It is entirely reasonable to say that I was pretty sure (okay, I was absolutely positive) that one more upper cut, hook, jab or lunge was going to kill me. Like dead on the floor with no chance – or … Continue reading
Most people do it after a big weight loss. Others use it as encouragement in the hopes of using it someday as the “before” shot. I have neither lost weight nor have any realistic expectations that I will in the foreseeable future. Rather, I am, at 52, throwing caution to the wind and heeding the advice of my friend Becky who, on the (millionth) occasion of my commenting that a woman on the beach who was about my age (and, more to the point, my size) was not only sporting a bikini, but kinda rockin’ it, she told me that I should wear one, too. After actually laughing.out.loud, I told her she was out of her effin’ mind…those days were long gone. The mere idea of it kind of horrified me on about 1127 different levels.
That’s all she said. Others have said it before, but for some reason, this time it struck a chord. At that moment, I decided that this was going to be the summer that I would own my imperfect body and just accept the fact that the tiny waist of my 20s was never coming back, that my butt (which seems to end somewhere between where it should and the back of my knees) would no longer (completely) define me and, more to the point, dictate my bathing suit choices.
I was growing tired of my collection of tankinis, anyway.
With full admission that I was being ridiculous, I told not a soul of my bikini plan. Hoping to happen upon one organically – walk into a store, find the perfect suit, buy it, wear it – proved to be (way) harder than I anticipated. Just as it took me some time to determine the perfect tankini, so, too, have I learned that all bikinis are not created equal.
In the hopes of finding something inexpensive, trendy and cheap, I began my hunt at Target. Not enough of a glutton for punishment to try them on in the store, I snatched up nearly a dozen tops and bottoms (in a range of sizes) and bought them all with a plan to try each combination on in the privacy of my own home (when no one was around). I further decided that my initial reaction to how I looked and felt would serve as my final decision. Every top and bottom was returned that same afternoon.
Perhaps, I thought to my losing-courage-quickly self, I would be better off going to a slightly more upscale store. As it turned out, that wouldn’t make any difference. Macy’s, Lord and Taylor, Athleta, Lands End, Marshall’s, Nordstrom. Fail, fail, fail, fail, fail and fail. It was a message from G-d, I decided, that this was a big mistake. So I stopped looking.
Then, one day I found myself at Old Navy and, wouldn’t ya know it, all the bathing suits were 40% off plus, if I used my store credit card they’d knock another 25% off and, because it was a Tuesday in June and I have curly hair, they’d give it to me for free.* I rifled through the mess of tops and bottoms, immediately dismissing some (having learned that certain tops were out.of.the.question) and purchased one suit in two sizes. Discouraged from my earlier foray into the bikini world, I left the bag in the trunk of my car and waited (more than) a few days before trying it on. When I finally found the courage time to bring it in the house, I was pleasantly surprised….this might just work. With an absurd trepidation, I emerged from my room bikini-clad for the first time in nearly 25 years. Jess saw me first. A smile spread across her face. Barry, ever the sweetheart, gave me a warm smile (and I am pretty sure his eye twinkled) and, with the caveat that he is “the wrong person to ask because I think you are fabulous no matter what you wear,” his approval. (Yeah, he’s a keeper.)
Yesterday, Becky by my side, I planted myself at the beach in my bikini and, am proud to announce, lived to tell the tale.
I was not the thinnest person on the beach.
I was not the fittest person on the beach.
I was not donning the best-fitting, -looking or -made bathing suit on the beach. And, at something like $14, certainly not the most expensive.
If I was being judged or ridiculed or a topic of other’s conversation, I was blissfully unaware.
I was surprisingly comfortable.
And, not for nothing, the perfect weather and company notwithstanding, it was perhaps one of my best days ever on the beach.
But wait….there’s more.
It wasn’t enough for me to wear a bikini…I needed to memorialize it. Twenty-seven selfies later, I was, once again, feeling defeated. With just a modicum of disgust, Becky wrestled the phone from my hand and proceeded to snap away. “Stand up” she said. “It’ll make you look better”. So I did. Then, upon checking the photo she’d just taken, I was instructed to sit back down. And, because I have turned a corner on one of my (many) insecurities, we cracked up. (Aside: she was 100% right.)
