Heal This.

This summer, while seemingly everyone I know is getting away from it all and heading to beaches, European cities and across the country, I was thrilled yesterday with my vacation day.  Having made it through July and my steroidal number of hours with Jessie, it was pure joy to have more than a morning all to myself. My hope was that it would heal all that ailed me.  And it almost did.

The day started with a long overdue meeting for coffee (although neither one of us had coffee…or anything to eat or drink, actually) with my old friend Ellen.  (Long time readers will know her as the gal with the kick ass boots: https://georgejessielove.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/you-boot-shes-cool-enough/.) Our “quick” coffee turned into a three-hour chat during which I laughed, I cried, I listened and I learned.  Only a few short years older than me, she’s always held sage advice with a shoot from the hip style which I desperately needed.  Years ago, when we first met at the gym we soon figured out (while playing Jewish geography) that she had gone to camp with my oldest brother which emotionally connected us ever since.  We both possess strong personalities and a sarcastic, quick wit. I vividly recall her informing me years ago (and apropos to nothing) that she and I could never be married to one another.  She is right.  Love her, but we’d kill each other if there ever became a jockeying for position.  That said, should that situation arise, I am one hundred percent confident that she would win.  Let this serve as a public thank you to Ellen for being who she is and for being in my life.

With Ellen having readjusted my head and with no further plan in place, I wandered into the Sprint store (which one needs to be mentally prepared to do) in hopes of finally finding out why my phone battery is dead by early afternoon every day.  The first customer service person I got had exactly no personality.  Perhaps it was exacerbated having just come off a three-hour interaction with Ellen and her hugeness, but either way I had to do everything in my power to not climb over the counter and shake this woman to life.  I have a history, when faced with situations such as this, of making it a game: I will jolly whatever sadsack is in my midst and somehow, some way, get them to smile.  This time I failed.  So, in an effort to maintain the sense of strength which Ellen beat into, um, instilled in me, I wisely wandered over to a different sales person and found my match.  I was so swept up in his early-twenties-cutiepieness that I almost wound up buying a new phone, but I pulled myself together and stepped away with a promise to return to him should I choose to upgrade.  (As a recovering sales person I am extremely sensitive to not screw people out of their commissions.)  I am not sure he did anything much to my phone other than delete a year or so worth of text messages, but I felt better somehow.  A little bit healed.

With my phone cleaned up enough to make it appear to be mended, I was on my way to my next, yet-to-be-determined destination.  I hated to give up my prime parking spot (particularly since it was Sunday and, therefore, free) but eventually did.  Letting karma take over, I decided that if there was a spot directly in front of a nail salon it was a message that it was time to move past my short, ugly stubs and get a manicure for the first time since the debacle of earlier this summer: https://georgejessielove.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/nail-in-the-coffin/  Indeed there was a spot and indeed, they had time to attend to my digits.  As I slid the chair close to the manicure table I felt a rush of happiness akin to the familiarity of reuniting with an old friend.  With an issue of “Cosmo” in hand (aside: every issue of “Cosmo” is exactly the same as the one before and the one after…have you noticed that?) and allowed “Vincent” to work his magic.  As I was sitting there I sort of heard my phone repeatedly beeping at me; not signifying a text or call, but imploring me to charge it.  As it was not an option to do so, I simply ignored it and went about enjoying my first foray into the world of Shellac, vaguely realizing that any repairs I thought had occurred as a result of clearing out my texts had been imagined.

As I was getting into my car and plugging the completely dead phone into the charger I got a text from my brother asking me if I wanted to meet him at the movies in half an hour.  Yes!  I love going to the movies and it was actually a film I’ve been dying to see, so I headed over to meet him.  (Aside: we saw “The Intouchables”.  If you see nothing else this summer, see that.) After the movie ended we headed to a local restaurant for a bite to eat.  It was then that I realized that I had not corresponded with any member of my immediate family for many, many hours: in part because my phone was dead and, in part because I didn’t want to.  (Yep.  I said it.)  I did, however, think it was only right to let them know what I was up to so had my brother text Harrison to let him know (he is more likely to check his texts than is his father) and, then, fifteen seconds after sending the text, my brother’s phone rang.  You guessed it: Harrison.  I’m getting an un-healed feeling here.

Knowing how deeply he appreciates my need for an occasional break from life, I quickly surmised that something must be up.  (Remember, I had not been able to access either my texts or voicemails for hours at this point.)  Andddd…I was right.

Earlier in the day, before I ran away, er went out, our cat was doing some unusual crying.  And by crying I mean wailing.  Having gone on record as we were purchasing said cat that I would take on zero responsibility for his care, I had inquired as to whether we should be concerned (I hate the cat, but I am not heartless…geez.)  Rich, having far more experience with animals than I, assured me that he would take care of it which is precisely what he was doing, from the inside of the local animal hospital, when Harrison called.  Aw, crap.

Please take a moment now and imagine my guilt.  Here I am, enjoying my first, and likely only, vacation this summer (or for the foreseeable future) and the cat goes and gets sick…for the first time ever.  The imagery of Rich, Harrison (who, by the way, is on crutches as a result of puncturing, no, impaling, his heel with an errant stick on the beach at his work as a lifeguard) and Jessie (who, when anxious, tends towards wild behavior) trolling the halls of an animal hospital with a screeching cat while I was enjoying a Margarita as well as ridiculously fresh and delicious guacamole and chips.  It almost made me drop everything and rush there to somehow save everyone.  Then, in a moment of clarity I acknowledged to myself that there was little I could do and that my showing up at the hospital would be of no help, so I stayed put.   Truth be told, not only did I not leave, I also managed to thoroughly enjoy my post-movie meal.

