Finding My Happiness Again

In the quest to find my authentic self, there has been been an additional goal:  to find my happiness.  Now 3 years into my transition, I am proud to have found my womanhood, my motherhood, and once again found my heart—all of which contribute to my happiness.

When I began questioning my gender, I was more depressed than I had ever been in my life (even though I was not admitting it to myself).  I had realized parts of my life’s dream.  I had found and married the love of my life.  I was the parent of two beautiful children.  Something was missing, though.  I was missing.

Growing up, I was full of emotions, empathy, and love.  While my family was fractured due to my parents’ divorce when I was two, my sense of family was strong.  On my mom’s side, I had… well, my mom, who was the most important person in my life.  As she raised me the best she could, she encouraged me to be accepting and respectful of all people.  She frequently expressed how much she loved me and how she would go to the ends of the Earth to make sure I was safe and healthy.  On my dad’s side, there was a large stereotypical Sicilian family headed by grandfather.  Holidays were always fun and loud, with 30 or more people crammed into a 2-bedroom apartment and a dinner table that extended into the living room.  Teasing, joking, and brutal honesty were the name of the game, but all comments were heartfelt and full of love.  Influenced from both sides, I developed a strong sense of family.  By extension, I treated friends as if they were family and gave most people the benefit of the doubt.

I was an emotional child.  I cried at movies.  I was super sensitive to having my heart broken.  I was easily taken advantage of as the nerdy, outcast kid.  I had very few romantic relationships, and even then, many bordered on the friend zone.  Still, I was happy being me—or so I thought.  College brought a different set of friends but also increased personal hardships.  My family broke apart further as the older set passed away.  My mom and I suffered a rift when I suddenly moved out of the house after being disqualified from school.  Eventually, I was on my own without a degree or a sense of purpose.

I eventually started turning my life around in my own time, but I effectively wasted 10 years doing before doing any real work on myself.  I found some happiness when I met the woman who would eventually be my wife.  She accepted me for who I was at the time.  She found my nerdiness endearing, my loyalty infectious, and my commitment to love irresistible.  She had strong connections to family, as well.  We were seemingly a good pair.  That pair resulted in the births of two amazing children.  I thought my life was turning around.  The dreams I had as a child were being realized.  I should have been realizing happiness, too.

But there was a hidden, unrealized dream.

The dream of being a woman was one that I feel was suppressed for most of my life.  I did not know when I was 3.  I did not know in school, the 10 years I wasted, or even after I started my own family.  I did not realize it until three years ago.  In hindsight, there were signs.  I missed them.  What was really missing, though, was a love for myself.  I had all of this love for my family, my friends, my children, my wife… but not for me.  The individuality I expressed as a child was muddled.  The emotions I once wore on my sleeve were now hiding behind emotional walls.  When my mom died, I thought it would be the most horrific moment of my life because we were so close to each other.  I barely cried.  I remained stoic, as I had with every other death I experienced in my lifetime.  That was not right.  That was not the real me.  I was lost and did not know it.

When I finally turned the focus on myself, I began to see these things.  I missed the emotional, loving person I was as a child.  I also came to see that unrealized dream I had not even known was there.  Transition made sense.  Identifying as a woman made sense.  My head and my heart read woman—emotional, sensitive, loving, empathetic—the same as my child self.  My jealousy of my wife and her pregnancies made sense.  My desire to want everything a bride wanted at my wedding made sense.  The emotional ties to my children were more motherly than fatherly in my mind.  This is who I was supposed to be all along.

Transition has opened my eyes to my true self.  Living as the authentic me has brought out the woman, the mother, the person I was meant to be.  I am full of love and emotion that I am free to express and not wall off to the world.  I am not depressed because of who I am or what I represent.  I am a woman.  I am a mother.  I am loving, accepting, and wanting more.  I am happier.  I am me.

Of course, life challenges still exist.  Financial, career, and relationship problems are squarely in my purview and need addressing.  But I am once again on the path to dreaming, for that is what I truly am:  a dreamer.

Dreaming of Recaptured Wedding Bliss

The dreamer in me appreciates the idealism, joy, and love I witnessed at the wedding I attended yesterday.  I cannot help but think back to my own wedding nearly nine years ago, and how I want to recapture the love of that day.

