Five Guys, Two Girls and a Rainbow Connection

It was a fairly unremarkable play-date, all things considered. Three kids (and two younger siblings) with only one confirmed commonality: they have all identified as transgender.  (The other commonality is that their moms – Maura and Kristy and I, are in the same lifesaving support group for, you guessed it, parents of transgender kids.) The kids are ages 8, 10, and 12:  the youngest is FTM (female to male) and the older two, MTF (um, yeah, male to female, duh) and it was far more normal than you (or I, for that matter) might expect.

Forced to revamp our original playground plans due to torrential rain, the moms made a last-minute decision to move the group to my house.  I quickly rushed around in an attempt to conceal the crap that has systematically taken over the house in the weeks since school got out and readied for the change of venue.  Suddenly our plan to have the kids running around and finding their way with one another amid play structures, swings and monkey bars shifted and I had to consider what they would do once they arrived at my house since the most appealing recreational items are our zipline and hammock, both of which were soaked from the rain.  So, upon everyone’s arrival, I opted to maintain as much normalcy as possible by shooing the kids away so the moms could chat.  I have no idea what they were doing or where in the house they were, but it was all good.  (Read: no tears, no complaints, no whining and no blood.  My metrics are pretty simple.)

A sudden clearing in the sky prompted the adults to (not so) gently suggest that the kids take advantage of the break in the weather and go explore the backyard.  This gave the moms (who are perpetually grappling with some degree of need to be in the company of others who are in their situation) a chance to unload.  The girls and boy all descended happily out-of-doors just long enough to get sweaty and require hydration.  Just like any other play-date, any other day.

At the heart of it, though, it was anything but normal.  While each child is adorable, sweet and remarkably comfortable in their preferred gender, the mere fact that they were in the same room, at the same time, engaging in the same activities was based solely on their shared transgender identity.  That is not a bad thing.   It is an amazing thing, actually, and one for which I know I am grateful.

Once lunch time rolled around we decided to venture out and, after some back and forth (McDonald’s?  Bertucci’s?  Too bad the Friendly’s are all gone!) we agreed upon Five Guys.  Since the restaurant (and I use that term loosely) was in the direction of home for our guests, we opted to take separate cars and Jessie only wanted to go in the car with the other girl and her brother which, in my book, was sign of a connection.  Once there, as we were carrying our 50,000 calorie, grease laden (yet crazily delicious) bags back to the table to make pigs of ourselves I noticed a boy with a familiar face happily having lunch with his father.  It took me a moment to realize who it was but suddenly it came to me: it was another transgender child whose mother is also a part of the support group at which the play-date moms and I had met.  How bizarre is that?!!?  And how interesting that on this random Friday afternoon at a local burger joint there were not one, not two, but three* (that we know of) transgender kids enthusiastically chowing down and not one single person in the place was any the wiser.  Now that is a play-date experience that I am going to venture to say you have never had.

All around it was a success but I do wonder how the whole afternoon felt for the kids. I have to wonder, because when I have asked Jessie (repeatedly) how she enjoyed the date, she has given me one word answers.  Some of those words were: “great”, “fun”, and “cool”…but she will not say anything further.  I sense that she was simultaneously thrilled and wigged out to be in the company of kids “just like her”, but more so the former.  I hope.  And now, twenty-four hours later, she is no more forthcoming than she was yesterday.  That said, the two girls did part ways with promises to be in touch and with an embrace that was only slightly awkward.  But perhaps it was only as awkward as any two girls of this age…

*The FTM child and his mom had to head toward home when we went to lunch.  Had they been there with us, that would have been four transgender kids and still, not a person in the place who had a clue!

 

 

 

Um, what?

Leaving the gym the other day, I bumped into a woman whom I have known for many years primarily through her role as being a ‘friend of a friend”.  We go long stretches without seeing one another but when we find ourselves in one another’s company, we always share a pleasant exchange and chatter.  During the course of our conversation talk turned to what our children were doing for the summer.  I bitched, er, told her about Jessie’s less than ideal schedule and she shared what her daughters (neither of which, by the way, has a penis) are doing.  It turns out both of her kids and Jessie (who vaguely know one another through the same friend) will be attending the same camp, but not at the same time.

So naturally talk turned to the camp and we bantered about how it attracts an artsy, quirky, beat-to-their-own-drum kind of kid which nicely describes both hers and mine.  Carefully choosing her words (we are not close enough for her to not worry about potentially offending me) she offered, in an empathetic tone, that one of her kids is “outside the box” in a manner which, I am sure, was meant to make me feel better about my “different” kid.   An oft heard description of children, I appreciated her extending an olive branch and attempting to allay any discomfort she thought I might have. (Note: I am way past discomfort…). Trying (sort of) not to appear competitive in describing my child’s off-beatness, I commented that I know all about being outside that box and that, in fact, one could argue that Jessie is so far outside the box that she is actually laughing at said box as she sees it as a distant sighting in her rearview mirror.  The other mom gave me a sort of quizzical look and, a beat later, realized it was okay to smile.  As quirky and different as she might consider her kid, it was pretty safe to say that mine had her beat.

Talk then turned to my blog which she proudly told me she does not read.  Her reason: “It’s TMI”.  Um, okay.  But here’s what I don’t understand…if she hasn’t read it, how does she know how much “I” there is…perhaps it is NEI (not enough) or WMTIWI (way more than I want) or JRI (just right).  And if she is so simpatico with me over the whole off-beat kid, thing, what’s with the sudden judgment? Apparently her concerns – of mere moments before –  over potentially offending me had vanished.

