Forty.

I turned 40 a few weeks ago.

In the years leading up to this day, I had grandiose plans in my head for how I was going to spend my 40th birthday. I wanted to start the fourth decade of my life in another country, or on a cruise ship, or in some locale worthy of kicking off a new chapter of my life.

But then we became parents.

As the calendar rolled over to 2012, I realized that the birth of my daughter almost three years ago was the new chapter, and that the magnitude and joy of this new phase of my life had the effect of making 40 just a number. And in the months leading up to my birthday, I began to realize, to my surprise, that I was going to turn 40 with absolutely no regrets, no remorse, and no wishes for a do-over with respect to anything. And that I would be perfectly fine with a nice, quiet evening at home with my family, or at a good restaurant.  Nothing fancy.

The truth is, I am happier and more content today than I have ever been, in every area of my life.

Having said all of that, I was really quite okay just letting my 40th birthday just quietly roll in and back out like the tide. Maybe a nice dinner out, but nothing extravagant. And since I was treating my 40th as business as usual, I didn’t really have a conflict when Chef John Brandt-Lee of Avalon and Avalon Pasta Bistro messaged me on Twitter, inviting me to a preview tasting of his new Fall menu. The guest list was limited to local food bloggers and journalists, and, given that there was no whirlwind tour of Greece that needed rescheduling, I accepted. It would be, as I had wanted, a nice dinner out, and we’ve loved John’s food ever since we first set foot in one of his restaurants.

We booked a babysitter, grabbed a bottle of wine, and headed out to dinner. When we arrived at Avalon, the dining room was dark and empty, since it was 5:30 and dinner service had not started. The tasting was being held in the courtyard in the back of the property, and as the host led us through the restaurant, I greeted Chef John in the kitchen. He held onto my handshake and pulled me closer. “Don’t mention anything about her being your wife,” John whispered, nodding toward Jennifer, “cause no one else back there brought their spouses.” I acknowledged his warning and followed my wife Jennifer into the courtyard.

There was a crush of people and a table of food. I was disappointed that it looked like my “nice dinner out” was going to turn into a networking function. And I remember briefly thinking to myself, “Who’s the guy with the camcorder and why is he taping me?”

To say that I never saw it coming would be the grossest of understatements.

My wife had not only booked the entire restaurant for the evening, but she managed to fill it with family and friends from every chapter of my life. Work friends, college friends, neighbors, and even my best friend from high school, whom I had not seen in almost 20 years. Jennifer had been planning the party for months, even working with Chef John to create a reason for me to abandon our prior arrangements in favor of a “Fall Menu Tasting” – an event that never existed.

She had managed to pull off the greatest trick of all time – making me think that going to my 40th birthday party was my own genius idea. And you know what? It was the best 40th birthday party that I could ever have imagined, I had nothing to do with it, and all I had to do was show up!