I have vivid memories of the intricate details of my wedding on a warm August day that began with my wife and I going to a Toys R Us for the express purpose of buying a whiffle ball & bat for pictures.  I had mani/pedis and my hair done with the bridal party, and I even waxed my eyebrows for the first time.  I remember being at the park, and spying on our friends & family, as we ran five minutes late for the ceremony and my bride got ready in another room.  I walked down the aisle with my mom, because even though our wedding occurred pre-transition, I still wanted to walk down the aisle like a bride.  I even had my own music.  During the ceremony, our unity candle would not light because of the wind (we had contingency ceremony text for that possibility), and the laying on of hands we added to our ceremony was a special touch.  I was given keys to my wife’s aunt’s house in Florida in case we wanted to use the house on the honeymoon—you know, the one my wife did not know we were taking until we were at the airport later in the week.  Our cake was lopsided; our song was “At Last.”  We took pictures of the bridal party on a baseball diamond with the whiffle ball and bat we had purchased in the morning.  And as we traveled home after a long party, I remember our truck breaking down on the freeway, and us awkwardly opening gifts as we waited for the tow truck to arrive.  The details are clear in my partially photographic mind.  The day was truly special.  A framed picture from that day still hangs prominently in our living room.

We were truly in love.  My wife and I vowed to be newlyweds for five years after our wedding.  We were going to beat the odds and not fall out of love no matter the challenges.  We would hold on to everything we held dear about each other.

The thought was nice.

About a year after our wedding, the newlywed bliss ended around the time my wife became pregnant with our first child.  She had an incredibly difficult pregnancy complete with neverending morning sickness and dehydration.  During labor, she had a tear that needed emergency fixing.  Breastfeeding was a problem, as the baby did not want to consistently latch.  The stresses built up, as did our debt.  Reality set in, and the challenges really started to hit us.  The repercussions of those challenges and how we dealt with them are still felt in small parts today.  A second child, careers shifts, and now my transition, and we are on the brink of disaster as a married couple.  Neither of us wear our wedding rings anymore.

While we are in a wildly different place than we were nine years ago, some things do not change.  The idealistic love I have—that I yearn so deeply for—still fills my heart.  I still love and want to be loved as wholeheartedly as I loved and was loved on my wedding day.  Watching our friends get married yesterday made me both ecstatic and sad.  I am so incredibly happy for the them.  One half of the couple told me she was have the most amazing day of her life, and I was happy with her.  Then, I watched the couple dance, kiss, and gaze into each other’s eyes, just as I did with my wife on our wedding day.  That pureness—that joy—cannot be replicated.  I cannot express how much I miss those moments and wish they could be mine again.

Yesterday when I left for work, my wife told me that she loved me.  I had not heard those words from her in a long time, and they immediately made me smile, even if she could not see my reaction.  I do not know why she said it in that moment.  I did not ask her.  I can only presume she meant it honestly and to make me feel good.  I miss the days when that was a regular thing.  A kiss before we separated.  An “I love you” out the door.  An “I missed you” when we reconnected.  Now, we don’t even dance together at our friends’ wedding.  There used to be days when we would dance in the living room without any music.

Love exists between us.  It will never fully erase itself, but it will never be like it was on our wedding day.  I am a woman now, and that is not what she married.  I do not know how to move on.  I want to find the love of that day all over again.  I want another chance to be newlyweds for five years.  Instead, I do not even know if we will celebrate our anniversary in any meaningful way.

I hold on to the past; I must love in the future.  Someday, I want to reconnect with that wedding bliss—that total and complete joy—and to do it in a wedding dress.  Since that will not come in a re-commitment ceremony, I must find a way to open myself up to another.  I have so much love still to give.  I hope there is someone out there willing to receive my love and offer their undying love in return.

Congratulations to my friends.  I am truly happy for the two of you—even if I am simultaneously jealous of what you have right now.

Finding, Losing, and Re-finding My Own Independence

As we celebrate Brexit 1776, I look back at how transition has forced me to begin re-finding my own independence that I once had and gave away.

For a vast majority of my life, I have been very independent (for better or worse).  As an only child raised by a working single mom, I was thrown into adult situations early in life, and I trusted to be on my own for hours each day.  By second grade, I was a latchkey kid.  I wore a key on a cord around my neck.  The school bus would drop me off a block-and-a-half away from my house.  I would walk home and let myself in.  At some point, my mom would call (with a coded ring in the landline days) to ensure I made it home safely while she continued to work.  At that age, independence was short-lived.  When mom came home, she took control.

