Small Steps

I was at a community event earlier this week. Having lived here for 18 years, I knew many people. I expected this. What I didn’t count on was that I would run into people who knew my daughter, Kerri, but had no idea Kris existed.

I ran into a former PTO mate, Amy. I hadn’t seen her in years.

How’s your son doing? I just saw that article in the newspaper about him.” The local paper had recently run a nice story about Andrew attending a prestigious music school.

He’s doing really good. He’s only been there less than 2 weeks but it seems to be going fine.” Most of my conversations were about Andy and college these days.

That’s great! I’m just a little confused. In the article he mentions that his brothers were in band. But I distinctly remember you having a daughter. You have a daughter, right?” This woman had every right to be confused. And although our children were not the same ages, they were all in school together from Kindergarten to Senior Year. Her youngest was in her last year of high school, a year younger than Andy. She knew darn well I had a daughter.

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Okay, so here I was, in the middle of a crowd of people. Many of them knew exactly who I was. Some knew about Kris. Some didn’t know my children at all. And some knew me as only having boys.

It wasn’t the time or place for any conversation. Besides, she was someone I rarely saw or even planned on telling about Kris.

I smiled and said, “Oh yeah,” nodding the entire time.

But the article said his brothers. I kept thinking I must have forgotten one of your kids. Do you have 3 boys and a girl?” Her voice was hesitant and tone unsure.

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I know that my smile sort of froze like it does when I get caught off guard. My head was bobbing as I said, “You know with Michael being the oldest there are people that don’t even know he exists.” Her forehead crinkled in confusion. She knew who Michael was. But I kept on smiling and acting like I was making sense. “How are your daughters?” I was NOT going there with her.

Her face cleared and she started filling me in on her children. Crisis averted.

 

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This conversation went a little better than the one I had two weeks ago with a fellow parent, Shar, who I could have sworn knew about Kris. That encounter took place in the Back to School aisle at Target.

From across the stack of spiral notebooks, she called a friendly hello. We chatted for a few minutes about getting school supplies for college age children. In what seemed like a natural progression to her but caught me totally off guard was when she said, “But you must be used to this college stuff by now. How is Kerri doing?”

I froze. I couldn’t speak because it was a sucker punch type of surprise. I must have taken too long to speak because she looked up at me with a questioning look. I really messed up that one. “Well, yeah, no I mean yeah.” I know. Quite impressive, right? I can honestly say that I’m not sure what I said after that point. Once again, the setting wasn’t conducive to a heart to heart talk about what’s new in my middle child’s life.

Because I was caught up in last minute college shopping for Andrew, I put the conversation out of my mind and didn’t give it a second thought until the PTO Amy incident.

When I had time to compare the encounters with both Amy and Shar to others I’ve had over the past 3 years, I noticed a big difference in my response. With both Amy and Shar I was surprised but that was the extent of it. Where as in the past that surprise was accompanied by discomfort or sadness or pain, these last two times I was just caught off guard. To be completely honest, it felt good. I take it as a sign that I’ve passed another milestone. untitled (11)

One of the most important things I’ve learned in the last three years is that I have to celebrate every step in the right direction, no matter how small it might seem. Those baby steps add up quickly and they sure help when we encounter a few steps back. And there are always a few steps back!

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18 thoughts on “Small Steps

  1. Thank you for sharing this… our list of who needs to know is getting shorter and shorter, but our list of “people we run into occasionally” and “people on Facebook who I am not really friends with” and “people who just don’t need access to our life like that” list is growing. And I keep hoping, “Maybe people will just think THEY are confused and we have always had an older daughter with a younger son versus two boys. I am really hoping people are oblivious!

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    1. It seems that even if I’m causing confusion in the conversation (intentional or not), the more unwavering I am, the more quickly the other person just accepts it, even if it’s not what they remember.

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  2. I’m glad to know it’s normal at least. Someone at work asked me a few days ago if I’ve got a son. My response was, “Umm… kind of… not really”, leading her to visibly suspect I’d just lost my mind.

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    1. I’ve given some bizarre answers. My all time favorite was the time I was with a mixed group of people and one asked about Kris and I told them how he was doing, college talk and all that and in the same group someone else asked about Kerri and I had the same conversation, as if talking about one of my other children.

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  3. A great post, Kat. And good for you for not going there with her. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to share and when. I am getting better at that, though it’s hard.

    When I feel cornered and pushed into sharing something someone should not have heart access to, I remind myself to say, “Why do you want to know?” Those who are seeking information for exclusionary purposes generally can’t respond; however, those who are attempting to be inclusive can.

    Blessings,
    Dani

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  4. First of all, LOVE the use of color and multiple graphics in your post!! So much fun. 🙂
    It’s nice you were able to compare these two encounters to past encounters and see growth in your own feelings. That is really positive. Maybe you could think of an default answer for the future that shuts things down if you don’t feel like going into details. I’m sure that would be difficult to think of, but it might be helpful. I do like the way you refocused the conversation onto the other woman and her children…this pretty much always works. Go Kat!!

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    1. Great Idea!! In fact, it reminds me of an answer I have been using that goes along these lines “Well, I am definitely discovering some very deep and amazing things about myself, my history, and the coming future for me. They are still pretty new and being formed, so right now I am not ready to go into those things with you…but when I am I will be sure to get in touch with you and if you are still interested I would be delighted to share with you as much as you desire to know”.

      Shuts down the “just being polite” people…and opens doors for the genuinely curious or “want to go deeper” people!

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    2. Thank you! I keep forgetting to use color- something I really love in your posts. One of the many things I’m working on.

      Regarding coming up with a default answer, yes, I have actually been working on this,,,for 3 years now. 🙂 I’ve tried different things but nothing seems to stick- or I forget it the next time it happens! Unfortunately if it’s someone who knows that “something” is going on and they saw me during my ultra-stressed times, I can fall back on a totally flaky answer and they will accept it out of kindness (and in hope that I’m not going to get emotional on them!)

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  5. The girls at work somehow managed to pick up the pronoun usage right away. My trainer, he’s picking up, but he’s more used to trans women than trans men. He keeps saying sorry when he messes up and says he’s trying–I’m guessing there were other trans who were not as forgiving as I was. I keep telling him he’s fine, he tries at least.

    For most of the people I am now coming across, they have genderqueers and trans women as friends, but I am the first trans man they have really come to meet and talk to. And going from the boonies to one of the largest malls in Jersey (half-hour trip one-way with good traffic), I am already meeting more expressions of GLBT than I have ever met in my little neck of the woods. A learning experience for everyone!

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    1. Pronouns are tough! If someone is making a sincere attempt to use the correct pronouns, I tend to have more patience and I know Kris does too.

      In the case of those two women- I doubt I will ever tell Amy about Kris because I don’t see her often at all. Shar, on the other hand, I run into fairly often and we do need to chat because I was sure she knew about Kris. Maybe she forgot?

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