“and the stars through his soul”

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.

sleep, work, bike, yoga, eat, flop into bed; repeat

My children and I send one another memes all day long in Discord, and today my youngest forwarded one with an implied (and disrespectful) sexual reference. I was surprised and, as he and I thumbed through our phones next to one another, I mentioned my surprise to him. He was confused at my reference; from his comment I could tell he thought the image meant something entirely innocuous. I let the moment pass and I felt a small moment of gratitude.

Every day my children pass where they are safe, as they grow into adulthood, is a day I cherish.

I have for the first time a large enough set of orders I am setting up a waitlist for my works; In doing this I have been fiddling with my professional website and so it’s down at the moment. I think typically I’d feel irritable and anxious at this hiccup; I can’t afford to at the moment. I get up and work work work until it’s time to be with the family. I get my bike ride and my yoga in. I do my volunteer bit. I eat dinner. I clean up. I spend as much time with Ralph as I can. “It’s boring, but it’s my life”. Except, it’s not boring. It’s busy, and I have to make sure to have some mindful moments, and some play moments.

Beeps has a brand-new tablet we purchased thanks to a tax return and a great deal on Craigslist. The damn thing is so big we’ve given up our dining room table so he can do his work there. It’s lovely to have my child nearby and drawing away, even if they are often dug into headphones, they will still laugh aloud at my jokes or comment on my own music. I instruct Ralph to make twice as much dinner as typical, since the boys get up, fiddle on their phones, and then serve themselves large quantities of leftovers. Growing is hard work!

Tomorrow morning I have a Skype date with a pattern designer on jean fit; I hope to also finish the dungarees on my table before diving back into a crepe dress for a local client. I’ve also got to schedule – besides the waitlist for clients – something I haven’t scheduled myself in a good long while: a break.

right about 29th street

Beeps and I are about to cross from Hoquiam to Aberdeen when we hear a strange beeping. We slow up on pedaling and coast; moments later a tall, silver-bearded white man slowly crosses a block ahead of us on a segway. Slowwllly he crosses as his siren sententiously announces his passage.

A beat, and then I say to my oldest: “Being on the bike, you are thrown into humanity a bit more,” and halfway through the sentence they are nodding already. We’ve come across a rude cashier, teens cutting eyes at us as they walk home from school, and two young men who pulled over and asked us to buy them beer. And then there’s the distraction of people just doing their thing: mowing lawns or taking out the glass bottles. These few days on the bikes have been incredible for my mood; the sunny days are ecstatic, and the rain and the cold – well, those days I’m glad to get home to the heat and my pantry and my kettle.

I finished two dresses today, and washed and dried a gorgeous two-tone linen for a pair of trousers. My stockpile of fabrics for upcoming projects is, incredibly, slowly dwindling. Another great thing about the bike is it forces me to stop working, and to an extent stop thinking about work. I’ll take what I can get!

Nels, Wedding Reception

“perhaps it takes courage to raise children” – J.S.

Nels, Wedding Reception

Last night at a gathering I turned to one of my sons and I told him that for as long as I lived I hoped we had as close a relationship as we do today. And I add “If you ever want something less, if you don’t want to see me, I intend to respect that.”

People love to hear stories of addiction, as long as they are in the proper format and carry the correct message. The addict must describe the wretched circumstances of active use, at length. We should leave no unsavory detail undisclosed. We must emphasize the severity of our condition, our terrible mishaps and regrettable decisions, so the listener can assure herself that we were really bad, that they themselves do not have a problem. We become in their imaginings a caricature they can pity. Next: we must then perform an attitude of the chastened miscreant. Yes, but also of plucky hero, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. “I can do it! I love myself enough! Go me!” Our role is that of social scapegoat, a tidy morality tale. A fable of debasement and then squeaky-clean self-sufficiency. We satisfy the listener’s need for sentimentality and for Othering; the next thieving addict they see on the street will receive their righteous wrath.

And so it goes.

