There are certain universal truths to parenting. You’ll never love someone else as strongly or as deeply. You’ll never lose as much sleep. Gross bodily functions will lose their “squick” impact through repeated exposure. But they’re still gross. Hugs from your kids will never go out of style.
Some parenting experiences are specific to a family’s situation. There are a lot of things I never imagined needing to think about before we became parents to Rose. Last Friday is a case in point.
A Day In the Life of Rose
The girls had the day off school for a professional development day. They got to sleep in, watch TV, play video games, and stay in their pajamas for a few hours. An excellent start to a day off. The vibe was relaxed and they were having a good time.
Come lunchtime, I burst Rose’s bubble. I reminded the girls that they had their annual physicals that afternoon. We had two hours to eat, get dressed, and head over. I sat down on the couch next to Rose and walked through a script of what she could expect at the physical. The nurse would take her height and weight measurements. She’ll take her shoes off for that part. She’ll get one shot, part of the vaccine series she’s working on. No big deal, needles don’t phase Rose. The doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to her heart and lungs, and will want to do a brief check that her body is healthy.
Cue the distress.
Rose is transgender and has body dysphoria. Not every kid who is transgender has dysphoria, but she does. This is an unhappy mix when it comes to doctors. She doesn’t like her body. I can’t tell you how heartbreaking this is for us. There’s not much we can do to soften the essential truth of Rose — she does not like her body. It doesn’t match what her brain is telling her. Her external body is male and she is female. She does her level best to forget this on a daily basis, and being asked to undergo a physical exam is deeply distressing for her.
As soon as I said that she would need a physical exam, she curled in on herself. Silent tears started rolling down her cheeks. I carefully stepped through the minefield, reminding her that our family physician wants the best for her, that we all need to get periodic physicals to make sure that our bodies are healthy, that it will only take a few minutes and will be done with respect and gentleness.
With a lot of coaxing, she reluctantly got dressed. Leggings, knee-length boots, skirt, camisole, two shirts, and a sweater. The layers were a clear message. But hey, I learned from last time. Now I know to tell her she can’t wear a one-piece bathing suit under her clothes to a doctor’s appointment. She’s a smart kid.
Having used our two-hour window to convince Rose to get dressed, we ate lunch in the car and just made it to the appointment on time.
Rose was quiet in the waiting room, but also glued to my hip. These were signs of rising anxiety, but she was holding it together. She cooperated with the nurse and livened up a little when she saw she had grown a bit. It’s always good when it feels like you’re catching up with your big sister!
The doctor came in and ran through the standard questionnaire and conversation with the girls. Do they eat breakfast? Do they wear their seat belts? Do they wear helmets when they’re riding their bikes? Rose’s answers were given with her typical Asperger’s logic. She eats breakfast when she’s hungry. She always wears her seat belt, because it would be stupid not to. Same with the bike helmet.
The doctor asked to listen to her heart and lungs. Rose stiffened, looked at me, and reluctantly clambered onto the exam table. I reminded her that this is important, because we need to know that she is healthy. The doctor and I had this conversation before the appointment. We could skip the parts that make Rose uncomfortable. All of us would much rather do that. But Rose is transgender. To get the medical care she’s going to want and need when she hits puberty, she needs to get okay with physical exams, because they are going to be a necessary part of her medical care. As the doctor carefully moved as little clothing as possible, Rose stared off into space.
The doctor asked her to hop off the table and explained that she’d like to lift just the back of Rose’s shirt, to check her spine for scoliosis. Rose didn’t say anything. She didn’t sob. If we hadn’t been looking at her, no one would have known that she was crying. Tears were pouring down her face.
This is dysphoria.
It took over an hour for Rose to calm down. She got her shot without flinching. For the physical exam, we stopped at the scoliosis check and made an appointment to come back next month and try again for the rest of the physical.
On the way home, we picked up ice cream. We all needed it.
We barely got home five minutes before my husband got home from work, and I tried to quietly fill him in on how things went. I ended up texting him while standing three feet away, so that Rose and her sister didn’t have to hear the recap. They went about making ice cream floats as I scrambled to get dinner put together and hold myself together when really I just wanted to cry. Rose bounced back quickly, hanging out with her sister until bedtime playing games, but she had nightmares that night. I sent our family dog in to sleep with her, and she piled up her stuffed animals in a protective wall around herself.
We have a lot of normal days. Days like any other family. But they are days in which Rose tries very hard to forget that she is transgender. That’s dysphoria. The truth of dysphoria is that she is not happy that she is transgender, and when she has to confront that reality, she falls apart. The constant theme of my day as a trans-parent is to try to instill a sense of resiliency in her, so that after she falls apart, she can pull herself back together again. I can’t fix the dysphoria. I can only give her the tools to deal with it.