Best days of my life?

About a year after I had finished my run-in with breast cancer, Tony Snow (the former White House press secretary) returned to television for the first time since having been diagnosed with colon cancer.  It was a school/work morning and Rich and I were trying to get ourselves and the kids up and out the door.  “The Today Show” was on and we were half listening to the interviewer when he asked Tony for reflections on what he had been through.  He responded by saying that it was “the best year of his life.”  Rich looked at me and asked me if I knew what he meant.  Indeed, I did.

Whether it is cancer, or a death or a divorce or a little boy announcing that he is really a girl, difficult life experiences have this crazy ability to turn logic on its ear and prove to be wonderful times in one’s life.  Sounds insane, I know.  But, having had my fair share of trying times, I can honestly say that with each crisis, once the hysterical part of it has passed, I am a little bit better for it.  I am a little bit stronger and have a whole lot more faith in mankind.  Would I wish for any of these things?  No fucking way.  But in a strange and beautiful way, I wouldn’t take them back, either.

I always thought that feeling this way was peculiar at best, morbid at worst.  Not really a glass half full kinda gal, it isn’t necessarily my nature to find the positive in any given situation.  It is easier to get caught up in the fear, anxiety, anger and “why me?” than to see the upside of things like facing down a bi-lateral mastectomy  just days after my father-in-law lost his battle and my father was en route to losing his.  I could have opted for a complete shutdown when I landed in the hospital with a herniated disc in my back which provided me with what I can easily say was the worst pain imaginable.  And when George came to us to tell us that he felt that he was a girl, it would have been simpler to keep it to ourselves, go underground as best we could and simmer in the angst that any parent would feel when their child makes such a major announcement.  But, when you see the love, support, encouragement and strength that the people in your life are willing (no, not willing, but eager) to share with you, it results in a paradigm shift that can only be fully appreciated during well, a crisis.

Like many people, I am not particularly good at asking for help.  It used to be a source of pride for me – an indication that I was a strong and capable woman.  And then I got sick.  My family and I needed help with the everyday crap that doesn’t go away.  We needed dinners, and drivers and shoppers.  Once I acquiesced, it was mere hours before a cooler was outside our door and a sign-up list was fully populated.  We were fed, driven and attended to for weeks and weeks and weeks.  It not only saved us in the day to day, it saved our spirit, too.  (It also served to add several pounds to my midsection – a few too many delicious lasagnas with brownie chasers!)

Right now, no one (thank G-d) is ill.  No one is physically compromised.  We are, however, emotionally spent and mentally exhausted, yet not struggling.  We aren’t struggling thanks to the undying support we have gotten from family, friends and even strangers.  Those who approach me (even those who do so tentatively) are ready to lend their support in any number of different ways:  maybe it is by forwarding an article or sending a gift certificate (go Justice!  go Clairs!), or passing along clothing their daughters have outgrown…it doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is that everyone, to a person, has reminded us that we are loved.  And, any time you know you are loved is always a good contender for “the best year of your life”, no?

I’m not going to lie – this ain’t easy.  At every turn lurk surprises, successes and failures.  I have no idea how this is all going to play out but I do know that everyone in my family, perhaps my life, will be different (read: better) for it.  There are moments, hours, even days that I pray for a rewind to life before (such as it was), but I know, deep down, that I will someday be able to look back at this and be grateful for the lessons learned.

Advertisements

Ten

Aside from your fourth grade teacher (mine’s name escapes me), your best friend (um, can’t recall) and perhaps what street you lived on (phew, that one I remember – Barrett), what do you remember from when you were ten years old?  Nothing?  Yep, me neither.

I am quite sure that my parents did wonderful things for me and took me to spectacular places. In fact, I think that may even have been the year that we loaded up the family station wagon and drove cross-country for six weeks in the summer, but wouldn’t put money on it.   I am equally confident that my two older brothers had fully embraced the roles of protector (David) and tormentor (Robbie)*, but am only vaguely aware of any specifics other than me reacting to Robbie by way of screaming and my mother saying, “Robbie stop it!” a lot.  It was 1975.  Without the benefit of Google, I would not recall who was president (Ford), what the big movie was (Jaws) and that Paul McCartney was in his Wings phase.  I am fairly sure that my hair was already proving to be the bane of my existence (still is), my bedroom was a vision of yellow, orange &white polka dots and turning double digits was tantamount to utopia.  And that’s all I’ve got.

