A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

It arrives home every year right around this time.  In the past I have, with zero thought, checked the appropriate box, written a check for the assigned amount and placed it in the backpack to be returned to the teacher the very next morning.  This year, I have given it a place of honor (dubious as it may be) on the counter as a (constant) (and ignored) reminder as I move it to various spots, allow it to get stained and wet while resting  (too) near the sink; all while remaining incomplete.   No, this year is different…this year I have not quite been able to fill in the blanks of the school picture form.

Here is my general philosophy regarding school pictures: I will never sign my child up for a re-take, no matter how awful the picture may be.  In my mind, the final result is the final result.  It  provides a snapshot (pun intended) of a moment in time and should remain exactly as it is taken: no re-takes, cropping or photoshopping allowed.  One of my all-time favorite pictures is Harrison’s portrait from first grade.  He left for school that morning with the requisite plaid button-down shirt (which was only worn for school pictures) and no signs of illness.  Sometime between when he left my house and when the photographer said, “smile”, he contracted a vicious case of Fifth’s Disease.  (For the uninformed, the tell-tale sign of this illness is a red, puffy face which appears to have been slapped repeatedly.)  By the time we received the pictures back we had long since forgotten about his ailment and literally burst out laughing upon viewing the picture of him heroically tackling a smile while sporting a red, puffy face and, oh, yeah, a fever.  Not the cutest, most iconic or highest quality image of him, it instead had a story behind it and is thus, by far, the most memorable of all his school pictures.

I have taken and shared hundreds (thousands!) of pictures of Jessie over the past year but this is somehow different.  In a curious way, the school picture feels like a more permanent remnant of a child’s life than any other photo taken.  It will live not only in my collection, but also in the archives of the school and in the homes of the other families for time immemorial.  It may prompt further chatter among the families as a reminder of George’s transition to Jessie; which has, on the surface anyway, managed to morph into a reality with an almost eerie ease.  And, if Jessie should, at any point, determine that she would prefer to go back to living as George, its presence in the book will be that much more stunning.  True, it will serve as a perfect visual in my quest to capture “real moments”, but somehow that fails to make it any easier.  File under: I just never know what is gonna trip me up these days.

Undoubtedly Jessie will primp for the occasion.  She will look beautiful. When the final result finds its way home in several weeks, I will dutifully slide it into the next available page in the album which holds every school picture of the kids and muse over the apparent “sudden” change in the images.  Years down the road it may be seen by my grandchildren and their grandchildren.  Perhaps in those many years of cultural evolution it will be looked upon with nary a question as gender fluidity will be widely accepted and better understood.  But right now (and here is where my brutal honesty surfaces) it is tripping me up.

I will fill it out this weekend. I will write the check for the amount due.  And I will slip it into her backpack to return to school on Monday.  But I think I am going to go against a certain ten-year old’s wishes and not sign up for the “Fashion Designer’s” package.  Just cannot go there today.

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Atta Girl!

While doing my weekly food shopping yesterday I innocently turned into an aisle to find a woman with one hand on a bag of chips on the shelf near to her while stretching her body across the aisle, her arm in the air, trying (in vain) to reach a different brand of chips on the opposite shelf.  Stop and try to visualize this: it was an impossible act to successfully accomplish unless, of course, she was 8’ tall with the arm span to match.  Our eyes met and she froze as if in a game of statue while smirking at the oddity of her stance.  I looked at her and said nothing, but she offered that she was trying to compare the two different chips and we both laughed at the absurdity of the lengths she was going to in order to make the right decision regarding potato chips.  Intellectually she appreciated the insanity and impossibility of her ability to access both bags simultaneously, yet felt the weight of her Superwoman cape and decided to give it a whirl oblivious to(or at least not caring) how she appeared to others. Not a bad mantra by which to live your life: just give it a try, no matter how others may scrutinize…and hope for some support along the way which, I am pleased to say, I provided (the support, that is).

As I continued down the aisle, I turned back to her and said, “We girls have to stick together…knock yourself out”.  She smiled and we exchanged an“atta girl” acknowledgment; props to her just for trying.  We then we parted ways, each, on a Sunday morning, doing our part to keep our families sated at the most primal level with an unexpected shot of “atta girl” thrown in.  Gots to get it when we can I always say.

That brief exchange got me thinking of how supportive and wonderful the women (Aside: many guys have been great, too, but this is for the gals) in my life have been not just during this latest transition (and it has been a transition for everyone) but over, for many, the course of decades.  The value of the “atta girl” message cannot be overstated.  It can, however,  change your day.

After loading the bundles (all $237 worth) into the trunk I heard a “ding” from my phone which, truth be told, I knew meant something, but was unsure if it was a text, a calendar reminder or perhaps a prompt to take my turn in Words with Friends.  I unearthed the phone from my handbag and discovered that, alas, it was none of my predictions; it was actually a voicemail message.  I fingered the necessary buttons to hear what I had missed (I hadn’t even heard the phone ring) and was gifted with a message from a dear friend whom I haven’t seen in a couple of months.  I had left her a message the other day (I am going to assume that she didn’t hear her phone ring, either) telling her that I was thinking about her and hoped she was well.  Her return message said that she, too, has been thinking about me and does so everyday (a reference to the, shall we say complicated life with Jessie).  I felt a warmth run through me as I was reminded of the love and support we have for one another, despite not having been in the same place at the same time for too long.  I thought of the “secrets” I have shared with her (despite what you may think, I do not share everything on here!) and her never, not once, having judged me rather been among the first in line to give me a much-needed (and appreciated)   “Atta girl!”

