When things get hairy

Back in August, prior to her having come to us with her “secret”, I took George (n.c.i.) for his (g.c.i.) annual back-to-school haircut.  It was late in the afternoon after a busy day of buying the obligatory new sneakers and logging a few final hours at the pool.  We went to the nearby SuperCuts and, as I had for the previous nine years, told the stylist to give him (g.c.i.) a “regular boy’s” haircut.  (Hmmm…there’s that irony again).  Despite his (g.c.i.) protestations, I asked her to make it short enough that it would last for a while as I knew how crazy the opening weeks of school can be.  George (n.c.i.) sat stoically while the stylist snipped away, not making a sound (I should have known then that there was something amiss…George was never without chatter.)  A picture is worth a thousand words:

What I didn’t capture on film, but is forever etched in my brain, are the genuine, choking tears that followed once we got into the car.  Who knew that a haircut could truly devastated this child?  It was not long after that when George (n.c.i.) told me with great even greater emotion than post-haircut of his (g.c.i.) always having felt like a girl.  It would be the last “regular boy’s” haircut for a while.

It was agreed upon that a certain nine year-old would grow out his/her hair which is never an easy proposition: particularly when one  is anxious and impatient. (That was me, actually.  I think George/Jessie was a little cooler with it than I, mostly because he/she had no idea just how long it was going to take.)   I decided that our SuperCuts days were behind us and that I would, when the time came, enlist my trusted stylist to do the honors in cutting her hair so that it would grow out.  (The entire concept of “cutting to grow out” hair was a prospect that I learned at an early age to fear and loathe.  Having been the victim of a “shag” haircut in the 70’s – for which I still have not entirely forgiven my mother – I know all too well the agony that ensues when attempting to grow out a thousand different layers.  I had (not so) secretly vowed to myself that I would never put a child through that, but, in my defense, I didn’t know that George was soon to become Jessie, else I never would have gone the crazy layer route.)  We went to JeanPierre, my hair savior, and he expertly did the appropriate snipping and, with his magic scissors, created a “regular girl’s” haircut which had a little sass and a lot of style.  Why I did not snap a picture that day, I will never know.

Over the past several months, the hair has become increasingly at the forefront of the morning routine.  Jessie  loves to wash it, dry it, attempt to style it and I am pretty sure, tug on it to make it appear just a little bit longer.  When she leaves for school it is neatly tucked behind her ears, giving it added shape and accentuating her (adorable) face.  By the time I collect her at the end of the day, however, it is sitting atop her head looking much like a nest and far less attractive.  For better or worse, it appears she has inherited the texture, bulk and quantity of hair like her mother.  (This is a good thing, considering her father is of the shaved head variety.)  Despite my gently suggesting (okay, begging and cajoling) her to remember to use those ears as an accessory, she never seems to remember.  (She does, however, remember to torture me each morning with her pleas for mascara…).  This morning, as she was eating one of her favorites breakfasts (peanut butter and jelly on Ritz crackers.  Her second most favorite is a tuna fish sandwich) I came up behind her and slid a slim barrette on each side of her head hoping that those side puffs would be tamed a bit.  She went upstairs to brush her teeth and returned looking like this:

The elation of having procured (with the aid of some water and clever hand-slicking) her virgin ponytail was palpable: note the smile.  Sure, it is silly, almost fictitious, but undeniably a ponytail.  Today will be forever memorialized as a milestone day in Jessie’s adventure.  I now sit back and wait for her to tell me she needs a Keratin treatment…

All Dressed and Ready?

Friday night Harrison and his girlfriend Bianca attended the Junior Class semi-formal.  They both looked fabulous.  While they each, with the aid of their mothers, had to put some time and effort into their outfits, I think it is safe to say that Bianca and her mother spent a good deal time more than did Harrison and his mother.   I hope I am not talking out of turn when I share that they logged several hours scouring a fifty mile radius for the perfect dress which, truthfully,  sounds about right to me. The first perfect dress was ordered in a size unavailable in the store (aside: in my world, there should not be a size 0 – which is what she needed – available anywhere!)  however, when it arrived in the correct size (yep, you read it right: a size 0) it was no longer perfect.  I believe the word Bianca used was “horrible”.  After the brief period of hysteria wore down, the second perfect dress presented itself on a rack at Lord & Taylor and was indeed perfect. (In fairness, Bianca could wear the garment bag in which the dress arrived and look fantastic but she opted to wear the emerald colored off-one-shoulder number instead.)  I have to assume (and this is pure speculation) that there may have been a little bit of drama leading up to the big night. Having been a 17-year-old girl I know how these things go.  And, if you don’t believe me, just ask my mother.  Anyway…

