Yesterday I sat on the couch, in the living room of my future Mother-In-Law, whom I call by her first name but for the sake of this blog I refer to her simply as “Mom.” This has become an every Sunday ritual since December, when Laine moved his mother out of his home and into an independent living facility. (When you read that, don’t think Nursing Home, because it is NOT. This place is like the Ritz Carlton of independent living. They cook full meals for you, clean your apartment, there are social outings, game and movie nights, special events, they chauffeur you to the store, doctor’s appointments, Starbucks, etc. If I met the age requirement I would sign up for this place, no joke!) Every Sunday we visit mom, take her to lunch and make sure she has a minor stock of groceries in the pantry. (If I told you the weekly list you wouldn’t believe it, lets just say in the case of an apocalypse, she will be able to survive quite a long time on bread and jelly.)
A lot of people reading here might know that Laine is the primary caretaker for his mom, but I am fairly certain only a small few of you fully “get it” so let me start by explaining this part of the story. When Laine’s dad passed away, he made Laine promise to always take care of mom, and Laine has upheld that promise because Dad’s wishes mean everything to Laine. Initially that meant mom lived in Laine’s home and was underfoot 24/7. This arrangement was not ideal for a multitude of reasons, but it worked for a period of time. When Laine made key changes in his life last year, the decision to move mom into her own space was one of those necessary changes. This lightened some of the load on Laine and allowed him to return to HIS life for the most part.
From my personal point of view, I can’t imagine how 9 years of cohabitating allowed for any functioning. Within weeks of being together, mom was calling Laine at 12:15 at night, at quite the inopportune moment, asking WHY his car was not in the driveway. Please keep in mind here I am talking about fall of 2014, NOT 1979…Laine was 51 at the time! Along with incidents like this, Sunday morning happens once every 7 days, like clockwork. And like clockwork I see the effects…
The alarm goes off at 8am, and it begins…. coffee, shower, get dressed, and hope to goodness Laine picks up the phone to make the call before it rings at exactly 9:15 when mom wakes up from her morning nap (don’t ask.) The call always consists of the same (what time will you be here?) (It’s the same every week, approx. 11am) a brief grocery list (also the same every week) and her restaurant request for lunch (which varies between three options.) Then we continue to ready ourselves, and the kids, and get out the door by 10am, Laine stressing the entire process. His whole self is shut down and unrecognizable, except I have come to recognize him on these days, it’s his Sunday mood and I know and accept this now.
We arrive by 11, and if we are even a few minutes late the phone is ringing and will continue to do so until it is answered. (Where are you?) This only stresses Laine out more.
We pick mom up, head to lunch, accomplish groceries or errands and return to her apartment. Here we have time to pass, as mom gets slightly huffy if we leave early, although she typically entertains herself on her iPad while we pretend to watch whatever she has put on the TV.
Yesterday the two youngest children were with us. They were playing on the floor in front of us and Laine and I were sitting on the couch. I’m uncertain HOW the conversation started but I tuned in immediately when I heard mom using “Joyce” and “girl” while talking to the 5 year old. The child was using Laine, he and boy appropriately. Mom was arguing with the child!
Mom has been difficult on this topic since day one. As I addressed in another post, Laine has told her multiple times that he is man. Mom pushes back with “I gave birth to a girl” and refuses to address him as Laine. Even with all the children utilizing proper pronouns and name, mom won’t cave. Now here she is arguing with our 5 year old about it. REALLY??!?!?!! The kid gets it. The kid isn’t caving, and fortunately knows and understands as much as possible for a child her age.
Listening to this exchange, which we ended by signaling to the child she is correct and to let it go for now, gave me two things to think about. The first one being I cannot WAIT for the day we are in public and Laine has definitive facial hair (which is beginning to grow in areas already btw!!!) and mom introduces him as her daughter (which she likes to do.) The individual on the other end of this conversation is going to think mom is certifiably nuts!
My other thought came about as I listened to mom’s words while I sat on that couch. I watched Laine and the affects they had on him (which I bet he might try to deny, but I can read him, and I caught them.) Laine is a 52-year-old man. He is a grown adult, he has a successful career, he has a fiancé, we have kids, and we have a solid life. When mom sat there (this time and any other time in the past) and repeatedly stated, “SHE is a GIRL” “HER name is JOYCE” “You are NOT a man” “I DON’T have a son, I have a daughter” those words affected Laine. A 52 YEAR OLD ADULT, cut down at the knees by his mother, someone who should unconditionally love him…now imagine the impact of those words on a 15 year old youth, who can’t walk out of mom’s apartment and put her words aside for another week. A youth who is going through the same transition Laine is going though, the ups and downs, the emotional impact and sometimes struggle, the transition that requires support from others…and they have no choice but to repeatedly hear those words from their parent, meanwhile knowing how THEY feel and WHO they ARE! It frustrates and angers me to watch the impact these interactions have on Laine, someone I want to protect and whom I love so deeply. It breaks my heart to think about the impact an interaction similar to this must have on a youth.
This journey is emotional enough as it is. Parents, guardians, family should not be the ones making it any more difficult. I understand that they might not always understand, but they need to at least be cognizant of their words and the impact they can have. If they don’t understand, they should seek to change that, ask questions, join a support group, talk to the individual with an open mind and just for a minute put themselves aside. We are constantly telling the individual in transition “It is not always about you…” but those of us not on the journey need to remember it sure as hell is not always about us either! A mother’s words have the ability to push their child too far into that dark space. A father who refuses to recognize his daughter for who she is because she was labeled male at birth, has the ability to literally kill her with his words.
No wonder the homelessness and suicide rates are so high among the LGBTQ youth. If a woman, who relies solely on her adult child as her primary caregiver, can speak to that adult child in the way mom speaks to Laine, I can’t even imagine the interaction between an unsupportive mother and an underage youth. I can squeeze Laine’s hand and comfort him to remind him I am right there beside him and that mom’s words are unimportant and don’t change who he is. I can remind him that he doesn’t need her approval to be WHO he is because he is 52, grown, and she has NO grasp on his life. What I can’t do is make the words and the pain they cause go away. I can only do my best to counteract them, and then we’ll start all over again next week, because he promised Dad he would.
I can’t hug every individual who has had to face the damaging words from a family member and remind them that they do matter. I can’t give them each a space to be WHO they truly are, although I wish I had that ability and capacity. For anyone who might read this and is dealing with those words of non-acceptance, please know you DO matter. YOU are perfect as whomever you are, however you identify. You are loved and you are YOU whatever that looks like. Please don’t doubt yourself. I have heard the words from the outside and I watch the impact, and if they hurt to watch from out here, I can’t even imagine what they feel like in there.