When I returned home nicely bronzed from the day, I approached Jess with what I deemed to be the most acceptable of the dozen or so snaps on my phone (Becky is a lousy photographer, I’ve learned) and, I am ashamed to admit, asked her to make it “look a little better.” Reason number 1211 I love that kid: she refused. With assurances that I am “beautiful”, she reminded me that posting a photo that has been enhanced kinda defeats the entire purpose. And she is right.
Am I ready to throw away all my other bathing suits? No. Might I buy another bikini? Maybe. Do I feel a little bit freer? Yep. So here I am: unfiltered, unretouched, unedited and amazingly unencumbered.
(Not shown: the big, deep breath I took before posting this…)
*Okay, that didn’t happen…but at the register they did seem to toss in discount after discount after discount.
On Saturday Barry and I took our first real walk since Memorial Day 2016 when he blew out his L5S1 while reaching for a receipt on his dresser. I keep telling him he needs to come up with a better story…like he was fending off a tiger or something. He’s sticking to the truth.
We logged 2.5 miles. And, in true Julie/Barry fashion, we made some friends along the way.
Boris and Dora. From Russia. Married 63 years. Boris is 89. Dora, according to Boris, is 49. Wink wink. They’ve lived here for 27 years which was made even more remarkable by the fact that they spoke extremely limited and broken English. They never stopped holding hands.
Luis and Rosa. From the Dominican Republic. Married 45 minutes. Spoke no English. That’s me and her, and Barry with the best man. And, yeah, I don’t know why she was on her knees, but she certainly didn’t seem unhappy about it. They never stopped smiling and laughing.
Irma. Nationality unknown. Had to be either deep into her 70s or, more likely, early to mid 80s. Navigated the rocks and icy cold water with her ski poles with impressive agility. She never saw me snapping her picture.
Manny and Nicholas. 47 years and 16 months old respectively. Manny was born here, sent back to Greece when he was six, returned at 18 when, despite having graduated from high school, enrolled for a second senior year to improve his English. He is now a Social Worker. Nicholas made Manny a first time dad at 46. They never stopped smiling at one another.
I’d missed walking with my husband on the beach. Here’s hoping there will be many more walks and many more awesome people along the way…
 Okay, Boris and Dora were the names of my great grandparents. But they were from Russia, too.
 Also not their names. I know a woman from the DR named Rosa and I Googled “common men’s names in the Dominican Republic”…
 Yeah yeah, made it up.
 Those are their real names! Honest!
Last weekend, with a car full of scooters, skateboards, helmets, pads and water bottles, we took the boys to a skate park in Boston. Situated directly beneath the breath-taking Zakim Bridge, it is, despite the absence of color, remarkably beautiful yet manages to be heart-breakingly representative of a world so different from the one in which I live. The very fact that it is under a bridge conjures up many visuals, none of which are pleasant.
On the fringe of the skate park that includes deep concrete bowls and ramps and metal bars upon which to skate, sat a broken down car alongside a tent – presumably ‘housing” – for an unfortunate soul or, worse, an entire family. In one corner, abutting a small-but-mighty bowl – as in 20’ deep – a group of teenage boys with their boards casually (yet quite deliberately) propped alongside them, their undersides proudly displayed, unabashedly passed a joint around, each taking a hit before passing it on to the next guy.
Nearby, but definitely apart from them, a just slightly older group of young men were imbibing cans of Keystone or Schlitz or whatever cheap beer they’d managed to procure in such a way that I half expected to see a charcoal grill and wading pool just outside the frame.
While it sounds like a undesirable, even questionable place for us to have brought 10- and almost 12-year old boys, there was nothing scary or sordid or unnerving about it. In fact, the older kids were as respectful as one could hope or wish them to be given the fact that we had shown up in what was unmistakably their park. Had the situation been reversed, I am not so sure the same respect would have been shown. True.
