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?

23 thoughts on “My Unsung Hero

  1. Oh Julie, this is beautiful. I am engrossed in my Downton Abbey episode and saw you had posted and just had to pause the Brits to see what you had to say. And, what a smart choice it was. I am so parallel with the first part, hands off all of Adam’s work and college stuff, and not allowed to touch his essay.
    And, did the brag sheet, but it never heard that term until you.
    As for the trans part, that has not been our struggle, but you said it so beautifully, it is clear what a mensch that Harrison is, must have been brought up by some damn good parents.
    (Back to the Brits)(I told Bruce last night that I am beginning to think “Brit”, I fear next I may be dreaming in Brit)

  2. Oh Julie how I can relate to this. While my other girls are not graduating yet Maddie is a Junior and Kali a sophomore. I find myself on several occasions throughout the year apologizing for not having more time with them and feeling guilty about having to brush them off when I’m in the middle of a crisis with their 12 year old transgender sister Rachel. Ugh…….the trials and tribulations of being a mother. I am so very proud of each and every one of their accomplishments but I know this has been such a tough road for them. Thank you for sharing my feelings and thoughts 😉 Best wishes to Harrison. He seems like such an outstanding young man and I’m sure he will go very far.

    Much Love

  3. Fabulous, Julie…. I’ve often wondered about the untold stories of the (if not forgotten, perhaps “temporarily set aside”) siblings in families dealing with momentous transitions, crises, differences and/or challenges in other childrens’ lives…. The children with unique learning differences that require an inordinate amount of a parent’s attention, the bullied children, the troublemakers, the children with illness, the children who merely have larger than life personalities which might overshadow the quieter, easier other child in the house…. As a parent of a child with merely a quirky learning profile, I’ve already begun trying to measure the impact of my attentiveness and advocacy of one on the other, and I’ve concluded that sometimes it makes “the other’s” life harder, and other times, harder still. In the end, the difference between a young man looking back on his childhood and being proud or being regretful will have to rest on his own shoulders. No matter how much we may try to ameliorate the affects of our attention elsewhere, he will be the one who will make of it what he can and do with it what he will. It sounds as though in Harrison’s case, he’s taken the opportunity to be self-directed, independent, and hard working, and it sounds to me like you have so very many reasons to be proud…. no matter WHERE he ends up. Mazel tov!

  4. Harrison sounds like an amazing kid. I hope I do as good a job of raising my boys.

    I hope he gets accepted to the college of his dreams.

  5. Wonderfully conveyed. Going through the same drill over here…brag sheet and all. It really does make one reflect (with pride..mostly) on the outstanding job these kids do even in the face of difficulties. By “mostly” I refer to the mess on Lucy’s floor too!!
    I hope Harrison’s path leads him to exactly where he wants to go!!
    L’Shana Tova to you and your family. XO

  6. Your writing, your stories, your take on everything that happens in your life, whether it’s about Harrison, Jessie, Rich or you, is beyond beautiful. And though you write about the disappointments, the traumas, and the sometimes awful days, you created this community of peeps just trying to get through life and sometimes through the
    day. I love reading your stories; it’s that simple. Wishing you all a very Happy Healthy and Sweet New Year! Much love, Caren

  7. (In the middle of my previous comment, the dog pulled on the leash, phone was dropped and now I’m finally back with my second sentence… I don’t even know if my first sentence posted!)

    Of the many emails I receive each day, I often save your posts to be read when I have a few moments to myself so that I can soak in your story. A walk on a perfect weather day in the neighborhood was a fun time to read your blog except I did not have a box of tissues with me! I resonated so strongly with this pieceo as the parent of a son

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