Camp: Week One

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I will not be so bold as to exhale, but…I will memorialize the fact that the first week of camp was, wait for it, an unmitigated success.  It started and ended without incident.  It was five times (read: five days) better than camp experiences of the past.  A happy child left my house in the morning and returned, still happy, in the afternoon.   And, perhaps of greater note: no calls, emails, texts or smoke signals from camp.  Phew. (Not to be confused with an exhale.)

Throughout the week, however, I have been the recipient of texts, emails, and phone calls checking in on me, um…I mean Jess. (Note: those meant the world to me, friends!) As the week progressed, I’ve responded with slightly greater comfort each day and found myself a little bit surprised when I realized that it was Friday already and not a single scary phone number appeared on my cell, no emails in my inbox and no notes in the backpack.  Bestill my heart.

I am unsure to what I owe this change of events: Is it the camp? Or the additional year of “maturing” (I use the term loosely)? Or a heavenly alignment of the stars? Or G-d’s way of giving me a break after the shitstorm of last summer?  I suppose a better question is: does it even matter?

If I have learned nothing else over these past eighteen months, I have learned to (try like hell to) not over-think every experience, episode and event.  I have (almost) become Zen in my approach to transitions,  tests and tantrums.  I know when to ask questions and when to just take things at face value and run.

To my credit, I resisted the (overwhelming, nearly debilitating) urge to drop a quick email (or phone call or text or smoke signal) to the camp director as a means of confirming that all really is well and am quite confident that, were it not, I’d have heard about it.

Monday starts the second week of camp and while I will not exhale, I will assume (perhaps dangerously) that it will be as great a success as the first week.  Your collective crossed fingers, toes, and genuflection are appreciated as are your respect for my holding my breath.  We can do this.

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Come Fly With Me

When I was eleven, I wanted to be a stewardess. At the time, it was not a fleeting fantasy, rather it was a plan.  It all began on a flight to Florida when I was bestowed with my first set of wings, back in the day when they were metal and had a sharp pin on the back.  I wore those wings with pride and a plan, a goal, a destiny. The memory is wildly entertaining to me for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I spent the better part of at least a decade (okay, closer to two decades); you guessed it, afraid to fly.  My fear was not that my plane would crash or that, G-d forbid, some insane people would hijack us into a building.  No, my terror (and that is not an overstatement) was the knowledge that, once those jet doors were shut, I could not get off if I wanted (no, needed) to.

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For a good while, it was easy enough to avoid.  I simply did not make plans to go any place that could not be gotten to by car or, if absolutely necessary, train.  (Yes, the same anxiety held true for trains, although it was somehow less severe due, I am sure, to the fact that at least a train was on the ground.)  Eventually, however, my need to avoid flying was trumped by my desire to be a part of family events, vacations and a change of scenery.  I had to face the fear.

At the suggestion of more than one (as in at least a dozen) friends, I requested a prescription from my doctor for a baby dose of Xanax.  I had been assured by more than one (as in at least a dozen) friends that it would make all the difference in the world and that I could, indeed, leave the confines of the two hundred mile radius which had become my travel sphere.  I obtained, filled and picked up the prescription at CVS.  And then I let it sit on my dresser for months.  Literally, months.  I kept planning to take one while on the ground, just to see how it made me feel, but was unable to do it.  I was crippled by fear.

Until one day I wasn’t.

I had (bravely?/fearfully?) booked a flight to Los Angeles to visit my brother and his family and departure day was drawing near.  It was sink or swim time: I either had to give the ol’ Xanax a whirl or plan to get on that plane without it.  Neither option was particularly appealing, but I was an adult and had to friggin’ do something.  I took the Xanax, got on the plane and would go so far as to say: I enjoyed the flight.  Thereafter, I made sure to have a Xanax at the ready before any takeoffs or landings but the need to actually ingest the pill soon gave way to simply having it in my handbag…just in case.  I realize now that the pattern of being fearful , eventually doing something about it, and then crushing the fear is my standard operating procedure for just about everything in life.

When Jessie first began to display real signs of a gender issue I was terrified.  What did it all mean, how would it play out, where would she (and, frankly, I) land?   It took me a long time to even attempt to get ahead of it, to accept it, to embrace it.  I measured the success of a day in half hour increments, the entirety of an hour being too much to take on.  As time progressed, I used whatever means necessary to go about the business of parenting my transitioning child.  And then one day, just like the plane, I didn’t need the “pill” anymore.  Life settled into a new normal (an expression which, by the way, I find incredibly irritating, but will use, nonetheless) and I am no longer gripped with fear.

Jess is the same age now that I was when my dreams of being a stewardess were hatched.  (Aside: I also wanted to be Jeannie, complete with her perfect ponytail and that rockin’ bottle which was, in my estimation, the most perfect home imaginable.)   Her (Jessie’s, not Jeannie’s, that is) dreams are so different than were mine.  She wants to be a designer (which she will be), she wants to be true to herself (which she is being) and she is successfully navigating her decidedly unorthodox path.  No fantasies of flying or blinking her way to success there.  Does she have fears?  Of course she does.  We all do.  The difference here: she takes them on, while I let them fester.  Yet another lesson to be learned from one of my children.

