Thursday, April 21, 2016

We Cannot Be Quiet

 We recently celebrated the one year anniversary of our transgender daughter's transition. A year ago, after weeks of conversations and wonderings about gender identity, names, and who we are in the world with our then eight year old, we decided to try out her new name. Rebekah Eleanor. Eleanor was my grandmother's name, may she rest in peace. She was a strong, spitfire of a woman. She may have thought we were crazy had she lived to know Rebekah's story. I understand that. But I also know that her strength and resolve is something Rebekah carries.

It's been a wonderful year filled joy, freedom, and affirmation. More days than not, we don't even think about Rebekah being transgender. She's just your typical third grader. It's also been a year of enormous change. I get a lot of questions about what's that looked like, how she's doing, and especially what's that been like for me and my husband as her parents.

Over the past year we've cleaned out the last few items in the wardrobes that didn't feel right, we've boxed up mementos with her old name on them, we've updated the pictures that hang on the wall, and replaced Christmas stockings and ornaments for the tree. As far as anyone who meets us now knows Rebekah was never anyone but herself, a girl. Of course, that's true. She's always been Rebekah, but we didn't fully understand that until this year. We've worked with excellent medical professionals to be ensure we have the right information at the right time to make decisions as they come, while being grateful that we haven't had to make any of those decisions yet.

It's been interesting to watch as in the last year we've told our story over and over again. First, to close friends and family, and then expanding from there. We've told our church council president and the bishop for our church in the state. We've sat and met with dance school directors, camp directors, and faith-based arts school leaders and board members. We've explained our situation to school principals, teachers, and the superintendent. We've told our story to others who know a friend or a family member who needs support. We've told our story in some form or another, however brief, to anyone we run into who once knew our child as a boy and sees that she is not a boy. For months, it felt like all we did was tell our story. I'm okay with that. I think our stories matter, and I will tell it over and over again. 

But somewhere along the way, there was a shift in how and when we tell our story. You see, it's no secret. Obviously, I'm right here on the internet writing about it. But at a new school, a new dance studio, and a million other new places, Rebekah is simply Rebekah. She's a girl like any other. There's no memo that precedes her. There's no announcement needed to clarify my child's genitalia. But over time, as she builds relationships and gets to know people, there are people who she wants to know this part of her or who enter far enough into our lives to learn her story. She's not hiding it. It just doesn't come up in "hi, nice to meet you, want to play?" and you certainly can't tell when you meet her or even spend time with her. She's just a girl, proved by the fact that when she has tried to tell friends at school they don't believe her! Suddenly, we're having conversations with people who have no idea of our daughter's history to explain it to them. We know with every conversation, it could go badly. We know with every conversation, there's a chance it will all explode in our face. 

You see, while there's been bumps along the way, we have been met with an overwhelming amount of support. Rebekah knows that there are people who do not understand or what to understand what it means to be transgender, but she hasn't had to deal with them yet. We know the time is limited on that, and so does she. So we tread carefully, we consider each encounter and disclosure, we hold our breath and pray that all will be well.

Recently, I've been posting a lot about transgender issues and news on my personal social media. It's not something I was doing a lot before. Occasionally, I'd share a really well written article or something that struck me, but our life is full beyond having a trans kid and our daughter is so much more than her gender identity. I didn't want to be *that* person flooding my friends' feeds with my pet cause. Even in this space, on the blog, I've quieted. There's so much to say, so much people have asked me to share more about our story... and yet it's not my story, it's Rebekah's. So I balance carefully on the edge of respecting her privacy and raising awareness.

But here's the thing. It's more than a pet cause. It's my kid's life, rights, and safety. While, we will continue to tread carefully, being aware of her story versus ours and protecting her privacy, I've realized we cannot be silent. We cannot even be quiet. When you have a child who is afraid to go on family vacation in North Carolina and who wisely asks about the leadership making these decisions. When you explain a super brief take on politics and mention upcoming elections both for a governor in North Carolina and for the United States President and your child quietly ask, with fear that even you can feel, "but what if we get a bad president", well it's time to talk about these things. She knows her rights and safety are in jeopardy despite being surrounded by nothing short of an army of support. 

Rebekah knows that people knowing her and her story helps the entire transgender community. She knows it helps other kids, and she believes that is important. We will continue to tell our story. I will write more. We will find strength, courage, and hope in love and grace. I want my daughter to know that she is loved, as she is, with no strings attached. I want her to proud of who she is. She is bright, creative, joyful, adventurous, and intuitive. And, she is transgender. She can be proud to be exactly who she is. 

