Daniels, Elisabeth R.

As a kid, I remember my parents scanning (okay, they were reading) the obituaries listed in the newspaper. I didn’t think it odd as it was something they always did and was, in my child’s mind, “normal”. When I inquired as to why they did it, they responded with a jocular, “just making sure we’re still alive” and that was that.  I, too, am a scanner/reader of death notices.  Have been for as long as I can recall.  I’ve even been known to check them online.  Sounds creepy when I see it written, but I assure you, it is not.

That being said, I am immersed in this habit deeply enough to have a system. First I check the town in which I live, then my hometown and, finally, I scan for Jewish names. More often than not, I happen upon a familiar one: usually a parent or grandparent of a friend. Sometimes I have heard of the passing and seek out the announcement for the pertinent information, but more often than not, I just peruse without purpose. I’m not sure what I am looking for but assume it is my love of a good story that keeps me coming back for more.  Many (most, actually) stick to the basics and tell very little by way of a story but do serve to confirm that the name I am reading does indeed relate to someone in my world. I’ve seen them depressingly brief  and overwhelmingly detailed. None, however, has captured my interest as did this one:

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Interestingly, Elisabeth R. Daniels did not hail from either of “my” towns, nor was she Jewish. I’ve no recollection as to what made me read her obituary, but I did and, as you can see, went so far as to tear it out and save it (admission: it was on my fridge for a few days).   It is, without competition, the Best.Obituary.Ever.

We all hope to leave some sort of mark on the world, some kind of legacy which will serve to define us years after we are gone. I cannot speak for the masses, but would venture a guess that most (all) people hope that theirs is a positive, honest (assuming the two are not mutually exclusive) and, if we are really lucky, meaningful one. We were kind, or philanthropic, or funny or a trailblazer of some sort. Or perhaps we flew under the radar and made little impact other than to live quietly and not bother anyone. Most (all) of us would prefer not to be remembered for the time we behaved like an asshole or forgot to filter our words. Elisabeth was true to herself (and, so too, apparently, were her mother Sally and sister Dinah). I cannot help thinking that she sanctioned (and maybe even penned )the delightfully honest memorializing of herself. Talk about going out on your own terms. Have at it, Ms. Daniels!

Being honest with ourselves and knowing who we are can be totally awesome or can suck big time: sometimes all in the same day. Digging deep and owning the good, the bad and the ugly ain’t easy, but is it freeing, for sure.

I’ve always admired (envied maybe) the honesty with which Jess has lived her life. Like Elisabeth, she is a “unique creation” and I hope that (many, many, many) years down the road, when her legacy is being written it will be done so with the same love that Elisabeth’s has been.

I hope the same for Harrison. And, frankly, for me.

Take *That*, Elephant

We were having an important conversation about an emotionally charged subject.  The banter was easy and agreeable, the tone respectful.  The subject matter had nothing whatsoever to do with me or my kid, yet when it morphed into the organic moment I had been waiting (um, praying) for, I (um) pounced.   It was that moment that I chose to share that my daughter, whom the person I was speaking with has met on more than one occasion, was born a boy.

It had been eating at me.  I had felt as though my lack of sharing was somehow duplicitous and had become the elephant in the room which only I noticed.  It was equal parts anxiety and the desire to be wholly honest which allowed the words to tumble out of my mouth with no fanfare (unless one could consider my gently resting my hand on my listener’s knee somehow fanfare-ish) direct eye contact and a kind-of-a-little-bit feigned bravado.  But the moment I said it, I felt my shoulders drop ever so slightly and my breath catch just a smidge as I awaited a response.

elephant

 

I do not know what I expected really.  I certainly did not anticipate hysteria or anger, nor did I get it. I had built up the details and played out the scene of this interaction many times in my mind. I had allowed myself to perseverate over how and when to say something, fretted over the reaction I would receive, rehearsed the monologue (which, when the time arrived for recitation, fully escaped me) to the point of sudden sweats and aborted sleep. And it was all for naught.  The response was nearly as matter-of-fact as my delivery.  Compassion for the challenges we faced were shared.  Respect was evident in both directions.  Inset huge sigh here.

