Mom

I watched my Mother die today. It was perhaps the most excruciating painful yet incredibly wonderful thing I have ever done. We had all gathered because we knew her time was coming. It was expected. Yet utterly unbelievable when it happened. Mom had been acutely sick for the past couple of months. The end of a long, over 18-year, struggle with pulmonary disease, heart disease, diabetes, and for good measure, breast cancer.

On Monday, it all came to a head. She had gone back into the hospital, was showing signs of improvement over the weekend, then Monday morning the phone calls and texts started flying. Back to CCU. The talk started going in the direction of advance directives and DNRs. I had spent the afternoon trying to tidy up my work week so I could be ready to go. Then my brother, Clint and I talked and decided I needed to get down to my parents. I was the closest, I could get there in a few hours.

So I blew out of work. Blasted through the house, throwing shit into a suitcase…hugged and kissed the family and hit the road. I got the hospital late in the evening. My Dad and my niece, Ginney, were there. Mom was sedated. Comfortable.

It was excruciating.

I’m 54 years old. I’ve never seen my Dad so broken up. Mom was just lying there; alive, but not really living. She was on morphine; and Atovan if she got anxious.

She never woke up.

I held her hand. I talked to her. I talked to Dad. To Ginney. About nothing. About everything. Later, Steve, my oldest brother, showed up. Clint was on his way up from Florida, arriving around noon today.

Mom kept breathing. Still alive. We took turns holding her hand. Talking to her. Letting her know we were there.

Then for a variety of reasons not worth going into, it was just Clint and me with Mom. I looked and was just thinking that her breathing was slowing down. Clint asked a question wondering about her oxygen when I commented on her breathing. I’ve never been with someone when they died before – I don’t think Clint had either – but we knew. Clint called Ginney to get her and Dad back. Then we sat with her. Holding her hands.

Her breath slowed. She tried a few breaths. She was gone.

It was horrible.

It was beautiful.

I drove about 5 hours on Monday to get to the hospital.   I had a lot of time to think, and not surprisingly I mostly thought about Mom.

She was born in 1932.

It dawned on me that when Mom was born Herbert Hoover was president.

Herbert frickin’ Hoover.

She grew up during the depression and World War II. She raised 4 teenage boys during the 1960’s and 1970’s. I can’t imagine a greater generational difference than my Mom’s generation and my brother’s and my generation. Yet here we stand – the 3 of us still living – successful, happily married, fathers of great kids.

What a great Mom we had.

Mom’s been dealing with health issues for nearly 19 years. I know it’s been hard for her and hard for Dad. But I know it’s been worth it. Because she was so strong, so tough, she lived to see Zach, her youngest grandson, come into the world.

She lived to see all of her grandkids grow into wonderful men and women.

She lived to see grandkids get married and give her great-grandchildren.

She lived to see one of her grandsons honorably serve our country in Iraq.

She lived to celebrate 50 and then 60 (and ultimately 64) years of marriage to the love of her life.

She was a great Mom.

So many stories I could talk about, but one recent thing to show how great she was.

Eli came out as transgender a little over a year ago. It was hard for me, but ultimately I figured it out and came to embrace who my son is. But for months I agonized about telling my parents. I simply feared that they just would never be able to understand this and did not want this to cause any strain in our relationship.

But I finally realized I had to tell them. Mom, and Dad, seemed to take it OK. And I know I should have never doubted them. But what really got me. What really made me realize how awesome Mom was came a couple weeks later. She sent me an email…she was trying so hard to let me know how much supported us. She closed with this: “Please hug each other, all four of you, we love you so much. Love from both of us, Mom”

I love you Mom. Goodbye.

Prayers

I haven’t posted in a couple of weeks.  I’ve been busy with work and springtime, but mostly life has just been fairly mundane.  Not a bad thing really, but in terms of writing I was a bit lacking in inspiration.  But then yesterday I get this notice…

Faith commented on Today, it’s all about Zach  My heart breaks for you guys. I’ll be praying for the whole family!