With reality settling in and the hour getting late, I finally got back into the car to head home. The instant I plugged my phone into the charger, a call came in from Rich.  The cat has an obstruction (which would explain the several feet of string hanging out his, um, ass) and we had a decision to make: exploratory surgery (don’t even ask how much that would cost) or ride it out and see how he does.  Really?!  Does every day need to have something catastrophic or traumatic or upsetting happen?  Apparently, yes.

I did eventually go home only to be greeted by a pissed off Jessie (which is not someone I would encourage anyone to do) who proceeded to give me an earful about my having been gone for a few hours.  I successfully resisted the urge to turn around, get back in the car and leave by telling myself that her upset is, somehow, a compliment to me.  That may have been the Margarita talking, but whatever.

We opted to bring the cat home and to keep an eye on him to see how he does.  So far, so good, but the jury is still out.  Rich worked from home and actively triaged his (the cat’s) condition to determine whether we need to go back to the hospital.  The trickier part now will be talking Jessie off the ledge when she absorbs the notion that the cat’s obstruction is from having eaten the string that she left on the floor that was then eaten by the cat.  Dear G-d…

As I lay in bed later, trying to shut my mind down for the night I brought myself back to my no-coffee coffee with Ellen from earlier in the day and tried (like hell) to recapture the feeling I had when we parted ways…that understanding, calm and strength that she injected into my arm.  It was a fail, but at least I felt healed for a little while.  Until my next vacation day.

The Upside of One (or many) Sleepness Nights

When most of you were happily in the land of nod last night (technically this morning) I did the following between the hours of 3:18 a.m. (when I was suddenly wide awake) and 7:00 a.m. (when I finally passed out):

  1. Took my turn in the many rounds of Word with Friends that I am currently playing. I do not know the exact number of games (although that might be a good time-killer tonight when I wake up) but I do know that I have been denied the inalienable right to start new games because, apparently, I have reached the maximum number allowed. (This begs the question: why do the folks at WWF give a shit how many games I am playing??)  Of the games I am still allowed to enjoy, I am solidly winning, and, therefore, also solidly losing, fifty percent.
  2. Watched, without skipping over the commercials, “never before seen footage” of The Real Housewives of Orange County.  Never disappoints.
  3. Played approximately two dozen rounds of Word Search – each to completion.
  4. Played half a game of Solitaire.  Irritated me.
  5. Filed my still recovering and cracking fingernails which, in turn, necessitated snipping a few ragged cuticles.  I was actually proud of myself for snipping and not ripping despite the hour.
  6. Contemplated watching “Becoming Chaz” which has been sitting in my DVR queue for months, but just couldn’t go there.
  7. Used the bathroom three times.  Quick tinkles, but an activity nonetheless.
  8. Stumbled upon two episodes of “I Love Lucy”, neither of which I had seen before.  How that is even possible, I do not know.
  9. Tried to breathe deeply in through my nose, out through my mouth, but wound up using only the nose which, in my estimation, did nothing to bring on relaxation.  Rather, it pissed me off that I couldn’t get it together which, in turn, made me anxious.
  10. Felt my eyes getting heavy (woo hoo!) only to notice that it was time to get the kids up and the lunches made so was forced to stay awake.  Really.

At 7:00 a.m. I stumbled into Jessie’s room to get her going for the school program (which she is bitter and resentful about having to attend) that begins at 8:30 a.m.  Not surprisingly, she was not interested in getting up so I blew it off and let her roll over and go back to sleep as I headed downstairs to earn my “awesome mom” badge and make Harrison lunch.  In an act of rebellion, I made a decidedly unKosher-like sandwich (it included liverwurst, ham, turkey and cheese) for my son-the-lifeguard-at-a-Jewish-camp, crawled back up the stairs and climbed into bed where I, without issue, immediately fell fast asleep for the next three hours.

When I awoke, Jessie was in her Eden: laptop perched in her lap, inane television droning in the background, empty juice boxes strewn as though leftover from a frat party, dressed in nothing but a soft blanket.  All of her favorite things at the ready and no school this morning.  In her ten-year old mind…it doesn’t get any better than that.

Although my head was still foggy and I was totally discombobulated from my poorly timed sleep, I actually took comfort in her comfort.  The fact that she was totally oblivious to the fact that I was a stumbling mess lent some normalcy to our newly defined life and made me feel somehow better.  She was aware only of my late slumber and not of the anxiety that both caused and resulted from it… she was just being a regular, self-absorbed, concrete thinking kid.  I realize that might sound odd, but anyone who has had a child who is left (or right) of center knows what I mean.  It was one of those quick, almost imperceptible moments when the first thing that came to mind with regard to her reaction was not the fact that she has identified as transgender but that she was just a kid, blissfully unaware of the struggles that her mom was facing.  And that is the way it should be, but, alas, often is not.  So, in a strange way, I am a little bit grateful to the insomniac G-ds who, quite by accident, created a moment of normalcy during an otherwise funky time.  Just kind of hoping it they don’t plan on settling in for too long a stay.


p.s. Anyone who wants to start a WWF game with me, my name is (are you ready?): georgieporgiepoo.  Added to the ever-growing list of things I have no control over, the folks at WWF will allow you to start a game with me, but not the other way ‘round.  Whatever.   I am awake at all hours so will promise to take my turn.  I do, however, play to win.

In Peanuts We Trust

The Peanuts (as in Charlie Brown, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Snoopy and the gang) are familiar to us all. They are complex cartoon characters to whom we have all found ourselves relating to on some level or another.  Who hasn’t shared in Charlie’s insecurities?  Or felt Snoopy’s indomitable strength? Well, I am here to admit that it has been suggested to me, on, um, more than one occasion, that I am the embodiment of one of Mr. Schulz’s beloved (there’s my silver lining) characters…and it isn’t Frieda (who Wikipedia describes as “the girl with the naturally curly hair” which, as you know, I have).  No, it is Pigpen.  (Yeah, I’ve never heard of Frieda, either.)

