This week I’ll celebrate my 11th wedding anniversary. Eleven years? How could it be eleven years? It doesn’t feel like 11 years? I don’t feel any older. Granted both my knees are shot from an unfortunate dancing mishap last year and the word ‘spry’ may not be used to describe me, but I still have a good amount of energy. I don’t have to balance myself when I get up off the sofa or need warm milk before bed. My pants may be a bit tighter now, sports talk radio is on in my car, and the idea of a mid-afternoon nap is more enticing than a $1 Draft Night but that doesn’t make me old (boring but not old). Last time I checked (around the year 2000), I looked the same so it seemed impossible eleven years could have gone without me noticing. This revelation prompted me to stare in the mirror.
Usually, I run past the mirror in my bathroom with my hands over my eyes and yelling “Nay nay nay nay, you can’t see me!” but this morning, I wanted to take a good look at myself (maybe I’d even see someone closely resembling Brad Pitt). If eleven years had indeed gone by, I wanted to see if there was any evidence of it. The first place that came to mind to figure all of this out was taking a long hard look at my face.
I can tell you, I thought I would see someone different staring back at me that morning (I mean besides Brad Pitt). I thought I would see a younger version of me. I thought I would see the version of myself when I could run my fingers through my hair and not over top what was left of it. I thought I would see the fire in my eyes that burned so brightly as a twenty something kid. The fire of being unencumbered by responsibilities, small persons tugging at my legs for more juice, dog walks, mortgage payments, and wondering how I would be paying for both the car insurance and U10 Soccer.
I moved in for a closer look. I squinted. I contorted my mouth in to different shapes. I ran my hand down both sides of my beard. I puckered my lips and opened my eyes widely. I stuck my tongue out. I ran my fingers over my nose, eyebrows (which are slowly forming into one, like a mustache above my eyes), the lines in my forehead. I pulled down on each of my eyelids to look at my eyeballs.
What I saw was hair on my ears (I looked like an uncle of a Hobbit). I had to tilt my head down to see what is left of my hairline. Think what mountains look like in your rearview mirror as you drive further past the horizon…that’s my hair. I saw grey hairs sprinkled rather generously throughout my beard and in patches on the stumble on my head. The only vestige of youth left were a few freckles across my nose and spaced around my cheeks and forehead. And I didn’t notice the fires of youth burning in my eyes. I was a total mess.
I moved in a little closer to the mirror and then I saw something else.
I saw all the things that make up my life now (ear hair and receding hairline included). I saw someone who pays the car insurance and the soccer fees by sacrificing a few lunches during the work week (brown bagging it the rest of the week). I saw the guy who has to take the dog out when it’s pouring and during blizzards but who has a furry best friend. I saw roadtrips only taken after weeks of planning and reserving a babysitter and any time after midnight now considered an all-nighter. I saw my wife of 11 years and all the memories, both good and bad, that have defined those 11 years. I saw how much more I love her today than ever before. I saw my two little girls who still refer to me as their “Daddy”. I saw the guy who goes to tea parties, has front row seats for fashion shows with American Girl Dolls, and whose kids still get excited to see me when he walks in from work.
That morning, even though it has been gone for some time, I said goodbye to the fire of youth. I stopped wondering how eleven years could not have possibly gone by and I said ‘Hello‘ to the person who was staring back at me in the reflection in my mirror. I’m really glad he’s here.