As you read this, I will be sat having dinner with my husband. Surrounded by sand dunes, flickering lanterns, and the sound of traditional music. It is the eve of my 35th birthday and I am celebrating at the very same hotel we came to celebrate my 30th. The boys will be asleep with a babysitter in our hotel room (well, here’s hoping) – and we will no doubt be reminiscing about the last time we were at this hotel and spent our time on sun loungers, spa treatment beds, and dining chairs close to the breakfast buffet.
Life has changed beyond recognition these past five years. Back then, I was a few months away from getting married and moving full-time to the UAE. So here I am 5 years later, in exactly the same spot, but now a wife, an expat, and a mother of two.
These things all play a part in the person I am today, but I believe that my age pays a part too. My similarly aged friends that don’t have husbands, kids, or homes in the sunshine feel it too. The first half of our 30’s has changed us in the best ways. So as I sit here reflecting, here is how life has changed for me in the first half of my 30’s…
1. I’ve realised I can’t do it all
Where as my 20’s were about running around at the speed of light, plotting, planning, and dreaming of all sorts of possibilities for my adult life ahead, my thirties have been about reeling it back in. I have realised that I can’t do everything, so I might as well concentrate on the things I am good at. I no longer harbor ambitions to train as a perfumer in Grasse, to open a chain of shabby-chic gift stores in a sleepy village in the UK, or to challenge myself to run marathons (no sniggering at the back). Instead, I want to concentrate on my boys, my husband, and my writing. My 30’s have slowed me down and given me focus. It no longer scares me that I can’t do everything; in fact it is both exciting and liberating that I have finally worked out what I am good at.
2. I have more respect for my body
It partly comes from growing my two boys, but also from three decades of getting to know my body – but these past 5 years have taught me to appreciate my body in a way I only wish I could lend myself in my teens and twenties. I still want to lose a bit of baby weight and have been known to try quirky diets in the hope of looking better on the beach, but my expectations are lowered. I now understand that I can never have a body like Claudia Schiffer – I can only have a healthier version of what I was born with. I still have ‘fat days’ – but I know exactly what to throw on from my wardrobe to make me feel better. I’ve even been known to open the door in my pyjamas and no makeup, which would horrify my younger self. I just wish I could tell the 18-year-old me that no-one dropped down dead in shock when I walked to the shop without a slick of mascara.
3. Home is where the heart is
Rewind to my teens and early twenties and I’d rather chew off my own acrylic nails than sit on the sofa for an evening when the weekend rolled around. But now, there is nothing I’d rather do. I walk into my home and feel a sense of calm; a space that we created together as a family. If I didn’t have my children, I imagine I’d be out more often than I currently am – but I still think those evenings with a glass of wine, Netflix, and a takeaway on its way would still be my absolute favourite. Being at home is no longer the fall-back option when plans fall through – it is the priority and there is nowhere I am happier.
4. I understand that life has its up’s and downs – and this shapes us
I had a happy childhood, but my teens and twenties weren’t always easy – but I have a new appreciation that those hard times shaped the person that I am today. I don’t think I had the emotional understanding before I hit my 30’s to fully appreciate this (preferring to pop on a Toni Braxton CD and drown in my sorrows in my bedroom). I now understand that life has its knocks – sometimes tragically, sometimes unjustly, sometimes undeservedly – but I hope I now have the inner-strength to get though those that come my way in the future.
5. I have fewer friends, but I have better friends
I used to think that a mark of success was the number of friends I could claim. I ran around exhausting myself, trying to keep up all these friendships, to see everyone regularly, to reply to emails and texts, to make long phone calls every evening, and to accept every social event invitation that came my way. My 30’s rolled around, I moved abroad, and I had kids – and it just wasn’t achievable anymore. Subsequently, I’ve lost touch with people There were no dramatic arguments, no angry messages exchanged over social media – we just drifted apart quietly. I don’t feel remotely sad about this, as my 30’s have taught me that having less people on speed dial is no sacrifice when I can count fully on the few that are always there.
6. I know I have more to learn
If I compare myself to the person I was in my teens and twenties, the difference is huge – so I fully appreciate that I will change again my 40’s and again as the decades progress. Sometimes I think ahead and try to imagine the person that I will become – and that vision is usually a lady surrounded by dirty rugby kit, a few dogs at her feet, still trying (and failing) to be a domestic goddess, and my laptop still on the side working on overdrive. But I can only imagine how vastly my thoughts and my dreams will change in the years to come. I know I have so much to learn – and I know it won’t always be easy – but that is what excites me about the future.