The holidays can be a difficult time for many people for any number of reasons. The list is endless. For me, my downfall is the ornaments on our tree. Since Michael’s first Christmas 25 years ago, my kids got ornaments with their name and the year on them. Some years I would also get a personalized family ornament. Then lets add in the ones given as gifts over the year, always with a name on them. That’s a lot of ornaments.
When Kris first came out as transgender, the impact of opening the boxes that first Christmas and seeing the name that I had given my daughter times 18 (and more) caught me off guard. That first year, all of the ornaments with Kerri’s name on them were put away in a separate box. During year two, I braved that smaller box and studied each ornament, determining which ones would survive the removal of the name and which were undeniably girl ornaments and no longer appropriate. Kris was happy to see the return of many of his beloved favorites sporting his name and I was happy to see them back as well, although still a little sad.
This year, I had forgotten about the feelings that accompanied the ornaments and as we struggled with getting the lights on the tree to work, all was well. Then, in one of my Facebook groups for parents of transgender kids, a mom posted-
I love my son but today I really, really miss my daughter.
One mom brought up the Christmas ornaments and that was IT.
I went off to find that box of Christmas ornaments- the ones that no longer made it onto our tree. But the box wasn’t where I remember it being and I panicked. I searched in my office, went back to the location I thought it had been but didn’t see it and it became an obsession. I had to find that box but I didn’t know where it was. I wracked my brain, trying to remember if I had put it in another box with some of Kerri’s other things or if I had found a special place for it but nothing was coming to mind. And I was panicking. Big time.
I stared at our unfinished tree and I saw the angel ornament. One of Kerri’s that sneaked her way onto the tree. She could do that because she wasn’t personalized due to the glitter. This was it. The only representation of a daughter I used to have. Or more accurately, a daughter I thought I had.
I started to think about those lost ornaments, as well as the altered ones, and what they mean to me. See, there are many people who would tell me that I have not lost my child and I should be rejoicing in that. And I do. Believe me, I DO. Every single time I see that another transgender life has been lost, I thank God that I still have Kris here with me. And when I look at the old ornaments with the new name on them, they do bring me joy because it gives me a feeling of continuity and life going on.
But those ornaments, especially the ones in the box, represent so much more than that one specific year when it was given. I hand picked each and every one with my child in mind- whatever phase or hobby was “the thing” that year. There are the ones with the girl playing the clarinet, the swimmer girl, Baby Bop, ice skating, and so many more. Each of these ornaments brings to mind a time in our family history. They remind me of my changeling, who I thought was my daughter, then thought was my son, and in the end who I learned to love simply as my child, with no qualifying relationship name other than child or kid or offspring. It’s as if every memory sweeps through me in this surge and it overwhelms me, playing with my emotions. I feel the uncertainty of those early transition days where our worlds seemed all shaken up and unfamiliar. I recall the point when I realized that I no longer thought of Kris by his birth name and the sadness that accompanied that thought mixed up with the immense relief that it was getting better. And when I reached the point where Kerri seemed like a complete person separate from Kris and I felt like I had let Kerri go, I am coming to terms with Kris’s announcement that he is genderqueer and nuances and facets of Kerri, that kid I had thought was gone, are reappearing, mixed up with Kris’s being.
I will enjoy this Christmas, being surrounded by my family. But I think I will always feel some level of sadness every year because those ornaments will always be a symbol of so much more than just Christmas or Kris or Kerri. They will be a reminder of years past, happy and sad times, and hope for the future as we look at how far we have come, not only Kris as he navigates this journey, but all of us as we travel along side him, all of us transitioning in different ways.
I am only able to write this post now because I did find that box of ornaments. It was in the original place I had put it. In my panic, I kept looking right past it.
And as we finish decorating our tree, it will be interesting to see if 6 year old CJ will allow Kris to put any of his ornaments on the tree because to quote him-
Uncle Kris has the coolest ornaments!
Oh, and that angel ornament? She has an important job. She continues to represent all of her companions of years past. When I look at her, I don’t just see the angel that she is. I see all of them- the girls playing the clarinet, the teddy bear, the ice skater, the engraved 1st Christmas ornament, the snowman, the angel, the baby in the stocking, the rocking horse, the swimmer and Baby Bop.