My mom gave me latitude to make my own choices under her watchful eye.  I did not really test those limits to great extent.  Like any teen, I was challenged when I did something stupid.  I believe there were a a few things I got away with that she may have known about but never questioned because I was allowed to make mistakes and learn from them.  Still, she kept careful tabs on me, and “no” was a frequent answer, so while I thought I might have been free to do what I wanted, I really was never as free as I would have liked.  I asked permission for almost everything.  I was a dutiful, non-wild child.

Going off to college was the first time I really had total independence over my actions and choices.  My academics suffered, as did my life.  I made several negative choices that affected me for a long time.  At one point, I effectively put my life on hold for a year.  The better part of my 20s was spent trying to right the ship I had self-sabotaged.  However, while I was struggling to advance my life, I had complete control.  I planned well; it was the execution of those plans that lacked a bit.  Still, I was independent and free.  By the end of my 20s, I was finally making better choices and overcoming the obstacles I had put in my own way.  During that time, I met the woman who become my wife.

Married life brought changes—and co-dependency.  The two of us were very independent people before we met each other, but we intertwined out lives so much that we became to heavily rely on each other.  She is clinically depressed, and when I became depressed myself a few years ago, that co-dependency caused many problems, even though I denied such a situation existed at the time.  I eventually became so depressed that I began to evaluate how I got to that point.  That self-evaluation is when the idea that I might be transgender began to make a lot of sense.

I have been transitioning three years now, and with that, I have found out a few things.  By finding the authentic me, I have gained back much of the control over my body that I had denied myself for a lifetime.  I am so much more comfortable in my body as it changes into what it always should have been, and when I complete facial feminization surgery next month, I will be that much closer.  GRS, which is likely several years away, will hopefully finalize that piece of the puzzle.  As independent as I thought I had always been, I was not really free of myself until I began transition.  It was like being released from a prison I never really knew I was in.

However, the co-dependency of my marriage remains.  I love my wife with all of my heart.  I do not want to lose her.  The circumstances of our situation, though, do not benefit either of us (or our children) in the long-run.  Ultimately, we cannot sustain this relationship, and the longer we remain together, the less independent either of us will end up.  To be the best versions of ourselves, we must separate.  I cry about that inevitability.  It is what stops me from seriously dating others.  Separation would allow or more freedom for the both of us.  I envy those who have transitioned with partners that remained by their sides and were able to maintain that love for each other.  My story will not end that way, and that is understandable.  I cannot make her stay if she is not attracted to me.  Still, the logistics of separating are daunting.  We are both scared.  Transition has scarred us both, and those wounds may not heal for quite sometime.  At least I get the benefit of freeing my body and my personality, but we both end up in an unfulfilling relationship.

Transition has brought me new independence.  My body and my mind are free.  I am able to be the authentic me, and that is truly liberating.  On the flip side, transition unofficially put the nail in the coffin of my marriage, which was once a bedrock of my life.  I dreamed of being married, starting a family, and living the rest of my life in love.  Had I not felt the need to transition, maybe I could have had all of those things on the surface.  The problem is that I would not have loved myself, and that, in and of itself, is a wasted life.  Transition has taught me to love and appreciate myself as much as I love and appreciate others.  That is a huge win.  It comes with a the huge loss of shattering the rest of my dreams (and hers).

My 20s were largely wasted because of newfound independence.  My 30s were about building a loving family while voluntarily ceding that freedom.  My 40s will be about regaining that independence, learning to love myself, and attempting to redefine the family dynamics as my transition winds down.  I found myself.  Now, I need to re-learn how to live by myself (and my children).

Love Still Hurts After Three Years of Transition

I am deeply empathetic.  I also love deeply.  It is the hopeless romantic inside me that has always been there no matter my gender.  However, the ability to love wholeheartedly comes with a price.

Today marks three years since I began my transition—three years since I told my wife I was having “gender issues.”  I am a much more complete and happier person that I was at the start of this journey.  I am a better parent.  I am a better friend.  I wish I could be a better partner.

