Thursday, December 18, 2014

Raising a Trans Girl: It's Exactly the Same, but Different.

"It's exactly the same, but different" is how I describe raising a trans daughter as opposed to one assigned female at birth.

I was reminded of this at the dollar store a couple of days ago, as I excitedly strolled down the aisle filled with feminine things. You know, the girly stuff: the nail polish and the lotions and the hairbands. I threw a bunch of estrogen happy stuff into the cart to put under the tree this year.

It was so fun! So great! I was having a blast. I passed the berry-scented shampoo and the cuticle oil and the cotton swabs...

And that's when I came across the pregnancy tests.

BAM. Instant punch to the heart. Tears clouded my vision. I quickly composed myself and kept walking.

Every now and then, I'm reminded that, barring a major medical advancement, my daughter - my only daughter - will never be able to carry and deliver a baby.  She'll never get the positive pregnancy test, or feel the baby kick from the inside, or experience the exhilaration of having just given birth to another human being.  And I won't share in those experiences with her because she won't ever have them.

I know she's not alone in this. I know. Many women deal with infertility. I had secondary infertility and it was balls. Besides, not all women choose to have children. But there's something about never having the choice or the hope or the dream of biological babies for my child that hurts. I hurt for her. 

That's how it's exactly the same, but different.

I hurt because of the atypical-ness of it all.  I feel like the Universe was all, "here, have three boys!" and I said, "Great! Thanks! Boys rule! But no girl? I kind of thought I would have at least one of those." And The Universe said, "Nope. You get what you get. Enjoy!" and I said, "That's cool. I will enjoy!" and I settled into my life with three boys. I was okay with not having a daughter.

And then, a few years later, The Universe came back and was all, "Oops. Listen, there's been a bit of a mix-up. It turns out you do have a daughter! Congrats! But your daughter will need a lot of help to become the person she needs to be, both emotionally and medically.  It's not going to be an easy road. Hope you're ready."

And I am ready. I am. Except when I see the damn pregnancy tests and ovulation prediction kits. Except when I think about the complexities and safety of her upcoming dating life and know I'll be waiting up and worried until she comes home. Until I think about her eventual re-entry into school, and how she's going to navigate the haters and, even worse, the parents who will refuse to get why she'll be using the girls' washroom and locker room. Except when I see the cute little holiday dresses and think of the lost years - the sad, uncomfortable years - and wish we had all known sooner.

It's the exactly same, but different.

And yet, most of the time I think I feel a lot like any other mom tasked with raising a daughter. I think of how I can help her confidence grow - because she's going to need a lot of it. I think about how I compliment her ("you're so smart!" escapes my lips more than "you're so pretty!" but I also want her to know how beautiful she is) I talk to her about friendships and relationships and what to look for in both. I teach her to value and honour her voice and her body.

I sit back and admire the quiet fierceness she carries inside of her. She's intelligent, witty, and knows what she wants. She doesn't put up with bullshit.

And when she brings up parenting, she makes my heart glow. She speaks excitedly about how there are so many children out there who need homes. Foster children. Orphaned children. Her future children. "There are so many ways to become a parent, mom," she tells me. "I might not be able to have my own babies, but I will be a mom someday."

My thoughts of pregnancy tests and ovulation prediction kits fade away when she smiles. Because the important thing is she's smiling. She's happy. She has a plan for her life. She wants to become an oncologist. She wants a family. And while her plans may change as she gets older, I know her determination won't. That kid is going to achieve absolutely everything she sets her mind to.  This is a child who will leave her mark in the world.

She's exactly the same, but different. Wonderfully different.

Monday, December 15, 2014

(Finally) Being Okay With Being Ordinary

An ordinary pair of jeans (thankfully not acid wash)

It was around the time Genevieve and her kindergarten crew were doing their best to exclude me from any schoolyard fun that I started daydreaming about being more than ordinary.

I needed to be somebody.

Not just somebody, but a somebody.

I needed to be famous.

If I were famous - like, say, a K-Tel Minipops kid (a pretty big deal in dinosauric times, kids) - I'd show them. Because you know what? You're not going to call me names if I show up to school in a limo wearing sequence and leg warmers, bitches.

And so, for the next few years, whenever things got a little rough at school, I would escape into my 45s or my tapes (those were types of music media from the olden days) and lip-sync myself into a daydream where I was emotionally untouchable, unmoved by their attempts to cut me down. For just a few minutes, this wounded little girl was Cindi Lauper, Janet Jackson, Rick Astley or Brian Adams.

