Just the other day, after my son’s first day of Kindergarten, I sat at the table and started to fill out all the contact information and emergency forms for his school. And as I cruised through all the family information I came across the “Additional Information” space, with it’s requisite three lines. I thought, “ok, I got this. I can sum up our unique family situation in only three lines and make sure they know it’s all good and I’ve got it under control and that even though Inti has a unique family to what might be considered the ‘norm’ he and I are totally well adjusted”. And so in just a few words I tried to sum up what I know to be the big things in Inti’s life that might affect his behavior: 1. Inti is very sensitive and has a hard time with transitions, hence the very difficult teary goodbyes; 2. He has watched his papi become a mapi in a very short time, and; 3. He has undergone long term separation from one of his parents as well as major geographic change in the past few years.
Ok, deep breath, I did it.
But it didn’t feel complete. And so I started writing more, starting with an additional sentence, and then my words bleeding down the margins in ever-smaller letters. I didn’t want to burden the teachers with my story, as I know everyone has a story, and certainly many people have a story even tougher than ours. But I did want to share certain things, things that I do think continue to affect him, and things that have not even started to affect him but might soon. And most of those things did not make it on there, and so here goes, my letter to his teachers, or, what I really wanted to write on those three little lines.
1. Inti is very sensitive and has a hard time with transitions. Oh lord does he. I know, as teachers, you are all ready and waiting for your kids to totally lose their cool on their first day of kindergarten. Maybe the 2nd. Maybe even the 3rd. And you will tell me, don’t worry, it’s separation anxiety, all kids get it the first time they separate from their mothers, you’ll see that it will get better tomorrow, or the next day, or the next. The thing is my kid has been going to school, full time, since he was 9 months old. He has never spent weeks and weeks by my side, since the time he was very small. But yet every time we have a change, even a long weekend, every time we take a short break and then come back, there it is, the screaming, crying, grabbing on to any part of my body he can just to be saved from the separation. And then as soon as he gets distracted and I am out of sight, he is back to himself again. I know this drill, I have seen it over and over, I have been on this end over and over, and I don’t quite know my way out yet. Time, I guess, But we might be talking weeks, over days. Maybe not. Maybe not this time. Here’s to hoping.
2. He has watched his papi become a mapi in a very short time. Before Inti turned 1, his other parent, who I had always known and loved as a male, came out of the closet as transsexual and within weeks began transitioning. Inti’s “mapi”, as he calls her, is now in every way a female, and he totally gets that, in fact his understanding of transgender individuals is far more developed than most adults I know. He can look at pictures of mapi before her transition and say things like, “that is mapi before she became a momma”. He also very regularly and proudly says, “I have a mama and a mapi”. But. But, and this is a big BUT, he has recently started noticing the loss of having a father figure. He desperately wants a daddy, even though he understands that lots of kids don’t have daddies in their lives and that he has so many other people who love him. Still, he often cries at night wanting a daddy. So please, try not to ask him to draw a picture of his mom and dad…I feel relatively sure you as teachers don’t do that anymore, that you might choose “family” over “mommy and daddy” and really mean that to encompass all families.
3. He has undergone long term separation from one of his parents as well as major geographic change in the past few years. This, I suppose, is at the core of the separation anxiety. Neither of his parents wanted Inti to live torn between two countries and two families. But at this point we both know that it is the best way, and it was the only way forward. Many couples choose to stay together after a gender transition, and that is such a beautiful and incredible thing. We could not, for quite a few reasons, which I will not go into here. But I am sure that I would not have been able to become the person I am now living down in Bolivia, as mapi would not have become the person she has become if she had stayed up here. And so we have a child who spends most of his time with mom, in the U.S., and part of his time with mapi, in Bolivia. The transitions he has to make between time with mapi and his stepsister, Lucia, in Bolivia, and up here in the U.S. are staggering. Everything is different. Not a single thing that I could name is the same…and Inti feels those changes, fully, and makes that known. He is not a kid who just barrels through and toughs it out. He is at an age where he understands what is happening and feels to his fullest. Sometimes I wish it were less so, just so I wouldn’t have to feel so sad watching him go through it. The last time he said goodbye to mapi and Lucia, I felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest. I just couldn’t change this very difficult situation that he has to deal with, and that felt like the worst suffering I could feel. His goodbyes, in his lifetime, have been long term goodbyes, of people he really loves. Not just see ya laters, they are “see you in 10 months, depending on how much money we can all scrape together for a ticket”.
This is not a kid who has been given the same thing his whole life and then, BAM! change happens from one day to the next. Oh, no. This kid knows change. He was raised knowing change. In fact one of the only things that has not changed has been his relationship to me. He and I, we have been each other’s rock through this all. Maybe that is not the way it should be. But it has been. And so, when the placement of that rock moves a little bit, I guess, all hell breaks loose, as we have seen already in these first goodbyes. Maybe that is normal, and maybe it is a result of all this. I guess all I’m asking now is some help with shifting some of that weight, some help lifting him up a little bit so that he might stand on his own, just a little bit more, every day. He’ll always be able to lean on me, but sometimes I need just a little bit of my own space, too.