Tag Archives: acceptance

Leading the Formation

19 Jan

I went to my dear friend, Corrine’s sixtieth birthday party this past weekend. Caveat: it was a small event held at a winery in Paso Robles with lots of open outdoor space and everyone got tested beforehand. It was a delightful affair, where the love for my best friend flowed as generously as the wine.

I first met Corrine when I was an anxious seventh-grader who was terrified of not finding someone to eat lunch with in junior high. Corrine swiftly took me under her wing and together with eight other girls we formed a tight girlfriend formation that has flown together through weddings, births, and funerals, for close to fifty years.

Teenage sleepovers at Corrine’s were epic, as her house in 1974 was like walking into a hippie commune. Vibrant color was everywhere— dozens of oil paintings in bright greens and yellows hung on the walls, Creeping Charlie trailed from macramé hangers, and the coffee table was actually made out of a large railroad cable spool of some sort. It was shocking to me at first— was nothing like the dull avocado and gold hues of my own house. Walking through Corrine’s front door was like walking into a magical land where Fleetwood Mac played in the background and the faint scent of marijuana smoke seeped out from under a back bedroom door. The healthy snacks in the cupboard were mostly unpalatable, but we didn’t care—711 was just down the street, and Corrine’s mom was away at work all day. As long as Corrine completed her daily chores, we had the freedom to make as many prank phone calls as we could fit into an afternoon. Compared to my tension-filled home, hanging out at Corrine’s was like Nirvana.

Corrine and I were inseparable in high school, where she was a theatre geek and homecoming princess, while I practiced the piano and crushed on the boys she dated. She had (and still has) this unique gift of drawing a wide variety of people into her life; she was so easygoing, accepting and non-judgmental that she made friends with everyone.

Corrine’s path was a bit different from mine. While I headed off to study music in college, she got married, moved to Colorado and had two beautiful girls right away. Her marriage broke up, but she subsequently had the good fortune to find the love of her life, Daniel, who became the real father to her daughters, Jaylene and Shelby. They worked hard for years to develop their successful business and make a stable life for their family. It paid off. Her children adore her, she travels constantly, and most enviously, she’s the only one in our group who has grandchildren.

If I didn’t love her so much, I’d hate her.

For several years now, the isolation of the pandemic, coupled with the widening dissimilarities in our political beliefs has caused the perfect V-formation of our girlfriend group to fracture somewhat. We are not flying in sync as we have for so many years. For me, this has been quite painful.

But as I watched Corrine’s friends and family surround her with such love during her party, I realized that I need take a lesson from Corrine—that maybe loving others without judgement is the key. That it’s in my wheelhouse to let things go if I choose— that we all are different, but we are all beautiful. Perhaps what I’ve found so unacceptable right now will not always feel so significant in the future. There is hope for healing.

As I celebrate Corrine on her sixtieth, I realize I’m right behind her. When we were twelve, it never crossed our minds that time would run out. Now we understand that we must make each moment count.

Thank you, my precious Corrine, for leading our formation with such grace and love.

With your example, we will soar.

 

Beautiful, Inside and Out

30 Sep

Last December, I didn’t send out our annual holiday newsletter. This is unprecedented for me, as for over thirty years, I’ve always sent out a photo card showing our beautiful family of six, accompanied by a letter detailing the many accomplishments of my children. This past year though, I just couldn’t face it.

I was too overwhelmed. And a bit scared.

In 2019, some major changes took place in our family. Our oldest daughter moved back home; our second daughter got married, and our youngest daughter started high school.

And our third child, who was assigned male at birth, came out to us as a transgender woman.

Last summer, at the age of twenty-five, Cecily, who goes by Cece, realized that who she was on the inside did not match the gender originally listed on her birth certificate. For those of you who know our family and are slightly confused, I’m talking about our child whose “dead name” was “Nino.” From now on, I will only refer to my daughter as Cece, and use she/her pronouns because that is who she is, and who she has always been.

It’s so odd that for years, we perceive someone as being a certain way, and have absolutely no sense that they might be someone completely different on the inside. Society has taught my generation that gender is binary—either male or female—so we told ourselves stories about our children based solely on their bodies. We nurtured them as the gender we assumed they were, never realizing that we might not be honoring their authentic selves.

Then, when our children are courageous enough to reveal who they really are, we’re shocked. We’re sad. We grieve for the person we believe is no longer with us. We didn’t realize then how much we had to learn.

While I immediately accepted Cece as a woman, to be honest, it was far more difficult than I imagined it would be. As a perpetual people pleaser my entire life, I worried about what others would think and say about my perfect little family. I was terrified of rejection—not only for Cece, but for myself.

Societal constraints are often oppressive, and for her own survival, Cece unknowingly hid who she was—even to herself. For years she suffered from deep depression because she pushed her true self down for so long. And who wouldn’t want to hide? People can be unaccepting and unkind about what they do not understand.

Our family is fortunate enough to live in a community where people are generally well-informed about transgender folk. I’ve discovered that my kids’ generation is so much better at understanding the differences of others than my generation has been. From the moment Cece came out, her sisters have embraced her with pure acceptance and love. They are closer now than ever.