Later on, that same girl became The Maven.

See, that feeling never entirely went away. And while I didn't start this blog to become a somebody, somewhere along the road I started to believe it would lead me there. I saw other people rising to internet quasi-stardom and I began thinking that was where I had to be too. They all went to conferences and made actually money off their blogs and got pretty big and got flown places and pretty much made other blogs, like mine, look like little anthills in their bloggy Disneyland. I figured I needed to join them.

But why?

Some people do it because it's their job. They've made a genuine career out of it. But that wasn't it for me. It's never been about the money.

The thing about this crazy year and the period of depletion I now find myself in, is that I've had to have a good look at my priorities; not just look at them, but ask myself why they're priorities in the first place.  And this "becoming a well-known blogger" thing? I dissected it over the last few months like a frog in a grade eight science class.  And, just like the insides of that frog, I really didn't like what I saw.

Look, I love to write. It's my passion. It fuels me like Archie fuels his jalopy (that's a name for an old car from the Cretaceous period). When I'm feeling at one with the creative process, the words flow out of me. Writing shit is healing. It helps me stitch up an old wound, or put the fire in my soul into print. Words are a little like oxygen to me, and when I go without sharing them for a while, I feel like that dude in Total Recall with the bulging eyes.

This dude.

But somewhere along the way, my love for writing became intertwined with my desire to escape getting hurt ever again. Being well known felt like it could be a pretty sweet personal shield. The idea that writing could be my ticket to something bigger excited my ego. At which point, my ego started trying to dry-hump my creativity in his acid wash jeans, hoping that would get the juices flowing.

My creativity hates acid washed jeans. And dry humping.

The more I thought about SEO content and blog stats and unique page hits (the mullets of the internet), the less turned on my creativity became. It just sat uncomfortably on the opposite end of the couch, looking really grossed out. And there it sat for a good, long while.

As it turns out, when the ego is making the moves, nobody wants to put out.

Besides, the more I followed the thought through, the more it didn't make sense. Being well-known doesn't protect you from mean people; it just makes you easier to spot. Trolls love big bloggers, and celebrity gossip sites are the unfortunate proof that people love to cut down those who are at the top. And once you've "made it," what then? Do you scramble for ways to stay up there? Do you worry about becoming obsolete or wait to be replaced by the next big name? It's not a utopia, and the grass isn't as green as little kid me used to think. 

Also, I'm way too much of a spaz to have to think of all that stuff and what to make for dinner. Do I look like Wonder Woman? 

Finding out my kid is transgender was a game changer in many ways. And it was nearly the end of this blog. We found ourselves in an interesting situation because I had been writing about our family online for years. What now? I realized I would either have to shut down the blog completely so she could transition quietly, or we would need to come out on it; there was no in-between.

I know I'm a biased mom, but believe me when I say Gutsy is wise beyond her years. She's quite familiar with social media and the consequences many trans people face when coming out. We discussed the pros and cons, and ultimately she decided it was in her best interest - and ours as a family - if we were transparent (get it? get it?) about the whole thing. And so that's what we did.

But it was the moment I realized I would shut down my blog - my pride and joy, my years of chronicled experiences, without hesitation - that I realized wounded little Amanda wasn't in charge anymore. She didn't need to hide behind anything. My ego had gone home, and creativity had made some room for love on that couch.

Love isn't flashy and doesn't wear acid wash jeans (thank goodness.) She has an understated beauty about her. She doesn't care who you are or what you look like or how quickly you come up in a Google search. She's a great companion to creativity because she's not pushy. She's not trying to hide or run from anything. She's doesn't care if you're a somebody. You're her somebody.  You don't have to be extraordinary; you just have to be.

And so I find myself, once again, valuing the love of writing above all else.

Last week, I wrote my first post in years that didn't get a single comment. Not one. And you know what? It didn't wreck me. Not even a little bit. Sure, Ego came knocking at the door, a sock stuffed in his groin and looking for some action. I turned him away because the couch was full.

It didn't bother me that the post wasn't a big read. It didn't bother me. It's not about that. It's not about getting read or getting discovered or "going somewhere" or signing a deal or becoming the next big thing. That's someone else's definition of success, and there's nothing wrong with that for them. But for me, success in writing is about telling my story - our story - and telling it well. Developing my craft. Loving what I do. Seeing where that takes me - or doesn't.

