Do a Little Dance

January 23, 2012

“I don’t care if you are a boy, a girl or a martian” I barked at Jessie. And, despite how unpleasant and rude it may sound, it was actually a moment of pride for me. Having gotten so wrapped up in this whole transgender announcement had depleted me of my already lax parenting habits lately and now I had, in a strange way, experienced a brief moment of normalcy.

George (name choice intended) was never what anyone on God’s green earth would ever call easy. Impossible: yes. Exhausting: yes. Frustrating: yes. But easy: no. Never. While always charming, engaging, talented and funny as hell, just being with him was a challenge. It proved too much for many — his first daycare provider literally called me at 11 in the morning and told me she simply couldn’t handle him for one more moment. The first therapist I took him to spent more time chasing him as he bolted out of her office than doing any sort of psychological assessing, let alone “fixing”. His camp counselors didn’t even attempt to talk to me, rather they escalated to the director and let him handle it. (Suffice to say, he never went to the same camp two summers in a row.) When I went to sign him up for the second session of a cooking class at the school enrichment program I was literally chased after and told that he wasn’t really welcome in there again. Need I go on? Over time it turned into a game of survival (mine and his). His intensity literally wore me down to a stub.

Over the years we got into a dance. He would hound, harass and harangue me until he got whatever it was he wanted/needed at that moment (it was usually a Barbie doll. Or a wig. Or a mermaid tail. Seriously.) and I, being weakened by the sheer volume of difficult situations, would cave. Not gonna lie – it was easier for me. Even as it was happening (and it was happening every single day. Usually several times.) I knew that I wasn’t doing right by him and that this empty feeling he had was never going to get filled. (Full disclosure: I knew it deep down, but it took George’s thrice weekly shrink visits for me to see just how big a role I played in the perpetuation of this whole mess.)

Ever the smartest person in the room, Jessie (name choice intended) has not only shown great relief at her having come out to us as transgender, but has also opted for working it in her favor at every turn. From when she told us in September until she went wide in December, Jessie referred to her desire to be a girl as “the secret”. With close support from her therapist, we let her take the lead and allowed her to decide when, where and with whom she would share. In those four months, there were countless times that she would be rude, or obnoxious, or bratty, or vile or generally unpleasant and then, with doe eyes, blame it on the burden of the secret. And I, being beaten down, overwrought and exhausted, would give her a pass. (In all honesty, I have been giving her a pass for years. My bad.) My head was spinning and my heart was breaking for fear of what lay ahead for her (and, frankly, me) so did it really matter that since she was so burdened with her “secret” that she couldn’t do her homework? Or clean her room? Or brush her teeth?

And then, one day, (because, as anyone who has ever been on this kind of journey will attest no two days, or hours, are ever the same) when she tried to weasel out of something I suddenly got dope slapped (figuratively, thankfully) and pulled on my big girl pants and told her “game over!”. And while the dance is still in motion, I am starting to be reminded of the fact that Jessie is just a ten year old kid. A much happier, prettier and better dressed kid, but a kid nonetheless. She is a child in transition, not in crisis. Her crisis ended when she made her announcement. My need to dance around her and go to any and all lengths to keep the peace, while a deeply formed habit, isn’t necessary anymore.

So there’s my “secret”. I was so fearful of making a miserable child more miserable that I abandoned everything I might be bold enough to suggest I knew about parenting. My small victory was laying it out and telling her that the passes were going to be fewer and further between. The love won’t be, but the passes will.

Just today, Jessie was demanding a calligraphy pen (for what reason, I not only cannot imagine but, (small victory), didn’t try to). We waltzed for three or four minutes, I reminded her that I was leading and alas, she is pen-less. Tomorrow is another day. A day which will, no doubt, bring a challenge or two but I’ve hung up my dancing shoes and will try to save them for special occasions…


4 thoughts on “Do a Little Dance

  1. Being a mother, I can completely understand the ‘dance’, and your need to maintain control, especially in your child’s eyes. Similarly, being a member of the transgender community, I must tell you that announcing that you are trans, no matter the age is *never* the end of the crisis, and is often the very beginning. Please be sympathetic to this while maintaining control. Love the blog 🙂

  2. When I was in 5th grade, there was a new girl. She was cool and different and had a calligraphy pen and could write all the other girls’ names with it.

    I was the new girl until this girl arrived and suddenly, I was old news. That is beside the point, of course. (Is it?)

    The point is that the next day, two other girls brought brand new calligraphy pens to school. By the end of the week, most of the girls had them and the new girl was teaching them how to write their names with them. The rest of us were intentionally and maliciously excluded from the snack time practice sessions, where we pretty much watched, envious of this new clique that didn’t include us because our mothers were unwilling to rush right out and spend $10 on popularity.

    It was the silly bands of 1995. And I hated the new girl because my mom wouldn’t buy me one so suddenly, I didn’t fit in.

    What does it matter? Well, in the long run, it doesn’t. I went on to have plenty of friends and this incident didn’t stunt me. My best friend throughout the years (we are still very close, through weddings and babies) was similarly without pen. But I wasn’t a girl who used to be a boy, trying to be a girl. The fact that at the same age, I coveted the same thing doesn’t matter. But perhaps it matters that I suspect we coveted those pens for the same reason.

    Then again, maybe it was just an attempt to see where she can still push the boundaries. But since you raised a boy, then another, and then suddenly got thrown into raising a girl (despite all the wigs and barbies and mermaid tails), I thought…maybe her mindset is not 100% there with how little girls are different socially than little boys? I don’t remember my older brother ever needing something similar to fit in. He had decent brand sneakers and that was all that mattered. But girls are a different breed. And while I’m sure you are well aware of that, I thought my 2 cents might help. If not, well, at least I got to reminisce about a time that kind of sucked and laugh at how silly it was.

    You. Are. Amazing.

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