I honestly do not care at all that she has chosen not to read the blog.  (In the interest of complete honesty, there are a few people out there who are not reading which has me curious – and by curious I mean irritated – but she is not among them.)  I do, however, feel puzzled over why she has drawn this conclusion seemingly in a vacuum.  I don’t truthfully think it is the subject matter; in fact, one could (and many have) argue that this blog has morphed into one more about me than about my transgender child.  (Oh, and I have gotten crap for that, too.)  When I pressed her a little, she became all awkward and nervous and anxious and may even have developed a layer of perspiration on her upper lip.  I decided that it was time to leave well enough alone and artfully changed the subject.  But, as you can clearly see, it still has me wondering.

I have long ago given up the need to make my blog something that works for other people.  I have similarly stopped giving a shit what other people think of Rich’s and my decision to allow our child to follow this path which we both know could be a “phase”.  And I don’t care one wit that this woman is judging and commenting on something that she, by her own admission, hasn’t seen.  It is driving me crazy, though, trying to understand why she chose “it’s TMI” as her default reason.  As it happens, there is SO much information behind the scenes that I do not share that it is almost funny.  (It would be funnier if it weren’t my life, but someone else’s, which is precisely why I am so puzzled as to why she is afraid to read.)

So, file under: people are weird and keep their “friend of a friend” status for a reason.

Note: I made no attempts to either reveal or conceal this woman’s identity.  Watch — this will be the one time she decides to read my blog.  Right?!?

Nail in the Coffin?

Note: If you were among those who were offended by my blog “The Curls Have It”, stop reading now.  This one is not about my hair, but about something equally inane, yet wildly (disturbingly?) important to me.  If you are still curious, you may proceed.

For as long (or longer) than I care to remember, I have gone to great lengths to ensure that my fingernails look perfect at all times.  Along with my trusty mascara, it is a constant that I rely upon which makes me feel like everything is going to be okay while lulling me into a (clearly false) sense of security.  Because I find even the slightest chip to be offensive, I have had acrylic nails for, oh, I don’t know…fifteen years.  I ensure that whoever is doing my nails make them as thin and natural as possible as my love of good acrylic nails is trumped only by my hatred of bad ones.  It is not easy to be the person assigned to beautify my digits, so when I find someone who gets it, I am rabidly loyal.   While I have been known to embrace dark colors (think “Smokin’ Hot” and “Lincoln Park After Dark”) more often than not I go for the French. I never wear red.  Ever.  Occasionally I will go pink, but always regret it.  I take this seriously, boys and girls.

Notable times I have had my nails done: before all graduations, weddings and Bar Mitzvahs (well, duh…everyone does that!), the day before each –  I was induced to give birth, my bi-lateral mastectomy, my father’s funeral and my third (in a six-week period) back surgery.  Seeing a theme here?  Setting myself up for a positive feeling before diving into scary, unknown situations is key to my ability to hang on.  And in all the in-between down time during which my nails look perfect (I know it doesn’t seem as though I have much of  that these days…) I consider a bonus.  Bottom line, my nails always look great.  (No, seriously, people have commented on how great my nails look.  More than once.  Ridiculous but true.)

Of late, I have even been sharing my treasured manicure time with Jessie.  It was novel at first – having been the mom of two boys for ten years I will cop to getting a bit of a rush in teaching my daughter about the joys of well-appointed fingers.  Each time she has joined me she has opted for a neon color and little flowers painted on two nails (I never cease to be amazed at their ability to paint so crisply on such a tiny space!)  and I have taught her that sitting patiently to dry all the way is of utmost importance…nothing worse than the smudge that will ensue for those who do not embrace this exercise.  The novelty is somewhat mellowed by that fact that she is only moderately interested, and has not quite adopted my addiction…buzz kill.

But now (surely you saw that “but” coming) I have an issue.  My left ring finger in trouble.  The nail is starting to separate from the skin (gross, right?) and while it is not suffering from a fungus yet, it was strongly recommended to me, through somewhat broken English, that I lay off the polish and the gel and the acrylic which I so adore and let my nails grow out, unadorned with color.  #iamsosad.

As pathetic as it may seem, particularly amid all the craziness of everything in my life right now, this was the event that nearly drove me to tears, right there in the nail salon.  I felt my eyes welling up and willed myself to save the tears (and resulting puffy eyes) for something (more) important.  I couldn’t, frankly, imagine why I was so shook up until I realized that it was now official: the one thing that I thought I still had control over had betrayed me.  Game over.  Ugh.

Here is what I am left with:

Which means that this is on the back burner:

And so is this…for now:

Star Power

Confession: I love magazines.  The trashier the better.  No “Newsweek” “Time” or “The New Yorker” for me.  Oh, no…the lower the quality of the reporting, the happier I am.  I have a particular affinity for attention grabbing headlines such as “Caught Without Makeup!” and “Plastic Surgery Gone Very Very Bad”, but, truthfully, I am fairly indiscriminate when it comes to which ones I am willing to plunk down a few bucks to own.  I never regret the purchase and always enjoy the experience of reading every word of every issue.  True.

This is an oft maligned habit of mine, yet it is not lost on me that more often than not, when someone is visiting my house they invariably notice one of said magazines on display (I’m not ashamed) and start to thumb through it, acting all blasé and disinterested when I know, if we are being honest here, that they are quite interested and will take whatever they read as fact.  I’ve even witnessed said guests later quoting as gospel that which they have learned from the abundance of reading material in my home.  Everyone digs it.  I am just willing to admit it.