This begs the question: when she is an adult, how much of this phase of her life (our lives) will Jessie even recall?  What will stand out in her mind?  Will she remember, on her tenth birthday, seeing the article in the paper http://articles.boston.com/2011-12-11/lifestyle/30512365_1_twin-boys-transgender-jonas when her mouth fell open and she realized that she is not the only one?  What about the next day, when she loudly and proudly went into school and told her teacher all about her “secret”?  How will she reminisce about her quick and seamless transition from George to Jessie? What, if anything, will she recall about being George?  Will she, um, be George?

I suspect that, given the turn of events, she will have a better grasp on the memories that make up her past than I have about my own and will recall more about 2012 than I could ever hope to recollect from 1975, even with the aid of Google.  I would further imagine that, given her incredible sense of self, she will be a success at whatever she is doing.  I have long said that with her eye for design her name will be on your ass someday and, if you are wise, you will curry favor now in hopes of being put on the friends and family discount list. (No, really…I’m serious.)

And, while no one can tell me, you or anyone else where she or I, or you, will land, today I am thinking that wherever it is, it will be okay.  I make no promises for tomorrow, though…

*Please note that I have the two best brothers anyone could ever ask for.  Despite Robbie’s torturous past, he has always been a fierce protector of me and my family.  David is so much older than me that we never had anything to fight about.  I love them both and hope that someday they will enlighten me as to what my life was like prior to 1980 which is the furthest back I can seem to recall.

Whaddya know?

Some days just kinda suck.  Perhaps you have a stressful meeting.  Or the house is a total disaster and you aren’t going to have the opportunity to straighten it up.  Maybe you had to rush all day long, sometimes to the same place three times, in a vain attempt to get one simple errand taken care of.  Or it could be that someone (presumably inadvertently) threw a wrench into that which you (mistakenly) thought you had a handle on.  Or it could have been a sudden mental note coming to life reminding you that if you don’t cook that chicken up tonight you had best throw it away or risk an ugly outbreak of salmonella raging through your house.  And, if you are really lucky (or me) you can experience all of these and more in one day.  Yep, some days just kinda suck.

Coming off a wonderful and relaxing weekend, it was even more brutal than normal to hear an alarm clock go off at 6 a.m. today.  This morning wasn’t just any Monday-morning-after-a-vacation-week…it was the morning that we were going to meet with the folks at the GeMS (Gender Management Services) Clinic at Children’s Hospital.  It is the first of what will be a long series of meetings which will spread over the next few years.  Yes, years.  Before she can even be considered for puberty blockers, Jessie has to be not just thinking about puberty, but in the throes of it.   That, dear friends, seems to be far enough in the offing that there is not much of anything that we either can or should be doing any differently than we have been.  “Just keep doing what you’ve been doing” is the mantra we have heard over and over from person after person.  Frankly, it is getting irritating.  Patience has never been my strong suit and when it comes to matters involving my child and his/her gender, I am not inclined to change course.  Sucks for me.

Perhaps the most mind-blowing (and by mind-blowing I mean mind-fucking) thing I learned today was a statistic that literally made me nauseous.  Despite the fact that I might have heard it before, it still struck me much like I would imagine it feels to have a sledgehammer land squarely on your head: Seventy-five percent of kids who identify as transgender prior to puberty wind up, gulp, changing their minds.  Most of those then go on to live as gay men and/or women.  Of course this means that a full twenty-five percent continue on the path that Jessie is so deeply entrenched in, but it still freaked me out.  That said, I maintain my contention that a ten year old boy socially transitioning without hesitation has to mean that there was something calling to him (g.c.i.) loudly and powerfully.  But what do I know?