Perhaps it was selfish of me to blurt it out amid discussion of another child’s issue.  This wasn’t about me.  But as we were chatting, my mind feverishly darted back and forth between “not now, Julie” and “since we are getting down and dirty into kid issues, bring it on”.  You know which option won out.

And, while I never worried about the response I would receive, I obsessed over finding the right time, the right place and the right words.  I think I did okay.

I am appreciative of the acceptance.  I am cognizant of the fact that I lobbed a fastball.  I am grateful to have been listened to so respectfully.  Note to self: the anticipation is always the hardest part.

 

 

Here’s A Story*

I love a good story.  Even more, I love re-telling the story and collecting reactions.  My favorites are those that have an “OMG” or “can you believe it” factor.[1]  I prefer a happy ending but will never shy from the truth.  When I hear a great story for the first time, I immediately repeat it in my head, knowing that I will share it some time, somewhere.  That is how this blog came to be: telling our story which other people seemed to be interested in hearing.  There are times that my (our) story is either too big, too small, too scary, too boring or too private to share.  But I still love to tell a story.

Here’s one I heard just over a year ago, but love it as much now as I did the first time I heard it.

I used to work (until she left – insert sad face here) with a very cool lady whom I will call O.  She is eighteen years my senior and from (what I thought was) a different world.  She’d worked for many years at an ultra Waspy prep school which never saw the likes of someone like me.  I knew that her children were grown, she was a grandmother and she always adorned the t-shirts we wear to work with a pretty scarf tied neatly at her throat.  I curbed my sailor’s mouth around her (need not have done that, I learned) and thought she was a lovely lady who had been married for eons and been living a nice, albeit unscandalous life.  Well…I was wrong.  Turns out that she had not only divorced her husband of forty years but had then gone on to marry her college sweetheart.  But wait…there’s more!  Her former husband not only divorced her, but then he married his college sweetheart!  And, just to make things more interesting, they all get along famously. 

As she told me and watched, not for the first time, I am sure, my reaction of shock, she smiled and said, “Yep, you can’t make this shit up.”

Everybody has a story.

And another all time favorite:

A friend whose children were, at the time, probably somewhere around nine and eleven were all sitting in the bleachers at a Red Sox game.  There was a lull in the action and the nine-year old asked a question she’d been asking for a few weeks prior: “Where do babies come from?” The mom, who had been waiting for just the right time to answer the question, decided that then was as good a time as any.  Seated between her two children, the older of which already knew the answer, she proceeded to (artfully, I am sure) answer her daughter’s query.  The conversation lasted a few moments and the mom dropped her shoulders, relieved that it was over.  A beat later, her son, all eleven years of him, leaned across his mother, looked at his sister and said, “Now ask her what a blow job is.”  Simultaneously horrified and amused, the mother shared it with me…ten years ago.

Everybody has a story.

I have been negligent in keeping y’all up with my story.  I have gotten innumerable texts, emails and messages asking if I am okay or is my silence something to be concerned about.  Yes, I am fine and no, my lack of writing is nothing more than that – a lack of writing.  I’ve been asked how Jess is doing.  She, too, is doing fine.  As fine as any human being can be, that is, while in the throes of puberty, middle school, divorcing parents and navigating the transgender waters.   Ours, like everyone else’s, is a story that is unfolding each day.  There are days that come and go without incident.  Others, not so much.   There are times that I would rather tell you the story of my friend O or that of my friend and the blow job. Telling those stories (which are often more interesting than mine) is joyful and, frankly, sometimes easier.  I gather them up and try to find the time to share them with you.

I hope you will allow me that indulgence…to tell a story, which might not always be my own.

Because, you know what? : Everybody has a story.

 

[1] Transgender, anyone?

