At Least One of Us Can Still Create

Over the past few days I have started and aborted six, yes, six, blog posts.  One was too intense, another made no sense but did make me out to be a blithering, rambling idiot (something I have been accused of by  just slightly more than one Huffington Post reader) and the other four just sucked.  I cut, pasted, rearranged and ultimately deleted each of them with a grand flourish of highlighting.  Occasionally when I do this I then regret having hit the delete button too hastily, but not so with any of these.  Unsure if that is a good thing or a bad thing…

One might surmise, given the honesty of the posts I have published thus far, that I have no boundaries and am willing to share just about anything that transpires in these parts. Not so.  In fact, one of the reasons that I am having such a difficult time writing now is because I have found myself in territory which is personal, intense and not (suitable?) for public consumption.  Oh, I have plenty of stories which would make for great (no, make that outstanding!) reading  but am unable to share.  Some are funny (in the insane way that only the parent of a transgender child can possibly fully appreciate), others are ridiculous (see previous parentheses) and others are just plain outside the scope of that which I am willing to share with the world.  As such, I am stuck in a self-imposed writer’s block (read: I have plenty to write, but just cannot go there right now).

But fear not!  I am not going anywhere, but for today I am  just popping in for a moment to let you know that all is fine (lest you conclude otherwise from my silence) and I will be back just as soon as the right (define as you see fit) words come to mind.

Until then, let me again share some of Jessie’s latest work.

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Draw The Line

Jessie has always been artistic (and had the temperament to back it up).  From the time she was little she would draw whenever a pencil and paper found their way to her proximity.  Sure, it was usually a girl with long flowing hair which, I would come to learn, was an unusual choice for a little boy, but its quality always surpassed that which one would expect from a kid her age.  I didn’t know I was supposed to be concerned about the subject matter until years later.

Over the years she took several different group art classes all of which were successful in terms of her creations, but never quite right in terms of being a part of the class.  Her unique perspective and presentation had not quite taken form yet and, while adored by every instructor, she had a hard time being a part of the group.   It took me some time (for reasons unknown) to finally put in a call to a dear friend (love you JGC) who I met when our children were in preschool together who also happens to be the Dean of Students at a prestigious art school nearby.  I messaged her on Facebook one day asking if she could recommend a student who could both teach Jessie the finer skills and nuances of drawing and be able to handle her, warts and all.  As it happened, she was sitting with the perfect candidate for such a job and thus began our lessons with Sarah.

My mother is an artist.  Harrison is a gifted photographer; even winning an Honorable Mention in the Boston Globe Scholastic Arts contest.  The five nieces and nephew on my side of the family are all artists.  I, however, am completely incapable of drawing anything (I find a circle to be too challenging) and am in awe of anyone who isn’t so challenged.  (I used to be outright envious, but have found it in me to let go of that…it was unbecoming to be jealous of one’s brothers’ offspring.)

So, indulge me for a moment and allow me to share some shots which are particularly impressive to me, and, I suspect, you.  Remember, she is ten.   And complicated.  And awesome.  I would recommend currying favor with her just enough to ensure you get a friends and family discount as she is going to be famous someday.

Given ten minutes, she created this:

This happened in thirty minutes:

And here is the artist at work: (photo creds to Sarah)

Thanksgiving…Mostly Thankful

Thanksgiving: what a loaded holiday.  It is a day in which we take pause and reflect on all that we are grateful for.  We are keenly aware of the riches of our lives and the joys we have been fortunate enough to experience.  It is a time to be with family and friends who, perhaps, we have not shared a meal or even a visit with in longer than we ever intended. We consume every comfort food imaginable and pat ourselves on the back for having remembered to wear the loosest pants in the closet.  And, speaking only for myself, you sometimes feel guilty for not always feeling terribly thankful.  Yep, I said it.

And for me, it is often the hardest time of the year.  I have long associated my discomfort with Thanksgiving to my freshman year of college.   It was my first visit home after having left for school and despite the heavy backpack I am quite sure I lugged home, I had no intention of doing any work whatsoever.  My parents, my brothers and my new (at the time) sister-in-law all convened around the dining room table and pigged out on your standard turkey dinner which, of course, included a sweet potato casserole (I’ve never actually used that word) with the requisite mini marshmallows on top.  Midway through the meal, I started to feel unwell.  Assuming it was my body fighting back against the late nights at school during which I had imbibed more and slept less than I should, I didn’t make think much of it.  And then I was in pain.  I retreated upstairs just as the table was to be cleared and assumed the fetal position.  My folks were far more empathetic than one of my brothers (naming no names) who strongly suggested that my “illness” was actually a ploy to get out of helping with the dishes.  Boy, did he have egg on his face when I was wheeled in for emergency surgery later that same night to remove an ovarian cyst which was so large that it was pressing on my back – thus the pain.