Harrison’s preparation was far simpler, but not without effort.  He had a perfectly good suit hanging in his closet, but given the fact we purchased it for him for his Bar Mitzvah, we were fairly certain that it wasn’t going to fit.  Off we went to the BOGO suit sale at a nearby men’s store.  Knowing full well that Harrison would not need more than one suit, we took Rich along and he got one, too.  As with all such sales, you pay for the higher priced of the two, get a second suit that no one really needs and, voila, you have a bargain.  Too bad Rich’s choice happened to be the only $600 suit in the store.  (Aside: when the clerk totaled the bill, Rich made a grumbling remark about Harrison not needing a $600 suit.  Um…oh, snap.)  While there, Jessie and I (armed with an iPhone picture of Bianca’s dress) pulled about thirty ties in search of one that wouldn’t be “matchy” but also wouldn’t clash before concluding that the right one simply wasn’t there.  Note to self: find some time to go to Nordstrom and, yet again, make a clothing purchase for someone other than yourself.  (Silver lining: it wasn’t going to be a sparkly or pink purchase!)

I ultimately did find the perfect tie (and made the mistake of looking at the price tag after deciding it was just right…drat) and we were done.  All that remained was for me to remember to pick up the post-tailored suit before the big night.   The mother of the boy (me) did not have to endure any drama, sizing issues, sore feet or hunt for accessories.  Similarly, there was no need for hair, finger and/or  toe appointments.  It is a role I have played for many years and have always found (secret) comfort in the knowledge that these events would, , from a wardrobe perspective, anyway, go fairly smoothly on my end.

And then I remembered.  The days of grabbing Harrison’s outgrown dress clothes for George (n.c.i.) are, at least for the foreseeable future, over.  Gone, too, are the frantic (yet always successful) searches in the closet (often just moments before we need to leave) hoping to unearth one of the many Gap button-downs which were worn for all school pictures, holiday meals and state occasions over the past ten years.  (So much so, in fact, that there are times I look back at pictures and am unable to discern which kid it is since they both wore the same shirts, just several years apart.)  Those huge plastic bins which I dutifully packed away in the basement stocked with Harrison’s outgrown bathing suits,  snow pants, hats, and jackets based upon the assumption that they will fit his younger sibling based solely on their birthdays being just two weeks (oh, and seven years) apart?    Yeah, that, it turns out, was a waste of time.  And the days of relying on the three guys in the house needing just enough time to shower, shit and shave before needing to don said dress clothes has been reduced by one.

So now, just off the high of seeing Harrison, Bianca (and their terrific friends) conquer another of their many rites of passage, I turn to my second born and wonder how much time, drama and effort I will need to have at the ready by the time her Jr. Semi comes along. And I won’t bother saving Harrison’s suit.

Oh, and this post would not be complete without a beautiful visual:

Share and Share Alike?

When Rich and I bought our first house eighteen years ago, I was pregnant with Harrison.  We narrowed down our choices of neighborhood, taking into consideration the schools (weren’t we thoughtful DINCs), the proximity to the places we frequented and what we could (not really) afford.  We settled on a perfectly fine house with four bedrooms (the “fourth” being just big enough for a crib, a changing table, a small armoire and one person), a kitchen that, upon first blush only, was nice enough and a front to back master bedroom.  Both sets of our parents pointed  out to us that there was no family room (no biggie – we didn’t have a family yet) and no master bath (again, we said, no biggie…this was going to be our starter house and by the time this as yet unborn baby was old enough to share it, we would be long gone.)  Needless to say, we never moved.  We did add-on a kick-ass family room, but we cheaped out on the master bath and have been mourning it ever since.

I often lament having to share my bathroom with three guys.  I have been known to comment on there being at least one penis too many in my house.  Events that we are attending as a family (and each need to be clean for) are always a challenge, requiring someone (usually me) to get into the shower hours before we need to leave in an effort to ensure that I get a shower at all.  It started to become problematic when Harrison outgrew the” questionable hygiene” stage of middle school and began embracing long hot showers and, worse still, started shaving.  And then came Jessie.

Now I have to share my bathroom with three anatomical guys and a girl.  Seriously, that ain’t right.  My delicious coconut fragranced shampoo and conditioner are now being depleted at a ridiculous pace.  I searched high and low for my favorite face-washing headband for weeks only to discover that Jessie had absconded with it and taken it as her own.  And what happened to the pale pink eye shadow in the third slot of the Maybelline trio?  Jessie has even gone so far as to “play” with my good make-up and has requested her own mascara!  “You are ten!” I keep telling her.  Okay, yelling at her.

