When I pick up K from his preschool, I look at the other parents waiting for their children to finish their lunch and I think to myself, “Yeah, they all look like they are parents.” This is in contrast to my own internal mental mirror of myself where I am much too young, and consequently young looking, to have children.
My mental mirror shows a dashing young man, mid-twenties, fit, nice hair, with clear blue eyes and definitely no bags under those eyes. Pretty much, it is the image of me when I married my wife nearly eight years ago. But, a lot has happened since that day in December: we have survived two very large natural disasters (Asian Tsunami of 2004 & Cyclone Nargis in 2008), we completed our Peace Corps service in Bangladesh, completed our Master degrees, spent five years in Burma, and have had two boys.
Out of all that we have done, it is having two boys that has really detoured my actual appearance from that of my mental mirror. When my wife was pregnant with K, I happily joined her in eating all of those French fries that she craved, and I would really be a bad husband if I were to let her eat those extra meals/snacks by herself. Well, nine months later I was twenty pounds heavier; and while it all disappeared from my wife (oh the magic of breastfeeding) I was still saddled with some extra large love handles. But that was okay, I was still able to get out a couple times a week and play Ultimate Frisbee, which slowly was working the weight back down.
I have always been a team sport guy. I love playing sports, but can’t stand to work out in a gym or do any solo activities such as swimming or running. Luckily, there was a good group of folks in Burma playing Ultimate. But then, an old back injury from my Tae Kwon Do days flared up. Was it due to the extra weight I had put on, or the fact that I was repeatedly lifting baby K? I don’t know, but that slowed my game down a bit, but I still was playing. Then on one particular hot tournament day, I blew out my knees. Game over. Well, not completely, I still was getting out there, just was being much more careful, what really ended the game was the arrival of baby M.
With K, my wife and I were able to swing things well enough that each of us would be able to get away and do something that we enjoyed. For me that was Ultimate and poker nights with the guys. Enter M, and all outings were off. My wife was at home working with both boys, albeit with some assistance from the wonderful staff we had in Burma, but I just didn’t feel right when I would leave my wife to handle both boys on her own. It probably won’t have been too much of a deal, but K was in the midst of two and half year old testing and jealousy and not going to sleep.
And here come the bags under those clear blue eyes of mine. Sleep has been an elusive luxury over the past three and half years, which in turn impacts over all health, both mental and physical. (Need we be reminded that sleep deprivation is a form of torture?) Now I know the lack of sleep is not something that is new to any parent, but what exacerbated the situation for us was that every ten weeks, due to visa restrictions, we had to leave the country. That meant packing up first K then M, and flying them off to Bangkok, or maybe Singapore or other SEA destination for a weekend. This meant hotel rooms, all sleeping in one room and the complete throwing off of sleep schedules. And having a strict sleep schedule is something that we stove for. But after a weekend in Bangkok, which used to be so enjoyable sans children, we had to come back to Burma and spend the next week or two working to reestablish the sleep schedule, only to have to leave the country again when our ten weeks were up. The bags were getting bigger and bigger.
And finally, we have the hair. I have always been very happy with my thick mane of hair, but magically once K showed up, I noticed that some thinning was taking place. I was graying too, but I really like the gray and embraced that. Thinning hair…not so cool. I’m not receding, just thinning and largely thinning only on one side. Stress is a very big factor in hair loss and living abroad is full of stress, on which you throw parenting and it is surprising that either my wife or I still have hair. But it reached a critical point the other week when my wife acutely observed that I started to comb my hair a different way, completely changing where my part was. “Yeah,” I casually explained, “my hair is getting a bit too thin where I used to part it, so I am combing some hair over to help cover it up.”
WTF!!! I am doing the comb-over and I didn’t even realize it! How low have I fallen? So here I am today, combing over my thinning hair on my hands and knees giving K a horsey ride with a bad back and blown out knees, hoping that when I next take a flight they don’t charge me extra for the luggage I am carrying around under my eyes.
I am sure the natural aging process has something to do with this too, but I find it mighty curious that it all really started showing the moment kids entered the picture. By my calculations, which I have liberally lifted from all the conversions I have to do being an American living in Europe, with the first child your aging rate increase from 1:1 to 1:1.8, with the addition of the second child the ratio alters to 1:2.2. In this way, I have had one child for 2.5 years resulting in 4.5 years of aging and I have had two children for 1 year resulting in 2.2 years of aging. This means, that in the past 3.5 years, I have actually aged 6.7 years, which brings me damn near 40 years old.
So, I guess I probably do look like those other parents waiting to pick up their children from school. And since many of them are expat parents too, we are quite a haggard bunch of parents.