Going From Cop to Stay-At-Home Dad

C.J. visiting Matt at work a few years ago.

*A post by Matt.*

After nearly 20 years as a police officer and detective, I was involved in a fight with an arrestee and injured my back. Due to the extent of the injury, I was forced into early retirement from law enforcement.

While my family was happy I was leaving a dangerous career, I had many reservations about being forced into retirement. Yes, the thought of sleeping during nighttime hours was something I had craved for years; but, I knew I would miss the excitement, quick thinking and spontaneous problem solving I did on the job.

I became the primary caregiver parent for our two boys while Lori started working more. A few weeks in my new role it became clear that I wouldn’t miss out on excitement, quick thinking and spontaneous problem solving. C.J. would provide it.

Chase has always been a very easy child. He’s easy-going, he listens, he rarely argues, he’s not impulsive and he never raises his voice in frustration or to make his point.

C.J. however, is a totally different story.

This past summer was my first summer home with the boys full time. By August, I couldn’t wait for school to start.

These are the kind of pics Matt and C.J. send me at work.

I’ve worked through triple-digit Southern California summers on the street in a wool uniform atop a bulletproof vest or locked in sweltering stake out cars with no air conditioning. Those summers weren’t the hardest. Summer 2017 was the hardest because every day I had to match wits with a strong, sassy, opinionated, confident, creative, spontaneous 10-year-old who was bored and adjusting to having dad – not mom – home the most.

Nothing was easy. If I said black, he said white. If I wanted yogurt, he wanted ice cream. If I wanted the pool, he wanted the beach. Everything was a battle. If I never hear “Mom doesn’t do it that way…” again, it will be too soon.

He would tell me when I was having a bad hair day and needed to put a hat on or if, worse yet, I was wearing an unflattering outfit. How can swim trunks look “not swim-y” and a tank top look “too arm-y”?

While Chase was busy with high school football practices and weight lifting, I was shuttling C.J from art camp to tennis lessons to sewing camp. It was more than 100 damn degrees and I was in and out of the car carrying racquets, sewing baskets and more clay projects than we have space for. Every day, after every camp, C.J. told me how I didn’t pack a snack, I packed the wrong snack or I packed too much snack (how is that even possible).

Matt lets C.J. do his makeup to work on his skills.

When I was working, I used to envy stay-at-home parents. I pictured parents – especially moms – enjoying free time with their kids. During the summer I pictured them lounging by the pool with their mom-friends and their kids, reading magazines, gossiping and maybe sipping on an adult beverage. I assumed they felt kid-free as their children entertained themselves in the pool. During school holidays, I pictured the stay-at-home moms sleeping in, doing a craft stress-free, watching a movie and feeling happy, relaxed and refreshed.

I’d been wrong. So wrong.

That’s not stay-at-home life; I’m sorry for ever thinking it was. I know better now.

Occasionally, I call Lori at work to vent about stay-at-home life.

“I have to go. Work is crazy-busy today,” she says to me. That used to be my line. Now it’s hers and it’s hard to hear.

I know I can be difficult to deal with. I’m confident and loud. I have difficulty hiding my true emotions. I’m honest to a fault. I can be impulsive.

Being a stay-at-home parent, I’ve realized that C.J. is exactly like me. Lori always said so, but I never listened. How could an effeminate little boy who wears skirts and plays with dolls be exactly like me?

But, he is, my feminine son is exactly like masculine me. It took me being home with him full-time to see how glaringly obvious it is.

Matt took C.J. to the church we were married at.

.While spending countless hours with him in the car or at home doing homework and projects, we have grown incredibly close. For a father and son to have such different interests, pursuits and goals, we have the same humor, personality and sarcasm. Since being home with him full-time, I’ve seen his assuredness and confidence grow. He’s become stronger. That’s not to say he’s become more masculine, it’s to say he’s become more confident and unapologetic in his feminine gender expression. He knows he can be exactly who he is and he has all of my love and support.

He can sashay into school wearing French braids, carrying his pink emoji lunchbox and he – and all of his schoolmates – know that I’ll greet him with a smile and hug when school gets out.

Being the primary caregiver parent has changed me, too. I’ve grown. I retired before age 40. Most people say I’m lucky, and I am, but it also takes some adjusting to. I went from being a cop to being the parent responsible for a lot of the emotional care of our children. I’ve traded traditional gender roles with my wife to stay home with our blue teenager and pink boy. Now, I know where things are at the grocery store and in the pantry and my wife doesn’t. It’s my job to know when we’re almost out of toilet paper and what flavor jelly the boys prefer at the moment.

