“Mom, you just don’t understand me,” he said to me with every molecule of impatience his adolescent self could muster on a Friday night after a long week of school, the first week in fact, of this new school year.
Two things about these six simple words I’d humbly like to communicate to you.
First, if you’ve children under your care, you’ve probably been there with me, right? You’ve heard these words echo through your head, echo through your heart, really. If you haven’t, just wait. I promise you, they’re coming. I wrote the words above in plain text, but the drawn out emotion behind the words I can hardly begin to articulate to you.
This is my best attempt:
“Mooooooooooooooooooooom” (drawn out the length of a roller coaster with every consecutive ‘o’, complete with the ups and downs echoing the moving cab on the rickety wooden structure).
“Don’t” sounded more like “don’t”(with the eye glaring emphasis of a newly minted adolescent, fresh into the declared realization that mom “knows nothing” “isn’t cool” and “just has never lived a life” kind of emphasis).
“UNDERSTAND ME” should be in all caps. (Raised voice, eyes rolled, completely aggravated with me).
All at the same time. Sigh.
Second, he’s right. I don’t understand. But I’m trying. I’m trying so very hard. I don’t understand what it’s like to be a young adolescent trans boy trying to navigate through life and just be.
Just be settled.
Just be happy.
Just be included.
Just be loved.
Just be seen for more than that trans boy by his peers.
I just don’t understand the feelings of marginalization his identity bestows upon him. I’ve never lived my life in a marginalized identity. This reality I’ve learned these past years as I’ve journeyed with him during his on-going transition to live his life authentically and more visibly. I’ve never lived my life as a trans person so I agree with him: I don’t understand. But it’s my maternal instinct to do just this: understand my child. Hold his pain. Hold his worry. Hold his frustration. Hold his heart during these trying adolescent and teen years ahead. I cannot help myself or my heart.
His six simply complex words humbled me instantly.
Let me back up and give you a bit of context for his six seemingly simple and infinitely complex words on a Friday night and then three things my young son taught me, a person four times his age. And for transparency sake, this is a truth I hold: the wisdom of children is uncanny for creating seismic shifts in my heart, my thinking, and most especially, my actions.
Wanting to debrief on his first week of school, I naturally asked how it was all shaking out in his new class. Our dialogue:
Me: “How’s it all going, dude? How’s the class and how are the kids treating you?”
Him: “Fine. They’re all being nice, really nice.”
Me: “Oh, that’s good to hear. They’re being nice, that’s great.”
Him: “No, mom, they’re being too nice. Like treating me too nicely or something.”
Me: (pause, to figure out where he was going with his) “That’s a good thing for the kids to be nice, right? Remember last year, it took some of the kids a long while at the beginning of the year to finally get it and call you by your new name, use ‘he’, and understand. Remember?”
Him: “Yeah, but they are being too nice, like, because I’m transgender. They must think I’m, like, sensitive or something. I just want them to treat me normally, like everyone else. I’m not sensitive, mom.”
Me: “ There is no such thing as normal, love. And isn’t it a good thing they are being kind toward you?”
Him: “Mooooooooooooooooooooom, you just don’t UNDERSTAND ME.”
(Me: he’s right…)
He was expressing to me a desire to be treated kindly but just like everyone else. That’s what he was expressing, a desire to be treated “normally” and not to be treated differently because of his visible identity as a trans boy. Yep, he’s right. He’s completely one hundred percent right. While I’d assert that the notion of normal is a myth, I get what he was expressing to me: he wanted to be treated like every other boy in his class and not differently because of an aspect of his identity. It was noticeable to him and upset him. As a mama, while I’m grateful children were not being overtly unkind to him, as they had been for a large portion of the beginning of the school year last year, I could also see his point that being treated with kit gloves wasn’t the ideal either. I understand now. I wish I did during our conversation, but that’s what a bit of time reflecting and a whole lot of writing does for me: gives me clarity.
My Clarity. (e.g. How I’m Growing as a Human Being Through an Ever-Expanding Book of Life Lessons Taught To Me By My Nine-Year-Old)
Be Present. A hard ask for so many of us, to be truly present, right? It seems nearly impossible in the fast-paced world within which we live, filled with the myriad things that need to be accomplished, checked off, attended to on a daily basis. Being present does mean a sacrifice, yep, it’s true. It means we must prioritize our time, our focus, our attention. And the priority must be on the young lives we have in our life. It’s a non-negotiable. They deserve our time, our focus, and our presence in their life in a present state. It’s not enough to just occupy the same space as the young people in our life if we’re distracted by our own agenda and our minds are a million miles away. It’s superficial: we are physically there but we are not present. Put down the cell phone. (Guilty). Quiet your mind. (Can hardly). Close your mouth tightly. (Getting better). Focus your eyes on the child in front of you. (With pleasure). And listen with the intent to hear. And don’t respond. Just quite your mind, mouth, and heart and just hear. It’s possible. With anything, you get better with practice. So, try it. It’s worth it. Children are worth it.
Hear Children. Kids know the difference between listening with the intent to talk over, around, and for them, as if you’re just waiting for their words to end so you can interject your words of wisdom, shut them down, and then move on. It’s clear and kids get it. They also, though, feel it when you’re in their space to actually listen with the intent to hear them. To actually take all your interjections, responses, thoughts, words and push the pause button so you can clear you mind and heart to create space to truly hear them. It is human nature to want to be heard by others, especially those you value around you. Being heard by another human being is arguably one of the most grounding experiences we can hope for. When children are truly heard by influential adults in their life, it makes all the difference. Don’t just listen; strive to hear those young voices around you. It matters a great deal to others and it should to you, too.
Just Love. Above all else, just love, fiercely. Love unapologetically. Love with your heart pouring out in words and actions. Love authentically, showing through your undying stance with the children around you that you truly care about them. You are consistently there for them. Always. Unconditional love is a non-negotiable in our family. That’s what we do. We love. We strive to always make our love visible, actionable, not just through our words, but through our actions and our intent. It matters a whole lot. To have the core around you know your authentic self and love you unapologetically and unconditionally makes all the difference in creating a solid foundation within which you venture into the larger world to make your mark. My kid is going to change the world; he already has, and he’s going to be stepping out into the big wide world with a foundation of undying love from those in his life that will catch him forever more. Just love. You’ve the ability. Do it, fiercely.
I will never be an adolescent trans boy trying to navigate the world around me that at every turn seems to conspire against my very existence. I will never understand what it feels like to contemplate how to, when to, and to whom I should come out to. I will never deeply understand what it feels like to question why everyone around me is being so “nice” to me. I will never understand the myriad things I don’t know. But what I can understand and make actionable? Be present for my child. He needs this. Hear him. He understands this. And love him unconditionally and unpologetically. He deserves this. He is a change-maker of his generation. One day, you’ll come to realize this, too. Remember this, friends: right now, we are raising the future generation of change-agents of our eternally flawed nation. Don’t we want them to be a generation of children who have loved ones around them who are present, who hear them, and love them unconditionally and unapologetically? I know I do. It matters to my child, it matters to yours, too. So, it should matter to you.
Published with permission from a parent of a young trans child in our advocacy network. -C