The atmosphere at the club is chaotic; there’s a Halloween potluck and dance assembling. Friends flit in and out and talk, smoking or vaping outside and loudly laughing; the energy is high. Flirtations – eyes casting about at one another. Parcels of hot food unwrapped and placed on the tables. It’s cold and crisp outside and warm and convivial indoors. I love seeing people in costume – some of them rag-tag or incomprehensible, others quite developed. You discover a little more about your friends when you see them in their glad rags.
Ralph and I are kind of a mess about it all. It seemed to happen so fast. I mean – it did happen fast. They are such a young person and so incredibly strong.
And first, a personal entreaty.
Phoenix got into college at age thirteen. We couldn’t get funding for that first year. I looked everywhere. They were too young for any financial aid or scholarship and we were told (erroneously as it turned out) they would not be eligible for state-sponsored dual-enrollment.
We put the whole first year on credit. It was the only way we could do it. It is my hope that we can apply graduation gift funds to this balance – a hulking debt that still lurks out there amassing interest. Like (almost) all college graduates, Phoenix has future plans and at age sixteen, Ralph and I are the primary resource to help them with their next steps. We would like to pay off this first year college debt so we can meaningfully contribute to our child’s future. If you see fit to make any graduation gift to our family, we will be so grateful. You can earmark any funds if you’d like them for Phoenix’s discretion only; there is also an option to purchase an item from their wishlist.
If you cannot contribute, please do sign Phoenix’s guestbook with any congratulations, wisdom, or advice you’d like to share.
Because I’m a writer, I have to say more. I’ll keep this as brief as I can.
To this very moment I still haven’t fully processed what my child has accomplished. There were so many quarters I was simply aghast at the work Phoenix had to do. The effort was massive, and at times my child seemed miserable. I spoke with grown men who were reduced to tears, dropping out of courses my then-13 year old stuck through. I watched my child drag themselves out of bed early to get to class; I watched them leave off evening activities so they could get enough sleep. Phoenix has a near-perfect attendance record for their eight quarters’ worth of college, which is something I respect deeply as I saw what it took. Their attendance was better than I ever accomplished at university – and they graduate with a higher GPA than either parent (and hey, we weren’t slouches either!).
Phoenix got through their degree being the youngest in their class. Every class. Phoenix got through college while transitioning. I can’t overstate how alienating these experiences could be at times. We received such a tremendous amount of support on social media, and I could never fully describe how deeply meaningful that has been to me. But on campus things weren’t easy. Phee’s adult deportment masked just how young they were – which suited them just fine, but meant they didn’t get the outreach every academically-advanced outlier should receive. It is my tremendous desire that if any of my friends or blog readers have children who go to college (very) early, or trans children who come out in their teens, that I can in any way be a resource or a supportive party. These unique aspects to Phee’s college experience were more impactful than I anticipated and they have forever changed my perception of “differentness” significantly.
I can never fully convey my gratitude, to my friends all around the world and to my little community. I want to tell you that without your love and support I would have faltered and let my child down; with your support, I was able to hold them up. With your support, I could watch them struggle and succeed and know my role. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
You have blessed our family.
Yesterday my son had his fourteenth birthday party, and it was a small and sweet event. We gathered friends and they carpooled to a swim date while Phoenix and I set up food and music in the house. The group adjourned home for homemade chili and cornbread, fruit salad, virgin mimosas, cake and ice cream. I bought Nels a little Instamax camera and we took instant film photos indoors and outside. Our friends and family – my mother, brother, and sister-in-law – gave generous, thoughtful gifts and my son loved being the center of attention. I tried to hold onto each moment of the day because my children are growing so quickly.
I felt down that evening, as I have been of late. Our son came into the bedroom before he went off to bed and Ralph and I it was his favorite birthday so far. That’s high praise, as we’ve had several very special parties indeed.
Besides the camera, I made him two birthday shirts: a chambray workshirt with pearl snaps and a long-sleeved tee in cheerful red and white. The spring has brought sunshine and with it, I realize – as I so often do – how low I’d been feeling with all the grey, rainy weather. Today Ralph and I took our aging (and ill) dog on a trail walk and it did the three of us good; the dog was limping but eager to continue. Skunk cabbage and verdant greenery; loamy earth and trickling creek. It was an oasis after a hardworking week.