Back in those days, when you had surgery they actually kept you in the hospital for a few days (in my case I believe it was four, but I could be wrong) during which my brothers (both) showed their true colors and regaled me with attention due any college student who comes home from school only to wind up in the OR.  Among the wonderful things they brought to me were a Sony Walkman (remember those?) along with a stack of probably twenty-five cassette tapes (remember those?)  as well as a pair of slippers that looked like elephants complete with long noses at the end.  Thus began my disdain of Thanksgiving.

Fast forward nine years and one would find me to be among the most hugely pregnant-from-eyebrow-to-ankle woman (on the plus side, my hair was rockin’) this side of I don’t know what.  By the time the big feast arrived I was already six days late to deliver Harrison and had long since stopped finding it funny.  I was not one of those beautiful pregnant women who could pull on a cute fitted top (thank G-d fitted maternity clothes did not come into vogue until my child rearing years had passed) and head out the door.  In fact, the jean shirt which I had been donning became so over-worn that it was a. threadbare and b. requested to be lost by more than one person.  I was uncomfortable, scared shitless of labor and exhausted.  Ahhh…another Thanksgiving to remember.  (Note: Harrison did not feel the need to make his way into the world until that Sunday…10 days late.)

The next several Thanksgivings came and went without incident, yet I always had a gnawing feeling in the back of my head that something was gonna happen.  Fast forward another nine years (hmmm…just realized that coincidence) when I was exactly one week post-op from my bi-lateral mastectomy.  I am not sure he even realized this at the time (I know I didn’t) but my brother David, days before the surgery, sent me a huge package containing a boombox/cd player for my bedroom along with a stack of probably twenty CDs (times they are achangin’) this time of all comedy bits: everything from Mel Brooks to Jackie Mason to Jerry Seinfeld to Margaret Cho.  Yes, a theme has emerged.  I happen to be a rock-star patient and managed to get myself into an outfit of sorts – most definitely something loose to accommodate the drains that still hung from my torso –  (after having had my fabulous hairdresser wash and blow out my hair…I was not allowed to shower and my post surgical arms were seriously lacking mobility) and make it to the table along with my entire family, including my father (who was, at the time, fighting lung cancer), my children and five of my nieces and nephews.  This time, there was no discussion about my bailing on the dishes…I had a pass.

This year marks the eighth since my diagnosis.  Since that time so much has happened.   I lost my father and gained a daughter.  I have experienced the joys, anxieties, thrills and frustrations of my children who were two and nine at the time, morph into real people who are both about to have birthdays.  I’ve lost and regained (some of) the weight gained from having been gloriously fed by my friends and families.  (It was a long time before I became re-interested in lasagna).  I have had a few different jobs and have learned a lot about being an adult.  I am grateful for my many blessings, but it doesn’t make me any less weary of this holiday.  Truth.

A few people I am thinking of more than ever: (this makes me nervous because I don’t want to leave anyone out – we are all fighting against, or hoping for something in our lives…please do not take offense if I have omitted you.)

MF:  who has had more than her share of a shit-storm but sailed through her own bi-lateral mastectomy this week with grace, humor and strength.

MS: who is knocking it out of the park with her own transgender child only to be hit with an out of the blue Leukemia diagnosis in her family.

SP: who was supposed to be recuperating with a brand new kidney right about now but her body didn’t cooperate as it should have, but will.

BM, JM, JM, BHM and DM: who lost a son and brother with no warning and far too young.

RR: who is loving and supporting her husband as he fights a devastating illness.

JW: who is tearing up the internet searching for the best way to handle her beautiful daughter’s angry thyroid.

RR: who is still trying to understand the untimely, unexpected and deeply mourned loss of her brother.

LH: who lost her lifelong summer retreat and store during hurricane Sandy.

I know there are more, and I am still reluctant to post this for fear of leaving someone out, but please know that I am thinking of you all.

Wishing everyone a happy, uneventful, non-weight gaining, pleasant, easy, tasty Thanksgiving.  And, yes, I do realize that, if my “every nine year” pattern holds, next year is probably going to suck.

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Gratuitous display of Jessie’s autumnal drawing:

Picture This

I am a tremendous and loyal fan of Jessie’s school.  To a person, they have handled her (and me, frankly) with a perfect balance of support and  love (some tough, but mostly straight up).  They have made what could have been a disastrous transition as seamless as I could ever have hoped for.  The administrators, teachers and professionals clearly have our backs and for that, I will forever be appreciative.  This week, however, school is killin’ me.