*Does anyone else have the urge to continue this title with:…”of a lovely lady?”

“Happy Birthday To You…”

It is not my story to tell.  In truth, I wasn’t even there to witness the scene I am about to share.  It was relayed to me not by the person who was a party to it, rather someone she shared it with who, in turn, shared it with me.  This happened several days ago, but the degree to which it has stayed with me and tossed around in my head brings me to this, my need to share.

On a mid-week night, in a neighborhood restaurant one step above an Uno’s or Not Your Average Joe’s gathered three generations of a family to fete their mother/grandmother on the occasion of her birthday.  They were a rowdy bunch, reveling in being together and marveling at the advanced age of the matriarch of the clan.  They drew attention to themselves throughout the meal, talking a little bit too loud, laughing a smidge too hard and, from what I have heard, oblivious to the fact that they were not in the comfort of their own home but were annoying to their fellow diners.

As the meal progressed they became more rowdy and less aware of their surroundings.  Other folks out for a (semi) nice meal flashed dirty looks and sighed heavily in hopes that they would send a message to the large group…to no avail.  Resigned to the fact that they would have to endure their meal amid such commotion, they ignored them as best they could, trying, instead, to enjoy their own companions and meal.

The sounds of the table were soon interrupted with the arrival of a birthday cake, seemingly engulfed with the resultant flame of a billion candles, and the wait staff’s half-hearted rendition of the birthday song.  And then it happened.  No sooner had they reached the “to you” part of the song when the guest of honor dropped dead in the cake.  Boom.  Just like that.  She didn’t pass out, or take a nap…no, she up and died.  In the cake.

bdaycake

 

Now, I will cop to initially finding this simultaneously horrifying and hysterically funny.  My mouth dropped open and my hand came up to cover it, as if to suppress my less than sympathetic response.  My G-d…what a way to go!

Later that evening, I was out to dinner with friends at the Cheesecake Factory.   Having just heard the story while driving to meet them, I shared it and they, too, responded with a mouth agape, hand-to-cover response and (slightly uncomfortable) laughter.  Apparently, The Cheesecake Factory is an enormously popular birthday dinner spot as evidenced by the fact that as we dined, we counted no fewer than half a dozen renditions of the song which will forever be aborted at “to you” in my head.  Each time the first notes rang out, our table grew silent as we anticipated a thud.  Fortunately, there were none.

Ever since hearing this story and conjuring up a vivid image in my head, I have not been able to stop thinking about it.  I find it to be so many things: horrifying, crazy, funny, unbelievable, frightening and awesome.  But mostly awesome.  I mean, really, think about it.  Yeah, it is really shitty for the family (here’s hoping their dinner was comped) but what a great way to go for grandma.  Surrounded by her family who were so caught up in the happiness and fun of the evening (well, the start of the evening, anyway) that they were utterly unaware of their surroundings.  Everyone was, by all (well, most) accounts having a ball.  The last thing she heard was “to you”, the last things she saw was a beautiful cake( in, no doubt, her favorite flavor),  the last thing she felt was love and the last thing she did was play a starring role in a great story.  Not so bad, actually.

So, on this, the eve of my (not a big one…yet) birthday, I think of the nameless woman who left this world in a dramatic, but all around pretty cool way.  Her’s is a story I will continue to recall and, in all likelihood, share.  I was not there for it.  I did not experience it.  But it will stay with me.

And, while I hope this is not the year I drop dead in my birthday cake, I can actually think of worse ways to go.

 

Here’s a Link to My Blog…

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Last year, before meeting someone for the first time, I shared a link to this blog along with this note:

This will tell you a lot about me and your reaction will, in turn, tell me a lot about you…”

And then, I will admit, I held my breath. I might have even turned a little blue (all interpretations intended) awaiting a response. As it happened, the response (which, thankfully, came just twenty minutes later) was intensely benign, little more than a shrug of the shoulders. Here I was, freaking out about sharing the story with yet another unsuspecting soul and the reaction was so matter-of-fact as to be almost disconcerting. It was, however, genuine and, with the notable exception of my hair color (okay, and my nose) I am – and likewise appreciate others who are – nothing if not genuine.