Below, plackets. I enjoy so much being able to sew a menswear shirt without needing directions. These shirts are now soothing to me to make, despite troubles with my trusty Pfaff. I’m planning on making my brother, and my husband, similar shirts in the next two weeks. I’ve struggled with unspeakably painful sadness and anxiety over the last few weeks and it seems like making someone something special is such a pitiful, mundane thing. But it is something I can do and it’s something so few others can. And so I endeavor.
We’re roadtripping for Beeps’ haircut and my child puts on an 80s Spotify playlist. Fine by me. I love telling them about pop culture history; for the most part they love listening. “Oh man, The Pointer Sisters. Their music unleashed my inner sluttitude and for that I am so grateful!” I tell Phoenix about the video for “I’m So Excited” where June Pointer straight up stands up from her bubble bath and you see her business. OMG. In the 80s! Bless.
Next: “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins. I’m laughing now. “Kenny Loggins had his day in the 80s. This song was the theme for a movie called Top Gun, which was a big deal. It was about these super-macho fighter pilots who end up at a super-macho fighter pilot school. Plus it was super homoerotic,” I giggle. I’m picturing Kilmer’s tooth chomp.
“This song sounds pretty homoerotic,” my child responds. Wow.
They always can see a little deeper than I.
If I had to describe parenting teenagers in a word, I’d designate: mercurial. At any given point in the day one or the other is furious at me – usually, with cause. I make a lot of missteps as a parent and my kids notice every time. Their rapier-like accuracy in pointing out my failings – however gracefully or bluntly – is not irritating. I appreciate it. It keeps me humble. I do my best to mend the situation, then go off to work a bit more on my own thing (I installed thirteen perfect, accurate, bound buttonholes in a thick coating today) – then ask a child to come downstairs and say, wash the dishes. “Yes mama!” – all back to sweetness and light.
This repeats itself about eight times daily. I take my own advice and I don’t personalize any of it. And things work out well.
“With some complaints.”
Today after class I pick up Beeps (while Nels sleeps in) and we visit the Chinese diner on Wishkah; mapo hot and spicy bean cake on one plate, broccoli vegetable on the other. Absolutely delicious. My child is showing the signs of their T injections, and this blows my mind. Their shoulders are broadening. They will be much larger than I soon – they are already taller. My kid liked puberty so much they thought they’d do it twice! I have thought to myself. Despite being a member of some good support groups online, it is isolating being a parent to a transitioning child. It is unlike any other typical teenage milestone but it’s as major as the more commonplace ones, and I wish I didn’t feel so lonely about it.
Last night we had a small family party for Beeps’ 16th; a lovely sky blue cake with lots of candy sprinkles, and sparkling cider, and gifts. A week ago I found a canvas of an Romuald Socha’s 1977 poster for Godzilla vs. Gigan – perfect! I won’t lie, it felt absolutely satisfying to see my child light up after unwrapping it. Another happy memory, another small entry in the books. Another year wobbling along and parenting this child, this child who changed my life in every way and continues to surprise me.
My son tells me he may have a girlfriend; a young lady from Canada he met on a Minecraft server he frequents. The two of them chat all day long in a Discord channel and are just beginning to exchange photographs. He has mentioned this young lass a few times over the last week and during this time I slowly came to attention, realizing this is a very important milestone in his life. He’s had many girls interested in him in the past, since he was very little. This is the first relationship that has been reciprocal, although of course it is a very sweet and very simple one so far.
My children’s relationships with romantic partners I can chalk up to good parenting, or at least decent enough parenting. My experience was decidedly less wholesome. By the time I was thirteen I’d had boys at me, and spent far too much unsupervised time with a few of them (thanks to public school and semi-neglectful Baby Boomer parenting). My bisexuality quickly became a tidily kept secret after humiliating and scathing accusations; also, too, meanspirited shrieks of “dyke!” as I embraced a beau in the hallway. Into the closet I went! Safer (so I thought, incorrectly as it turned out) to stick with boys. Unfortunately the boys I found had horrible idea about girls.
You know the story. Unutterably wearying to me, today.
I count it as a success that Phoenix’s first beau is still friends with the family – friends with Phoenix but also with me! – and is the sweetest young man. Phee’s second beau came from a stricter family so we saw her far less, and haven’t seen her since we stopped having meetups at the rural school she attends. The last two years have been awkward as Phoenix attempts to avoid attention from the students in their college classes – all too old (another example of an intelligent boundary held by my progeny). Phoenix, like Nels, has several deep (and occasionally romantic or at least not entirely platonic) friendships online. Another difference from my own upbringing. The internet wasn’t a thing then! Hard to comprehend.
