We have a Lego family that lives on our bookshelf. The boys and I created the custom mini-figures for my husband’s birthday last year. There, among my books, under a towering Lego Empire State Building, they stand in all their primary color, plastic haired glory. An expensive, brick-ed out representation of the four great loves of my life; my three boys, my city.
Today, I accidentally sucked Lego “Me” up with the vacuum cleaner. And I had a bit of a minor freak out.
Sometimes there’s a little bit of crazy that lives in my head. Sometimes I have a tendency to over-think. Shocking, I know. But my life as a writer is built upon symbolism and comparison, simile and analogy. Metaphor is a big part of what I do, how I think, who I am. So you can imagine the thoughts that raced through my head as I watched my Lego self get sucked into the vortex of my Dyson. To make matters worse, when I emptied the damn thing, I could only find my Lego hair. As if Lego Dina got pulverized and mixed into the debris and detritus that regularly litters my area rugs and fills my bins. Eventually, I found the rest of my Lego counterpart. But I had to dig deep, bit by linty bit.
Had I lost my Lego doppelgänger, I’m not sure what I would have done. Watching myself get sucked into a black hole, even though it was only a mini-figure of myself and only into a vacuum cleaner, was scary. In a metaphorical kind of way. In my overly stimulated brain, it was like some sort of omen.
It’s been a long week.
See, I’ve only just found myself again. Not my whole self, but a part of myself that’s been missing for a while. Not forgotten or repressed or buried, not bound and locked deep down to keep the demons at bay or anything that dramatic, just knocked out with a subconscious sedative while another role took precedence.
We all play roles. From the moment we’re born, we’re thrust into roles. First it is daughter or son; brother or sister; first-born, middle child, baby of the family. As we mature, we may take on the role of friend, confidant. The roles start to get meatier, more substantial as we age. Roles you can really sink your teeth into. Husband, wife; mother, father; provider, nurturer. And just like a cheap stage production that can’t afford enough actors to fill out its cast, we’re usually required to play more than one character, more than one role at any given time. Often they’re fluid, so it is not too difficult to segue our way from one to the next without too much thought. But occasionally, the role is so big, so encompassing, so chock full of import that everything else is subsumed by it.
A lot of women, myself included, let themselves be consumed by the role of Mother. Many are consumed voluntarily. Lots of us are just too tired and befuddled to fight it. But these beefy roles—parent, provider, nurturer—these roles require so much more attention to detail and physical presence and time and thought that they tend to eclipse the rest. And sometimes the eclipse becomes so elongated in its duration that we begin to confuse night and day, day and night. Me becomes Mom. You becomes Dad. We bumps along in the backseat like a toddler along for the ride. And I? I sometimes gets left behind by mistake.
When you play a role for too long, you stop hearing the words. You simply recite the lines from memory. The passion that fueled those first few performances starts to ebb, as it must. Gestures become less emphatic, expression less heartfelt. It becomes robotic and stilted, it lacks in any of the spontaneity that makes a performance a stand-out. And it is easy to forget that this wasn’t the way it always was, that there used to be more.
And then one day you wake up and your role has changed. Your children have made themselves breakfast or they are wiping their own backsides. They stop thinking that the moon revolves around you and the sun goes to bed by your decree. They grow up. But the need for the constant role of Mom is less constant and there is a little breathing space. The role that has been your most familiar through sheer hours put in, the one that has consumed you and become you, starts to deflate a bit. And there is room again for a little bit of “I” in there. The problem is, if you haven’t left a trail of breadcrumbs back to yourself, your “I”, then you’re quite simply, kind of screwed.
I started writing again last year after a decade long hiatus. The breadcrumb trail had long dried up, become stale. Yet I found my way back somehow. And in doing so, I have found a joy in writing that surprised me. Not just a purpose or a release, but an unfettered joy. I am inspired by my children, by my husband, by my conversation and discussions with friends. But writing is mine, and mine alone. It is the ‘me’. And that can be scary. Because now I am not just Mom. I am not just Wife. I have a big bit of the “I” again. And I don’t want to lose it.
Even if it’s a Lego Me. Luckily for me, I’ve got them both back.
For a lighter Lego take, you can read Screw You, Sensei Wu. Lego goes both ways.