Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Saving grace

I was thinking about parents who might be new to this journey this morning.  In spite of our having come so far, I don't want to lead parents into thinking this was a breeze.  Just because I tend to take a somewhat lighthearted view in this blog does not mean the trek was lighthearted in any way.  I try to be humorous to take the edge off but perhaps that is being insensitive.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing because you're coming from the perspective of "everything worked out in the end", but when you're in the middle, you really don't want to hear that.  You just want someone to say, "Yup, it's damn hard."

We want to gloss over how hard it is for us because we don't want our kids to think we have regrets.  And we don't have regrets any more than the parents whose toddler is throwing the mother of all tantrums in the middle of the grocery story.  It completely sucks being in that position, but it's not like most of us throw our hands in the air and say, "I give up.  You're going back."  Some sad parents do that, but most of us stick it out because we love our children and when our children act like little individuals with minds and wills all their own, we don't give up on them just because they're driving us nuts.  And that is certainly true with trans kids too.  We want to particularly protect them from knowing about our stresses as parents to them because they have already experienced more stress than the average kid; for one, they've had to be so closeted for a significant portion of their lives, and, after all, they are inhabiting foreign bodies.

So let's get down to the brass tacks: the first hours, days, week and months of DJ's transition were simultaneously hellish with some occasional wonderful thrown in.  Why hellish?  Well, the worry is overwhelming, for one.  It colors everything you do, everything you think about.  You become a bit furtive and paranoid because you feel more prepared to protect your kid if you assume everyone is looking cross eyed at her.  I read that sentence and realize how schizo it sounds, but there you have it, nonetheless.  That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

The worry is all-encompassing; it made me feel physically ill.  Everything hurt-my back was killing me.  My knees hurt.  I started getting headaches.  And I felt exhausted.  It took a couple of months before I realized that I felt like I was reliving my experiences of mothering small children.  It had been so many years since my kids needed me that much, that I had become spoiled.  I had become soft once all my kids had hit puberty.  While that stage of development certainly has its own challenges, let's face it, at least we don't have to worry about helping with body functions and feeding and we can be reasonably certain that the kids won't run into the streets without looking both ways first.   Until puberty, or thereabouts, you are "on" all the time, even in your sleep.  Your mommy and daddy ears are fine tuned 24/7 for anything that sounds unusual so you can spring to the ready at a moment's notice.

Then your kid doesn't need your help in the bathroom anymore and they sleep through the night or can manage their own bad dreams without you, and, well, yeah, you definitely get "soft."  Until they come out and then you are thrust back into the stage of more active parenting again.  I didn't resent it at all, I was just not conditioned for it anymore.  I had to recondition myself but this time I was much older and it was harder getting back in the saddle.  All those physical pains were a result of my emotional stress. I felt like we had major catching up to do.

In addition to being a paramedic/firefighter, I'm an educator.  I think it's in the genes, or I just like to hear myself talk, especially when the people I'm talking to aren't allowed to shut me up.  I felt an overwhelming urge to "teach" my new daughter all that she had missed out on while being raised as a boy.  Let's face it, being a woman in this man's world isn't for the feint of heart and I had to help DJ be ready to face the world as a second class citizen.  There's a trick to it, but geez, it took me decades to figure it out and now I had to offer DJ a crash course.

And DJ needed her parents in a way that most 15 year olds don't.  We were honored and glad and wanted to be there for her, but I'd gotten "soft" in that area too.  I would have welcomed cuddling from any of my kids, it's just that once they got to about age 10, none of them were that interested.  Now, suddenly, DJ was very interested.  I think she needed it.  I'd forgotten what it was like to have your physical presence and touch be needed so much.  I'd forgotten how the act of giving can really be physically hard.

I regret or begrudge none of it.  I'm just stating a fact that it was just plain hard.  And the "hardness" of it manifested in how I felt physically, which is to say I felt like $---.  I was exhausted.  And to be honest, I'm not even sure how Bulldog felt because I was so consumed with how DJ was feeling, and how I was feeling related to how she was feeling, that checking in with how Bulldog was feeling was more than I could manage on many days.  I just didn't have enough inner resources to check his emotional pulse many days.  That's the truth of the matter-we all were stretched pretty thin.

So, if you're feeling stretched pretty thin yourself, hang in there.  It's part of the process and you will come out whole on the other side, believe it or not.  We're irreverent as hell in this house, which helped me tremendously.  If you can laugh at yourself and each other, it will help dispel some of those dark, tiring days where the worry just grinds you down.  I mean, when you and your daughter are getting caught up in the angst about how to fill out a bathing suit top properly without giving away your secrets, you have to laugh at imagining one of your "tools" popping out if you get knocked over by a wave at the beach.  What else can you do?    The situation that your child was born into and has now been thrust upon you is not going to go away.  And really, the absurdity and unfairness are so grotesque, it's almost comical because it's the stuff of ridiculous books of fiction that you can pick up at the used book store for a quarter because no one finds the story even remotely believable; except it is believable because it's your life.  And more importantly, it's her life.  So pick yourself up, dust yourself off and poke fun at yourself and the situation.  It's serious enough as it is without you making it more so.  Try to see the funny.  Some days it may be your only saving grace.