Truth be told, she is more skilled at applying makeup than I was at ten and certainly when I was in high school.  (I was a victim of the 80’s.  Thick black eyeliner, all around the eye which would smudge down to my cheekbone by 9 a.m. was not uncommon.  At the time, I thought I had it going on, but…).  When she has “done” her eyes, she happens to look beautiful, but it is so totally disconcerting and inappropriate that it forces me to become a lunatic and start threatening to hide anything that could be used to enhance one’s appearance.  The problem with that, however, is that I have nowhere to hide anything and, if I do manage to secure a good spot I then promptly forget where it is.

I can handle the new morning dressing routine.  I can even handle her using my (ridiculously expensive) flat-iron, but I straight up don’t want to share my make-up with anyone.  Ever.  Perhaps if I had been afforded ten years of preparation I would feel differently and even embrace this stage, but I wasn’t and I don’t.  Further, there are a few crappy earrings and necklaces that I might be willing to share, but certainly not the diamond studs that Rich gave me when Harrison was born.  And not the gigantic hoops that are bigger than her head.  I know, too, that it won’t be long before her feet are the same size as mine and she is my height.  Oh, my.  Sharing my bathroom has been bad enough…I don’t want to share anymore.

This is among the many things that mess with my head surrounding Jessie’s transition.  I was the lone female in my house for so long that certain things never necessitated stated rules.  I didn’t have to lay down the law about my stuff since no one was interested in it.  (George (n.c.i.) was far more interested in dresses, wigs and mermaid tails – none of which were available in my closet).  So now, not only do I have to continue to share my bathroom, but suddenly everything is up for grabs.  I think we might need to move.

A perfect ten

Let me tell you about my new friend, er, I mean, Jessie’s new friend Sarah.  Articulate, poised, adorable and wise beyond her years, she and Jessie met at gymnastics.  At the end of the first class, they came off the mats sweating, smiling and holding hands.  Complete with a slightly unnerving physical resemblance, they were instant kindred spirits.  As Jessie did the introductions, I partook in the goofy mom chatter and was acutely aware of the fact that Sarah was looking me in the eye, answering my barrage of stupid questions (what town do you live in? What school do you go to? Do you have any brothers or sisters? How old are you?) with both patience and respect: a manner not often found in the 10-year-old set. She was as chatty, engaging and disarming as Jessie is and I sensed (hoped?) that this was a burgeoning friendship.

Then I met her mother.  Hesitant that this would go the way of the new gal pal with whom you hit things off only to discover that her husband is a dud, I (not so) secretly hoped that the mom was as cool as the child.  There were a lot of reasons I went there in my head,  not the least of which was knowing that I was going to have to tell her the “truth” (hmmm…that’s ironic) about Jessie.  To my great pleasure, within moments of having met Michelle I knew that we would be friends.  With a similar “no bullshit” way of communicating to mine it wasn’t long before we were not only laughing, but really connecting.  I knew not why we had an instant understanding of one another, but it was clear that we did.  Score!

Jessie (and her previous incarnation, George) always knew that she was different from the other kids.  She learned differently (have I mentioned that she is dyslexic?  I really am not sure that I have…), saw the world from her own unique perspective and, oh, yeah, always felt like she was a girl living in a boy’s body.  While she could have taken these feelings in any direction (and, trust me, she did) she always stood loud and proud as to who she was and what she loved.   Bringing dolls to school in second and third grade was not unusual for her, but was certainly off the beaten path.  Most of the other boys in the grade didn’t wait all year for Halloween so that they could unabashedly run around dressed as a fairy, or witch, but Jessie did.  She certainly was stealth for some time, but, in many ways, showed the world just what a strong kid she was (and continues to be).

Sarah also faced her own challenges, but doesn’t wear them on her sleeve.   I asked her where she lived: same town as us!  I inquired as to which school she attends in town: she is at private school now, she tells me, which makes learning easier with her dyslexia.  (Awesome, she lives nearby and is dyslexic! Score again!) She has one older sister to Jessie’s one older brother.  And she, too, is 10.  This is fantastic.   They are coming from a similar place.  The two of them are even sharing the angst inherent with any girl who is in the midst of the grueling process of growing out their hair…but they each have their own reasons.  Jessie is growing out her boy’s haircut.  Sarah is growing her hair back after chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.  Neither one wants any special attention for it, they just want it long.

I would never be so brazen as to suggest that Jessie’s adventure in transitioning from male to female is even comparable to what Sarah (and her family) has endured.  I would, however, note the amazing connection they share having both been kids who were dramatically different from their peers, albeit for different reasons.  Two children who know that they will, as square creatures, never fit into the round hole that society has set up.  Two children who know that they are on lifelong adventures and that things can and will continue to change… sometimes with little warning.  Two children who are thrilled to have found one another.

