I turned 39 this week. It is odd to sit and analyse it: I am 39 and a single parent with a nine and a half year old son. Most definitely not a scenario I could have ever envisaged when I first entered my thirties.
I can remember turning 30 and thinking it would be the decade where my life REALLY changed (er, but not how it has...). On that occasion, I celebrated the day with my then-partner and new baby in a holiday cottage in Suffolk. A roses-round-the-door chocolate box type place. I kind of saw it as the being the beginning of the end of indulgent birthday celebrations; assuming that the following years would be full instead of more babies, and nappy changing and winding taking priority over blowing out candles and knocking back fizzy wine.
Obviously, that did not happen.
I'd always made a big deal of birthdays – mine and other people's. Always a party. Always a houseful of balloons and banners. Lots of silly presents amongst the carefully targeted and chosen ones.
But that first birthday as a mum really did change things. And not just because I'd turned 30. It just suddenly wasn't really about me any more. I just wanted to give my baby all the magical memories. I can remember his first birthday as clearly as anything – he went to a photo studio for special pics to commemorate the big day, and then had a little tea party with his baby cousin and granny. And then each year from then on, my birthday and his dad's birthday became less and less of a deal, and his more and more important. The banners and streamers and balloons in my 'birthday box' only coming out in March, for him.
This year though, I had wanted to do something big to celebrate the last year of my thirties. The period in my life where practically every big life change I could ever encounter had occurred. But I just didn't know what and I ended up leaving it too late to organise anything.
But then on my birthday morning, my son snuck into my room at 4.30am (waking me up) and deposited my presents and cards at the end of my bed as though it were Christmas, before tip-toeing back out.
At six, he was back again, waking me up and loudly announcing it was my birthday and demanding I opened my presents – his iPod at the ready to film every second. I tried to put a stop to that pretty quickly – no one needs film evidence of being 39 and sporting bed-hair and a pillow face, but the pleasure he was taking in making sure I was having a lovely time made me put my ridiculous vanity aside.
It was such a big deal for him, and he was so intent on making my day special. The birthdays I've had since that first magical one as a mum have been everything from troubled to strained to downright awful.
But this one, probably the first where my son has been old enough to organise and orchestrate things, has been just perfect.
I might not have the perfect family set up, but I wouldn't have swapped how I woke up on my special day – just me and my boy - for the world.
And it's probably a good thing I didn't plan anything – I need to save my energies for next year, and the REALLY life changing big four-oh. Or maybe just leave it to my son.
How do you manage celebrations on your own? With no partner to plan a 'do' for you? Do your kids step in?