Further described by Wikipedia:

Pigpen is known for his perpetually filthy overalls and the cloud of dirt and dust that follows him wherever he goes.  He cannot seem to rid himself of the dust for more than the briefest of periods–indeed, in spite of his best efforts, it appears that he cannot stay clean. He is referred to in an early strip as the only person who can get dirty while walking in a snowstorm.

Now, I am known neither for my overalls (shut up…everyone wore them when they were pregnant!) nor for being particularly dirty, but that “cloud” that hovers amid his person, following his every step, is more along the lines of what I think folks are referring to.  (At least I hope it is.)  I have been called a lot of things over the years but this one is perhaps the most appropriate in a crazy-ass sort of way.  Truly, despite my best efforts, I simply cannot steer clear and stay “clean”.

We all face problems, issues and upsets in our lives.  We all deal with unexpected situations and find ourselves in pickles that we never predicted, but I have to admit that it does seem that I tend to be in them more often than the average bear.  I also have noticed that I somehow manage to come out on the other end okay…most of the time.  That damn cloud does, however, seem to follow me.

The past ten years have been particularly ridiculous for me and (sometimes because of and sometimes by default) my family.  Apparently freakish, unusual and highly unexpected experiences are deemed by the big guy upstairs to not be more than I can handle, yet I will admit that there are definitely times (like this weekend, for instance) that I seriously wonder if there is a hidden camera being used by a documentarian somewhere capturing every insane moment for a film which is “based on a true story”.  And if there is, can the film be destroyed so we can start over?

A sampling of just a few of the downright frightening health scares I have had; do you know anyone (other than me, three days before Harrison’s Bar Mitzvah) who gets a tumor in their foot which is inoperable unless I want to have it amputated…the foot, that is?  If so, has that somebody done so within a few short years of having had breast cancer which therefore provided perfect breeding ground for the doctors to become hysterical?  And I’ve heard of needing two surgeries for back issues, but three in six weeks?  Who else can say that they had a lipoma in their back the size of a large grapefruit?  Anyone else have clusters of half a dozen warts on each and every finger? (Okay, in fairness, that happened when I was a kid, but it still happened to me!) You get the picture.  And, remember, that was just a sampling.

But it is not just medical stuff: I am the person who gets physically rear-ended (as in literally…into my butt, not in a car) in the middle of Best Buy by a kid pushing a large screen t.v. across the store.  It is I who has managed to dent two of the cars that we own in one fell swoop.  Twice. In as many days.   And the one time in the history of civilization that a dental x-ray machine inexplicably tore from the wall so that it could land on someone’s face?  Yep, that was me.

During the course of contemplating my life as well as my affiliation with Pigpen I visited www.peanuts.com to learn a little bit more about the inner workings of my apparent doppelgänger and to attempt to gain some insight into what might lay ahead for me.  (Seriously pathetic, I know, but I am on some very tentative ground these days…) Their explanation of his character actually made me feel better about the grubby little guy:

Happily traveling in his own private dust storm, Pigpen is completely comfortable in his own (dust-streaked) skin. Despite his outward appearance, he always carries himself with dignity, knowing full well that he has affixed to him the “dust of countless ages.

I am not sure that I would avow to happily traveling in my dust storm (plus I prefer to call it a shit storm) yet here I am, hoping that I am doing Pigpen’s legacy proud and am honoring the grace in which he was created; that I am managing (even if just for show) to be comfortable in my own skin and to carry myself with dignity in spite of that cloud hovering overhead.

Given my track record,  it really should not have come as much of a surprise when my quirky child proved to be even quirkier than we thought.  It all adds up in the scheme of how things go in my life (not to make this about me, but…oh, who am I kidding?  This is about me.)  It is just another entry in the game of life which circles around each of us, some more cleanly than others.  I am indeed Pigpen, but only (hopefully) the endearing, lovable parts of him.  Not only am I more than likely to get dirty while walking in a snowstorm, but I will also be the person who slips and throws out her back in the process.  But, I somehow, miraculously, come out okay.  Eventually.

So off I go now to blanket myself in Bubblewrap and shut my brain down as I was recently instructed by my doctor (post x-ray machine mishap) to lay low and to avoid heavy thinking.  I may even forgo the shower I was contemplating.  I am pretty confident that is how Pigpen would want it.

Smile for the Camera (of Life)?

As if I needed further evidence that I never have any clue as to what a day is going to hold, today will likely become one for the record books.  Unrelated to the experiences of my transgender child or any of the other three billion moving parts that I call my life (or is it?), here is one that I would venture not a single one of you woke up this morning and thought might happen to you…or anyone on the planet.  Ever.

First, let me provide you with some background.  Several weeks ago I dutifully arrived at my annual dental cleaning appointment having recovered (physically and emotionally, that is…financially, not so much) from my broken crown of a month or so prior.  I assumed the position in the chair, had an uneventful scraping, cleaning and polishing along with a few overdue x-rays.  It wasn’t until the hygienist summoned the dentist to do a quick check that the issue of a “pocket” on the lower right side of my mouth came up.  Again.  In fairness, the dentist had mentioned it a year prior but, given the fact I had no pain, and he expressed no urgency, rather a mild suggestion that I visit a periodontist, I did what any one of you would do: I ignored it.  Why dive into something that is going to suck emotionally, physically and financially when I can wait until I am pushed?  Right?

This time, in keeping with the dentist’s slightly more urgent tone, I did the adult thing and made an appointment with a periodontist that my dentist works with frequently for the following week.  Despite not wanting to, I kept the appointment and succumbed to an extensive check of my gums which revealed the necessity of one implant which would require an extraction, bone grafting, giving blood ahead of time and a new crown as well as the need for “root lengthening” on the other side.  In other words: $7,000 in work.  (This might be a good time to go off on the complete worthlessness of dental insurance but I will not bother.  Too aggravating.)  I left his office nauseated at the thought.  It actually took me days to finally tell Rich about it because I knew that the only thing worse than the nausea I had around this information would be the nausea it caused him.

