To My Son, Who is Turning Thirteen

Here we are, on the verge of big, bad teenagerdom.

I’m not going to lie, I’m scared. Not all the time, and not even about the big, bad things, but nevertheless, she persisted worrying. Have I done enough? Have I reminded you to please and thank you enough? Taught you how to tell a joke or to always deal cards to the left? Have I given you the confidence to do the right thing, even when the right thing isn’t the easy thing?

Most of the time I worry because I feel like I’m running out of time.

There are days when it seems you’ve already got one foot out of the door. I have to remind myself you’ve always had one foot out of the door, from the moment you were born. You were never mine, not really. You’ve always been your own. The universe merely placed you in my care for this dance, to make sure when you’re ready, you step through with both feet, confident and secure.

But that door? It will always open to you.

When you were an infant, swaddled like a baby burrito, you’d look up at me and I felt a million things surge through my blood all at once, like wildfire raging through my veins. Thirteen years later your eyes are nearly level with my own, but my blood still sings that same fiery song.

Those times you think I’m staring at you, looking for something to criticize? I’m really looking to see if the angle of your jaw has sharpened between dinner and breakfast.

When you catch me standing outside your door, it’s not to simply to tell you to pick your clothes up off the floor, it’s also to hear if the timber of your voice has begun to deepen.

I’m terrified I’m going to miss something, afraid one day I’ll look at you and that tiny boy, the one we fought so hard to bring into the world, is going to be impossible to recognize in the face and body of the young man you’re becoming.

In case I don’t tell you enough, I am proud of you, the way you treat everyone with kindness, the ease with which you saunter through life, your even-temper. Do you remember the night we sat around the dinner table and asked, who is the least likely to lose their temper? Without hesitation, we all pointed to you.

Keep your even temper. It will be your greatest gift in life, the ability to take a situation and diffuse it, to find the funny, or the good, the silver lining.

You are so unbelievably fortunate. You have so much opportunity at times it’s almost embarrassing. Use it. Use it to speak out for those who have less. Don’t ever take it for granted or feel like the world owes you more than what you’ve already been bestowed, because those invisible gifts you’ve been born into–the color of your skin, your sex, the opportunities we’ve been able to give to you? Those things are not due to you. You do not deserve them more than someone else. So use them. Stand up for those who walk through life with less ease, with less opportunity, with less help. Be aware of your privileges and of how you can use them for good.

Find something you want to be great at. It doesn’t matter if you are great at it, but it’s important to have something to work at, to dream about. Don’t take the easy way out. Get better. Be better.

Take time to settle into your mold. You don’t have to know who you are or what you want to do with your life. You just need to live your best life. Not everyday, no one lives their best life everyday. If someone tells you that, ignore them. If you’re batting one for ten you’re doing ok. Some days life hurts. Some days it’s tough. Some days it sucks donkey balls. It will get better. Don’t think it won’t get better.

No matter how many eye-rolls or ‘whatever’s, how many door slams or a thousand other stereotypes I’m remembering from The Breakfast Club and my own teenage years, we will be here. Sometimes you’ll feel like you don’t need us. That’s good. That means we’ve done our job. We’ll be here anyway.

You’re going to think we’re dumb and out of touch. You’re going to think you know better. You’re going to think every sneaky trick you come up with to fool us hasn’t been tried before. You’re wrong on all counts.

You won’t believe me. I know. I didn’t either.

We’re going to argue. I’m going to be wrong. You’re going to be wrong. If it’s truly important, stand up for yourself. But choose your hills wisely. Make sure it’s a hill you’re willing to die on before you dig in.

I’m going to embarrass you. Mostly accidentally but sometimes on purpose.

You’ll want to do things we don’t think you’re ready for. Sometimes we’ll screw it up. Sometimes we’ll make shitty decisions. But even when we do, try to remember it’s coming from a place of love. You won’t believe that either, but it’s true.

The world is out there waiting. There’s a lot of shit going down, a lot of bad stuff. But so much good stuff too. Don’t let the scary stuff stop you from experiencing the good. Don’t let the good stuff stop you from trying to change the bad.

Don’t let anyone else define you. If someone tells you that you have to be or do something? If they want to change you or set conditions on their love for you? Run the other way. Fast.

Life is going to hurt. Life is going to sing. It’s going to flutter and fly and sink and sometimes you’ll feel like you are drowning in your own breath. That is life. All of it put together is what makes it worth living.

Most of all I want you to know it will never be you vs. the world. We are tied together, you and me. For nine months your heartbeat tangled with mine until it was hard to tell where one stopped and the other began. Yours dances to a different tempo now, but mine? Mine will always skip a beat here and there, making sure there is a space for yours to return to when you need it.

