Erikka Askeland: Just five years until my brain hurts a lot

AS AN insouciant youth, I clearly remember thinking of 40-year-olds as being elderly. Not just old, actually, but positively decrepit. And so yawningly boring, sitting on couches all afternoon drinking coffee and just talking.

If they were at all worth paying attention to, it was because they might feed me, or amuse me with tricks like pretending to pull coins from my ears – that I could keep, of course.

If they weren’t entertaining me then they were relegated to being allowed to kiss my cheek before I squirmed away to find someone my own age to play with.

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So here it is. I have decided to bypass the ladies’ prerogative to dismiss the rude question about my age, so I can reveal that I turn 40 next week. And despite what my seven-year-old niece might think, I don’t feel ancient at all.

But sadly, for me, more and more people seem to be siding with the view held by the niece. Not that this is pointed out in so many words to my (increasingly lined) face.

No, sometimes when I admit my age I am occasionally gratified to get mock shock in response: he/she says, “Really? I never would have guessed you were close to 40”, while I say: “Oh you are so kind, can I pay you?”

Except, rather than stroking my ego, perhaps they are really thinking something along the lines of: “I’m so surprised because she doesn’t act like a mature person at all.”

As I get older, I realise there are just things I can no longer do. One of them is bring up an old joke, which I had often used to bat aside the even ruder question of: “When are you having children?”.

The stock response to this intrusion was, “I’m too young,” as I guffawed gaily with a wave of my hand, well into my 30s.

But the last time I tried it, my ashen-faced interlocutors did not guffaw along with me. Apparently I am now too decrepit for that line.

And, as I approach the brink of 40, which the medical fraternity deems “geriatric” for maternal purposes, I can see their point.

Sure, there are some high-profile examples of those that seem to be procreating past their sell-by date, like Cherie Blair, JK Rowling, Meera Syal, all of whom had children in their 40s.

But then again my grandma thought she had indigestion and found she was expecting Jimmie at the age of 42, so it’s not as if this is a new trend.

Yet while my childless state seems to gall some people, actually I’m pretty typical for my age and level of education.

Almost half of us birds with degrees born between 1965 and 1978 are what they now call “child-free” and are actually, quietly, quite smug about it.

While my sleep-deprived friends and female relations wipe baby-sick off their persons, while wondering how they might afford to provide a decent education for their little wonders, me and others I know are happy to stay up late of our own volition watching films, reading the papers on a Sunday morning or taking impromptu holidays.

But we can’t crow about it too much in public.

For some reason, childless women are either: a) pitied, because we have missed out on the most rewarding pastime on earth, or b) scorned, because we are flagrantly selfish hussies.

I believe this too shall pass. Because what me and about half of my female friends from high school have discovered is that we are truly among the first generation – western, affluent – for whom technology in birth control and some inkling of equal opportunity in the workplace has meant biology is not necessarily destiny.

Except, damn it, we are foiled again.

This week a “profound” study found that cognitive function goes south after about the age of 45, which means a new biological clock is ticking – the five years before my mental faculties start to decline.

Yet I’m not that worried, as a softly focused brain will help me enjoy more my coffee on the sofa while being largely ignored by the children of my friends and relations.

But on the other hand, it does mean I have only a few years to learn that trick of pulling coins out of their ears.