Category Archives: parenting

When Light and Joy Changes (into Light and Joy)

It began with a phone call from a second grade teacher.

Well, perhaps it began with hand-me-down boxer briefs. Or, more probably, it began at conception.

But I get ahead of myself, my part in this drama began with a phone call.

“Um, hi, Ms Foote, I need to touch base with you about what happened in class today.”

Well, this is probably not going to be good.

“Lucia asked if she could share something at morning meeting. She wanted the class to know that she is ‘gender fluid and does not want to be called Lucia but L.G.’ (her initials), also, we should be using he/him pronouns. I told her I would have to call you first. I wasn’t even sure what she meant by gender fluid. What would you like me to do?”

“I guess you’ll have to tell the class to use a new name and pronouns.” Was my ever so calm reply. At which point, I hung up the phone and proceeded to freak out.

When the child got home, I engaged him in a way that was not at all graceful but, in fact, was a lot confused and a little hysterical. I may have raised my voice. I am certain that we both cried. We concluded by decamping to our separate corners of the house.

I went to Facebook (as you do) and publicly declared my epic parenting fail. I asked for an intervention. My dear and wonderful friends began making suggestions and introductions. I now know so many more dear and wonderful folks. The community rallied. I found people who let me ask stupid, intrusive, and probably offensive questions and I received a real education. I was awesome, humbling, beautiful, difficult…

The next morning, before school, I regrouped and charged in  “So you prefer he/him?” “yep” “And no more Lucia?” “uh huhn”

“Why didn’t you say something before? (!!!!!)”  “Well, I knew it wasn’t gonna change anything at home. Right?”

Oh. Oh…   So, maybe not failing after all. Because it’s not really going to change anything at home. Right?  Kids are so wise.

School was attended. Announcements were made. Parents were overwhelmingly supportive. Second graders mostly just didn’t care. Second graders are surprisingly flexible about big things.

Weeks later a sty found us visiting our pediatrician at the school health clinic. Our wonderful school nurse got there first; so that when we checked in our pediatrician already knew what name to use and what pronouns is preferred.She asked no intrusive questions, just one verifying one “So you prefer to be called Luca now, is that right?”

And then on with the show!  An exam of the offending eye, some antibiotics, and one small child was happily off to class.

I stayed after and talked to the PCP. She referred me to some groups and told me where to go to read more. She told me to call the office if I had any questions. She told me I was doing a good job.

At some point in the following weeks our beloved Nurse Practitioner called me at home. You see, she had taken it upon herself to pull my kid’s chart, and while she was at it, she perused his older sister’s as well. The question of “when do the women in your family enter puberty?” wasn’t even on my radar. Early, the answer is early. And early means that if your transgender son is 9, you had best be thinking ahead.

Referrals were made. Luca got to meet the new members of his team on the opening day of the new University of Vermont Medical Center Trans Youth Program. They were amazing. Informative, patient, reassuring…

Names had to be sorted ( what a process that has been!) Lucia-L.G.-Luc-Luca. Wardrobes edited. Hair cut. Siblings reasoned with.

It’s not been super easy. Not everyone is supportive. There will always be mean people, cruel people. Navigating school bureaucracy has been challenging.

But it hasn’t been super hard either. We had in place, and are continuing to build, a vibrant, diverse, knowledgeable, and compassionate group of friends. Luca’s friends and their parents have been supportive and encouraging. Our church family has been embracing and loving. And our medical providers have been respectful and proactive. I feel so grateful to live in this lovely little bubble of tolerance that is Burlington, Vt.

The journey continues! I so look forward to seeing what will be. This child was all light and joy on the day that she was born, and he is still light and joy today – no hiding under bushels for us.


Some words about advocacy:

The best things that friends and community members have done for us have been simple. Ask lots of respectful questions. Try your best to new names and pronouns right but don’t freak out when you misstep (my kid can tell when you’re trying and he’s pretty forgiving). Give us real, honest feedback – friends communicate even when it’s hard. Most important, just remember that this is the same kid and we are the same family that we all were before, it’s just a gender not a personality.

Health Care Providers:

Make sure your notes are clear, you wouldn’t want to be called the wrong name by your doctor.

Think ahead, you know more about this than your patient’s parents. We need as much information as possible, we don’t know what we don’t know.

Talk to my kid with respect. Small does not mean unintelligent and 9 year olds need to understand and consent to their health care too.

Be encouraging, tell parents that they are doing a good job or where they can improve. Normalize the situation so we don’t feel so isolated and unsure.

The best tools we have in this life are each other.


Person First Language… An Ode to Incindiary T-Shirts

Yesterday I wore one of my very favorite t-shirts. It says “Autistic Kids ROCK”.

Now, I love this shirt for several reasons, foremost among them: I love a pun!

But, even better yet, it engenders the most fascinating reactions. While positive commentary is always nice, the negative reactions are FABULOUS. Because, let’s face it, if a stranger disagrees with your t-shirt enough to comment on it in public, you get to know exactly where they stand. And sometimes, in rare and beautiful moments, you get to have a dialogue where everyone grows a little.