Driving home, I started thinking of the many, many people who have come out of the woodwork to show their support for the trials and tribulations which my family has seemed to corner the market on lately.  In the ten months since having gone “public” with Jessie’s transition I have received the following: cards, letters, clothing (for her…it would be weird – but wonderful – if people gave me clothes), gift certificates for manicures and shopping at Justice (which, incidentally, is not for the faint of heart), emails, Facebook friend requests (c’mon, everyone gets a quick thrill when the little people icon has a number hovering above it) and support for the words I share on these pages; translation: lots and lots of “atta girl”s.   Each interaction, be it over the phone, electronically or in person has contained an appropriate, and healthy, combination of anxiety and compassion, both of which I wholly appreciate.  But I wonder if they all know just how much.  I look at each outreach as an “atta girl” of sorts…and they get me through the day.

Just as I told the acrobatically challenged woman in the supermarket, “We girls have to stick together” I have never felt that so strongly as now.  Sure, she looked ridiculous while publicly attempting to execute an impossible task, but some might say the same about me.  I have chosen to share our adventure with the world based on the (perhaps dangerous) assumption that people have got my back.  So far, except for the haters and mudslingers slaying me from the comfort of their mother’s basements, I have met with nothing but support.  Admittedly, some is more awkward than others, but all come from a good (no, wonderful) place.

I do worry sometimes that I have gotten so wrapped up in the daily mishegas (that is Yiddish for craziness: it is a great word and, in my mind, translates to so much more than your garden variety craziness) that is my life right now that I am not as free-flowing with the “atta girls” to the wonderful women (okay, and men) in my life as I wish to be.  Perhaps that explains my need (yes, it was a need) to commend the supermarket lady on the cumbersome stunt she was trying to carry out in the aisles of Super Stop & Shop; I know how valuable the unrequested commendation can be, even on a non-crappy day.

So let me take this opportunity to give a few “atta girls” right here, right now:

MG: You work full-time, have a family and weren’t even born Jewish, but you take in my entire family every year for the holidays. It is just one of the reasons I love you.

JW: You are kicking ass with everything you need to do – I promise you that your kids will thank you someday…just not today.  I will personally see to it.

RR: You manage to always know the right thing to say, at the right time and to the right people.  You are a wonderful friend to everyone who is fortunate enough to be able to call you theirs.

MS: You’ve faced down huge obstacles and, even when you’ve slipped up, you’ve kept your sense of humor and been victorious in the end.

IK: You translate for the sick and worry about how everyone else is doing, even when you have at least one extra kid in the house at all times.

JL: You taught me all the right things to do as a mother and have never once let me down.  (Okay, that one is pretty transparent, but moms should get as many “atta girls” as possible.)

I could go on and on.  Everyone is facing their own mishegas everyday and no one is getting as many “atta girls” as they deserve.  So, the next time you see a stranger bravely attempting to do the impossible, think of how you feel when you are climbing uphill and give them your best, “atta girl”.  It will make their day.

My Unsung Hero

Harrison is a senior in high school this year.  I have absolutely no idea how that happened.  It is completely and utterly impossible to believe.  Yet, it is true.  The college application process does not even vaguely resemble what I experienced back in my day.  It is a grueling, obnoxious and overwhelming experience which requires time, knowledge, perseverance, money, planning, patience and courage.  Aside from supporting him in any way I can (see previous sentence), I am well aware that I am completely powerless* over where he will wind up next year.  It is squarely in his court to do as well as possible on the standardized tests, school work and essay writing which is necessary to be admitted into the college that he would like to attend.  Having never been a parent who meddled in the minutiae of his academic life, I am actually fairly comfortable with the lack of hands-on involvement required of me.  In fact, for the first time, I actually feel challenged to keep my grubby hands off of his essays so that I can wordsmith or, G-d forbid, edit them.   Watching him embrace and defend his voice as he grapples with whittling down his word count is a prouder parenting moment than I would have expected.

I was finally afforded the opportunity to use my voice in his college search when I was asked to fill out a form that his high school’s guidance department has dubbed the “parent brag sheet”.  I am sure you can surmise from the name that they are looking for a totally unbiased (ha!) synopsis of this child that has been living with me for the past eighteen years.  In it, I was asked about the accomplishment of his about which I am the most proud, five adjectives to describe him and, finally, a description/explanation of struggles he may have had during his high school career.