Why did I share such a personal disclosure so early in the game? That’s easy: I wanted it out in the open and not hanging over me, knowing that it would, in all likelihood, need to be shared eventually; and, I suppose, I subscribed to a “the earlier the better” plan. Perhaps I jumped the gun, but that, to me, was preferential to waiting too long. It felt dishonest to withhold something which I consider a large part of who I am, all in the name of not making someone else uncomfortable. And, further, not only did I did not want to enter into any kind of relationship in a way that felt disingenuous, I also wanted to know, frankly, that someone I was going to let into my life would have a similar acceptance of the reality of my life. For better or worse, I am all about full disclosure, honesty, and what-you-see-is-what-you-get. I know that I am the exception and that many (okay, most) people would have let it happen more organically, if at all. That is simply not who I am and I have to be true to myself1 and, more importantly, my kid.

Interestingly, I have yet to come across a single person who has reacted negatively (in my presence, anyway) to the “announcement.” In fact, more often than not I wind up learning about their kid’s this, that or the other thing; mostly because all kids have some degree of this, that or the other thing. Those same folks who are more buttoned up than I (I know, I know…that is most people) find comfort in knowing that they are not the only ones who have a “secret” that might not play well in Peoria. It actually gives me great joy that I have been blessed with many friendships which were sown from this very honest exchange.

Upon meeting anyone with whom I suspect I will be spending more than just one parcel of time with, I have to suppress the urge to hand them a link to my blog and/or tell them all about how totally normal Jess is, despite her unusual path. How she is complicated but also wildly talented, ridiculously funny, disarmingly creative and crazy smart. That she inherited my left-handedness and blue eyes and the streak of pink in her shoulder length hair is reminiscent of one I had back in the day. That she can draw and sew and metal-smith so skillfully that you would not believe her work is that of a 12-year-old2. How she made an art form of making a mess of her newly cleaned bedroom in fifteen seconds flat despite swearing up, down and sideways that she will keep it neat. How she and I listen to “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” in the car most Saturdays and have a (mostly) friendly competition to see who can finish the sentences and guess which is the true story first.3 That she he tries to get away with swiping my makeup and hairbands and clips and brushes but always gets busted. And how, yes, her path is not going to be an easy one. But perhaps most importantly, she is truer to herself and has the courage of her convictions more than most people I know…myself included.

I have some new people in my life who do not yet know the story of Jess. I am, for the first time, really struggling with how, when and where to tell them. My trepidation is not for me, but for them being caught unaware. My disquietude is out of respect for the ripple effect it may, unfortunately, have on people I care about. I worry not about acceptance, but understanding. My anxiety is over my having waited too long and the potential sense of dishonesty that they may feel, although it was never intended. And, in true Julie form, I am likely (um, make that hopefully) pre-worrying about something that could (just maybe) go off without a hitch.

I grapple with keeping things as they are versus wearing my heart on my sleeve. I waver between making an “announcement” and not saying anything all all. And, I have considered taking a page my from my own playbook and simply forward a link to this post with the same message that served me well once before:

This will tell you a lot about me and your reaction will, in turn, tell me a lot about you…”

1My father always told my brothers and me to be true to ourselves and to have the courage of our convictions. I have passed that edict on to my children, but not always been able to live it myself. This one’s for you, dad.

2There has been jockeying for position on her friends and family pricing list since she was in Kindergarten. True.

3She is a formidable opponent. Sometimes it is embarrassing.

Love The Kid Whose Name is Left Out for Privacy

The following arrived in my in blog comments this morning.  I saw it when I first woke up, have been thinking about ever since and am thrilled to finally have a second to share it.