And kayaking on the lake by our house.

As much as we’ve prided ourselves in ignoring society’s ideas of traditional gender roles, we’ve had some adjusting to do. At times, it’s been challenging for our relationship and my friendships with other guys. Longtime guy friends think it’s weird that I search Pinterest for recipes and know when the local bakery has 50 percent off cupcakes (Tuesdays) and cookies (Thursdays).

Our lives have been full of adjustments. The adjustments were hard for a while. The loss of my professional identity. The physical pain of my injury. The role reversal in our marriage. Getting used to being the stay-at-home parent. But, as the four of us always do, we found our way.

I’m so proud to be the father of our boys and grateful to be able to be home with them. I realize now more than ever that I missed a lot when I was working. This summer was difficult and challenging and the school year couldn’t come fast enough. Now, I see winter break winking at me from a few weeks away and I look the other way while I can. But, I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Our Month in Review: November 2017

Following are highlights from our month on Instagram. Click here for all of the months’ pictures, thoughts and happenings. If you’re on Instagram, be sure to follow me.

“You’re a boy!”
“Baby!”
“Pink is for girls only!”
“Loser!”
“You suck!”
“You’re not a girl!”
“You can’t be my son if you’re gay!”

I’m spending the day cleaning and came across a “Drag Book” that CJ made. This page was it. People are saying all of those things to the drag queen.

My heart sank when I read the page. It continues to sink. CJ is such a happy and totally loved kid. But he knows exactly what some people think of and say to drag queens. And to gender expansive people. I wish he didn’t know. I wish that wasn’t a page in his book. But it is.

 

Matt: It’s a passport, not a look book.

 

“Shall we make a new rule of life…always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?…It’s not enough to be kind. One should be kinder than needed…we carry with us, as human beings, not just the capacity to be kind, but the very choice of kindness…if every single person made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place.” – Wonder, by RJ Palacio. (CJ and I are going on a date tonight to see the movie Wonder.)

 

The sister in the book Wonder says this about her parents and her brother. When I read it I immediately thought “I bet that’s how Chase feels about CJ.” I wouldn’t blame him. I mean, It’s true. We don’t tell CJ he’s normal or average. But I guess we do try to make him believe it as much as possible. We are stuck in this strange place of not wanting our kids to feel different…but not wanting them to feel normal/average either. Maybe it’s us. Maybe “normal” and “average” have negative connotations to us. And “different” has a negative connotation for everyone else.

 

Me: Can I have your lashes, please?
My son: Nope.

 

He’s been on a baking kick lately and doesn’t want my help. He wants to do it all by himself. I told him that maybe he shouldn’t use my oven mitts that contain obscenities. He says that the oven mitt applies to the things he cooks just as much as to what I cook. Who’s going to argue with that kind of confidence in the kitchen? (Oven mitt creds: @blue_q)

 

Killing Crazy Hair Day since 2010.

 

CJ hustled people into buying custom rainbow loom bracelets at Thanksgiving yesterday. He pocketed $10 and donated $20 to the LA Food Bank.
“I hope those hungry people don’t starve to death before my $20 gets there to buy them food!” — CJ, age 10, Thanksgiving 2017.

 

There’s no better example of how different my sons are. Or of how I use threatening as a parenting technique.

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The Things My Son Is Thankful For

There’s no school this week for C.J. and Chase due to the Thanksgiving holiday. We haven’t seen Chase in two days because he’s now a high schooler who is too cool for us and has a very busy social life.

Never fear, C.J. has been here asking for things to do to pass the time. So, I kept with our annual tradition of having him list the things he’s thankful for from A to Z.

Things I Am Thankful For
By: C.J., age 10

I am thankful for:

Apples

Bob the Drag Queen and baby powder

C.J. (me) and Chapstick and cheerleading

Drag queens and Ding Dong cupcakes and the dentist

Equality

Family and friends

Good days and gymnastics

Helping others

Imaginations

Jewelry

Knowledge

Laughing

Makeup

Nice people

Opening presents

Pride and pride parades and pride parties

Q. I’m literally not thankful for anything that starts with a Q.

RuPaul and rainbows

Sleeping and sewing

Thai food and time at the beach

Unity and unicorns

Very fun things

Watching my brother play football

Xoxo. That means hugs and kisses, FYI.

Yelling in a good way

Zipining in Colorado

 

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Why Didn’t You Tell Me Your Son Was A Boy?!?!