I have written extensively in this space about my relationship with my wife.  We have moved from an extremely hostile and adversarial place to one of mutual friendship and effective co-mothers.  We continue to live together and raise our children, mainly bound by necessity, as neither of us have the financial support to live on our own.  We no longer fight about my transition, and she supports me even when I talk of life-altering surgeries.  I continue to support her efforts to advance in her career path.  While we are not perfect, we have always done fairly well supporting each other.  We make a good pair, but ultimately, we are doomed for failure.

As recently as two weeks ago, she reiterated her desire for a divorce.  She is not happy being with me because I cannot provide for her needs.  Primarily, that comes down to the fact that she is not attracted to women, and by extension, me.  She did not marry a woman; she is not a lesbian.  She would rather be alone than in a sexless marriage.  As much as it hurts to think about, her reasoning is sound.  If she is not attracted to me, how can I be a good partner for her?

Further, she states she is not able to fulfill all of my needs.  That is a little harder for me to accept because I am not really sure what my needs are these days.  We have been together over 11 years and married almost nine years.  Despite all of the major changes and tumultuous times, I still love her.  I love her deeply and with all of my heart.  Can she fulfill all of my needs?  I do not know.

There are so many things that remind me of what we had.  Music, movies, memories.  Our children.  I reminisce about our happier times (we did have them!).  I miss the shared jokes, the intimacy, the cuddling.  I miss the “I love you”s, the hugs, the shared dreaming.  I always contended that despite my transition, I was essentially the same person.  My ability to love, empathize, and support remained unchanged.  These are the parts of me she truly loved.  I was never that physically attractive as a man.  My main selling points were what was beneath the surface:  intelligence and heart.  Estrogen has not taken those things away.  I am still smart and full of love.  I think that is what makes the concept of divorce so challenging to me.  I believe I have a lot to offer—the same things I offered at the beginning.

What has changed is my physical appearance and how I present to the world.  Those are not minor things.  I understand that.  I just wish that love was enough.  I wish I was enough for her.

I cry when I think of the special moments we have shared.  I cry when I watch characters in TV and movies resolve the challenges in the relationships to come together again.  I frequently draw parallels between fictional stories and my own.  That makes me sad because I love my wife, my children, and my marriage.  The problem is that I feel myself shifting back into a mindset where I think I might be able to attain the impossible:  Keeping my marriage.  That is a dangerous realm to live in, though, because as long as she does not want me, it does not matter how much I want to stay.  Marriage and relationships take two, and without both of us invested, there is no relationship.

In those moments I snap back to reality, I think about the possibility of dating.  Part of me is anxious to meet someone who will accept me as a woman and be attracted to me for all parts of me.  At the same time, I am reluctant to dip my toe in that pool because I cannot fully detach myself from the memories.  I just love and care too much.  That would be an attractive quality for anyone—or so I thought.

If I cannot overcome resolve this stagnant situation and stop looking into the mirror of the past, life will move on without me, and I will be unprepared for the future.  My wife is only about a year from a major career move, which could include a location move.  Our finances our stretched super thin.  We will be forced to make big decisions sooner than later regarding our futures, and as much as I would like that future to be shared, I must get my head out of the clouds and prepare for a separated life.  It makes me cry just thinking about that, though.

I love my wife.  I love my children.  I love my family.  I wish love was enough.

Celebrating a Milestone Birthday on Vacation in the Face of Uncertainty

I turned the Big 4-0.  I’m not happy about that, but I am a happier person overall since transitioning.  While on a family vacation, I am reminded that while my family supports me, there is a limit and a continued uneasiness that lies under the surface of that support.

In October 2015, I wrote a piece about how I was grieving my marriage.  At the time, I had just determined that I needed to live the rest of my life as a woman, and I went full-time three months later.  In order for me to take that giant step, I had to resolve that my relationship with my wife was effectively over without any kind of reconciliation.  I realized I needed to give up on the idea of staying together if I was going to be able to become my authentic self.

Since then, I have taken some steps to become more independent and separated from the person with which I still awkwardly share a bed.  I allowed myself to be be wooed (to varying levels) by two different women.  I tried not to be angry when my wife reconnected once again with her best friend of 20 years who has always been a toxic influence on her life.  I have tried to create a little distance knowing that we are not meant to be together in the long-term.  However, neither of us rush out to file divorce papers.