The brief, infrequent conversations among the regulars were primarily gestures, nods and eye motions which were endlessly upstaged by the constant symphony of wheels and landings and thuds and whooshing and whirring surrounding us. The incessant, spontaneous choreography melded so seamlessly with the sound of wheels hitting pavement resulting in an exquisitely melodic, captivating and entirely accidental musical crescendo.
There was an undeniable culture in this park under the bridge.
The skaters were male, tattooed and, truthfully, many of them, should we meet on the street, would likely prompt me to cross to the other side. They were sweaty, muscular and had an affinity toward Nikes and graphic t-shirts. And, despite being well-versed on the ins and outs of the park under the bridge, a ridiculous number of them were limping, rubbing their butts, knees, hips and wrists and wearing splints and braces. Yet they never stopped moving for very long. I am fairly confident that the splint on this guy’s finger could be traced back to the park…
As much as this middle-aged white mom stood out, so, too did two scrappy girls, Heather and Renata. 12-year old Heather and her father Joe were regulars at the park. Before chatting with them, we had observed Joe gently coax Heather into first balancing and then teetering on the edge of the bowl before rolling down into it, a space so vast and deep that, not for nothing, neither you nor I would consider climbing down on foot, let alone on four wheels with no brakes.
With long dark hair hanging down her back, she rocked back and forth only a few times before she leaned forward into the hole, shot down like a rocket before riding up the opposite wall, her hair flying wildly behind her. Joe stayed with her until he knew she was comfortable and confident enough to go on her own and then gently backed away, allowing her this moment. As the back wheels left the rim, his smile was even broader than hers. I hadn’t expected to have a ringside seat to such a great father/daughter moment at the park under the bridge, but did.
And then there was Renata. All of seven years old, she was the definition of scrappy. A little bit of a thing, she assertively weaved her bright blue scooter in and around the throngs of young men darting (so damn fast) on and off the ramps and bowls. At one point, as we were walking the perimeter of the park (hoping, frankly, to avoid being run over) I noticed her sitting with her parents begrudgingly hydrating and, despite being visibly tired, was clearly annoyed that she was missing out on skate time. Me being me, I approached to tell them that I’d been watching her and wanted her to know how cool I thought she was. Needless to say, she loved hearing that and thanked me so politely that it was everything I could do to not hug her. About twenty minutes later, one of the boys told me that she had just done a total face plant on the concrete. Imagine my surprise then, when I saw her not ten minutes later, right back up on the scooter, her tears having mixed with sweat leaving her with dirty, well-earned streaks against her freckled face. She was handily the coolest person in the park.
Right before I took this picture she told me (with just a touch of effrontery) that this was the “millionth time” she’d descended the ramp that was steep enough to make me itch.
This park under the bridge, full of people with fire in their bellies for wheels and jumps and bowls and speed and height actually awed me. As I sit here days later, the sights and sounds still so vivid, I marvel at the bravery and grit and spunk of these folks, part of what one might call a “sketchy” crowd who have found a passion, consider the stretch of concrete a slice of heaven and care not one whit that it is under the bridge.
And a thank you to them for sharing with the likes of me.
A photograph of total strangers on a Facebook page for parents-with-teenagers-finishing-high-school-and-moving-toward-whatever-their-next-step-as-they-launch-into-adulthood popped up on my newsfeed. The “members only” page focuses one of the (many many many many) complicated times in the lives of kids and their parents – if you’ve ever had a teenager you know of what I speak – and is often an excellent source of guidance, support and advice, usually positive.
The picture: a tuxedo-clad teenager flanked by his parents; his height nearer to his mother’s than his dad’s, all three smiling comfortably into the camera. In the background, a cluster of similarly dressed guys and a gaggle of girls in brightly colored gowns and intricate up-dos posing for cameras furiously clicking away from every direction. The boy/young man had delicate features, impressively clear skin, and a pubescent beard which was spotty but worn with great pride. The white boutonniere on the lapel of his (most definitely) rented tux had likely been pinned on by his date as it was slightly askew, slightly oversized and slightly misplaced. A snapshot of a moment that many parents will experience with their children this time of year: the high school prom.