Hi! I go to (name of school left out for privacy) school and in Jessie’s grade. She is an amazing girl with a true heart! I know some people are mean to her, but let her know that (name left out for privacy) really does like her.

heart

Wow.  Just wow.

I showed it to Jess and it is safe to say she is pretty much the happiest kid on the planet right now.

She has told me that she is going to give (name left out for privacy) a hug when she sees her.  So, too, am I.

Not so happy about the people being mean to her, however…

Unsubscribe

Who doesn’t have an email inbox overflowing with crap that we neither care about nor bother reading?  I know that mine is inundated with notices from American Eagle, LLBean, The Vitamin Shoppe, Old Navy, LivingSocial, Groupon and Goldstar[1] and, admittedly, I have managed to miss “important” emails amongst the clutter just like everybody else.  Periodically I will spend some time “unsubscribing” (which, incidentally, doesn’t always work but is remarkably easy to do) and experience, if even temporarily, a little bit of accord in my inbox.  I, along with throngs of other people, do so without fanfare, malice or the need to draw attention.

Well, apparently unsubscribing is meant to be shared as last week I received, in the comment section of this blog , a note that simply said:

Please delete my email address

 Upon initial glance I thought it was spam until I looked further down the page and noticed that it was from someone whom I have known for better than thirty years.  I wasn’t entirely surprised by the request (although I had necessarily anticipated it) but I was surprised by the fact that this someone would take the time to submit a comment as opposed to just, well, unsubscribing.  And, of course, it made me wonder why.[2]

My blog can be unsubscribed to quite simply.  At the bottom of the email it states, as clearly as humanly possible, to click here and voila, you are done.[3]  Frankly, unless I am terribly bored and have scads of time on my hands, I will never scour or even peruse the subscriber list[4] and, therefore, will not even know that you have taken your leave.  (No offense.)  By now (as in 2014) I know of no one who does not know this little trick.  Why, then, did my former subscriber choose to not just click the button but instead made sure to let me know that she[5] could no longer tolerate seeing my posts arrive in her inbox?  Hmmmm.

passiveaggressive

So I, ever the over-thinker, have been contemplating this for days.  (To be clear, my ruminations are less a function of caring much about this particular person, more about the human condition.) My conclusions:

  1. This person (or anyone who opts to draw attention to an unsubscribing) doesn’t like/enjoy/appreciate/understand/have time for/give a shit about/know how to read what I write;
  2.  Wants me to know that she feels all of the above;
  3. Doesn’t understand how to click on a button that says unsubscribe;
  4. Cannot “tolerate the ambiguity” of the story;
  5. Is sending me a thinly veiled message of her disinterest/discomfort/disdain/discomfort.
  6. She wants me to know how she feels about me…nothing to do with the blog at all.

Contrary to how it might appear (given my dedication of an entire blog post to this transaction) I truly (and proudly) do not care that she is over the blog.  A few years ago (oh, who am I kidding?  A few months ago) it may have upset, angered or concerned me.  I might have even shot back a snippy email.  But no, all I did was send a very friendly email with instructions how to unsubscribe[6] along with well wishes to her and her’s which was only slightly irreverent.

Now I am off to covertly unsubscribe to the emails taunting me in my inbox.

p.s. I just checked to see if she had, indeed, “deleted her email address”…and, in fact, she has.


[1] If you do not know about Goldstar.com you should.  Go check it out.  You’re welcome.

[2] Um, have you met me?

[3] I am telling you this as part of the story and, to be clear, not as a suggestion.

[4] Although, to be honest, I have.

[5] That is the most I am going to let on who this person is.

[6] Note: I cannot “delete” a subscriber; it has to be done from their end.  So, armed with that information, you are free to do so.  Although I hope you won’t.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Lisa and Ellen

Everybody has a story.  I have often written these words, but this week I learned two new stories which will stay with me: the stories of Lisa and Ellen.  I have not met either of these women face to face (and likely never will), but did spend a long time chatting with each of them on the phone.  I admire them both for the strength they may not even know they have.