Since I went full-time, my wife’s level of support of me has been exponentially stronger.  She had defended me in public and in private.  She has encouraged me to pursue surgeries (one of which is only 2 months away!).  She has allowed me to embrace the title of Mom with the children.  When I wrote that entry about grieving my marriage, these are things I never thought I would be writing about today.  In the last 1 1/2 years, we have taken huge strides in repairing our friendship.  In my opinion, we make a great team, even if she does not find me attractive anymore.  This growth and new bonding has made me question whether or not we could survive together as a non-sexual couple buoyed by mutual love and respect.  I have allowed myself to fall back into a comfortable place I once felt when things were better between us.  By doing so, I am fooling myself.  Things simply cannot be that way, and that reminder was soundly presented to me this evening.

I am on vacation with my family in Orlando.  We are here 10 days to primarily visit family in the area.  We are also taking the time to visit the magical Walt Disney World and to celebrate my 40th birthday.  That was not always the plan, though.  Back in January, my wife’s aunts began planning a trip out here for February that only involved my wife and children–not me–all without asking me.  It was very rushed and felt secretive, and ultimately I felt like my children were going to be taken away from me involuntarily for a week.  The thought of that crushed me.  Because of some technical issues with the booking of flights, the trip was postponed to June, and alternatively the family travelled to Washington State to see my wife’s father.  To avoid conflict, I was invited on both trips, so I would not be forcibly separated from the children.

Washington went fairly well.  Her father and stepmother frequently travel to our area, so they are well-acquainted with me at this point.  The Floridians, however, took a defensive position when I transitioned and staunchly supported my wife.  They influenced her to move to the East Coast.  They nearly cut off communication to me.  While they have seen pictures and followed my transition on Facebook, they are still uneasy about my presence, and so I naturally bring tension to the current situation by no real fault of my own.  In addition to two aunts, my wife’s grandmother lives out here, and—as Murphy’s Law would have it no other way—she shares my birthday.  Grandma is in her 80s; her health is poor.  This may be the last time my children get to spend time with her.  However, she is old school and completely against my transition.

I came out to Florida fully willing to share my birthday, to show respect and extend an olive branch in an uneasy situation.  The plan:  My birthday would be celebrated at a breakfast, while her birthday would be celebrated at a dinner later that night.  My wife chose to keep my breakfast closed to just me, herself, and our children.  Dinner was to be an all-family affair.  The night before it was to all happen, the plans changed.  Grandma was now requesting only my wife’s presence without myself or the children.  This behavior upset me greatly, as I felt the move was a premeditated, disingenuous act.  My wife decided to agree, and after all of my day was done, our immediate family was separated, while my wife and her family could talk about me while I was unable to speak for myself.

It’s not that I do not trust my wife to defend and support me, but at the same time, this was the first time in a long time that I felt that support fade away.  She chose to allow me to be excluded in a situation where we could have presented a united front demonstrating that we have been working well together.  Instead, my wife did not see that opportunity.  While she felt I had a right to be upset by the changes, she chose to walk out that door and wish me “Happy Birthday” while leaving me alone to babysit our children in our hotel room.  When she returned, she could not understand why I had been stressed and upset while she was gone.

The conversation that resulted was a tough one.  She reminded me that she still wanted a divorce.  She complimented me in the sense that she felt we make a great co-parenting team and that she wants me to be nearby when she eventually is offered a job in the future (probably over a year away).  However, that is as far as she would go.  The tone was different than the cooperative and friendly tone I had started to which I had become accustomed.  She was redrawing the same lines she had drawn before:  a future divorce due to unhappiness with me and our situation.  Her taking the kids when she moves.  Following this talk, I fear an ultimatum and a child custody fight in our future.  That is something I certainly want to avoid.  Our children mean to the world to each of us individually.  They keep us safe and alive.  They are a reason to live and a reason to love.  From my prospective, my children are why I did not attempt suicide when I was in my darkest moments.  My attachment and love for them was why my fight to be called Mom was so important to me.  It is why I am on this vacation instead of allowing my children to travel 3,000 miles away without me.  It’s not that I do not trust my wife to take care of them.  It is that they are an essential part of me.  She feels similarly.  She reiterated tonight that she would die without her children.  If we are not to stay together, then there will be some extremely difficult negotiations ahead at some unpredictable time.