Last week, the girls finally got what they had been pining for – a play date outside of gymnastics.  As we pulled up to the house, Jessie all aflutter with excitement,  spied Sarah waiting in the window with equal zeal.  It was as though these two peas had just found their pod; they were the Yin to the other’s Yang.  During the three plus hours that we were there, Michelle and I hung in the kitchen while the girls came in and out of earshot and view, never lamenting a lack of things to do.  They crack one another up and did everything from dress up to hair straightening to hide and go seek and everything in between.   This picture, however, might just be my favorite part of the whole visit.  Have you ever seen two happier kids?

I do not think it is premature to say that Sarah and Jessie will be friends for a good long time.  They unabashedly ask one another questions about their individual adventures: “Can I see a picture of you bald?” followed by a “Wow, you looked beautiful” and “Doesn’t it hurt when you fall on the balance beam?”  (which was met with a “no” and I chose not to pursue)  Nothing is off-limits.  There are no secrets.  They have found soul mates in one another and Michelle and I are so grateful and happy for their having met and for giving us, the moms, the opportunity to create our own friendship.  The strength they get from one another rivals any gymnast I’ve ever seen…

Counting the hours

Back in the day, I would reflect upon time in year-long increments and, with the benefit of hindsight, decide if it had been a good year or a bad year.  As I got a little older (read: got married and had kids) my determinations came by the month.  And, as the kids started to grow up and their problems got (increasingly) bigger, my measurement was by the week and, during particularly obnoxious stretches, sometimes even the day.  It is not until recently that I have been forced into an hourly assessment.  I would say that the last 123 hours (that’s better than five days for the mathematically challenged) have sucked.

It all began with the wild unpleasantries of Saturday when, in an effort to function calmly as a family, things didn’t go so well.  It was just one of those days when everyone (present company included) was cranky and I was prepared to grab my mascara, take a cab to the airport and get on the first plane to anyplace that wasn’t here.  Kansas sounded good.  And then things got bad.

As I have already shared, Saturday’s shenanigans paled in comparison to Sunday when Rich wound up in-patient at the hospital in agony.  The next several days included lots of pain (Rich) lots of anxiety (me) lots of effort to gain attention (Jessie), lots of flying under the radar (Harrison) and very little sleep (me, again).  Throw in a few unpleasant interpersonal interactions and then put a fork in me…I’m done.

Now it is Friday.  Rich is still not feeling well (and, to add insult to injury, is on medication which disallows him to have even a sip of alcohol unless he is interested in becoming violently ill) my back is flippin’ the bird to Motrin, and no one is any less cranky.  But, it is not just the big scary things that are making it feel like my family is standing in quick-sand, it is the little stuff, too.  Like my down comforter that I felt compelled to wash and is now on its fourth dryer cycle and still not dry.  Or the fact that Harrison sent me a link to register and pay for ($180 a couple!?!??)  the Junior Semi-formal only to be then congratulated on signing him up for summer school. (In fairness, it was a school screw up and not Harrison’s, but for a split second I was awash with fear that he was trying to tell me something…)  It is Jessie and those damned sparkly shoes which were a source of great negotiation for many hours and, of course, freaking killed her feet…after she wore them all day at school.  It is the middle of the night musings over how Jessie’s transition is going to proceed or not proceed or trip us all up or not trip us all up.  It is the thirty degree temperature swings which are messing not only with my clothing choices, but my hair, as well.  It is, well, never mind.  Even I am getting bored with this.

As I have said repeatedly, it is difficult (and by difficult I mean virtually impossible) to differentiate between that which is crap related to the fact that we are doing all that we can to support our child who has identified as transgender and that which is just crap.  So many people have such bigger, scarier and more dire situations than ours, yet there are hours that I simply don’t believe that.  Am I selfish?  Self absorbed?  Self preserving?  I don’t know, but I do know that I will be really happy when this long stretch of shitty hours is over.

A crazy aside: when I spell check my blog posts the one word that is never recognized is “mascara”…I take that personally.

Pay Attention!

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and everyone in my house was cranky.  No one could seem to articulate precisely what their particular problem was, and I found it wildly annoying.  I was facing down a snarky seventeen year old, a sassy ten-year old and a grumbly forty-eight year old.  What the hell?

I convinced myself that it was a reflection of the events of the day before during which, among other things, I was nearly reduced to tears after having been alone with the kids for several hours.  (Yes, one would think that this sort of outing would, given the age of my children, be a non-issue, but, alas, it is not)  This one irritated that one, they each, at different moments, resorted to physical violence (if slugging your sibling can be deemed violent) and both managed to push me to the point that I dropped them at the house, neither one in possession of keys, and drove off.  Shut up, you would have, too.

