When Simon transitioned, I wanted to place all our relationship difficulties squarely on his shoulders. HE had changed the terms & conditions of our relationship. HE wasn’t the same person anymore (in a way more literal sense than folks usually mean this). It was his fault that we couldn’t connect the same way.

Except…

I learned a long time ago to look for my part in a messy situation. But as my relationship with Simon was devolving into lukewarm friendship—I mean, we weren’t besties or anything. We just kind of got along okay mostly—I didn’t FEEL like looking for my part. Smugness suited the situation better, I thought. My mindset fell more along the lines of “Oh, so you want to transition? I’ll show you transition…” or something like that, anyway. The long and short of it: I just knew Simon had ruined us. And I certainly wasn’t going to take it upon myself to pull us out of the hole we were quickly sinking in to. I hadn’t caused this mess. And I wasn’t going to fix it.

Except…

My anger roiled under the surface constantly. Minor annoyances that I used to roll my eyes about became reasons to seethe. As Simon sorted through his mixed feelings about leaving Tampa, I packed the house with a mix of fury and excitement. I couldn’t get to Atlanta fast enough. We were orbiting in completely different emotional spheres. We were in close physical proximity most of the time; but, emotionally, we were worlds apart.

I threw myself into life in Atlanta. Work, friends, activism… Atlanta breathed life into me that I hadn’t felt in years. And pushed me further away from Simon, who seemed to be struggling a bit to settle in. I’d love to be the compassionate heroine who swooped in to help Simon navigate his malaise. But I was busy. And happy. He was on his own.

In the back of my mind, a constant refrain played: But I’m attracted to women. This isn’t fair. But I’m attracted to women. This isn’t fair. But I’m attracted to women. This isn’t fair.

And, while it is true that I am attracted to women, I quickly ramped up my interest in women to a late 1990s level (if I hadn’t thought I would’ve been decades older than most of the women there, I totally would’ve cruised lesbian bars. But, alas, vanity saved me). I was obsessed. It was like diving back into those first years when I realized that loving another woman was an option… the possibility was intoxicating. And I was there again… but this time I was married. To a guy. What the actual fuck.

And so, this confluence of events was how we reached The Great Meltdown of 2016.

It wasn’t him. It was (also) me.

Flux

Life is constant flux. Knowing is transitory. Grasping destroys even the most beautiful things.

When Simon transitioned, I knew—knew down in my bones—that this would be better. For him. For our family. For Jane. But that knowing clashed against my belief about who I was—defined largely by being a lesbian. I couldn’t conceptualize how I could be gay and be with Simon. People often rail about being put into a box—they don’t want to be labeled. But I did want to be labeled. I’d worn this particular label (lesbian) for over 20 years. And I was pissed that someone would try to snatch that away from me. I felt betrayed by Simon’s need to be himself. Because that self wasn’t what I’d signed up for.

Everything I wrote about that summer—two years ago now—was true. We did reconnect in meaningful ways. Our physical spark returned. We fell in love again.

But all the while, I felt off-kilter. Like I was lying to myself. I didn’t know if I could be married to a man. Because I didn’t want to be. I’d married the person I wanted. Now she was gone. And in her place was this guy—who looked like her, who both was but was not the person I fell in love with. My everyday life was a total mindfuck.

Angry. Sad. Betrayed. Lonely. Scared. All of this I felt with varying intensity, all the while cheering Simon on through his transition. Which was never about us (it couldn’t have been; it shouldn’t have been). Simon transitioned so he could live, really live, his own life. Which left me to figure out how my lesbian self—fit into this new life of his. And how he fit into mine.

More and more, I was convinced that he didn’t.

I crafted the life I wanted to live. I built it up brick by brick, carefully constructed to fortify me in case of disaster. Because disaster loomed large any time paused long enough to evaluate our situation. Which wasn’t often. Emotional survival became the ultimate goal.