The first two were easy.  I wrote of the pride Rich and I took in his having been elected as a Varsity Swim Team Captain despite having been injured and unable to swim for the better part of the past two seasons.  His undying support and mentoring of the younger teammates was not lost on the other swimmers when they cast their votes.  Yes, he was a record holder his freshman year, but in the two years following he was lucky to be given the blessing from his doctor to even get into the pool.  As his parent, it made his election that much sweeter as it was based on his character and not merely his athletic talents.

When given the task of choosing five adjectives I struggled to pare it down from the many that popped into my head.  I settled on: poised, articulate, thoughtful, self-aware and compassionate.  I would have liked to include: funny, clever, mature, smart, snarky, stubborn and , in his bedroom only, untidy (he isn’t perfect, ya know!)

And then I faced down the hardest question.  Seeking to state the facts as opposed to seek sympathy, I labored over how to word it, explain it and, to an only slightly lesser extent, understand it.  This is what I came up with:

Harrison has faced the rigors and challenges of high school with a heavy burden at home.  After several years of living with his younger sibling’s extremely challenging behavior (read: inordinately demanding of our time and attention), Harrison, with great grace, was forced to live through the very public transition of his brother, George into his sister, Jessie.  He was, in all honesty, not given the attention he needed and deserved as our family began to traverse the ins, outs and nuances of living with and supporting the needs of a transgender child.  As a result his grades were not as strong as they would have been, thereby not reflective of his capabilities.  In his junior year he put in a tremendous amount of extra work and studying and managed to greatly improve his grades.  We know how draining and difficult the experience has been on us as parents, so can only imagine how it was (and, frankly, continues to be) for a teenage boy.  His representation of himself and our family has been nothing short of exemplary and he probably has not received the credit he deserves for handling himself as well as he has.

After I completed it, I printed a copy and gave it to Harrison to pass along to his guidance counselor.  I would have sent it electronically, but there was a line for my signature – apparently there was a rash of forged brag sheets?? – and, being the rule follower that I am, I signed and passed it along.  He thanked me for doing it (in fairness, I was supposed to do it a few weeks ago) and, without even glancing at it, put it in his pile of stuff that needed to go to school tomorrow.  “Um, aren’t you going to read it?” I inquired.  His response was that they are not supposed to.  (Note to self: add honest to the list of adjectives).  I don’t know if he wound up reading it.  I am not going to ask him.  But I do know that he faithfully reads my blog, will see it here and know, if he doesn’t already, just how proud I am of what a great guy he is.  (That said, he may not get to it immediately because, in order to get to his computer he will have to navigate the piles of crap all over the floor of his room: see untidy comment above).

*Powerless seems to be a running theme for me these days, huh?

Dream A Little Dream

The good news is: I slept all night.  The other news (it isn’t “bad” news): I had a dream that was so laden with messages from my unconscious (or Freudian, if you prefer) thinking that it could be considered comical, particularly by those who know me and my story,  (Aside: the therapist with whom Jessie has been working for the past three years is so Freudian that I often call him, to his face, Sigmund.  I never thought of myself as having a particular affinity to any psychological school of thought, but this dream may have officially changed all that.)

So here goes:

I was driving along an unfamiliar stretch of road (*#1) in Harrison’s car (#2) which, before such time as he earned his driver’s license, was my car (#3).  It was a pretty-enough drive on a twisty, curvy and, in spots, stretch of road void of sun (#4).  I was making my way, allowing the car to essentially drive itself (#5) while the radio played something from the seventies (#6).  Without warning, I was briefly airborne before landing with a soft splash (one which was  incongruent to the length of the plummet, I might add) into a huge reservoir or lake or pond or some such body of water (#7). I landed gently alongside a dinghy in which Sandra Bullock (#8?) was leisurely drifting while soaking up the sun and fresh breeze of what I consider a perfect weather day.

Bewildered, but not, by any means hysterical (#9), I looked to her and inquired as to where I was.  She responded by shrugging her shoulders, slightly raising the edges of her mouth in a semi-smile and paddling herself away from the crash site.  It was at that moment that panic started to overcome me as I realized that this enormous truck (don’t let anyone tell you that a Ford Expedition is an SUV – it is a truck) wasn’t going to stay above water much longer (#10).  As I struggled to unfasten the seatbelt which was there to, theoretically, anyway, save me, (#11) I had the wherewithal to fumble through my handbag and retrieve my phone (#12) which I held in the air above my head as the truck and my clothing took on water (#13).

There was then an unaccounted for lapse of time during which I somehow managed to get out of the truck, seemingly on my own although I am quite sure I required and received assistance. I began to wander, in a fog (#14) discombobulated and aimless.  “Aw, shit” I finally said aloud (#15). Apparently it was at that moment that I realized that we were now not only short a truck, but my car/house keys (#16), wallet (#17) and Target returns were going down with the wreckage.

I continued on my unchartered path (#18) as the world continued around me, apparently oblivious to the tonnage of steel I had just left to sink in the water (#19) when, seriously, out of nowhere, appeared a little boy, probably around ten (duh, #20!) who silently looked up at me and, with a wry smile handed me my keys (#21).  Holy shit.

