Recently someone observed my parenting and commented, “You have your head up your ass.”
Breathe in. Breathe out.
What can I learn from this statement? How do I parent?
Early in 2006, I traveled to China to adopt my daughter M. I am grateful that I made this journey with one of the most amazing people in my life, my mom. During those two weeks, I dedicated myself to soaking in every detail.
Social workers coached me through the adoption process and encouraged me to embrace my travel experience because I am my child’s connection to this first chapter of her life. I was truly present at this time. I felt richness of honoring the moment.
Waiting to adopt had been painful—I tried to escape my anxiety by shopping for a teddy bear.
This was my simple mission to help prepare for my child—ha! Do you know how many different teddy bears there are?! I had 18 months to wait for M so I took my quest quite seriously.
One day I found her—Lily Bear. She was the bear! She was the ideal size for my baby to cuddle. She had soft beige fur, black stitched eyes and a blue bow. A critic said, “You bought the wrong color.”
The expectation was that baby girls have bears with pink bows. However, I was still convinced that Lily Bear was perfect.
When M and I arrived home from China, we were blessed with many clothes that other families donated to her. Very quickly M communicated her style—she liked plain items with no decorations or ruffles. I listened and helped her into the outfits she chose.
We were also surrounded by many toys that families shared with us. M was just learning to play, and toys were a new experience. She played with Legos, trucks and musical instruments. The baby dolls sat quietly in the corner by themselves.
M also really enjoyed playing outside. When she was four, we had the “summer of mud.” Buckets of water, dirt, worms and a dump truck entertained M for hours. I shared in M’s joy and smiled at her creativity.
M’s imagination also channeled itself into acting. She emulated characters from movies. She also asked to use the names of my friends’ sons. Soon I was juggling new pronouns to accompany the male names. M was not acting. This is his true identity. By the time he was eight, I consistently used male pronouns. On his ninth birthday, we celebrated his new name.
As M has transitioned to B, and I have learned so much!
I carry a yellow card in my wallet that summarizes B’s identity, preferred name, and legal name. This minimizes the number of times B has to endure hearing his former name, because he asserts that the name M was a ridiculous mistake.
I am moved by how many people lovingly remember B. I only pull out that yellow card these days when we check into somewhere new.
Several years ago, B asked me to take down his old pictures. I did mourn those empty spaces on the walls, and I now look at those old photographs privately. I also remember the anger I felt when one mentor claimed that she thought B was not strong enough to be transgender.
B is strong.
It is my responsibility to help B be true to himself. I sought out a new mentor and have watched B thrive because of her insight and support.
How do I parent my child? I try to stay in the moment.
I love my child so fiercely that it hurts.
I am sometimes anxious, scared or angry, but I respect these emotions.
I listen to B—he has taught me so much. I share his joy and honor his spirit.
B is my life’s greatest blessing.
Author: Andrea Valiante
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/truds09; author’s own.