Chase started high school in August. Weeks before that, he joined the football team and began training. Our house quickly became a popular hangout spot for Chase and his new friends/teammates – which is what Matt and I have always wanted. (I certainly didn’t buy a Ping-Pong table, pool table and trampoline for my own enjoyment.) We’d rather have all the kids at our house than out who-knows-where doing who-knows-what.

We order pizza, put out sodas and heat up the pool. We welcome anywhere from five to 20 teenagers into our home most Friday nights and often on Saturdays and Sundays, too. They are all great kids. They are really good at using their manners and cleaning up when I ask them to.

All of Chase’s friends have taken to C.J. without hesitation. The guys who come over are impressed by the flips and tricks he can do on the trampoline. The girls who come over teach him cheers, do his makeup and talk with him about RuPaul’s Drag Race.

C.J. trying to go unnoticed under the pool table.

When Chase gets sick of having his little brother around, C.J. hides under the Ping-Pong table or pool table hoping to go unnoticed while still feeling like he’s part of the action. It works most of the time.

All of these weeks we assumed the teenagers knew C.J. is a boy.

After attending a Halloween party, Chase and a handful of his friends crashed in our living room. As their rides slowly started arriving to shuttle them home the next morning, the boys collected their things. (They never manage to take home all of their things. We officially have a “Lost and Found” by our front door.)

One of Chase’s friends was holding the mask he’d worn to the party the night before and asked, “Does she want my mask?” to no one in particular.

“Yeah, he probably does,” Matt said.

“No, I was asking if SHE wants my mask. If C.J. wants it,” the friend clarified.

“Yeah, he probably does,” Matt said again.

The friend looked confused.

“C.J. is a boy,” Matt said matter-of-factly.

“Eeeeefffffff meeeeeee,” the friend said, putting his hands to his head. “Eff me. I’ve been calling him a ‘her’ and a ‘she’ this whole time! Why didn’t you tell me? I feel so bad!”

Matt told him it was okay.

The friend apologized again before leaving the house and then again a week later when he came over.

We assured again him that it’s fine. We’re fine. C.J. is fine. But the friend wasn’t fine. He felt bad and embarrassed.

C.J.’s toys in the kitchen while Chase’s friends are over.

We told him we aren’t hung-up on pronouns when it comes to C.J. and he prefers we ignore it when he’s misgendered. And, honestly, we are so used to people mistaking him for a girl that we don’t even notice the misgendering most of the time. None of us ever noticed the friend using the wrong pronouns.

We’d assumed the teens who spend time in our home knew C.J. is a boy. Chase’s friend reminded us that it’s not always evident – and, sometimes, I’m sure it’s downright confusing to newcomers.

Our lackadaisicalness when it comes to C.J.’s pronouns and misgendering caused one of Chase’s friends (and maybe more, who knows) confusion and embarrassment. I felt bad for the friend; he had the best intentions.

How many of Chase’s other friends think his brother is his sister?

We’ve done little things to be clearer that C.J. is a boy. You know, we do awkward things like saying his pronouns louder and referring to him as Chase’s brother more often than necessary. Like when someone isn’t fluent in your language and struggling with comprehension so you increase your volume thinking that will help them understand? Yeah, it’s like that. Super effective.

As much as I feel bad for Chase’s friend, I feel good because we are educating the teens who spend time in our home. They see we are just as fine with boys in dresses playing with dolls as we are with boys in helmets playing football. We don’t get hung up on pronouns, labels or society’s expectations. Everyone is valued, accepted and loved in our home.

I hope they feel that. I help they continue to enjoy our home, our food and, sometimes, our company. If they ever moved on to someone else’s house, I sure would miss their manners and messes and left behind socks.

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Our Halloween Costume Evolution

Following is a short recap of each of CJ’s Halloweens (it’s also our month in review for October from Instagram). I plan to add to this post each Halloween because I’ve heard from people that it’s helpful to read as they get their own gender expansive trick-or-treaters prepped for the holiday.

2007

Little Halloween CJ. Nearly nine months old. At the time, we had no idea that his gender expression would be feminine. Luckily, a monkey with a banana on its head is pretty gender neutral. So when he looks back at pictures, CJ doesn’t mind this one like he does others. It irks him (sometimes a lot and sometimes a little) when he sees a picture of himself as a baby or toddler looking masculine. Because that’s not who he is, but we didn’t know that until he was old enough to let us know through actions and, then, words.