I’m really not sure how to respond.  I want to assume that Faith really has the best intentions, but I just don’t feel that anything about my family should break someone’s heart.  I think my kids are freakin’ awesome and am so proud of the fact that they know exactly who they are.  Admittedly, the kids coming out was a shock, but I think Colleen and I have both grown in many ways. Speaking strictly for myself, this journey has pushed me to places I never expected to go, but now that I’m here I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

I live in a community where people are as likely to ask where you go to church as where you work. I go to church. I know that when someone is praying for you, they generally intend it as a positive thing. I had shoulder surgery a few years back and people said they were praying for me, and I appreciated that. When Colleen was having trouble finding a good job, her friends prayed for her. When my nephew served two tours in Iraq, I prayed every day for him to make it through safely.

I guess my first reaction to the comment was that Faith thinks my family is undergoing some horrible trauma. That we’ve been afflicted with some awful malady for which there is no ready cure. Cancer of the family maybe.

But I also know that people pray with joy. Weddings, births, anniversaries … all manner of celebrations can be met with prayer.

So I’m going to assume that Faith’s prayers are meant to express joy at our wonderful life, to wish us well as we continue this journey. Thank you.

And here are some really good things to pray for:

Pray that Zach and Eli will find love and acceptance wherever they are.

Pray that as Eli continues his transition, he won’t have issues with work and school.

Pray that if either Zach or Eli want to they will be able to marry the person they love.

And while you’re at it…

Pray that when kids realize that they don’t comfortably fit into a heterosexual or cisgender mold, their parents will immediately let them know that they love them unconditionally and will support them no matter what.

Pray that we’ll never have to hear about another Leelah Alcorn.

Pray that we’ll all come to realize that the social norms of people from thousands of years ago shouldn’t guide us today.

Pray that someday, everyone will be treated with respect and dignity.

Amen.

Today, it’s all about Zach

Zach commented the other day about how I don’t write about him very much. It’s true, this blog has mostly focused on Eli and his transition. But dammit, this is My Uncommon Family, not My Uncommon Son. I guess part of it is that Zach came out and then …. well he just kept being Zach. No big changes. As I’ve mentioned before, maybe I’ll have another view the first time he brings a boyfriend home.

For his part, Zach didn’t seem particularly upset that this blog mostly focuses on Eli. But the truth hurts a bit. Like Zach, I’m the youngest and I know how often you can feel a bit like an afterthought. I always figured my parents were just a bit bored with being excited over a child’s “firsts” and maybe a bit too worn out to give the parenting thing as much energy with kid number 4. So I’ve tried to make sure that I give Zach everything I’ve given Eli, but I know that at times he does get the short end of things.

zach

So, this post is mostly about Zach (OK it’s really mostly about me, but at least me thinking about Zach)

I know when Zach first came out, my reaction was not my finest moment. It wasn’t that I freaked out or anything, I just feel that I should have been more positive. I think we’re all cool now, but still I regret not being a better Dad at that moment.

When I think about my life … growing up heterosexual and more homophobic than I care to admit … I know that I have come a long way. I am in a place where Zach was able to come out and be met with open arms and love from his parents. As I noted in my last post, today is certainly the best time ever, at least in the US, to be gay. And thankfully the same is true for this family.

In addition to a loving family, I think Zach has some awesome friends. For the most part I think all of his really good friends are still there. One long-time friend seems to have disappeared, maybe it’s because he’s gay, but I think they were already drifting apart as childhood friends tend to do. I think our little hick town is not the best place for Zach to find a good boyfriend, but I really hope he does find someone to love … or even just someone to like a lot and experience all of the things a teenager should experience.

I’m anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage. Our state currently allows gay marriage, but only by appellate court ruling. If the Supremes vote in favor of the state bans, I’m sure our state legislature will get the ball rolling on a new marriage ban. I don’t know what the future holds for Zach. But I want him to have every opportunity … if he falls in love and wants to make a commitment, I want him to be able to get married. If it’s something he wants, I know he would make an awesome Dad, too.