I awoke not with a start, but with an almost eerie calm.  Glancing at the clock which has, in these wee hours of the morning, become thine enemy, I saw that it was an almost acceptable 5:45 a.m. at which point I tossed aside the covers, brushed my teeth and plopped myself down at my laptop in the hopes of managing to recall every highly nuanced moment of what was probably a three-minute dream.

*My take on the hidden (and perhaps, Freudian) meanings:

1. An unfamiliar stretch of road: Um, that one is fairly obvious.

2. Harrison’s car: Hmmm, who is driving?

3. Which, before such time as he earned his driver’s license, was my car: A changing of the guard?  Oh, don’t tease me.

4.  Twisty, curvy and, in spots, stretch of road void of sun.: Yep, that sounds about right.

 5. Allowing the car to essentially drive itself: Relinquishing control…in every conceivable way?

6. Radio played something from the seventies: A return to my own childhood?

7. Huge reservoir or lake or pond or some such body of water: It has to be the womb…because what is unconscious/Freudian thinking without a womb mentioned here or there?  The real question is, “to whom does this particular womb belong?”

8. Sandra Bullock: The only memorable (and by memorable I do not mean to suggest it was due to talent) line I can ever recall SB uttering was in one of her many forgettable roles in a movie called “The Net” when she said, “it happened to me, it can happen to you”…hmmm.

9. Bewildered, but not, by any means hysterical: I would consider that to be an apt description of most days for me.

10. Wasn’t going to stay above water much longer: I’m goin’ down.

11. Struggled to unfasten the seatbelt which was there to, theoretically, anyway, save me: Struggle which is overcome, yep, there’s Dr. Freud again.

12. Retrieve my phone: If nothing else, fulfilling my need to be able to communicate with someone, somehow, someway.

13. Took on water: I say taking on water, you say drowning.  It is all semantics.

14. In a fog: Thick, opaque path?

15. Finally said aloud: Uncle!

16. I was not only down one truck, but my car/house keys: If that doesn’t indicate being stuck, I am not sure what does.

17. Wallet: see #17

18. Unchartered path: see #1

19. Left to sink in the water: see #4

20. Out of nowhere, appeared a little boy, probably around ten: Wow! No explanation necessary.

21. Handed me my keys: see #20

Clearly there were a whole slew of messages, thoughts and feeling trying to bust out while I slept and the irony is not lost on me that it was the first night in as long as I can recall that I actually slept through the night.

p.s. Since 21 is the age of adulthood, does anyone else read meaning into there having been twenty-one unconscious messages?  Or am I officially losing it?

The Next Generation

Last night, as I lay in bed, vainly fighting to defend my honor hoping to eke out a victory in an ever declining success rate in my Words With Friends career, my Kindle Fire (on which I was playing) was not responding to the touch of my fingers attempting to move letters into (hopefully) high scoring spots on the board.  Upon inspection I understood the reason to be that the screen was wet, having become so from the tears that I hadn’t quite noticed were dropping from my eyes onto the screen.  It was a soft, almost tender, and, clearly, nearly imperceptible weeping which snuck up on me and continued for several moments.

Initially I was unsure as to what had motivated the tears; truthfully, I can think of several potential culprits.  I soon realized that I was reacting, almost without even knowing, to the day that had just gone by.  Yesterday, I accompanied my mother and brother to the funeral of my mother’s college roommate, Carolyn, who had been a part of my family’s life forever and ill for a mere two weeks.  A friendship which began nearly sixty years ago (my mother is going to kill me for that!) and never waned, Carolyn and her family were, well, family.  Yesterday, for the first time in too long, we all had an opportunity to be together, although I sincerely wish it had been under different circumstances.

Between my mother and Carolyn, they were mothers to seven children, all of whom I had relationships of some sort or another.  I went to camp with her two girls, Alison and Beth for many, many summers.  Her older son Jon and I are the same age and spent a lot of time the summer after college hanging out and wondering about the future of our newly graduated selves.  Andy, to my great pleasure as the youngest in my family, was born a few years after me which provided the only opportunity for me to ever be the “older” kid.  We went on ski trips together as families in the seventies, when my mother still skied and both of our fathers were about the ages we are now.  Both sets of children have lost our fathers since then – mine to lung cancer and their’s to a tragic and devastating automobile accident.  Carolyn and my mother, who met as kids, stood up for each other at their weddings, celebrated each of their children’s births, successes and challenges,  who comforted and supported one another as each became a widow too young, were an institution.  And now Carolyn is gone.  It is almost impossible to believe.

When I saw her children yesterday, each one, despite the circumstances, asked me how I was doing.  They have all been following the story of Jessie, both on these pages and through our mothers.  They made sure to express their love to me for what is happening in my home when all they should be worrying about is themselves.  Our hugs were a little tighter and our mutual desire to comfort one another was a little more profound.  And it was just enough to make me cry.

In part I cried for my mother who, I know, is broken-hearted and unsure how to even imagine Carolyn not being in her life.  And, while I, too, find it hard to believe, my tears were partially of distress, but perhaps even more about the comfort in being with these old and dear friends.  Over the past nearly fifty years (see, mom, equal opportunity age-outing, here) this second generation has been privy to one another’s celebrations, accomplishments, successes, failures, sicknesses, deaths and yet, despite unintended lapses of connectedness we share a bond that is unbreakable.

