By Patrick Gomez Mia McNiece
May 19, 2014 12:00 PM

On the outside Jennifer Lopez may have retained the enviable glow of someone half her age, but when it comes to the hard-earned wisdom of her 44 years, she’s proud of every bruise and scar. “I wouldn’t change anything [about my past] because it made me who I am,” says Lopez as she settles into her seat at an oceanside Malibu eatery. She has just come from an intimate listening party for her eighth studio album, A.K.A. (out June 17), and is reflecting on the past three years since her last effort. “I went through some tremendous lows,” Lopez says of her 2012 split from husband Marc Anthony, but she has also embraced the “tremendous high” of being a mother to her 6-year-old twins, Emme and Max. In fact, two years later, Lopez is thriving with a hot, younger man (Casper Smart, 27, her boyfriend of more than two years), a booming empire (a new fragrance and book on top of her American Idol gig) and industry accolades (she is the first female recipient of the Billboard Music Awards’ Icon Award and will perform two songs on the show, airing May 18 on ABC). “I’ve made a ton of mistakes, but you need the messy stuff,” she says. “You learn from it or laugh about it. And I’m pretty happy with where I am today.” Here’s a peek into that superstar life, in her own words.

SHE’S STILL JENNY FROM THE BLOCK – AND A TOP CHEF

“My life is as normal as it can be,” Lopez insists. “When I’m not working, I am usually at home with the kids. Just getting up, making them breakfast and planning dinner. I love to cook, so I will make them whatever they want.” As for the household’s entertainment, it’s all G-rated goodness. “They love Frozen. Although during Easter, we took a break since they wanted to watch Hop, like, 15 times.”

SHE MAY BE THE MOM OF FUTURE POP STARS

“They love music, and they love to dance,” she says of Emme and Max. “Emme loves anything with a great beat.”

SHE DOESN’T HAVE A GOOD POKER FACE

Though her career has been full of risks – jumping into music in 1999 after building a successful film career and then becoming a fashion mogul and TV star – she’s not one to press her luck at the casino. “My mom loves to gamble. I do not,” she said at her listening party. “I work too damn hard for my money! But over Christmas, usually, once a year, I will go with her.”

HER BROKEN HEART LED TO A MORE OPEN HEART

Her split from Anthony after almost eight years of marriage “informed so much for me,” she says. “When you go through that kind of pain, you just can’t help but take a look at yourself – and look at what is going on.” For Lopez that meant reevaluating her priorities in relationships. “As women we can sometimes give ourselves away,” says the star. “I was certainly guilty of that for some time. Now I realize I am good on my own, so now I can share my life with somebody.” While Lopez declines to speculate if a wedding is in the offing for her and Smart (“You just have to live in the moment and believe in the feeling,” is all she’ll say), she gushes openly about the most enduring relationship in her life—the one she shares with her children: “Having my babies allowed me to realize what unconditional love is.”

SHE’S GOT HER GROOVE BACK

The singer says she’s gleaned a new sense of confidence from her postdivorce soul-searching. “At the end of the day, it’s all about love, and that means loving yourself,” says Lopez. “I found strength in that. I have worth. I have value. I love myself now.”

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