I’ve actually put a fair amount of thought to why I am so enamored of these rags, er, mags.  I have concluded that it is for the same reason that I love “The Real Housewives”, “Mob Wives” and “Extreme Makeover” (the people one, not the houses one), biographies (particularly the ones written by the off-kilter: think Jenny Lawson, David Sedaris, Tina Fey) and am happy to people-watch for hours on end:  it puts everything into perspective.  No matter how wild the ride might become at my house, it doesn’t hold a candle to Jenny’s or David’s.  The “real” (and I use the term loosely) housewives make me feel so much more grounded than I might otherwise, the “Mob Wives” are in such an entirely different stratosphere of a shitstorm that I almost feel good watching and those re-done-from-head-to-toe on “Extreme Makeover”…yep, I feel that much better about how I look.  There, I said it.

But don’t think for one moment that these publications do not also educate: how else would I know, for instance, that were it not for the excellent on-call make-up artist in her employ, the world would know that Cameron Diaz has terrible skin.  Adorable little Sarah Hyland (of Modern Family fame)…cellulite.  Angelina: anorexic.  J.Lo: incapable of being without a man in her life (and, apparently, her bedroom).  And all those Teen Moms: still having unprotected sex.  I can avow, with complete certainty, that I do not have bad skin or cellulite, nor am I anorexic, a serial marrying kind or well, a teen.  See…I feel better already.

Just today while checking out at the supermarket (can you say “impulse purchase”?) I was barraged by all the newest magazines just begging to be taken home.  From the slew of covers I was enticed to take a front row seat in the “private world of William and Kate”, garner the inside scoop on Matthew McConaughey’s wedding, learn first-hand the news of someone I do not recognize who is pregnant, or about someone else whom I also don’t recognize who is, apparently, doomed to die in prison.  But the one that captures my eye (and my $3.99) was…are you ready?: A report card on the Best and Worst Moms!  And, as if that isn’t enough to give me the shakes, I can, by purchasing this piece of literature, also read about Jessica’s struggle over losing even one of the fifty pounds she gained while pregnant (don’t judge…I did the same thing…twice.)(oh, and correction: I just dug a little deeper…turns out she gained seventy, yes, seventy pounds…ouch!) not to mention Katherine McPhee’s injured vocal chords which force her husband to lovingly speak on her behalf while she is shopping!  In a nutshell: Died. And. Went. To. Heaven.

Here is why: I know I am not going be voted as a worst mom, I don’t have 50 (or 70 as the case may be) pounds to lose and I’ve not lost the use of my vocal chords.  I know that it is horribly voyeuristic and pedestrian and idiotic and moronic and, quite possibly the information I pass off as fact is, in all likelihood, 98% untrue but the stories are just that: other people’s stories which, in theory, anyway, mirror their problems.  More than that, though (and again, don’t judge) they aren’t my problems.  As the cover of my latest acquisition screams; J.Lo’s daughter prefers the nanny to J herself.  (There is a problem I will never have…as I don’t have a nanny!)  Angelina has the audacity to provide a steady diet of junk food.  (My junk food supply is not constant but decidedly inconsistent.  Points for me.) And Christina seems unable to lift her child without causing bodily harm.  (Well, I haven’t been able to lift either of my kids for years so fear of harming them in so doing ain’t on my short list of concerns.) Based solely on the cover it seems I would rate very high on the Star Magazine report card for moms.  Who doesn’t want to be scoring an “A” here and there?

Perhaps better than the fact that none of these stories is my problem is the fact that it reminds me that everyone has problems, no matter who they are, how much they earn or how famous they may be.  Their challenges are different from mine (so far none of them, other than Cher, has gone wide with a transgender identifying child yet) but challenges, nonetheless.  Call it what it is: pure, unadulterated escapism.  And who couldn’t use that every now and again?

So off I go to indulge in the June 25 issue of Star Magazine.  If you are really nice to me, I will consider sharing my copy when I am done, but not before.

SSS (Definition inside…)

Another school year has come to a close.  Jessie successfully completed a ridiculously complex fourth grade year and Harrison knocked it out of the park by kicking butt on the finals for his junior year.  The sun is shining and the skies are calm.  I, however, am neither shining nor particularly calm.  (Well, I am kinda calm actually, but that is only because I am hopped up on the Xanax I took earlier for my MRI.  Hopped up is not really accurate as I am so relaxed that I actually napped while enduring the magnetic force of a several ton machine which was exploring the shenanigans of my evil back. Short answer: it is getting better. Slowwwlyyyy.)  And now summer, which I have been no so quietly fearing for all these months, is upon us.  Oh, shit.

I’ve (repeatedly) articulated my concerns over activities and ways to fill the long, hot days but have been less honest (particularly with myself) about the bigger fear.  Now that school is out, a tremendous percentage of my built-in support system is gone.  With their summer vacations happily (for them) devoid of lesson plans and the issues of other people’s children, the school administrators and teachers who have solidly had my back since that fateful December morning are, for the next couple of months, off the payroll.  Oh, my, how that scares me.  That which has become (almost but not quite) normal and (totally) safe is being turned on its ear and a new crop of (unwitting?) summer support is up at bat.  Confident in my due diligence surrounding vetting and preparing the SSS (summer support system), I admit to feeling just a little queasy at the thought of at least three new beginnings: summer school, cooking school and art camp.   Who says transitions are only hard for kids?  (Aside: Jessie is blissfully unaware of the agony and angst I have experienced in an attempt to give her – and me – an enjoyable summer.  Oh, how I love parenting.)

