The Power of A Blanket

Earlier today, I found myself dealing with a hysterical Jessie;  crying, hiding under a blanket, running her clean sleeve across her snotty nose, red-faced hysterical.  The specifics of her conniption are not necessary for the story.  In fact, I shudder to even consider revisiting them as I already lived through it once today and that was quite enough, thank you very much.  But that was a few hours ago and now, as she rummages through the apps and videos on her iPod which no longer interest her, the tears are so far off her radar that one might think it never happened.

Well, I am here to tell you, as her mother, that while she is fully recuperated and has evidently moved on…not so me.  No, I am still reeling and reliving the trauma of watching my kid disintegrate into a heap as she managed to coat her sleeve with the endless stream of clear gunk spewing from her nose and eyes.  I am still rifling through and trying to mentally transcribe the interaction and meaning of the few words she managed to blurt out amid the sobs in the hopes (for lack of a better word) that I will have something to ruminate over while undoubtedly laying awake at three in the morning.  I wrestle with my desire to ask her, now that she is calm, to repeat some of what she said but know, intellectually, that nothing good will come of it (and that I would have to be insane to go there twice in one day).   I want to hide under a blanket and pretend it never happened in the first place while she seems to have forgotten all about it.

It is not the first (and, if I had to guess, the last) time I have seen (or will see) this movie.  The passion of her entire being was at once startling and a little bit (almost) thrilling.  It was as though I could see the attempt at words forming in her brain and watch them pour out of her mouth, albeit garbled and, at times, incoherent.  Her intensity was so powerful as to manage to shake her (and me) up a little bit.  And then it was over.  She purged and moved on…something her mother hasn’t quite mastered.  (Why move on when I can obsess?)

Jessie amazes me each day.  Whether she is flexing her artistic muscles or melting down, standing tall or crumbling in a heap, designing a dress or destroying a drawing that doesn’t meet her exacting standards,  she does it with gusto and her entire being.  As I write, she has hurled herself so intensely into cleaning up and re-populating her iPod with more tween materials now that she is no longer ten, that, if the house were on fire, I would be hard-pressed to get her attention.  Her energy output is on par with that she unleashed during the tearful explosion of just a few hours ago, this time in an all together more pleasant form.

I marvel at her spirit.  I envy her intensity.  I admit to not entirely understanding her process.  I hope she knows that I’ve got her back.  I think she does.  And I hope she got the losin’ her shit crying out of her system for a little bit.  Remember, she has a quicker recovery than I do…now you can find me hiding under a blanket.

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Snowflakes

In case you do not read the comments I receive, please allow me to share this one, from a Sandy Hook mom who happens to follow my blog!

Again, thank you. We took our SHS second grader to visit his new school today. He was so delighted to walk around, meet Officer Mike–the police officer assigned to their new school (a dad of five, he shared), and leave a note for his teacher on the chalkboard. To return to a snowflake bedecked school in January will elevate his and his classmates’ delight to extraordinary heights!

I am taking advantage of my captive audience and passing this along.  Thanks for allowing me to do so!  jr

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When school resumes for Sandy Hook, it will be in a new building. Parent-volunteers are working to ensure that the students are welcomed back by a winter wonderland with the entire school decorated with as many unique snowflakes as possible. They encourage everyone to be as creative as possible, remembering that no two snowflakes are alike. Please make and send snowflakes by January 10, 2013 to the Connecticut PTSA address below.
Connecticut PTSA
60 Connolly Parkway
Building 12, Suite 103
Hamden, CT 06514

Broken Hearted

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I would never be so insolent as to even suggest that I have any notion how the parents of the Newtown children left dead by an assassin are feeling.  It is unfathomable to me to even consider the depths of sadness, anger and disbelief which are inherent when a parent is forced to do the unthinkable and bury a child.  The emptiness which can never be sated is truly unimaginable.  It is unnatural and horrifying.

I have not had to purchase a child-sized casket.  Nor have I had to sit with clergy to discuss plans surrounding a funeral service for a person I have been attached to from the second they arrived in the world and have come to know better than the back of my own hand.  I have, however, lost a child in a different way.

I lost a son and, if we are being honest, the pain associated with that loss is greater than I have probably let on.  He was a delicious, gorgeous baby with bright blue eyes and an impish quality which, while frenetic and tiresome, was also rapturous.   People would stop me on the street to comment on his bright blue eyes, his crazy blond curls or his high-pitched squeals.  Wherever we went, upon leaving everyone would call out a “goodbye, Georgie” due partly to the joy of his leaving (he was loud!) and partly out of adoration for his huge personality.  He was known the world over (okay, just the town) for his unique, hysterically funny and captivating personality.  A legend is his own time.  And then, with only slightly more warning than the horrors of Newtown, he was gone.

In the days since the attack on the Sandy Hook community I have been obsessively thinking about loss.  About how quickly the world can (and will) change.  About how lucky I am to still have my child, albeit in a different package.  I’ve been acutely aware of the increased, unexplained slip-ups in my choice of pronouns and my calling her “dude” and not “doll”.  I want to reach out and hold onto the child that I loved and lost last year.  I wonder, given the pain I (along with the rest of the world) am struggling with these past few days, how the parents of the babies (and they were just babies) that they dropped at school on Friday morning then headed off to the gym, or work or home to do laundry or clean up the mess those same babies had left behind are ever going to be able to face another day.  The void is incomprehensible.