With visibility comes backlash. This has been an exciting and scary year for the trans community. This has been an exciting and scary year for our family. There are people in the world, some of whom have frightening amounts of power, who would have her be ashamed. Their actions suggest that my daughter should live in fear or be satisfied with 'separate but equal'. We won't settle for that. I will fight for her and for all trans kids, youth, and adults. And if that means, we speak louder and more frequently, so be it.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Letter to My Transgender Daughter

Dear Daughter,

One year ago today we affirmed your identity with a new name. It was one of the names we considered for you before you were born, when we loved you so but hadn't yet met you. It was fitting to use it now that we finally do know who you are. A year later, I can't imagine calling you anything else. You are our Rebekah, or "Beba" as your littlest brother calls you. 

I'm in awe of your strength and determination. I've never seen anything more beautiful than watching you be yourself, and I feel so blessed that I get to watch you grow. You're a spirited human, and you always have been. We've told you time and time again how as a baby you kept us up all hours of the night, refusing to sleep unless you were held, swaddled, rocked, nursed, and bounced in just the right order and the right way. You were born telling us what you needed, loudly. People would ask, "oh are they a good baby?" Of course, they meant did you sleep all night long and were you easy going. The answer to that would have been no, but were you a good baby? Yes, you were. All babies are good. But you were a spirited, intense, joyful, demanding, and affectionate baby... and none of those things have changed. 

You didn't just make daddy and I parents, you schooled us on what it meant to love a little person with their own big feelings, thoughts, and personality. You showed us we were capable of things we had never imagined, or never wanted to imagine like not sleeping for more than twenty minutes at a time for months on end. You demanded that your voice be heard. You've known that your thoughts, feelings, and ideas mattered just as much as the next person from the start. Your age never mattered. In truly listening to one another and responding as best we can to each other's needs, magic happens. That's what our family is built on, and you taught us that. 

In the same way you made your voice heard at home, you made your voice heard in the world. You asked questions, you took in information, and you decided what that meant for you. At 3, you declared you would be a pink bird for the school play, even if you were supposed to be a seagull. Before you even turned four, you were calmly asserting that colors were for everyone, not just boys or just girls, to the preschoolers at school. In kindergarten, I remember your teacher telling me at pick up that you had corrected her when she said your little brother couldn't marry his best friend, a boy. You told her how boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls. Love is love. 

You've dressed the way you want to dress and liked the things you want to like for your whole life. It's not that people always thought it was okay. Sometimes kids, and even adults, didn't. Sometimes they parroted whatever they'd been taught about colors or nail polish and gender norms. That hurt. I know it hurt. But you worked it out. There was a very short time period where your favorite color was "anything but pink or purple", but it didn't last long. You've always known who you are and wanted to express yourself on your terms. It hasn't always been easy, but you've handled it with more grace than I could have dreamed.

In the months leading up to you becoming Rebekah, you continued in this way. Quiet questions. Lots of thinking. Careful choices. You felt your way around the possibilities, you wrestled with what was in your heart versus what was in the world in ways that most adults haven't. Like a little caterpillar, you explored, soaking up information and chomping your way towards an understanding of the world. Then you created a cocoon where you digested all these thoughts and sorted your feelings. When you were ready, you emerged as a brilliant butterfly. 

You laughter is infectious. Your smile lights the world. You make friends everywhere you go, and your teachers tell us they wish they had a WHOLE class of Rebekahs (although we're certain the world couldn't handle that!). You have a spark in you that drives you to love and care for people while dreaming big and making change. 
You are still so very spirited, joyful, determined, and affectionate. Mommy and daddy love your snuggles, your humor, and we survive your sass. You are still the strong little person you were when you were born, gently but firmly demanding that the world meet you on your terms, and teaching mommy and daddy the fullest meaning of unconditional love and grace. 

You know who you are in this world, and we are so incredibly blessed to know and love you.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Beyond Awareness Campaigns: A Step to Stop Bullying

In New Jersey schools this week is the Week of Respect. The Week of Respect is an annual week of awareness, education and action around harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB). It is mandated by New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Law. (Source: Garden State Equality). My kids are spending this week in their classrooms talking about being kind and respectful to one another. 

Coming up, October 15th is Spirit Day, GLAAD's campaign to stand against bullying and support LGBT youth by wearing purple and talking about the issue. You can take the Spirit Day pledge on the site and learn more about GLAAD's resources.

Here's the deal. I've talked to my kids, and we've done the respect activities. I took the pledge, and I'll wear my purple on Thursday. I stand with these efforts. I hope you do, too. I hope you stand for a world where we won't need respect weeks and spirit days to declare our intentions to stand with those on the edges of our communities. I hope you stand against bullying, every day and every week. If you do... here's the biggest thing you, we, can do.

