I remember when I was 20, while drenched in absolute ignorance, and the slew of twenty-first parties began. Some weekends there were two or three and, at 20, I was broke trying to afford the gifts and finding a different outfit for each occasion—because, God forbid you arrive in the same thing with the same crowd, right?

Not long after, there was a long road of engagement parties. Hens nights and weddings began to muddle in. My shoe collection increased and my hunt for dresses still has not eased. Around the same time the thirtieths hit, baby showers were in full bloom. Christenings, less, but they were there, stuck to the fridge next to the engagement party invites and the first birthdays and the housewarmings.

Life, an endless sense of celebration, was good.

But now as the fortieths are on the increase, my friends and I sit with our cups of tea and we reflect on how we can’t believe where the last 10 years have gone, and another slew has begun. News, not of new births or new love, but of our lack of immortality. With what began as a naive response of it being bad luck for some, I’m now at the stage of accepting that, no, this is life, too. We, now-adults, are growing up, too. The celebrations aren’t over, but by the time the fortieths are arriving, life is becoming far less forgiving.

A beautiful friend and mentor with breast cancer. A sporty dad at school losing his battle with leukemia. A brain aneurism in a childhood friend who sang like an angel. An emergency services dad with a cyst on the brain. Skin cancers being removed. A talented teacher having a heart attack and shattering other hearts in the process. Brain tumours in a proud dad . . . this side of life, I didn’t see coming. I thought we had decades before these things became discussion points. But, like the importance of different outfits to parties, I was wrong.

Our parents, our friends’ parents, the ones who used to drop us off and pick us up from Sizzler and Greater Union while we rocked a 90s fringe, are aging. They have white and grey hair and carry senior cards—much to my mum’s hate of the term, pensioner rates are not to be sneezed at! They are retirees. Some, not by choice. I look around at family get-togethers and am hit hard by the fact that the day will come when an empty seat at the table is not because someone was busy.

As I wrangle my kids and burn the candle at both ends and moan that it will be Christmas again before we know it, I hadn’t realized that I hadn’t looked up to notice that while me kids are growing up, so am I. So are the people who raised me. And the older we are, as we know, but forget until it’s in front of us, adds so many more risks to our health. I’m not eating for the bikini body anymore, but for lower cholesterol. I’m not sleeping off hangovers, but sheer exhaustion. I exercise to control stress.

As I hear more and more utterly heartbreaking stories, there are only two things I can take from them—because I have to take something.

1. Prioritize your time to those you love, doing what you love, and showing people you love them.

2. Actively look after yourself.

Life can long and life can be short, but however the cards fall, we are all mortal. We will all be faced by grief and hard turns, the life lessons will never stop. I hate that my kids will have to learn this, too, that even when they are the grown-ups they want to be, they wouldn’t have finished growing.

But neither have I.

And that is why I don’t mind waking to find my son in my bed. And I don’t mind still doing my daughter’s hair. And I don’t mind picking hidden grapes out of shoes or popcorn out of the lounge. Because if today was my last day of growing up, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Deborah O'Ferry

I have been freelance writing for a year for various sites: Kidabout, Kidspot, The Green Elephant Early Learning Centre and Fresh Perspectives Landscapes. I write/post about parenting, childhood and family related topics under the name Deborah O'Ferry on Facebook (in pending state of Ferry Tales ~ By Deborah O'Ferry). I run community projects by day for a local council and wrangle my two kids the rest of the time.