When each of them thanked me for coming I responded in my trademark “what you see it what you get” and told them to shut up – it would never occur to me to not be there.  What they might not know is that I consider them having been there for me yesterday, too.

Bubbie

Eighteen years ago, on a blisteringly hot, profoundly humid day Rich and I moved into our house. Pregnant with Harrison, I was still in the enchanted stage of pregnancy (those last three months; not quite as enchanting) and our excitement over having purchased a home was overshadowed only by our elation over the impending birth of our first baby.

It was during the very first week in our house that we met the neighbors to our left.  They were a couple in their early seventies who had raised and launched their own children from that very house, having started the process better than forty years prior.  Eve and Hy were lovely, warm and welcoming from the very first time we met.  One of the first chats we had took place in the small lot of lawn that lay between our houses.  Half of the patch of green was theirs, the other half ours, although the boundary was vague at best.  In that area of grass stood a single, winsome, and seemingly proud flowering tree which Eve told me she had planted around the time her first child was born.  It was so simple yet clearly held such great sentiment to her that one could not help but smile when looking at it.

Born to be a grandmother, and having, at the time, just one grandchild, Eve was nearly as excited about our approaching delivery as we were.  She checked in on me often and became a surrogate grandmother to us as our due date grew closer.  When Harrison finally arrived (eight days late), she was on the short list of people we called from the hospital – right after our own parents.

As Harrison grew, so, too, did his attachment to Bubbie Eve (soon the Eve would drop off) and HyHy (the peals of laughter from Harrison when he would greet Hy and say, “hi, Hy” were just too insatiable to let the nickname slide).  When he began attending daycare I would retrieve him on my way home from work, we’d pull into the driveway and, as I would try to collect his and my assorted stuff to take into the house, he would make an immediate beeline for Bubbie’s house and, more specifically, the shelf in the pantry that she reserved for him.  It was perpetually stocked with kid-friendly snacks and an occasional surprise trinket of some sort.  It was a true love affair.

The day that we (mistakenly, as it turns out) thought that Harrison was finally potty trained he couldn’t wait to go over and announce it to Bubbie.  Beaming with pride, we arrived at the house where Hy told us that she was lying down in her bedroom nursing a sore back.  Harrison ran to the top of the stairs, hurled himself into her room to announce his great accomplishment and promptly peed on her floor.  He looked down, looked up at her and they both started to laugh.  It was one of many loving encounters they shared.

Then one day, when Harrison was about eight, Eve told me that she and Hy were moving to an apartment.  The house was too much for them to handle and the stairs were proving impossible for her increasingly bad back.  We were heartbroken, but assured one another that this was not the end.  They moved about ten minutes away and, true to both of our promises, we never lost touch although our chats and visits often fall off for months at a time.

Last year, Harrison was given a history assignment that required him to interview someone who had lived through a historical event.  He knew immediately who he wanted to interview and asked if I thought it would be okay to call HyHy to talk to him about his experience as a POW in WWII.  Hy had always been reluctant to discuss it, but I suggested that Harrison call Eve and asked her what she thought.  He called her right away and learned that Hy had just gone into rehab for some heart issues, but she would be more than happy to talk with him about it.  (It is a fascinating story – he was shot down and was a POW/MIA for a year, while Eve went through a pregnancy and delivery in his absence, not knowing if he was even alive.)  Harrison hung up with her and, right then and there, headed to her apartment. Being the love that he is, and knowing that she doesn’t like to drive much anymore, he offered to take her marketing or on any errands she had to run and, I am happy to say, she took him up on.  They spent several hours together, Eve sharing her memories of Hy’s experience, Harrison taking it all in with amazement.  Oh, and Harrison got an A on the report.

Yesterday I got a message on my voicemail from Eve simply asking me to call.  My initial reaction was of concern that something had happened to Hy.  He is close to 90 now and, although he has all his faculties, he has been in declining health for some time.  Thankfully, she was only calling to check in and to wish us a Happy New Year.  (She has never missed calling us before the high holidays to wish us well.  I keep trying to beat her to the punch, but she gets me every time.)  As we were catching up, she, of course, asked about the kids.  No sooner were the words out of her mouth than I realized that I had not told her about George/Jessie.  (Because they moved right around the time she was born, Eve’s attachment to “George” wasn’t quite as profound, but she adored him just the same.)  As the conversation continued, I glanced over at Jessie, happily involved in something and looking every bit the part of a nearly eleven year old girl and I was, for the first time perhaps ever, at a loss.

I half listened and shot perfunctory responses to Eve’s inquiries about Harrison while frantically trying to come up with a response to what I knew was going to be the next question: “how is Georgie?” No sooner had she asked than I slipped for the first time and used the female pronoun which has become natural over these past few months; “she’s doing great” I replied.  I quickly glazed over my “slip” (ironic that now calling my son “she” is considered a slip, huh?), hoping that she didn’t notice and found myself teetering very close to rudeness in my quest to be done with the conversation.  Rich wandered into the room and I, in a show of cowardice, told her that he was anxious to speak with her.  I thrust the phone into his hand and immediately felt relieved.  And ashamed.

