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.