For some it immediately brings to mind warmth, security, joy, certainty.
For some it may dredge unpleasant memories, slights, emotional injury.
For others it is loaded with all of them.
Family is an amalgam of our past, our present, our hopes or heartache for the future. It is from where we emerged; the first building blocks for how we relate to others; the foundation of our outlooks, views, prides and prejudices.
Family is where we learn joy, fear, expectations - both reasonable and not - and love.
Family is our first exposure to love. To parental figure(s) who sustain us, build us up, catch us when we fall, and eventually push us from the nest. It can also be where we learn that love can be conditional, have strings, be a means of emotional blackmail, and eventually a toxin so feared that we run towards the edge of the nest and leap, not caring about where we land, just so it is out and away.
In my 50 years, family has been all of the above for me. The family in which I grew up - often times unhappy, fearful, uncertain. Yet at other times, full of laughter, easy sleep at night, and assurance. It was this emotional tightrope of sorts that lay the foundation for all I swore to build, do, and be when it was my time to construct a nest and fill it with chicks of my own.
My children would never lay awake at night knowing that an A on tomorrow's test would insure acceptance, buy a temporary show of love. They would never want for a hug, kind words, safe haven. And they would know, bone deep, that how they were cherished, adored, protected was unchangeable.
I look at our children - now 24, 22, and 20 - and we feel we have done what we set out to do, what we will continue to do.
They are brave, because they know it is ok to try and fail. They know we will catch them and help them try again. They know the safest place in this world is in our arms, the hugs that are a harbor always open to their return. They know, without question, that our love for them is the air that we breathe. They are valued, respected, necessary to our lives.
Growing up, I can say I did not know those last three with any degree of constancy. Yes, it is a sad statement, but a statement of fact nonetheless. And that's ok. Sure I wish it had been different, but wishing won't make it so. Screaming at the past won't change the past. I choose to forgive the past, and remember it more so I can joyfully contrast it with the present, than to carry it around like some piece of emotional baggage - which incidentally always has a broken strap and never any wheels.
I remember how my parents were then, so I may better rejoice in how they are now.
In past posts, including the initial coming out piece, I have alluded to how we all spent a year+ knowing we would lose my parents to this revelation about Toby. Through therapy, sleepless nights, private conversations I maintained it would be too big, too much. That this information would collide with their religion - led by a Pope who demeans my son - and their love would be caught behind a hurdle simply too high to jump. I feared there would be too much embarrassment - that acknowledging our family contained the word 'transgender' would be too much. I knew in my gut that when the time came, along with the reaction I just knew would be theirs, that I would have to amputate them from our lives for good.
And I, WE, were making peace with that. We were prepared for the hurt. I was prepared for the anger that would drown out the hurt. The anger that would step up to protect my family at all costs.
(Conversely, we had never really worried about Rudy's parents - different people, that's all.)
So, as the date of full disclosure drew near, I knew I had to pull the emotional trigger and fill them in. Done in a lengthy letter - words being my stock in trade - and hand delivered by my sister who offered to absorb their initial response, I waited for what I viewed as an inevitability.
It never came. What came was a phone call laden with tears, unconditional love, and deep remorse over their daughter having shouldered this alone for a year.
As I have said before, I have never in my life been so happy to be wrong. Their words, "We love him no matter what," were like balm to a heart that was sure it was breaking. Their words also made me realize that for all the acknowledgments I have made about how they are very different people than they were when I was young, I was predicating everything on then, not now. I am a smart person, an aware person, but I had reverted back to every fear I knew as their young child, not every advance I knew they had made as their adult child.
All the bullshit, all the missteps, all the ignorance of their youthful parenting melted away. In truth it had started to melt away long ago - I have long considered them my friends. I adore my father in a way I never could have predicted when I lived at home and we were two bulls constantly butting heads. I understand my mother and how deep her love has always been, even when it was held hostage by generational expectations, social moors, and fears of her own.
So it was that the word 'family' grew again in my experience. So it was that when Toby's 20th birthday was drawing near, it simply seemed right - to everyone - that we come together to love him, support him, celebrate him.
The weekend of August 5th, Rudy's folks made the trek from North Carolina, my parents came from Arizona, and Kendall flew in from Dallas. I had emailed all four grandparents ahead of their arrivals. I wanted them to know it was ok to be nervous, a little scared - we all were, especially Toby. (Again, that whole knowing vs knowing.) I wanted to reiterate that Toby is Carson. That everything they have always loved about him is still the same. Sure, the hair is brown, he wears glasses, but their grandchild is still completely intact.
Rudy's parents arrived a day before mine. When Rudy had gotten them settled in to their resort room, he brought them to the house. The hugs were genuine, sustained, the love was real and easy. Sure, they made a few pronoun errors here and there - but that is to be expected.
The next day, my parents arrived. Toby was at work at the resort. I texted him that we were coming. Outside, I quietly reiterated to my parents that he was scared, but that he is still who they know.
Tears came quickly to my eyes as they embraced him, holding him long and close - my Dad even whispering his nickname "Turd Bird" as he held Toby. Knowing quickly turned to knowing and the bad jokes, laughs, and love flowed as easily as they always have. When we left him to continue his workday, my Dad told me, "He is just exactly the same."
The whole weekend was one of comfort, love, acceptance, exhaling, and growth. 72 hours found time for Kendall to continue her Monopoly grudge match with my Dad (in its 13th year); for me to have a wonderful, much needed, talk with my Mom - tears flowing as I decorated Toby's birthday cake and talked about the past year I had hidden from her. Rudy's parents were thrilled to have time with their three grandchildren all in one place.
We celebrated T's birthday with make-your-own tacos, beverages, gifts, birthday cake - and love, so very much love.
Toby is transgender, but I saw how that was simply a facet, quickly absorbed, not some sudden, defining characteristic. It is simply new information. Information that has set his grandparents off towards learning more, adding to their databases, asking questions, and becoming advocates.
Family, under the best of circumstances, is, like most relationships, ever evolving. - Yes, there are times when you may have to permanently jettison a member - I have, to the betterment, emotional peace, and security of my flock. Blood does not guarantee you real estate, or some free pass to abuse others. Family grows - as has mine by the addition of people not connected genetically, but through deeper connections, friendships, support. This past weekend found Robin and her son, Neo, stepping out of the internet and into our embrace here at Gateway for three days of fun, frolic, and LOVE. Our friendship, our sisterhood - born of time, trust, and sharing online for so very long.
Family. That one word comes heavily loaded.
Today mine is loaded with love, certainty, acceptance, peace. We are moving forward together, supporting Toby, transitioning with him. And I can never repeat this enough: We are all MORE for helping him be WHOLE. That everyone were this lucky...