Because, Really, What Actually *Is* For the Faint of Heart?

A photograph of total strangers on a Facebook page for parents-with-teenagers-finishing-high-school-and-moving-toward-whatever-their-next-step-as-they-launch-into-adulthood popped up on my newsfeed. The “members only” page focuses one of the (many many many many) complicated times in the lives of kids and their parents – if you’ve ever had a teenager you know of what I speak –  and is often an excellent source of guidance, support and advice, usually positive.

The picture: a tuxedo-clad teenager flanked by his parents; his height nearer to his mother’s than his dad’s, all three smiling comfortably into the camera. In the background, a cluster of similarly dressed guys and a gaggle of girls in brightly colored gowns and intricate up-dos posing for cameras furiously clicking away from every direction.  The boy/young man had delicate features, impressively clear skin, and a pubescent beard which was spotty but worn with great pride. The white boutonniere on the lapel of his (most definitely) rented tux had likely been pinned on by his date as it was slightly askew, slightly oversized and slightly misplaced.  A snapshot of a moment that many parents will experience with their children this time of year: the high school prom.

At first blush, this photo memorialized a scene played out on lawns and living rooms across the country this time of year, right down to the tissue for wiping tears away (not so) discreetly clutched in the mother’s hand.  But it was not the photo, rather the mother’s caption that set it apart from all the other prom images.

“Prom. Our great kiddo who looks so handsome. This transgender journey we are on is not for the faint of heart.”

Even before the caption confirmed my suspicions, my keen and sensitive-to-these-things self spied many of the hallmarks of the gender transition that others might have missed: the shape of his legs, the gentle density of his eyebrows, his delicate bone structure.  I noted the lack of pronouns: my “kiddo” and not my “son”.[1]  Intrigued, I examined the photo more closely.  I explored their body language with a different eye.  The smiles were definitely real.  Their arms rested on one anothers shoulders naturally, their bodies as close to one another as possible.   But most importantly, there was quite clearly a lot of love in that picture.  That, my friends, cannot be faked.  Bravo to all three of them, because mom is right: this is not for the faint of heart.

And then, with the knowledge (and firsthand experience) that things could get ugly when one posts a photo like that, I hesitantly glanced at the comments…all 135 of them. Much to my relief and pleasure, each note was more positive and accepting than the one before it.  The assemblage of rainbow and heart and smiley face emoticons exceeded my greatest (albeit conservative) expectations.  Oh, and did I mention the 1.1k likes? That’s some pretty awesome stuff right there.

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My initial reaction was: How cool that this was posted not on a Parents/Friends/Neighbors/Teachers of Transgender Kids kind of page, rather a plain old parents’ page.  Even just a few years ago, posts like this were found only on private, and thereby “safe”, Facebook groups.  The world wasn’t anywhere near as ready as it is now to tolerate such a loud and proud display of the uniqueness of their family.  Some folks still cannot, but we are definitely making moves in the right direction.

My very-soon-after-that reaction?:  While it is no doubt (truer than) true that the transgender journey is not for the faint of heart, I’d further argue, advertise from the rooftops even, that being the parent along for the journey of any kid is not only not for the faint of heart, but just fucking hard.  There, I said it.

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The other night, I was doing what many of us moms do at the end of the (probably somehow taxing) day: playing Words with Friends, listening to the bedtime routine happening outside my door and half-tuned into “American Housewife” a silly little sitcom narrated by a “strong-willed mother raising her flawed family in a wealthy town filled with perfect wives and their perfect offspring[2].”  The show is perfectly mediocre but does manage to capture some of the moments that spur less than charitable, but crazy honest thoughts about other parents, their kids and the whole parenting experience.   I cannot tell you the plot line of the episode, but there was one spot on, couldn’t-have-said-it-better-myself line that I could hardly wait to share with my morning coffee friends:

“Kids should come with a warning: Don’t have kids.”

A tongue-in-cheek comment that resonates with anyone ever who (is honest about having) tried to help a kid navigate the world.  And, if someone says it doesn’t resonate with them, I’m calling bullshit.  In fact, it is so spot-on that I am (sort of) seriously considering having t-shirts printed. Who wants one?

I’ve always been a somewhat irreverent mom, never reacting with “not my kid”, rather assuming, sometimes unfairly, that it was my kid.  That is not to take away from the proven fact that I am among the fiercest and most rabid advocate for my kids, because Lord knows I am.  I also, however, am very well aware of what my kids are all about, where they excel and where they suck.  Over the years, they have thrilled me, angered me, amazed me, embarrassed me, impressed me and made me want to leave them by the side of the road…sometimes in the same afternoon day.  Seriously, raising kids is really not for the faint of heart.

When I assumed the role of step-mother, I more than just doubled the number of children in my life.  I doubled the number of journeys for which I would have a ring-side seat.  I doubled the number of issues (although -and I am not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing – we actually have some overlaps), doubled the challenges, doubled the worry, stress, fears and anxiety. The fact of the matter is that there are many (many many) days that the “transgender journey” is decidedly the easiest journey of them all.

I love all the kids.  I appreciate how bright, interested, talented, inquisitive, resilient and strong each of them is.  I am profoundly and painfully aware that all of them watched their dads move out, were forced to leave the only home they’d known and have watched their parents fall in love with someone other than their mom/dad.  I will not pretend to know what that feels like.  My parents were nearing their 50th anniversary when my father died.  When we moved from my childhood house, we did so as a unit.  And, since my father’s death nearly twelve years ago, my mother’s not fallen in love with another man.  So, parenting this group of kids?  That, my friend, is not for the faint of heart.

