Category Archives: Parenting

Why we grieve; on parental reactions to children’s diagnoses

There is a grief that comes with a diagnosis of a child.1

It doesn’t matter if it’s a diagnosis you know, that is familiar, because it is the loss of the child who does not have it.

We grieve because we dream. We grieve because we are not the Buddha, and we are attached to the future, to the child-that-will-not-be, to the child-who-never-was.

It doesn’t matter if the diagnosis brings help, if it brings answers, if there has a plan. We grieve because that is not the path we thought we were on.

It doesn’t even matter if it’s a diagnosis shared with those we love. It doesn’t matter if it’s a diagnosis we celebrate for others. We grieve not because we secretly hate or pity or think less-than of those we love; we grieve because we are changed in that moment of discovery, and we are not who we thought we were.

But we can also celebrate.

When we are ready.

Because we know more about this child than we did before. That is intimacy. That is everything.

We can see them not as a stereotype or a label, though the world might try to make them both, but with curiosity. What does that mean for this child? Who is this person?

(Who am I? What does it mean to be their parent?)

We grieve because we love, and we move on from grief because we love so fucking fiercely. We grieve because a diagnosis is a beginning, and beginnings are terrifying.

We grieve because we are human, and we move on because that is life.

Life is amazing.

So is your child.

So are you.

  1. If I wanted this to be a confessional or talk about specifics, I would, y’know, be doing that. Please note that I am not.

Doesn’t everyone have house elves??

I’m getting really fed up with the crummy mother-shaming exhortations to “slow down” or “simplify” or whatever, and today I read one that included a couple lines just perfectly encapsulates why I loathe them so, that went something like “slow down mommy, those dirty dishes can wait / slow down mommy, let’s bake a cake”. Because, uh, HELLO, I CAN’T BAKE A CAKE IN A KITCHEN WITH A SINK/COUNTER THAT’S COVERED IN SHIT THAT NEEDS TO BE WASHED AND ALSO NOT IF ALL THE SHIT WE NEED TO BAKE A CAKE IS, Y’KNOW, FUCKING DIRTY BECAUSE YOU JUST TOLD ME NOT TO WASH IT ALL.

Who the hell do the authors of these things think is gonna make sure kids have a clean plate to eat off and oh by the way also something to eat (maybe even something that isn’t going to spin them into hypoglycemic crash and turn them into asshole devil children)? In what magic fairy land does messy play not require a significant amount of prep and/or clean up which apparently we’re not supposed to do because gods forbid we spend two seconds doing anything other than staring at our cherubs in absolute rapture? Where the hell do the clean warm clothes come from for kicking in the leaf piles and how the fuck are we supposed to spontaneously hop outside to jump in them if we can’t find anybody’s %$#@ boots because no one spent the time to make sure they were put where they belong? What the FUCK are we teaching our children if we never let them see us engage in the daily activities of life, including cleaning up after ourselves and yes washing the fucking dirty dishes NOW, not after Freespirit doTerra Moonbeam goes to bed?

But no, fuck all that, once again allllllllll the damn work that mothers do is made invisible1, dismissed as unimportant, and we are told, again, that we are doing. it. wrong.

I get that I’m not the intended audience, but I still get caught in the shotgun spray. Because these things almost never say “hey, if you haven’t played with your kid this month because you’re still polishing the silver, maybe you could consider letting that go for a day”. They don’t often say “you’re doing the best you can under an impossible and unbearable set of demands, so yay you! When was the last time you cut yourself a break and took a moment to just breathe in your kids?” No, they say “you, Mother, I know all I need to know about you because you’re a woman with children and there is nothing beyond you than that, and so I know you’re doing it wrong, and let me tell you how in guilt tripping and/or infantalizing ways”. And that’s fucking awful.

Now someone clean my damn kitchen. I want cake.2

  1. Also invisible: any parents who are not mothers! Because they do not have Sooper Speshul Relashunnship With FdT Moonbeam because, um, vagina! Or something! Also, they wouldn’t be caught dead washing dishes in the first place cuz that’s wimmin’s work, ammirite?
  2. “WHAT THE HELL ARWYN WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN?” Umm… hi! A…round? Mostly trying to earn munnehs and do good work and shiz? And, y’know, cleaning and parenting and sometimes even baking cakes? Y’know! Stuff! Um. Sorry? Hi! …bye! *runs away*

National Gender Creative Kids Workshop

I just got back from Montreal (try the bagels), where I attended the National Workshop for Gender Creative Kids, hosted by Concordia University. It. Was. Amazing. There’s a lot I’d like to share, a lot I learned, a lot of discussions and debates about which I have Things to Say, but much of that will have to be saved for other times, and possibly other venues.