I’m really excited for Zach, and maybe a little scared. He’s 17, finishing his junior year in high school and life is just starting for him. Like any parent, I hope he figures out what he wants to do and is able to do whatever that is. I hope he finds someone to love and they can live a long life together. Being gay is just a part of who Zach is. I hope as he grows up, that aspect will be no more significant than being right-handed, or blue eyed, or blond (or blue haired, no wait…red and black haired). A part of the whole person, but not a singular defining trait. Not a reason to hate or discriminate.

I hope.

Advocates

PFLAG meeting last weekend, I can’t say enough about how great PFLAG has been. Anyway, one woman, a mother of a teenage trans girl, was talking about how frustrated she was over her daughter’s ambivalence about the LGBT cause. About how much she wanted them both to become advocates.

I completely get what she was saying. At some level I really want my kids to be engaged, maybe even enraged about LGBT issues. I try to point them to things that I think they should care about. I frequently send links to relevant stories, sometimes we chat about it, I know they care, but I usually don’t sense a lot of passion from either of them. I’ve DVRed The Normal Heart and Dallas Buyers Club. We watched them together and I think they both thought that they were good movies, but I don’t think they really felt any particular connection.

It just seems that the kids don’t really want to be part of a cause.

Note masterful artistic talent required to depict  Zach's new hair color.
Note masterful artistic talent required to depict Zach’s new hair color.

Don’t get me wrong, they’re aware of all that’s wrong, especially when it comes to being LGBT in America. And I know deep down that they care. But I guess they just want to be who they are. Not poster children for the LGBT movement. I think at some level, I’m really happy that my kids don’t have to feel like the world’s out to get them.

I really have no perspective on this. I grew up white and middle class. My life has mostly been free of strife of any sort. Sure there’s lots of stuff in this world that pisses me off, but mostly it’s never been directed at me.

And truly there has never been a time when it was better, or safer, to be LGBT. More and more people are supportive, or least tolerant, of LGBT rights. Famous actors and CEOs of major companies are coming out and it barely causes a ripple.

But dammit there is still a long way to go. Even after all of the positive steps Indiana still happened … Texas happenedTed Cruz happened.

We all really have a responsibility to stand up to this shit. And I know, not all of us will march in a demonstration. Not all of us will organize a grass-roots campaign. But still, we really have to do something. Even if it’s just making sure you know what you’re doing when you vote. Maybe not letting it pass when the asshole in the break room at work is saying something stupid about a transgender co-worker (and I still regret not speaking up).

So yeah – I’ll continue to push my kids to care. Every story about a stupid new state law that tries to keep someone from taking a leak in the place they feel most comfortable. Every time someone tries to say who and how you can love. Every situation where hypocrites who’ve been married and divorced multiple times try to defend the “sanctity” of marriage by denying it to someone else.

And I know mostly they’ll just want to be teenagers, not advocates. And that’s OK – the whole reason we all have to care is so that everyone can just be who they are.

Now This S### is About to Get Real

Testosterone.

I guess I’ve had testosterone coursing through my veins most of my life.  I’ve never given it a whole lot of thought, but since I’m reasonably happy being a man and have enjoyed various aspects of manhood, I guess I would say all in all I kind of like having it around.

But now I’m looking at testosterone from a whole new perspective. So far, Eli’s transition has been social. Now he is taking serious steps toward getting testosterone treatments. It could be a matter of weeks or even days until he gets his first prescription.

I’m scared shitless!

Maybe it’s the thought of having to deal with another kid basically going through puberty. Not that it was that horrible, but I sort of thought we were on the tail end with Zach turning 17.

Maybe I shouldn’t have read The Testosterone Files by Max Valerio. Eli had read it and loaned it to me. A fascinating story, for sure, but Max’s writing is aggressively sexual and the book pulls no punches. Yikes!

In any case, in my mind I just have unreasonable fears of what we will experience as Eli begins his treatments.

Here comes the T2

But who am I kidding. The fear is real, but it’s not so much about behavior. What I really fear is that this is a significant threshold that Eli is about to cross. Not that coming out and transitioning socially is not significant, it’s just that this seems so much more real and marks some sort of point of no return.