Throughout my kids’ elementary school years I have always sent along gifts (movie theater gift cards were always a crowd pleaser) and heartfelt notes to the kid’s teachers thanking them for enduring six hours a day with my offspring.  This year, for a whole host of reasons, was different.  I had all intentions of doing as I had for the past fifteen years but every time I sat down, or even considered sitting down to do so, I simply couldn’t.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have warm feelings and appreciation for jobs well done, but I was somehow paralyzed.  In thinking about it, despite always sort of knowing, I was suddenly struck with clarity as to just how imperative their (the original SSS: school support system) support has been throughout what is only the beginning of this adventure. I, in a first, was at a loss for words.  (You might have noticed I haven’t blogged, either.  Or maybe you didn’t.)

And then this morning, which happened to be the last day of school,  immediately after Jessie left the house for the last time as a fourth grader, I sat down and composed this email:

To: Mary, Linda, Christina, Kelly, Debbie, Tricia, Jean & Lori

Subject: Thank you x 1,000

Hi all,

I had every intention of writing to you each personally to thank you for the tremendous job you all did working with not only Jessie but our entire family this year.  I planned to take actual pen to paper, take out our bright and colorful “Ross Family” stationery and leave quietly for the summer after having expressed our deep gratitude.  But, for some reason, I just couldn’t do it.  The emotions of the past several months – including how unfailingly supportive you all have been – took a hold of me and disallowed my composing that which I have had floating in my head for weeks now.

 Each one of you touched us and held us up.  Each one of you, in many ways you might not even realize, made each day just a little bit easier.  When I needed to be talked off the ledge, at least one, if not more, of you were at the ready.  From the moment Jessie came into school on December 12 and “shared” with Kelly, it has been as seamless as one could possibly hope for.  She never felt anything but supported and safe at school.  She knew that each and every one of you had her back.  Not once did she tell me she couldn’t, wouldn’t or didn’t want to go to school.  (She did, however, do her fair share of moaning over homework…)

 I guess my inability to write each note is a sign of my personal fears over being without your support for the next couple of months.  The summer lies ahead without the structure you have each worked so lovingly at putting into place.  I wish I could package you all up for the months of July and August (we are far enough into June that I think I can handle it from here…) and have your wisdom, patience and calm in my back pocket.

 Rich and I wish you all a wonderful, relaxing and not too hot summer.

Our sincere thanks for jobs done extraordinarily well.

All the best,

Julie

Noteworthy is the list of recipients: the principal, vice principal, guidance counselor, school psychologist, classroom teacher, special education teacher and school nurse.  I could well have sent it to every teacher, parent and child at school as they all deserved the same props for supporting a situation that, if nothing else, was unchartered.   I am even toying with forwarding a copy to the Superintendent of Schools as I am a big proponent of catching people doing things well.  (Aside: I am the person who asks for the manager at a restaurant when a waiter does a particularly good job.  Once I did it at The Cheesecake Factory – my kids might have trashed the area around us, or broken a few plates or spilled a few drinks – and was practically chased down by the waiter thanking me for taking the time and being responsible for his being gifted a free meal by his boss.  Now, one could argue that he should be getting free meals anyway, but apparently it takes a compliment from a diner for that to happen.  Good to know, right?)

I am so aware of how abruptly everyone (presently company included) was thrust into our upside down world and the grace with which they all handled it and am only hoping that my instincts serve me well, that the summer choices we’ve made will prove equally positive and supportive and that I have been blessed with another great SSS since I probably cannot wait until September…

The Name Game

School is just about done for the year and, as is tradition, all sorts of papers, projects and other memorabilia from the grade gone by are making their way back home. (This might be a good time to remind you that Jessie spent the first three and a half months of school -not to mention the prior four years- as George: a complicated, funny, dyslexic and wildly artistic child.) Sometime last week she brought home her art portfolio, the work from which spanned the entirety of her fourth grade experience.  As we drove home from school the day she had carefully carried it all out, she insisted that we close the sunroof to ensure that none of it got sucked up and blown away by the non-existent wind gusts – she clearly revered the work she had done.  I hadn’t found any time to go through the portfolio until this past weekend and have to wonder if my psyche knew somehow to review it at a time when I might be able to allow myself the luxury of reminiscing.  And by reminiscing, I mean crying, thinking, wondering and (over)thinking.

As I pored through the pile of 9”x12” pieces I was struck by one in particular.  Upon cursory glance it appeared to be an abstract piece complete with the signature twirls and design of many a project of George’s/Jessie’s that I have seen over the years. Sketched in the middle is a beautiful, colorful and flowy dress which could quite possibly come to life off the carefully drawn mannequin and onto a six-foot tall, 110 pound woman strutting down the runway to “oohs” and “aahs” of a celebrity filled audience some day.  To the right of the dress is…what is that?  It looks like a delectable chocolate chip cookie with a sizable bite taken out.  An incongruous grouping, for sure, but that is pretty classic George/Jessie for you.  As I was critiquing aloud, Jessie, with just a trace of disgust in her voice, (not so) gently pointed out to me that it spelled George.  What?  (I was simultaneously thrown by hearing “George” and trying to see what the hell she was talking about).