It’s not always easy, but our family is learning as we go. Our love for Cece has grown exponentially, and there’s no doubt we will continue to support her as she makes her way through life as the woman she was meant to be.

Cece is still the same person she’s always been—she’s just more beautiful now, because she’s finally able to freely show us who she really is on the inside. As for me—well, it took me a while, but I’m done keeping quiet. I’m flying that progressive rainbow flag with pride.

Ultimately, love is all that matters. I loved my child from the moment she was born, and that love has only grown deeper now that she’s given me the gift of knowing her true self. I am so proud to be her mom, and I celebrate her with all of my being.

Squeezing out the Excess

11 Jan

squeezing the ragThe kitchen is spotless except for a few toast crumbs scattered across the granite countertop, and in my haste to clean it up I grab the washcloth in the sink, not realizing it’s sopping wet. A stream of soapy water splashes across the counter, onto the front of my shirt, and all over the floor. Once again my mother has kindly cleaned up the breakfast dishes for me, but because of her arthritic hands, she’s no longer able to squeeze all of the excess water out of the washcloth.

A picture of a younger version of my mother flashes into my mind—she is standing at this very sink in a red apron, her tanned and freckled hands expertly twisting a wet rag into a taut rope as the soapy water trickles down the drain.

“Jess, Darling,” she would say, “How many times do I have to tell you? You must squeeze all of the water out of the washcloth before laying it out—otherwise it won’t dry thoroughly and it will start to smell sour.”

Ah, my mother and her rules. As a kid, I was always breaking one or another of them:

Don’t leave the icebox door open, you’ll let the cold air out! (To this day she refers to the  refrigerator as an “ice box” and aluminum foil as “tin foil”)

No riding double on a bicycle—you’ll get hurt. (This I now agree with, but as a child, it ticked me off to no end.)

Take a sweater with you—you might get chilly. (I am fifty years old and she still says this to me as I go out the front door.)

No taking a sip of liquid with your mouth full of food (even if your tongue is blistering)  because it’s unbecoming. (This one goes along with no elbows on the table and not clicking the fork on one’s teeth while eating.)

Always look both ways before crossing the street, and then look one more time. (I now see that this is a vital one and have instilled in it my own kids.)

I’ve lived with my mother for practically my entire life, and by now, I’m used to her rules. After twenty-five years of marriage and four children, I no longer feel compelled to follow them unless I wish to, but they are so ingrained in my psyche that I still feel guilty standing in front of the “ice box” allowing the cold air to escape.

It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit to others that I still live with my mother, so I usually phrase it “my mother lives with me.” I’m hoping to be perceived by the general public as a responsible grown-up. And it’s true; my mother does technically live with me, as my husband and I bought my childhood home from her in a very advantageous transaction except for the little clause that included her in the deal.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore my mother, but she is indisputably eccentric. I became aware of this fact early in life when I decided it was best not to invite my friends over on one particular Saturday afternoon because my mother was out gardening in the backyard wearing only a leopard print bikini bottom and a silk scarf tied around her breasts to minimize her tan lines. Her ridiculous outfit included a pair of lace up Dr. Scholl orthopedic shoes, white athletic socks and dirt-caked gardening gloves.

“Moooommm,” I whined, cringing at the sight of her. “Why are you so weird? Why can’t you act like other mothers?”

“Because weird is more interesting, that’s why,” she replied, going back to her begonias and fuchsias that could have won first prize ribbons.

Now at age seventy six, my mother had traded begonias for breeding Dalmatian puppies, which has opened up another whole can of crazy in our household. That, along with enough dog hair to stuff a mattress.mom and puppy

Peculiarities aside, my mother is the most non-judgmental person I know, and has the ability to accept everyone, warts and all. In her role as my greatest fan, she has always taken my side (even when I’m wrong) and has continuously encouraged me in my endeavors, musical and otherwise. Her openness has taught me that it’s best to speak your own truth— and that holding on to the excess will do nothing but leave a sour taste in your mouth.

One of the very best things about my mother is that she even loves me when I’m unkind to her. The other day I told her that her barbershop haircut made her look like a man—I even (jokingly) referred to her as “Grandpa.” Don’t worry, I didn’t hurt her feelings—she laughed as hard as I did at my snide remark.

One of my closest girlfriends recently lost her mother. In our tight-knit group of ten junior high school friends, none of us has lost a mother until now. It scared me. It suddenly occurred to me that my mother will not be here forever, and that someday my much-needed source of unconditional love will be gone. What will I do then? Who will tell me I’m perfect?

I think about this as I lean over the sink, twisting the washcloth as my mother taught me so long ago. I wipe up the mess I’ve made and vow to be kinder to my mother. She is older now, and no longer has the strength to squeeze out the excess water, but I do.

Today I will make it one of my rules to tell her how much she means to me. And because her devotion to me includes reading every single word I write, I’ll tell her right now.

Mom and me, circa 1972

Mom and me, circa 1972

Thank you, Mom—for being you. I love you.

The two of us today

The two of us today