And that’s really the heart of my fear. I know that once Eli starts this, the changes will become more profound and, in very significant ways, more permanent. I’m just a little worried about my reaction to seeing Eli with sideburns and hearing a deeper voice come out of his mouth. But I know in the end my love for Elija will overcome any real issues I might think I will have.

I’m more worried that this announces to the world that Eli is transgender. I know he’s open with his friends and slowly we are telling other people about Eli. But Eli has to interact at school and his job; he has use public restrooms, the locker room at the gym.

The world is getting better. I’m optimistic that people are becoming more understanding and accepting of the LGBT community in general, but specifically of transgenders. But some people refuse to change and I have no doubt that for the rest of his life, Eli will run into idiots that just don’t get it (and don’t want to). I worry about verbal abuse and even more about physical altercations. I know Eli’s tough, but I just can’t help but worry. It’s just part of being a parent – I want my kids to be safe and to be able to thrive.

The testosterone is on the way. Eli knows who he is and who he wants to become. This is a necessary part of his journey and I support him.

But, yes I am scared.

Now, about Mom and Dad….

Did I mention that my parents are really old?  Oh, and maybe just a bit conservative?

Not conservative in a “you’ll burn in hell” sort of way, but more of a classic conservative.  Sure, if they still had a tube TV the Fox News logo would be burned into the screen, but my folks’ brand of conservatism is really more like “we never had to [fill in the blank] before, so why do we need to now?”

Their view of the world is filtered through a life that saw the United States lift itself out of the Great Depression and then triumph over evil in World War II.  I guess if my life started out that way I might feel like everything’s gone to shit since then also.  So the civil rights activists, feminists, war protesters all looked like a bunch of ungrateful whiners to my parents.

Their generation defeated frickin’ Hitler while living with rationed gas and sugar!  How can folks cry about a little injustice now?

Don’t get me wrong, my folks are generally good people.  Just maybe they’re a little stuck in a different time.  Lots of us fall victim to that mindset to some extent.  Look how many 40 – 60 something’s feel like the best music was originally released on vinyl!

But knowing who they are, how they think, it just seems impossible that they would understand where Zach and Eli are.  I love my parents and I’m concerned that they won’t get it.  That ultimately it would just be better that they never found out about my kids.  They’re in their 80’s so is it really a good idea to lay this on them?

It just seems like it might not work out so well.

mom & dad take it badly

But I just can’t keep pretending.  When I talk with Mom and Dad, it’s so hard to speak of Kaitlin.  Colleen has already dropped a few “Eli’s” so I don’t know if we can really continue hiding this.  We’re going to have to visit eventually and Eli dresses and acts masculine.  He has no interest in pretending to be a girl during a visit to Grandma and Grandpa (yeah, I asked).

And I’m still somewhat in shock over the Leelah Alcorn story.  Denying who Eli is just seems like a betrayal.  We’ve talked, I know he doesn’t feel that way.  But I do.  Even if Eli is cool with my cowardice I’m not.

I have to tell them.  And not on the phone.  Or by email like I did with my brothers.

Face to face.

So, hoping for the best, fearing the worst, Colleen and I went for a weekend visit.

I contemplated several strategies…tell them right away, find a good quiet time to break the news.  I even considered just dropping it as we were leaving to go back home (yep, coward).

We arrived at dinnertime, ate, played some cards.  Then we sat around the table and talked.

When I say we talked, you have to understand that my parents love to talk.  Not in a deep conversational exchange ideas, opinions and emotions kind of way.  No, my parents TALK.  Constantly.  At the same time.  Topics vary, coincide, collide.

The phrase “I couldn’t get a word in edgewise” may well have been coined by someone talking with my parents.

Trying to shift the conversation to the kids seemed nearly impossible.  I waited for an appropriate pause in the conversation.

And waited…

I started to realize it was getting late. If I didn’t talk soon, I knew I would fret about it all night. Probably start rationalizing my way in to not telling them tomorrow. I needed to tell them.

