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.



All the World’s a Stage


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.

Lego Dina
Lego Dina

For a lighter Lego take, you can read Screw You, Sensei Wu.  Lego goes both ways.