Knowing her as I do, I am quite sure that she would hardly have skipped a beat upon hearing the news.  She is not the sort that needs to be protected or danced around.  In fact, despite being deep into her 80s, she has a degree of cool that we should all aspire to.  She wouldn’t have cared, judged or questioned.  Yet I had wimped out and opted to not say a word.  I know that it was not for her benefit that I was avoiding the conversation, rather I was sparing myself.  And, just to add insult to injury, I was so lame that I literally scampered off the phone faster than I would with a random telemarketer.

Later I mentioned to Harrison that I had spoken with Bubbie and had successfully (for lack of a better word) managed to avoid telling her about Jessie.  He, quite reasonably, asked me why.  Here’s my story and I am sticking to it: I don’t know.  Was I trying to keep alive the story of what I thought our family was going to be?  Was I somehow fearful of her not understanding and perhaps, even unconsciously, distancing herself from us?  Or perhaps I was just too tired to start at the beginning again.  I truthfully don’t know.

I think back to standing by her beloved tree with a baby in my belly and a blissful ignorance as to what lay ahead in the adventure called parenting.  At the time that we had our conversation eighteen years ago she had already successfully brought her three children to adulthood with all the trials and tribulations inherent in doing so.  I never have or will face some of her particular challenges; I am quite confident, for example, that Rich will never be a POW and I will never be left to fend for myself with a newborn.  I have long been in awe of her fortitude, but, for reasons I am still trying to determine, I felt the need to keep this chapter from her.

I know in my heart that I am going to have to tell her, and I need to make sure to do so before we find ourselves in the same room at the same time.  I loathe to even write this, but I fear the next time we see one another as a family unit could well be when HyHy dies.  In fairness and out of love for Eve, I am not going to wait for that.  I am going to call her.  Maybe tomorrow…

p.s. A likely picture to accompany this post would be of the tree.  However, the new owner’s of the house promptly removed it put up a (freakin’ ugly) fence.  It was sad to see it go, and, in a silly twist, we learned, when they asked our permission to remove it, that, in fact, it was primarily on our land. We grappled with being stinkers and disallowing the removal out of respect for Bubbie, but decided that it was in our best interest to maintain friendly relations with our neighbors.  Given the complete lack of interaction we ever have with them, I wish we’d kept the tree.

Is It Thursday Yet?

Tomorrow marks the start of the first full week of school for my kids.  Last week’s Thursday opening was merely a courting of sorts.  It was a time for them to meet their teachers, get reacquainted with the kids they had not seen over the (interminable) summer, revel in the excitement of an advanced grade and, theoretically, anyway, emotionally prepare for the rigors of school.  Despite how irritating it was for this parent, I have to admit to understanding and even appreciating the thought process of the school committee to kick off the year with a weekend right around the bend.

As a rule, I tend to subscribe to the “easing into things” method.  It certainly beats being hurled, thrust, tossed, flung, heaved, pitched or propelled; trust me, I know the difference.  Even though George’s behavior and tendencies were long indicative of a pull toward more female expression, her transition to Jessie was hardly a long, protracted exercise.  At the time, I would have given my left arm for a “Thursday” start, but in hindsight, there was something to be said for her taking the helm of the ship and pushing off the dock without dropping anchor.

Behind the scenes, the true evolution from George to Jessie occurred over the course of a few months.  It was early September when she first told me her “secret” and not until mid December that she went wide with the information.  However, once she “shared” with her teacher at school (at 11 a.m. on a Monday morning…yep, I remember it well) it was mere hours before the barn door flew open and the horses were galloping, albeit gingerly, through the halls of her school.  To the uninformed observer, it must have caused whiplash: Monday she was George and by Wednesday (which happened to be pajama day) she was bedecked in head to toe girl’s pjs and robe, hot off the shelves of Target.  By some miracle, none of the kids seemed to bat an eye nor did a single classmate tease him (no pronouns had changed yet) for his outfit.  No easing into things for her.  Once she had freed herself of the information that she’d been keeping inside for all those years, there was, in her ten-year old mind, no time for pussy footing around.  I would have loved a “Thursday” start but, alas, as the passenger on this adventure, no one asked me.

Likewise, no one asked me what day I would like school to begin.  Had they, I would have said Tuesday, the day after Labor Day which, in my memory, was always the first day of school.  But, having been denied the option  or the Tuesday start, and armed with the knowledge of how “Thursday” went (read: lead quickly into the weekend) I appreciate how nicely it fell into place.  The kids were energized but not overwhelmed, excited but not freaked out, relieved but not “over it.”  It was, actually, a perfect segue to a new year.