Now, it so happens, that while running errands in said shirt, with two autists in tow, our cashier at Rite-Aid just couldn’t help himself.
“I LOVE your shirt!” says he.
“But… well… shouldn’t it really say ‘kids with autism’?”
My Jules was super quick with the “yeah, no”.
So here we are, in a super crowded store, where I have the opportunity for a teaching moment (and enough purchases to take the time without fellow shoppers attempting to stone me) and my kid has basically insisted that I get in it. So, *deep breath*

“We don’t like person first language, it implies that autism is not integral to their personalities. Someone HAS a cold, not autism. It also implies that I, or they, would change their autism if we could; but that would change them, and I love them hard just like this.
Or, maybe easier to understand: I have green eyes, I don’t have woman-ness. On is incidental the other integral to my personality and my relationship to the world.”
“Did I get that right, Jules?” *nodding ensues*

Well, now our twenty-something friend has that mind-blown expression on his face.
He told us that he just never thought about it that way, that “this changes everything”. Then we learned that his little brother is an autist, and he wished he had thought about this sooner.
We talked a little about better-late-than-never-at-all.

And then another question. “But, I have heard people talk about preferring person first language! What do I do about that?”

Ah, differences!

What do we do? We communicate.
I attend meetings regularly where everyone attendant is asked their preferences – for name, pronoun, gender, ect. ect. ect.
This is a brave new world, and if we want to do right by people, we should just ASK.
Our new cashier-friend gave me the funniest compliment then. He called me “so enlightened for my generation”. I laughed REALLY loud.

So what’s the conclusion here?
We can not talk about disenfranchised groups as though they are discrete from each other. People of different colors, abilities, orientations, identities, economic strata… everyone non-normative in any fashion, have this in common: THEY know what makes them comfortable. And we are capable of asking and then honoring them.

Don’t do anything they tell you to.

10 years ago at this time I was the young mother of only 4 children. We were going through the excruciating process of getting child number 3 diagnosed (PDD-NOS, which I know is no longer a thing) and beginning to get her some help. I was homeschooling her 2 older brothers and her younger brother was just learning how to walk.

The professional in charge of our school district’s special education department had a lot of advice for me; you see their team was full of folks with master’s degrees and Doctorates, and I was just a stay at home mom with a high school diploma. It was advised that I put my older boys in school asap, enroll the girl in EEE, and have a troop of therapists ect. come to our house on a daily basis to work with her.

My response?  “But there are 6 of us, the whole family cannot revolve around one child!” They however believed it should. Afraid that my other children would resent their sister (and eventually me), I went my own way, ignoring most of what I was advised, and feeling in turns guilty, terrified, and glad every day since.

This week my number 1 son turned 16. He celebrated with me and his 5 siblings. He laughed at private jokes with his now “highly functioning” sister. He offered me a hug. He played video games with his youngest (non verbal) brother. Everyone was included, no resentment was evident, and the high needs kids were in the thick of it even without the benefit of thousands of hours of therapies that I refused for them. It’s a lovely thing to behold when this family thing is working.

So, I offer you this, the only parenting advice I shall ever give:

We all have different stories, different needs, different priorities. But when you look at your child what does your heart tell you to do? Because only a parent knows what their child needs, knows what is best for their family, knows what they are willing to risk or sacrifice. I have faith that you know what is best for your kids, you should have faith in that too.

And never do anything just because “they” told you to.

Letter of Gratitude to a Terrible Principal

Dear Draconian Administrator;

We have had our disagreements these past 4 years (some of them have involved the police and courtrooms). I know that you shake your head in disbelief at my parenting strategies in the same way that I shake my head at your power trips and obvious dislike of my boys.

I want to first apologize for leaving our last meeting early, you see I felt that I was perilously close to violating several of my Quaker testimonies (simplicity, peace,integrity,  community, equality) and I just didn’t want to go there.

Mostly, what I would like to do is express my Gratitude to you. Sounds crazy, I know; but you have helped me teach my oldest sons lessons that I never could have taught them alone. Big Life Lessons. Important Stuff that will make them better, stronger people in the long run…

Thanks to you, they have learned to Stand Their Ground, to weight their choices and decide if their conviction was worth facing the consequences, to listen to their own hearts and trust that still small voice to tell them what is right instead of following the leader.

They have learned to Fight for the Little Guy, because sometimes those people charged with protecting the most vulnerable just won’t do it, and when that happens people of conscience have to step up and step in and join the fray in the name of those to weak to fight themselves.

They have learned to Question Authority, because no matter how well educated you are, no matter what your position, no matter who else trusts you – you may be wrong, and someone needs to call you out on that.

They have learned Public Relations, everything can be spun, and public opinion is rarely based on facts. Armed with this understanding, they can chose how they present themselves for others perception.

They have learned Civics up close. They now know the inner workings of the Police Department, the School Board, the City Council, and the Court Room.

They have learned persistence. They now understand that losing a battle does not mean you should quit before you win the war.

Most important (to me, at least) you have given me the opportunity to show them that I will always have their backs; that when they screw it up I will hold them up while they fix it; and when they’re in the right, I will fight tooth and nail to make sure they win.

Thank you for all of this, Terrible Principal. I wish you well, and sincerely hope that I can find a better way to teach my younger children all of the wonderful lessons you have taught their brothers.