Turning 30

I started planning for my 30th birthday when I was 28. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a shitty day. As I wasn’t sure I’d ever have a wedding I sent a save the date to all my favourite people asking them to spend my 30th birthday with me in my favourite place in the world – home. I wanted to avoid my usual January birthday doldrums, trying to squeeze a celebration out of people who are pooped and broke from Christmas and New Year and clearly would rather stay home. I managed to lock a number of my besties into this birthday tour, including three Aussies (consistently voted most likely to travel) and one Frenchie (consistently voted most likely to travel with foie gras de canard and champagne) and we had a three week South African birthday extravaganza replete with…






                                          and Pool Parties

While I milked turning thirty for two weeks of celebrations when it finally came, the two years leading up to the Big Three-O were quite rough in patches and it felt subconsciously linked to the looming loss of my twenties and everything I thought I should’ve seen and done in them. Time was slipping away and at age 28, I felt quite panicked about it. It was easy to look around and see lots of things I didn’t have or hadn’t done that others had: no boyfriend, no property, no dazzling career, no extended travel adventures and most worryingly, no real plan.

It’s hard to share these kinds of internal fears and perceived failings with others, mostly because they refuse to agree and prefer to point out what they see as your talents and accomplishments – but you’ve lived in 3 countries, but you have a good job, but you can ride a bike. While it’s kind of them to point these things out, none of them feel exceptional.  I wonder if the pre 30-year-olds with dazzling boyfriends, properties and careers also feel some sort of apprehension towards their turn of the decade. Maybe. They will probably just be able to tick off more than I could when reading the never-ending ‘X things you should know/do/try/save for before turning 30’ articles. If I had my way, they would all be banned. The stress it induces to read about all the things you should’ve done but haven’t, doesn’t help the ageing gracefully process. I honestly wouldn’tve been shocked to read in one such listicle that as a woman you should have a baby before 30 or freeze your eggs. The unsolicited advice that threw me most was a Planet Money podcast that suggested by the age of 30 you should have saved the equivalent of your annual salary. For the first time in my life I wished I earned a lot less!

The panicked year that was 28 gradually subsided and by 29 I started to mentally accept where I was in life. I began looking forward to a calmer, wiser, wealthier decade once I’d turned 30, hoping it would bring more focus and answers where my silly, searching twenties had brought predominantly questions.

Making an occasion of turning 30 and the 18-month build up to my birthday trip certainly helped ease the pain. On the day of my birthday I asked everyone for some of their favorite words of wisdom. The most meaningful words were shared by my dad:


Strive for whatever peak you desire. But remember ’tis no sin to rest awhile, nor to change your mind. Eternally until thine own self be true.

I love the honesty of this advice. It’s saying we should work towards a goal but not persecute ourselves when our attention diverts for a minute or sacrifice our integrity at the expense of achieving it. This is advice I carry with me every day now.

Sometimes when people ask me how old I am I still want to say 29, but really I’m so pleased to have left my twenties behind me. I’m still not where I want to be in many aspects of my life, but I’m so much less stressed about it. There’s a kinship between us thirty something’s, the recognition that these next ten years are probably going to be the best years of our lives. The age bomb we were expecting to explode didn’t. Food still tastes good, sunshine still feels warm and we’re free to enjoy it all now that we’ve stopped obsessing over ourselves.

Respect for my elders

My dad turned 70 yesterday. My mom turned 70 three years ago. Here are some other numbers:

  • My mom had me when she was 43. My dad was 40.
  • My mom had been married once before but her husband died 6 months after their wedding.
  • My dad had 2 daughters before he married my mom.
  • My dad has 4 daughters in total. I grew up with only 1 of them.

If I look at the numbers I see that my parents had entire lives before us. Before each other. They loved and suffered and experienced things. Then they were just my parents. Until about 5 years ago when I started growing up and and seeing them as real people. I started to imagine what it must have felt like to lose the person you love and have to start again. Or to have a child out there who doesn’t know that you’re her father or one that doesn’t want to know you at all.

My Dad as a Dashing Young Man

                                My Dad as a Dashing Young Man. Happy 70th!

I think this is a common phenomenon for us children. To gradually have the veil lifted and see that our parents are more similar to us than dissimilar and that we are more similar to them than we realized. Ten years ago, I saw a lot that I thought was wrong with my parents. Five years ago I was actively aware of the traits I’d inherited from them that I did not want to display. Today, I’m focused on how I can be more like them and emulate the characteristics that I love and respect in them.

Like my mothers curiosity and resourcefulness. She once flew my sister and I all the way from South Africa to Wimbledon where we slept on the rock hard pavement with only a borrowed blanket from a B&B so that we could get tickets for Center Court and see my idol, Steffi Graf. People told her she couldn’t afford it but when we got home she rented out our house and we spent the summer holidays in a Caravan Park down the road. She even let me paint our gypsy caravan my favourite colour, turquoise, and wasn’t embarrassed when we set up camp next to the sleek motor homes with satellite dishes for their TVs. Now that’s the kind of person and mom I want to be.

Or my father’s creativity and gentle nature. While my mom is more conservative, my father would sketch nude hippes in the Knysna Forest back in the day. I think the stillness and focus of drawing must’ve appealed to his nature. I’ve never seen him raise his voice unless unduly provoked. When he said no, it meant no. ‘Finish ‘n klaar!’ he liked to say or ‘Finishinkla!!! if exasperated. He was a quiet but not a passive leader, making his voice heard when it was important. I think it must be thanks to him that I’m attracted to the quiet confident types (or type) now.

It has taken me years to learn that I want to be more, not less, like my parents. They learned lots of lessons for me before I was even born and right now, they are still here to teach them to me, for which I am very grateful.

A selection of my mother’s favourite mantras, etched in my brain for life:

You’re Face is Your Fortune

Where there’s a Will There’s a way

Never Give Up

There’s no such thing as bored

Sunburnt Little Girls Make Wrinkled Old Ladies