Wouldn’t it be a lovely fiction, then, if I were to say that it was my children who brought me to sobriety, if I could tell that inspirational story. It might go something like this: that after some horrible mishap or sloppy misadventure, one of my little tots said something especially piquant and I broke down on my kitchen floor, say, and had a cry. Et cetera. I realized I wasn’t doing my best and I decided to kick this thing, to stop drinking. I owe it to them. They need their mother at her best. That sort of thing.

Of course, that wasn’t the story at all. Back then my drinking seemed a minor footnote in a life that was a damned struggle. I remember nothing of note on the morning of my first day sober, especially not some pithy remonstrance from my partner or child. That day was business as usual until it wasn’t, and I got a good (figurative) slap and it took me a few days to even comprehend what had happened.

Because shit doesn’t go down like those Lifetime films, not usually anyway. Life comes at you fast, as they are wont to say. Live long enough and something will kick my ass pretty good and if I’m smart I won’t try to find a way to explain it away or sweep it under the rug.

Lasting sobriety brought me a toughness; more importantly, a clarity. What my children know, today, is that I carry it as my responsibility to sort my mess out. My job not to make excuses. My job to process my feelings with the appropriate parties (who are often not my children). For Christ’s sake, what do we have counselors, and sponsors, and peers, and partners for?

One of my enduring legacies as a mother is that my children can criticize me and they know that I will listen, and I will correct my behavior. This is a disciplined, grounding practice that is precisely easy once one gives into it, once I know I love my practice of mothering more than I love my egoic attachment to Self. This practice delivers me a great deal of self-respect as a parent. I have discovered I cannot “make” my children love or esteem or honor me and that it is inappropriate to try. Maybe most importantly, I do not explain away the hurts I have caused them. I don’t want to ever tell them it was okay that I hurt them. Not then, not today. I don’t want to hurt them and I don’t want to justify it if I do.

Being a mother has been, for me, a tremendous amount of work. I dislike the word “sacrifice” in this context, but I will say that on a daily basis and as the weeks and months and years have passed I have stood in a place and weighed one choice against the other, and if I found it at all possible I made the best choice for my child and I have done this when I didn’t know how I could possibly carry it off. I have done this hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of times. Maybe what has helped the most is to have that moment of footing to commit to something that frightened me, even if it hurled me into grief or was built upon the shakiest premise or if I received considerable adversity from others. Choosing my child over and over and soon it became choosing myself because it was my best self doing the choosing.

I did not know I had it within me to be a wonderful mother, but it has been a significant source of joy to find no small measure of competency in this vocation.

Hutch + Little One

smol guests

It’s 11 PM but my husband makes me blueberry pancakes from scratch. They are perfect: three identical, steaming hot and delectable confections. Vegan butter and hot maple syrup. There is a little extra batter so he makes a few more, doling out between each teen. Hot food; sleepy belly. 

I have been craving the comfort of foods off and on lately. I am in a constant state of creativity and mourning. My marriage is, for me, opening into a beautiful phase and I love spending time with my husband, I love how he smells, I love how he feels, I love hearing about his day.

I am still rather gutted my children are growing up. They are never again going to be the small children I cared for, for so many years. They are still so sweet, funny, and affectionate – and for this I am glad. Beeps had a wretched cold for a day; during that time they asked me pointedly for more attention and more TLC, and this is something I could grant. We put on the 1978 classic animated film Watership Down and felt the powerful, dramatic score clutch at our hearts. Nels, who was not exposed to the film or music as a young one, scoffed at us and we shouted him away.

Today, a footnote: we drove out to Westport into a gloomy, oppressive cloud cover, to meet with a friend and secure a small kitten for babysitting. Our friend is out of the country for about eight days and during this time we are stewards to this very tiny, very fluffy grey kitten who is now attempting to run our household. We introduce him to so many firsts: hot pancakes, and four stodgy adults kitties, and of course the best kitten-minder of all: Hutch.