I was honored to be the first presenter on the opening panel, in which I talked about gender diverse parenting, the what and the why. Fifteen minutes was wholly inadequate for more than a too-brief introduction; when I sat down to write my talk, over 3000 words rolled out of my fingers almost without trying, and I ended up having to remove rather more nuance and complexities than I’d hoped, but for all that, I’m pretty proud of what remained.

I can’t share it in full here — it wouldn’t be anything particularly new to regular readers of this blog anyway — but you can read Dr Elizabeth Meyer’s write up of mine and other parents’ talks: Gender Diverse Parenting: Creating Space for Kids (in which she calls it brilliant).

Because the workshop was hosted by a research project, there is no “next year” currently scheduled, but many of us (which is to say, nearly every one of the 70 or so parents, educators, activists, artists, doctors, therapists, and general rabble-rousers — many trans or former gender creative kids themselves) are hoping and working toward having a similar conference again in the future. I for one already have ideas for my next proposal.

On gender diverse parenting versus parenting a gender creative kid

So, apparently something I wrote on a lark for an online youth magazine in Brazil got picked up by a major print magazine. Because surreal is a far too accurate description of my life.

From this, I’ve been getting requests for interviews. Which, see aforementioned re “surreal”. And one thing I’m noticing is a confusion between “gender diverse parenting” and parenting of a kid who, it turns out, is pretty creative when it comes to his gender expression (also known as “gender nonconforming”, though that implies an expectation TO conform).

Here’s the thing: I didn’t set out to have a kid who sometimes likes dresses and whose favorite colors are pink and “anything bright”, who loves long hair (though he doesn’t love brushing it), is willing to stand in line and follow instructions in order to take pre-ballet, who would rather correct strangers every day with semi-patient iterations of “I’m a boy” than change how he dresses and discard the purple shoes he loves to wear. I love him. I love everything about him, including his love of one of my least favorite colors, including his insistence on having hair we have struggles to take care of every day, including the conversations we have at least weekly about how rude it is when people don’t believe that he’s a boy. But I don’t love him any more this way than if he were any other sort of boy. And, contrary to the implications of the questions I’ve been getting, I didn’t set out to make him this way.

We don’t parent gender diversely in order to have kids like the Boychick — we tried that in the 70s and early 80s, and, to many straight white feminists’ chagrin, it didn’t work. No, we parent with gender diversity because children like the Boychick exist. Because they exist, with their love of unexpected colors and uninhibited hair and boundary-breaking affinities, whether or not we expect them. Whether or not we “allow” them, welcome them, make space for them, honor them.

Maybe the Boychick would have been more gender typical in his clothing and hair and preferences in a more gender strict household. And maybe, maybe, that would have even been authentic, and not a survival strategy in an unfriendly environment. Even if that were so, something would have been lost, some spark that makes him him. He would be some other him, with some other spark, and while he would be just as beautiful, the world would be a slightly less colorful place. But more likely, he would be exactly who he is, but would have a much harder life.

Every day, in homes all over the world, children who are told “no, you can’t have that, no, that’s for boys, no, that’s only for girls, no, you can’t be yourself, no, you aren’t okay” still sneak silky shirts to wear as wigs, still run to the “wrong” side of the store, still stuff self-made penises into their pants, still do the work of playing with gender, of figuring out who they are, of forcing us to confront the failure of forced gender conformity. Every day, streets all over the world are filled with the teens old enough to run away from their hostile families, toward their real selves.  Gender diverse parenting doesn’t create gender creative kids: it creates a world that tells them “yes”.

What makes a baby (dragon), as told by the Boychick

Once upon a time there was a blue boy bird and a blue boy dragon. They were really good friends and liked to fly together. Only one day the blue boy bird discovered he wasn’t a bird, he was really a blue boy dragon. And the two blue boy dragons loved each other and got married. One of the blue boy dragons had sperm and one of them had eggs, so they had seventy five hundred and two hundred and twenty five hundred babies. Half of them were girls and half of them were boys, and one of them was both and one of them was neither. The one who was both POOPED out of its shell and started dancing.

And then it was bedtime.

***

In related news, I enthusiastically recommend the book What Makes a Baby; very basic baby-making and where-did-I-come-from sex ed for very young children; I’d say ages 2-6, and not any younger just because it is a paper and not board book. It very skillfully avoids cissexism and heterocentricism while providing opportunities for kids to hear all about THEIR birth and family stories — which is what children this age are usually most interested in — and doesn’t overload with extraneous information about sex, orgasms, and so on. (Although I will say I’m looking forward to the next in the series that, I hope, will start addressing those issues more.)

The book is currently self-published — and very, very well done at that — with a limited supply remaining until it is re-issued by an independent publishing house, which a little bird hinted will happen in mid-2013. So if your kids are of an age, get it now; if not, make a note of the site for next year, because if you have or work with kids, you need to have this book.