I went through a stage in my mid twenties where I really wished I could have gone back and started again. I was sure I could have been a better student. I would have worked harder, well, I would have actually DONE some work. I would have learnt a language, done my math homework and actually read the books that I wrote essays about. If I could have gone back and started again, I just knew I would have been in a better place.
It wasn't just the regrets. Sure, I would never have kissed the guy with the hush puppy shoes, and I would have remembered to pull the dress out of the back of my stockings BEFORE I walked into the year twelve formal dance, but there was more to it. I would have gone back and been nicer to myself. I would have looked at myself in the mirror and said "WOW". I would have told myself that the freckles were fine, that my size was just perfect, and I would have grabbed my thighs not to be horrified by their girth but amazed by their muscle tone.
It had finally dawned on me, that physically, at that very point in time, I was possibly the best me I was ever going to be.
G and I went to renew our passports yesterday. We don't have an Australian Embassy in Qatar, which means we wait for the consulate representatives to make their monthly visit. G was already seated at the table when I arrived, a familiar plastic packet of birth certificates and translated documents spread in front of him. Our marriage certificate was there, with six different birth certificates from an array of countries. As I flick through the contents a little explosive flashback triggers with each one, a different hospital bed, a different accent or language to decipher.
I opened my passport to see a completely different me. The photo was taken in a camera store in Libya. I remember the trepidation of driving down Gargaresh road and searching amongst the Arabic signed shopfronts for a Fuji or a Kodak sign. I remember the smiles from the men behind the counter as I entered with a stroller and two small children.
"Passport photo? Australian?" I hand them my print out of Australian passport rules, and point to the section that explains the necessary background colour and size.
The second little traveller is strapped to my front and there is a stilted conversation where we struggle between English and Arabic on whether I can keep her attached to me while I have the shot taken. We agree the straps of the baby bjorn will show in the picture and I'll need someone to hold her while we take the shot. Without any thought I remove her and pass her to a young man behind the counter, and she is immediately the centre of attention. Three men crowd around her desperately trying to win what appears to be a smile off. I rearrange my shirt and run my hand over my tummy as I stand for the shot and the photographer realizes I'm pregnant. He points to the first traveller in her stroller, and holds up a single finger, he then points to the second and holds up another, he then points to my stomach and questions "three?"
"Yes, there's going to be three" I'm giggling but I'm terrified.
"You are blessed" he tells me.
When I think of that time, only nine years ago, I think of babies, toddlers, wading pools and nursery rhymes. The happy times, the dinner parties, the road trips, the homemade booze and the friends. The sad times, the goodbyes, the reign of Ghaddafi, the worry of how I will physically travel with three children under the age of four.
I think about how exhausting some of those days were. I think about laying in a wading pool in searing temperatures, my pregnant tummy emerging out of the water while I made jokes about my predicament. This whale was well and truly beached.
But now, as I sit nine years older without a baby in sight, I return to look at that skin, that hair, the undeniable freshness of being nearly ten years younger, and realize once again, at that moment in time, I was possibly the best me I would be. Did I make the most of it? I hope so.
Nine years on and there are some extra lines, added kilos and oh god, are they the beginning of jowls?
"Where's that girl?" I asked, referring to my passport photo.
"Honey, you look the same, you just have a few more stories to tell" said my very generous friend Jen.
And then it clicked.
In another ten years, I will return to look at a different passport photo, in ten years time I will look ten years older, because that's the way it's meant to be. Right now though, it's time to appreciate exactly what's on offer today.
The best me that I'll possibly ever be.