Yes, when I was eleven, I was going to be a stewardess.  Until one day I wasn’t.

It’s Summer and the Living’s Easy?

This was written, with the intent of posting it, last night.  Alas, that did not happen.  I am confident that you will understand the use of “today” actually means “yesterday”.  Not that is matters.  Just sayin’.

Here’s the thing about having a blog: people expect you to have something to say and to do so articulately and with some regularity.  Sometimes my ability to do so comes easily, particularly when the incidents and accidents are coming fast and furious at every turn.  Other times, when things seem to be somewhat normal (dare I even use that word?) this blogger finds herself not only at a loss for words, but actually appreciating the fact that there is not a lot to say.

Now, to be perfectly clear, I suspect that will all change as the transition from school to camp goes beyond today, the first day.  I am waiting, with (more than) somewhat bated breath, to see how things unfold in the coming week as camp becomes a routine as opposed to a novelty.  Images and agonies of last summer continue to swirl about in my head, but, until this moment, I have staunchly refused to acknowledge that fact.  My hopes are high for the next five weeks of camp.  I will go so far as to say that I have a gut feeling that it is all going to be okay, but uttering that aloud is far too arrogant quite yet.

You may recall that last summer was an epic and repeated fail.  It undid me.  It undid Jess.  It provided plenty to discuss in therapy until such time as I deemed it no longer worth the energy it took to do so.  The plan was to archive it as deep in the recesses of my brain as was possible, never to revisit ever again.  Until, that is, this week.

It would be dishonest to say that I had successfully tucked it away.  I have thought about it on (more than) several occasions and prayed to St. Somebody or Other (said the Jewish girl) that this year, with the benefit of another year under our collective belts, we would kick summer’s butt.  I went so far as to not even acknowledge that Friday was the last day of school (for Jess, that is…the rest of the kids, the ones who transition without issue that is (do you happen to know any of those kids, because I certainly do not) remain for the last five mandated days in school, sweltering from the heat and filling the day with anything that is not academic and kills six hours) and that today was the first day of camp.  (Full disclosure: transition issues aside, there was no way on G-d’s green earth that I was going to forfeit the first week of camp given the price tag. The fact that transitions are important was merely a bonus.)  If nothing else, I have learned to tone down my pre-worrying and let things happen ever so slightly more organically.  In this case, that played out as denial.  It works for me.  Don’t judge.

When she left for camp in the morning she was in great spirits.  That did not surprise me.  In fact, it would have thrown me if she had exhibited any anxiety.  That is simply not her style. What I worried about, for a fair portion of the day, was what arrival home would look like.  And here is what I got:

The scene: Jess walks in the door (having been drive home by a friend) with her head drooping down.  Having chosen swimming as her last activity of the day (thus requiring no changing out of a wet suit) her hair was still wet and is long enough to be hanging in her face.  I held my breath.

Me: “So…how was it???”

Jess: “Awful.”

Me: (Holding back the vomit that was rising in my throat), “Um, whaddya mean?  What happened?”

Jess: “Everyone was mean and I hated the classes.”

Me: (Reaching for the nearest receptacle into which I would deposit aforementioned vomit), “Seriously?”

Jess: (Bursting into a huge smile),”IT WAS AWESOME!”

Me: (Thinking of how to kill her and leave the fewest signs of force).  “You stinker.”

And then a shared smile.

Yeah, yeah, I know: it is only the first day.  But (and this is a big one): it is the best first day of anything, ever.

Tune back in for updates.  I hope (and by hope I mean pray like hell) that they will continue to be positive but I make no promises. I almost hope she gives me nothing to write about…

T.S.G.

The scene: you have a situation, an issue, a problem, a dilemma.  A choice has to be made as to how you are going to manage it with, hopefully, the least amount of drama and the greatest amount of success.  What to do?

Recently a friend* was sharing with me a difficult personal situation which he had faced.  He told me that it became very clear to him that he had one of three choices: tread water, swim wildly and to the point of exhaustion or get out of the fucking pool.  It struck me as an excellent set of choices to consider, no matter the issue. And then I realized that in approaching the issue of Jessie’s transition, I had actually exercised the option of, well, exercising all the options.

When she first came to me with her declaration, the pool into which I was thrown (without, I might add, much warning) felt as though it was a thousand feet deep, with a strong undercurrent and a malfunctioning filter that would, instead of cleaning the debris, suck me into a sinkhole from which it would be impossible to free myself.  I instinctively knew that I had to figure out a way to manage the scenario and, without the T.S.G. (tread, swim or get out) philosophy articulated, I now realize I did it all.

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While the “public” announcement was made in early December, I had known since the beginning of September.  I will never forget her tear drenched cheeks as she told me that she, (or, more accurately, he) had always wanted to be a girl.  From that day forward, until December 12, when she shared her “secret” with a teacher, I was treading water like nobody’s business.  I had my full Esther Williams going on: my head was above water, my hair and make-up were in place and I was furiously flapping my feet hoping for nothing more than to stay afloat.