Around the time that I got this information, I was reminded by a friend that her husband is a periodontist and would be happy to see me and assess the situation: a second opinion.  Sounds great, let’s do it.  Well, today was the day I was scheduled to see him and fighting the urge to do what I get the urge to do every time I have a dentist appointment and cancel; I got Jessie off to her morning activity and headed into his office.

This doctor/friend’s office has a sleek, well-appointed, state of the art feeling – like a glimpse into the future.  A study of silvers, grays, blacks and glass one takes notice that the attention to detail and professionalism are of utmost importance.  After being shown clean, heavily laminated information sheets which would require my acknowledgement of their having been read, I was escorted to a conference room in which my signature was electronically captured and the doctor/friend’s husband came in to greet me.  It was clear to me that this was not a stop added for my benefit, rather a standard office procedure.  This is a classy joint, boys and girls.

Fast forward to the actual exam during which it is determined that it would be beneficial to gather one more x-ray…no big deal.  The dental assistant, who had clearly executed many, many x-rays in her career inserted the film into my mouth and appropriately swung the arm of the machine across my face so that it would reach to my right cheek.  And then came the moment that no one would ever expect.  Ever.  The machine pulled away from the wall much like a child’s tooth that is about to fall out but is still hanging by a tenacious root, and landed squarely on my face.  Yes, you read that correctly: the x-ray machine landed on my face.

As I am sure you can surmise, en masse we were immediately thrust into several moments of insanity (paralleling my life?).  As the assistant valiantly held the bulk of the weight of the machine off my face, called for back-up and ignored the pain that was growing her in forearm due to the awkward position and heft of the machinery, the doctor/friend came running in, attempted to push the pile of metal pulling from the wall back to its assigned spot only to have it fall off into his hands, complete with sparks and smoke.  It was truly surreal.  And, during the whole thing all I could think of was that I was supposed to (no, I had to) pick Jessie up in 30 minutes and was not going to make it there in time.

Responding more to the shock and fear than the pain (at the point) I felt my usually dry eyes welling up and I announced that I was about to cry.  Given the go ahead to do just that, I let the dam open and sat, ironically reclined, and wept.  Here was yet another experience that no one ever thinks will happen (to them or anyone else, for that matter) over which no one had any control.  Welcome to my world.

Even as it was happening, I could not help but align it in my head to the abrupt changes we saw in Jessie in the days immediately following her having discovered that “she was not the only one” who felt as though she was a girl in a boy’s body: one second things were sort of normal and the next I found myself in a different universe.  Once it was my son proclaiming to be my daughter, this time it was a solid, well-built machine sitting on my face.  Perhaps the association sounds strange to you, but in my (recently bashed) face it was so vivid as to hurt.

The entire office surrounded me providing emotional and physical support.  In a stroke of good fortune, the patient in the room next door happened to be an ER doctor and graciously did a quick neurological exam to ensure that I wasn’t going to seize or some other horrific something.  (Had that happened, I am quite certain that it would have been what officially put me over the edge.)  With a frantic calm, I called Rich and tearfully relayed what had happened and told him that he needed to go get Jessie.  “WHAT fell on your face?!!?” was all I heard him say.

Once I got my bearings and it was agreed that I was not in any kind of imminent danger (there was surprise that I was walking out and not being taken out on a stretcher.  I am awesome that way.) I cautiously made my way to my car and sat, head in hands, sobbing.  I pulled myself together, started the drive home and called my mother (who, at first, thought I said that the machine fell on my feet…) who let me cry some more.  She also asked the question that immediately occurred to me: was my nose okay?  (It seems to be) since that is the second most likely thing that could force me to call it a day already.

Uncle.  For today, anyway.

p.s. Once I got home I went directly upstairs, crawled into bed and slept for three hours.  I am sore but not yet bruised, but, according to the doctor/friend who has already called: he is completely positive that there will be swelling and a big ol’ bruise sometime in the next day or so.  I can hardly wait. 

p.p.s. I told the doctor/friend that he should give the assistant the day off.  I think she was even more shaken up than I was…and I have no idea what other crap she might be dealing with in her life.  That’s just how I think these days.

Sorry, Ma’am, That Item has Been Discontinued…

When I was a little girl I used to love to hang out with my father…it was all part of my perfecting (and loving) the role of “daddy’s little girl”.    Sometimes it would be an adventure as simple as going to the supermarket which not only provided time alone with him, but also provided the perfect opportunity to embrace our shared sweet tooth by throwing all sorts of stuff in the cart that my mother wouldn’t necessarily object to, but might not think to add.  We also went to Celtics games (back in the day when they were winning championships year after year after year) where he would first confirm that I knew who the starting line-up was going to be (I always knew!) and then go on to enjoy a minimum of two Sports Bar ice creams: the latter based on the belief that if my mother didn’t see him eat something, it didn’t count.  With his impressive education and intellect there was something endearing about his (feigned) naiveté surrounding his dietary choices in the absence of someone telling him not to eat a particular item.   I never outed him to my mother:  It was a daddy/daughter thing, of which we had many.

One of his favorite things to do while marketing was to give into his penchant for cookies by diving into a box and enjoying at least a third of them before we even approached the cash register.  He could (and would) happily down several Keebler Fudge Crème Chocolate Cookies (think round Vienna’s but everything is chocolate) while perusing the aisles and well before we reached the dairy aisle.  Despite my vocal protestations and pleas that he “stop embarrassing me!!!” it is a memory which I hold dearer than one would think.

