Tonight I carefully slice into a red bell pepper, then a green one, and finally a cheerful purple onion. I cut a quarter wedge from each of these and slice as thinly as my patience will allow. I am exhausted, and I am trying to prepare a new dish. So I move slowly; but I do move. I heat up two types of tortillas (microwave under a damp cloth napkin) and wrap them in heavy foil packets into the warmed oven. Having pickled a jalapeño (while the others roast in oil and salt), I dice it finely and add to the marinade hosting thick tempeh slices. I halve cherry tomatoes into a bowl and gently combine them with a little oil, salt, sugar: set aside. I fry up the seitan chick’n strips – having pre-baked them dry and chewy in the oven – and add the peppers and onions and more pickled jalapeño. The kitchen warms brilliantly with the fragrance of peppers and onions and the family cheers a little. Finally: I slice avocado, bring out the lime cashew cream, and the purple slaw, my husband prepared earlier. We don’t set the table as my work is spilled across it, but join one another convivially on the couch to watch a quaint baking show before we go our separate ways again for the evening.
I have these waves of beyond-exhaustion that come and go. Life is not easy at the moment, but it there is much to be grateful. I am bone-tired but also exhilarated; a nearly bottomless fount of creative energy, and a lot of wonderful support from my community. We have our health. Ralph’s job is going well, and the kids are thriving. We’ve got Christmas handled but that said, it’s always a challenge for me to pace myself during such an intense time of the year.
We’re crossing F street and Phoenix asks me for the difference between empathy and sympathy. And this leads to a discussion on two tangential experiences: commiseration and understanding. Watching my children grasp new concepts so swiftly, it’s still breathtaking all these years in. I don’t know what brought these emotional-relations topics on but I can think of some salient, personal examples in our lives, and I share them with my oldest as I feel the steering wheel hot under my hand. I glance across the street at a carved wooden structure; the sun is hitting the swollen river and I’d planned to let my oldest drive us down to class today but we were feeling rushed. Phoenix has his new learner’s permit folded up in his wallet, which he’s learning to take everywhere with him.
The fall is suddenly upon us, and it is indescribably wonderful. I’ve felt this exact autumn in my bones most of my forty-one years and I could recognize it with only a handful of my senses. I remember the last ninety-plus degree day, just a short few weeks ago, and then suddenly the temperature dropped. It is still warm enough, with rich rains, sometimes violent ones. My husband kept watering our sparse tomato plants right up until last week, although I told him there was not enough summer warmth left to coax the green fruits into ripeness.
There is a perfectly lovely woman at a local shop who always greets me warmly, and makes genuine, caring conversation with my husband and I when she sees us. She is a homeschooler and so that, I feel, is why she reaches out to connect. But she is a very different type of homeschooler than we: she uses a strict curriculum (for her several children), and the family is an evangelical Christian. Today I got to have that conversation I’ve had so many times in the last few years:
Her: “‘Boys’? I thought you had a boy and a girl?”
Me, smiling: “We thought so too! But we were wrong.”
I wait a beat. It takes most people a second to process what I might be saying.
Our dryer broke today but only after I had about eight loads of wet laundry waiting. I search online and find a heating element but in the meantime, we need towels and clean sheets. So at 10 PM I’m sitting on my mother’s couch waiting for a single load to finish; the rest of our wet clothing and linens are bundled into large black garbage bags and rest on her tidy laundry room floor. We always talk about world events and cultural phenomena when I visit with my mother. Tonight I mention the disturbing, disgusting tax breaks our country’s mega-rich receive and my mom interrupts me to angrily hold aloft her popsicle, “Like these! These are half as big as they used to be, and they cost twice as much! It makes me so angry!” I look down at my popsicle – lime flavor, duh! – and I realize, Sonofabitch, this damn thing is smaller. Life’s a bitch.
So life has been busy!! and I’ve had a couple small but significant professional setbacks. I’ve also several medical tests and appointments lately (all of them are coming up perfectly healthy), and I’ve barely been keeping on top of my schedule. Times like this I’m grateful for my volunteer work as no matter what, I set my other stuff aside for that. I think the volunteer commitments keeps me sane and makes sure I’m at least a little productive, in a way that isn’t entirely self-centered or about my own specific concerns.
I’ve been writing and recording, too – and I don’t always make the time to post those updates. So – here you go!
My latest two podcast recordings:
Co-hosting with Tim Turner on The Bitter Bastard Nerdcast; The Last Jedi, Black Panther, Sleepaway Camp, and Gymkata.
Guest casting with Eric Moore on Effectively Speaking, discussing the medusa creature effects in both version of Clash of the Titans.
In writing: last week’s Weekly Roundup on B-movie BFFs: talking about two cheesy 80s action films.
So life is pretty packed, but also fantastic. A few days ago we bought Nels the latest Switch game, and he is focused on dominating the game and honing his proficiency. Beeps is immersed in Splatoon2, tweeting about racial injustice, and drawing fan art on their new tablet.