Hutch + Little One
And maybe – well there’s no “maybe” about it – my desire to secure a little kitten ward for a few days is that desire to do something fun for the children, something rather superfluous and silly, something that brings us together. Much like the foster kittens of (exactly) two years ago, little J. here will sneak behind the stove and into the warming pan – there’s just something about that spot.

the kind you find in a second hand store

“Mom’s popping off. Mom’s snatchin’ wigs!” my younger son yells joyfully. The kids are so disrespectful. I will say something like, “You need to finish the dishes before dad gets home,” and they will give me some backtalk while playing Splatoon 2 together. If I get irritable they laugh. They come find me and put their arms around me several times a day. They are both a couple inches taller than me. I’m depressed.

Today Nels and I drove around town trying to find him a bed frame. I’m about done turning over the charity shops and swap meets online, and ready to buy something new on credit. So we’re driving and Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” sparks off the playlist and I can feel my son listening intently. He asks me to play it again. He is processing. Those are beautiful moments with children, when you can tell they are taking something in and making it their own and if you’re not a fool you’ll be quiet and not spoil it with your own commentary.

It was a bit too windy to put out my starts – cherry tomatoes and blue lake bush beans. The beans seem to be okay after a brazen day on the deck but I fear one of my tomato plants is injured too badly to recover. I nursed each and every seed so carefully, so today I am a bit sad, having shored up the tender sprout with a little more potting mix and hoping for the best. I think we’ll also plant potatoes and tend to the strawberries (already sprouting) and I am determined to make it work this year. Inside I water my orchids, my hibiscus and lemon tree, my little aloe and spider plant and Swedish ivy and the other odds and ends I love caring for. I need more shelves! To be sure.

Tomorrow: a large fabric order, including five yardages of lovely, deeply-dyed linen. I will be happily ensconced in my studio, running upstairs to refill coffee or make a smoothie, and to take my children out on walks or pizza dates. It’s going to be heavenly.

Needles

Sacre bleu!

I’ve got a volunteer gig chairing recovery meetings and most the attendees of the meetings are men. I wouldn’t say they scare me so much as, I am wary. Two weeks ago one of them waited until I was distracted, came up behind me and grabbed a book I was using, flinging my phone to the floor. “Thanks, darlin’,” he stage-whispers, clutching my shoulder. I think to myself if I was to say, “Don’t touch me,” the reprisal I might get from him, or others. The thing is, men will touch or grab you when you are distracted. Like my dog who only tries to sneak outside when company comes over.

I do have boundaries and I do speak up. Last night another attendee kept pestering me, asking the same question over and over. I looked right at them and said, “I will tell you in a moment, M__”. Because I’m relatively direct I get treated in a more circumspect manner than I might otherwise be. I still hate those moments, though. I don’t like hurting someone’s feelings. No matter how often I remind myself they put themselves in that position.

Last night’s particular gentleman was missing a part of his body that makes speech possible; he could however whisper and he talked at me incessantly as I attempted to get the admin done for the meeting. I eventually looked at him directly and asked for him to let me be for a minute. That pause and looking right at someone – they get the message. Generally.

I have never wished I was a man in my life. But sometimes I wonder what it would be like if people respected my personal space, and if people – especially men – didn’t launch into conversation and attempt to monopolize my attention. Enough of this happens in one day and I start to shrink and disappear and feel like nothing but a receptacle. Every day I pray for strength but also gentleness, because as is evident from just these handful of anecdota, one could easily see how I could harden into anger and my words could shift from directness to cruelty.

***

I’ve had the middling misfortune of two very troublesome projects in my studio, and these set me back. I am very particular in my work and I rarely have a total loss but in one case I attempted a dress and only realized late into the project that it was unsalvagable. I took the thing apart (to re-use the fabric) but I am crushed at having sliced up yardage. I don’t know why I think everything I make should turn out perfectly: unreasonable. The project after this was a struggle too, but at least the end result is gorgeous.

