celebrating the "and"
rosh hashanah 5779 * september 10, 2018
People have always commented on how easy going and supportive we are of our kids – our home is a live and let live, anything goes kind of space. From young ages our kids were amazing and a bit challenging in their own ways: our oldest intense and confrontational – our middle often a bit out of step with social situations – our youngest a creative force difficult to contain.
While we have been intentional about certain things, there is a lot that just happened because we were busy and overwhelmed and a loud creative chaotic home was the path of least resistance. Kif and I always prioritized love, community and exploration over fixed rules and roles. The chaos gave us the freedom to let go of the shoulds.
We were outnumbered and couldn't keep up anyway.
So flash forward three years ago right around this time of year – literally the day after my middle child had just completed her bat mitzvah and given an amazing drash about feminist Eve as a disruptive innovator – and after Sunday brunch as we were just taking a breath to process and rest, my beautiful new adult said, “Mom I have something to tell you – I think I might actually be a boy.”
You know how parenting is kind of like jumping off a cliff ? A complete leap of faith into the unknown? So yeah, in the moment there wasn’t really time to ask why and how and did I know and what does this mean. There was only anxiety and love and guilt of not having fully noticed the burden my child had been carrying when I recognized both the fear and relief in the telling.
And all of that stuff did come: Why? How? What did I miss? Is this real or is this a fad? How do we support, but not push? How much should we push? Are we pushing too much or not enough? When do we stand up and when do we stand back? The questions and questioning were relentless at times but they had to take a back seat to the daily reality of parenting and helping my child navigate the real lived experience of what this all meant for him.
In my work, I often tell parents you can't beat yourself up too much for your children’s failures nor can you take too much credit for their accomplishments. It's not nearly as much about us as we think, but the one thing I believe is that we should strive to raise our children to be their most authentic selves. So when I started writing this story that is where I focused – because supporting my child to be his most authentic self and loving that self unconditionally was and is my guidepost. But like most things it's not that straightforward.
The reality is more complicated and yet quite simple
There is still the pain of watching my child suffer … and suffer in the deepest and most existential way – a way that all my love and support can only do so much to alleviate. There is still the fear – the true, real fear of knowing my child is now a person who may be marginalized, traumatized and violated, who may suffer impossible sadness and despair and trauma no matter how much love and attention and resources I bring to bear. And there is some grief of recognizing that my child is really different from me in ways I may never truly understand even though I want to know all the right things to say and feel and do.
I have always lived in a world rife with contradictions. For sure I have a flexible moral compass and a fully internalized belief in the relativity of all things. I choose to live in a world of AND – not OR.
I believe that our constant need to reduce and categorize things into one thing or another is one of the biggest barriers to change and progress. People and things are never just bad or good – the truth as it exists runs somewhere through a complicated middle. Context matters – drug addicted women can be wonderful mothers, people who commit crimes can't be reduced to a singular identity of criminal. Girls can be boys and boys can be girls and some people may reject that binary altogether.
I have always known my way is not THE only way, but until that day about three years ago, I had the privilege of experiencing that second hand. It's actually quite easy to embrace “otherness” when it's not challenging your own sense of self and family.
So when my child told me he was transgender and we lept forward into a world of pronouns and names and a whole new vocabulary and awkward conversations about medications and procedures it was both the hardest thing in the world AND the only option. I'm not up here today so that you can hear my story and think about what a progressive and accepting parent I am, though I do hope those things are true. What I want to convey is the choice I made to embrace the AND.
I grieve the child that was AND fully love the child that IS - I choose to move forward with the person that he is
I wonder if I am making a colossal parenting mistake AND know I am doing exactly what is right for my child.
I question if this was a choice on some level AND know that for him this is no choice but a fundamental affirmation of who he is.
I must live with the fear I have ceded control to a child AND trust that he knows exactly what is right for him.
I know the AND isn't for everybody – I know some think I am conflict averse, maybe not assertive enough to pick a side, or just taking the path of least resistance. Those things are definitely somewhat true. AND at the same time they are totally wrong. Don’t for a minute think AND is the easy way out. I challenge anyone to support someone else when you don't understand their truth let alone agree. It’s most definitely not easy because you have to carry and care so much when you step away from absolutes. But I honestly and deeply believe that the payoff in terms of connection and and acceptance is immeasurable.
So in this holy season I invite you to join me in celebrating the AND as we take a moment to acknowledge that contradictory things coexist all the time and that it is freeing and powerful not having to be right and certain all the time. We can challenge and support each other to let the friction of opposites sink into our lives a bit and embrace being uncomfortable - sometimes that is where the best things happen.