Talk to our kids. Yes, we have to talk to our kids. Not about bullying and respect weeks and spirit days. We just need to talk to our kids about life, about community, about the world. Talk to our kids about people, places, and things that are not like them. 

I urge you. Teach your kids about the world. The whole world. Fill your homes with a respect for those different than you. Plant and nurture seeds of curiosity in your children. Curiosity instead of fear. Fill your bookshelves with what's beyond your four walls, beyond your town, your state, your culture. Read. Read about all the places, people, and experiences you possibly can. Learn WITH your child. You don't need to know it all already. That's exactly the point! Show your children you don't know it all. Meet all different kinds of people. Learn their stories. Acknowledge and celebrate your differences. 

He's only 5. He's not ready for that.

She's only 7. I have time.

But, when will they learn? When will we decide that it's time to teach our kids that not everyone is like them? Will we do it before they've decided that being different must be bad?

That's too young to learn about sexuality. Of course we don't teach young children about sexuality in whatever way you're thinking about. But, we can teach them about all different kinds of families. That will surely make it easier to relate to and understand classmates with two dads or friends who live with grandma.
He won't understand autism or down syndrome. Actually, there are kids in his school, in his class whose brain work different than his, and he knows something is different about them. But he's not sure what, and not knowing is uncomfortable and even a little scary.
This is what I know. We fear what we don't know. When we're scared, we make some pretty ugly choices about how we treat people. So let's know more, let's learn. Those of us who live in the country, let's teach our kids about city life and those with a mom and a dad at home can share stories with our kids of families with two moms and divorced families who live separately and so on. We can seek to hear the stories of others and we can share those stories with our children. We can hear stories of adoption, limb difference, and neuro-atypicality. We can learn about other faiths, cultures and belief systems. And yes, for the sake of my daughter, I hope we can learn that some girls were mistaken for boys at birth and that some boys were mistaken for girls.

There are difficult and heavy things our kids will need to learn about. Injustice, oppression, discrimination, and privilege are just a few. But the idea that people can look, think, and live differently than us is simply not one of those difficult and heavy things. The understanding that some people are differently-abled, transgender, speak with a different accent or in a different languages... that people come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors... and that families are made in a million different ways... this is not the difficult and heavy. If we have any hope of tackling the difficult and heavy (and yes, we most certainly need to), let's start here.

The world is rich with flavor, color, and diversity. There is no time too soon to share that with our children. It's not something that is accomplished in a day or week of awareness. Bullying ends and respect begins when we know that every person has their own story, that every person's story is valuable, and that no person's story can take away from your story. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

My kid won't fit in your box. Love him anyway.

I've worked with kids all my life. I've had those kids in my classes, groups, programs, etc. The ones that didn't fit the mold. The ones who were too loud, too active, too impulsive, just too much.  I've known their parents. I have loved those children, and I have worked in earnest to create the best environment for them. I have trained countless staff members on how best to program for these children, how to connect with them, and how to support them. I've seen the parent's relief when at the end of the day, I got to tell them their child had a good day. And I've seen the parent's heartbreak when I had to tell them it wasn't so good a day. I've gotten the hugs that say thank you in a way words cannot. Those hugs said "thank you for seeing me and not just my child's challenges, thank you for seeing my child and not just behavior, thank for you loving and caring about our family". 

I was always glad to help. I felt passionate that these kids were good kids (all kids are good kids) who just needed some extra support to excel in a particular environment. I knew what I was doing mattered, but I never fully got it. I mean I did an okay job. I supported parents and kids. Those kids taught me all sorts of things... one size doesn't fit all... we all bring something to the table... the goal isn't to fit in someone's box of expectations. 

But now... now I see those parents, those mothers especially, in a way I never could before.
Whether as an adult who still works with children or as another parent at pick up, I see them. Those mothers sighing when their kid screams or nervously exhaling in relief when it goes well, still tensely waiting for the other shoe to drop. I know their heart is breaking a little, or maybe a lot. Their heart is breaking because it's hard to be the mom of that kid. Their heart is breaking because they know their kid is struggling, they know their kid is not thriving. Their heart breaks because no one wants things to be difficult for their child, definitely not this difficult.  Their heart is breaking because they are tired and their buckets are empty. Their heart is breaking because they don't know what else they have left to give, what other tools to provide or what strategies to try. Their heart is breaking because nothing makes a person feel more like a failure as a parent than watching their child consistently fail to adapt, fail to fit in, fail to be happy and successful. 