Part of what made this conversation difficult was because I care too much for someone that ultimately does not want to be my partner.  I thought I had grieved our marriage.  I thought I had moved on, but I have not.  I have misinterpreted her increased friendship and support as symbols of love—a love that simply is not there for me anymore.  I have allowed myself to slip and become dependent on this relationship again.  However, doing so will set me up for failure and increased personal pain.  I feel I need to grieve some more, separate some more.  How can I when my love is still there?  I can suppress those feelings but then I am the one being disingenuous.

An uncertain future faces me.  The decisions and events of the next year or two will determine the fate of my life, my wife’s life, and the lives of our children.  My 40th birthday was filled with Disney magic (and even some Universal enjoyment), but I will always yearn for the magic my wife and I once had.  It is so difficult to let go.  I thought I cleanly broke that dependency a year ago.  I was sorely mistaken, and now I do not know what to do about it.

This vacation will go on, and I will continue to be my authentic self in front of the family.  I hope they will begin to accept me a little more, but I am also not hear to twist arms.   I am not holding out hope that Grandma will see the light, but I am not going to alter my being for them.  I will continue to love on my children and respond to “Mom.”  I will wear a cute dress, which is my definitive style.  I will be me.  Thankfully, I have not been asked to act differently around the family.  We shall see how this goes.

The hamster wheel in my head will turning, though, as I start my 40s in an uneasy place.  I grieved, but it was incomplete.  I slipped and became complacent.  I will need to grieve again and ask myself another time:  If not this marriage, what do I want?

Officially, Mom!

I have been full-time nearly 1 1/2 years.  Since coming out to my children, they have called me Amma.  That parental title was never enough for me.  Now, I am Mom, and I could not be more elated.

When I came out to my children just before I came out, my wife and I fought extensively over my parental title.  I had a strong pull to take a maternal title; she was having none of it.  I wrote extensively about how important parental title is to an identity (specifically my own), and for a long time, I was forced to accept a compromise title:  Amma.  It was the closest title to a maternal title she would allow, and it is all my children have called me for awhile.   Each time I heard that name, it never felt quite right, and when the kids recently started morphing her title from Mama to Mom, I began to feel physical pain, as that was the title to which I truly felt connected.

Recently, I asked my son why he was beginning to call Mama “Mom” more often.  He said he was trying it out even thought he knew I wanted to be called Mom.  My daughter, also in the car at the time, immediately wanted to call me Mom, and started in with “I love you, Mom!”  My heart fluttered, but I was immediately worried what the end result of that interaction would be.  What would happen when she tried to call me Mom in front of my wife?  So, I told my daughter, “If you want to call me Mom, you really need to talk to Mama about that first.”  Then, I braced for impact and a potential angry e-mail or fight.

A few days later, the entire family dropped off my wife at work as we usually do.  The children told my wife that they loved her, then my daughter turned to me and said, “I love you, Mom!  Mama?  Can I call Amma ‘Mom’?”  Here we go, I thought.  After a momentary pause, my wife did not flash any anger.  No impulsive reactions.  She simply said, “Yes.”  For the next twenty minutes, I was shocked by what had just transpired.  Did that just happen?  I was somewhere between crying, joy, and disbelief.  When I got home, I texted my wife:  “Did you just give the children permission to call me Mom?”  She responded that she had indeed done that.  She also revealed that for the past few weeks, she had been working with the kids behind my back to slowly transition into that new title for me.  It was intended to be a Mother’s Day gift, but the beans were spilled a little early.  And then, I breathed a sigh of relief as a new dawn began, and I was able to allow my daughter to freely tell me, “I love, you, Mom!”

While my daughter immediately transitioned into that title, my son took a little longer.  However, it only took him a couple of weeks to drop the Amma moniker, and now it;s all Mom for me.  There have been bumps and corrections (my wife is trying not to respond to “Mom” as she used to), and now we are beginning to settle into the roles of Mama & Mom on a regular basis.

Last year, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day, and it was a little tense and awkward.  This year, we more comfortably shared the holiday.  My wife even promised she would “win” Mother’s Day—and she did.  The family bought me a Pandora-inspired charm bracelet with five charms that totally suit me and my personality, including one that is a heart with the word “Mom” on one side.

