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…