When shit went wrong (like, really, really wrong), my fortification didn’t do jack to protect me. I felt vulnerable. Crushed. And searingly lonely. Everything I’d believed to be true for more than 13 years suddenly felt like a lie. A complete fabrication. I couldn’t breathe.

But I could see clearly.

I saw that grasping at a label—even one that served me so well for so many years—was destroying me. I finally saw the person standing in front of me—and he had real needs, fears, desires. Those had both everything and nothing to do with me. When I could just see us standing there—me and him, stripped of labels, and free to choose—then I knew that I wanted him. Not in that sure, we’ll stay together way. But in an I choose you way. Not you are good enough, but you are ALL that is ever going to be good enough.

So I chose him. And in the choosing I found freedom.

Kindergarten Pandas

IMG_3360Simon & I spent a lot of time planning our family. It took us 2 years to get pregnant, so we had lots of time to choose baby names, to debate how we’d handle hypothetical disciplinary scenarios, to make crazy proclamations like “She’ll never wear pink or play with princesses!” But all that time, I wasn’t imagining a baby. I was imagining a little girl who would bound home from school each day, discard her school stuff haphazardly at the front door, and clamber up to the kitchen table for an after school snack.

So, imagine my surprise when, in late January 2011, I found myself staring down at the face of an adorable, incredibly helpless baby. I was overjoyed and full of “what-the-hell-do-I-do-with-this-tiny-person?”. Fortunately, Jane is a good teacher. We muddled through each baby and toddler stage with varying degrees of success. But always with so much love & forgiveness for each other’s shortcomings.

This week, my baby girl started Kindergarten. And this… this is everything I dreamed it would be.

Jane likes learning (although she does have to fight through always needing to be right, in order to absorb new information. No idea where she gets that). She’s enthused about new adventures. And she adores people. New friends? Loves them! New teachers? Just more folks to love. Jane’s amazing preschool experience at the YMCA in Tampa set her up to completely rock Kindergarten. But there’s always an element of the unknown when dealing with a 5 year-old. So, I eagerly anticipated her first day of school, all the while fretting about how it would go. This is my way. It’s just what I do.

She’d made a specific request that we NOT be late on her first day. I’m not sure why… we aren’t usually late to things… but she was clearly worried. So I promised we’d get there early. But, on the morning of her first day of school, she slept past 6:45. Excuse me, but WHAT THE HELL?!? We’ve been trying to get this kid to sleep past 6:45 forever. And she never does. Not on Saturdays. Not on Sundays. Not on holidays. But on her first day of school? Sleeping like a log. I had to shake her to wake her up. And then she flopped right back in bed like a dead fish. Again, WHAT THE HELL???

She perked up when we wandered into the kitchen for breakfast. But I started eyeing the clock as it passed 7, and she was still munching pensively on her raisin toast. I swear, she was eating it so slowly that it was spontaneously regenerating. I told her to hurry. I wrung my hands. I asked if she was almost done. I bounced my leg anxiously. Nothing would entice her to eat faster.

Then, Bobby… oh, sweet, understanding, perceptive Bobby…stepped in, picked her up and asked if she was scared about her first day. And then there were tears. Yes, it turns out. Eating toast excruciatingly slowly is a symptom of being scared. She shed precisely two tears. Then she wiped them away and began excitedly chattering about her classroom, her Shimmer & Shine backpack (etc, etc, etc).

By the time we got her in her adorable uniform and walked up to the front of the school, she didn’t seem nervous at all anymore. She greeted the Principal and her teacher with her general bubbly good nature. When she saw the art and activity stations in her classroom, she exclaimed, “This will be FUN!” And then she was officially a Kindergartener. No more tears (from her or me).

And having a school-aged kid is just as amazing as I thought it would be. She chatters about her new friends, tells me what they did each day, and professes her love of being a Panda (it’s their mascot). She is growing up so quickly. And I am so grateful to be along for the ride with her.

IMG_3359

 

Resilience

IMG_3280

“We are going to move away from the only home you’ve ever really known,” we said.