For starters, after two “hurricane days” last week, one professional day (which also happened to be election day) (and also happened to focus on just how seriously our town takes anti-bullying!) and one (unbeknownst to me – my bad) early release this week, I am desperately seeking more than a few hours during the day to accomplish something.   I found out about the early release the hard way when I received a call ten minutes after the bell, smack dab in the middle of a torrential rainstorm (thereby making the, “you can walk home” response just plain mean) while I was at the market.  (Points for me: not only was I getting ingredients for a hearty, delicious and nutritious dinner, I even texted Harrison to see if he would prefer lasagna or chili.  He chose chili.  Please don’t be the one to tell Jessie that while I was forgetting to pick her up, I was simultaneously not seeking her input on dinner choices.  Doesn’t she have enough to talk about in therapy?)  So, yes, I think we can all agree that all those “no school” hours are tiresome when they come one on top of another.

Second, and more troubling, is Jessie’s role as Student of the Week.  Yeah, I didn’t think that they still had that in fifth grade, either, but alas they do.  She arrived home with a poster board sized sheet of paper designed to share more about herself with her classmates.  (I know, what’s left to share?…).  It is all fairly benign with one notable exception: the 4” x 6” blanks calling for photographs.  Aw, crap.

One of the many issues that families of transgender kids (or adults, for that matter) deal with is the past.  Many of them want to pretend the past never happened as it was often a painful, unhappy time for them.  Having transitioned, they have found a freedom and comfort in their own skin which eluded them before…so why would they want to be reminded?  Well, I totally get that.  I also totally get that of the three photographs being requested, one is entitled: Travel Guide.  Because the audience is made up of ten-year olds, the word “travel” can be construed in less rigid terms than we adults might deem; one would think that a “trip” apple picking could be considered appropriate.  However…Jessie’s school is made up of children from all over the world.  As such, it is not unusual for the trips they discuss to include, (with great regularity, actually) places like Israel, Korea, Pakistan or Argentina.  I feel for Jessie, therefore, in her desire to showcase something a little more exciting than splashing in the neighborhood pool last summer.  Well, guess what?  With all that has been going on around here, we haven’t gone anywhere that could pass as travel.  She (desperately?) suggested using a snapshot from a trip to Disney World (when she was six!) but halted when she realized (remembered?) that in all of those shots, she is George.  Let that wash over you for a moment.

Okay, so now you see my point and the quandary we face; either leave the space glaringly blank, or fill it with an outdated (oh, so outdated) shot of Jessie younger, smaller and, yep, a boy.  File under: things you never think you will have to think about, but wind up thinking about all the time.  Now I know full well that it is a fair and (one could argue) fun activity for the average kid.  But, oh, wait…my kid doesn’t fall into that category, so what is meant to be a rah-rah, self-esteem building activity (who doesn’t want to be the Student of the Week?  Or Parent of the Week?  Or Spouse of the Week? Hell, I would take Best Hair of the Week!) is now stressing us out.  Hate that.

I still love our school and perhaps, had we had a full week of full days of classes I would be less traumatized by this little blip, but, alas, we have not had a full week of full days of classes so I am seeing this blip as more monumental than I (intellectually, anyway) know it is.  We will figure something out.  Just not sure what.

p.s. Since this is my blog and you have chosen to read it, I will assume you will allow me a little indulgence in showing off a drawing that Jessie did the other day.  (Many of you have seen it already on Facebook.  Sorry ’bout that!) She is as proud of it as she should be and has decided to include it on her “Student of the Week” poster in the one untitled photograph box.  She may look vaguely familiar (full disclosure: Jess had to tell me who it was), particularly if you are a fan of “Twilight”.  Dear readers, this is Jessie’s interpretation of Kristen Stewart, aka Bella, with whom she is mildly obsessed.  If only she had drawn her travelling somewhere!

The Best Laid Plans?

I am not a planner, but I do know that this was not the plan I would have made had I made a plan.  No, if I were a planner Jessie would still be George.  She would be a he, would have a short, appropriate haircut and be more interested in sports (or some other “male” hobby) than in sewing.  She would be jonesing for the newest Nikes and not the sale at Delia’s.   There would be no holes in her ears sporting shiny, dangling jewelry and I wouldn’t be forced to hunt in her room for my favorite brush.  Oh, if I had planned, things would be different.

It would be dishonest to say that the adventure Jessie has embarked on is an easy one.  Or even one that I fully understand.  I cannot claim to be totally comfortable with her choices of dress and hairstyling.  I am still, close to a year into it, sometimes caught off-guard by her decidedly female presentation.  I won’t tell you that it has been a joy to watch and that there are not times that I wish I had somehow “planned” better – for both Jessie’s path and my own comprehension of her needs.

Oh, if I had concocted a plan for her childhood, I can guarantee you it would not include a change of gender identity.   It would not have a line item for a name change.  And it would certainly not include finding myself writing a blog which is read by thousands of people, most of whom I do not know.

