As I mentioned last week, I’m turning forty in a few days.
I’ve always been a big birthday person. I think it’s important to celebrate and acknowledge the passing of another year, and I like to mark the occasion with a candle, a song, a cupcake. I’ve had birthday parties in the past – a small dinner when I turned twenty-one, a big cocktail party at thirty-five. And I’ve had big presents, too. A puppy at twenty-five, a new watch at thirty.
But for this birthday, major though it is, I didn’t want fancy jewelry, and I didn’t feel like celebrating with everyone I know. Sure, I’ll go out to lunch next week with my three closest friends, and I’m sure my husband will get me a little present. But what I wanted more than anything was to celebrate this milestone with a big, exotic trip.
The last time I went abroad was with my husband, before we had children. We took one of those “we’re about to have kids and our lives are going to change forever so we’re taking a trip before we completely lose our freedom” trips. We ate our way through Italy and France, took leisurely strolls down foreign streets, and went on guided tours of churches and museums. It was an amazing trip, and I knew it would have to tide me over for a while. I was right, too, because once we had kids, our trips consisted mostly of theme parks in San Diego and anywhere else that didn’t require a plane trip with two toddlers.
Of course, as my kids have gotten older, we’ve expanded our horizons a bit; we take ski trips, we’ve done the short hop to Mexico, and we’ve braved the three-hours-earlier time difference of Hawaii. And though these trips have all been fantastic, and I feel lucky to have been able to take them, my wanderlust has really started to take hold. I want to see the world. I want to experience new things. I’m turning forty for God’s sake – it’s time.
One of the rewards of having older children is that finally – finally!- you can get on a plane with nothing but a suitcase, some video games and a bunch of snacks. No car seats or strollers, no diaper bags, no bottles. I feel like this is one of those things you earn as a parent; you spend ten years schlepping all kinds of crap around, and then, finally, you get the right to walk through an airport with your whole family, and everyone wheels their own luggage. Is there a more free feeling on earth? But aside from just the fact that I get to sit on an airplane and read a book, uninterrupted, I’m really excited to actually get to where we’re going.
My kids wanted to go to England, because people there speak English, or to Italy, because they never met a pasta they didn’t inhale. But I didn’t want to go somewhere people speak English, and I’ve already been to Italy a couple of times, and since it’s my birthday, I got to choose. And what I chose is for us to start out in Morocco, then travel up through Spain. My reasoning was that I wanted all of us to experience something completely different from what we know. We’ll visit a souk and have lunch in a Berber tent. We’ll ride camels and learn to flamenco dance and eat dinner at eleven pm. We’ll meet people who are fasting everyday because its Ramadan, and we’ll try foods we’ve never had before.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to take your children to Disneyland for the first time, then you have an idea of how I feel about this trip. Do you remember feeling like their little minds were going to be completely blown when they saw the Magic Kingdom? Do you remember how excited you were to take them through the sensory overload that is the Its A Small World ride? Do you remember how thrilling it was when your daughter met Cinderella, or your son met Mickey Mouse? That’s how I feel about this trip. So forget about parties or fancy presents. The best gift I’m going to get for my fortieth birthday will be seeing a new part of the world through my children’s eyes. And when I blow out the candles on my cake, my wish will be that we can see many more corners of it, together.