Lisa hit my car in the CVS parking lot.  Had she not left a note I might not have even noticed the scratch and dent on my “rear quarter panel”.  In fact, I almost didn’t even see her note.  I had gotten into my car at the end of a frustrating day[1] and only wanted to get home.  As I drove up the hill nearing my house I saw a small white piece of paper flapping under the wiper blade…never good.

“I am so sorry. I hit your left rear fender.” – Lisa xxxx, 617.xxx.xxxx

I read the note, which she had written on the back of a receipt from the nail salon in the plaza (a girl after my own heart) and probably swore.  Argh.  My first reaction was that this was going to be a pain in the ass, expensive or just plain unpleasant.  Happily, it was none of the above.

I placed a call to Lisa and got her answering machine and began to leave a message.  It was a real (old fashioned, even) answering machine.  I know this because midway through my speaking she picked up the phone anxiously awaiting my call.  (She has not recognized the number and wanted to see who it was before committing to a “hello”.)  She was the first to speak, apologizing profusely for having hit my car.[2]  I admit to starting out a bit angry (frustrated is probably more appropriate, but I was not prepared to drop anger all together) but that cooled instantly.  She was so genuinely sorry for what was nothing more than the true definition of an accident that it was hard to stay mad.

And then we got to talking.  She told me that she has been a little scattered and distracted as she was beginning chemo the next day.  She did not tell me this to be manipulative, but rather to further explain the depth of her upset over yet another bump in her road.  I hear cancer and immediately forget all about the car.  I ask her how she is feeling, if she is getting plenty of Zofran[3] and how she is holding up.  I share with her that I, too, have had cancer but was fortunate enough to have been spared chemo.  We talked for 45 minutes.  I know that she has never married, is 72 years old, her sister-in-law is also her best friend (and happens to be named Julie) and she lives in the town next to mine.  We talked about great restaurants there.  We talked about losing her hair.  We talked about, almost as an afterthought if she was going to pay for repairs or put it through insurance.  She was utterly lovely.  I think she may even be a nun.

I took the car in for an estimate: $1,400 and four days of labor meaning I will need a loaner.  I have already called my insurance company and we will take care of it all.  I am going to call Lisa this weekend to tell her not to worry about it.  And, more importantly, to see how she is feeling.

And then there is Ellen.  Last night my  phone rang with an unfamiliar number.  I, like Lisa had, hesitated in picking it up but not having a old fashioned answering  machine I knew that if I didn’t pick up, I might have a return phone call to make so, in an unusual move for me, my curiosity won out and I picked up.

Ellen: “May I please speak to Julie”

Me: “Who is calling?”[4]

Ellen: “My name is Ellen, I was given her name and number from Karen at the Dana Farber.”

Now it was I who anxiously admitted she had reached Julie and that I had been expecting her call.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from my fabulous oncology nurse.  With nearly ten years together, we have developed not just a nurse/patient relationship, but a friendship.  (We are even Facebook friends…big doings) When Karen called she asked if it was okay to give someone who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer my name and number as she is trying to decipher the options she is facing in her treatment and wanted to talk to someone who had been there, done that.  Of course I would.

My first question out of the gate was to ask how she was doing.  The time between diagnosis and treatment is horrible, frightening, surreal, obnoxious, overwhelming and, at times, unbearable and she was in the thick of it.  Her response was that she was “half crazed”.  “Only half?!” I retorted.  And she laughed.  An easy, natural and genuine laugh.  And then we talked for over an hour.