I pose that question rhetorically, but I do actually have a few responses to it.  For starters, I know that Jessie loves to get dressed in the morning and, once she settles on an outfit, departs for school with at least some pink somewhere and does so with joy and without hesitation.  I know that many of the most unpleasant “symptoms” of her prior distress have disappeared completely.  I know that she thinks of herself as a girl named Jessie and not a boy named George.  And I know that, for now, anyway, she is very confident and content in her new persona.  As far as what the future holds – yeah, well that I clearly don’t know.  But I take great comfort in the fact that nobody knows in part because I hate being the only one not in on the things.

But things aren’t all bad.  Harrison took a bunch of pictures of me and Jessie tonight, including this one:

What’s so funny?

I hadn’t realized what a ridiculously long time it had been since I had laughed my ass off.  I’ve chuckled plenty, but I have fallen short on engaging in the hysterical laughter that causes tears to run down my cheeks, has me gasping for breath and renders me unable to pull myself together.  You know what I’m talking about – the sort of laughter that has an almost orgasmic quality to it.  The kind that teeters dangerously close to morphing into tears but when it is over (and it can take a little time to recover) you just feel, well, good.  Better than good.  I hereby decree that laughing one’s ass off should be, at minimum, a weekly requirement of all adults as it might just have medicinal qualities.

Over the past few days, I repeatedly laughed like crazy and, despite the fact that others were laughing with me (at least I think they were laughing with me.  Crap…could it be that they were laughing at me?) I am not sure if that which struck me as so funny was indeed funny or if it was simply attributable to the fact that I was in a different setting with a different cast of characters.   I had escaped to New York for college visits with Rich, Harrison and Harrison’s girlfriend, Bianca, as well as her mother and step-father, Ines and Ekk who, on a regular basis, crack me up.  We logged many miles both by car and by foot, indulged in street food on several corners, went to the theater, ate dinner at eleven p.m. (it is their European influence rearing its head) and allowed Ekk to order the booze.   (One will note the absence of a certain ten-year old that was, instead, home with Nanny for the weekend.  A million thanks, Mom).  Being away from the responsibilities, rules and complications inherent in being home (more notably, my home!) begs the question:  what was it that enabled me to have true, unadulterated fun for the first time in a really, really long time?

A few possibilities:

  1. I desperately needed a vacation.  In celebration of our twentieth wedding anniversary Rich and I went to New York, sans children, for two days.   It was great.  We had a blast.  That was in October, 2010.  We haven’t been away, with or without children, since.  Lesson learned: that is too long for us to go between vacations – no matter how mini.
  2. I needed a change of scenery.  My limited weekly excursions, which, at best (or is it worst?) take me to three different towns, apparently are not satisfying my need to see new things.  Lesson learned: my town repertoire needs to be expanded.
  3. I’m so wrapped up in all things Jessie that I have done the one thing my father always reminded me not to do: lose my sense of humor.  When your shoulders are hiked up to your ears and you’re constantly swatting away the “what ifs” it is easy to get weighed down and forget to laugh.  Lesson learned: Dad was right.  Life is easier when you keep a sense of humor.
  4. I need to hang out with people who make me laugh.  I have many friends that do, but have been so overwhelmed and scared and anxious and distraught and exhausted and other various and sundry negative things that I have chosen to isolate and shutdown, thereby limiting the sheer number of opportunities I have to laugh.  Lesson learned: Try to go out more.  Imbibing really good champagne that was” like ginger ale only better” helps, too.
  5. New York is more fun than Boston.  Okay, that is a new thought and merely fodder for the long-standing city rivalry, but it is also kinda true.  Case in point: after a crazy, long day which included two college tours, hours of driving and pouring rain (resulting in some seriously bad hair) all of the adults shared the sentiment that, despite our exhaustion we were going to persevere and go out on the town.  And we did.  And had a blast.  Lesson learned: Even with bad hair, tired legs and sore feet it can be fun to pull ones’ self together and go out to dinner at eleven p.m.  And,yeah,  imbibing in that really good champagne helps.

