I went to Party City tonight to pick up a few items for your birthday in two days. True to you being you, I avoided the balloons, got some purple decorations, and found some napkins that said “Happy 13th Birthday!” in bold bright colors.
Then I cried.
I stood on that aisle, tears rolling down my face, not caring if anyone saw me. I let them come as they came, and they didn’t ease up until the twenty-something college kid who worked there saw me and asked me if I was okay. “My oldest is turning thirteen in two days. It goes by way too fast.”
“My mom tells me that all the time,” he said, and handed me a kleenex.
“Your mom is right,” I told him.
“She’s also awesome,” he said.
I wonder if his mom cried when he turned thirteen. But clearly, she did something right, because as an adult, he smiled when he talked about her.
I never smile when I talk about the woman who raised me. And I’ve spent most of the past thirteen years trying to be the exact opposite of the woman I called mom, though she never really earned the title. What I know is that when I was pregnant with you, and that every single day since that second line showed up on the pregnancy test I took on my lunch break at Kohl’s on April 20, 2004, is that my greatest fear has been to become her.
Do you remember your first day of Kindergarten? How you had told me in the months leading up to it that you absolutely were NOT going to go to Kindergarten, how I couldn’t make you? How if you went to Kindergarten, Autumn would miss you, and there wouldn’t be anyone to give Benny his pacifier the right way. I argued with you that summer more than I think I’ve ever argued with you, even when you were in your headstrong “terrible toddler” years. I finally told you that there would be times in your life you’d have to do something you’d rather not do, and you just have to grit your teeth and get through it. But that first day of Kindergarten? I made you pancakes for breakfast, and you ate them. Then you got in the car with me, and you walked into the school with me, holding my hand, your purple and pink back pack bouncing on your back, your waist length hair pulled back into pig tails. You sat down at your desk, and when I asked you if you wanted me to stay, you looked up at me and said, “No, Mommy. I’m fine. I’ll see you after school.” I swallowed the lump that had been in my throat all day, hugged you, told you I loved you, and walked out of the room. I made it down the hallway to the bench in front of the library, and then I sat down and cried. Two years later, I took you to school on the first day of second grade and you dropped my hand on the way into the building. When I looked at you in surprise, you looked up at me and said, “Mom, I think I’m old enough to walk without holding your hand,” and it broke my heart, but I looked down at you, and I said, “Okay.” That time, I made it to the car before I cried; not just because you were old enough to not hold my hand, but because that was the first time you had called me “Mom” and not “Mommy”.
You were my first. Do you know how incredible that is? You, you and no one else on this entire planet, in all of time, can claim that. You gave me the greatest gift I ever wanted, a gift I had to go through hell to recieve. I’d felt like I was drifting through life until you came into it. I was almost twenty-eight when you were born, and every moment of that day is vivid in my mind: the terror when the doctor informed me you’d released meconium, that you’d be going to the NICU once you were born. I watched from across the room as they worked on you, and the doctor stitched me up, and I was terrified that I would lose you too soon. They only let me hold you for a minute before they took you to the NICU. But four hours after you were born, they released you from NICU, and I held you for the rest of the night.
You’ll be thirteen in just two days. I can’t wrap my mind around it, yet there’s no denying it: You’re almost as tall as I am, soon to be taller than me, you wear the same size shoes I do. You’ve got the attitude of most teenagers with all the eye rolling and aggrevated sighs, and it’s such a catch-22 with that attitude of yours: I’m aggrevated because you have an attitude, and I’m just as grateful that you do, because you’re right where you need to be. You’re head strong, independant, so phenomenally gifted at art that my jaw drops when you show me what you’ve been working on. You crack me up almost daily with your wicked sense of humor. You’re compassionate and so well spoken.
You’re also the most courageous person I have ever met in my life.
A few months ago, you spent a week hovering outside my home office door, outside my bedroom door, near me in the kitchen. You’d start to speak, to tell me something, then you’d stop. But after twelve years of being your mother, I have learned that you do things in your own way, in your own time. You can’t be rushed. You finally came in my room one afternoon and asked if you could talk to me privately. I shut off my computer monitor, put my phone on silent and flipped it over. I told you to shut the door. You stood there, my first born child, and you struggled. Whatever it was you were holding onto was weighing you down: I could see it, your brother and sister could see it, and your father had seen it. You had a secret that was making you lose sleep and lose your appetite. I looked at you and told you: “I’ve learned in forty years that if something is hard to say, it’s easiest to just say it. Whatever it is, I’m listening, and I love you.”
You took a deep breath. My heart pounded in my ears, and all I could think in that moment was that if ANYONE had hurt you in any way, I was going to kill them slowly and painfully. You took another deep breath, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Mom, I don’t think I’m a girl. I think I should have been born a boy.”
And I looked at you and said, “That’s it? Honey, I don’t care. You’re still my child and I love you.”
The look of relief on your face broke my heart. And then you threw your arms around my neck and I held you close.
Do you know how amazing you are to know yourself that well at the age of twelve? To know yourself, and to have the courage and the bravery to say “this is who I am”? Do you have any idea how proud I am to be your mother? To know my child is that open and honest and able to say so clearly who they are?
I never could have been that brave. I hid who I was from the world until I was thirty five. But you? My god, my beautiful miracle, YOU ARE AMAZING!
We went and had your hair cut off the next day. And when we went to Sarah’s chair and she asked you how you wanted your hair cut, you tensed up and looked at me. I asked Sarah if we could go somewhere private, and for the first time in years, you reached for my hand and held onto it hard. “It’s okay baby, you can tell her,” I told you, and you opened your mouth, but you couldn’t say the words. I asked if you wanted me to say it for you, and you whispered yes. I smiled at you and told Sarah that you were born a girl, but you were transgender. And Sarah said, “Okay honey, so you want your hair cut short?” and hugged you, and you realized what I had told you for the past twenty-four hours: there was nothing wrong with you, and it was okay to be you.
A few months later, you chose to tell your father. And you were terrified he wouldn’t love you any more, that he wouldn’t think of you as his child any longer. I told you I’d not tell him, that I’d wait until you were ready, and I would be there when you were ready to tell him, that I would say it for you again if you needed me to. But when you finally decided to tell him, you found your words. You told him directly who you were, and as I had told you, he didn’t care. He loved you, both as the daughter he was given and then son you are to him, and to me, now.
I won’t always be there to say the words for you. And maybe I’d worry more if you weren’t you. But you, you’re brave as hell. You’re strong as hell, and you’re courageous as hell. You have your voice, and you use it when you need to.
I am so blessed to have you as my child. It has been the greatest thirteen years of my life being your mother, to have been the person who has the great honor of being able to say I’m your mother, to have been given the gift of raising you and showing you the world, and to watch who you’re becoming. I could not be more prouder of you.
Love you kiddo.