And then I saw it as clear as day. It does indeed spell out George (which she casually explained was because it was from the beginning of the school year.  Oh, how silly of me!) in all its flair, pageantry and beauty.  I was initially amazed at how artistic and clever it was (bear in mind, I am fairly easily impressed with works of art – mostly because I am literally incapable of drawing a straight line, even with the aid of a ruler…it always winds up somehow slanted. Yeah, I know: that has to mean something) and then I got very sad, very quickly.  I miss George.

Back in 2001 Rich and I, like all expectant parents, spent a fair amount of time trying to decide upon a name for this baby in my belly whose sex we declined learning during my amniocentesis (due to my “AMA”: advanced maternal age.  Ouch!)  In keeping with Jewish tradition, we wanted to name the new baby for someone in our family who had died.  We had named Harrison for Rich’s maternal grandfather Harry and were batting around the remaining grandparent names for this one.  The choices: Esther, Elizabeth, Sadie, Bob or George.  We discounted both Bob and Elizabeth:  Bob also happened to be Rich’s father’s name and although he was quite ill, was still with us and Elizabeth had been spoken for in my niece who goes by Izzie.  Further, Rich had a thing against the name Sadie (I disagree – love that name!) but thought George was a cool name.  (Note: George was my grandfather and the man who began the tradition which my father would impressively uphold of making every one of his children and grandchildren completely confident that they were his favorite.  I will contend to my dying day that I was, indeed, both of their favorites.)  I half-heartedly agreed to George, primarily because I was quite sure that I was having a girl (oh, the irony) and was confident that I would have my choice of an “E” name somehow, although I was secretly rooting for Sadie.  Alas, the baby was born and declared a boy based upon the fact that he had a penis, a fair pronouncement for sure, and was named George Reuben (my grandfather Bob’s middle name).  We had the ceremonial Bris eight days later and we were off.  I had two little boys, Harrison and George and, despite what Rich might tell you: they were not named for the Beatles.

It took me some time to get used to referring to my little swaddled infant by such a grown up, antiquated, I mean, old-fashioned name, but before very long, it just seemed right.  He was this gorgeous little boy, the kind that people would stop me on the street to comment on (this, um, hadn’t happened with Harrison, so I was acutely aware of how often it occurred) and the name, I reminded myself, would be successfully grown-into some day.

During their baby, toddler and little kid years, it was virtually impossible to find a mug, magnet or picture frame imprinted with their names.  Occasionally I would happen upon an item with “Harry” (close enough, I guess) on it, but it was, more often than not, and for inexplicable reasons, a shot glass.  Finding it funny, I may have even purchased one or two over the years, but as a rule, any items emblazoned with their names were either “custom” made or pieced together with single alphabet letters.   Sounds silly, but it all somehow added to the strength of these names that they would do well by as adults…provided we all lived through their childhoods.  They were both kids who never had to use their surname initial in class because there was only one Harrison and one George.  End of story.  Or not.

As accustomed as I have become to calling my second born Jessie, I will admit that there are times that I miss not only George the person, but George the name.  When I saw this piece he/she had created it warmed and crushed my heart all at the same instant.  My marveling at the artistic skill was trumped only by the sadness in knowing that this piece, in all its uniqueness, is indicative of so much that I thought I knew which is, at least for now, gone.  If given the assignment today, how would it look different (aside from the obvious: it would spell Jessie and not George.  Doh.) and, perhaps more curious, how would it be the same?  I would hazard a guess that there would still be a beautiful dress styled on a mannequin, but not sure if the dress would have the same color scheme or hemline.  Would it be as bold and confident?  Would it use up so much of the available drawing space on the paper?  And I wonder about the psychology of the lettering: the first “G” and the final “E” are so small as to almost be missed…would it happen similarly with the “J” and “E” of Jessie?  I am sure a shrink could (and perhaps will) have a field day with this piece, but as the mother I feel a loss.  A sadness.  A mourning for the little boy who used to live in the room at the top of the stairs: the one that, despite its feminine accoutrements, once (and still?) belongs to George, namesake of my grandpa whom I adored.

Now this particular item of “George” memorabilia is prominently displayed at my exact eye level at the desk at which I sit with my laptop and ramble on about our social and emotional transition from George to Jessie.  Clearly, some days are easier and better understood than others.  Today is one of the tough ones.  So, too, was the day, that Jessie dismantled the circus-themed letters which had been attached to his bedroom door brightly spelling out GEORGE.  As it happened, Harrison, ever the sensitive creature, quickly grabbed the video camera to memorialize the event but, unlike this seemingly innocuous piece of school room art, it is hidden away in the bowels of a memory card somewhere and will only need be addressed or even thought about should I actively seek to do so.  Oh, I know, I could have hidden this one last obvious vestige of George as I knew him away in a folder or, perhaps more brazenly: in the trash, but instead I, with zero hesitation, have displayed it in such a way as to serve as a constant reminder to mostly me.  This is my desk, where I sit and compose nearly daily making it easy for me to see whenever I so choose.  Because it is true: I miss George.

You’ve Got To Have Friends…

I love this picture.  It was taken several years ago…these boys are just days away from completing their junior year in high school.  One has longer hair now, the other’s is shorter.  They have both grown many inches, but neither seems to have gained any weight at all.  Their birthdays are one month apart and they each got their driver’s licenses pretty much the very day they were eligible and the six months of state imposed rules disallowing passengers was easily remedied by their tandem drives every where they went.  Only one technically lives with me, but the other one might just as well as his comfort level is such that he will (usually) politely express his displeasure if the pantry is not stocked to his liking and will interact with Jessie in a manner only slightly less abrasive than Harrison’s.