So, on the heels of all this laughter, I arrived home feeling refreshed and looking forward to seeing Jessie so I could smother her with a hug, a kiss and some New York goodies despite her having called me at 12:20 a.m. on our first night in New York imploring me to come home immediately.  Nope, wasn’t going there this time. I’d gotten the recharge and release that I so desperately needed.  I figure I am good for a bit.  At least a day or so…

Is it a rose? Or perhaps a cigar?

When is a rose just a rose (or, as Rich prefers: when is a cigar just a cigar – have you ever heard that expression, because I haven’t, but…) and when is a rose really a sign of something else non-roselike?  Perhaps more importantly, where is the manual that can definitively make the distinction?  (Actually, I could absolutely use that manual for a whole slew of other questions, too.  If anyone happens upon it, I will pay handsomely for a copy.  Really.  I’m serious.)

I pose this question for a reason.  Jessie had, over the years, become accustomed to being the center of (often negative) attention.  And yes, she is enjoying a newfound happiness, but it comes at a price.  While she is more relaxed, more comfortable in her own skin and generally easier to be around, she is likewise, I am sorry to say,  slightly (okay, more than slightly) irked that she now has to share the spotlight with her brother a little (okay, a lot) more now than she has for the past, oh I don’t know…ten years.   It used to be that one of her meltdown/freak out/episodes would first capture and then deplete our energies.  There were challenges at every turn and each one knocked us (well, me mostly) out.  Now fewer and further between, when they do occur, I still go to the “what

    ifs” that plague me.

    Here’s a little visit into my head when a freak out occurs: “ Oh my G-d…what does it mean?  What if she is, deep down, in her deepest unconsciousness, regretting her choice?  What if she was just kidding and didn’t really want to be a girl?  What if Rich and I (like how I put him on the hook with me for this one?) made a terrible mistake in letting her transition socially?  What if we just bought all these new (and crazy cute) clothes but she wants her track pants and shit-kickers back?”

    Or what if she is just being a brat? While it is ridiculously hard (and by hard I mean virtually impossible) to reconcile that possibility given the history, sometimes it is, joyously, the case.  Just the other day, in fact, a totally maniacal child was suddenly inhabiting my house. (Hint: it wasn’t Harrison)  She was crying real tears, screaming real screams, and causing real distress (for me, that is) until, in a moment of lucidity (mine) I asked her when was the last time she had eaten.  (In my defense, she had been in someone else’s care for the day.  I am naming no names.)  I dove for the nearby (almost fresh) sourdough loaf, slathered it in butter and watched her inhale it like a college kid on a bong.  Crisis averted.  A rose was just a rose.

    Thinking in terms of Jessie being a brat brings me a peculiar pleasure.  Not that I would ever want her to take this on as a predominant personality trait, but the banality of it is, well, refreshing.   All kids can be brats.  All kids have an obnoxious streak (admittedly, some more than others).  All kids freak out about things that surprise us.  It is that very normalcy that gives me an unexpected peace.

    Now, lest you think I have moved from the paralyzing, crushing fear of the “what ifs”, let me assure you that I have not.  But, the knowledge that sometimes a rose (or cigar) is just a rose (or cigar) is working for me.  Today.

    p.s. Happy, happy not quite 50th birthday to Rich…you’ve been pretty close to a rockstar with all things Jessie.  xoxo

Feelings, wo wo wo, feelings…

When someone is diagnosed with a serious illness or suffers a loss or separates from their spouse or has a child that engages in a behavior not universally accepted, the way that they are perceived in the community shifts.  Townsfolk may feel sympathetic, empathetic or, my particular “favorite”, judgmental.  Depending upon the particulars, the aggrieved may be sought out or avoided, but rarely anything in between.  By virtue of little more than happenstance, they have taken on a sort of celebrity status, albeit it dubious.

