Turning 40 in ‘The City of Love’

By Wendy Thomas Russell | July 25, 2013 | 8 comments

“My sister is turning 40, and she feels that that’s going to be easier to do in Paris.”

That’s how my sister, Jen, explains why a bunch of my family is spending my birthday in Europe this year. We’re leaving today, as luck would have it, flying first to London, then Paris and then down to France’s Burgundy region for a week’s worth of R&R.


Here’s the back story: About three years ago, in a cafe, I noticed a middle-aged woman at the table over. She had just returned from Paris and was giving out souvenirs to her little cast of friends. As she pulled from her bag a few pieces of art that she’d purchased on her trip, something awakened in me. Like a particularly beautiful musical chord being struck for the first time. I no longer recollect the chord, nor the feeling; too much time has passed. But the result of it I remember. It was in that moment that I resolved to spend my 40th in Paris.

Of course, give me three years to plan a trip and it’s going to get complicated.

A trip to Paris became Paris AND a stay in a château south of Paris. Soon after that, I’d invited my whole family to join me — including my parents and sister’s family — as well as my best friend’s family; they live in Stockholm. Before long, we had added London as another leg of the journey and orchestrated a reunion with a bunch of our English relatives. A big trip had became a big, BIG trip.

Honestly, I don’t  have a “thing” about getting older. I don’t stress out about the every-deepening lines between my eyebrows or the wrinkles in my forehead or the slackening skin in my neck. And I’m one of the .2 percent* of American women who is actually embracing gray hair. So when my sister says turning 40 will be easier for me if I’m in Paris, she’s exaggerating a bit. (Hey, she writes fiction! What do you expect?)

Paris isn’t a way to ease the aging process. It’s a way to celebrate the fact that I’m still alive to age.

Looking back, I’m keenly aware of how things could have gone the other way: First, there was the car accident. I was 16 and riding in the backseat of a friend’s car. We were driving on Interstate 29 in Missouri. She swerved to miss a dog, the car flipped and I was thrown out the back window.Then there was the coma — I was 21 and went into anaphylactic after eating almonds. I already told you about that. Then there was childbirth. CHILDBIRTH, PEOPLE! Do you know what I had to do to get that baby out?!

So yeah. I’ve lived to the age of 40 and, dammit, that’s no small thing. It’s also no small thing that everyone I love most in the world is also still alive. Nor is it a small thing that most of them — these wonderful, beautiful individuals who have given me the best days of my life — will be gathered together in the same room very, very soon. In fact, that’s the biggest goddamn thing I can imagine.

So yeah, turning 40 will be a piece of cake.

Paris is just the icing.

* Note to demographers: I made up that percentage. (It’s probably smaller.)


  1. Rachel McMurtry says:

    Happy birthday my friend! Wish I could have been there to celebrate with you all! Sounds like my game plan for 40 (in three years)! ,
    Miss you all and hope all is well.

    With love,

  2. Stephanie says:

    My husband just reserved rooms at a 5-star resort in Playa del Carmen for my 40th birthday, and – because I have a 5-year-old and 3-year-old twins, and work full-time – I am very eager to celebrate as lazily and as pampered as I can! Enjoy your celebration in Paris!

  3. Robin says:

    I love this idea! I just turned 38 so I have a couple of years to plan a fun trip. Having our daughter has changed me so completely and I have a new-found appreciation for life and our limited time on Earth. A fun trip in a couple of years (since we haven’t done much traveling in the 7 months she’s been around so far!) sounds just right.

    Thanks for the great idea!

  4. Kathy Wolfe says:

    I turned 40 in Costa Rica. Best midlife b’day ever. :-) Happy happy birthday and safe travels to all!

Leave a Reply

Due out March 31, Relax, It's Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You're Not Religious offers a well-researched look at a timely subject: secular parenting. With chapters on avoiding indoctrination, talking about death, vaccinating kids against intolerance, dealing with religious baggage, and getting along with religious relatives, the book offers a refreshingly compassionate approach to raising religiously literate, highly tolerant and critically thinking children capable of making up their own minds about what to believe. The book may be pre-ordered by visiting Brown Paper Press.

      Natural Wonderers is my new blog published by the Patheos faith network. An extension of my previous blog — Relax, It's Just God — Natural Wonderers offers stories and advice on raising curious, compassionate children in secular families.
                    Become a Subscriber!
                            Stay Connected