It’s About to Get Real

I know I’ve been rather silent the last few months about our journey. Things have been pretty good, and it just didn’t seem like I had a lot to say. Then Christmas hit, and I have to tell you all, it hit way harder than I ever expected. Some things were surprising, others not so much. Some things were really, really uplifting and made me cry happy tears. Unfortunately, there were also a lot of sad tears. I was really prepared for some things, and others not so much. I have had this post in the back of my mind for so long – let me see if I can unpack it all – mostly for me, but also for you.

I knew that decorating the tree was going to be a totally different experience this year. We have a lot of ornaments that have Madeline’s birth name on them, some that we could change and some that we can’t. Because we have a new tree that is smaller, and because always use name ornaments from Bronner’s to decorate our tree (my entire life my family has done this, I think it is because they did it on Days of Our Lives, but my mom won’t actually admit to that…), I ordered new, smaller name ornaments for the entire family. I also got out the nail polish remover and changed a couple of ornaments that we have had for years. We didn’t get rid of any ornaments this year, but I let Maddie choose what went on the tree and what didn’t. It was actually a really nice time and not at all sad. I was pleasantly surprised.

Another thing that was absolutely wonderful about the holidays were the family and friends that spent time with us. Last fall, Madeline had been sinking into a depression, and we finally increased her medicine the beginning of December. But, it meant that she didn’t have a Christmas list because she just didn’t care about anything. She wasn’t looking forward to anything. And, as much as her grandmothers were annoyed by it, we had to just accept that she might not enjoy or participate in Christmas much this year. Even with the depression still looming, Madeline had a Christmas party and had four amazing friends there to eat and play games. It makes my heart so happy that she has found such wonderful people to surround herself with. Definitely some happy tears that day. (Charlotte also had a Christmas party, and all of her friends are also 100% supportive and kind and amazing. I love the people that my kids are surrounding themselves with and growing into!!)

We managed to have some great times over the holidays with just our family of four. I had a choir concert which I had to arrive to early, so Keith was in charge of getting everyone else there. When I left, Maddie was in bed (I tried to wake her, but it is not a short job to convince her to get up), so I had myself fully prepared to see just Keith and Charlotte in the audience when we got in for our performance. I was so very surprised when I saw all three of my favorite people in attendance. I managed to hold it together, but my eyes *may* have leaked some happy tears. She isn’t fully back to us, but she came through a few times over the holidays. We managed to keep traditions like St. Nick’s Night, Christmas Eve pajamas, and our New Years Eve Family Game Night alive, and I saw some actual smiles from our girl.

I also have to say how thankful I am for our families! All but one person has been totally loving towards our Maddie. Even if they don’t fully understand what she is going through, they are supportive of her and of us, and that is all I could ever ask for. I think that getting to spend time with cousins was a highlight of the season for both of our girls. It definitely made my heart super happy.

Church during Advent hit my heart really hard. Micah is one of the minor prophets in the Bible, but he is quoted in Matthew as foretelling that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. The rest of the year, the church is pretty quiet about Micah, so it really snuck up on me. We spent so long choosing that name. We obviously continue to love our child without that name, but I really, really miss it. I am getting so much better at merging the memories of the two names into the one person that they represent, but I think I will always catch my breath when I see it written. And weep for what was and what I thought would be and what I didn’t know then.

The other thing that hit me so hard, and so unexpectedly, was talking about Mary’s baby boy. It shreds my heart that I no longer have a son. I LOVED being the mother of a boy and a girl. I am such a tom boy that I truly thought I might *only* have boys. Charlotte being a girl was a wonderful surprise, but Maddie has changed my entire identity. All the mother/son activities are over. Now I get to hang with my girls, which I treasure, but I would be lying if I said I don’t have tears right now, thinking about not having a son as part of my mom identity. The daughter of a friend sang a song from the point of view of Mary, all about her son and what his future would hold, and I was completely ugly crying. She sang beautifully, but my feelings couldn’t be contained. I almost had to leave. So, if I can stress anything through this writing, please know that although I walk around like everything is fine, and although I will aggressively fight for my child, I am not really as okay as I seem. I am still deeply grieving, but each day it is getting better and we are moving forward. I will always accept extra hugs as long as you understand that I really could dissolve in tears at any time.