2008

Little Halloween CJ and Chase. CJ was 21 months old and still not showing or telling us that he was gender nonconforming. I dressed him up as Robin Hood because:
1. My friend’s son had used the costume the year before and hand me downs are free.
2. Red heads look great in green, especially when they have little curls that poke out the bottom of their hat.
3. He could wear his cute moccasins with the costume (which I failed to take a picture of).
4. I had no idea he’d rather dress up as Maid Marian. We still had more than a year to start figuring that out.

2009

Little Halloween CJ visiting Matt at work. He was two years old and I dressed him as a police officer so he could be twinsies with his daddy. He loved it. CJ was just starting to show signs of being gender nonconforming but we weren’t picking up on them. Pics from that day are the first we have of CJ holding dolls. They were little Halloween dolls and he had them in his hands all the way until Christmas.

2010

Little Halloween CJ is three here. Between the last Halloween and this one, CJ was showing us that he was gender nonconforming. We just were struggling with it and hoping it was just a phase.

He wanted to be Snow White for Halloween. I stuttered and stammered for an excuse not to let my son dress up as a girl and leave the house for the entire neighborhood to see. To us, that felt like taking the whole “liking girl stuff” thing too far, like we’d be parading our son around and asking for problems. That was a line we weren’t ready to cross.

I spent weeks working on a costume for CJ that was a compromise. I got to the bottom of what he wanted most out of a costume, which was to wear makeup and fabric that felt nice. I sat him on my lap in front of the computer and went to a popular website for Halloween costumes. I clicked on the “Boys’ Costumes” section of the site and tricked him into thinking that those costumes were his only options. I felt guilty about it. But it also felt like something that I had to do to protect both of my boys from what other people might think and say and to keep the holiday as drama-free as possible.

We ended up settling on a black satiny polyester-blend skeleton costume with a face full of black and white makeup. It wasn’t the costume he wanted; luckily eating candy helps sad feelings.

2011

Little Halloween CJ is four here. And FINALLY in a costume of his choosing.

As Halloween approached that year, I grew scared, knowing he was going to want to dress up in a “girls’ costume.” He’d been talking about it for months. Striking a compromise like we had the year before with the polyester skeleton and face paint wasn’t going to happen.

I took CJ to the costume store to select his Halloween attire. Matt and I agreed that whatever he chose to be, he had to have a wig. That felt safer to us. We both felt like we could really hide (I mean “protect”) our child under a wig. A wig felt like armor.

We wandered eight aisles of options: boys’, girls’ and gender neutral. CJ was not interested in any of the “boy” costumes, except for the moment he spent inspecting the size-extra-small Jesus getup, because, after all, it did have a dress and long hair. He informed me loudly that Jesus’s sandals were ugly, and I told him that it’s not nice to judge Jesus or his footwear and that the options were limited in those days.

Then he saw it and our decision-making process was over; there was no going back. It was a costume that he had mentioned a few times. It was Frankie Stein from the Monster High line of toys by Mattel. She is 15 and the daughter of Frankenstein. She’s supersassy and likes—according to her online bio—shopping for “scary cute clothes that are absolutely to die for.”

2012

Little Halloween CJ at age five. He dressed up as Bloom, a fairy from Winx Club. We’d come such a long way in our gender journey that we didn’t give it a second thought; we just bought the costume. No manipulative online browsing. No off-hour trip to the costume store. No panic. No worry. No nothing.

Just when we got to the point of not caring about what other people might say, think or do about our boy wearing a “girls costume,” CJ began to care. When kids at school asked what he was going to be for Halloween he replied “I don’t know yet.”

It sadden me to think that the next year he might want a “boys costume” to avoid negativity, stares and judgment from other people. At that point, I didn’t want my boy to want a “boys costume.”

2013

Little six-year-old Halloween CJ decided to be Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland. CJ was just beginning to find comfort and a sense of camaraderie in the dark, quirky fantasy worlds created by Tim Burton — worlds where being different is celebrated. CJ is different. He wants to be celebrated.

As part of the costume, CJ wore a long blonde wig and makeup. When I looked at the pictures of him in his costume, it caught me off guard to see what a beautiful girl my son was. He looked effortless, happy and confident. All the things I want him to be.

2014

Little Halloween CJ at age seven. When the kids at school asked what he was going to be for Halloween, he told them he was going to be a lawyer. I smiled. My son was spinning the truth. I’m in PR, I know good spin when I see it.

Yes, in very general terms CJ was going trick-or-treating as a lawyer. More specifically, he would be dressed as Reese Witherspoon’s lawyer character Elle Woods from the movie Legally Blonde.