As he got older, and was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, he was forced to find a new cookie, which his grandchildren, to this day, refer to as “Poppy Cookies” (yeah, he indulged in them that much) (the cookies that is).  Initially deemed a poor relation of the deliciousness of the Keeblers, he began to keep these on hand (and discovered that putting them in the freezer made them even tastier) and believed that their slightly lower calorie- and sugar-count somehow made it okay to eat many at a time.  (This might be a good time to remind you that he was a very highly educated, intelligent man…)  Oh, memories of childhood.

This morning as I was making my way through the parking lot into the market to do my weekly food shopping ($299.00 and I am quite sure I will need to do a fill-in mid-week) I was behind a father and daughter, hand in hand, sharing a chuckle on their way into the store.  As happens with these things, we were alongside one another throughout my shopping.  Watching them,  I found myself feeling the nostalgia welling up as they lovingly interacted with one another and the father, with little more than a small smile, allowed several items (which I would venture to guess were not on the list from mom) to be thrown into the cart.  Anything for his little girl.

In the checkout line, I was, again, directly behind them.  I did not tell them (and they were totally unaware) that I had been observing them for the past forty-five minutes, nor did I mention all the thoughts that ran through my head as I did so.  (Which might explain why I forgot to buy hamburger meat to go with the hamburger buns?)  The dad, while physically not even remotely resemblant of my father, emitted an unquestionably loving vibe which felt crazily familiar to me.  The girl, who was probably about Jessie’s age, clearly adored her dad as was evidenced by the smiles they were sharing while mindlessly emptying their cart onto the conveyor belt.  It was, in all likelihood, a non-moment for them, but to this outside observer, it was magical.

It was also a moment, not to mention a relationship, which will never quite happen in my nuclear family.  Rich and I have six nieces (and, just in the interest of equal time, three nephews) all of whom have climbed on, tickled, teased and played with Rich in a manner that my boys never did.  They have also been allowed to get away with a great deal more silliness, shenanigans and temporary insanity with him based not only on the fact that they were not his children, but, and I am just keeping it real here, they are girls.  Cute girls, every one of them.  (A few of them are grown up now, so have ceased crawling all over him, but the others…they still do.)

Ever since Jessie embraced her social identity as a girl it has created a new kind of challenge for both Rich and me.  Having interacted with our second born as a (quirky, fantastic, artistic, funny as hell) boy it is, for me anyway, sometimes difficult to get beyond the outward appearance and try to create a relationship with a daughter (Jessie) that is the same, yet somehow different, than with my son (George).  It is incredible to me how powerful this gender stuff really is and how little thought we all give to it until we are put in a position that we are forced to.  (And, let there be no misunderstanding:  I was forced to.)  It also seems that I might need to learn how to love Jessie differently from how I loved George.   And, while I am relatively certain that my brothers will both confirm that they don’t think that my father loved me any more than them, they are likely to confirm that he loved me differently.  As much as we, as a society, like to avow that our treatment of the sexes is the same, it is sort of, kind of, in a way, impossible to do that… the sexes are not the same.  And I say that having had to switch gears ten years into the free-fall we call parenting.

I suppose it is somewhat akin to my father having to change his cookie of choice from the decadent sugar-laden insanity of the Keebler Fudge Crèmes to the very similar, perhaps equally delicious, but different Nabisco Snackwell Chocolate Crème Sandwich cookies. They look the same, and could (at one time) be found in the same aisle, but they are, in many other ways, very different from one another.  When my father was forced to change his cookie of choice it was a little sketchy at first, but then, in short order, it was as though the Keeblers never existed.  (And, ironically enough, they have long since been discontinued.  I know because I look for them every time I go to the cookie aisle…)

p.s. I felt like I used the word “different” (in varying forms) a ridiculous number of times in this post.  I even thought I might have unseated my record 14 (or so) uses of the word “ambiguity” in my last post but it turns out it was only four times.  But those four times packed a lot of punch!

p.p.s. Things are the pool are going fine.  A few people have been clamoring for a follow-up to Jessie’s big announcement but, alas, like much of this stuff about which I pre-worry, there has been zero fall out…I’ve gotta learn what to worry about, apparently.

What I Hate

I hate ambiguity; it is making me crazy.  I had never put much thought to how I felt about it, but ever since being told (repeatedly) that I need to be able to tolerate the ambiguity of Jessie’s transgender self I feel as though it (ambiguity, that is) is systematically eating away at my very fiber and forcing me to make announcements such as, “I hate ambiguity; it is making me crazy.”

Over the years I have professed my unwavering hatred for a few things.  Some of the most dyed- in-the-wool include (but are by no means limited to):

  • Black licorice.  I believe it is actually thinly disguised poison.  I have really tried to like it and have even gone as far as to pop a Good N’ Plenty thinking (hoping) that the candy coating would help mask the offending flavor of anise.  Candy fail.  Cannot do it.
  • Vomit.  This includes: mine, my husband’s, my children’s, yours, your children’s and strangers’ (hospital roommates are the worst – trust me).  I am equally horrified by hearing about it, smelling it or even thinking or writing about it.  I am a card-carrying, certified vomit-phobe.
  • Chipped fingernails.  Not a good look for anyone.  Either maintain ‘em or leave ‘em naked.
  • The final leg of laundry and supermarket shopping; I don’t mind doing it, I just hate putting it all away.
  • Inconsistent assholes.  If you are an asshole, I am fine with it.  It is when you are only sometimes an asshole that I loathe.  Too hard to deal with the, um, yep, ambiguity.

