Do you ever look in the mirror and wonder who it is looking back at you? I never remember experiencing this in my 20's. But with 40 just over a month away, it seems to happen quite often. Who is that guy with the crow's feet? The puffy cheeks? The thinning hair? A couple of months ago I was driving the car and I glanced into the rearview mirror. It was angled funny, so I was looking right back at myself. All I could see was a view of my forehead down to my nose. But it was my dad looking back at me! I did a double take. When did that happen? (No offense, Dad. If I look like you do at age 72, I'll be extremely happy. But I don't really remember you any younger than 40, so it was a sobering experience.)
But it's not just the age factor. Do you ever wonder as you look at the person in the mirror how they got to where they are? It's 4:00 am. Xander woke up at about three o'clock yelping that his IV hurt. (It turned out to be clotted and he needed another one. Fun concept to explain to a seven-year-old.) I went to bed early. Before nine! But I've been tossing and turning all night. The couch/bed in his post-surgery room was actually pretty decent. But the one in this room is terrible. I'm sleeping on a slant plus it sags in the middle. Fun. My head is foggy, but I have to get up and comfort our brave little man. He's freaking out at the idea of another poke for a new IV. Fortunately, they have "the rocket," a compressed air lidocaine blast that numbs him before the poke. It works well, and he finally calms down. I wander down the hall into the bathroom. I splash a little water on my face and look in the mirror. How did you get here? What crazy confluence of events puts you in a children's hospital (for the umpteenth night in the last five years) caring for a kid who was born in ZhengZhou, China? Who are you? What kind of crazy man signs up for kids number nine and ten? You used to think you were pretty cool. Never thought you were Brad Pitt, but maybe on the Matt Damon level. Decent looking. Now you're more along the lines of an aging John Malkovich. You used to stay up playing basketball with the guys at the church down the street (and holding your own pretty darn well!). Now you stay up doing math homework or making late-night runs to WalGreens for gluesticks or nursing one of your EIGHT dependents back to health or changing a seriously nasty diaper or finally getting to your paperwork after an evening of Ring-Around-The-Rosie and Duck Duck Goose. On the off chance that you do get down to the court to play, the twenty-somethings run circles around your creaky knees and aching back. What happened to you?!?
I thought by 40 I'd be as smart as my dad was when he was 40. I was eight back then, and Dad knew everything! I figured I'd be mature and wise. Somehow when I was younger I figured from 40 on would be a time of peace and tranquility. The kinks of life would have been worked out and I could just coast through the second half of my time here on earth. Instead, I find myself on the brink of two older-child adoptions. Very possibly the most challenging adjustments to date. We're in a squished home with absolutely no feasible way to accomodate a wheelchair and nothing barring a major miracle (which we continue to pray for!) that could get us into something bigger anytime soon. I have a good job, but as demonstrated by the sudden and sweeping layoffs two weeks ago (about 25%) my lifeline to financial security is a bit tenuous. I'm responsible to feed, clothe, entertain, and otherwise provide for soon-to-be ten kids and a wonderful wife (who obviously shares these responsibilities and works far harder I do!) So 40 does not seem so secure and smart. 40 seems rather terrifying. And I can't even bend over to pick up Sophi without my spine screaming at me to stop.
I'm not sure where I was going when I started this post. I'm quite certain I'm not alone. Other dads have their own challenges. Sadly, I can't afford a Harley-Davidson to soothe my bruised machismo, so I guess I'll just have to push forward as is. (Not that Christi would let me have a motorcycle, even if we were millionaires.) But I just had an experience that reminded me of the answers to most of my questions. The nurses have now left the room. Xander is lying in bed as I'm on the computer. I hear his little grunts of dissatisfaction and his tossing and turning as he tries to get comfortable. His grunts tend to drive me insane.
"Xander, what's wrong?"
"I can't sleep."
"Do you hurt?"
"No. I can't sleep?"
"Do you itch?"
"No. I can't sleep."
"Do you want anything? Apple juice? The TV on?"
"No. I just want to sleep."
And then I realize who the guy in the mirror is. He's Daddy. And there's no one else he'd rather be.
"Xander, would you like to say a prayer together?" He nods his head. I go over to the chair by his bed and sing the family prayer song. I ask him who should say the prayer. He looks up with his lower lip tucked into his upper teeth and points at me. I say a brief prayer and ask Father in Heaven to help Xander to feel better, heal quickly and fall asleep. By the end of the prayer he is almost out. I tuck him in and listen to his regular breathing as I finish this post.
So I'm a Dad. Doing my best to follow the example of my Father. The one who looks down on me, forgives my mistakes, listens when I pray and loves me unconditionally. I always fall far short of His perfection, and yet my kids seem to forgive me, too. In fact, they seem to look at me at 40 like I looked at my Dad. (At least the non-teenagers look at me that way;). As a rock they can lean on. As the guy who knows everything and can solve every problem. The next time I look in the mirror, I'm going to challenge that guy to be more like the person his kids think he is. And to cherish each day with them. And to lose a little weight!