I’m sure everyone pictured him in a little suit and tie with a briefcase and, maybe, faux spectacles – not a pink velvet peplum skirt, white fishnet gloves, lap dog and crown. But, just as there are lots of versions of being a boy, there are lots of versions of being a lawyer.

2015

Little Halloween CJ was eight years old and maturing. The months leading up to Halloween, he’d been drawn to mid-century design, vintage pinup fashion and 1950’s culture. So, when he saw a 1950’s car hop girl costume, his annual outfit hunt quickly ended.

Of course, because CJ uses his creativity and love for all things creepy and quirky whenever he can, his waitress had a backstory. She was murdered with a pair of pink fuzzy dice while delivering an order. Cue the posthumous makeup.

Life with a child like ours — who society deems odd, weird and different — is magical and fun. When you aren’t blinded by worry and the fear of shame, your unique kiddo can amaze you with their creativity, courage and commitment to being totally authentic.

2016

Not-so-little Halloween CJ was nine last year. Shortly after I wrote that he would be dressing up as Bob The Drag Queen (the season eight winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race) for Halloween, Bob contacted me. I just about died. I couldn’t wait to tell CJ that his hero wanted to talk to me. But, Bob told me not to tell CJ because – wait for it – he wanted to try to surprise CJ by showing up to trick-or-treat with him on Halloween night. The only thing Bob asked was that he get to see the look of surprise on CJ’s face.

I’m a realist. What were the chances that Bob would actually fly into town for Halloween? Especially after a huge appearance and video launch that raged until 3 am the morning of. In New York.

No way it would work out, but the offer was beyond sweet. I decided that when meeting CJ in person fell through, I’d get up the nerve to ask Bob to send CJ a video wishing him a happy Halloween. What’s the worst that could happen?

I never had to find out, because the worst didn’t happened. The best happened. Bob worked until the early morning on Halloween, hopped on a flight from NYC to LAX and knocked on the door to surprise CJ and go trick-or-treating with him.

It was the best night of CJ’s short life and, for sure, the best Halloween he will ever have.

2017

Halloween CJ is 10 this year and decided to dress up as a dead drag queen. Over the course of his life, Halloween has gone from a fun holiday for dressing up to a time filled with anxiety and confusion as we struggled with his gender identity and expression to one of our favorite holidays because it’s a good reason for CJ to unleash his creative side.

For example, here’s how his drag queen died. “Well. (click of the tongue and eye roll) Gurl. (flick of the wrist) She was headlining at a BIG drag show and one of the other drag queens didn’t show up for her shift. (disgusted eye roll) So she had to work overtime and do extra numbers. When she got done with her show it was so late that she was too tired to drive her car home. And she didn’t want to take a taxi or uber. So she decided to walk home. She was crossing the street when — BAM! — she got run over by a car!”

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Another Drag Queen Halloween for My Son

I’m good at managing expectations and preparing my children for disappointment. That being the case, I have spent the last year telling C.J. that no Halloween ever in the history of Halloweens will compare to the one he had last year. He has experienced his best Halloween. The end. Period. Adieu.

(photo creds: Bob The Drag Queen)

Last year I told the internets and social meeds that he was going to be Bob The Drag Queen for Halloween and, voila, Bob The Drag Queen surprised C.J. by knocking on the door just before sunset on October 31 and trick-or-treating through the streets of West Hollywood while holding C.J.’s hand.

That’s not real life.

Whoever or whatever you dress up as for Halloween does not care enough about you to want to fly across the country and spend the holiday with you. If so, I would have spent some of my Halloweens with Tina Turner, Gumby and Rainbow Brite.

We have been very open and honest with C.J. Then, the season nine finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race concluded and C.J. turned to me and said “this year I’m going to be Sasha Velour for Halloween and she’ll come trick-or-treating with me. Even though Bob will always be my favorite queen.”

“No! Remember. You’ve had your best Halloween. That’s not going to happen. That’s not real life,” I said.

“I remember,” he said sadly. Oh, he remembered all right. He just didn’t want to believe it.

A few weeks ago he finally realized there was validity to what I had been saying all year. God bless the hopefulness of youth.

He announced that he was going to be a dead drag queen for Halloween.

“How did she die?” I asked not expecting an answer.

“Well. (click of the tongue and eye roll) Gurl. (flick of the wrist) She was headlining at a BIG drag show and one of the other drag queens didn’t show up for her shift. (disgusted eye roll) So she had to work overtime and do extra numbers. When she got done with her show it was so late that she was too tired to drive her car home. And she didn’t want to take a taxi or uber. So she decided to walk home. She was crossing the street when — BAM! — she got run over by a car!”