I am a straight shooter which is probably why I detest being a situation in which I do not know where I stand.  So, you can only imagine how the ambiguity inherent in Jessie’s social transition is getting deep under my skin and festering.  Everyone knows that I have been told by more than one therapist (okay, three…not including my friends who are therapists…that brings the number to closer to 12) that I must, must, must learn to “tolerate the ambiguity” but, the truth is, I don’t want to anymore.  I want someone to tell me where we are going, how we are going to get there and where we are going to land.  Is that too much to ask?  Apparently it is.

Black licorice, vomit, chipped fingernails, the laundry and marketing piled on the kitchen counters and (most) assholes leave nothing to chance, pose no questions and simply are what they are.  There is very little room for interpretation, speculation, self-doubt or anxiety. While I have an intense dislike of not just the licorices of the world but the resulting emotions they create, nothing drives me as utterly crazy as the ambiguity.  (Well, the vomit does.  I guess that makes me not only a vomit-phobe but an ambiguity-phobe, too.)  Further, any interaction or exchange with any of the aforementioned horrors has a decided beginning, middle and end.  Ambiguity – no matter what it is specifically referring to – is, almost by definition, endless.  Oh, dear G-d…

To be clear, my support of Jessie has not changed, but does that necessarily mean that I have to like the process?  Well, it better not, because if it does, then I am screwed.  Truly.  This is a complicated, loaded, lonely, scary, tiresome and overwhelming experience for everyone who lives in this house, Jessie included.  Not surprisingly, some days (hours, actually) are easier than others and there are brief lapses of normalcy, but the (here it comes again) ambiguity is kicking everyone’s ass.  There, I said it.  It is hard to admit, but in fairness to myself and, frankly, anyone reading this, I need to keep things real.

While I don’t normally go in for the pity on these pages you have likely surmised by now that I am in the midst of a little pity party.   I might even close out the afternoon with a cry.  But we can all take comfort in knowing that Jessie, exhausted from the heat, the hours logged at the pool and, I suspect, the burden of her own ambiguity, is lazily killing off brain cells watching stupid television while luxuriating in the central air and is none the wiser to mom’s internal hysteria.  As long as no one force feeds me black licorice or considers (or, worse, goes through with) vomiting, I’ll be fine in an hour or so.  I hope, but who knows… g-ddamned ambiguity!

p.s. I have gone through trying to count the number of times I used the word ambiguity and keep coming up with different numbers.  It is somewhere between ten and twelve. I am blaming my inability to count on my overwhelmed state but will say that I’m glad the total never came to thirteen because I am a little superstitious.  And tomorrow is Friday the Thirteenth.  One of you is now going to count it for me (thank you) and give me the number which may ten, eleven, twelve or (hopefully not) thirteen.  If it is thirteen do me a favor and don’t tell me, okay?  Oh, man…welcome to my world.

Sink or Swim?

“I’m a girl who used to be a boy”

-Jessie 7/5/12

This summer I have been swimming laps.  It is simultaneously relaxing, invigorating and crazy-ass boring, but excellent exercise for my ever cranky back.  While in the lap lane I am able to empty my mind of all thoughts and focus instead solely on keeping count as to what lap I am on, currently stopping at thirty-three which Harrison, my swimmer, has promised me is a half a mile.  Time-wise, it actually doesn’t take me very long to accomplish this feat yet the other day it was long enough for a (potential) situation to have arisen.

As I finished up and waded my way through the open area of the pool, I released my hair from the knot on top of my head and tried in vain to focus without the benefit of either the blue goggles in which I swim or my glasses.  (Now might be a good time to remind y’all that I am blind without the benefit of corrective lenses of some sort.  I tried to deny this for years, but finally had to give in and admit that I had inherited my father’s vision.)  Everything was fuzzy and, perhaps as a result of my weakened eyesight, my hearing was keener than ever.

A group of tweens were somewhat eerily standing around (not a splash in sight) in the 4′ area asking one another questions: “who will she marry?”, “how is that possible” and “so what is she?”  It took me exactly no time to realize who and what they were talking about, and I felt my heart sink to the bottom of the pool.  Oh, G-d…what has she done?

I continued to wade over to where Jessie was perfecting her dive among even more tweens and motioned for her to come over as I had a question for her.  Not surprisingly, she rejected my invitation and opted to continue to jump in and out of the pool with speed enough to ensure that I not catch her.  I decided to save my query for a later, more private moment, but I also felt the relaxation part of my swim dissolve.

There is a lot of discussion among the transgender community (or at least that which I am privy to) which dissects the pros and cons of going “stealth”.  Many children (and their parents) prefer to simply present as the preferred gender and not draw attention to anything; thereby considered stealth.  Others approach is different in that they prefer to openly share that they were not born the sex which they present as.  While the George to Jessie transition was anything but stealth, she has been favoring the “I am a girl” stance for some time so I was surprised at her having made this announcement.  And, by surprised I mean flummoxed.  And by flummoxed I mean freaked out.

I squinted in the sun, found my way back to my chair and took some deep breathes, wishing that my water bottle was filled with something more like wine.  My head was awash with curiosity over what might have precipitated her announcement, how she was feeling and, frankly, what the other kids were running to their parents to share.  (I know this sounds crazy since I am so out there with all of this but something about it felt so wildly, splashingly uncontrolled and, frankly, it knocked me out a little bit.)  It was officially driving me crazy, but I knew that I had to wait for the car ride home to even broach the subject.  Well, look at that…time to go home! (Before you judge, let me just say that we had been at the pool for several hours at that point, so our leaving was not totally crazy.)

I am a bit ashamed to admit that I was unsuccessful in containing my curiosity for one more minute and inquired on the walk to the car (as opposed to being in the car which was my initial plan) as to why she had felt the need to announce that she was “a girl who used to be a boy”.  Not surprisingly, her initial response was to not respond at all.  Knowing full well that she had heard me, I continued to walk in silence, trying my damnedest not to push her since I know, from experience, that this will do little other than shove her into unending secrecy.  Once we had loaded the stuff in the car, I asked again…making sure to point out that any response was fine, I just wanted to know why she felt the need today to tell a group of kids that, again, she “is a girl who used to be a boy”.  (Note we have logged many, many hours at the pool this summer so it wasn’t as though she was seeing these kids for the first time since last August.  In fact, she has been cavorting in the water on a nearly daily basis with most, if not all, of them. So, um, what the fuck?)

