 37th birthday. When anyone turns 37 I think about the birthday gift one of our friends planned for his then girlfriend, in celebration of her 37th birthday. Some months before his girlfriend’s birthday, he told us that he was secretly planning to take her to Paris so that she could “ride through Paris in a sports car, with the warm wind in her hair”. Because, of course, he explained, these were the lyrics to The Ballad of Lucy Jordan. (The song became a hit in the year I was born – although it was originally written much earlier – so naturally I’d never heard of it at the time). Lucy Jordan is a frustrated housewife in a “white suburban bedroom” in a “white suburban town” and, alone at home, with the kids at school and her husband at work, it dawns on her that:

At the age of 37
She realised she’d never ride
Through Paris in a sports car
With the warm wind in her hair

At the time, I must have been around 26 years old and this original and imaginative birthday gift left an impression on me. For this reason, I can’t separate my 37th birthday with this song. In some ways, I relate to Lucy Jordan. (I don’t think that there are many stay-at-home moms who don’t miss the stimulation of the workplace). But in other ways, I am so grateful that her wistful thoughts do not at all reflect how I feel as I enter my 38th year. Thanks to David and my very… ahem… extensive “sabbatical”, I feel like I have seen a fair bit of the world. Although travel is wonderful, I quite like suburbia too. At the same time, I recognise that it’s very easy for me to love what most people understandably experience as the shackles of opting for the white picket fence life. I am married to a man who thrives on the idea of adventure and the idea that anything is possible so I suppose I feel that I could leave suburbia if I so chose. (On a practical note, I can’t even get my kids to get into the car by asking once, so the idea of acting as their teacher whilst sailing around the world holds absolutely zero appeal. ZERO.) What I am trying to say is that, as I hit my mid-thirties, I am indescribably grateful to at least feel as though I am part of a very big, very wide world (even if Fourways mentally feels like another country, when I am not travelling) and that if I wanted to drive a sports car through Paris with the warm wind in my hair, I possibly could, thanks to David.

If I really, really wanted to.

But I don’t, really. As 2016 begins, I am grateful to be in my homely home, in a leafy suburb of Sandton. I’ve lived for varying periods in Keurbooms/ Plett, George, Brussels, Cape Town, Rome and London but within a year of moving to Joburg in 2003, I have felt most at home in the City of Gold.

One day I hope that the words “a white suburban bedroom” refer only to the colour of my bedroom linen and are not a reflection of the effects of the 1950 Group Areas Act. 2016 ripped open the wounds of Apartheid like never before. As mortified as I was to be part of the same ethnic group as the likes of Penny Sparrow, at least we can stop pretending that we’re not racist or neoliberal or whatever.

A post for another day, gentle readers. One day, when I am older and wiser. (And possibly a little bit braver).