Everyone wanted a piece of me, but no one went about it in a particularly pleasant (or positive) way.  As a result, I arrived at the conclusion that I am surrounded by attention whores.  (Not necessarily a bad thing, but an irritating thing when you are the one who is supposed to be showering said attention on said whores.) It would be unfair to not acknowledge that, thankfully, they reserve their most troubling antics for behind closed doors so as to spare me the public humiliation.  Seriously, I appreciate that.  Given the events of the past several months, however, I admit to finding myself a little more interested in being paid attention to than to being the one doling out the lovin’.  As it turns out, I am alone in that thinking.

Jessie, who will do just about anything to perfect her girl power, has taken on the sassy, bitchy mannerisms of the most seasoned tween girl.   She has a killer eye roll and has embraced her growing knowledge of four letter words.  It is utterly charming.  It was just such chatter played a large role in her finding herself outside the house with no means of gaining entry.  (One will note that Rich was on the other side of the door, yet did nothing to secure their ability to get in.  I am guessing it was the highlight of his day.)  One of our exchanges went so far (so low?) that I literally found myself arguing with her over a particular pair of ‘sparkly shoes” and considered my stick-to-itiveness  in not allowing her to wear them to be a straight up victory.  True.

Harrison, on the other hand, has gotten so little attention for so long that he is, not surprisingly, making up for lost time.   I am deeply grateful that he is not opting for the old teenage standby of drinking or drugging, rather he is just ornery.  I cannot say I blame him.  It has been a long stretch of “The George/Jessie Show” and, now that things are supposed to be settling in, he is ready to change the channel.  The problem is, the remote control seems to have dead batteries.  (I am the remote control.  It is my batteries that are dead.)  My mindset is still on the “what nexts”, “what ifs” and “what the fucks” making it hard to be attentive and easy to be spent.   I am sure it will come up in therapy for him when he is struggling to raise his own children and recalls having been ignored by his mother who was so overwrought from trying to raise him and his sister (who started off as his brother) that she never managed to replace her batteries.  Well, I can only defend myself by saying that we all need something to talk about in therapy…right?

As for Rich, it turns out his grumblies were not just those of the normal middle-aged man trying like hell to support his family.  Nope.  He, too, doesn’t get enough attention so what better way to obtain it than to require not just an emergency room visit, but an admission to boot.  Let’s throw in some crazy high blood pressure and a few high potency antibiotics and I think we have a winner.  A dubious way in which to (temporarily) gain the title, but I am sure he will take whatever he can get.   (While lying in the “B” side of his hospital room – woohoo…the ”A” side remained unoccupied for the duration of his stay which, in our book counts as a victory – he insisted on asking everyone when he would be able to go home.  I admit that (maybe more than once) I inquired as why he would want to.  Yep, everyone was that cranky.)

So here we are, just over twenty-four hours later and Jessie is quietly drawing in her room (“it calms me”, she claims), Harrison is unwinding with “MythBusters” and Rich is happily off to sleep in his own bed, free of IVs and likely dreaming of a pain-free remainder of his life.

I, on the other hand, am wondering how it is that I am still functioning given the lack of sleep and abundance of attitude I have endured in the past day, all while wondering when I get to steal the attention spotlight again.  This time, however, I hope to do it without involving pain, hospitals or recuperations.  Suggestions (particularly if you are prepared to bankroll them) are appreciated.

All in day’s work…

Note: I meant (and tried) to post this last night.  After a night out with the girls I arrived home to find everyone asleep, including my internet connection.  Today is a new day (thank G-d) and my internet seems to have come back to life (again, thank G-d)…

I knew better than to exhale.  I repeatedly remind myself to remember that this is a work in progress and that there will likely be many instances of one step forward, two steps back.  I have drilled into my head that I have no control over anything as well as the fact that I have no idea what each new hour might bring.  Yet, I allowed myself the luxury of feeling pretty good about things.  Dope.

Nothing dramatic has happened, and nothing has changed, yet this afternoon included a few hours (which is a “few” too many) of the crap reminiscent of life with George (n.c.i.) and, despite my most valiant efforts, I am left feeling more vulnerable than I have in a while.  It started with a call from an “879” number (for the uninformed, 879 is the prefix of the many numbers attached to the school) just around the time of the closing bell.  Damn it.  It was a friendly voice on the other side (it is always a friendly voice) who immediately asked if I had a minute.  Not a second, but a minute.  I know from experience that when I am asked by a school-type person if I have a minute, it really means several minutes and it also not a call to check in on me.  Resisting the urge to say, “no, in fact I don’t…why don’t you try Rich?” I answered in the affirmative and settled in for yet another as yet unknown piece of information.

The specifics of what happened will remain private.  I had written about them in slim detail, but when I asked Jessie how she felt about me sharing today’s issue, she, for the first time, asked that I not write about it.  I have always said that I will never write about something that will in any way upset or compromise my kids or my family, and I intend to uphold that promise.  The details don’t really matter, rather, it is the thinking they encouraged which are the real story.