I am acutely aware, for a variety of reasons and through a wave of intuition, that I (and my family) have become the people who others are considering, talking about and, I am wise enough to recognize, judging.  While I experience “CVS moments” that fill me with dreaded anticipation as to whom I might bump into, I am likewise acutely aware that many people, upon seeing me for the first time since our announcement, are tentative as to how to approach me.  I sense the underlying anxiety and feel the “that’s her” glances in the most benign spots: the gym, the market, Starbucks (venti, decaf non-fat extra hot no foam vanilla latte, please)  the post office.  (Full disclosure: I don’t really recall the last time I went to the post office, but it represents the kind of spots that I have found this to happen.)  But, alas, this is not the first time in my adult life that I have felt this way.

It happened in the seemingly endless weeks between my breast cancer diagnosis and my surgery date.  I recall well-meaning people not knowing which way to look when, just days after my diagnosis, my father in law passed away after having fought colon cancer for four years.  And then, again, when I lost my own father several months later, he a victim of lung cancer.  All kind, caring people and, I am fairly confident, devoid of judgment, they just didn’t know how to process all the loss that we were experiencing over such a short stretch of time.  It was incomprehensible to everyone.  Mostly us.

Sometimes it is a look which oozes discomfort. Or it might be that I sense (perhaps in error) them having a fleeting, silent thought that perhaps I hadn’t see them so they could just keep walking.  I’ve done it myself: spied a friend or acquaintance across the store (usually CVS) that has recently endured a life event and found myself gripped with a sudden loss of language and ability to offer condolences, or support or any other solace that a woman of a certain age should be able to share without reservation.  I get it.  I hate, however, being on the receiving end of it.

I assume no malice, anger or opinion, rather their profound discomfort which, in turn, dumps the onus on me to make them feel better.  I am quite sure this is no one’s intention, but a rampant phenomenon, nonetheless.    Hardly unique to me, I do believe, however,  that given the shitstorm that has been our lives for the past ten years or so,  I happen to be particularly sensitive and in tune to it.    It probably speaks to my discomfort in being told that I am doing a great job…because I know, in my heart of hearts, that I am wildly unclear as to how I would react should the situation be reversed and I was an onlooker and not living through it.   I am also well aware that I have been given no choice and all anyone ever really wants is to feel a semblance of control and at least a modicum of choice.  In instances of death, illness and finding yourself the parent of a transgender kid, all that flies out the window.  We are left with a choice – sink or swim.  And as treacherous and unpredictable as the waters may be, the choice to swim is gonna trump sinking every time.

One of the Girls

When I first met Diane, George (n.c.i.) and her younger child, Katie were barely two years old.  George  had just started attending a local preschool after having been unceremoniously dismissed from a family daycare provider who called me at 11 a.m. one morning (while George was in her care) and blurted out that she couldn’t handle him (g.c.i.) anymore.  Okay, then.

I scrambled to find a more suitable spot for him and landed on the town program which, by some miracle, had a spot available despite it being a few weeks into the school year.  With the anxiety of having been booted from daycare sitting squarely on my shoulders, I brought him there the next day and he settled in beautifully.  Until the second or third day, that is.  It was then, before I had been afforded the opportunity (or ability) to relax and find comfort in the new set up (read: I had no friends yet) that my little cherub decided that a good way to introduce himself to Katie was to bite her.  Well that is just excellent.  So, with my heart in my throat and my tail between my legs, I called Katie’s mother, Diane, to apologize for my child’s transgression.  The call went something like this:

Me: Hi, um, you don’t know me…I’m George’s mom.

(At the time I thought I heard a groan, but I soon learned that I was hearing things)

Diane: Oh, hi!  (genuine warmth)

Me: I am so sorry, but I gather that my son bit your daughter today at school.

Diane: (without skipping a beat) Oh, don’t worry…she probably deserved it.

(Lest you think anything but wonderful thoughts about Diane and her reaction, let me assure you  of two things: Diane is a kick-ass mom but/and  I say this with love for both of them:  there is an excellent chance that Katie did, indeed deserve it.  Much in the same way that George and/or Jessie would.  For real.)

Despite, or perhaps because of this, we have all been friends ever since.

