And Then There Were Two

Two years ago I was living in this house with three other people, all male; one husband, two sons.

Eighteen months ago I was still living with three people, now two male and one female; one husband, one son, one daughter.

A year ago, I began living with just two people, one male, one female and both under the legal drinking age.

Beginning next week I will be living with just one other person…the daughter I didn’t quite know I had.

And then there were two.

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I have been thinking a lot about Harrison’s upcoming departure for his freshman year in college.  I have considered the up, down, front and sideways of the new dynamic as I am all too aware of how it changes no matter who you take out of the equation. There are pros and cons to his departure, but, not surprisingly, I am far more focused on the cons.  (Have you met me?)

To be perfectly clear, I am thrilled for Harrison and have all confidence in his ability not only to launch but to thrive.  It has not been easy living in these parts for the past few years and his resilience (and healthy dose of anger) will serve him well in all that he strives to accomplish.  He has had no choice but to go with the flow and adapt to situations over which he has had absolutely no control or input.  (I like to think of this as exceptional parenting in terms of preparing him for dorm life.)  And, with the notable exception of the past few weeks, he has been a dream in the process.  (Explanation: in his undying quest to successfully separate, he has done pretty much everything in his power to be a gigantic pain in the ass, thereby paving the way for a much easier goodbye.)

I am acutely aware of the obvious changes that lay ahead.  For starters, the quantity and specifics of food I will need to purchase (orange soda and Chex Mix come to mind) will decrease dramatically.  There will be no more afternoons or evenings during which my family room/basement/backyard are full with young men and women with voracious appetites for all things sweet and/or salty.  I will not walk into the kitchen and be met with a pile of shoes of various shapes, sizes and aromas belonging to kids who seem to have hollow legs into which they deposit endless amounts of food. No, now it will be just me and Jess.  Technically, I could buy nothing other than milk and Spaghettios and she would be happy.  For me, I can do a daily stop at a salad bar and all would be right with the world.  The cash savings will be immense.

There will be less laundry, fewer cars in the driveway and more space for my Bravo shows on the DVR.  There will be no more boys in the house…just us girls.  Who will mow the lawn and plow the snow?  Who will clean the kitty box (better question: who will be reminded repeatedly to clean the kitty box and still not do it until way after it should be done)?  Who will plunge the toilet when it is, um, bigger than I can deal with?  Who will run out for milk when I forget to buy it…again. Who will indulge me by explaining what ails my computer, iPod, Kindle, cell phone or car?  Who will schlep the crap from my trunk to my kitchen?  And who will give hugs when no one else will?

I have adjusted to changes in the makeup of my home before.  I can do it again.  I have learned to share my hair accessories, nail polish and the occasional article of clothing which no mom of boys said ever.  I have gotten (ever so) slightly closer to figuring out what exactly makes Jess tick. I have learned when to quietly wander up to my room and shut the door and when to go to the mat.  I have successfully gone from three to two…certainly I can move from two to one.

It is a different kind of empty nest.  It is a changed nest, really.  Harrison will be part way through medical school before Jessie even heads to college.  We have seven years to establish a new rhythm and groove. And then she will leave and I will be just one.

My house has migrated from four to three to two.  It is going to be an adjustment for sure…but I can do this.

Thanks, Christopher Robin and Dr. Spock.

No matter what you call them: curveballs, detours, the unexpected or shitstorms, we all get ‘em.  Having experienced a fair number of whatever-you-want-to-call-them I have come to have a certain philosophy by which to tackle whatever lands on your lap: we are stronger than we think we are.*

I am also (or, perhaps however would be more appropriate?) all about the post-experience freak out.  When faced with an emergency (or an unforeseen something or other) I am the person you want around.  I will rally with the best of them and am sure to get the involved parties from A to B without incident.  (Provided there is no vomit involved.)  It will not be until days, weeks, months or, often years later that I, at the hands of the most benign provocation, lose my shit.  It has happened with enough regularity for me to consider it a core element of my personality.  And I don’t actually mind it.  I see it as my own personal version of strength.  (Don’t judge…it works for me.)

When Harrison was a newborn, my mother bought me a copy of the book which was the bible when she had babies; “Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare”.  Still fresh in her mind, some thirty years after having had her youngest child (me), she still recalled the opening line of the book: “You know more than you think you do.”  Over the years, I have morphed this mantra into “you are stronger than you think you are”…and have yet to be proven wrong.

Two weeks ago, a dear friend brought herself to the doctor having grown tired of the vague but annoying symptoms she had been experiencing.  She was sluggish.  She was weak.  Her gait was off.  Her strength was inexplicably depleted despite going to the gym five days a week.  Something was wrong, but we all, her included, suspected it was nothing.  Well, (and you know where this is headed) it wasn’t nothing.  It was a mass on her brain (the best place to have one, apparently) which had taken up residence twenty years ago and finally became so enormous as to saddle her with said vague and annoying symptoms.  By day’s end she was scheduled for a twelve-hour (which turned into a fifteen hour) surgery, with high hopes for a full recovery.  Talk about a curveball  (or detour or the unexpected or shitstorm!)

In the few days she had to get her head around things (pun intended) we went to lunch.  I handed her a gigantic box of chocolates (because of their medicinal qualities) and a note in which I told her that she is stronger than she thinks she is.  She vehemently disagreed and quietly sat through the rest of lunch, freaking out inside.