Family life is incredibly busy, and I’m so grateful for such a creative and healthy foursome here.
We are in for several months of absolutely stunning, perfect weather. We’ve had nothing but sunshine and warmth, and delicious soft rains. The daylight lasts well past nine PM and I’m taken back to my childhood and how much I loved those late twilights. During the blue and white, perfect daylight the life springs from the soil and everywhere the scent of green grass and blooms; the peonies we brought in to fill a vase are startlingly redolent with a heady scent. Everything is in bloom and the hot earth is panting and giving forth greenery. It’s beautiful here; I live by the mountains and by the sea. I may travel but I would have such a difficult time living anywhere else.
My youngest son has become irascible and peevish in this last half a year. I’ve parented long enough to not worry too much, But I don’t ignore those kinds of things either: children need interventions when things aren’t going well, when they are struggling. Tonight I made an offhand comment and he took offense; this is happening with relative frequency of late. He comes in the bedroom and lays down next to me I do not say all the things the adults in my life used to say to me. I don’t tell him he has a bad attitude or he’s snotty or selfish. I do not make condescending remarks about puberty or “teen attitude”. It’s a little damned depressing these thoughts even come to mind but, that’s how I was raised. Still, It is ending with me, I won’t parent that way. I won’t treat mine the way I myself was treated. My son holds me and I put my head on his chest. Both kids’ voices are deepening, and they are getting broader through the shoulders and they are taller than I and although we laugh about it, it puts me off track a bit. Impending old age and death, a ways off perhaps but sometimes it doesn’t seem so.
The older child soon creeps in and I hold him a while too. The two children seek me out several times a day. This is why, exciting as my career is, I can’t and won’t work fulltime as long as there are kids that need this. All kids need this. To think when I was pregnant with my first, I worried I wouldn’t have enough love, wouldn’t have what it takes. Well. I have what it takes. Turns out. What surprises me is that every day I can return to that intention, that not one day goes by I’m on autopilot all day. Sometimes I think parenting taught me mindfulness more than any other practice, or tradition, or lecture, or book.
The windows are open and I can feel the sea air and I can hear the trainyard; a sole candle burns on the dresser. The house is quieting although the younglings stay up late; they too are comforted by the long summer evenings, I think. Children of their mother.
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.
We’re at the checkout lane closest to the north door at the supermarket and I turn and ask my oldest child, “Is it time we look into top surgery?” “Yes,” he tells me simply.
Parenting a trans child is amazing. It’s nothing like what I thought it would be. But back in the day I didn’t think anything particularly well-informed or progressive and I didn’t think about it much at all, damn my eyes. Like so many, I was pretty ignorant and (I’m not proud to say) I didn’t see much relevancy in learning more. Since Beeps came out I’ve made up for lost time, sure.
I’m glad I did.
It’s like a gift because, even while we were raising this child as a girl, he still came to know the rules and routines of boyhood and manhood well. You’ve gotta learn that landscape or you risk great peril. It’s a man’s world, damn it all. So Beeps – just like I! – we know well and so much of a man’s way of things. We know their rules and their mores; we know their expectations and agreed-upon codes. We know how to do their laundry and find their haircuts and make their appointments and we know a lot of their body language and their often hostile landscape because unlike men, we couldn’t afford to be ignorant.
But now my child steps away from me, out of the aisle we walked side by side together. They are no longer watching men and caretaking men and protecting themselves – as I do! – they are a young man themselves and they get a little more freedom soon. To see my child reach out and claim this masculine world as their own, it’s indescribable. From those “little” things like his first binder and his shift to different underwear (“These are the best,” he tells me with those tiger eyes and that sedate smile as he pushes the legs of his boxer shorts – fruit prints, cheerful pineapples and lemons – deep into his jeans while dressing. Bent at the waist and efficiently adjusting himself in the same movements I’ve seen his father make and I look away and my eyes sting with tears), to the bigger things like shaving his head; like responding in public when I say, “boys” aloud to the two of my children.
I see those little pains too. He cannot yet enter a men’s restroom due to a (reasonable) fear of violence. We have to make different plans there, when out in public. The T will change that, is changing that – but it’s a process. He is not yet fully in the world or rather the world won’t give him a comfortable place although the world, too, is changing.
So there are some clouds that flit across the sky now and then but most days are absolute joy, it is like a playfield, and the world is very fresh and very special. This afternoon we’re standing in the aisle and examining the men’s deodorants. Names like “Wolfthorn” and “Power Fresh” and “Pure Sport” and “Iced Musk & Ginger”. Beeps is not at all embarrassed about second puberty – quite the opposite, he is frank and forthcoming and impressively educated. But he is and has always been so composed that he might ask for something special and you might miss it, might miss how important it is. And I have to pay a great deal of particular attention.
It’s so strange because when I think about this experience, and what’s ahead of us, I just feel so fortunate and at the same times it feels almost unreal. I guess I’m a slow learner. Or maybe the phrase is: slow to assimilate.
It’s a bigger change than I realized.