So today Ralph and I tidied my workspace – it needs constant maintenance – and I cut some simple knitwear projects, including a shirt for my youngest son and a pair of loungewear pants for my own use. I too often go to bed in huge flannel pajamas and perhaps that wouldn’t be so bad but they are also quite shabby at the hems. I put the rest of the family’s clothing purchases ahead of my own most times but it makes sense, really. Ralph requires a professional wardrobe, and the kid are growing – so fast. Nels in particular is shooting up, his shoulders are broadening; stretch marks dance across his lower back and his knees. They children are so hungry all the time they scarcely say no to anything we offer to cook; I heard Nels acquiesce in delight to an offer of oatmeal, a dish which used to inspire the most tepid enthusiasm.

Needles

overwork / natural high

Every day after coffee with my husband, I take a shower, tie my hair up and put on my little zip-up hoodie and get to work. I would work all day if I didn’t have other responsibilities; children, mostly, and volunteer work. And feeding myself so I don’t collapse. Lately I’ve been out of balance: too much work, too much time on other people. I need more rest; I want to take more care of my home. I scooted past a young man today at a recovery meeting, a young man with a broken face who had just a couple days clean. Mistaking my passing for affection, he gave me this little sideways hug. My heart breaks in these little ways when these moments happen; there is no point trying to express what I’m feeling so I don’t try. But I look at him and ask if he’s staying for the meeting, and I remember his name and I know it means something to me.

Back home and my children come by and pull me in for a hug (if I’m standing); they prostrate themselves across my body (if I’m laying down). The college quarter is over and my oldest child has, as a birthday present, a new computer. Both kids shout and laugh from their little basement gaming room; supremely happy. They need this time, and time with friends and food and sleep and affection and those are most of their needs. The house is only tidied when I can yell at the kids to do some work, and when my husband puts his incredibly efficient housework into effect. His body is strong and so is his mind and both rarely slip.

I am sewing on a buttery-soft jersey ITY; I am hanging up dresses on the dress form. I am hemming a little black dress and shortening sexy spaghetti straps. I am work, work, working to keep food in the refrigerator and try to stay on top of these bills. I am busy with the seam ripper with a little heater at my feet and the sunshine of Martina Topely Bird falling on my ears. And I suddenly realize in all our time together, Ralph never put his job before the family. He did his job but he stood his ground. And I think to myself what that shows our children about their value. I see so many straight couples where mother works her ass off and father has (or thinks he has) the big important job and is away from home or too tired when he gets home because he has Bills to Pay and I think it’s so often unfair, so often shit.

I stand up; stretch. My daily yoga practice is sluggish because I am tired in some way that defies explanation; still, my efforts keep those little kinks out of my neck, my shoulders, my hips. But yes I am exhausted, beyond tired. I have a call into a physician because I can tell something is wrong. Some nights by the time I’m in bed, I’m in a fog. I came out about this fatigue recently and as expected people shout explanations, solutions at me. These things can take time. I only hope I have the persistence to see it through, and that I am assisted by a pair of skilled hands and a good mind.

the warmth of the sun in my hair

For St. Patrick’s Day I spent two days in preparation: a soda bread with caraway seed, corned beef, roasted cabbage and butter carrots – all vegan. I have a very pragmatic attitude toward cooking: I do my best, but I also know it doesn’t always work out. In this case, my efforts paid off. It’s funny I make traditional Irish fare as I don’t even care for it. I guess I love these small rituals, these observances. I also enjoy cooking – now that I don’t have to do it every day, three times a day.

I drive the two boys to the pizza parlour and hand my son my debit card. Despite the fact my children are old enough to walk here and there I have a fear of them being struck by a car – either while they are in a car themselves, or while they are walking. I tell them, “be careful”, and maybe I shouldn’t but I can’t help myself. When they were very small, I worried about drowning. I’d walk over a bridge carrying one baby and holding the hand of the older and I’d have horrible visions.