Parenting teenagers takes more finesse than parenting young ones. Parenting young ones is like molding hot clay in the hand; teenagers, like folding an origami boat for turbulent waters. Only a little here and there to be done, but with great care indeed, pressing the creases and then setting this delicate craft on turbulent waters. All that work you put in when they were younger, it comes to pay off – or comes to plague you – and if you are intelligent you will simply recognize this and back up just a half a step, ready to help when asked and hoping your child comes to you from their best self, not from a desire to please you or to receive approval.
It snows again; I sew up a little linen dress. I cut the exact and pleasing curved shapes for swimwear, in a severe black and white 30s style geometric print. I come upstairs for more coffee during the day, as much to warm my hands as anything else. My oldest tosses themselves across my lap and asks for me to stroke their hair; anytime I sit down it is a child, or a cat – and occasionally a husband – who lays across my body and asks for attention.
I spent my forty-first birthday exactly as I wanted: sleeping in, then rising up for leisurely coffee with Ralph. After my morning practice the four of us set to a deep clean of the house. The kind of deep clean where we pulled down every curtain, shampooed the (single) rug (we own), dusted, mopped, and cleaned the bathroom. My bedroom bureau was scrubbed and my little shelf for my Buddha wiped down with a soft, damp rag – in fact, each Buddha on my main floor got a cleaning as well. I lit charcoal in the brazier and burned resin incense; we put the cats out and aired out the quilts and washed all the bedding. We opened up gifts, each tenderly wrapped and with handwritten salutations and well-wishes.
In the late afternoon I traveled to a studio and held a yoga class, as I’ve done years in a row now on my birthday. I felt so alive on the mat tonight; our instructor led us through deep twists and triumphant standing postures and one-legged forward folds. My toes tapped through the music I’d set – a playlists of songs from 1977, the year of my birth.
I changed into my jeans and hoodie and slouchy cap straight from yoga; Ralph and the kids picked me up and we drove straight to Olympia, to a little Chinese restaurant with the best vegan entrees, comfort food. Almond chick’n, smothered in gravy and alongside steamed vegetables. And crisp lemonade – I was so thirsty after working out.
We shopped at Target and Nels and I sang on the way home – my thirteen year old son loves Lana Del Rey and has memorized every lyric and vocal flutter and soar.
Home and after a shower, chocolate cake in bed. My body feels indescribably good this evening and the comfort of my home is like a soft blanket I fold over my body, close. I do not like solitude so much, per se, but I do love having time for introspection and respite.
My little family cares for me so very well. I only hope they’d say the same of me.
In a few hours I turn 41. Of note: my mother brought me over a large floral arrangement today, along with a deep chocolate cake and three small houseplants each set in a simple copper tureen. Ralph and the children have been out on secret errands, happily procuring gifts. I am grateful to be loved so dearly by my little family.
I’ve spent the last two days practicing yoga, caring for family errands, volunteering, and doing those little business admin bits like invoicing and recording receipts and ordering and collating patterns. It is cold – cold in my studio, cold outside. Emerging from the bedroom this morning I find my husband stepping inside after the dog’s morning walk; Ralph is so cold he looks almost shocked. I pour him hot coffee and convince him to come to bed, where I hold him close. I steel myself as he slides his cold hands up my shirt, against the smooth skin over my ribs. The only one who’s touched me like this for two decades.
I’ve tried to stop judging myself how much it hurts my children are growing, are so independent. Every day they seek me out and hold me, and I am grateful for that. Every day they share with me. They can even be coerced to go on errands and I can always buy them a tea latte or lunch. What may be less obvious to my readers, unless you’ve been with me a long time indeed, is that at one time and for many years their company, their needs and laughter and tears and their words and smells and their hair against my cheek, always the sweetest straw-smelling against my skin, this was my world for fifteen plus years and even though things are as they should be I am bereft. For Ralph life is much as before; he’s had their lifetime away at his job, to come home in the evenings. For the children they have the security of their parents, as they rush off and bury themselves in work and play of their own.
All my life I remember people pityingly speaking of women who were too invested in their children, as if this were some mark of a pathetic, cramped nature, of an unimaginative woman to allow such a thing. One secret I have discovered: you can have a full life, you can have all these interests and a gorgeous career and a wonderful marriage and good friends and a meaningful avocation and a spiritual walk and a self-care regimen: and it can still hurt so damn much when your kids grow up.