Yesterday, in a vain attempt to rid her house of the thousands of beads that had accumulated over the years, Diane didn’t just allow, but actually encouraged Katie to invite over a group of girls, Jessie among them, for a beading party. (See, I told you she is a kick-ass mom!)   At four p.m. roughly eight girls descended upon her house and proceeded to do just about everything…except for bead.  They played “Just Dance III” on the Wii, jumped on the trampoline, and put hair extensions in one another’s hair.  (Oh, wait, it was only Jessie who brought and put in the hair extensions while each girl patiently awaited her turn in the chair.)  Some of the moms, including me, hung out in the kitchen (yes, there was wine…is that bad? ) for some girl time of our own.

I was struck, about an hour into our visit that it felt totally natural for me to be there among this group of women, all parents of girls.  We talked about clothing (and why on earth these girls are already discussing whether or not something is sexy), hair issues (please, dear G-d, let Jessie’s hair continue to grow at the rate it has been…this troll in the morning situation is getting tiresome), teachers, mean girls in the grade (not surprisingly, none of whom had parental representation among this group) and various other things that I imagine were normal “mom of girls” topics of discussion.  We even talked about the incident when I was imploring Jessie to wear a long shirt over clingy pants to ensure that her penis  wouldn’t show (now there’s a sentence I never expected to write) to which they universally responded that they make the same demands on their non penis bearing girls to wear shirts that are long enough over leggings so as to avoid the hoochy koochy look.  Abruptly, mid conversation, I put my hand up and said, “okay, I need to know…what is the talk on the playground about Jessie?”  Each of them shook their heads silently and said that there simply was no talk.  And, with no hesitation or false sense of security, I believe them because I know that they are on my side.

Some of my dearest friends have boys Harrison’s age.  We’ve long shared a similar set of experiences and challenges since meeting when the kids were either preschool or kindergarteners.  There was an immediate connection because we all had boys the same age.  What started as acquaintances of convenience have morphed into true friends, even after all these years.  After I had my second baby, supposedly a boy, I was, it seems, expected to repeat history and befriend the moms of other boys in the grade in hopes that we would, as I had with Harrison’s peers, traverse the roads of raising them alongside one another.  I have not established many friendships with the parents of this class of 2020 with the notable exception of the gals of yesterday’s impromptu get together (none of whom are “new” friends) all of whom have girls.   That has got to mean something.

“New normal” is an obnoxious expression I have heard many times with regard to various situations.  (Among the most irritating of which is being told that chronic pain in my lower back is an acceptable normal, but I digress.)  I have also learned, through parties like yesterday, that sometimes the new normal really is okay.  Better than okay.  Not without minor (typical girl) squabbles, it was one of the easiest and most enjoyable social interactions I can recall my kid (as compared to when she was George, especially) being a part of.  She was just one of the girls.

p.s. Diane is still inundated with beads…I am sure she will share!

Planet Angry

This week was a mindfuck. Forgive my crass language, but no other word captures the range of emotions that trampled me over the past couple of days.  (I am not going to go into specifics, but suffice to say, I was challenged in a manner I did not agree with, in a setting I did not agree with and, perhaps most importantly, on a premise I did not agree with.  As tempting as it is to share the details, I do have some parameters in my sharing that I must respect.)  For the first time since George has become Jessie, I allowed someone to put me in a position in which I began to question not only myself but, in classic Julie style,  every decision I have ever made in my entire life.  What if, what if, what if.

In the throes of this Valium necessitating episode, I went from sad to angry to self doubting to depressed to panicky and back to angry where I ultimately stayed.  This is highly unusual for me as my “go to” emotion (which often includes something fattening) is more often sadness than anger, particularly toward people who have, historically, anyway, been ardent supporters of me and my family.  When I realized that anger was prevailing, it was oddly comforting.

Over these past few days I have been thinking (mostly at three in the morning) about the various events which have landed me on Planet Angry.   I have shared the details of what happened with some of my closest confidants who, to a person, have agreed with my reaction.  It is important to note that each of them would have set me straight if they thought there was any setting to be done.  None of them did. Innately more self-confident than me, each one responded that they couldn’t imagine any emotion other than anger.   Hmmmmm.