“Okay,” she said.

“We know that you’re leaving behind friends and family. It’s okay to miss them, and its okay to cry.”

“But I will get to live in the same place as my best friends. And their moms. And we love them so much. So, it’ll be okay,” she said.

We said goodbye. To the house. To family. To friends. To our house.

“I am sometimes sad saying goodbye,” she said. Then she cried broken sobs that shattered my heart. I held her until she was done. She dried her eyes, looked up at me and said, “But it’ll be okay.”

We made the long trek from Tampa to Atlanta and arrived in our new (temporary) home after 11p.m. Nothing of hers had made it here yet, except a few favorite toys.

“I love sleeping in my sleeping bag next to you, Mommy. It’ll be okay,” she said.

The next morning we got up bright and early; the three of us walked to one of the most stellar breakfast spots in Atlanta. She ate a pancake, which she declared the best she’d ever had.

We set out to walk home and she burst into tears. “I miss everyone,” she sobbed. Her Bobby held her until she was done. “It’ll be okay,” she said, “as long as I can ride on your shoulders home.” So she did.

We sent her off to spend time with her best friends and their moms, the ones she loves so very much. She declared that definitely much better than okay.

We explored this big, beautiful city, and her eyes grew wide with wonder. “This isn’t like Tampa,” she said. “But I think I like it okay.”

We found our new YMCA, and I signed her up for camp. She cried before we left he apartment on her first day—something she has never, ever done. She didn’t want to go. I sympathized. I cajoled. And then I finally insisted she go. She looked so small when I dropped her off, there in this new place with new people she didn’t know. When I picked her up, she got in the car and yelled, “Today was the best day ever!” So, I guess that means it’s okay.

She is 5. She’s full of enthusiasm, optimism and a flair for the dramatic. And she’s not afraid to feel things. Not sadness. Not joy. Not even fear. She names her feelings for what they are, feels them, and then lets them go. She is amazing. Adaptable. Resilient.

She is making Atlanta her home, day by day. She has friends at camp. She can’t wait for Kindergarten (just another week and a half!). And she loves the friends she already had here. She is joyous and aglow when she is with them. And I am so grateful to have a child that does not shrink from living her life.

And she is definitely okay.

 

 

Might, Maybe, Might

3327257572_8c99011c37_o

Here’s what I remember:

I am 4 years old. I am in a brightly colored room (primary colors, primarily). Cubbies occupy one of the walls, looking cozy and inviting. Like a space I could learn to identify as my own. So I readily ignore them. I am not interested in belonging. I am interested in getting the hell out of there.

I am currently exercising my will to scream. And cry. Snot is everywhere. I am breathing the jagged breaths that feel out of control and scary. They only make me cry harder. The woman holding me, rocking me back and forth, tries to reason with me about the fun I’ll have, the friends I’ll make, if only I will get out of her lap and try

I am starting to want to try. From my heightened vantage point in my teacher’s arms, I can see kids outside riding Big Wheels. I don’t have a Big Wheel at home. I want to ride, to gather speed and feel my ponytails fly behind me. I bet I can be pretty fast on a Big Wheel. Still, I cry.

I open my mouth to tell my teacher that I might, maybe, might be ready to try. I think maybe I can do this. I want to break my commitment to misery and play instead.

Then another teacher approaches us: “We’ve called her mom. She’s on her way.”

I look at the teacher holding me and cry harder. Because I was just ready to try. And now it’s over, before I even got a chance to start.

I’ve remembered this feeling for the past 36 years–the defeat of having committed myself so much to fear and sadness that I’ve crossed the point of no return, that I’ve lost control. That feeling of helplessness, of watching events unfold, grasping and not being able to change them–it haunts me.