Love,
Mom

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To the Girls Who Shared Their Aqua Net With Me

sheragroupFor the past few summers, I’ve been getting together with a small group of friends from high school. Each year we seem to add a friend or two, like charms to a bracelet. And though it’s been nearly thirty years since we threw our mortar boards into a cloudy, June sky, it’s easy to slip back into a friendship that is both comfortable and uncomplicated.

Light as a feather, stiff as a board. It was a girlhood game we played at slumber parties, but it describes these friendships too. The responsibility for maintaining them doesn’t weigh heavy upon me, but I know, without having to think about them too much, that they would bear weight as well. Together we have a shared past of acne and baby fat, of crushes and teenage heartbreak. Of all the good and bad that make up the exquisite pain of adolescence.

I don’t try to impress these women when we visit. I throw some chips in a bowl, open a tub of ready-made dip and make sure I have enough wine. That’s about it. These are the girls that have seen me at my gawkiest, my gothiest, my geekiest. These are the girls that snuck wine coolers at the bridge with me, who gave me endless rides, who slept out on the sidewalk with me for Duran Duran tickets. They are the girls who shared their Aqua Net with me, who let me primp in the magnetic mirror on the inside of their locker, who stood in a circle and danced to We’re Not Gonna Take It.

Once you’ve white-girl danced together to Twisted Sister in a sweaty cafeteria it’s hard to impress someone.

Sometimes it’s hard to get past the past. In my head (and often aloud) I still refer to them by their maiden names. It’s difficult sometimes to think of Kelly as a well-respected veterinarian instead of Kelly who adored Howard Jones. It’s hard to think of Joanne as the mother of two adult women and not Joanne whose house we always hung out at.

We’ve all chosen different paths. Some work, some don’t have kids. I’ve moved abroad. Some live in the same town we grew up in. But we have this core, this commonality that draws us like moths to a flame, a history of having survived the same hallways and the same classrooms, of growing up.

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We still talk about boys–though they are our husbands and sons. We still talk about our parents, but now we talk about the plans in place as they age. We still gossip about who did what to who in high school and a few long-held secret crushes have been shared over the pinot-grigio.

We trade memories like baseball cards. We tell stories, because that is how women connect, through stories. Often we have different recollections of the same event. We were so caught up in our own heads, so focused on the girl in the mirror gazing back, that we often didn’t see past the cloud of hairspray to the girl standing to the right or left.

In thirty years the conversations haven’t changed too much, but we have changed.

Diane has a new hip, her old one worn down by juvenile arthritis–and Tammi is a grandmother. I am softer around the edges. And the middle, top, bottom and sides. Laura’s hair is streaked with gray. Amanda is caretaker to her family, the equation turned upside down, the child turned parent.

Despite the loss of collagen, despite the need for reading glasses, we all look better than we did in high school. Not simply due to hairstyles and a better dress sense, not due to filling out or even tightening up, but because on the other side of the girlhood door we all found the woman we were meant to be.

These are the girls who witnessed my transformation from tall geeky girl to tall eyeliner goth. With them I am not Dina, the writer or Dina, the expat, I am the gawky girl who had a crush on the quarterback. I am the girl who didn’t get asked to the prom, the one who, even at 16, was railing about the injustices of high school life in the school newspaper. I am the caterpillar who didn’t manage to blossom into a butterfly until well after high school.

These women know from whence I came. They ground me.

Aqua NetAt a time when I have felt so untethered to the world around me, as I try to figure out where to go next, I rather desperately needed that grounding. I needed to know that even though I don’t look the same, the girl I once was is still present in the woman I am. As I get ready to go through another metamorphosis, it is comforting to know I won’t lose myself–but instead I will take the girl and woman I am with me into the next phase of my life.

To the girls that shared their Aqua Net with me, thank you for the reminder.

Love,
Me

Blowing Bubbles

00002a9c_mediumThere was a time when I was moon, sun, and stars to my boys. Their days began and ended with me: a morning hug around the neck, a goodnight kiss in the dark.

It was exhausting, but it was also gloriously uncomplicated.

These days their need for me grows more nuanced by the hour. I no longer have to follow their toddling legs around to make sure they aren’t sticking forks in the outlets or finding coins to swallow. Nowadays it’s conversation and shared experience, text and email.

I miss my babies and my sturdy, chunky toddlers, my excited pre-schoolers, but I realized the other day what I miss even more is blowing bubbles.

Remember when a bottle of soap bubbles was enough? When those filmy baubles floating into the air coaxed a smile or a gaze of wonder? It’s been a while since I’ve had that kind of magic at my fingertips.