After being filled in and given the opportunity to bat things around with my therapist, I found myself again in that constant internal battle I have over distinguishing between that which is related to having identified as transgender and that which is more everyday growing pains.  I am acutely aware that while she has settled into the very routine that we all craved, she is suddenly feeling ill at ease. The first few weeks of her social transition were remarkably smooth and without incident.  She was constantly under the watchful eye of her parents, her teachers and, to an only slightly lesser extent, her friends.  Things have settled in and now it is almost as though she doesn’t quite know how to maneuver her life without drama.  I liken it to the feeling I had about six months after my run in with cancer.  I had been doted upon, cared for, paid attention to and shown love in such great quantity, that when it was evident that we had made it through and the attention (appropriately) dwindled away I was left feeling lonely, sad and a little bit lost.    I went from being foremost on people’s mind to having proven my strength thereby enabling everyone to move on.  Perhaps that is how Jessie is feeling now?  I know intellectually that no one can answer that question.  I know emotionally , however, that I really wish someone could.

Now, with the day coming to an official end, I am feeling like I can exhale a little bit, but not all the way.  I see that we took one step forward but only one step back, so we are actually pretty much where we left off.  The benefit of a few hours out with the girls has brought me back to an okay place.  (And I am sure the margarita didn’t hurt).

Where to, baby?

I was eight days late to deliver Harrison.  With my due date having come and gone with nary an acknowledgement of me and my extra fifty pounds, I was more than ready to deliver.  My pregnancy had been uneventful, easy.  When I finally went into labor in the middle of the night, I graciously allowed Rich to sleep while I spent hours timing the contractions (which never seemed to establish any kind of rhythm) only to have them totally stop.  I spent the better part of the following day doing word searches (at that point my cognitive output was too compromised to even consider my normally favored crossword puzzles) and checking in with the doctor.  Finally, late that afternoon when the contractions returned, coming hard and fast (and not in a good way) we finally got the blessing to head toward the hospital.

It was a ride I had been nervously anticipating for years.  Remember, I am a pre-worrier and had spent not just my pregnancy, but a good part of my adult life fretting over labor and delivery.  For once, it was well founded worry as I proceeded to spend the next several hours with agonizing contractions, back labor, an unborn child who repeatedly stopped breathing and, perhaps most obnoxious:  no epidural. (For the record, the lack of anesthesia was unplanned, unwanted and extremely unpleasant. They finally went through the motions of inserting the ten foot long needle into the small of my back, but I am quite certain it was attached to an empty vial.)  Just moments away from rolling me in for a c-section, I was rocked onto my side, had my top leg on my doctor’s shoulder and, with help from a nurse who was pushing from the outside, was doing everything in my power to get this kid out of me.  I recall a moment of calm and lucidity when I gently requested to the doctor (I may have pulled her close by the neck of her scrubs) that she pull it out of my ear if she had to.  It wasn’t easy, but eventually, Harrison was born.

We oohed and aahed and called our parents to tell them that we had a beautiful son.  (We did not realize at the time that he wasn’t such a beautiful baby, after all.  In fact, that birth did a number not only on me, but on Harrison’s face which, thankfully, got very cute very quickly after his initial entry into our lives.  And, rest assured, this is not new information that he is going to see here for the first time – we have long shared with him his lack of cuteness at the outset.  Bad parenting?)  On his eighth day of life, I came downstairs with my now freaking adorable son and was greeted by a house full of people, including our Rabbi and a Mohel there to perform the naming and ritual circumcision.  Once I got myself through that, I was blessed with a great kid…until, that is, he turned three.

Having been duped into thinking that there is any truth to “terrible twos” (which were easy), living with Harrison from ages three to five was hell on earth.  People who have met him after that age cannot even imagine what I am referring to, but trust me when I tell you that he was a gigantic pain in the ass.  (And, on the flip side, those who knew him then will attest to his shenanigans.)  He was a runner: (mostly away, often in public), a night owl (sleep, who needs sleep?) and had an obnoxious streak (primarily when we left him somewhere like a birthday party or, um, school.)  But, then he got to first grade (Kindergarten was a little sketchy, but I did manage to make and keep many friends from that year!) and was suddenly a mensch.  So, naturally, when George (n.c.i) finally came along, I assumed things would take a similar path.  Silly, silly me.  (In my defense, this was back in the day when I was still green enough to think that I had any handle on how to parent…)

In part because Harrison was driving us crazy and in part because we just couldn’t get pregnant, it was a full seven years before George (n.c.i.) was born.  Vivid memories of my first delivery still firmly ensconced in my brain, I was even more terrified of giving birth the second time around.  My doctor, bless her heart, remembered just how awful it was and suggested to me that we induce this one so that we could, perhaps in vain, attempt to control the delivery.  Aside from being far more civilized, it was an entirely different experience.