That worked for some time, actually.  Everything was under wraps and magnificently controlled.  There was no explaining to do to anyone…nothing external had changed.  The community was none the wiser and maintaining the status quo made perfect sense…but it was not sustainable.  Treading water never is.  It is fine (excellent, even) for the short-term, but eventually you are going to peter out and sink to the bottom of the pool.  And then you are screwed.

Upon coming to this realization, I began to swim crazily.  I met with the school.  I shared with friends.  I fielded well-meaning inquiries from people I hardly knew.  I talked with press.  I wrote articles.  I even joined a support group.  In time, I perfected my stroke and continued circling the lap lane, wondering if and I when I would be allowed to stop.  Each day brought new challenges, questions and concerns.  My arms and legs were growing tired and my skin was growing tight from the unnatural “stuff” in the water.  My hair was no longer manageable from the saturation.  I couldn’t rotate my arms one more time.  I had to get out of the fucking pool.

It has been a year and a half since George transitioned to Jessie.  In some ways, it seems that it was just yesterday that I was frantically swinging my legs, secretly hoping someone would toss me a life-preserver.  It seems merely days ago that I had perfected my stroke and was impressively maneuvering the water, fighting the urge to sink to the bottom of the pool.  And now, here I am, settled in with my transgender child to the point that I can comfortably sit poolside and enjoy a cold drink with a little umbrella in it.  I got out of the fucking pool.

But I will never be able to leave the deck.  There will always be another situation, issue, problem or dilemma that arises related or not to transgender-unique issues.  Since hearing about the T.S.G. phenomenon, I wonder if next time I will go through all the paces or skip to the exit.  I wonder if it is better to “T”, then “S” then “G” or if skipping one or two is preferable.  I wonder if TSG is a process or a choice.  I am mulling it over and over in my head.  I guess you could say I am treading water with it all.

So next time you either jump or are thrown into the deep end, think about TSG and see where it takes you.

*Creds to BTS

Pretty

“I think I am pretty.” – Jessie 6/6/13

She said it without provocation, fanfare or defense (read: there was no emphasis on the first “I”).  In fact, it was a complete non-sequitur. As we were taking the three-minute drive home from school she just kind of mentioned it, with a follow-up peek at (and smile into) the visor mirror.  She had exactly zero interest in me agreeing (or disagreeing, for that matter) in her announcement, rather it was a sentiment which she uttered as matter-of-factly as stating the time of day.

Moments before, when she spotted my car parked alongside all the other parents, she was walking with an eighth grader (she is in fifth) who was chatting with her in a manner no different from any two girls with three grades between them would interact.  Upon noticing my car, they stopped to say hello, Jess radiating joy not only in the fact that she was walking with an older girl, but having been spotted doing so.  No sooner had I noticed the glow when another eighth grade girl walked by, but not without stopping to give Jess a hug.  It was, I suppose, a not all together unusual interaction between girls, but for me, it was a little bit earth-shattering.

Despite the ease with which the transition from George to Jessie occurred, it has not been without its challenges.  For five years at school she had been known (and, to be clear, everybody knew her) as a boy named George and, as such, she would (attempt to) associate with the boys.  When Jessie emerged, both the boys and the girls were as accepting as one could ever hope for, but not quite sure what to make of her or the change.  Was she now one of the girls or was she still one of the boys?  Funky, right?

Her social maneuvering has been interesting to watch.  So, too, her struggles with appearing too masculine or, for that matter, too feminine.  Her hair, which happens to have just the right amount of wave, no frizz and a beautiful color, is now past her shoulders.  That, for a transgirl, is huge. (Oh, who am I kidding, her hair would be the envy of anyone: male, female, gay, straight, trans…) I am still adjusting to finding ponytail holders, bobby pins and headbands strewn throughout the house, but now I know that she feels pretty which makes it (just a little bit) less annoying.

As the mother of boys (for a while, anyway) I never focused much on building their self-esteem.  As males, they seemed to come about it a bit easier than the girls so I, instead, leaned hard on the building up of behaviors aimed at molding them into good husbands and fathers.  I frankly never gave much thought to them feeling attractive (they were so darned cute, though) but I knew that all that changed when Jessie moved in.  I was, if you want the truth, worried about her feeling attractive, looking the part.  (Pretty would be great, but I would have settled for attractive.)  She, however, seems to have found her pretty which, as her mom, makes me joyful.

This weekend we will be celebrating both my niece’s Bat Mitzvah (complete with a nighttime dance party) and Harrison’s high school graduation.  Jess has three new dresses hanging in wait in her closet: one for each  event.  She has put thought into how she will wear her hair.  She has laid out the necessary accessories and promised to at least attempt to get a good night’s sleep.  And, now I know, she will think she is pretty.

Note: this was taken a few months ago.  Her hair is longer and the burrito has been eaten.  She has her pretty going on.

Note: this was taken a few months ago. Her hair is longer and the burrito has been eaten. She has her pretty going on.