woman holding "40" balloons to celebrate her 40th birthday

Whenever I remind my dad that I’m turning 40 this year, he gets a strange look on his face. He looks shocked, almost stricken. And I realize that 40 sounds kind of old. My own father is afraid for my mortality now.

But I’m not actually scared. For one thing, I’ve always known that I would one day be 40. I mean, once I turned 39, I was pretty sure about what came next. And for another, many people around me are also welcoming 40th birthdays. Virile, sharp-witted people. People who still manage to put together nice outfits and coherent sentences. I’m determined to follow in their footsteps.

And the other reason I’m embracing 40? Because you get to celebrate BIG. You can pretty much do whatever you want, no matter how stupid-extravagant, and people will just nod and agree that you have to for the 40th. Try renting a limo to take you to a skydiving facility and then a spa for your 37th birthday. No way. But for 40? You might as well tack on that whiskey tasting, too.

Having recently celebrated my husband’s 40th birthday and starting to look toward my own, I’m learning a few things. Here are some dos and don’ts to guide you into your own big 4-0:

DO something you’ve never done before, ideally out of your comfort zone.

Skydiving would do the job nicely, but so would a Thai cooking class or a mindfulness retreat.

DON’T do something new that might make you feel bad about yourself.

Like snowboarding. 

DO invite good friends.

This specific birthday is a great excuse to fly in a close friend from far away. Someone who knew you when. Because they might have scoffed if you had asked for your 32nd. But for 40? How can they resist?

DON’T try to invite too many friends.

At 40, there’s a temptation to show off how popular you have become. But think carefully about whether you want to have 50 different short conversations in one night. If you are truly a person who loves a big group, then go for it. But for the rest of us? Keep your invite list to no more than 12 quality friends.

DO include the kids in part of the celebration.

Actually, our grown-up birthdays have become way more fun again since having kids. Because kids are OBSESSED with birthdays. We had a little family party on my husband’s 40th, complete with burritos, homemade signs, and, of course, cake. The girls were super excited, and the birthday boy got to feel like a kid again.

DON’T include the kids in the whole celebration.

40 is also a great time to feel like the adults we have officially become. Go out for dinner or drinks with other big people, and leave the littles at home for a bit.

DO think ahead about what truly makes you happy.

For my husband’s 40th birthday, he went rogue and said he wanted, get this, to play golf. Because since becoming a dad eight years ago, he has golfed approximately never, and he misses it. So we rounded up a few equally rusty dad friends, and they hit the links. It was a nice, simple gift.


DON’T go overboard if that isn’t your style.

Turning 40 is a lot like New Year’s Eve. There’s all this pressure to do something awesome and party like you’ve never partied before. But in the end, it’s just another night. Your 40th doesn’t have to compete with anyone else’s. It just has to have meaning for you.

So maybe your big birthday will include pancakes with your kids, a nice run along the river, a nap in the afternoon, and dinner with friends in the evening. 

Actually, that sounds pretty good. Maybe that’s what my big birthday will look like, too. 

And don’t worry, Dad. I may be turning 40, but I’ll always be your little girl of 39.

Jessie Keppeler
A Maine native, Jessie migrated down the coast to Boston after college, and it’s been home ever since. She has lived in various corners of the city — from Allston and Brighton to Newbury Street and then Jamaica Plain — before settling in Brookline with her husband and three daughters. As much as she loves home now, she also likes to leave occasionally: recent family travels include Italy, Belize, and Washington D.C. Jessie writes with a cat curled up nearby and a dog at her feet. And a cup of coffee. Always.


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