We arrived at the hospital at 7:30 a.m., four days prior to my due date.  We walked in calmly, devoid of any pain, completed the paperwork, got a room and commenced to birthin’ a baby.  The Pitocin drip was started at 9:15 a.m. and a mere four hours later, I was holding a truly gorgeous baby in my arms.  Not only did he (g.c.i. throughout) shoot out without incident, but there were two things of note which hold far more significance to me now than they did that day: 1. he was born posterior – that is, he was face down so all I saw when he came out was his cute bum and, 2. it all happened so fast that I had to ask if it was a boy or a girl.  Holding him up in the air to face me, I was told (and saw for myself) that it was a boy.  I was surprised.  The entire pregnancy (even during the amniocentesis during which I requested not to be told the sex) I was convinced the baby was a girl.  Positive.  I even went so far, in the delivery room to respond to the doc’s announcement with an “are you sure?”  “They taught me in medical school that if there is a penis, it is a boy” she replied.  Hard to argue with that.

From the day we brought him home, he never cried unless there was a really good reason, slept like, well, a baby, ate well, proved his portability at every turn and was, by all counts a perfect baby.  And then he turned two.

He was energetic:  one didn’t dare go anywhere with him unless it was to drop him off and not return for as many hours as possible.  He was persistent: once he had decided that another Barbie (or mermaid tail or hair extension or wig) was needed to “complete” his collection, it would take some sort of divine intervention to sway his thinking.  He was frustrated: we were trying like hell to not give in to each and every wish, but often we did, so when we found the strength not to, all hell broke loose.  He was hysterically funny: his perception of the world around him was always that of a far older, more seasoned person.  And he was, I now know, sad.  That is the hardest part.

Jessie (n.c.i) is energetic: but now she uses most of it in her twice weekly (and you don’t want to know how expensive!) gymnastics class.  She is persistent: less about dolls, more about hair, shoes and outfits.  She is frustrated: despite the speed with which her social transaction happened, she is wildly impatient to get the puberty blocker implant which, to her horror, is still a few years away.  She is hysterically funny: still callin’ things like she seem ‘em.

Now seventeen, Harrison is still a runner of sorts: now he does it in the pool, with great speed and agility and, if I may brag, the title of Captain for the upcoming season.  He is still a night owl: I cannot recall a single night in the past several years that he has gone to bed before I do.  He does not, however, have an obnoxious streak and I am never afraid of anything he might do or say that he shouldn’t.  Well, almost never.

So how does ones’ entry into the world go on to reflect their life experiences?  Harrison had a rough go of coming into our lives.  His birth was nothing if not dramatic.  All was fine and then he had a moment.  That very much parallels how he has lived his life.  He is sweet and easy, but every so often creates a big tumult (usually with crazy-ass medical issues which are always frightening – like Blebs (yes that is a medical term) on his lungs, or the need for a middle of the night appendectomy) which, thankfully, we are able to resolve.  Jessie, on the other hand, came shooting onto the scene quickly and without drama but then morphed into a complicated soul.  Definitely reminiscent of her transition and, perhaps, foreshadowing of what lays ahead in our lifelong adventure?  We’ll have to stay tuned to see…

Shifting Gears

Things I have never been:

  • optimistic
  • a trendsetter
  • an intellectual
  • particularly brave

Things that I have become:

  • less pessimistic
  • the first of my peeps to attempt to parent a transgender kid
  • getting smarter every day
  • braver

It strikes me how the very traits that have, historically, not defined me suddenly do.  It is strange how I, a glass half empty kind of gal, am suddenly perceived as a voice of optimism and strength.  Never one to lead the charge, I take note that I’ve been more outspoken and public about just how okay it is to support ones’ “different path” child.  I’ve noticed that my penchant for trashy magazines and easy-read contemporary novels has morphed into a desire to deepen my knowledge and understanding every day.  (That is not to suggest that I have lost interest in those fine periodicals, quite to the contrary, actually.) And, just to make thing more interesting, my lifelong fear of change has been kicked in the ass but good.  An added bonus of this new life?  Methinks it just may be.

Being thrust into this adventure has shaken me to the core, but has also, somehow, managed to free me.  My brother Robbie hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that I had been given the “gift of not caring what other people think”.  While we all care what people think of choices we make with regard to our parenting, our clothing, our hobbies and, a personal favorite, our children, it is the degree to which it effects me that has shifted.  I still (desperately) want to be perceived as a good person, a good parent and a good friend.  I still care how I look and will not be seen (other than at the gym) without my beloved mascara (aside: when I first met my therapist, I told her that if I ever showed up in her office and was mascara-less, she should become very concerned, very quickly as it was surely a sign that I had given up all hope) but I am far less reliant upon (or driven by) others’ perception of me.  I have let go of the joke that we all subscribe to suggesting that we have any sort of control over anything and have (almost) (okay, not almost, but getting closer) embraced the fluidity of not just Jessie’s adventure, but daily life.