All that said, I am actually glad that I didn’t have a plan.  (I plan for nothing and live by my father’s credo that things have a way of working themselves out. I do not always execute the process with the aplomb that I would like, but I do let things happen organically…for better or worse.)   If I had indeed planned, I would be feeling like a failure (which I do not).  I would be ruing all the woulda, shoulda, couldas (which I do not).  And I would be doubting my parenting (which I do not.)

My lack of planning is not to be confused with a lack of expectations.  I certainly did not expect, even in the throes of the Barbie phase, that my little boy would become my daughter.  Nor did I expect to be not only living, but chronicling her transition.  When I fed a house full of people for my second child’s Bris and naming, I did not expect to be thinking about her Bat Mitzvah some day.  Likewise, I did not expect the outpouring of support from my friends, family and community when Jessie boldly made her announcement.  But sometimes reality exceeds expectations – and sometimes, not always, it is the surprises along the way that provide, in a backhanded sort of way, the joys of life…despite (or in spite of?) the bumps along the way.

When I look at Jessie I know that things are right for her.  For now.  I know that she is comfortable living her life as she has chosen.  For now.  And I know that she, like her mother, has not planned too far ahead.  She is taking this one day at a time and, in a sometimes Xanax necessitating way, I applaud her for her lack of planning.

Halloween

Oh, Halloween, how I hate thee.  I can trace my disdain for the holiday back to my own youth.  My (wonderful) mother (whom I adore) was not much of a planner or a seamstress.  As a result, I never had particularly good costumes.  It was not unusual to, at the last-minute, unearth a sheet (not even a white one!) hastily cut out eyes and be pushed out the door.  It didn’t help that my (warm, loving) father despised the tradition and would mutter about “beggars coming to his door” until he eventually declared that no one over five feet was allowed to get candy from us.  As the years progressed he and my mother would go out for the evening, leaving the house dark.  On more than one occasion he came home to an egged or TP’d crib.   Oh, memories.

Fast forward to my own children and the angst of Halloween.  I vividly recall October 30, 1998.  Harrison was almost four and totally got it.  I was working full-time and had been putting off going to the store to buy something unbearably cute for him to wear for the preschool parade. Suddenly I was panicked and decided that lunch would be a good time to go to the local iParty (yeah, the one with police directing traffic into and out of the parking lot) to pick out a costume.  My naiveté got the better of me in that I actually thought there would be something left to choose from.  Imagine my heartbreak when I discovered that there were basically no costumes left, save the cowboy or the creepy clown.  Since he was a boy, I naturally grabbed the cowboy, threw in whatever toy gun I could get my hands on and stood on-line for a good half an hour to make the purchase.  I wish I could say that in subsequent years I planned further ahead, but, alas, I did not.  It never presented a problem as there was always a “boy appropriate” something that could be thrown together: Superman (complete with a six packed chest), Spiderman (at an age when wearing red tights was still okay) and the old standby cowboy get-up.

By the time George (n.c.i.*) came along, I had become fairly adept at pulling together a costume and, in my infinite wisdom, was actually ahead of the game having saved all of Harrison’s from years gone by.  It was all cool until George was three.  No longer content to be sausaged into one of the super hero costumes at his disposal , he declared that he wanted to be a fairy.  Or a princess.  Or a fairy princess.  Or Belle (from “Beauty and the Beast”).  Okay, that’s cool.  So, a fairy (or princess or Belle) it would be.

Now this is not so out of the ordinary as I happened (through the powers of Facebook) to have seen at least three of my friend’s little boys dressed as princesses this past Halloween.  And none of them, to the best of my knowledge, have (or intend to) identify as transgender.  But when George did it, there was something different – a pure, unadulterated joy – and a deep desire, in his mind, for every day to be Halloween.  So, on we went and you all know where we’ve landed.

Since having transitioned to Jessie she has pretty much grown out of her princess phase, but I fully anticipated a female-based presentation this year.  It would only stand to reason, right?  Wrong.  No, this year, after batting around a few different options (one of which was a witch – hmmm…dark, scary female, but decidedly female) she opted to make her own costume.  With a few trips to AC Moore and WalMart she was able to create something way cooler than anything I would have bought (yesterday).

The burning question among you, faithful readers, is probably: “so…how did Jessie celebrate her first Halloween?!!?”  (A fair question, for sure.)  Hint: she wasn’t a fairy, or a princesses, or a cocktail waitresses (seriously, have you seen some of the outfits they are marketing to kids now???)  No, this year, Jessie was a tiger.  An adorable, genderless tiger.  Now, I am no expert, but methinks that has to mean something.  Anyone?

*name choice intended