I am as imperfect as the next guy.  I put up a good front and manage to pass myself off as being far more comfortable in my own skin than I really am.  It is a quality that drove my parents (and now my husband, brothers, and close friends) crazy.  (Not the good show, rather the internal struggle.)   I know because they have told me.  More than once.  On the flip side, I have always taken pride in my integrity and good judgment.  They are the two parts of my complicated self that I have never questioned and always maintained a high degree of confidence.  That is not to say that I always do or say the right thing, but I never jump into something without (over)thinking and/or (pre)worrying about it.  It was my brother Rob who pointed out to me why I was reacting with anger – it was because someone dared to do something that no one does to anyone in my family (we all pride ourselves on this) and lives to tell the tale:  they called into question both my judgment and my integrity and, worse yet,  as it relates to my kid.  Gloves off.   This is war.

I calmly confronted the person, addressed the situation and, in an uncharacteristic showing, never wavered on my position.  I held my ground and had the courage of my own convictions which is something my father used to drill into my head, but I never managed, until now, to master.  The good news is, I have come out of this feeling empowered and stronger.  I have not let someone else bully me into believing something that I don’t believe to be true.  I stopped questioning myself and, perhaps for the first time ever, am actually questioning someone else.  I stayed on Planet Angry without any excursions to Plant Sad or Planet Self-Doubting or even Planet May I Blew This One.  All were offering good deals, but none enticing enough to get me to visit.

I would imagine it sounds odd for me to be patting myself on the back for finding and holding onto anger, but it helps me to appreciate that I might just be achieving the only thing I have ever sought to accomplish: not only doing right by my kids, but knowing it.

I have packed my bags and am ready to leave Planet Angry and head for brighter spots.  But, unlike my arrival, my departure is on my terms, on schedule and no extra charge for baggage.  I plan on sleeping through the night without the benefit of a Valium and have a new level of comfort with myself that I hope sticks around.  And while I don’t have any immediate plans to return to Planet Angry, I know now that it is a fine place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

The Heart of the Matter

Earlier in the week, Jessie was getting dressed for school and put on a pair of light gray, jersey lounge pants that she had sewn herself. (Read: they were clingy) As she was pawing through her ever-expanding pile of pink, purple and polka dot shirts, I suggested (okay, insisted) that she wear a shirt that would hang low enough to cover her groin area.  A back and forth ensued, and escalated until I finally blurted, “you are still a boy, you need to cover your penis!”  Big mistake, boys and girls.  Big mistake.

She said nothing at the time, but in hindsight, I am pretty sure she had a stung expression on her face.  She may even have fought back tears.  But, in my feeble defense, it was getting dangerously close to the first school bell ringing and I had lost patience (and time) discussing her outfit for the day.  (I know, I know…it’s only just begun.)  But for my overall exhaustion, I would have (no, should have) taken note, but, alas, did not.

This morning, as I got into the car after my morning workout (if you can call walking in circles for an hour a workout) I checked my phone and saw a missed call from the school nurse.  I responded as I always do when I see her name: “oh crap.”  Prior to her social transition, I would get nearly daily calls from the nurse for one phantom ailment or another. Since George has become Jessie, those calls have all but ceased.  For that reason, I became a bit concerned and opted to swing by the school on my way home.  (The fact that I went there without my staples of shower and mascara on board speaks to my level of angst.)  I arrived to find her sad, sullen and clinging to the little box of Russell Stover candies I had given her for Valentine’s Day.  She said she missed me and wanted to come home which, while sweet on the surface, I knew was code.  Problem was, I had no idea what it was code for.

With the support of the nurse and a teacher, I managed to get her to stay at school only so I could spend the next several hours until pick-up stressing over, well, pick-up.  I had no idea what I was going to get, but took comfort in the fact that I had received no subsequent calls.  Still, I was plagued with concern over what was going on.  My mind raced with what-ifs and other pangs of self-doubt for the duration of the day.  I did, however, make sure to shower and apply mascara for, if no other reason, self-preservation.

