Do you ever look in the mirror and wonder who that person is that is staring back at you? It has been happening to me quite a bit lately. I think in part because my hair is longer than it has been in a while and it turns out that it is fairly curly now. That surprises me because I used to have long straight – wavy really – hair and more recently I have had very short hair. That and this being winter in Canada I have a toque (winter hat for you non-Canadians) on my head every morning and afternoon as I travel to and from work. That tends to suppress the wilder parts of my hair.
Soooo, anyway, after that totally unnecessary digression about my changing hair styles – which is largely irrelevant since it is starting to go grey and continuing to fall out of my forehead – I’ll get back to what I think my point was. My point is that sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and don’t recognize myself. I look different. Older perhaps, maybe it is just that I am so tired that my eyes are always a bit bleary and I can’t focus properly. Whatever it is, it makes me stop and wonder how I got here.
How did I get here?
In high school I was one of the long-haired freaky people. I wore birkenstock sandals year-round. Granted in the winter I wore giant snowmobile boots to walk to school and then switched into sandals (with grey wool socks of course) when I got there. I got ignored in stores and I wore my hair in a ponytail or sometimes in pigtails. I was involved in causes that were important to me and I went to student leadership conferences for a good time. I yearned for assemblies that featured motivational speakers. Actually I yearned for any opportunity to get out of class and do something. I was not and still cannot be considered an academic. I lived by Mark Twain’s advice “don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” My best lessons always came from doing instead of reading about doing. I have always looked for knowledge that I can apply. I did well with geometry because I think of all the lines as pieces of 2×4 lumber. I still can’t for the life of me figure out what calculus is for. So I got involved in my final years of high school and became an activist – although of a moderate sort. At the end of high school I cut off all my hair and grew a thin (à la Hans Guber in Die Hard) beard. Did you know there is an entire Wiki dedicated to Die Hard? I feel I have learned my important piece of information for the day and can now go to bed.
After high school I took a year off (after an extra year of high school to get involved in more stuff) to travel and work before heading to university. I found out later this is known as a gap year. I wasn’t trying to find myself, I just wanted to go and wander around the British Isles where my family comes from and where I still have cousins. I worked because I didn’t have any money for university… I also took this time to convert my beard into a proper goatee that was good and thick and was a good 3″ long.
In university I continued my learn by doing theme and got involved in various student volunteer and leadership opportunities. The goatee didn’t survive my first year. My breath kept freezing on it as I walked around outside in the winter – did I mention that Ottawa is the second coldest national capital in the world, right after Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. At some point between shaving off my goatee and my forehead starting to enlarge itself I managed to get myself engaged and we got married shortly after we finished school.
Where is here?
Then all of a sudden it is just about 15 years later, I have three kids, one of whom is turning ten this fall, and I have curly hair. Admittedly there has been some stuff that happened in the intervening years. We travelled around a bit before having kids. We managed to spend some time in Australia testing the hole in the Ozone layer and hanging out with koalas and giant man-eating spiders that can kill you with a look. We moved to Toronto, worked there, had a couple of kids, my partner got her masters and we came back to Ottawa – Toronto just wasn’t cold enough. We had another kid in Ottawa, shovelled lots of snow and my forehead got bigger. I could say that my hair got greyer, but I tend to grow my grey hairs at the front so that they can fall out, never to return.
So now I am a 40 year old responsible adult. I have kids, pay the bills and show up at a job from time to time. I don’t sleep enough and I still eat too much – in part to fuel my body in place of sleep.
Where am I?
In spite or (or perhaps because of) everything that has happened on my journey from a long-haired freak person to a large-foreheaded, curly-haired responsible adult, I am still me. I still get involved in causes I believe in, although not as involved as I’d like to be. I still prefer to learn by doing rather than read about doing. This fact is why I tend to have band-aids on my fingers – because I learn and re-learn on a regular basis that I need to keep my fingers farther away from my belt-sander. Experience is a harsh mistress. I don’t wear socks and sandals as often any more, although as soon as I feel it will be embarrassing to my daughters you can bet I will be wearing white tube socks with my sandals whenever I am near their friends. I still crave motivational speakers and leadership conferences and I have discovered that my hair is once again long enough to put in tiny pig tails.
I’m still not sure I recognize that guy in the mirror though…