Now, with the benefit of nearly a year’s worth of hindsight, I truly appreciate Jessie’s thinking in jumping, feet first, into the unknown waters of living as a girl.  She must have known what would work for her and, as such, went in, never looking back.  She didn’t need a “weekend.”  She was down with starting on a Monday.  She had her energy, excitement and relief in check already and, it seems, did not feel the weight of being overwhelmed, freaked out or, certainly, “over it”.  Impressive, that one is.

As we kick off fifth and twelfth grades, I hope that my kids will have wonderful, meaningful and happy years.  I hope that we will quickly get into a rhythm that works for them (and, um, me) and that there are no other enormous changes in store.  That said, we should all fasten our seatbelts and prepare for all that lays ahead.  Oh, wait, have I learned nothing?  I have absolutely no idea what lays ahead…

Why (And for Whom) I Am Defensive

Note: I wrote this specifically for Huffington Post…it may appear on there at which point I will be slayed again, but I know I have support here. xo  jr

 

Over the past several months I have been venturesome (or perhaps stupid?) enough to publicly share my interpretation and personal feelings from my front row seat as the parent of a child who has identified as transgender.  I have been equally supported and vilified by readers far and wide.  I have been told that I am an “incredible parent” only to be corrected by a different reader that I am actually a horrible parent and that G-d does not make mistakes, just I do.  Compliments for my honesty and style of writing are usurped by bashing for “rambling” and being a “horrible writer”.  I have been called “wonderful” and ”self-centered” in the same thread written (sometimes viciously) from the comfort of computers around the world that I will neither find nor seek to find.  And it all makes me wonder.

My child’s decision (yes, it was her decision) to socially transition from male to female is not one which my family and I approached lightly or with nonchalance.  It was years in the making and included working closely with therapists, teachers and school administrators.  Once she was finally able to “share her secret” with my us, my husband and I did what came naturally and seemed right; we would support her in any way she needed.  That is what parents are supposed to do.  The look of indisputable relief on her face spoke volumes as to just how tortured she had been.  Who am I to deny another living person the opportunity to seek out a situation which feels more tenable just because it is going to be hard on me, her father, brother and extended family?  And to those who argue that I am being bamboozled by a ten year old, perhaps you can explain why said child would opt to “bully” me (yes, that has been suggested, too) into submission over something so socially and emotionally difficult?  Believe me; there are plenty of other things that the average kid will choose to badger their parents over which are a hell of a lot easier for everyone involved.  All that said, I avow to be equally supportive should she decide at any point that living as a girl is not the solution to her fundamental discomfort; it could happen and it won’t be easy, either.

In (foolishly) reading the extensive commentary (note: written mostly anonymously) I am amazed at the breadth of readers who made the decision to read my story but then, consciously (or not) opted to not dig further in an attempt to ascertain what might have lead to our decision to allow her (yes, I refer to my male born child as “her”) to live as she saw fit and how she felt comfortable in this world.  It begs the question: why on earth would a child do this unless she felt like she absolutely had to?  And, further, why does anyone object to her decision?  I am not so naïve as to think that there are not grand implications in this world to presenting oneself as a gender other than that for which you are ascribed particular body parts, but I am equally cognizant of the power of one’s feelings.

Do you think this has been easy for her or, for that matter, the rest of our family which includes my older son, grandmothers, aunts, uncles and cousins who all live in the immediate vicinity? Imagine the strength it took to share her deepest secret with us and then to present to her peers in the sex opposite of the one they had known for nearly five years.  Can you think of anything in your life that propelled you to undertake such a frightening endeavor?  I cannot.  The stalwartness with which she dove into this shallow pool is staggering and deserving of commendation, not judgment or opinion, particularly by people, myself included, who are unqualified to even begin to know how she feels.

I know this sounds defensive.  That is my intention. I do not, however, feel compelled to defend myself in any way; I know that I am doing right by my child.  I hope that I am doing right by both my children, actually.  No, this is about defending and protecting my child from the big bad world out there that simply does not understand, or, I’d be so bold as to suggest, doesn’t want to understand, an identification that is different from their own.  And, yes, despite what you may think, being vocal and writing about it is indeed protecting my child from those who are unwilling to educate themselves and appreciate that the fact that someone feels and presents differently from them is not a threat against them, rather it is an assertion of great import to someone else.  It is not an easy lesson even for the most evolved, but perhaps this can start a discussion that doesn’t disintegrate into name calling, finger pointing and criticizing one solitary person who is only trying to feel less alone in the world.

All the best,

Jessie’s mom

Death by Kohl’s

Please forgive the air of snobbery and allow me put it on record: if I am destined to meet my maker in a retail store (which is entirely possible) please, dear Lord, do not let it be Kohl’s.  Today I was quite sure that was precisely how my eulogy would be written as I was forced to use every ounce of control I was able to muster to keep from either opening a vein with a car key (or a tooth or a pen) or perhaps dunking my head in the store toilet or, frankly, utilizing whatever means necessary in my quest for death.  Yes, I was back to school clothing shopping for Jessie which is not an adventure for the faint of heart.