At first blush, this photo memorialized a scene played out on lawns and living rooms across the country this time of year, right down to the tissue for wiping tears away (not so) discreetly clutched in the mother’s hand. But it was not the photo, rather the mother’s caption that set it apart from all the other prom images.
“Prom. Our great kiddo who looks so handsome. This transgender journey we are on is not for the faint of heart.”
Even before the caption confirmed my suspicions, my keen and sensitive-to-these-things self spied many of the hallmarks of the gender transition that others might have missed: the shape of his legs, the gentle density of his eyebrows, his delicate bone structure. I noted the lack of pronouns: my “kiddo” and not my “son”. Intrigued, I examined the photo more closely. I explored their body language with a different eye. The smiles were definitely real. Their arms rested on one anothers shoulders naturally, their bodies as close to one another as possible. But most importantly, there was quite clearly a lot of love in that picture. That, my friends, cannot be faked. Bravo to all three of them, because mom is right: this is not for the faint of heart.
And then, with the knowledge (and firsthand experience) that things could get ugly when one posts a photo like that, I hesitantly glanced at the comments…all 135 of them. Much to my relief and pleasure, each note was more positive and accepting than the one before it. The assemblage of rainbow and heart and smiley face emoticons exceeded my greatest (albeit conservative) expectations. Oh, and did I mention the 1.1k likes? That’s some pretty awesome stuff right there.
My initial reaction was: How cool that this was posted not on a Parents/Friends/Neighbors/Teachers of Transgender Kids kind of page, rather a plain old parents’ page. Even just a few years ago, posts like this were found only on private, and thereby “safe”, Facebook groups. The world wasn’t anywhere near as ready as it is now to tolerate such a loud and proud display of the uniqueness of their family. Some folks still cannot, but we are definitely making moves in the right direction.
My very-soon-after-that reaction?: While it is no doubt (truer than) true that the transgender journey is not for the faint of heart, I’d further argue, advertise from the rooftops even, that being the parent along for the journey of any kid is not only not for the faint of heart, but just fucking hard. There, I said it.
The other night, I was doing what many of us moms do at the end of the (probably somehow taxing) day: playing Words with Friends, listening to the bedtime routine happening outside my door and half-tuned into “American Housewife” a silly little sitcom narrated by a “strong-willed mother raising her flawed family in a wealthy town filled with perfect wives and their perfect offspring.” The show is perfectly mediocre but does manage to capture some of the moments that spur less than charitable, but crazy honest thoughts about other parents, their kids and the whole parenting experience. I cannot tell you the plot line of the episode, but there was one spot on, couldn’t-have-said-it-better-myself line that I could hardly wait to share with my morning coffee friends:
“Kids should come with a warning: Don’t have kids.”
A tongue-in-cheek comment that resonates with anyone ever who (is honest about having) tried to help a kid navigate the world. And, if someone says it doesn’t resonate with them, I’m calling bullshit. In fact, it is so spot-on that I am (sort of) seriously considering having t-shirts printed. Who wants one?
I’ve always been a somewhat irreverent mom, never reacting with “not my kid”, rather assuming, sometimes unfairly, that it was my kid. That is not to take away from the proven fact that I am among the fiercest and most rabid advocate for my kids, because Lord knows I am. I also, however, am very well aware of what my kids are all about, where they excel and where they suck. Over the years, they have thrilled me, angered me, amazed me, embarrassed me, impressed me and made me want to leave them by the side of the road…sometimes in the same afternoon day. Seriously, raising kids is really not for the faint of heart.
When I assumed the role of step-mother, I more than just doubled the number of children in my life. I doubled the number of journeys for which I would have a ring-side seat. I doubled the number of issues (although -and I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing – we actually have some overlaps), doubled the challenges, doubled the worry, stress, fears and anxiety. The fact of the matter is that there are many (many many) days that the “transgender journey” is decidedly the easiest journey of them all.
I love all the kids. I appreciate how bright, interested, talented, inquisitive, resilient and strong each of them is. I am profoundly and painfully aware that all of them watched their dads move out, were forced to leave the only home they’d known and have watched their parents fall in love with someone other than their mom/dad. I will not pretend to know what that feels like. My parents were nearing their 50th anniversary when my father died. When we moved from my childhood house, we did so as a unit. And, since my father’s death nearly twelve years ago, my mother’s not fallen in love with another man. So, parenting this group of kids? That, my friend, is not for the faint of heart.