Back in January, we got an email that said they were starting the process of printing diplomas for graduation in May. We have known that it will make things exponentially easier for Madeline if we get her name changed so that it can be on her diploma. So, this week, I filed the official Minor Name Change paperwork. Her official court date is April 30th, so she will also need to file Adult Name Change paperwork at that time since she will be turning 18 this month. It is both heart-wrenching and a relief to have this scheduled. It is the beginning of so much work to get things changed with the government, schools, insurance, doctors…. Everywhere that she has an account we will still use in the future will need to be notified. And I can tell you that my child still isn’t doing well with depression, so her motivation to help with the work is not great. She is working and getting better, but I am still having a hard time. We are still having a hard time. It is hard to advocate for something that is so against everything you thought would be happening at this stage in your child’s life. And yet, as parents, we have to do what is best for our child, so we push through and show up. And we do it with a smile, even if behind that smile is the knowledge that I had to cry for 10 minutes in the parking garage before I could leave the government complex yesterday. I think the biggest thing all of this is teaching me is that you never know what someone is going through, they may be barely holding it together, so it is always best to be kind and gentle with people. Always.

Turning the Page

Our oldest child came out to the world as a transgender young woman a couple of weeks ago. We have known about 6 months, although if we are honest, we have known something was going on a lot longer than that. Writing the facebook post to announce her new name was in a lot of ways a relief, but there was also a really large amount of anxiety and fear. This is the post I shared with our friends:

We would like to reintroduce everyone to our oldest child. This is Madeline. For 17 years we thought we had a son, but it turns out that we have 2 daughters. Parenting is full of unexpected news, and we certainly didn’t see gender dysphoria in our future when we embarked on our journey. At the same time, it wasn’t actually a shock when Micah told us in February. We are so sorry that we do not have the energy to have this conversation separately with all of you. Please know that this has come with lots of counseling, soul-searching, and not a small amount of awkward/humorous situations. We are confident this is who our child is, and we will do all that we have to in order to keep her happy, healthy, and safe. We know it will be confusing for all of us for the foreseeable future. Respectful discussion is welcome. Judgement and hatred will not be tolerated. We strongly feel God has trusted us with this incredible person to care for and protect and we intend to do just that. While our little family unit has known and been processing this for 6 months, we ask that you are respectful of extended family members as they are still processing this news and are all at different stages of acceptance. Thank you.

In the end, the post received over 200 likes/loves and so many responses. All of the responses are loving and kind and supportive and uplifting and I sobbed with relief and happiness at reading them. We have obviously found the right people to be a part of our lives. They love and support our family, even when we barely know what we are doing. They lift us up in prayer when we don’t have the words. Our people are amazing!!

Since Maddie came out to us in February, all of my energy has been focused on the logistics of telling everyone. I was not naive enough to think everything would be smooth sailing after that, but I really thought it would be the biggest hurdle we would face for right now. And in a lot of ways, that was correct. We have big things on the very near horizon – blockers and hormones and name changes, oh my – but there is a definite lull in what NEEDS to be done right now. Maddie is getting more and more comfortable being herself, we are slowly replacing her wardrobe, and everyone at school is adjusting nicely.

Other parents in my circle are going on college visits, helping with college applications, prepping for auditions, and worried about the right combination of classes to get into the first choice of schools. I am so relieved that we are not trying to do that right now – Maddie has decided to attend Community College for at least a year to get her associates degree and then transfer to a four year institution. That buys us time before we need to help her navigate being a trans student in a dorm living situation, and I truly believe she will be stronger and have a better sense of herself because of this choice.

I was naive enough to think that this lull in what needs to be done, this small respite time without major decisions, would be an easy time. I thought I was emotionally spent and would just be able to coast for a bit. I do not pretend to know what living as a trans woman who wasn’t out to the world was like for my daughter. I am sure it was tremendously hard. For us as her family, it was like we were living a lie when we talked about her to people. We were having conversations about a person that we knew didn’t exist, at least not as everyone perceived her. There were all kinds of excuses about why we aren’t going on college visits and which schools she is considering. There were lots of funny looks because our answers didn’t seem to make sense with the obvious intelligence and talent our child possesses. It is a huge relief to not have to make excuses or leave questions hanging anymore.

It is in this place of relief that tiny things have started sneaking up on me. Little things that are small in the grand scheme of things, but little things that break my mom heart. I started getting the September calendar ready this week. We use a large desk calendar on our wall – the kind with the tear off pages – because we have a very active family and we need the space. I also use an electronic calendar that we share on our phones, but I like being able to see the month at a glance. As I prepare to turn the page to September, it has hit me that I am also completely turning the page to Madeline. The name Micah will not appear on our calendar again. The name we have spent over 17 years with. The name we chose with love for our first baby. The name I have signed to hundreds of cards and letters. The name that carried with it so many hopes and dreams. And I am suddenly grieving in a way I never expected to and in a way that doesn’t make a lot of sense.

