I’m turning 31 tomorrow. I am turning 31 and I realized that I actually never thought too much about where in my life I wanted to be when I grew up. (Have I grown up? Yes, I do ask this in all seriousness knowing I have been married for nearly a decade and have three children).
I just assumed that something would change when I turn 30. Actually, when I was 10 I thought something would change when I turn 13. And it did, I had bad skin and thick thick glasses. Then I thought something would change when I was 16 probably because of movies. We don’t celebrate sweet 16’s… I can’t even remember what I did for my birthday that year. Then I thought 18! The magic number.
Well, 18 was the magic number. I loved 18! I moved to London to go to university and it was amazing. It was all strange and not wonderful but nerve-wracking. Being in a coed class room for the first time. Getting used to not standing up when the professor spoke to me. Leaving the house without telling anyone I was going out. Well, to begin with I would tell my sister, who was there as well, when ever I left the house (till she told me this was unnecessary).
Having a key to my house! I loved having a key to my house. It’s a silly little thing, but most houses in Saudi are full of family members all the time and there is no need to have a key to the house there will always be someone to open and close the doors behind you. Not having to wait for a driver or make sure no one else needs the driver before I use him.
It was the first time I did not have to think about anyone else in my day-to-day life. And I knew it wouldn’t last and I enjoyed my little selfishness while I could. I loved the anonymity I had there. Life here in Riyadh is funny, there is always someone who knows you where ever you are. And if they don’t know you then they know your mother, grandmother, uncle, great-aunt, etc. And most of the time you have a kind of groundhog routine for weeks. You can go a month without actually interacting with someone you don’t know. So walking down Oxford street on a busy day was amazing cause no one knew me and no one cared.
The flip side is I knew if I got mugged, if I fell and broke my leg, if I lost my wallet, if I needed any help while walking down Oxford street there was no guarantee I would get it. No matter how much I love London there was nothing like the sense of security I had when landing in Riyadh because we have a social and religious support system here that I think is rare anywhere else in the world.
After 21 I thought of 30. I thought of the people I knew who were 30 and they were women. They weren’t just girls anymore. I knew for sure that when I was 30 I would be a woman. I thought I would have 4 kids and I would be published and working on my second book, I always had an image of myself sitting at a desk in a pale room with huge windows over looking a garden wearing a long light grey dress. I imagined I would have long hair. I imagined I would feel like a wife, and a mother and a woman. I guess I did put some thought into who I would be when I “grow up”.
At 22 I got married and pregnant. I had S before my first anniversary. I still didn’t feel so grown up. I knew my days of being selfish were far far behind me. I didn’t mind much though. I fell in love with him the second I saw him. But I felt so young and overwhelmed. I didn’t quite get that I had a house to run, a husband, I actually had staff I employed. I messed up a lot. I just assumed things would be taken care of.
At 25 I got pregnant again. I had been trying since S was 9 months and just as I was about to panic I got pregnant! The idea that I had to run a house was sinking it.
My favorite number is 28. I always felt that at 28 something special was going to happen. That year we moved to London. My husband, two kids and I moved to a little town house in Camden. It was probably the best and the worst year and half of our lives but I will leave that till another post.
In London I felt grown up. I was dealing with taxes, and phone bills and TV licenses (my husband deals with all of the bills here in Saudi. Something I appreciate very very very much) and grocery shopping and volunteering at the kids schools. I dealt with neighbors, with their complaints, with their invitations. I dealt with them leaving their kids with me when they had to run out or just needed a break. This must all sound boring and mundane to you if you live this life but when you do not experience these things in your day-to-day life it’s a nice change. It was like playing house!
At 29 I was pregnant again. It was the last few months of London and was a sweet note to end a rather bitter-sweet year and a half there. Unfortunately, I did not realize my pregnancy would be the last good news we got in a while.
That year my mother got diagnosed with breast cancer. I was the only one of my sisters who was not with her when we found out. I was on vacation with my husband and my kids and found out while we were at the aquarium. All I wanted to do was cry and be alone to do it but I couldn’t.
It took two days till I could get on a flight to London where my mother was. I felt older then. I did cry, I cried the second I said goodbye to my husband outside the hotel till the second I saw my mother in London. I cried so much it was comical. No one knew what to do with me at the airport. The immigration officer just wanted to be done with me. The stewardess didn’t know what to say to me. At Heathrow airport at the baggage carousel I was a blubbering heap of tears trying to get my suitcase off the belt and in bits when I thanked the man who finally got it off for me. But the second I got to my mother I was fine.
Then they went to NY. Unfortunately, the American government didn’t see fit to give me a visa at that particular time and wouldn’t tell me exactly when I would get one. So I waited.
I waited in London for two weeks then decided to go to my husband and kids and wait with them. I waited some more, and got more and more pregnant and worried that I would not be able to travel by the time the visa was issued. My mother has a mastectomy and I was waiting. I waited for 6 weeks growing older and older till I finally got the phone call.
I kissed my husband and children goodbye and headed to London to get the visa. On my way into the American Embassy there was a protest, I cannot remember what it was for, I remember they wanted me to sign their petition. I ignored them and walked in. Once I had the visa on my passport I walked out and was much nicer to the woman who approached me and ended up signing the petition. Yes, I am a coward, I wanted the visa!
I was away from my children for two months. And I grew older. But I loved living in the same house with my sisters and mother again. I went home to give birth. Waited a month after Baby B was born and then we all went back to NY. Somewhere in the middle of that I turned 30. There was a little surprise party for me. A great cake with an illustration of a disheveled person who was supposed to be me carrying a crying baby with a boy and a girl wreaking havoc in the background. It was a party of a total of 6 people and it was perfect.
Now I am turning 31.
There are only a few things that make me feel older now than I did when I was 20:
That in a year and a half I would have been married for 10 years.
That I can remember 20 years ago.
That might be it! I love that it took me ages to come up with those two!
What makes me feel like I am still 20:
My marriage (on good days lol)
My children (Also, on good days)
That I started something new this year!
That I am still surprised by a lot of things
That I can skip rope really well for a longer period than I expected I could
That I have a dog and I named him Camden
That people are surprised by my age when I tell them (when they stop being surprised I will worry)
That I remember how to play almost all the games my kids play and still enjoy most
That there are many places in the world I still want to see
That I do still dream of publishing a book when I grow up
That I do still love surprises and blowing out candles on my birthday
That when my sisters and I get together for a long enough period you know we will eventually end up doing something so insanely silly that leaves us on the floor laughing for hours
So, an hour away from turning 31, I don’t feel like I thought I would. I still relate so well to the 18-year-old I was (not so way back when).
Happy new year everybody, figured I should mention the other big thing that happens on the 31st.