Teachers, coaches, instructors, camp counselors, activity leaders... please just love my kid. 

Get to know him. See him for who he is, not just how he doesn't fit the system. He's interesting, unique, brilliantly creative, and sharply witty... and he's frustrating, exhausting, limit stretching, and button pushing. Group environments aren't his best place, but he wants to learn and he wants to be there, maybe more than any other kid I know. I know he's not easy. I also know he is sweet, loving, enthusiastic, perceptive, and driven. He's only 6. Please let's keep in mind exactly what are appropriate expectations for a 6 year old. I know this culture is pushing us to do more, do better, and do it all quicker. I know other parents are demanding metrics and results. I know the pressure is on for achievement and meeting standards. But pressure, standards, checkmarks, and boxes aren't going to help my kid. He's got something pretty amazing to bring to the table... to bring to the community, to the world. He's going to do it on his own time and in his own way, and he's going to blow your standards and expectations out of the water. Please just love him, support him, and encourage him. Make room for his passions when it's possible. Appreciate his humor. Help him figure out how to navigate this world that doesn't think at all like him and try not to squish him into a box he was never meant to fit. I assure you I am striving and struggling to do all that and more around the clock, and I would be forever grateful for one more person on our team.
My kid isn't going to fit in any of your boxes. Love him anyway.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

George: A Call to Be Who You Are #bookschangelives

I'm super excited to tell you about a book that came out this week, George. Written by Alex Gino and published by Scholastic Books, George is the story of a 10 year old transgender girl who wants everyone to know and understand that she is, actually, a girl named Melissa. With a beautiful and bold tagline of "BE WHO YOU ARE", the book is the first middle grades fiction book with a transgender main character.

We were fortunate enough to receive an early copy of George, through a friend who is an author (check her out, she even has some great short stories currently free for kindle!). Rebekah was so excited to receive such a special thing, a copy of a book about someone like her, before it was released, and signed to her by the author. How cool!

So Rebekah took the book to read before I had a chance, and she loved it! It was really affirming to read about a character with whom she strongly identified. In her words, these were her thoughts on the book...

George is a good book to explain what it can be like to be transgender. The story was enjoyable. I liked all the details. It was cool to read about someone like me. My favorite part of the book is the play, Charlotte's Web, because George surprised everyone and did what she really wanted to... she got to be herself in the play. Usually in a play you're acting, but it was on stage that she finally got to be herself. I liked that. The trip to the zoo was my other favorite part, because Kelly's uncle didn't even know George was transgender. She could just be herself at the zoo without anyone noticing she was different. She didn't have to worry about anything else. I think it's a good book for other kids to read because most kids don't know about being transgender and it's a fun thing to learn about.
I loved hearing Rebekah's thoughts on the book, and I was excited to read it myself. The book was honest and funny with likable characters. As a parent of a transgender kid, I admit I wince at some of the plot surrounding being bullied or not accepted. I want to pretend that's not out there, but of course, it is. In the end, I felt good that Rebekah was able to read about it, hurt with George, empathize with her story, and then rejoice with Melissa. Rebekah's life won't always be easy. There will be bumps.There will be mean kids and mean adults. George was a great story of being who you are in the face of adversity and surrounding yourself with friends and family who have your back! Like Rebekah, I'm excited there is a book for others to read that gives them a window into the experience of being transgender. The power of seeing yourself represented in literature can not be overstated.

Here are some additional resources about George:

Friday, July 3, 2015

Raspberries, Coffee & Self Care

Our raspberries are exploding right now. Each morning, there's a good sized bowl to pick. With a toddler who loves to eat sticks, grass, and pretty much anything that grows, raspberries are a pretty exciting discovery... a food that he can eat without anyone arguing, plus they taste way better than most sticks. It's become our morning ritual. Coffee and raspberry picking, barefoot and bleary eyed. It grounds me. It helps wake up my tired body and soul.

When the nights are not anywhere near as restful as I need them to be and the mornings much earlier and much louder than I want them to be, the entire waking up process is jarring. Often all I can do is grumble (to myself or sometimes not so much to myself) about needing more sleep and dread the long list of everyday life stuff before me while complaining that the kids won't let drink a single cup of coffee. It's not a good start to the day. I'd love to wake up before my kids, have some quiet moments with a cup of coffee, and take a deep breath before I start the day. But the baby wakes when I do, regardless of the time, so that will have to wait a bit longer. In the meantime, stumbling outside into the garden is the next best thing.