Sensing my shriveling patience, she initially responded with something along the lines of having known one of the kids “five years ago” (at which time she would have been five…yeah, I don’t think so) and then changed her story to “I just wanted them to know.”  Neither response seemed to reveal the whole truth, so I, of course, have been unable to either clear my mind or stop armchair psychologizing what it meant.  (I don’t think that psychologizing is a real word, but this is my blog so I can make up words.)  And, further, I am crazy curious as to what each of those kids told their parents once they got into their cars.  I have zero compunction over the shared information, rather the fact that this was the first time that it happened without my having any control whatsoever over how the information was disseminated.  And here’s the truth: I haven’t gone back to the pool since.

I have every intention of returning to the pool and am well aware that as concerned as I am about the potential fallout for Jessie as a result of so brazenly sharing that she is different (something most kids do not always readily support) she is equally, if not more,  unconcerned.  That is classic George and Jessie…beating to his/her own drum without a care in the world as to how other’s might react.  It is both a blessing and a curse.  It never occurs to her to tease, ridicule or ostracize other kids for being different in any way and, with the literal brain of a ten-year old, she assumes (I fear mistakenly) that other’s subscribe to the same mantra.  It is a hard lesson to learn and one which I, as her mother, dread even the anticipation of witnessing.  So tomorrow afternoon, off we will go to the pool; me taking my regular spot in a chaise under an umbrella and a trashy magazine (which I will have to be sure to purchase tomorrow morning) and her to the 9′ section of the pool to continue to work on her dive and her burgeoning friendships.  I only hope that the bevy of children with whom she shared is still there to get wet along with her.

Lost and Found

For as many years as I can recall we have been attending the fireworks extravaganza held in the town in which I grew up but no longer reside. (Aside: as you all know, my parents sent my brothers and me away for eight weeks every summer so I never participated in this activity as a kid, but I can tell you that it is a happening and everyone who is anyone is there.  I might also note that my hometown is way cooler now than it was when I was growing up there, which, I will admit, makes me a little bitter.  True.)  Held on the front lawn of the high school it is a sea of people set up with chairs, blankets, strollers and impressive food spreads.  This year ours included quinoa salad, grilled salmon, chips, dip, crudités and “coffee” (otherwise known as wine).  We usually arrive around 6 pm (although my bestie and her hubby with whom we have been sharing this tradition for years, arrive early in the morning to set up “our” spot – seriously, this crowd is huge!) to hang out; listening to music, seeing people you haven’t seen since last Fourth of July and enjoying the weather.  Truth be told, when my kids were little (and hyperactive) it was a little (and by a little I mean very) unpleasant because they were off in every direction which served as a huge impediment to my being able to relax.  Apparently it was meaningful to them, however, since they both affectionately refer to it (and all other firework displays) as “magic sky”.

So, off we went (Rich, Jessie and me…Harrison bowed out this year) to “magic sky” armed with chips, salsa, Red Solo cups and some pre-mixed Margaritas (is that bad?) and found our rightful spot on the lawn.  Upon arrival we were informed by bestie of a financially minor, but emotionally major larceny: sometime between their early morning set-up and their late afternoon return, someone (the heathen!) had lifted one of their chairs.  Wow.  This sure has become a blood sport. As we were armed with an extra chair it was all fine and no one was relegated to sitting on the ground.  Problem solved.  The chair, it turns out, would be only the first item to go missing.

Within moments of our arrival, Jessie scoped out a group of girls, ranging, I would guess, from ages 10 to 12 who were set up right next to us.  She immediately worked her way over to their lot of land and managed to engage them within moments.  (This is a skill that George initiated and Jessie has perfected.  She is constantly making new friends everywhere she goes.) They were giggling, braiding hair and playing with a baby which I assume (hope) was somehow related to one of the girls.  Rich and I then proceeded to ignore her for a while.  It was perfectly acceptable to do so since it was light out, Jessie knew where we were sitting and we had “coffee” to drink and good food to eat.  Periodically she would check back in (mostly to ask for money for important stuff like Sno-Cones, ice cream and, um, laser swords) and we always had a general sense of where she was.  Until we didn’t.

As dusk began to turn to darkness we suddenly realized that Jessie was nowhere to be found.  At first I was fairly blasé but did make a mental note of all the times I had wished she would disappear (Shut up…you never wanted your kid to disappear?  Please.)  but will admit to feeling a bit of anxiety creeping in.  I knew that within moments it would be pitch black save for the fireworks exploding in the sky and finding her would become completely impossible.  Rich and I spread out canvassing in opposite directions looking for her while trying to maintain a degree of calm.  I knew she was around somewhere, but the specifics were hazy at best.  I was also certain that she was blissfully unaware of the fact that the sun would disappear momentarily and that she would be officially lost.

In the midst of my search I was stopped by a woman who I have met several times over the years in various places – initially, I believe, at my Ob/Gyn’s office.  Some time ago she had sent me a note reintroducing herself after having found my blog to express her appreciation for my honesty.  Not knowing that I was considering becoming panicked over Jessie’s having gone missing, she wanted to tell me, in person, how much she has appreciated and enjoyed the blog and I, ever in need in a pat on the back, stopped to take in the accolades and to thank her for reading and telling me that it was meaningful to her.  And then, mid-sentence, as I literally felt the sun dropping down further, I quickly exercised my brutal honesty by excusing myself and hastily explaining that I needed to find said child or this blog was going to take on a decidedly different storyline.  All those years of joking that if anyone ever abducted my children they would return them and pay me were becoming (a little) less funny.  I needed to find her.

