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Sad Mad Sad Bad(?) Sad Sad Sad

I don't know how to function when my kid is struggling. I'm sure it's condependent and there's a better way, but when my kids are in pain, my brain goes lizard and it's all I can see and think about. And right now, there's a whole lot of pain, and looking back with fresh eyes at all the years of anger, there was a whole lot of pain there, too.

That's why I haven't blogged in a long while. I haven't made any progress on getting my recent novel published. I'm only sort of taking care of my body and mind. Any down time I've had has been spent trying to restock my serotonin by binging TV and eating. Again, there are probably better ways, but it just feels like survival.

My youngest, a quirky and brilliant 10 y/o nonbinary elf now named Wolfe, has been in survival mode for a long time. It looked like misbehavior for years. They've run away, been suspended, trouble has followed them despite endless interventions. Only recently we finally understood it was a cry for help. Just these last few months we have started putting together the pieces, making sense of their behavior issues and how they relate to their sense of not belonging.

In making this collective shift, their mad has changed to profound sadness. Feeling safe to be vulnerable now, they share how othered they constantly feel and how the feelings of rejection come out in anger, to protect the little flame inside them. It seems they're a square peg trying to fit in a round hole when everyone else seems to be the right shape. Very few people- kids and adults alike- seem to accept and embrace square pegs. Why can't you just get round?! Aren't you too young to be square? But you live in a place that's supposed to be nice to squares, don't you?

For years, we were holding our breath, waiting for them to conform and be pleasant about it.

When a kid is pleasant, easy going with peers, and obedient to adults, it's easy to be on their side. We like easy and predictable. We like people who give us pleasure without inconveniencing us. Especially when it comes to children. We want cute, we don't like being challenged. This kid is challenging in how they behave and also in just showing up as them, with their nonconforming gender and sexuality expression, confronts people's biases and assumptions.

We know better than to label anyone a "bad" kid, but it seems we still have expectations of what a good kid looks like. If a kid DOES have additional needs, as long as their wounds look like wounds, we extend empathy, comfort and care. We don't seem to know what to do with the kids whose pain makes them into a lion instead of a lamb.

My kid has always roared. Since they were tiny. We thought maybe it was a phase? Maybe it was bad parenting? Maybe they needed more vegetables? More sun? Maybe something about them made it uniquely hard to manage the stress of life? Therapists diagnosed anxiety and gave them counseling and medication. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. Always they were brilliant and verbally gifted, self-aware and wise beyond their years and sometimes they were delightful. Other times they were terrifying, defiant, obstinate, hard to be around. Their behavior was worrisome and embarrassing for those of us who care very too about how other people may be judging their parenting through the actions of their kids.

They were telling us who they were, we just didn't know what that would mean for them.

By second grade, the little person who we had always known as a girl started telling us that they felt like maybe they were a boy. Or neither. Or both. They also had crushes on both girls and boys. They didn't feel like the person they'd always been assumed to be. It didn't fit right. It felt funny. Possibly it explained why, by five years old, they had cut their hair off three times.

We were arrogant in assuming that, since we were accepting of their identity as their parents, they would be fine. We were naive to think that they would easily find inclusion and community where we live in Northern California. Their lived experience has been and will continue to be profoundly different than our own as cis-hetero people living in a binary world.

Slowly, slowly, we're realizing how alone and off-step they feel. We've often missed the mark, subconsciously waiting for them to find a way to fit in in a world that doesn't make room for them. The behavior was not badness, it was fear and a sense of injustice, a desperation to find warmth in a cold world. Now we understand that they're doing their best. It sometimes looks antisocial, but it's them scratching out a place for themself, and it's fucking hard. Each time I learn of a new way that I should have been understanding and advocating for them, I feel like a failure for not doing it sooner. The best I can do is show up right for them today. Staying close, reading, listening, learning, keeping my heart open and hopeful, and not leaning into the fear.

We moved them to a new school, a fresh start where they were introduced by their chosen name and the pronouns that best fit them for now. The school is making an effort, but it's not easy. Elementary schools haven't encountered a lot of queer kids yet and so Wolfe feels a bit like a guinea pig or museum exhibit. Also hard to change schools with only eight weeks left of the year. Not ideal, but seemed to be the next right thing. We're on wait lists for alternative schools that are allegedly more inclusive and have experience with queer kids. Here's hoping.

We're also finding/creating peer groups of queer kids and allies. We're exclusively seeing healthcare providers who are gender-affirming, ideally queer themselves. Our pediatrician is a gem. She said, "Being misgendered all day long is like getting a thousand tiny paper cuts. Each one hurts a little but by the end of the day, your're a bloody mess." Wolfe's eyes got huge and they nodded vigorously. It feels amazing to be understood.

We used to be very casual with friends/family about getting Wolfe's name and pronouns correct, but we're not anymore. The feelings of delicate adults who are afraid of change don't trump my kid's feelings. It's harming them too much. We'll need to start making some tough decisions regarding those people who can't/won't attempt to understand them and love them for who they are. This kid doesn't always have to be the brave one.

I'm amazed by the resilience and power of this tiny person. In awe. Their courage and stamina, steadfastness, and ability to articulate who they are and what they need rivals most adults' I know. I wish they didn't have to be this brave, but here we are, for now. At least we're with them now so they don't have to do it alone.

Parenting them has never been easy, but this feels like a different kind of hard now. We're finally beginning to understand it's not our job to try to fix their behavior, it's our job to work on the reason they feel feel miserable enough to act that way. Loving them right means protecting them and helping them shape the world to make room for square pegs.

I hope to be able to get back into some writing now, and focusing on my stuff. There's a lot of healing to do.

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