I keep revisiting that photo of strangers with whom I know I share at least some experiences.  I wonder what other challenges, journeys and stresses they have faced.  Which have they nailed and which have come dangerously close to taking them out? Am I reading the body language right, is it telling the whole story?  What effect has the “transgender journey” had on their marriage?  Have they found themselves sitting in the car on a freezing cold night, devouring an ice cream cone as big as their head, crying and wondering how on earth they were going to survive?  Or run away from home…even if just for a night? Or wondered if it would be okay to sit in the corner and suck their thumbs?  Not that I have done any of those things…

My father used to say that he loved his children equally but not the same.  I took that to mean that I was his favorite.  But the longer I parent, the better I understand what he meant.  Our kids are all different so we have to tread lightly treat them different.  There is plenty of love to go around, it might just be delivered in a different package because, as they say, this parenting thing isn’t for the faint of heart.

[1] This is a funny thing that, unless you have a transgender kid, you’ve likely not thought about.  No matter how entirely accepting you might be of your child’s transition, it is often really hard to switch from son to daughter and vice versa.  I personally found the name change easier to embrace.  I adore Jess, but seldom refer to her as my daughter.  It’s just one of those things…

[2] IMBD

Bad Ass-est Birthday Ever

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I know, I know…I am not 38 – although I am sure I cried on 4.1.03 -, but when I googled “bad ass birthday image”, this came up…and I absolutely positively had to use it. 

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My 30th birthday.  Otherwise known as the-first- documented-birthday-that-I-would-spend-crying, an activity which would continue, to varying degrees, for twenty years.

I was a new mom to Harrison who was, by all accounts a good baby.  He ate and burped when he should, slept like a champ and generally led a very sweet life.  I was living in a nice house with a good zip code (which actually mattered to me back then), was in an okay – just keepin’ it real – marriage, had two wonderful, healthy parents, awesome brothers and more friends than I could number.  Yet, I spent the entirety of my 30th birthday crying.  Like ugly, heaving, sobbing, iguana eyes crying.  All day long.  When asked, repeatedly, why I was so upset, I could not answer to anyone or, more to the point, myself.

Little did I know that I had just launched what would become a twenty-two  year tradition.

4.1.97

Anyone who lived in Boston at the time will most definitely recall The April Fool’s Day Blizzard. It was damn ridiculous.  And, just in case you were wondering, let me tell you what it was like in my house that day.  It was a Tuesday and this full time working girl had, along with the rest of the folks at her office, been given a snow day.  Of note, back then, when you were granted a snow day it was really a day off: no tele-or video-conferencing, no constant email checking…just a legit freebie day off.  Woot woot, right?  Yeah, not exactly.

I had a completely miserable, horrible, pray for death head cold and had not one appropriate drug in the house to treat it.  Harrison, still on the tail end of his diaper days (yeah, my kids would still be in diapers if it was socially acceptable) was having some (gruesome, gross and frequent) digestive issues which, if not bad enough by itself, I – for the first and last time ever – ran out of diapers.  Well, aside from snow plowing, husbands are generally good for going out in the storm to pick up essentials (ice cream counts) and my husband was no different.  Butttt, before he could go, he had to fire up the ol’ snow blower to clear the driveway.  It’s all fun and games until two of the tires Fall. Right. Off.  But that’s okay – we didn’t have any gas, anyway.

So yes, I spent my 32nd birthday crying all day.

4.1.98, 4.1.99, 4.1.00…

No need for anything dramatic…just cried.

4.1.05

Lordy lordy looks who’s forty.  Yes, I had a great party.  And, yes, everyone that mattered to me was there.  However, cancer had been running rough shod through my family – my father was dying, my father-in-law had recently died and I had just had my final reconstructive surgery from my own cancer.  Great food, great friends…cried most of the day.

4.1.06, 4.1.07, 4.1.08…

Cried every year.

(Fun fact:  a few weeks after my first birthday with Barry (what a mess), my ex-husband asked him if I’d cried.  Barry asked why he hadn’t been warned.  It was a test, I guess.  Thankfully he passed.)

4.1.17

Best birthday ever.

A month ago, I put out a call to my village: Let’s try to collect 104 gift cards to be distributed to transgender kids who, for one reason or another (asshole parents comes to mind) are out there fending for themselves, trying to navigate a world that it just beginning to understand and accept who they are.  I’d never really asked for a particular birthday gift before and, truthfully, it wasn’t even that I was suddenly wise enough to have made a conscious decision to take control or get ahead of the birthday cry…I just wanted to do something, anything, for these kids.

Well, the tally at close of business yesterday is 218 cards valued at $3,575 from 80 different families, in 16 states and the UK, 24 of whom I have never met and/or heard of,

AND

I know that there are others en route to me.

And guess what…not a tear all day.  Not one.

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++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

For years, my brother David has run a nonprofit organization called Big Sunday whose tagline is:

Absolutely EVERYONE has some way that they can help someone else.

Yes, indeed.  But, and this is important, the feeling you will get helping someone else will lockdown your own happiness.

I want for nothing.  I need not a single thing.  I am ridiculously blessed. This was the best birthday gift ever.

This was a no-cry birthday.  The love, support, kindness and final outcome of my little campaign is going to help change lives.  It has certainly changed mine.

Thank you for your generosity.

Thank you for being in my life.

Thank you for supporting my kid.

And thank you for breaking my streak of tearful birthdays. 

p.s. At the end of this week, the cards will be delivered to Boston GLASS and Bridge Over Troubled Waters wonderful organizations that serve kids who are not nearly as fortunate as yours and mine.  If you still want to send a card, awesome.  You can also donate or volunteer with them directly. ❤