I credit my wife with doing a lot of work to get to this point.  For a long time, she maintained that I would never be our children’s mother.  Now, she is trying very hard to show that she can share that title with me and that we can co-exist in this role.  I know that making this change is not comfortable for her, but I cannot thank her enough for making the effort and acknowledging how important this particular parental title means to me.

My son even brought home two Mothers Day art projects he made at school, one for Mama and one for Mom.  While it meant he had double the work than the rest of his classmates, he was super excited to share them with us.  So much love!

Being able to freely express myself as a mother and to be called Mom by my children and the world is the best gift I could have received.  This move helps validate immensely important pieces my identity and my womanhood.  I feel more complete, and the love of my children will never waiver.  I feel like a mom.  Now, my children can officially call me one.

Love & Family at Christmastime Through the Years

Growing up, I have had a long and varied history when it comes to Christmas.  From big celebrations to quiet dinners and everything in between, one theme has always been constant:  Love and family.  This year, as my world continues to change in the shadow of my transition, I approach a Christmas unlike any other, as the instability of my family and the resolve of my heart balance on a razor-thin wire.

My parents divorced when I was two, and so my earliest Christmas memories frequently involve waking up on Christmas morning to a wide range of presents that my single mom (and Santa) had placed under and around our tree.  Not that I appreciated it as a young child, but my mom tried so hard to make each of my Christmases special.  She overcompensated and spent money she did not really have to make my holiday special because we were by ourselves.  One of my earliest Christmas memories was waking up in our small cottage to a living room full of gifts, all for little old 5-year-old me.  A Big Wheel was my big gift that year.  What I did not realize at the time was that she was not just showering me with gifts because I was her only child.  She did that to make my Christmas memorable at a time when we had very little to celebrate.  This demonstration was likely her way of trying to show me how much she loved me despite a lack of resources.

My mom and I were incredibly close.  So, when she went to New York by herself for Christmas when I was 8-years-old, I was crushed.  I stayed at a friend’s house for 2 weeks, and it was like being in a whole new world.  The first night I stayed at his house, were supposed to sleep in bunk beds in my friend’s room, but I cried because I missed my mom.  We relocated to the living room, where I was given the couch, and my friend slept on the living room floor.  This calmed me because the living room had a large bay window.  Every night, I would stare out the window in to the night and look at the stars.  I would think about how my mom was looking at the same stars in New York, and we were somehow connected that way.  In this way, I was with my mom for Christmas.  To this day, I still wish upon stars when I am separated from close friends and family and blow kisses into the night sky hoping they will travel through the stars to those I am separated from.

On another Christmas when I was about 9, we traveled to my mom’s sister’s house in a remote Northern California town near Mt. Shasta.  I always enjoyed spending time with my cousins.  However, that Christmas, Santa left me a note saying my presents were waiting for me at home.  Also, both my mom and I were gifted with an ugly illness which forced us home and drugged out on a half codeine-half cough syrup prescription watching rented movies while laying miserably in my mom’s bed.  In mutual agony, we made the best of a bad situation, and I still remember the post-Christmas movie marathon to this day.

My dad was not entirely absent.  He lived about 20 miles away, and in later years, I began to spend the first half of my winter breaks with him.  That side of my family was a stark contrast to the relatively isolated world of my mom and I.  My father was adopted into an Italian family, and like any Italian family, holidays were an event.  Christmas was no different.  They were loud, boisterous, crowded… and fun.  My grandma and grandpa hosted about 20 family members each year, and we all crowded in to a tiny kitchen and living room in their apartment.  The family would play seemingly neverending games of 31, my unfiltered aunts & uncles would comment on my appearance and my life, and my half-brother (who lived with my dad and whom I have always just referred to as my brother) would tease me like any older brother would.  We would gorge on a huge spread of home cooked food.  Typical Italian Christmas.

What ties the two sides of my family together were love and family.  With my mom, we had an extremely tight-knit bond full of love and respect.  For 18 years, she was my world until I went off to college.  She celebrated me in times of achievement; she cried with me in times of great sadness.  And while that seems like par for the course for a mother, she brought intangibles tot he table that are too extensive for me to get into here.  Suffice to say, she shaped my early experience like no other.  She was my immediate family.  With my dad, I had the extended family.  We did not share the same emotional bond that I had with mom, but he showed me the importance of family in the greater sense.  The experiences I had—especially at the holidays—could not have been more diametrically opposed, but together, they helped me balance the importance of love and family.