She is home now, sporting a row of Frankenstein-esque staples across the top of her nearly bald head.  Her gait is back to normal, but her movements slow.  She told me that she hadn’t cried yet and wondered when she would.  I shared that it was a full year after my mastectomy that I found myself sitting on the floor of the shower sobbing, unable to discern which was falling harder – the water from the spout or my tears.  (I have no idea what set me off.  I suspect it was nothing.) Her abject fear has abated, but not disappeared.  And she has already proven that she is indeed stronger than she thought she was.

I tell everyonesolicited or not (and, as it happens, have written about on this blog: https://georgejessielove.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/scars/ )…scars and the curveballs (or detours, or unexpected or shitstorms)  which cause them are a sign of strength.  A sign of what we have had hurled at us and responded to by mustering that strength that we didn’t know we had.  Sometimes we are just driving along, giving little thought to the path in mind, maybe even on auto-pilot, when suddenly we happen upon a sign (or a CT scan as the case may be) which indicates other (unexpected, curveball-type) things are in store.  We never anticipate it.   But we always face it down, get through it and maybe even kick some ass in the process.

It isn’t appropriate to liken the experience of tackling a brain tumor with addressing the needs of a transgender child.  It doesn’t even feel right to utter the two in the same sentence.  However, both do require us to listen to (and hear) what other people tell us:  we are stronger than we think we are and that we can do (fill in the blank).

So the next time you find yourself on the receiving end of a curveball, a detour, the unexpected or a shitstorm, remind yourself of your strength.  You can do this.

p.s. Love, prayers and healing wishes to JS.

*creds to Christopher Robin, oh, and Pooh.

George

For the most part, I am (fairly) at peace with George’s transition to Jessie.  It would be dishonest to suggest that it is easy, that I fully understand it or that I do not worry about where she will land.  I have gotten used to the long hair, the girly accoutrements and the abundance of pink.  When I look at her, I generally see a girl, although admittedly, there are times that I see my little boy George.

I admit that I still struggle, however, with her name.  Anyone who has a child knows what goes into naming them.  With each potential moniker we assess everything: the initials and what acronym they may spell**, the possible nicknames –both good and bad, the cadence of the first, middle and last names together, the meaning of the name, the person for whom they are named.  You make the decision, fill it in on the birth certificate and commence a new life.

George was named for my paternal grandfather whom I adored.  (And, it is worth noting, I was, without question, his favorite).  Rich and I found it alternatively cool and a wee bit funky that we would have children George and Harrison (who, by the way, was named for his grandfather, Harry) and have (many, many times) been asked if we were big Beatles fans.  We considered other “G” names (in keeping with Jewish tradition), but none seemed to fit this bright blue-eyed child as well as George.  It was not long before George morphed into Georgie; a name that so perfectly suited him with his strong spirit, high energy and take-hold-of-the-room personality.  I loved his name.

And then he went and changed it.

When, nearly two years ago, George tearfully told me that he “had always wanted to be a girl” I vividly recall thinking to myself that “she” (early in the game, she required quote marks) could still go by Georgie…it would work, be cute even.  But he* was having none of it.  Shedding his male persona would, in his* mind, not be complete without a name change.  It was crushing.

At first, the names bantered about (much to my horror) were those I would call “ridiculously female”: Ashley, Brittany, Amber, Tiffany.  Nice enough names, but none that I would ever consider for my daughter – even if she had been born with a vagina.  I had to be careful, though.  I had to be supportive.  I had to try to sway his* thinking to something more palatable to, well, me.

I cannot honestly recall how it was that we arrived at Jessie, but I do know that there was much discussion as to how it would be spelled.  I (at the suggestion of my brother) was angling for “Jesse” – it somehow seemed more androgynous, although, in hindsight that sounds ridiculous since it is highly unusual upon meeting someone to inquire if there is an “i” in the spelling of their name.  Regardless, she* wanted the “i” and I was wise enough to know that I would have far greater battles to face thus making going to the mat on this one was a colossal waste of everybody’s time.  So, Jessie it would be.

And now, over the past two weeks, I have been (a little more than slightly) tortured by this (not quite so) new name.  First, Kate and William went and named their little heir to the throne George.  And if that wasn’t bad enough they publicly announce that he will be called Georgie.  Hey!  That was my nickname for my kid!  (When I relayed this information to Jessie, her eyes widened, her mouth dropped open slightly and she said with just an air of irritation, “hey! I started that!”…to which I responded – in my head – wtf?!?!)  And then, Jessie unearthed a blanket emblazoned with the name George – a throwback to Harrison’s bar mitzvah (nearly six years ago!) when I gave each kid a blanket with, yep, their name embroidered on it.  I’ve not seen that grey fleece throw in years…where the hell did it suddenly come from??  And what will be next?  Will George H.W. Bush die prompting 24/7 news coverage? Will Boy George be arrested (again)? Will Lake George overflow?  Will George Clooney end his lifelong bachelorhood?  Will George Washington get a facelift over on Mt. Rushmore? Will George Foreman have another child and name him George?  Will I never be able to escape the reminder of George – in all incarnations?

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I suspect I will not.  I suspect that I will always have a visceral, nearly physical reaction when I hear the name George.  It happens when I hear Mark which was my father’s name.  It happens when I hear the names of my late grandparents Bob Sadie and Betty, too, although admittedly that happens with far less regularity (really – who names a kid Bob, Sadie or Betty these days?) (Oh, wait, I wanted to name Jessie Sadie, had she been a girl.  Oh, the irony.)

It is just another of the many little things that trip me up, catch me unaware.  It is getting a little bit easier…but I do hope that all Georges lay low for a while.

*pronoun intended

** I have a dear friend whose married name make her initials JEW.  Cracks me up every time I see it.  (Love you, JEW)