I learned that she is married to, and has been with the same woman, for better than twenty years[5].  They moved here from across the country, a move that was difficult for Ellen but she now realizes how deeply she has bonded with her community as evidenced by the outpouring of support, encouragement and love she is receiving.  I told her all about my experience, my fears and how it feels now, nearly ten years later.  I told her to accept offers of dinner, to make this about her and to not worry about not returning calls.  We talked a little bit about Jess[6] in the context of other life issues that don’t go away just because you have cancer.  I offered to show her my boobs, to be available to her as much or as little as she wanted and to answer any question about anything.  I am, as you all know, nothing if not honest. (Aside: Breast cancer messes not only with your body, but with your very identity.  To this day, I notice everybody’s boobs everywhere I go.  I never thought twice about mine or anyone else’s before all this…I swear.) And then she told me, as matter –of-factly as I speak of Jess, that she also has MS.  Wow.  Some people have all the luck.

Ellen and I (like Lisa and I) laughed frequently during our candid exchanges.  We shared things with one another easily.  Two women who I would never happen to meet both popped into my life this week.  Both are on my mind and both of their numbers are now saved on my cell phone.  I made sure to ask Ellen if she texts.  I plan to text her to tell her of her cameo in the blog (which we also talked about).  I will continue to think of these women and their stories.  I will try to remember on the tough days that everyone has a story.

I do not normally go the preachy route, but …reach out to someone today.  Someone whose story you may or may not know.  It will make them feel good.  It will make you feel even better.

Happy Valentine’s Day.


[1] Damn car moved spots on me in the Target lot and was, when I left the store, no longer in the spot that I was absolutely certain I had left it.  Turns out I had my Targets mixed up and recalled, vividly I might add, the correct spot only in a different town.  I literally walked for thirty minutes looking for it.

[2] Truth be told, it is a terrible lot.  I don’t know anyone whose car hasn’t hit or been hit in it.

[3] For the uninformed, Zofran is the magical anti nausea drug that should be hoarded even for the just-in-case moments.

[4] Visions of telemarketers dancing in my head…

[5] Go Massachusetts!

[6] I figured as a card carrying lesbian she would be cool with Jess and her story ;-)

Stormy Weather To Come?

As I sit here, mentally bracing for yet another snowstorm, Jess is sitting behind me at the kitchen table doing her homework.  At least I think she is doing her homework.  She has a newly sharpened pencil complete with a neon green eraser on the end, her backpack at her feet and worksheets (aside: I kinda long for the smell of mimeos from my childhood) are strewn about.  She is listening to music.  Correction, we are listening to music – the volume of her iPhone leaving me to wonder what exactly the headphones are accomplishing.

I began by suggesting which morphed into asking (with a touch of pleading) and then outright demanding that she do her work for hours now, finally putting my foot down and threatening to take away not just one, but all of her myriad electronics if she did not do it rightthissecond.  She wasn’t buying it until I unplugged her laptop from the desk where it was charging and began to walk out of the room with it cradled under my arm.  Apparently I hit her sweet spot and she relented.

What is so remarkable about this scenario is how utterly unremarkable it is.  This scene could be (and probably is) playing out in homes across America.  Boys, girls…they are all supposed to be tackling their homework but instead many are relishing the fantasy of (yet another) snow-day.  I am vaguely aware that there are children (although I have never birthed one) that approach their homework without argument, threats or tears (mine, that is).  That has not been my experience. Which I kinda like right about now what with its total normalcy and all.

Jess is, in many ways (although certainly not all) a typical tween.  She’s got the attitude, the internal conflict and the utter inability to get up in the morning.  A part of her wants to remain a little kid, while another part fights fiercely for her independence and freedom.  Earlier tonight, in fact, she overheard a phone call I received inviting me to come meet for dinner right around the corner.  Her Eddie Haskell-esque insistence that I go and “take some time for myself” seemed a wee bit too enthusiastic, leaving me to wonder exactly why she was being so (apparently) selfless.  I opted to stay home.  I am quite sure her desire for me to go out was more to create an opportunity to watch inane television and eat junk food in peace than anything else.  It most definitely was not to create a quiet homework environment.   She is at that delicious age that I did not fear anything more sinister or sophisticated behind her apparent sensitivity to my (scant) free time.  I am relishing it as I know how quickly we move from tween to all out teen.