In my later years, the world shifted.  I have lost my mom.  My dad has moved several hours away.  I no longer have any living grandparents, and the days of the loud Italian Christmases faded when grandpa passed away.  Despite the fracturing and loss of my family, the ideas I have revolving around love and family have continued to be important to me.  I have had many a sad Christmas, especially in my early to mid 20s, when I did not have a lot of direction in my life and I was struggling with school.  However, when I met the person who would become my wife, my connection with love and family found a new home with her.

As a romantic and with our nearly instant connection, I loved my wife with all of my heart.  Our first Christmas together came just two months after our first date.  That year, I have memories of taking her to see The Nutcracker after an epic night of finals, and going to a performance Cirque du Soleil on a cold December night in San Francisco.  We spent that Christmas apart, but early on, her family embraced me as a member of their family.  By the following Christmas, I once again had a large table to sit at my wife’s mom & stepdad’s house.  On her dad’s side, her aunt would later conspire with me to arrange a surprise honeymoon which involved crashing at her house in Florida, even though she had never physically met me prior to our wedding.  Later that year, we spent that Christmas in Florida with both of my wife’s aunts.

My wife and I began to build our own Christmas traditions.  Up until last year, we made it a point to make crêpes each Christmas for breakfast.  We always select and decorate our tree as a family.  We frequently take a holiday photo together.  And when our daughter was born just days before Christmas, we were lucky enough to wake up as a family of four on Christmas morning instead of being stuck in a hospital.  I have a really cute photo of my 2-day old daughter sleeping in a stocking that I will always remember.

My wife and I have been together for 11 years.  We have had many a Christmas where we have had to travel to sick family members. We have traveled to other family members’ dinners.  We have had quiet Christmases at home.  What ties them altogether is the love we have shared for each other and the fact that no matter the hardships, we have been together as family.  With my transition, the last two Christmases have been the most challenging of them all.  Two years ago, there was plenty of raw anger still present in the house.  Last year, I was on the verge of coming out to the world as transgender.  In fact, I came out to my kids just shy of the new year.  In spite of the polarized emotions of the last two Christmases, we held it together as a family, and we continued to celebrate with most of our traditions and provided the children with the best experiences we can provide.  Much like my mom did, I want the best for my children, and while we have to get creative to make it work, I want my children’s Christmas experiences to be as positive as possible while hiding the problems in the background.

This year, I do not know what to expect.  As Christmas approaches this year, my heart and mind are strained.  My wife and I have come a long way in rebuilding our friendship and our overall relationship, but huge questions still loom over us.  Just this week, we had a discussion on the uncertainty that faces us.  On one hand, we need freedom and space from each other.  On the other, we are still family, and at least for me, there will always be love in my heart for her.  I told her I loved her in a birthday card I wrote for her this week.  Even if and when we go our separate ways, that is not a feeling I can just ignore.  She will always be a part of my heart, and she will always be family.  We continue treating this holiday like any other (except for the complication of Christmas falling on a Sunday this year).  We will continue the tradition of buying and decorating a tree together.  We will celebrate our daughter’s birthday ahead of and separate from Christmas.  We will exchange thoughtful gifts.  Sadly, crêpes probably won’t happen.  (I was sad when that tradition was broken.)

My Christmases past has been wildly uneven, but love and family continue to be central themes in my life, even in the face of uncertainty.  I do my best as a mother to provide a memorable Christmas for my children.  I do my best as a wife (as long as I am one) to celebrate as much as I my partner is emotionally accepting of my love.  For myself, I must remind myself that even though I have changed many things about my life, there are some things that remain the same.  I am still a loving person with a big heart.  I am still worthy of both giving and receiving love and warmth.  In good Christmases and bad, those have always been there.  As a child, my mom was a shining example of these traits, and even in trying times, she did her best.  She taught me well.  Even as my family situation becomes more fluid and my heart’s resolve is challenged, my core beliefs of the importance of love and family remain, and I will do my best to enjoy this Christmas season, even if I do cry every now and then.