It would be a lie to say that I don’t have sleepless nights (but you probably do, too) or moments of hysteria (you have those, too, right?!) over not just Jessie’s adventure, but Harrison’s, too. I go to the negative “what ifs” more than I should but less than I used to.  Likewise, I knock around self-doubt more than I should, but less than I used to.  There is a lot I don’t know about being a transgender kid (and her parent) than I did, but I know more than I did six months ago.  And while I am still afraid of what the future holds, I’m not quite as terrified as I used to be.   It is an uphill battle, and I’m still in a low gear, but at least my pedaling seems to be getting me somewhere…

For Now

When I first began writing about Jessie and her having identified as transgender my audience was intimate and safe.  I had an email list consisting of my mother and mother in-law, our siblings, their partners and our closest friends.  Because her change proceeded at warp speed, each email served as an update as to where things were and what to expect.  Many of the updates were stream of consciousness and touched only on the practical and pretty much ignored the psychological aspects of the transition.  It was a whirlwind period during which we just scrambled to try (in vain) to stay ahead of things while supporting our child as best we could.  Not surprisingly, much of that period is a blur.  I do recall, however, sending this email to my mother-in-law  the morning that Rich and Jessie were headed to the airport to visit her in Florida: subject: this is what is going to get off the plane tomorrow:

Once it became clear that the “secret” (which was how George referred to it) was only sort of a secret anymore we knew that we needed to go wide (in part to control the message and in part to save ourselves from having to tell everyone we knew individually).  With her consent and encouragement, we embraced the world of social media and let everyone know that George was now Jessie, accompanied by this picture:

At the bottom of the shot I commented that I had been writing about our experiences and if anyone wanted to be included on the email list they should let me know.  Within hours, I had over 200 people (initially people I knew, but ultimately many were friends of friends) request to be included.  It struck me as curious and I wondered: why?  I assumed there was some voyeuristic element to it – I realize that the topic lends itself to salacious chatter – but I got an even stronger sense that there was more to it than that.  Of course I knew (and hoped) that my friends would be interested so as to be supportive and not just “nosy”, but I also knew, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, that I had struck a chord.

As the email list continued to grow (and Hotmail, thinking I was a spammer, shut me down) I moved the updates over to this blog. That was when I started to attempt  getting in touch with what was happening, what was yet to happen and how would I happen to live through it.  Needless to say, it was a head-spinning proposition.  Starting with the very first post, I received deeply heartfelt and personal responses from both friends and strangers.  Some told me of their own children who had been struggling with any number of issues.  Others shared their admiration for us being so honest with the story.  And still others only wanted to let me know that they supported me, Rich and the kids.   Suddenly  it became clear to me that while the transgender piece of this is certainly unusual, it actually speaks to everyone’s feeling, at some point or another, that they, or perhaps more importantly, their children, are, in their own unique way, just round pegs trying to fit into square holes.

Likely a result of the combination of the article in “The Boston Phoenix”, my literary agent’s (http://www.leshneagency.com/) announcement of our relationship and WordPress putting me on their “Freshly Pressed” page, yesterday this blog exploded.  I started getting hit after hit after hit followed shortly thereafter by well over one hundred comments and countless subscribers.   (I am not above telling you that it was very exciting)  What was perhaps most remarkable, though, was that 99% of the comments (100% of which were positive) contained nary a mention of the transgender issue.  It was not even secondary…it almost didn’t matter.  People remarked, with great candor, about their own personal struggles, their kids’ struggles and how life can be a real bitch sometimes, but the particulars seem of little to no importance.  I could swap out “transgender” with “cancer” or “dyslexia” (which, incidentally, Jessie has) or “OCD”or “anxiety” or “being bullied” or “is a bully”…or anything else you can think of.  What they did seem to care about was the process by which she got from point A. to point B. (remember, we have to get all the way to Z. somehow) and how Rich, Harrison, Jessie and I have maneuvered things in such a way that it is working…for now.  I only speak in terms of the here and now since my family’s world (all of our worlds actually) are way more fluid that we think.   We’ve managed to establish a good rhythm…for now.   Freak outs around here are over normal, everyday stuff: like a certain ten-year old who thinks it is acceptable to take a 32 minute shower.  (And, one should note, her predecessor, George, did the same thing!)  Today, for now, it’s all good.

We all face challenges, some bigger and scarier than others, but as much as you might be thinking to yourself along the lines of, “thank G-d it isn’t my kid who is transgender”, I have plenty of “thank G-d it isn’t my kid who is _____________” thoughts, too.   Really.