Outside, I can breathe. There's space. Everything isn't so loud. Everyone isn't so close. The grass tickles my feet, the baby picks berries, and the big kids march off to check the wild black raspberry bushes in the woods nearby. I wake up gentler and without the suffocating to do list that lives inside the house, the messes to be cleaned, the food to be prepped, the laundry, the projects, the bills.

Picking those raspberries has become a quiet meditation. It's a simple task. One that has to get done or we will lose the fruit. It doesn't take too long, but long enough. Pick, squat, reach, nibble a few. And, it feels like I've accomplished something when it's done. Something checked off my list before breakfast. Food provided for my family. A few set aside for snack, although mostly the kids pick for themselves what they want to eat fresh. The rest get frozen for snacks and smoothies through the year.

It's choices like this and moments like these that I'm focusing on this month. It's a continuation of #operationthrive. It's a month of me. It's ongoing self care. It's little shifts in perspective to let the light in, to make it easier to breathe. Happy July.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Letter From Home: Thoughts on Sleepaway Camp

I don't know how it happened, but on Sunday I'm sending my oldest child off to sleepaway camp for the first time. Sleepaway camp! How is that possible? 
A little background. I went to camp from the time I was 6. I loved camp with every ounce of my being. It remains one of the most sacred places on the planet for me, a place where I found my confidence, my passion, my spirituality, and my closest friends. I met my husband working at camp. We got married at camp. I've worked at many types of camps in different parts of the country. I have a Masters degree in, you guessed it, CAMP. My kids have been at camp with me consistently since before they were born as I volunteered, served on the Board of Directors, attended family camps, and even spent a year starting up a new satellite Day Camp program.
But now... my child is going to camp. As a camper. I won't be there. Heck, she's going to a brand new program although at least at a camp where I worked 10 years ago and directed by someone with whom I worked. But still... suddenly this professional camp mama is on the other end of the registration table. To be honest, I'm so darn excited for her, it hasn't really sunk in that she's going to be gone for an entire week.

As I do laundry, make checklists, write letters to mail each day making sure the first gets there on Monday (yep, I'm being *that* mom), and help pack her things... I wrote her this letter.
Dear Daughter,

I don't know where the time has gone, but you're an amazing human. I get to see just how amazing more and more every day. I'm so proud of you... who you are... how you love... the way you engage the world. I'm going to miss you like crazy this week, but I'm so proud of you for going to camp. I'm so proud of the ways you've grown, matured, and found yourself in the past year. Last year, you weren't ready. You told me. We listened. This year, you knew you were ready. We can all see you're ready.

I know you're equal parts excited and nervous. I know it's hard to do new things, but we can do hard things. I know you know that. Some of the hardest things are the best things. 

Camp is one of my most favorite places on the planet, and I know you're going to love it, too. You already do. How could you not? You've been a "camp kid" since you were in my belly. Camp is so many of the things you already love. Awesome people. Nature. Singing, games, swimming, art, hiking and all kinds of goofy fun. Thinking outside the box. Coloring outside the lines. Not being afraid to be yourself.

This week is for you. It's all yours, and you deserve it. For all the times you watch the baby or convince E to help you clean up. For the times you cook everyone's eggs for breakfast and for the times you wait for what seems like forever for your turn. This week is completely yours. There's no little brothers. There's no to-do lists. There's no schoolwork calling your name.  It's all you, kid. Live it up.

Be you. Be brave. Laugh hard. Speak up. Be seen. Don't hesitate to do something just because you might not do it at home. Don't do anything just because everyone else is doing it. Ask questions. Tell people what you want and need. Share your brilliant ideas. There are no limits. Make your voice heard. 

There are amazing people at camp who cannot wait to get to know you, and their entire job is to keep you safe and make this the best week possible. Let them help you. Forget where to put your dishes in the dining hall? Ask them. Need help putting your hair into a pony tail? Ask them. Want to know if you can hike/swim/build a rocketship? Ask them. Even if it's the middle of the night and you're scared because you had a bad dream or you have to go the bathroom. Ask. Whatever it is, just ask. They want you to ask, and they want to help. That's why they work at camp. Don't go it alone when you don't have to. You're never alone at camp.

You can be a helper, too. This is your community for the week. You work together. Look for the kids who need a friend, a hug, or a laugh. Listen to your gut. It knows what to do. Your huge heart will lead the way. Make the best decisions you can, know you're going to make mistakes, and remember always that it all comes back to love and grace. 

It's okay to miss home. It's even okay to not miss home. It's all part of the experience. All the feelings are okay, and all the feelings will pass. Just know that we are here, loving you just as much as ever, missing you, and counting the days until we can hear what an amazing week you had.
Love you more than words can say,