I still have my baby.  No, she doesn’t have the name that I gave her.  No, she doesn’t wear the clothes that I lovingly packed away when her older brother outgrew them, knowing that because their birthdays are so close together, they could potentially be the same approximate size during the same approximate season.  The curls are long gone and her bright blues have faded to a green like my father’s.  Her presentation is different, but I still have my baby.  When I am at a low, and mourning George’s having faded away, I remind myself of how fortunate I am to have her under my roof, eating my food, trashing my family room and continually expecting me to get up and make her breakfast before she heads off to school.

Unnervingly, the horrors of the Newtown massacre have forced me (and maybe you, too) to work a little bit harder to treasure every moment and to reassess that which pushes us to the edge.  During those times when I feel that I am at my limit, can no longer take another moment of the ambiguity and struggle, I try to remind myself how lucky I actually am.

Being a parent is hard.  Losing a child is harder.  My heart is broken for these families.  I have not buried a child, but I know the pain of losing one in a different way.  The pain they are facing cannot be compared to my own.  Knowing that, my heart is broken further.

What I Want & What I Cannot

I want to write something profound, thoughtful and meaningful about the horrors of yesterday.  I want to somehow apply the experience I have had raising my transgender child to the events that unfolded in the one place children are always supposed to not only feel, but actually be safe.  I want to understand how it could have happened and, equally, if not more importantly, what we can do as a society to ensure it never happens again.  I cannot do any of those things.  I can only, along with the rest of the world, pray for the families that have been victimized, traumatized and forever changed.

I cannot fathom the agony that the families of both the victims and the assassin are being forced to endure.  I cannot imagine the devastation launched upon a community, a country.  And I cannot reconcile in my mind any rational reason that a living creature would be so distraught as to murder our most vulnerable.

As a blogger with a loyal band of followers, I felt a pull, a compulsion, a need to reach out to everyone.  Life is full of challenges, obstacles and unthinkable acts.  Hold on tight to the people in your life – the ones that bring you joy as well as the one who struggle and need your support.  No one can do this alone.

First Birthday, Eleven Years Later

Today is Jessie’s eleventh birthday…but it many ways it is her first.  Today marks not only the date that she was born in 2001, but, and perhaps more importantly, it is the first anniversary of the day that she turned to me after seeing this article in The Boston Globe http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2011/12/11/led-child-who-simply-knew/SsH1U9Pn9JKArTiumZdxaL/story.html and said, “You mean I am not the only one?”  That day our world, and more importantly, George’s (nci) world would forever change.

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I remember it like it was yesterday.  Just days earlier, he had tearfully shared his weighty emotion that he had always wanted to be a girl and was gingerly teetering with having shared the information (none of us quite knowing what to do with it) when the article appeared on the front page catching his eye just before we were to go out for a celebratory breakfast with a newly minted double-digit aged boy.  The remainder of the day (and for several weeks to come) was akin to the feeling I get when I take Sudafed: like I was speeding and moving in slow motion all at the same time which, as I am sure you can imagine, is a disconcerting and uncomfortable way to attempt to maneuver a day (or weeks).  I knew, on some level, that the world I had known for ten years, the life of being a mom of two boys was never to be again.  I can assure you now just how ill-prepared I was for the enormity of it all.

Sitting at the counter of the diner poised for a greasy breakfast, the only overt discussion on the subject was the offer to go to the Target down the street to purchase an article or two of girl clothing.   Gulp.  George vigorously shook his drooping head and said he did not want to…it was all just sinking in for him.  (Oh, yeah, and for me, too.)  I silently and secretly breathed a massive sigh of relief at his refusal and thought that perhaps we would stay in this particular limbo for the foreseeable future.  I was right – if you consider his announcement at school the following morning (11 a.m to be precise) to be, in any way, a “foreseeable future”.

When my first child, Harrison, was born (gulp, eighteen years ago) my mother shared with me the directive of the child-rearing guru of her day, Dr. Spock, by quoting the famous (and comforting) opening line of his famous “Baby and Childcare Book”: You know more than you think you do.  Having found success in repeating this mantra over and over (and over) in my head for the prior years of my parenting life, I was foolish enough to think (hope?)that those words would easily translate to my newest baby: my trans-girl.  Yeah, that was something of a fail.  Although not entirely.

Some of the transition came more naturally than you might think.  Remember, George had been hoarding Barbies and reveling in mermaid fantasy life for so long that the progression from presenting as male to presenting as female was fairly easy…a relief, even.   The toys were all in place and the American Girl dolls, once relegated to quiet play alone in the house, were suddenly fair game for full exposure.  We need not pack away the Hot Wheels or Super Hero paraphernalia since we didn’t have any (other than those left over from Harrison’s early days).   And the love of sewing and designing felt less troublesome to Jessie than it did to George.  Cat, bag, out.