Now.

A rare simultaneous pause in the “conversation” … I jumped in:

“I have to tell you something very important…”

I did it. Well at least partially. I told them about Eli. As I was telling them, I just decided to leave it alone and not bring up Zach being gay. OK – still a partial coward, but I figure that as long as Zach isn’t bringing boyfriends to see Grandma or Grandpa – or inviting them to a wedding – this is something they don’t really need to deal with. Maybe someday it will seem alright, but right now I just figure one step at a time.

And….it was sort of OK. I’m not entirely sure that either one of them really understands what this means. Dad said something about me being like Dick Cheney. Aside from the horror I feel about being compared to Dick Cheney, while Dad was at least in the LGBT ballpark, I doubt that he really understands that gender identity and sexuality are not the same thing.

Anyway, I guess it went as well as I could have hoped. I don’t think they’ll ever understand or fully embrace who Eli is. But at least they didn’t kick us out of the house or drop dead.

So now my whole family knows. I can safely go to family reunions. Everything is out in the open. Well, except for Zach; he’ll probably have to deal with awkward questions about girlfriends.

But I’m sure he can handle it.

After all, Grandma and Grandpa helped defeat the Nazis.

Partial Full Disclosure

Though I have come to a reasonably comfortable place with who my kids are, for some reason it has been incredibly hard to tell anyone about them.  Certainly at first, with both Zach and Eli, I wanted to respect their privacy.  But they’ve quickly opened up to most of their friends.

And for a while it made sense for Colleen and I to come to terms with the truth that our kids were LGBT.  But then Colleen started telling friends and some of her family.

I was rapidly running out of reasons for not telling anyone.  Now I’m basically left with fear as my only defense.  My family isn’t exactly the most sensitive or liberal-minded group of people.  And my parents are rather old, so I’ve wondered if this is something that they really need to know so late in life.  As for my friends, most are good church-goin’ folk so I’m just never sure how this would be accepted.  So, I’ve found myself rationalizing lots of reasons to not tell anyone.

Yep, I’m a coward.

Meanwhile, as I grow more accustomed to Eli being Eli, I find it really hard to talk about “Kaitlin.”

The time had clearly come to start talking to people about this.  I felt the first step was to let my brothers know.  Since we are spread all over the country, I decided that email was the way to go.  So I drafted an email, checked with Colleen to see what she thought, and then I pondered sending it.

And pondered some more.

And some more.

You see, even though I’m 54 years old at some level when I deal with my family I’m still the little punk youngest kid in the family.  My brothers are bigger than me both physically and in personality.  I’m mildly terrified of them both.

So, thinking of telling them about Eli and Zach conjures up all sorts of grim scenarios.

brothers

So week after week I agonize over telling my brothers.  Always landing on some rationale for why now is not a good time.

Then came Leelah Alcorn

This hit me so hard.  I knew that our situation was not like this.  I knew that the relationship that Colleen and I had with Eli was so much healthier than Leelah Alcorn’s parents had with her.  But as soon as I heard this news I knew that my acceptance of Eli had to be unequivocal.

For some odd reason, it was at this point that I decided the most important thing for me to do was to change my contact on my phone from “Kaitlin” to “Elija,”  I still have Punk Rock Girl as the ring tone, but now I just view that as ironic.

But then…yes, finally.  I pulled up my draft email.  I read through.  Again.  One more time.  Cursor on the send button.  Better read it one more time.  Ok, looks fine.  Cursor back on the send button….OK….push…..finger….on…..mouse…..button….click.

I did it!

Oh crap, I did it.

Oh well, it was done.  Now I just had to wait.

And despite all my angst, they reacted just like I should have known they would.  Sure they were surprised, maybe shocked.  But in no uncertain terms they made it clear that they loved us all and wished us all the best.

I guess I just underestimate people.  Looking back I feel a little ashamed that I doubted my brothers so much.  Again – we’re not so much on sensitivity, but when it matters, we’re always there for each other and I should have known that all along.

Now about Mom and Dad…..