I felt that way in the deepest depths of my love affair with alcohol. I wanted to escape the pain I was in; drinking caused more pain and shame and self-loathing. I knew it. I saw it. But I’d committed to this affair, to blackout drinking, to reckless sex, to oblivion. When I thought I might, maybe, might be ready to try to deal with the wreckage of my life, I’d see how far things had gone. And I’d feel that helpless, grasping feeling–like I’d lost control, like I’d never be able to put things back together. And so I’d sit at the bar and order a stiff drink, so I could forget what I’d just struggled so hard to remember: that I might not be beyond salvation, if I’d just try.

 

Photo Credit: Flicker/John Morgan

Grace, Unexpected

FullSizeRender-4

On Tuesday morning, Jane and I barely made it out of the house on time for school. Getting ready in the mornings involves some pretty stellar teamwork—and when I say teamwork, I mean that Jane is responsible for getting her own self dressed & ready to walk out the door. It each girl for herself before 9 a.m. in this house.

Jane spent a large portion of her morning obsessing about the princess ring that she’d gotten out of the treasure box at school. She couldn’t find it. She thought perhaps I might know where it was—and apparently she thought my answer might change on the 101st time she asked me. I did not know where her ring was, not the first time or the 101st time. But she was undeterred. She needed to find that ring.

Galloping Gumdrops! Her ring was right where she’d left it: in her booster seat. (No, I don’t really say Galloping Gumdrops. But we’ve been reading a lot of early reader chapter books, one of which was rife with exclamations like “Salamanders & Salutations!” and “Peonies & Princesses!” I suffered greatly. Thank you for sharing my burden.)

I was distracted on the way to school, making travel plans, finding the perfect song on the radio. The usual. We got to school; I turned around to look at my precious 5 year-old singing along with the radio in the backseat.

And suddenly, shit got real: “Jane, WHERE is your backpack?” “Uh oh. We must have left it at home. “WE must have left it at home?! No, WE didn’t leave it anywhere. YOU left it at home. Your backpack, your responsibility.” I sighed loudly, for added emphasis. Because 5 year olds are especially susceptible to exasperated sighs.

Then I looked down at her. She looked crestfallen. And I realized that I could teach her about natural consequences and personal responsibility, or I could offer her a little bit of grace. Grace won. I squatted down so I was eye level with her, and I said, “You did something that was irresponsible. But YOU are not irresponsible. You made a bad choice. But YOU are not bad. You’re a great kid; I totes love you.” She threw her arms around me and whispered in my ear, “You’re a good mommy. And I’m very sorry about my backpack. I won’t leave it again.” And then she grabbed by hand and pulled me inside the preschool, like she does every morning.

I could recount the boring conversation we had about consequences for the next time (which I’m sure sounded pretty much like the teacher from the Peanuts to her); but most important was that she seemed to understand that we all make mistakes. And our mistakes don’t define who we are.

Fast-forward to Tuesday night: I made (pretend) BLTs for us. Simon was out of town, so Jane & I were enjoying just paling around. We were cutting up about something silly, when I heard a popping. I kind of ignored it. But then I heard it again. It was coming from the kitchen. The intrepid adventurer that I am, I went to investigate.

HOLY SHIT, BATMAN!

Instead of turning off the grease that I’d cooked the (pretend) bacon in, I’d turned it on high. The stove was glowing red & radiating heat. The grease was just pre-flashpoint. It was already smoking. I almost panicked (What do I do for a grease fire? OH MY GOD, I AM GOING TO BURN THE HOUSE DOWN.) I grabbed the pan off the stove & stood there for a minute indecisively. I wanted to get it far away from the heat source.

Amid all this, Jane is staring at me, looking perplexed and a little concerned. “What is it, Mommy? What’s happening?” Honestly, these aren’t usually my best moments of parenting. If I feel that hot sting of shame, like I’ve really fucked up… well, I usually get snappy, dismissive or mean. But I didn’t. Because I just finished reading Daring Greatly, where Brené Brown talks about Minding the Gap (between our aspirational values and our practiced values). I tell Jane all the time that people are not their mistakes, that we can all use a bit of grace… but that means nothing unless I practice it with the person I am least likely to offer grace: myself.