 

As with everything I seem to do, it started off innocently enough.  Jessie’s request for a few “cute back-to-school outfits” (her words) is certainly a legitimate one, but not one I had personally experienced prior to today.  In years gone by, the boys would graciously allow me to purchase a few new t-shirts with snappy sayings, maybe even some new jeans and usually new kicks for their (smelly) feet, but “outfit” was not even in their vocabulary, therefore, not in mine.  This being the first September that I “officially” (for lack of any other word) have a daughter entering school, I will admit to being caught a bit unawares by the intensity of the shop.

By some (strange) miracle, Jessie only wanted to go to Kohl’s.  I have no idea why, since I can only recall having gone there once before, but was thrilled to be spared the mall experience of Delia’s, American Eagle and Forever 21 – all of which I have patronized in the past ten months.  I halfheartedly agreed to the outing and, despite being invited (read: begged) to join us, Rich opted out.  (In return for his choice, I armed him with a list for the grocery store with a strong reminder to be mindful of brands…none of this “doing it wrong so he doesn’t have to do it ever again” crap.)  We hit the road: she was excited, I was calm.  As has become my mantra of necessity: I can do this.

What will heretofore be known as “our” Kohl’s is set up in such a way that, depending upon which door you choose – the one on the left or the one on the right – you walk directly into the junior department which boasts, among other brands, a Britney Spears line.  Need I say more?   I now know, for future reference, to enter by way of the left door which brings you to the matronly, er, women’s department.  Having chosen the right door turned out to be the wrong choice and resulted in the onset of my undoing.  From the moment we stepped through the doors we were attacked by a bevy of tops that were all too short, too low, too tight, too flimsy and too ugly for my burgeoning tween who is only too anxious to be accepted as a girl…a teenage girl, that is.  As if her being transgender did not complicate the shopping experience enough, now I had to (subtly) direct her out of the junior department and into the kids’.  That was made even more difficult by the fact that she can easily fit into most of the junior stuff, but doesn’t have the right, um stuff, to fill them out appropriately (again, for lack of a better word).  Add to that her personality and gusto for acquiring large quantities of that which she likes (have I ever mentioned that she is the proud owner of six American Girl dolls?) I sensed that this was going to get really ugly, really fast.  And, I was correct.

With my arms literally aching under the weight of the clothing which had been hurled at me with a zeal reserved for only the most ardent shoppers, I finally gave into the need for a cart.  I was growing increasingly confident that this outing was going to signal the end of my life and was acutely aware that I do not want to perish in a store that has carts. It was at this point that her voice could be heard throughout the store debating and challenging my rejection of roughly 90% of what she was drawn to. Fully aware that this was going to be brutal, I fantasized staging an episode of some sort which would require we leave immediately…maybe even via ambulance for added sympathy.  I kinda even prayed for death a little.   (If I have to expire in a retail establishment though, please, dear G-d, let it at least be Bloomingdale’s.) As I was actively plotting ways to off myself in the ladies’ room (if for no other reason than to put myself out of the misery that is shopping with a girl) I had the wherewithal to physically separate myself from my little angel so that this did not turn into a homicidal situation. (If I have to be arrested for something as unseemly as murder, please, dear G-d, don’t let it be in Kohl’s.)  I (not so) calmly excused myself to go to the ladies’ room which, in hindsight may have been a flawed plan given the fact that all the suicidal plans dancing through my head took place in said spot.  I entered the restroom and considered my options and deemed them all too unsavory so, instead, utilized the deep breathing which I had been taught, ironically enough, to use during labor and delivery.  I gathered myself together and ambled back to the spot where Jessie was exploring the training bras.  That’s it.  Game over.

With less argument that I expected, she walked away from the lingerie and told me of her dire dehydration which, according to her, could only be sated by a Mocha Frappe from McDonald’s.  Imagine her irritation and disappointment (on the heels of my having forced her to weed out roughly half of the items she had planned on (me) purchasing) when I pointed her in the direction of the bank of water fountains which would better cure her thirst than any Frappe would.  It was officially time to leave before she perished from thirst, I from aggravation.

As we took our place in line at the register I noticed that we were behind a couple who might have heard me tell Jessie that I was going to kill myself if we didn’t wrap things up.  Hoping against hope that neither of them were mandated reporters,  I was relieved to learn that indeed they were not and, as if a gift from the heavens, they happened to have an extra” 20% off entire purchase” coupon which they gave to me, I believe,  out of sheer desire to get away from the crazy lady at Kohl’s.

On the way home in the car, armed with the knowledge that there was a drive thru McDonald’s on route,  I caved to the Mocha Frappe craving.   Hardly altruistic, I did so knowing that I could simultaneously  satisfy my Diet Coke habit for the day which we all know, cures everything…including, apparently, suicidal and homicidal ideations.

We arrived home and Jessie was only too happy to give Rich a fashion show from which he only rejected one piece.  I was hoping he would give the thumbs down to more, but alas, we all made it home alive so I had best not push my luck.  As for our next adventure in clothes shopping…maybe next September.

Note: There is nothing funny about either homicide or suicide.  I hope this will be taken in the spirit in which it was intended.  And, further, if you doubt the level of stress of which I write, I invite you to take her for an hour and see how it goes.  ❤