Today when I wake I know I’m going to do my yoga, drink my coffee. Hem a linen dress with a blind stitch. Press the dress and hang it up, to deliver to a client in a couple days. Wait for my children to wake and then take them out to pizza.
It’s my oldest’s sixteenth birthday.
In the evening we travel to an event, the LGBTQ+ safe space, a crafting night. I bring embroidery supplies and work on a small project. Many other young people are there. Beeps doesn’t always fit in; they are friendly, intelligent, and well-spoken but they have a preternatural calm and a presence that others find intimidating. I am not nearly as calm as Beeps but I know what it’s like to be considered intimidating. People assume you don’t need the kind of care, the kind of asking-after. They assume you don’t need them to walk over and say Hello.
But someone does walk over and sit with us and we do handwork and we talk. I am embroidering a little goth skull for a friend in Tennessee. Deep deep deep purple, and a silvery-blue, and a lavender. Cotton floss.
And when I get home I will be making chick’n biryani, because I know (even though I haven’t made it before), it will be loved by my children. Earlier in the day I spent the last 19 dollars to my name this week on the supplies – well 12 dollars on the vegetables and herbs as I had to spend seven on medicine for my mother, who called from her house and asked. I have gas in my car and dried beans and rice at home and a day or two to hopefully get paid by a client and so I’m cheerful enough.
Home and my partner has chopped up the herbs and spices and peeled the potatoes. This is what I love – alchemy, he and I together. I have the confidence the dish will taste perfect – and it does.
My children lay on me when they can – on the couch, in my bed before I sleep. They still need so much attention; they still crave touch. It can be comedic; if either child sees Ralph and I embrace, they move into the middle. They’ve done this since they were very little and they do it now. I am pleased because I am a special person in their hearts; they also need these kinds of things from their father but from no one else, do they trust like this. I am so glad every day we get to earn their trust again, and again.
We have a special birthday cake and a few gifts, lined up for Sunday when my mother comes over. I ordered a cake in a cheerful blue; I will make another special meal. Another trip around the sun, for my glorious firstborn!
My intense fear of needles kept me away. And yet, last night – while shopping for my daughter’s ear-piercing – I knew it was time. And while the rest of my family went to find a shop that would accommodate our thirteen year old child, I stepped into the back of another shop, sat on a clinical-looking table, and waited, my mind and body going into that fear-space. Resting as calmly as I could.
The needle drives in and I breathe out slowly. When the shock and adrenaline pass I say: “I put this off a long time.”
“Everything happens for a reason,” the piercer tells me now, in a mild tone, as she’s setting the jewelry – a stud so small that my husband and mother fail to notice it when they see me next. She is a small, gnome like woman with sleepy eyes and full cheeks – beautiful, placid, and to my way of thinking – incredible. I know I would have a very hard time driving a needle into someone else’s body.
And now, her simple words – “everything happens for a reason” – maybe said offhand even, somehow strike me as profound.
Our family has had so many changes these last few weeks. Life is not happening too fast, precisely, but life is definitely carrying me along the current. I am not steering – I am guiding our little vessel as best I can. The wind chaps my cheeks and I am not always sure what’s around the bend. I’m finding a beauty in every little thing. A fierce, out-of-breath wave of feeling in my breast.
My little silver stud installed, I step into the night street and travel a few doors down and wait for my daughter. This tattoo parlor is a little dirtier; a large television plays a reality television show. I wait for my daughter, only feeling a slight pang of envy that my husband gets to attend her as her earrings are set.
And my daughter – well.
She is ethereal, amazing. She is my very heart.
Tonight she attended her first dance. I spent all the time and all the money I could. I wanted to do it right. She will never not-remember her evening.
Today marked our fourteenth wedding anniversary. And it was a beautiful, lush day, as September often is here. It’s also a busy time of year – and busier than typical, for us.
I had wondered – as it became obvious our house-buy and move would be right on top of both “the first day of school” (irrelevant, as homeschoolers) and our anniversary – if our day would get swallowed up. Would we be too tired, or angry with one another, or embroiled in detail, to spend a few hours in appreciation? (No.) Would we make time to gift one another (Yes!) Would we have a lovely evening together (Yes!).
Dinner was lovely – but the drive, and the beach view, were sublime. I am fortunate to live in an absolutely beautiful, remote, idyllic corner of the world. I don’t regret it, not for a moment.
And here’s hoping for many, many more years together as a couple.