They first met as four years-olds when Harrison, being a fall baby, had, after three years, emotionally graduated from his first preschool (read: I’d enough) and switched to the neighborhood Temple program for that final year before kindergarten.  Alex, who had been there throughout, was too shy to speak much in those days, but that is where the bond began and, for all intents and purposes, has only grown.

Growing up is hard enough, but trying to do it without a best friend who knows all about your family craziness (and still sticks around!) is, in my book, impossible.  When George first made the transition to Jessie, Alex was among the first to be told.  His reaction was priceless…he literally shrugged his shoulders and then (and this part is a little fuzzy)  probably told her to go get him some chocolate covered pretzels.  To Alex the news was not shocking and just kinda didn’t matter.  Love that about him.  Jessie holds nothing back while in Alex’s presence and will, without hesitation, tell him to shut up or go away whenever she so desires.  Alex, in turn, will respond with his signature shrug and leave her alone, but not before feigning ignorance or blaming Harrison for being the catalyst for her upset.

The boys are quite different from one another in so many ways, not the least of which is their culinary risk-taking.  While Harrison will try just about any food you put in front of him, Alex will not.  (Irony of this: Alex’s mother is a fantastic cook.  Harrison’s is not.)  For every boat of sushi Harrison will inhale, Alex will always opt for the pasta with butter or chicken fingers.  I’ve learned to adapt my menu accordingly.  They both, however, love a good burger and they have long ago ceased ragging on the other for their food choices.

But it goes further than that.  They are the kind of friends that will always have one another’s back and will happily slap the other one upside the head when the other screws up.  I have visions of them texting when they find themselves adults with families of their own wondering how their parents made it all look so easy. (Props to RW, JW and RR)  And when that time arrives, Alex will be the sole proprietor of the country’s largest and most lucrative car dealership and he will be sure to set Harrison up in the rockingest family car he can locate on one of his many lots.  Hopefully, he will share his friends and family discount with me, as I hope to have a cool car by the time I am free of schlepping children.  At the same time, Harrison will be gently suggesting to Alex that he might want to think about buying a more practical car for his growing family, since the Lamborghini, while cool, is not the best choice at this particular point in his adult life.

Alex has been unabashedly plugging the merits of my blogging about him for months now.  He knows that he is part of the family and I make every effort to enforce this; particularly when I need him to do something for me.  Like fix my network connection, or take out the garbage, or pick up the babysitter  – who happens to be his sister – so that he and Harrison can go out.  Oh, and the other thing about Alex?  He cracks me up.  And these days that goes a long way.

Yeah, I mention my hair, but this isn’t about hair

With one notable exception, everyone on the planet is reveling in the fact that we are nearing the end of the school year which, in turn, indicates the start of summer.  That exception would be me.   Aside from the annoying heat, humidity and need to don a bathing suit, I can now no longer ignore the “what is Jessie going to do all summer” issue which has been plaguing me for months.

My parents (who were brilliant, by the way) sent my brothers and me off to overnight camp for eight weeks every summer.  Even more brilliant, the camps we attended were just across the lake from one another – and were, in fact, marketed as brother/sister camps.  This made everything so much easier: my parents had the summer off (score!), visiting day was coordinated to necessitate just one nearly five-hour drive to the far end of Maine (score!) and someone other than them entertained us from sun-up til sundown for, again, eight weeks all while my parents enjoyed a childless summer with the freedom to do whatever they damn well pleased.   Sounds pretty perfect, right?  Well, I believe it was as evidenced by the gigantic number of friends of mine who have been happily executing the same plan for their little darlings for many summers now.

Having loved my own camp experience, I immediately embraced Harrison’s request, in third grade, to go to overnight camp that summer.  Rich was a bit more reluctant.  Some kids are campers, some are not.  My father was a wild little kid who grew up in an apartment in the Bronx.  The story goes that he was driving my grandparents so crazy that they shipped him off, er, sent him to overnight camp at the tender age of four. Yes, four.  He remained at that camp until he was twenty at which point he closed up shop and mere days later, married my mother.  He went on to assume (correctly) that his children (that would be me and my brothers) would follow suit and love going to camp.  We were “campers”.  Rich, on the other hand, grew up with a family beach house which was, for a whole host of reasons,  more appealing to him and his siblings than going away all summer so, alas, he fell into the “not a camper” category.  To his credit, he supported our sending Harrison away that summer and quieted his concerns when we put him on the bus to camp and realized that neither he, nor we, knew a soul.  So, with a healthy amount of anxiety and neuroses (ours) we waved goodbye with plans to collect him in two weeks.  And then, ten days into his stay we received a call from the camp director informing us that he wanted to stay for an additional two weeks.  Well, okay then: we have ourselves a camper.  The following six summers he returned for eight weeks.  It was awesome.  (For him that is…we, um missed him terribly?)

Jessie, on the other hand, falls comfortably into the “not a camper” category which sucks for, well, everyone… but mostly me.  (Don’t judge me.)  For a whole host of reasons, she was never a particularly good candidate for overnight camp and even the huge selection of day camps have proven to be a challenge, even more so now, in the wake of her transition.  In fairness to her, I really do appreciate her not wanting to go to camps she has attended in the past – if for no other reason than her trepidation over returning to an environment where she was (well) known as George.  Fully comfortable and embraced by her school community, she is, it seems, more than tentative over having to “come out” yet again.  That’s fair.

