Mothers and daughters. What a complicated relationship that can be! The teen years can take on all the characteristics of a roller coaster ride, complete with incredibly high drops and loops that will make you lose your lunch. Finding out that the child you thought was your daughter is actually a son is enough to stop a person dead in their tracks- and that can be dangerous if you’re still on the ride.
The Gilmore Girls was a popular American tv show that aired from 2000-2007. It revolved around Lorelei Gilmore and her teenage daughter, Rory. It’s tagline was “Life’s short. Talk Fast.” The dialogue was fast-paced, witty and fun to watch. My relationship with my then-daughter was not.
I always wanted a daughter. I was close to my mother when I was growing up. I looked forward to having a little girl and sharing that mother-daughter closeness with my mother. I really wasn’t a girly-girl growing up. I wasn’t a tomboy either. I’m not sure where the expectations came from but I had some image in my head of how it would be when I had a girl. As is usually the case, the reality did not resemble my fantasy in the least!
When I looked around me, I seemed to be surrounded by women who had these close loving mother daughter relationships. Maybe not Lorelei and Rory close but close. Just like I always knew that there was something different about Kerri, I knew that my relationship with her was not the same as other mothers with their daughters. I loved her desperately. Oh so desperately. She always appeared to be fighting such a huge inner battle and I couldn’t help her. All I was able to do was stand by, be there if she needed me, and offer my support. I’ll never know if it was enough. Although Kris and I have had many tough conversations, I can’t bring myself to ask him if he knows much I felt his pain and struggles. I try so very hard not to burden him with my own baggage. He’s going through enough. He didn’t ask for this and I did the best I could.
So, as Kerri, we stumbled, skipped, ran and crawled through all the stages of childhood together. Kerri took ballet for a very short time, joined Girl Scouts and got an American Girl doll and visited the American Girl Store in the city. Despite debilitating fear, Kerri insisted on getting her ears pierced at age 7. We went through the fun of getting a dress for prom, preparing for dances, the highs and lows of having a boyfriend and falling in love. We spent a summer watching all 10 seasons of Friends the year of the big boyfriend breakup. We suffered through her changing body and getting her period. Barbies, Beanie Babies, make up, nail polish, and accessories–oh, the accessories! On paper, it sure looks like your average mother daughter deal. It just wasn’t. My two closest friends have daughters who are teenagers now and I can easily see that my time with my Kerri was different.
I spent those 18 years wondering what I was doing wrong. How could someone who had 2 sisters, best friends and preferred the company of other girls be so off when raising my own daughter?
And then Kris told me that he was transgender. Once the confusion and dust settled, it made sense. Even though I was struggling with the onslaught of emotions this news evoked not just in me but my husband and other children, I heard my inner voice let out a soft, “Ohhhhhh.”
While working on gender pronouns and a new name and helping Kris work on his outward appearance until he could start taking testosterone, Kris and I overhauled our relationship. Already having two other sons and knowing that my relationships with them were different from each other, I knew that Kris and I would look different. And we do. I will consult him on an outfit if I’m unsure of it. He actually accompanied me when I went shopping for a dress for Michael’s wedding. He sat on the floor inside the doorway of the dressing room, writing in his journal, and when I would come out of my dressing room he would critique it. It was his decision to sit there. He got a few strange looks but no one said anything and he wasn’t bothered. We talk more about emotional things than I do with the other boys. And we get into what could only be described as awkward and uncomfortable conversations about body parts, effects of T, and surgeries. They are definitely topics most males would avoid.
I realized early on in his transition that my relationship with Kris would be different. We talked about it because I wanted to be sure he understood that it wasn’t that I was treating him like a daughter; I was just building on the core of what we had before.
I think the most important thing I learned from this was that although having the mother daughter relationship was important to me at one time, having a strong bond with my CHILD is more important. I’m not saying it’s all hearts and flowers now. It’s just more real and REAL is important to me.