Portrait of a Transgender Child: Part Four

The Shadows and the Highlights: Part Four

highlights&shadows

Of course, standing in that supermarket with my two year old, I did what almost every other parent of a two year old would do: I dismissed it.

“Oh baby, you’re a girl, you won’t grow up to be a boy.”  I assumed that Jake simply didn’t understand the difference between boy and girl.  He was two, how could he understand?  But I did feel that I needed to address the difference between boy and girl. Not by forcing him into the pink, princess, glitter studded box of femininity, because liking Dora and Barbies and all things Princess does not make you a girl.

We started out simple.  I would point to myself and say, “Mommy is a girl.”  Then Daddy: “Daddy is a boy.” Then Jake: “Jake is a girl.”

No, a boy.

For such an intelligent child, I often wondered, how could he not know the difference?

People were quick to offer answers.  Some blamed me.  I didn’t wear dresses, I cut my hair short. I didn’t bother with make-up.  Most of my wardrobe consisted of black, grey, and various drab shades of blue.  Others suggested that Jake was a tomboy, and it was just showing itself at a very early age.  Others said, who cares? He’ll figure it out eventually.

I tried to listen to those people the most.

Then came the tantrums.  They started around two and a half and lasted until almost four.  I often refer to those years as the Dark Ages.  It’s a joke, of course, they weren’t that bad, but at the time, they seemed unbearable.  Worse than natural childbirth.  Worse than colic.

He was so stubborn and single-minded. He was a tyrant in the house.  He would stay up playing in his bed until the wee hours of the night.  He refused to eat anything he didn’t like and had no issues with flinging it across the room.  He ran, anywhere he wanted and as fast as he could.  Away from me at parks.  Around the aisles in supermarkets.  Towards streets.  If caught, he’d play the noodle baby routine, where every limb in his body became a limp noodle.  Like trying to bag a cat.

All I could wonder, over and over, is what was I doing wrong?  What could I do, to stop this monster that I’d created?  I felt like a failure, as a parent. I know that every child has tantrums, but Jake’s were unmanageable.  I could not manage my child.

We transferred him to a Montessori school at age three.  I thought that perhaps the environment would be better suited for him.  More freedom, more independence.  And we seemed to get fewer reports.  Until parent teacher conferences, when the teacher handed us the book, Children: the Challenge by Rudolph Dreikurs.  I was horrified.  Embarrassed.  Ashamed of myself.  I felt like the world’s worst parent because I was being offered parenting advice from a teacher, someone that saw my child for four hours a day.

So I went home and read the book cover to cover.  And I started making changes.  Things went from bad to worse. Every day, after school, he would act out. I would put him in time out.  He would meltdown.  I would carry him, screaming and crying to his bedroom, where I would explain, as calmly as possible, that he needed some time to cool down.  When he was ready to come out, we would discuss it.  I would close the door and then sit down in front of it.

On the other end, my child sounded like a caged animal, a wild thing. He raged and pounded at the door.  He threw himself against it until I thought he was hurting himself.  He cried until I thought my own heart would break.

I felt like the world’s worst mother.  I wanted to spend quality time with my child, in the few hours of the day that we had together. I wanted to take him to the park, out to play, to museums or any other regular family activities.

But instead I sat in the hallway outside his bedroom, often crying with him, refusing to give in.  Day after day.  Week after week.

Eventually he calmed down.  Then he began calming down before he even ended up in his room.  Finally, he came to a place where he would walk himself to his room, and come out when he was ready to talk.

And we talked.  He told me how he felt inside, when he was trapped in his room.  Or lying in bed at night.  Like all of his insides were shaking around and it was torture to hold himself still.  He told me about how noisy it got inside his head, when everything got really really quiet, and so he screamed the loudest at those times, to make the noise go away.

He told me how he felt sometimes like the badness took over inside of him and made him act the way he did.  How he felt like he couldn’t stop it sometimes, and he was glad that I’d taught him how to go to his room to calm down, because it made the badness go away for a while.

He told me how much he wanted a little brother. Not sister.  How he wanted someone at home to play with, someone close to him, better than a friend.

He asked me then, at almost four, why I wouldn’t love him if he was a boy.  I remember taking him up in my arms, wanting to say, “You ARE a boy”, but not knowing that I could.  Worried that I would confuse him if I did, that there was something terribly wrong with my child.

“I love you no matter what you are,” I said instead, and no more.  Because I thought, like the tantrums and the colic, this too would pass.

Up Next: Part Five: The Finishing Touches of a Portrait of a Child

If you’re interested in how the story begins, read Part One: The Canvas and the Palette

Please email me at affirmedmom@gmail.com if you have any questions, comments, or want to share your story. I’d love to hear!

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