I keep revisiting that photo of strangers with whom I know I share at least some experiences. I wonder what other challenges, journeys and stresses they have faced. Which have they nailed and which have come dangerously close to taking them out? Am I reading the body language right, is it telling the whole story? What effect has the “transgender journey” had on their marriage? Have they found themselves sitting in the car on a freezing cold night, devouring an ice cream cone as big as their head, crying and wondering how on earth they were going to survive? Or run away from home…even if just for a night? Or wondered if it would be okay to sit in the corner and suck their thumbs? Not that I have done any of those things…
My father used to say that he loved his children equally but not the same. I took that to mean that I was his favorite. But the longer I parent, the better I understand what he meant. Our kids are all different so we have to
tread lightly treat them different. There is plenty of love to go around, it might just be delivered in a different package because, as they say, this parenting thing isn’t for the faint of heart.
 This is a funny thing that, unless you have a transgender kid, you’ve likely not thought about. No matter how entirely accepting you might be of your child’s transition, it is often really hard to switch from son to daughter and vice versa. I personally found the name change easier to embrace. I adore Jess, but seldom refer to her as my daughter. It’s just one of those things…
I know, I know…I am not 38 – although I am sure I cried on 4.1.03 -, but when I googled “bad ass birthday image”, this came up…and I absolutely positively had to use it.
My 30th birthday. Otherwise known as the-first- documented-birthday-that-I-would-spend-crying, an activity which would continue, to varying degrees, for twenty years.
I was a new mom to Harrison who was, by all accounts a good baby. He ate and burped when he should, slept like a champ and generally led a very sweet life. I was living in a nice house with a good zip code (which actually mattered to me back then), was in an okay – just keepin’ it real – marriage, had two wonderful, healthy parents, awesome brothers and more friends than I could number. Yet, I spent the entirety of my 30th birthday crying. Like ugly, heaving, sobbing, iguana eyes crying. All day long. When asked, repeatedly, why I was so upset, I could not answer to anyone or, more to the point, myself.
Little did I know that I had just launched what would become a twenty-two year tradition.
Anyone who lived in Boston at the time will most definitely recall The April Fool’s Day Blizzard. It was damn ridiculous. And, just in case you were wondering, let me tell you what it was like in my house that day. It was a Tuesday and this full time working girl had, along with the rest of the folks at her office, been given a snow day. Of note, back then, when you were granted a snow day it was really a day off: no tele-or video-conferencing, no constant email checking…just a legit freebie day off. Woot woot, right? Yeah, not exactly.
I had a completely miserable, horrible, pray for death head cold and had not one appropriate drug in the house to treat it. Harrison, still on the tail end of his diaper days (yeah, my kids would still be in diapers if it was socially acceptable) was having some (gruesome, gross and frequent) digestive issues which, if not bad enough by itself, I – for the first and last time ever – ran out of diapers. Well, aside from snow plowing, husbands are generally good for going out in the storm to pick up essentials (ice cream counts) and my husband was no different. Butttt, before he could go, he had to fire up the ol’ snow blower to clear the driveway. It’s all fun and games until two of the tires Fall. Right. Off. But that’s okay – we didn’t have any gas, anyway.
So yes, I spent my 32nd birthday crying all day.
4.1.98, 4.1.99, 4.1.00…
No need for anything dramatic…just cried.
Lordy lordy looks who’s forty. Yes, I had a great party. And, yes, everyone that mattered to me was there. However, cancer had been running rough shod through my family – my father was dying, my father-in-law had recently died and I had just had my final reconstructive surgery from my own cancer. Great food, great friends…cried most of the day.
4.1.06, 4.1.07, 4.1.08…
Cried every year.
(Fun fact: a few weeks after my first birthday with Barry (what a mess), my ex-husband asked him if I’d cried. Barry asked why he hadn’t been warned. It was a test, I guess. Thankfully he passed.)
Best birthday ever.
