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.

49 thoughts on “The Name Game

  1. Julie,
    This is a beautiful piece … one of my favorites … even though it made me cry. What a journey you’re on and what an incredible family you have. L

    • Thanks, Lesley. I suspect it is going to make a lot of people cry – it made me. Thanks for being a part of “the family”. You were one of the first who made a difference for Harrison and I will always be appreciative of that!

  2. As a woman with a transgendered boyfriend, I read this story with his mom in mind and wondered if she often looked back the same way. He made his choice later in life (36) and I know his Mom has struggled a bit. Thank you for writing your blogs as I always love to get the perspective of all people involved since it’s not just a transition for the person, but also for the people in their lives. And yes, Jessie is an amazing artist.

  3. What a beautiful and moving post this one is. It helps me understand a little about the mixture of emotions in having a transgendered child. And to see a bit more deeply into the child that was George. I see the soul of an artist whether George or Jessie. I know you will always treasure it.

    • Thank you — this child most certainly has the soul (and temperament!) or an artist. I have often envied (for lack of a better word) her ability to express herself so beautifully with little more than a pencil or a pile of markers.

  4. This was a touching and heartbreaking story. Thank you so much for sharing with us, we are all made a little more human for having read it.

  5. Ok…I didn’t cry BUT it was very moving. I feel bad that you seem to feel bad about missing George. I would think you were crazy if you didn’t. You are a wonderful person because you miss your little boy. If you didn’t miss George, you would not be fully accepting Jesse, your daughter. So in missing him, you are more accepting of Jesse. That’s the way I see it at least.

  6. Almost always, you take my breath away! Your honesty is remarkable, you heart is endless and your humor refreshing!

  7. Julie, we sent a couple emails back and forth, I have an 8 yr old affirmed girly girl. Lol. I just wanted to let you know that I went through that too, and once in a while, (although they happen less and less over time) mourn the loss of my son. I am in awe of my brave little girl, I fully support and unconditionally love her, as you do with Jessie, but it’s just a mom thing I guess. It’s a natural reaction. Here you are gaining this wonderul, beautiful girl who knows just who she is and is a happier person, but you as a mother are naturally going to feel some loss over the son you thought you had. There’s no shame or guilt in it-you’re not wishing that you still had that son, it’s just that those are memories that happened pre-transition and so you associate them with George, not Jessie. It’s funny because now, even when talking about things that happened when my kiddo was very little, before transition, I still use her preferred (now legal) name, it just feels so strange to say her birth name. And yes, I too, thought long and hard and there was a lot that went into the process of naming what I thought to be my son. But in my case, the name she ended up picking turned out to be the nice Jewish name,lol. (My father was Jewish – he would have liked the name she picked out.) You are doing an amazing job, be proud of yourself, but don’t feel guilty about having those moments. You are a great mom!!

  8. Julie, Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree does it? A beautiful piece from a talented writer showcasing her child’s obvious artistic talent. You both are unique. Glad you keep that piece on your desk.

    • I suppose we fought our creative outlet in different mediums, but I still say her artistic abilities blow me away. Thanks, Melissa.

  9. Part of me misses the Georgie-ness of George too, although the transition to Jessie has seemed seamless over here and of course I love her. And I miss the George and Grace team, although they sure do get along well as Grace and Jessie.

    Maybe you also miss being the mother of two boys, I mean as part of your identity — you know, the one gal in the all guy house.

    I agree with the other commenters: this is one of your best.

    • I, too, miss having our own George and Gracie team. It just never got old. As for the Jessie and Gracie team: still A1.

      My identity has, indeed, been squashed and manipulated, along with so many other things.

      And hearing it is one of my best from a writing teacher…that is just priceless. xo

  10. What a lovely post, thank you for sharing the drawing. I agree with Scargosun, that because you now only see Jessie and the young woman she is becoming, you’ve lost sight of George. Sending hugs, because that’s all anyone can do. xo

  11. Wow, can I relate, Julie. I was just pondering a pile of preteen, pretransition artwork and memorabilia this past weekend. Not sure how I’m going to proceed, but I know there will be a few boxes of tissues involved. I miss my girl, too. Sometimes, it just comes in waves and lord, it aches.

  12. The whole gender identity issue is huge..And how people deal with our “new” identity is no short discussion.Even as adults,we have close friends that feel badly that the person they thought they knew got” changed out” for someone “they don’t know”…So,your feeling the loss of George,is normal to our world and not easy to explain to others as you have.It will all turn out for the good!

  13. That was a very thoughtful and moving post Julie. As we have just fully embraced our 7-yr old to transition to a she in the last several months, I don’t know if something like this is going to hit me but I imagine eventually it will. At first it felt strange to use a new name but we’ve all adjusted pretty well. In a way, it’s been easier to call her by a different name than I thought because, in a way, she is a different person. She is happier and more self-assured now that she is who she needs to be vs. before when her “boy” self didn’t ever seem right. So, calling her Tara (instead of Brody which was her given name), seems to fit with this “new” person in front of me. I have also been pondering how I am going to display memories and family photos in our new home (moving out of state next month) when I am not sure where this path is going to take us as far as who to tell about her being a transgendered girl, etc. She currently wants nothing to do with her old “boy” self although concedes that some people will still call her Brody because that is how they know her. And I don’t sense that she is completely rejecting who she was before but that she is also trying to adapt to the newness of this identity. When we move, it’s a fresh start and none of the kids will know that she is also known as Brody and she’ll strictly go by Tara. What is so interesting is that, in my family, my husband also goes by a different name than his birth name and has done so for over 25 years. My mother also legally changed her name when she was in her 20’s and no longer uses her birth name. So, in a way, changing names runs in our family :0. Tara is not so alone in that respect.

    • We often longed for a “move out of state” so that there was less explaining and discussing necessary! 😉

      The path is not clearly marked for any of us in life, but the transgender piece certainly makes for a few additional bumps along the way.

      Keep me posted as to how it goes!

  14. Julie, please forgive me, I don’t mean this to sound as harsh as it probably will. Do you ever think that this process you are in might (at least in part) be mourning (grieving) the loss of George, and not knowing what to do with your “step-child” Jessie? Rich and Harrison are your constants, and that’s great. Yet sometimes you sound like a person who has to let go of one family and integrate into another. I don’t say this in judgment but only to ask about perspective: Would any of the tools offered to step-moms (absorbing a new child) or moms who have lost a child, be at all relevant or helpful for you or parents in a situation like yours? I hope this isn’t too much too say. I care and have the deepest admiration for your clarity and honesty.

    • First, no offense taken. As long as you aren’t dissing me for my choice of blog topics, I am good.

      You make an interesting point. While I don’t feel as though Jessie is a step child, she is a bit of a foreign entity which is unnerving given the fact that I not only gave birth to her, but have been with her every moment since. That said, I think you just gave me something to think about!

  15. Thank you so much for this honest blog post. I think this is a normal, and expected, part of the process for parents. Be as understanding of yourself as you have been with Jessie. There is happiness to be had in all of this, but the grief can co-exist with it.

  16. Julie you write beautifully and I really admire you and your family as well as your journey.xo Harriet Stich

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