It's about growing as a writer.

Leaving a legacy in words and memories for my family.

Reaching just one reader, not one million readers.

Healing a wound.

Touching a nerve.

Having a laugh.

Being unapologetically me.

And while I'm very happy to share that journey with whoever wants to come along, I don't need any kind of fame to validate what I'm doing.

I'm pretty fucking ordinary in the best of ways. I'm a mom and a spouse and friend and a daughter. I also happen to be just one little writer telling her tale in a big sea of Internet. That's it.

And I'm surprisingly okay with it.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Explaining Psychological Burnout in Haikus

When you go to the doctor and say, "I feel completely burned out," they sometimes give you a little questionnaire to fill out.

Last week, I got 90% on that questionnaire.  

That's not a good score, kids. It's not like normal tests, where you want a high score. I did not get a gold star for that one.

It seems this year has left me pretty depleted. It explains why my creativity is in the toilet, my energy is so low, and why I don't really give a shit about a lot of things right now.

It's hard to explain burnout to someone who's never been burned out. I mean, I think we've all been there to some degree, but the intensity of where I find myself today is a whole new shiny ball of shit. It's not that this year has been awful; it's just been draining. Much good has happened, but it's a tiring sort of good. Like a having newborn baby or 12. 

Then, throw in the fact that I've been doing the same job for 18 years (with my kids), and it's no wonder I'm feeling burned out. This job has no paycheque, involves intense multitasking, is often overwhelming, and my bosses are can be a bit... demanding. Like, OMG WHY CAN'T THERE BE ONE HOMECOOKED MEAL EVERYBODY CAN AGREE ON? AND IF YOU WHINE AT ME ONE MORE TIME TODAY I'M GOING TO SEAL MY BEDROOM DOOR UP WITH CEMENT AND BARBED WIRE.

You know, just little things like that.

Thankfully, the benefits are good. Like, I'm in my jammies right now and eating foil-wrapped Christmas chocolate balls. It rules. Find me another job where I could do that.

All joking aside, I can't blame anyone but me for this one. I spread myself too thin, I ignored my own needs, I didn't listen to the warning signs - and there were many. My body and brain have been screaming at me to take a step back. My friends and family have said the same. I haven't. I scoffed. I really thought I could do it all. And now I'm paying the price for that.

So, for now, I need to slow down. I need to scale back my responsibilities as much as possible, take a lot more time for myself, and get some rest. I'm going to focus more on writing (for pleasure, like on this blog), painting and photography. All my loves. And I'm going to spend a lot of time hanging out with my partner and kids.

If you know me personally, I should tell you I'm going to be saying "no" a lot more and will be setting firm boundaries around how I use my time and energy. Please don't take it personally. I totally still love you. It's really about getting my health back on track and has nothing to do with you. Responsibilities and expectations that I don't have to take on are the ones that are going to go first. I need to put my time and energy where it's needed most. 

In short, give me some time and I'll be back to my old self again. But probably better. I just need to recharge and I'll be all up in your faces again. I'm a gift that keeps on giving, like cold sores.

I've been trying to write this post for a while. But, of course, with burnout, I've been less than motivated. My friend Melissa suggested I do it in Haiku. Challenge accepted.

Burnout, as explained in a series of Haikus

With this here burnout
Coffee fuels all the things
Put it in my mouth

Dirty first haiku
Look where my mind is going!
Maturity? No.

Sweeping year of change
The current pulled me under
Swimming my way back

Apathy is king!
Ask how many fucks I give
Wait. Don't. That is work.

Bed so soft and warm
We totes do each other's nails
We are, like, best friends

Concentration? Ha!
There is none of that, my friends
Only chocolate

Want to hang out, guys
But energy is fleeting
Saying no means sleep

"Set boundaries, yo!"
Therapist puts her foot down
(She does not say "yo")

Burnout will go away
With time and fuzzy slippers
And hugs and Netflix

Still fighting for her
Tiring, advocacy is
But so worth it too

With change comes growth
Like trees in bloom or something
Haikus have trees, k?

During this time
I will be kind to myself
So awesome am I

And so good looking
See? That had five syllables
It was meant to be

Maven's still got it
Despite all the tired and meh
Pass the coffee, bitch