She has now migrated back up to her bedroom where she insists she is completing her math homework.  I have told her that she must come down and show me the completed assignment which is funny, actually, since she and I both know that any math she does is lost on me (has been since third grade) and any sheet with numbers, circles and arrows (arrows are a math, thing, right?)  would, to me, seem like a great mathematical accomplishment.  For now we (sorta) understand one another… I guess we are both luxuriating in the calm before the teenage storm which could well come as quickly and inaccurately predicted at tomorrow’s weather.

Fifty Shades of Grey

Last night I had a discussion with someone dear to me who, without judgment or criticism[i], asked me why everything to me is either black or white.  Why, they inquired, am I so thrown by the grey in life? It was a fair question:  In my world you are in or out – never somewhere in between.  You (or, as the case may be, I) are elated or despondent, grossly fat or irritatingly thin, wildly interesting or painfully dull, smart as a whip or dumb as a stump.  That is, indeed, the way my mind seems to work.  It is not a good way to be…particularly when you have a child who is terrifically gender fluid.  And you are hitting (okay, well into) middle age.  And you are trying to navigate the world in a new iteration.  Nope, not good at all.

Historically, in an attempt to avoid setting myself up for failure, I have not set (let alone announced) New Year’s resolutions.  Why, you ask?  Well, in my black and white mind the only two possible outcomes are raging success or devastating failure. The thought of partial success (or, for that matter,  failure) doesn’t work for me.  I need more control than that.  (Yeah, right, like any of us have any control over anything.) (I actually believe this has something to do with being an Aries.  No, seriously, I do.[ii]) This year, however, I kinda, sorta have a resolution.  I want to learn to not only manage, but, gasp, thrive in the grey area.  There, I said it.  Damn.

greys

Years ago, my sister in law, in preparation for her first marathon, went out of her way to tell everyone who would listen that she was in training.  I recall her telling me that she did that to keep herself accountable, in check and focused.  Her thinking was that if she announced her intentions to the world it would be way harder to bag the whole thing. [iii]  I can pretty much assure you that I will never train for a marathon, but, truth be told,  my establishing comfort with “the grey” will feel, emotionally, anyway, like more of a triathlon.  That said, I am (bravely) putting it out there so that anyone who is on the receiving end of one of my hysterical “it is grey and I cannot take it” episodes will gently, kindly and with love, talk me off the ledge and remind me that everything is not, indeed, black or white.

Back when Jess’s transition began, one of the gender specialists that I met with told me (and would tell me many times over) that I had to learn to live with the ambiguity.  My admission that maybe I didn’t want to was met with a courtesy chuckle and an implied kick in the ass.  No choice here.  This is not black and white now, will not be black and white tomorrow and may, in fact, never ever be black or white.  It is, in all likelihood, going to be grey for, well, ever.  And not the same shade of grey, either.  Sometimes there will be blue undertones, sometimes green.  It will shift from charcoal to heather to silver to slate to platinum to ash to aluminum and back to charcoal with fierce regularity within one day.  Or, as my luck would have it, in the span of an hour.  And I have to learn to live with it.

To be clear, I am managing it, admittedly some days better than others.  I don’t necessarily like the abundance of grey, but I am managing.  My resolution, however, is to embrace it, love it, appreciate it, look forward to it, wish it was greyer, in fact!  Wait.  Let’s not get crazy here…I just want to thrive – if even just a hint of grey better than I am now.  That is reasonable, right?  I can do that, right?  No black and white here!  No, sirree…in fact, I shun true black and true white.  Bring on the grey, baby.  Bring it on.


[i] You know who you are.  Thanks for the lack of judgment or criticism.  It was a good career move…I do not do well with either. <3

[ii] This can be directly related to my having gotten an iPhone and going a little app happy.  I now get push notices every morning with my daily horoscope.  Like I needed another opinion chiming in at 6 a.m.

[iii] It worked.  She did, indeed, run a marathon.