My child is still here. My child is alive and well and has unlimited potential and opportunity ahead of her. She is intelligent and funny and kind and strong. And I am so proud of who she is and who she will become. But I have to let myself grieve the loss of the hopes and dreams I had for her before we knew. I need to grieve for her, having to live as someone she wasn’t for so long. I have to let myself feel and then let go of the guilt of not knowing for so long. The guilt of trying to force her to fit into a life that wasn’t meant for her. I have to sit here in this place of sadness before I can let the person my child was before, the child in my memories, merge with the daughter I have going forward. I know that eventually it won’t be awkward trying to talk about the past. It won’t feel like our memories are of a different person. It will be perfectly natural to call that child Maddie instead of Micah. And look forward to that merging because I know it is what is best for my child. But today? Today I am just a mom grieving the passage of time, which I guess isn’t so different from my circle of friends after all. Stay strong Mommas – we’ve all got this!

Mental Health Month (Part One)

Since May is Mental Health month, I have received permission for the following (extremely long) post. I hope it helps give a face to Anxiety and Depression and it makes someone feel less alone. Please know that even if we are not close, I am here to listen and support any of you. ALWAYS.

Last night was a crazy one for our family. Charlotte had her last Middle School choir concert, Micah had the last orchestra concert of the year, and it was my father-in-law’s 82nd birthday. So, we made a plan to meet my in-laws for dinner. After dinner, Keith attend Charlotte’s concert and then they would meet me at the high school to see at least the last combined orchestra song. (We did the opposite last year, so that helped us decide.) My father-in-law went with Keith and my mother-in-law was to meet me at the high school.

Before we left dinner, Micah ended up in the bathroom for a long time. He eventually came out and walked right out the door, clearly not in a good place mentally. I grabbed both kids to get them to their schools by call time and told Keith I would update him when I could. We dropped Charlotte off and I tried to get Micah to open up and let me help him with whatever he was struggling with. It had already been a rough week at school for his anxiety because of a final robotics project Monday and an AP Calculus exam yesterday morning. Micah had not been in orchestra at all this week because of these conflicts, so he was worried he wouldn’t be able to get his music or his violin. So, I calmed him the best I could by reminding him his teachers are very kind people and I’m sure they would let him get what he needed. Just to be sure, I promised to go home and get his other violin and bring it back. He went in doing okay.

I texted him when I was ready to return to the high school to see if he was able to get his violin and music. He replied he did, but now he was paralyzed by his thoughts in the bathroom again. I talked him down, told him to find a trusted orchestra teacher to let her know he was not okay and I was on my way to help. I arrived not knowing whether he would be waiting for me or if maybe they were able to get him warming up.

I walked in and texted him I was there, got my mother-in-law settled in a seat, and he texted he was in the lobby. We spent he next hour in a side hall. I tried literally everything I could think of to get him to go be with his orchestra – reminded him he has survived 100% of his 5 years of concerts so far, nothing bad has actually ever happened to him while playing his violin, he is a talented kid and can do this, etc… We used meditation, grounding techniques, deep breathing, lots of tissues, and I finally told him all he had to do was sit up and tune his violin. Next we had to go to the lobby. We spent most of Symphony 1’s concert working on going into the auditorium. Finally, Symphony 2 was literally leaving to go on stage. I looked at him, told him he had no more time, he had to do this, and bless his beautiful heart, he went.

My beautiful, brave child grabbed his violin and went and performed. I was broken in a million pieces (but I did not cry the whole time with him because I am not only an empath, but also incredibly stubborn), and my heart was bursting with relief and pride and love for my broken child. He looked confident and prepared on stage and no one would have ever guessed what his last hour had been. YOU MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO SEE WHEN SOMEONE IS NOT OKAY. If you saw me, talked to me, or hugged me last night, you probably didn’t know I was walking around shattered. If you saw my child after the concert, you probably got an awkward smile.

So, I want you to know that I see you, and I will struggle with you. I know what it is like to try to be strong enough for two people when you are really breaking into a million pieces. I know what it is like to have your child say things like “I wish I was never born” or “I wish I could go to sleep and never wake up.” I know the grief and fear and doubt and guilt. And I know that we are all doing the best we can. Micah is in counseling and on medications. Overall, things are getting better. But it is still a terrible, dark thing he is dealing with, and it is one he has to battle alone. But you know I will be there fighting to get to him. So please be kind to us.