Sixteen (Wild and Precious, Part III)

Dear Melina,

I got back from a long run the other day and was standing in the shower when I realized that the end of June was upon us and I hadn’t started your birthday letter yet. So, like last year, it was another “Holy shit!” moment. (For real, my dear. I said it out loud in the shower.) The universe might have something to say about starting two birthday letters with profanity, but you know what? I don’t care. (This is a family blog, so I just refrained from using an even more egregious word there.)

Anyway, back to the point, which is that you’re turning sixteen this year. What? When? How? I have that same reaction for all my children every time a birthday rolls around. Not because I acknowledge how old I am but because the time really marches on, no matter what we do. Sometimes time passing feels like a trickle, other times a deluge, but on average, the days move quickly.

That’s how I feel about this past year. We’ve gone a full 365 days, and I can scarcely believe it. But I feel like I’ve belabored that point far too much in these birthday letters, so I think this year, I’m going to go with something else. Which is, as much as I thought I knew about you, there’s so much I don’t.

Deep down, I recognized this, of course—we can’t know everything about everyone, including people we spend an inordinate amount of time with. But our trip to Walloon in June proved that point (ahem, I’ll just say three words here: red, white, blue), and your time with the Anytown crew a week later confirmed it.

The thing is, although there’s a lot I don’t know about you yet, much of it is to be admired.

Let me back up and say I’ve always admired you for your creativity, your smile, your resilience and courage, your determination, and your dedication. (Anyone who can teach themselves to flare their nostrils is good people.) What I now understand is that you’re also kind and empathetic and compassionate. You’ll do things for someone else without being asked. You want life to be good and happy and just for everyone, and you’re an excellent and supportive friend. I suspected these things, but I didn’t have proof of them. Now I do, which means my admiration of you has grown.


When your siblings turned sixteen, I asked them a very important question, as posed by the late poet Mary Oliver in her poem The Summer Day.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Now it’s time to ask you that same thing, and I’m not asking what your plans are for when you grow up. I know that answer—you’re determined to be a writer. (Heck, you already are a writer.) No, instead I want you to think about your life, what your life means to you, what your life’s purpose is, and what you can do to honor that purpose. I want you to look around, at your friends, your family, your classmates, your colleagues, open your eyes to what is happening, and try to make a positive difference. I want you to apply your creativity and patience and dedication to causes and jobs and relationships. I want you to reach for the stars, dream big, and realize your potential. I want you to take all the characteristics I admire in you and utilize them for good. I want you to make full use of your “one wild and precious life.”

It’s not easy—I can tell you that. But I know you’re up to the challenge, and I know I look forward to seeing what you can do. Remember this, too—if you need any help, Daddy and I are here to help.

Happy Birthday, Melina. I love you.

Photo of candles by Tyler Delgado on Unsplash.


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