Rich, growing equally, if not more, anxious was scouring the field looking for our ten-year old child…but the place was literally crawling with ten-year old children so it wasn’t easy.  I eventually thought to ask one of the mothers from the group of girls that she had been hanging out with if she had seen her and she, with the concern of any mother, started to look around the area and then pointed and said, “isn’t that your daughter?” and there she was, standing with Rich who, thankfully, had just found her.  While one would think that my initial reaction would be one of relief, it was, truthfully, taking pause over someone describing her as “my daughter”.  That’s weird, right?

Once found, we instructed her to stay on either our little isle or that of her new-found friends for the fireworks display.  Not surprisingly, she opted for the area that we were not and there she stayed, raptly taking in every boom, pop and burst of explosives as they lit up the sky, with complete disregard or appreciation for the fact that she had caused this otherwise anything-but-helicopter-mom to consider readying the search lights to find her.  And, yes, I did wonder to myself if I would have grown as concerned were she still George and the answer was a resounding “yes”.  No matter how low, ugly or unpleasant things become, I would never really want one of my children to be lost…whatever their definition of that may be.

p.s. There actually was a third “gone missing” which was never found; Jessie’s brand new, sportin’ sunglasses.  Yes, the ones that I strongly suggested she leave in the car since the sun would eventually go down (as we know so well), but no, she didn’t listen. Good news: I had only paid $10 for them.  Bad news: I paid that $10 on Monday.

p.p.s.  The fireworks were, as always, fantastic.

Some Fancy Footwork

“I told them George is my brother.  Just go with it.”

– Jessie 7.2.12

Today was Jessie’s first day of ESY: Extended School Year which is a thinly veiled euphemism for summer school.  The profound dyslexia with which she struggles forces her (and, um, me) to relinquish three hours each morning for the month of July to the 1,000 degree halls of a local school in an effort to maintain all that she has impressively learned this past school year.  This is her third, and hopefully final, year of the program and she has her feet on the ground knowing that it will ultimately serve her well.  She does not, however, look forward to going.

In anticipation of the start of class, last week I took great pains to be sure to actually speak, and not just email or voicemail message, with the head of the program to ensure that the teacher and any other professionals knew that “George” of summers past is now Jessie.  Not surprisingly, they were not only aware, but were fully prepared to welcome her with open arms.  Following the conversation, I wiped the imagery sweat off my brow and readied the two of us for another month of school. It is always my goal to try to get ahead of any potential issues surrounding the transition from George to Jessie and I actually take pride in consistently being ahead of the curve of most experiences, ESY among them.  File this one under: oops, forgot about the other kids.

It was mere moments after we arrived at school before we walked (literally) into Sasha, a forgettable and benign girl who attends a different elementary school in town but has, for the past two summers, been in Jessie’s class.  (Well, technically, she had been in George’s class, since Jessie did not exist last year at this time.  Strange, right?)  Not surprisingly, she looked at George/Jessie with a dropped jaw and a gazed-over look of confusion.  CRAP!  I had forgotten all about the other kids in class.  I slightly frantically caught Sasha’s mother’s eye and quickly realized that she was far more concerned with finding the classroom and dumping, er, dropping Sasha off for the morning in the sweat-hall than taking much interest in what was happening. That was fine with me as I was only concerned with leaving before a.) This became an issue and, b.) I started to sweat. (I hate to break a sweat any time that isn’t expressly meant to be counted as exercise.)  I picked up the pace a little and managed to avoid meeting up with any other summer school regulars (a motley crew, for sure) and got Jessie settled into her classroom (with the thermometer reading a hefty 86 degrees) all while avoiding being forced to interact with anyone else.

Fighting hard against the perspiration that was threatening to coat my skin (no, really, it was 86 degrees in the classroom), I did manage to spend a few minutes chatting with the teacher and confirmed that she knew the story behind my little beauty.  I also might have blurted out something along the lines of, “oh, shit, I totally forgot about the other kids who she knows from past summers…so, uh, good luck with that” before I quickly (but not too quickly so as to avoid breaking a sweat) left the building.

Three ridiculously short hours later I went to retrieve Jessie (who was, thankfully, brought out to the car.  The air-conditioned car.) and, like any mom, asked how her morning had gone.  Aside from the thick layer of translucent beads hovering over her lip and the shiny sideburns (she is my child, after all) she was all smiles and reported that she loves her teacher.  Phew.  I waited a few minutes while she quenched her thirst by draining what was left in my (greatly diluted from the melted ice) Diet Coke and turned the a/c fan up so high that her hair was blowing off her face as though in a wind tunnel before inquiring as to whether any other kids had been thrown by her new appearance.  She casually said that there were three kids in her class from last year.  One didn’t seem to notice the difference (um, the summer school crowd ranges from the “mildly” to the “dire” in terms of their needing summer schooling) and the other two, who continually called her George, were quickly quieted by her statement: “George is my brother” which, by some strange miracle, seemed to placate them.  I am guessing, however, that they are still scratching their heads and trying to figure out what the hell is going on and who the hell is Jessie.

Technically one could consider her response to be deceitful.   And, in literal terms, it was.  However, I cannot help but applaud her quick thinking and appreciate the pleasure she seemed to derive from acting on her feet.  When she told the story to me, she added (with impeccable timing), “just go with it” with a sweet smirk which made me laugh.  I love when she makes me laugh.  I love it even more when she is comfortable in her own skin.  And ya wanna know something else?  I kinda got a kick out of the fact that someone else is shuffling from foot to foot trying to gain some balance.

Should be interesting to hear what happens when she goes back tomorrow…