Being Who I Want to Remember Myself as Having Been
Jake and I started the week by talking with our rabbi’s social justice class at a local college about what it’s like to be a transgender sixteen-year-old. I talked about what it’s like to be the mother of a transgender kid.
I told the class that one thing I have learned from being Jake’s — and his non-binary twin’s — mom is that if you approach the world with love, you will create many possibilities. If you approach it with fear — and I’ve done that, too — you find a lot of closed doors.
My kid and I ended the week with a visit to the Sidney J. Borum Health Center in Boston to meet with the medical director as a step in his transgender journey. The visit with the medical director was calm and routine compared to the rest of the trip.
First, the GPS completely avoided useful landmarks in its verbal directions and seemed oblivious to the fact that we were traveling below ground and not on the surface streets — we bought this GPS after Boston’s central artery tunnel was finished. As a consequence, when we should have headed toward South Station, which was plainly indicated on the numbered exit sign and should have been included in the GPS narrative, we took a wrong turn. Then we drove around in circles for 10 minutes while we followed the GPS directions. My kid’s iPhone got us on the right path, but our 15 minutes early had turned into 10 minutes late.
I was too focused on being late to figure out how to get to the parking garage, and I should have known that the parking spot in front of the building was too good to be true. But I jiggled our minivan into it anyhow because we were now more than 10 minutes late. There were 13 minutes on the meter, so I didn’t struggle with finding change to add time, and we ran into the building.
I had just enough time to fill out the paperwork and get my kid started with his appointment. I ran out of the building, put $1.25 in the meter, which gave us an hour, and wondered why the top of the meter was red. I looked for a written explanation, but between being severely nearsighted and farsighted I could see no writing on the meter. I even took off my glasses to peer closely. That must have looked pretty funny.
Back upstairs in the waiting room, my kid asked if I had moved the car, but he was called in to see the doctor before I could answer “no.” Then I got distracted trying to work while I waited and didn’t think about his question.
When we came out of the building more than an hour later (I guessed), the car, which I had parked at around 3:40, wasn’t there. Neither were any of the other cars. I considered the options for a minute, then went back into the building and told the security guard my car was missing. He confirmed my suspicion that the car had been towed. Now I knew what the meter’s red top meant: no parking here between 4 PM and 6 PM. Too bad it wasn’t written on the meter where I could see it.
I was oddly calm. That’s not right. For a second I was alarmed and afraid, maybe every negative emotion you can imagine. Now what do I do? Almost, what an idiot I am. Maybe I took a breath. Then I was calm.
Self-discipline is a wonderful thing. I chose to be who I would enjoy remembering myself to have been. I chose not to be who would feel unhappy in the moment and who I would regret having been. And then everything became an adventure.
I simultaneously asked the security guard how to get a cab, reached for my car keys, and silently laughed at myself.
As we walked to the curb, my kid noticed my timid attitude and said, “Don’t you know how to get a cab?” I quickly walked to the corner, lifted my hand in the air before he could take charge — he’s very controlling as a way to cope with anxiety — and said that I had never waved down a cab before in my entire life. Grinning, I flagged down the second cab we saw with just my dignified, raised arm.
When we arrived at the Boston Department of Transportation lot on Frontage Road — we had passed it earlier, and I was amused — I handed the cab driver a $20 and asked if he had change. He muttered politely about someone taking all his change earlier, but looked. The fare was $9.40, and he gave me two fives. And because he told the truth, I gave him a five back. I could have paid with a card and not given him a tip. Or not much of a tip.
The signs on the building were a bit cryptic to me. Weren’t we already at the back of the building? It sure looked like the back of a building. I walked around the right side to look for the back, but it was a dead end. Later, I checked Google Maps. We were definitely at the back of the building. I still wonder why the first line of the sign on the back of the building said to go to the back of the building to pay.
Inside, only one couple was in line. When it was my turn, I was polite to the cashier who had to search for the paperwork. By this time, my scratchy throat was turning into laryngitis, and he had as much trouble hearing me as I had hearing him through a metal speak-through grill. He wore his salt-and-pepper gray hair in a buzz cut and his trendy, thick, black-framed reading glasses on a cord. I was grateful that the fee was less than $100.
Outside, Jake took charge because he had read the signs pointing the way. We walked right by the front of the building — it didn’t register in the dark — to the car lot and up to a gate with a doorbell. Jake pressed the doorbell when the guard reading some papers didn’t look up after we stared at him. I didn’t hear a bell, and we waited awhile until Jake figured out that he hadn’t pressed the button hard enough. We were directed to row K back by the fence.
Jake got to the car first. He was eager to get home, pick up some friends, and go to the fall musical for his theater arts class assignment. Getting home would take a little while longer.
When I started the car and drove forward, we heard a scraping sound. I drove slowly toward the guard, who heard us coming and watched. I rolled down the window and asked him what to do. He told me to drive through the lot exit, go back into the building, and ask for help. I drove slowly around — what was that scraping sound — parked the car, and went in.
This time, several people were in line. I waited. The cashier didn’t look puzzled at my reappearance. Maybe he didn’t recognize me, or maybe it’s a common occurrence, or maybe he doesn’t judge. He went into a room, and told me to take a seat. Someone would be out to help me. I was tired by this point and happy to sit for a few minutes. For a second, I’m sure I must have wondered if I was about to be scammed. I practiced mindfulness. A blond-haired woman came out — OK, so her hair was dyed — and we went out to the car.
I didn’t see Jake sitting in the passenger seat. I said, “Where is he?” I experienced a fear that only an anxiety-prone mother with a kid recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital could feel. I opened the car door and looked around wild-eyed. He was crouched on the second row of seats wolfing down the food he had irritably rejected earlier because of his Raw-Till-Four diet. He saw how alarmed I was and sheepishly said that he was very hungry. I laughed.
The woman looked under the car near the tires, but she couldn’t see anything. I had done that too, and couldn’t see anything. I backed up the car so she could hear the scraping sound. She went to get a flashlight, looked under the middle front of the car, and said she would call someone. There was a lot of waiting involved between the flashlight and the call for help. The rain had stopped earlier. the moon was up. It was a nice night.
A flat-bed tow truck arrived, and a very tall, very black man wearing a jacket and knit cap got out. I backed the car up again, so he could hear the scrape. He asked me to turn off the car, and I felt pretty foolish that I hadn’t thought of that myself. He slid under the front of the car and looked around for awhile. He slid back out and said something about plastic hanging, tow trucks, a screw driver, and a screw. He slid back under the car and did some stuff that looked pretty challenging. Eventually he slid out and stood up, successful.
I looked at him, smiled, and said thank you. Then I took off my glove and reached out my hand to shake his. “My hands are dirty,” he said, “from under the car. “I don’t care,” I replied. We shook hands, and he gently squeezed my fingers. His hands were gigantic and gentle and warm and human. Men with lesser hands use that firm handshake that causes pain they don’t notice.
One part of myself spoke to another saying that he could have just been released from prison last week after serving time for manslaughter or some other crime. And another part said what does it matter? He just helped me, and I’m grateful.
I thought about being a white, sixty-year-old woman from the suburbs, wearing an expensive coat — bought in better times and at a steep discount from Rue La La. I thought about Trayvon Martin and Ferguson, Missouri. I thought about my transgender son and what might happen to him out in the world.
It costs nothing to act from a place of love. It costs nothing to love your kids, regardless of whether their gender is what you think it should be. What costs is not loving.