Explain This

When George was two, my parents went to an afternoon movie after which they were going to come to my house to babysit. Around 6 that evening, my mother called to tell me that they were not “coming over” after all. “Um, you weren’t coming over, you were babysitting…” I said in a perhaps less charitable tone than I should have. It was then that she explained that my father had fallen asleep during the movie and she was unable to wake him. Huh? What does that even mean? Since he was a Type 2 Diabetic, she had tried, in vain, to feed him some of the Jr. Mints left over in his lap. (He must have “fallen asleep” early on…there was little that would keep my father from emptying a box of those little gems). Suddenly aware that something was quite wrong, I told her to meet me at the hospital.
When she arrived there with him he was, apparently, in such a frightening state (important visual: my father was 6’1”, my mother 5’1”…imagine her trying to “carry” him in) that they immediately bedded him and started to try to figure out what was wrong. It was a long night. By the end, we knew that he had had a stroke. That was the good news. The answer to the question following the routine chest x-ray of, “are you aware there is a large mass in your chest?” was “um, no”. That was the bad news.
At the time, I was a (mostly) happy stay at home mom. I had stopped working not too long before, in part because George was so wild and busily beating his own drum that the family day care sort of, kind of, might have thrown her hands in the air and cried uncle. So, the only help I had was for the one (okay, sometimes two) hours a day I would drop him off in the babysitting room at the JCC and (usually) work out. There was a lovely older woman named Alla there who was solidly unafraid of George. Perhaps it was the fact that she was Israeli and, as such, able to withstand more than most, but it doesn’t much matter. Not only could she handle him, she freakin’ adored him. The admiration was reciprocated and all was right, if only for one (okay, sometimes two) hours a day.
I was a no-show for several days following my father’s diagnosis. When I finally returned and told Alla what was going on she asked how she could help. She knew I had no other coverage and that the babysitting was only for when I was in the building (theoretically) working out. Without hesitation she offered to watch George at her home for as much time as I needed, for as long as I needed. At the moment, I hadn’t realized how desperate I was for help and after asking her about a hundred times if she was sure, accepted her offer.
George and Alla hung out together for the next several weeks. I would deliver George to her and know that he was safe and happy, even though it was evident that the world around me was crashing in. I still feel indebted to her and never will forget the kindness she showed me and George.
I’ve seen Alla many times over the years. I am even relatively certain that I have told her that George is now Jess. But, either I didn’t or she does not recall…because each and every time I bump into her, she asks for her “boy George”. Every. Single. Time.
Yesterday, I ran into Alla. Literally. I was coming around the corner at the market and our carts collided. We embraced. I told her, as I always do (because it is true) that she simply doesn’t age. She caught me up on her kids, two docs and one who is set to graduate next week from Harvard Law. And, as always, she asked about her “boy George”. I told her that “everyone” is great, getting older, keeping me on my toes. I mastered the ol’ sin of omission by not engaging in one single pronoun. She asked if I had any recent pictures and I, um, lied, and told her that my phone was in the car, hoping against hope that it didn’t ding, ping or ring right then and there. I was secretly relieved that Jess was not with me. Not because I am ashamed, but because it simply feels like it is too late/too exhausting/too old news/too overwhelming/too much a part of everyday life that I sometimes forget to have to explain it again.
This is not the first time I have skirted the issue of “explaining.” I have omitted the details to my elderly neighbor who moved away years ago, but with whom I still keep in touch – primarily by phone. I once skimmed over the details of the facts with two little kids who were too young and new to our family to tell. I was later accused of lying to them which stung a little, but I know I did the right thing by “explaining” only what they would understand. Things like this come up all the time. No, really: all.the.time. And, if I am being honest, I am getting tired of having to explain to every Tom, Dick and Harry that my daughter started off as my son.
Then, late yesterday afternoon, just hours after my encounter with Alla , “explanation time” came up again when I took Jess to Urgent Care for an ear infection. I checked her in, ponytail and pink-checked lounge pant-clad Jess who happens to have an insurance card that says George. I leaned in and asked the receptionist to please call her Jess and use female pronouns which, not surprisingly, caught her off guard. To her credit, she had a quick recovery, wrote it on the intake form and moments later, Jess was called. And then! Then, the doctor came back in with the prescription which was written for Jess, forcing me to tell her (kind of again) that the script had to say George. So many Ts to cross, so many Is to dot.
Jess is used to it. She heard me tell the folks at the new allergist’s office. And the blue-haired gal taking names at Super Cuts, and the on-call pediatrician, and the camp directors, and the gymnastics teacher… She’s corrected people who slip up and others who should know better than to, um, slip up. It happens.
Anyone who has ever read a word of this blog knows how I adored my father. What you might not know, however, is that I felt the same way about his father, my grandpa, who was named…yep, George. In 2001, most people were not naming little boys George. I even hesitated a little, worried that he wouldn’t be able to pull it off. But he could and did better than pull it off – he killed it. He was the man. He was Georgie, Georgieporgiepoopoo and “boy George”. On paper, she still is. Every so often, Jess will ask that we change her name legally, but never with an intense and desperate need. If and when that happens, it happens…but for now, it’s all cool.
So, I will continue to forewarn, correct, whisper, lean in and remind folks that the name George on the form is only the name on the form. I will share as necessary. I will keep my mouth shut when there is no purpose in telling our story. She is just my kid who doesn’t always need to be explained, but if she does, knows I’ve always got her back…just like my dad and Alla did.

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11 thoughts on “Explain This

  1. I hear you. My ftm is older (15) than Jess, recently has his new new name on social security and insurance, and I can’t wait until I can stop ‘the lean in’ at every medical appointment.

  2. I bet that Jess is happy when you “own it” regarding the short version of her gender identity. I know how much I appreciate it when people use the right pronouns with me. Nice post!

  3. I can’t even imagine. I get tired when my colleagues pepper me with questions about my kids’ colds or struggles in school (Kind of obvious when your kid shows up at your office during school hours because she decided to just walk out of school.) Can we imbed microchips under our school that list all the pertinent facts about us so we don’t have to keep explaining?

  4. I always ask myself to whose benefit would an explanation be before I would give one. Except for family and others close to us, we are under no obligation to even try, anyway. In the past, I so often regretted an explanation because it really sounded more like an excuse – something I’m obliged to give to nobody. However, I still want my tip back from the server who called me mam all through the meal, only to turn around and say, “Thank you sir” after processing my credit card. It’s still not worth the energy it would take to explain, though.

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