She came out to the car subdued but not overtly upset.  She did a little whining, but was, temporarily at least, placated by the bakery-fresh gingerbread man I had purchased as a bribe, er, treat.  In her apparent calm, I grappled with whether or not to even bring up the events of a few hours prior and, with great trepidation, dove in.  I inquired as to what might have happened in several different, non confrontational ways.  She was having none of it.  It was ancient history.  Or was it?

It wasn’t until we’d completed gymnastics, homework, dinner and dessert that she was at all interested in talking.  (And, to be honest, I think her interest lay more in the fact that it meant she could stay up later than anything else.)  It took her many minutes and tangents but she finally looked me square in the eye and reminded me about the comment I had made reminding her that she is still a boy.  And then she said it,

“It’s not what the body parts are, it is the soul inside.  I am a girl.”

It is almost impossible to write anything more powerful than those words that she shared with Rich and me.  Said without drama or fanfare, she further articulated to us that “words are powerful and when you use the wrong ones, it can hurt.”

My heart sank and then it swelled.  Rich and I looked at one another speechless.  Further proof, ladies and gentlemen, that there is a lot we can learn from our kids.

**********************************************************************************************

On another note, Harrison, who had been sidelined for the better part of this year’s swim season due to a shoulder injury, arrived home not long ago looking sullen and defeated.  He had just come from the Swim Team Banquet which would bear the announcement of those who had, by vote of the team, been elected Captains for next season.  We knew that he had been nominated and had more than risen to the occasion all season by making his loss of ability to swim the freshmen swimmer’s gain by coaching them from the deck, but his election was not a shoe in. Already feeling depleted from our chat with Jessie, Rich and I exchanged a glance and braced ourselves for the worst.  We moved our gaze from our baby to our eldest who only managed to keep up the charade for mere seconds longer…we were looking at a Swim Team Captain, BHS, 2013 Season.  This time my heart skipped the sinking and just swelled.

Story Time

How does Jessie feel about your blog?  A fair enough question and one which I admit (with my head held in shame) I had, until today, never directly asked her.  Even though she is well aware of the blog and its overall theme, Jessie has not actually read any of the posts in which she is so prominently featured.  Assuming that the material is over her head (I write with an extraordinarily high level of nuance, ya know) plus a little laziness and, I suppose, a healthy dose of concern, I decided to bring her to the private corner in which I write to have a look.

I invited her down with the lure of having something I wanted to show her.  While initially disappointed that the “something” wasn’t clothing, nail polish or a wig, her interest piqued when I asked if she wanted to read some of the blog posts that she has heard so much about.  With an enthusiastic enough tone, she said she did.

We started off with “Adoption” which I read aloud while she stood next to me, closely following the words on the screen.  She responded by saying, “yeah, I get that” which allowed me to let my shoulders down a half a notch.

Next we scrolled to some harder hitting posts: “Phenomenons” (which only begged the question, “why did you leave the “o” out of G-d) and “Battle of the Exes” which I read to her, not leaving out a single word and explaining the meaning of (n.c.i.) and (g.c.i.). About halfway through she nudged me silently and gently and then plopped herself down on my lap to settle in for the read.  I could feel both of our bodies relax and asked if she wanted one more.  She did.

The final two we read together were “Oh Brother…Where Art Thou” and, in an effort to endear her big brother even further into her good graces, Harrison’s post of the same day.  You may recall that Harrison closed his piece by avowing his love, but gently reminding her that he is entitled to the front seat before she is.  With a huge, mischievous grin, Jessie began dictating a response to Harrison.  I didn’t manage to capture it verbatim (I was too busy wiping the sweat off my brow) but it included lines like, “quite frankly, Harrison, I know how to call shotgun” and other equally important retorts.

Once story time was over I looked her dead in the eye and asked how she felt now that she had read some of the posts.  “Mom, I feel great” and at that very moment she spotted the picture of the boots that are soon to be her’s and asked when she would be getting them.  This weekend, girlfriend, this weekend.

p.s. Jessie has asked for full access to my blog so that she may post whenever the spirit strikes.  That request has been denied, but I suspect there is a guest blogger somewhere in our future.