One can look at this on so many different levels, and trust me, I have.  Does this mean she is just so comfortable in her new life that she doesn’t want to upset the apple cart?  Or conversely, is she not all that comfortable and hesitant to “go wider”?  Is there something else unrelated to the transgender issue which is driving her intense pushback?  What is it?  File this under: yet another situation which is so damned complicated and impossible to explain as to make me want to rip every hair out of my head.

I am sure you are all full of well-meaning suggestions, but before you go there; let me share with you where I am in my quest for a summer activity.  I have explored the following, all of which I have had to eliminate for one reason or another:

  1. Nearby private school(s) which doubles as a Summer Camp(s): Swimming twice a day which sounds good, right?  Wrong.  The second swim necessitates a change of clothing from wet suit to dry clothes and back.  Problem: The “girl with a penis” issue has proven too complicated for most camps to handle.
  2. Nearby rustic, in-the-woods camp: Swimming once a day, at the end of the day: sounds perfect as she can go to camp in her bathing suit.  Problem: Said camp is on a lake which she finds utterly disgusting.  Have to agree with her on that one.
  3. Gymnastics classes: Potentially great idea: different weekly classes, air-conditioned, close by and short-term commitments.  Problem: Um, she now refuses to go to the classes I had signed her up for (which, incidentally, cost a small fortune) – the same classes that she once loved.  Not giving that place another dime unless this child makes a blood promise to me which I am quite sure she will not.
  4. Art studios:  She loves to create in many different mediums and happens to be a talented artist.  Really, she is…that is not a biased opinion.  (I support this proclamation with a reminder of her artist’s temperament!) Problem: Not air-conditioned.  Hotter than hell.  Not happening.
  5. Overnight Camp: In a perfect world… Problem: Duh, too many issues to list.

So it looks like it is going to be Camp Julie this summer.  (O.M.G.) (And, oh crap)  At first blush you might be thinking: “Not so bad – hang out at the beach (neither one of us is a fan of sand) or the pool (sounds good until you remember that until all the kids get out of camp at 4 pm, the pool is populated by “mommies with babies” and I’ve long ago stopped being a mommy – “mom”, or occasional other names prevail in these parts – or had children that could be considered babies.) or take fun day trips (again, for a variety of reasons, this is unlikely to happen).”  Anyone who has ever known another person as well as I know Jessie will back me up on this – sometimes you just know.

I have even fantasized about taking off with her for a few weeks to visit my brother and his family on the opposite coast.  Okay, truth: I fantasize about taking off for a few weeks alone to visit my brother and his family on the opposite coast.  Doesn’t much matter, because neither scenario will play out.  And if you are even considering chastising me for the “woe is me” attitude, let me strongly recommend against that.  It has been a rough and tumble year (well, several years, actually) and I am going to allow myself to indulge in some self-pity for a moment.

Just as there are kids who are campers and kids who are not, there are moms (and dads, and people in general) who were put on this earth to successfully entertain their child all day long all summer long.  I do not happen to be one of those people.  And, although Jessie is blissfully happy in anticipation of this endless summer of nothing, I cannot say the same.  I may indeed follow through on my threat and pull each of my curls out…one by one.

Mini update: A certain fabulous 14-year-old (shout out to JSW…which, she will note, is coming before one to her brother: AJW) has told me that, when she is around  she would love to hang out at the pool in the summer with Jessie.  That makes me happy.  It also makes me happy to know that JSW was among the first people at school that Jessie shared her “secret” with because she (Jessie) knew that she (JSW) would have her back.  And she has.  I heart that girl…

When You/I

Therapists are not supposed to tell their patients what to do; rather their role is to help the patient figure it out on their own (with, some gentle nudging from said therapist.)  That is all well and good, but every so often it pisses me off and I push back a little.  Just the other day I was talking with Jessie’s shrink and, finally, when I felt like my head was going to pop off said, “will you just tell me what the fuck to do?!”  Much to my surprise, he did.

As with his simple advise of a few weeks ago to understand that we can only walk with our children (https://georgejessielove.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/walk-this-way/), he suggested that the next time Jessie (or anyone else I come into contact with, for that matter) behaves in a manner that makes me want to either bop them in the face or open a vein of my own with a butter knife I should simply, calmly and sternly say: “when you (fill in the blank) I (fill in the blank).  Example:  “When you stomp your foot and refuse to clean up your room, I want to throttle you, er, I mean, it makes me angry that you are being disrespectful.” He (the shrink) further stated that it is important that everyone in the family toe the same line so that, if nothing else, the sheer repetition will force her (or whomever you are using this tactic against, I mean, with) to be a little less narcissistic and a little more aware of how their behavior is driving everyone else to the brink of insanity.  In theory, you hear something enough and you are bound to start to take it to heart, right?

I immediately shared the new plan with Rich and Harrison and quietly sat and observed as they each dutifully stated their position to the current irritant in the house.  First out the gate was Jessie insisting (read: Demanding.  Loudly.) that the channel on the television be changed from “Pawn Stars” (which both kids enjoy) to “SpongeBob” which has lost some of its allure due to the fact that it seems to have been on a never-ending loop for the past three years.  Harrison, calm, cool and with an unmistakable air of sarcasm and drama responded by saying, “When you act like a brat over something like a TV. show, I want to leave the room.”  I held my breath awaiting Jessie’s response as I fully realized that Harrison leaving the room might be the very goal of her insistence in the first place, but, to my great surprise, she responded by agreeing, without fanfare, to watch “Pawn Stars”.  Well, I’ll be damned.