The clothing, however, was a little more difficult.  While previously content (enough) to wear t-shirts and sweats or jeans, my new baby wanted to be swaddled in pinks, purples and yellows…the brighter the better.  I was quickly (and slightly painfully) indoctrinated into the likes of Justice, Delia’s and the opposite side of the store at the likes of The Gap and Target.  Having bought nothing but aforementioned t-shirts and sweats (with an occasional button down shirt for school pictures) I will admit to a quick rush of excitement in foraging through the (way cuter than boys’) girls’ clothing and actually purchasing something other than blue, grey or beige.  I will likewise admit to feeling nauseated, anxious, uncomfortable and sweaty while doing so.  And then I thought: What was I doing?  How did we get here? Oh, dear G-d this is nuts and What are people going to think?  Here I was with a new baby, but I couldn’t announce, or, frankly, bask in the joys of the beginning of a new life.  It was just too frightening, overwhelming and incomprehensible.

I suppose I felt the way any new mother feels when it is clear that there is something amiss with her newborn.  I suppose it was a normal way to feel.  And I further suppose that, now that I have the benefit of a year’s hindsight, it was a little bit harder than I realized.  My fight or flight instinct kicked in and off we went…without the luxury of a baby nurse, a move-in grandma or even a fancy new stroller.

So this year’s birthday yields not only a change in age, but a more solid footing and a greater comfort in the requested gifts, a child with ever-growing hair and a still fading memory of George.  No one can tell me what the 12th, 13th, 14th and subsequent birthdays will look like (believe me, I’ve asked!), but, for now, Jessie is relishing in the acceptance of her (not so) new self and, as her mom, that makes me feel just that much better.  Now to decide how many candles go on the cake…

Swimming Despite the Rain (?)

Last night I attended my tenth (and last – insert sad face here) Swim Team parent meeting.  Harrison has been swimming competitively since he was seven and, as such, I have attended many a season kick-off meeting.   Despite  having graduated from the JCC to the High School team, the information shared in these meetings has stayed virtually identical; commitment to the team, importance of coming to practice, work hard blah blah blah.  The meeting took all of twenty minutes (thirty-five if you take into account driving back and forth to the high school, parking and finding a bathroom in the hallowed halls of academia).  Wham bam, done.

It was not until this morning (while sipping my new love: Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Green Tea) that I glanced over the handout and noticed the final line of the Coach’s “Goals and Expectations”:

I hope you will do things you never thought you could.

Hardly a new sentiment, it managed to jumped off the page and to firmly attach itself to my psyche.  Eleven basic words in a seemingly simple, even trite, formation which have gotten under my skin…in a good way.  Oh, the things I have experienced which I not only never thought I could, but, frankly, never occurred to me to attempt to attempt.  For someone who is not exactly adventuresome, I’ve done (some of) my share of things I never thought I could.  Just last year (at exactly this time) Jessie had already shared her feelings regarding her gender with me and Rich.  At precisely the time she was embracing the sensation of her shoulders dropping from the relief of sharing her “secret” (her words), mine were inching up to my ears at breakneck speed.  I was nearly crippled at the mere thought of how we were going to go wider (read: tell anyone) with the information.  I was quite sure it was nothing I was ever going to be able to manage, for either my child or, frankly, myself.  At the time, I would definitely have filed under: there is absolutely no way I am going to be able to handle this.  But, alas, here we are, a full year later, and everyone is still standing.  Who’d a thunk it?

Perhaps an even greater (not to mention more impressive and less self-serving) is Jessie’s resolve.  I’ve never asked her, but would be willing to bet that for the first several years of her knowing that she needed to transition she never thought it would actually happen.  I suspect that her tortured thinking and desires would have fallen safely (yes, I note the irony of word choice) into the “something I can never do” category, yet here she is, a full year into her transition.  So deep into it, in fact, that yelling “Jessie” (either to or, if we are being honest, at her) has long since ceased sounding strange and my pronoun slip ups are rare.  Truth: referring to my son as “her” and “she” is yet one more thing that I never thought I could do.

The swim coach’s words are, on the surface, meant to encourage the boys to kick, stroke and breathe harder than they ever imagined in the hopes of out-swimming the other teams, but the lesson is so much bigger than that.  Just when you lose hope and think you are going to drown, you might just have a little more kick in you which is all you need to reach the end, perhaps even victoriously.  My legs and arms are tired.  It has been a long and challenging year.  There are hours (I began to assess by the hour when I realized that taking it a full day at a time was often more than I could handle) that I am ready for dead-man’s float, but then I remember that I can do this.  And so can you.

In the past several weeks alone, friends of mine have faced enormous challenges: unexpected deaths, illnesses which were supposed to have gone away but have reared their ugly heads, lost jobs, broken marriages, sick children and financial struggles.  In the words of the swim coach (and my father):  you can do this.  And in my words: if I can do it (whatever “it” may be)…so, too, can you.

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Sending special thoughts and love to: RR, BM, ED, MS, JW and everyone else who is struggling with something big, small or somewhere in between. ❤