So, I chose vulnerability. I put the pan in the sink (no, I didn’t put any water on it. I at least remembered that much from Home Ec. And I remember how to sew a stuffed unicorn. I can’t wait to see when that comes in handy). I looked at my worried kid and said, “Mommy made a mistake. I wasn’t paying enough attention, and I did something that could have put us in danger. I am sorry about my mistake. I feel bad about it. But we are both okay.”

Immediately, she walked over, hugged me and said, “It’s okay, Mommy. We all make mistakes. You just made a bad choice. You are a good mommy. I love you.”

Well Caterpillars and Catshit, she DOES listen to me. And this is wonderful, and frightening, and a bit overwhelming: she watches me. She waits to see how I act, because that shows her what I really value. That morning she received grace, and that evening she freely returned it. She knew I didn’t expect perfection from her; when I was vulnerable enough to admit to my mistakes, she let me know that she valued my honesty and vulnerability over perfection. Kind of amazing, really.

And, grace aside, we are both pretty happy I didn’t ACTUALLY burn the house down.

You Don’t Like the Buzzer?

IMG_2051When I signed Jane up to play basketball this winter, I had no idea how much I’d learn. And my learning had little to do with the game itself and much more to do with resilience and joy and kicking perfectionism in the ass.

Our family belongs to the YMCA. Consequently, at the tender age of 5, Jane has already played soccer (multiple times) and tee ball. She’s taken swimming lessons, done gymnastics on and off since she was a wee tot. Our theory falls into the try-everything-and-see-what-sticks method of choosing a sport. So, when I signed her up for basketball, it was just something else we could see if she liked.

Oh, sweet baby Jesus, she was awful at it.

The first practice, she had no idea how to dribble. Which I thought would be fine. In the other sports she’d tried, no prior skill was necessary at all. Hell, a decent percentage of the kids ended up playing in the dirt or chasing bugs during the soccer and tee ball games. But what I’d failed to consider is that this wasn’t the “baby league” anymore. This was the 5 & 6 year old league–and they were serious.

She had two practices before her first game, during which she kinda-sorta learned to dribble once or twice before the ball would simply hug the ground. The first game left her completely bewildered. She was supposed to defend (which she’d never heard of before), to dribble (which she couldn’t do), and make a shot on a rebound (what?!?). She basically stood still in the middle of the court, halfheartedly followed her team around, and tried to look like she was part of the action while staying entirely away from the action.

And then it happened–the buzzer went off to signify the end of the period. Sweet girl was lucky she didn’t pee her pants, it scared her so bad.

I was sure she’d want to quit after the first game. Jane is a known perfectionist. If she isn’t sure she can totally rock something, she usually loses all desire to participate. But not so in basketball. In fact, she loved it. She constantly asked to go outside to practice her budding dribbling skills. She loved practice, and stayed more engaged than I thought was possible given her lack of basketball skills.

She loved something she was awful at.

I’d love to say I fully embraced her enthusiasm. But my ego was a bit wounded watching her look constantly confused on the court, seeing her struggle to pick up the skills that seemed to come easily to the other kids. And I was afraid–afraid the other kids would make fun of her, that they wouldn’t want her on the team. I was terrified they’d be mean to her and crush her spirit.

So, instead, I almost beat them to the punch by constantly offering “helpful” suggestions, by insisting she focus, by criticizing her efforts when she was already giving it all she had.

And then one day at practice, I noticed how much fun she was having. How she continued to try, even though she couldn’t execute the drills perfectly. My perfectionist kid wasn’t perfect–and she was okay with it. In fact, she seemed oblivious to it. And I realized I was watching her develop resilience–which is arguably a more important skill than dribbling.

Her basketball picture reminds me of joy and resilience in the face of imperfection. And it gives me so much hope for the woman that she will one day become, a woman who doesn’t have to be perfect to live life wholeheartedly and with great joy.