I remember being 25 and visiting Paris for the first time. I remember falling in love with the city and vowing to return, just once more, to celebrate my 40th birthday. Chris and I were in the early, careful stages of our relationship and I couldn't have imagined where our lives would lead - separately or together. I certainly never imagined our passionate pursuit of Paris or that Paris would bring us to London.
I started my 40th birthday with my favourite meal - an omelette nature and a giant café crème at Le Petit Cler. Chris and I spent the rest of the day wandering aimlessly through our beloved Paris streets, stopping for mulled wines and macarons. I bought a sophisticated, age appropriate rose parfum at Annick Goutal and Chris didn't complain when I stopped at every Monoprix.
I wanted to be the kind of woman who celebrates her 40th birthday with a stream of cleverly hashtagged selfies and culturally relevant words of wisdom. I wanted to be the kind of woman who crazily commemorates this milestone birthday with a hot air balloon ride, a naked yoga class or dinner at a Michelin starred-restaurant. I really did. But it's so not me. It would have felt as forced and contrived as spending a day standing in line at the Louvre to see the Mona Lisa. So not me.
Instead I did exactly as I wanted. I spent my birthday with the love of my life in the city of our dreams. No rushing, no fuss, just us two and overwhelming feelings of gratitude and love.
I admit that turning 40 has made me feel more reflective.
Many of you may know that late last year, I participated in a video where I spoke very personally about my anxiety. It was a freeing experience and one that has since influenced my outlook and attitude. I made a conscious decision to open up about my anxiety, both in my personal and professional lives. Subconsciously, I think this was my way of kick-starting my 40th year and embracing all of my emotional bits and pieces.
Because even at 40, I still feel like I am figuring things out...
I worry about saying the wrong thing in a way that doesn't feel that distant from my teenage self. I won't leave the house without make-up, but I hate doing my face. Especially eyeliner. I can't put eyeliner on without making a mess and I am 40. I am still searching for the one dress that 'will change my life', even though there are at least a dozen of them hanging in my closet. I still get crushes on short men. I wish I could sleep past 6am. I am uncomfortable around children, especially babies. I think I would rather hold a scented ferret than a friend's baby. Sorry! I love Wolford tights, Repetto ballet flats, Marks & Spencer ready-meals, Nespresso, silk scarves, costume jewellery, novels and pocket-sized notebooks. I miss horseback riding so much. And part of the reason I walk through Hyde Park every morning is so I can see other people riding. I am sarcastic. I don't particularly like being hugged. Each time Chris leaves London, I can't look at the planes circling over the city because it makes me too sad. I love junk food and I often eat like I am still in my 20's with the metabolism of a 13 year old boy. I read before bed every single night, even if it's super late or I have had one too many glasses of wine. I love smiling at strangers. I can't drink Champagne. I get sweaty every time I have to speak in public, whether it's 3 people or 100 people. I hate running but I still consider myself a runner. I still wear the same running shorts I wore when I ran the Vancouver Marathon in 2006. I say sorry too much. I spend too much time questioning how I have come to be at this place in my life, rather than just enjoying my life.
I had few expectations when I left Canada just over 18 months ago. I expected to tolerate London as a means to get us to Paris. I knew London would be good for my career. I hoped I would make a few friends and learn to appreciate a bitter ale. But never thought I would feel at home in London. I never imagined buying candles and furry pillows for my bijou flat. I never imagined having friends that would toast me with Champagne and filthy cards for my 40th birthday. I never imagined my heart would do a happy dance every time my plane touches down at Heathrow.
London feels like home. To both of us.
My experience in London has been extraordinary. More than once I have wondered whether I worked really hard or just been really lucky. When I think back on my 30's, I remember the opportunities and the setbacks. Both professional and personal. I didn't always immediately learn from them, but I did take them seriously. And I think I am now just starting to appreciate their impact and influence.
I have been a lot of things in my 40 years. I have been a daughter, friend, best friend, girlfriend and wife. I have been a horse lover, cat rescuer, rider and runner. I have been impatient, inflexible, furious, and terrified. I have been heart broken, professionally confused, and almost a writer. I have been deliriously happy and moved to tears. I have been, and probably always will be, a bit anxious.
I think the best things I can take into my 40's are an open mind and gratitude.
I was in Italy last week. As I left the airport in Rome, I started paging through my passport looking at its collection of stamps. I felt a kind of geeky, and likely age inappropriate, shiver of pleasure. I felt a huge smile spread across my face.
My life exactly as I imagined it...