I know there’s magic deep down. There are layers of love and listening and trust that are building up over time, foundations and steps that will be high enough for them to stand on one day, by themselves. I know those things are vital and necessary and important.

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But sometimes it would be nice to grab a bottle of bubbles and see the world light up in those brown eyes again.

Increasingly it is difficult to find things for us all to do. They would rather play on an X-box and I have boxes of my own to tick. The pendulum swings from wildly busy to mind-numbingly not–from hummingbird to sloth depending on sports schedules and homework, travel and school. My (oft lame) suggestions of family outings or trips to the museum are met with half-hearted shrugs or outright dismissal.

I miss the times when just being with me was enough to do. Swinging in the playground,  running in endless circles or digging in a sandbox. The glee is contained now. It still bursts through sometimes, but it has to pierce a thicker skin. Or it could be they are away from me for such long chunks of time I don’t see it as often.

53fa9a98c673904e53b3406b003f659aLife is immeasurably easier. There is quiet, there is peace. There is reasoning. I am exhausted as I watch mothers of young toddlers following them as their little wills go faster than their legs can carry them, mothers ready to soothe a scraped palm when they pitch forward to the ground, who swoop them up and plant a hundred kisses on them.

I miss the magic kisses too.

But mostly I miss the bubbles, the way we would chase them through the sky, their little legs following as fast as their hearts would let them.

I miss a time when most of the magic was me, when the day rose and set with a hug around the neck.

 

To All the Moms I’ve Loved Before

thumb_P1100053_1024First was the mother who cradled me, belly then arms; the one who checked for breath in the middle of the night and stayed up until dawn slaying fevers, the one who documented first teeth and words, who started a living record in her memory. The mother who held out her arms to catch my first tentative steps.

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The childhood mother who encouraged her shy seven-year-old to go out and make friends, a clutch of birthday party invitations in hand, the one who had a secret word with the teacher to make sure her daughter wasn’t friendless on her first day at a new school, the one who sat outside ballet classes and applauded a hundred thousand handstands in the pool, quick with a kiss and a band-aid (an occasional I told you so) whenever I fell.

20160508_100015There was the mother who hung further back while I dove in and started the long, hard swim upstream toward adolescence,the one who took a backseat while friendships got more intense, when independence took the form of kissing boys under porches and coming home when the street lights blinked on, still ready to catch me, but from a little further away.

There’s the mother of the teenager, who saw past the aqua-net and the eyeliner, who bit her 20160508_100031tongue over the outlandish, the one who let me cry when a best friend broke my heart, when a boy broke my spirit, when I was still wiggly with who I was, giraffe legs wobbly on the ground. That mother didn’t argue when I petulantly insisted that who I was was the same as who I would be (and refrained from I told you so), the one who let me choose my own road less taken, even though that road led me away from her.

There was the mother during my first few years away from home, tripping and faltering into young adulthood in New York City, a voice at the end of the phone line, the one who let me think I didn’t need her to catch me if  I stumbled and bruised my soul.

IMG_3261The mother at the end of the very same phone line when I got sucked feet first into a black hole I couldn’t see a way out of, the one who got into her car in the middle of a weekday night to shine a light for me to follow out; because of course she was close enough to catch me, no matter how far away she was.

There was the mother who bit her tongue through boyfriends who weren’t right, men who didn’t break my heart as much as they broke the person I thought I was, the one who let me figure out how glue the pieces back together to make a different, stronger version of myself.1378644_10151967016719066_787144188_n

There was the mother who took the last boyfriend aside and thanked him for bringing a smile back to her daughter’s life, the one who thanked him again at our wedding a few years later.

20160508_100001There was the mother who cried with me all those months when my own hopes of motherhood got flushed away like so much waste, the who patiently tried to understand all the needles and the blood tests, the new-fangled methods, the one who cried with me when those new-fangled methods didn’t work. And then cried harder when they did.

There was the mother who stood back looking on while I took more shaky first steps, this time down the road of motherhood myself, who resisted giving advice or an I told you so, who let me find my own footing, who watched me gain my balance and climb higher than I thought I could.thumb_IMG_7725_1024

There is the mother to my adult, the one who shares a bottle of wine and stories, the one who can tell me, now that I am old enough and experienced enough to understand, about all the times she stood behind me, ready to catch me if I fell, even when I didn’t know she was there.

thumb_IMG_0146_1024Time keeps marching and dragging us both with it. Eventually it will be she who is taking steps which are shaky, slightly wobbly on her feet.

And I’ll be behind her, ready to catch her if she falls.