It was not long after that when the opportunity arose for Rich to try things out.  His encounter had something to do with a computer issue, the specifics of which have already escaped my memory.  I do recall, however, that the “when you/I” trickery, er, tactic worked.  We were already three for three and it hadn’t even been an hour.  WTF?

While it has been a scant twenty-four hours,  I personally have not only successfully engaged in this new methodology several times but have even shared it with a few friends as a suggestion in dealing with the pain in the ass, um, I mean challenging person in their lives.  I now anxiously await news of their success stories.  I also want to know why no one taught me that little gem in parenting school.

So, the next time you find yourself in a situation in which you are concocting detailed scenes of choking, slapping or sticking someone’s head in the nearest toilet give the “when you/I” game a try.  You can thank me later.  (Unless it doesn’t work, in which case, disregard this post entirely.)

Really?!

I’ve been known to laugh out loud about stupid, random things long after they have occurred.  Like the time Rich and I were out to dinner with our friend the brain surgeon who, out of the corner of my eye,  I could see was struggling to close the oversized tri-fold menu from which we were ordering.  We were sitting next to one another so my view was purely peripheral and it was not until he became exasperated and mumbled, “I can’t close this fucking menu” that I cracked up.  That happened months ago, yet I have, on many more than one occasion, been reminded of it (like, oh, I don’t know, when I see a menu?) and proceeded to crack up all over again.  And there was the incident during which my coffee date, who had just shared the bizarre oddities he has noticed about himself as he has gotten older (he just turned 50) began frantically darting his head around the room as though there was something chiming or chirping or buzzing or ringing only to be told (by me) that it was utterly silent.  Granted, that just happened two days ago, but I am still laughing about it.  Similarly, I believe I will be laughing for a while over the time I received the first negative comments to my blog.

In my admission that I was struggling to come up with anything truly blog worthy, I had the audacity to post (on my blog) a silly rant about my curls and a (likely temporary) decision to embrace them.  The entry was fluffy, did not touch on the specifics of any real issue surrounding my child who has identified as transgender, or my frighteningly close to eighteen year old’s travails, or my marriage or my sanity yet it was, apparently, the most offensive of all the posts I have ever written.

Here is the first comment, which, I must admit, initially (like for a nanosecond) saddened me and made me second guess my egregious decision to post what was on my mind:

I found your blog when I learned that a friend’s child was dealing with transgender issues. I was hoping that your blog would give me more insight into what the family faces in order to provide support where it is appropriate. In general you are not sharing much information and your blog posts are vague and uninformative…should I keep reading or are you now reconsidering your original intentions?

Here is the first response I wrote:

Really?  Go fuck yourself.

And here is the one I posted:

I am sorry to disappoint. If you go back in the blogs you will see the adventure that is all part of living with a child who identifies as transgender and if you think a bit about each post you will see that they all do, in fact, shed light on what a family goes through during this process. Admittedly, some posts are more “vague” and “uninformative” than others, but so, too, is life with a child of any kind – transgender or not.
It is entirely up to you whether you want to continue reading or not. I would love to have you, but certainly don’t want to waste your time.

Not gonna lie: I kinda wish I had stuck with the first one.  But, alas, the day was young and I would have another opportunity soon enough.  Among the many positive and supportive comments yet another one popped up:

Hair care products? Really?

My first and final response:

Yeah, really. Sometimes life feels like a train wreck and something as ridiculous as a good hair product can make an otherwise shitty day just a little bit better. You are seriously offended? Wow…I file that under: your problem, not mine. That said, my hair looks spankin’ and my day was better as a result. That is all part of this whole parenting game: doing whatever it takes to make it just that much easier.

Which, in my mind, was as close to “Yeah, really.  Go fuck yourself” as I, being a classy lady, was willing to go.

Now to the part that makes me laugh.  I have written sixty posts, of varying levels of depth and intense honesty which have had well over 100,000 views and over 1,500 comments (and this number does not include the comment thread on HuffPo or The Boston Phoenix!) none of which were as offended (and offensive) as these two.  In fact, over dinner last night I was telling Rich about them and we literally started to laugh.

Really?  I have written of my “daughter with a penis” and my hysteria over finding an appropriate bathing suit (for her, not for me, although that could be a whole blog unto itself…), of my fears and concerns for her, and frankly our family’s, future and not one, but two readers took offense at my discussion of curly hair????  It was funny.

This is a kinda big deal, actually.  A few months ago, I would not have seen the humor in this.  (Oh, who am I kidding, I might not have seen the humor yesterday or, frankly, tomorrow, but whatevs.) The fact that I was able to this time, however, signaled to me a newfound strength that I have apparently built within my psyche.  At no point did I say to myself, “Bad Julie…you goof” rather I realized that it is actually these commenters who are the goofs and not I. I think I may need to thank my therapist for that.  (Note:  I have not identified either one, though I do have that power should I choose to exercise it.  Further, I had the choice to not approve the comments, yet I did.  One more point for me?)

So, thank you off-centered readers for providing  another tidbit that made me laugh which I am sure to revisit in my head (probably while sitting at a red light admiring my curls in the rearview mirror) and find funny.  I hope y’all deem this entry  acceptable.