A month ago, I put out a call to my village: Let’s try to collect 104 gift cards to be distributed to transgender kids who, for one reason or another (asshole parents comes to mind) are out there fending for themselves, trying to navigate a world that it just beginning to understand and accept who they are. I’d never really asked for a particular birthday gift before and, truthfully, it wasn’t even that I was suddenly wise enough to have made a conscious decision to take control or get ahead of the birthday cry…I just wanted to do something, anything, for these kids.
Well, the tally at close of business yesterday is 218 cards valued at $3,575 from 80 different families, in 16 states and the UK, 24 of whom I have never met and/or heard of,
I know that there are others en route to me.
And guess what…not a tear all day. Not one.
For years, my brother David has run a nonprofit organization called Big Sunday whose tagline is:
Absolutely EVERYONE has some way that they can help someone else.
Yes, indeed. But, and this is important, the feeling you will get helping someone else will lockdown your own happiness.
I want for nothing. I need not a single thing. I am ridiculously blessed. This was the best birthday gift ever.
This was a no-cry birthday. The love, support, kindness and final outcome of my little campaign is going to help change lives. It has certainly changed mine.
Thank you for your generosity.
Thank you for being in my life.
Thank you for supporting my kid.
And thank you for breaking my streak of tearful birthdays.
p.s. At the end of this week, the cards will be delivered to Boston GLASS and Bridge Over Troubled Waters wonderful organizations that serve kids who are not nearly as fortunate as yours and mine. If you still want to send a card, awesome. You can also donate or volunteer with them directly. ❤
This is what 152 gift cards look like.
Now I want to make it to 200.
I have a date with Beth on April 7 to give her the cards which she, in turn, will be getting into the right hands, so we have time!
So…ya think we can we do it?!?
To the 116 families who have already sent cards: I have such gratitude for your incredible generosity and kind notes. But I am not a hero – you all are. All I did was make a request. You all did the heavy lifting.
And to the folks I’ve never even met…a very special thank you.
Fun fact: Cards have arrived from Massachusetts, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Washington, Alabama, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Michigan and, my personal favorite: England (as in the UK) from a long time reader and crazy cool person, Caroline. ❤
I am so blessed to have surrounded myself with awesome ladies, gentlemen and those who’ve not yet decided.
❤ ❤ ❤
“These kids are going to feel so blessed…”
- Max, age 11 as he organizes the gift cards
“I’ve never seen so many gift cards other than in a store!”
- Max, age 11, still organizing the gift cards
“It is amazing how many people who care out there.”
- Max, still age 11, still organizing the gift cards
- Max, age 11, among a pile of gift cards, when the calculator he was using to add up the total value of all the cards crashed
“We are already at $295!”
- Max, getting ever closer to 12, while adding up the value of the cards, this time on the computer
“It’s amazing that everyone would give this much support to these kids. It’s amazing!”
- Max, 11, who has grown an inch since he started this little project.
“$1,940 so far! But a bunch of the cards didn’t have amounts on them…so I’m guessing we are over $2,000!!”
- Max, who has an enthusiasm for this that warms my heart
Max, who will be 12 in May, was just 8 when Jess came into his life and he learned what it means to be transgender. Didn’t care then. Doesn’t care now.
Our original goal of 104 has been met and crushed. But…my birthday is not for another two weeks, so keep ’em coming!
And Max: it isn’t just these kids who are feeling blessed…
Thank you, Marc H., Cheryl N., Deb F., Kristen M., Gail S., and Carolyn P.
I only know one of you personally.
You are from Florida, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and North Carolina.
We are better than halfway there.
And my heart is full.
Rock on ladies, gentlemen and those who’ve not yet decided.
39 gift cards.
From Massachusetts, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York.
Bad ass mamas, dads, sisters, brothers, friends, acquaintances and strangers.
Less than halfway there, but we will make it.
Love to everyone thus far: Heather K., Shelley B., Nicole F., Lori K., Patricia B., Jennifer N., Lori B., Harriet S., Michelle C., Robin F. and Joy S.
These kids need us.
We can do this.
Rock on, ladies, gentlemen and those who haven’t yet decided.