My son and his best friend are so happy together. They spend about twenty hours immersed in their own word – mostly gaming and eating and laughing – before the lad’s mother texts and asks us to send him home. My son comes and finds me shortly after and wants solace. He is a young man now but he still seeks me out. Both children do so I am surprised to think, perhaps it will always be like this.

Both Ralph and I have a weekend full of volunteer work: cooking for others and hosting events, answering phone calls and texts and email: he as an eSports advisor, me in the Recovery community. I am vaguely sensing I need some down time, a break; I am also uncertain when I will take one. I love my work (paid and volunteer) so much that in the morning I almost spring awake – but I also know I am out of balance, overworked, stretched thin.

On that account my child has finished their last paper of their community college career; they study for two more finals and are finished in a couple days. The entire family is getting used to the idea of them being finished; I know that we will then be onto driving school, and trying to fund a car, and trying to set up a (quasi-)business for this child.

Years ago when I got sober people in Recovery used to tell me about a life “beyond one’s wildest dreams”. I am experiencing that now and it is very funny. It seems to take as much focus and mindfulness as anything else, and it seems to be entirely out of my control. I do pray daily and lately I have felt so much gratitude for our health and safety. These things will be threatened in time, but every day we have them is very precious indeed.

A Smoothie

i waited for you but you were already here

A Smoothie
Children’s memories are incredible. As we drive out to the beach today they both tell me about the walks, the bike rides, the times we stopped for a trail hike or ate at a restaurant. I have the same memories, of course; but theirs seem so vivid, and they are obviously so fond retelling these events. Their affection for our beaches and our trails is humbling, too; these are places that Ralph and I selected, in effect building so much of their childhood. We don’t program our children like blank tapes but we do influence them so much.

It is sunny and warm – seventy degrees. We arrive to park and no one is near; we can see a few distant sea-gazers on the far-off overlook tower. The oldest child made and packed our lunch – hoagie sandwiches with red leaf lettuce and pickles and vegan lunchmeats and cheese, a side of chips. The dog is perched back of the Jimmy – excited, his expression absolutely jovial and alert. He can’t believe his luck! Once we lock the car and head to the jetty we are disturbed to discover he is finally too old to leap up the rocks and climp over into the hidden sandy beach. He tries many times, valiantly; but his agility is not there. We walk him a bit, then tie up him with a good deal of water, and leave him for a bit. My heart hurts to leave him behind; I also know it is better to have brought him than not at all.

Tide Pools
Today on social media – in a parent support group – I read parents complaining about their teen children, calling teens “assholes”, discussing whether a preteen child was old enough to decide ____ for herself. It hurt my heart; I closed my laptop. I wonder to myself how I avoided this fate, of feeling I was doing my children some kind of favor to care for them.

My children aren’t perfect; just last night one of them had a verbally violent outburst and today tempers are still tender. The child and I have a short conversation in the car today and I tell them that everyone has outbursts; no one in this family is judging, and we need to keep the family safe.

I ask if they know what set them off – were they worried about ___, were they feeling resentment toward ___? They tell me, “I have been asking myself the same thing,” and I am thinking: Job well done. I let them know that sometimes we don’t know why we lash out, and it’s okay not to know for a while. But by the same token, they also need to step back and reflect; it is their responsibility to figure it out. And there is always help available. It’s a conversation we have with our kids; keep it as short as possible, keep it thoughtful. Make sure to center myself first; and if possible discuss the issue after I’ve rested, meditated, and talked with my partner.

Because our dog party member is down for the count, we don’t stay at the beach very long today; long enough to find starfish, and chiton, and little snails and little crabs and large isopods. We stop on our way out of town at a coffee shop for tea lattes, and then home to Ralph who is cleaning the house and preparing dinner.

Before bed my eldest comes to be held and I kiss the top of their fuzzy shaved head; they still smell like the sea. They are soft and warm and content, that we had a day together, playing like children.