“So what I hear you saying is you’ve thought of a backstory,” I said.

“Duh.”

After several attempts to find just the right dress he decided to wear one he got last Christmas. Then, he insisted that Matt run it over with our car.

His costume and backstory require that we get him completely done up and gorgeous in drag. And then make it look like he was run over. It’s a multi-step, multi-layer process. Because why wouldn’t it be? I mean, as much as I try to manage expectations and set the bar at a realistic height, it is C.J. we are talking about.

We did a dry run in preparation for Halloween. Here are some pics. Boo!

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My Son’s Children’s Book Features Pride, Unicorns and Mermaids

Meet Nate. He’s the protagonist in the children’s book that C.J. wrote. The book is in very limited release. There’s only one copy in print. And that copy is C.J.’s.

I recently took C.J. to StoryMakery (in the Irvine Spectrum Center by our house). StoryMakery is the first self-publishing destination experience for kids. Children make their own characters and build their own stories from concept to completion. It’s like Build-A-Bear, but instead of leaving with a plush toy, kids leave with a book that they authored and illustrated.

C.J. started by creating his main character Nate. Nate is a 20-year-old writer. He is gay and lives at home with his parents because he loves his house, his room and his family. He is single at the moment and loves to listen to pop music. He mostly wears pink even though gold is his all-time favorite color. He likes gymnastics and milk shakes.

Alexa at StoryMakery helped C.J. on his one-hour journey to becoming a published author. Her and C.J. hit it off right away and she informed C.J. that his book was StoryMakery’s first ever to include a gay Pride scene. This is one of his greatest accomplishments to date.

If you like children’s books that include Pride, gay men, magical unicorns, getting tans with mermaids and adventure-stopping, tutu-wearing elephants, read on. If you don’t like books that include those things, what’s wrong with you?!

Nate’s Great Adventure

One cool night, Nate dreamt about going on a magical journey.

Nate was a bubbly and silly boy who loved to do gymnastics. He was full of imagination and intelligence, always wondering what adventure he could go on next.

One night as Nate was falling into a deep sleep, he heard a knock at the door. He opened the door to find a magical unicorn.

“Nate! Come with me on a magical journey. We will fly in the sky and met the most splendid people,” the unicorn exclaimed.

“I would love to go, but I have to be back before the sun rises,” Nate told the unicorn.

“Don’t worry, we will be back right on time,” the unicorn assured him.

Nate crawled quietly out of bed and quickly packed his bag with a computer, some gymnastics grips, a blender, and milk shake ingredients. Nate was so excited to go on this journey.

“I can’t believe this is actually happening!”

“You will see everything you’ve dreamed of seeing,” the unicorn promised.

Nate climbed on the unicorn’s back and the two traveled at lighting speed! As they were flying, they stopped by the Pride Parade. Together the friends enjoyed the parade. Nate and the unicorn then walked around Pride visiting different booths. They got to spin prize wheels and collect free gifts like hand sanitizer, phone cases, flags, pins, and gift cards. Nate had so much fun!

Next, they passed dark mountains where an elephant lived. The mountains were surrounded by dark clouds and covered with fog. They were the tallest mountains that Nate had ever seen.

“Oops!” the unicorn said, “Looks like we took a wrong turn.”

“Oh, no! What’s in those mountains?” Nate asked with concern.

“An adventure stopping elephant,” the unicorn replied.

Nate was worried but he knew the unicorn would protect him. As they passed the mountains, the elephant came out of her cave. The elephant wore a tutu and was saying funny things in a loud voice while wiggling her arms. She was trying to stop them from continuing their adventure with her distracting motions.

Nate was worried the adventure stopped here. Then he noticed that the unicorn had raised her hoof into the air.

Using all of her might, the unicorn chanted, “Silly elephant go away. Disappear so we can fly away!”

Within moments, the elephant disappeared. Nate was relieved that they could continue their journey.

The unicorn flew them to a beach. At the beach, Nate and the unicorn met a mermaid named Kate. Nate, Kate, and the unicorn got a tan, built sandcastles, and went swimming. Kate the mermaid shared her starfish and seashell collection with Nate and the unicorn. Then she took them to the best place to watch the sun go down.

“I could sit here all day!” Nate exclaimed, as he stared at the horizon.

“You can visit anytime,” the unicorn said with a smile.

All of a sudden, Nate noticed the time. He had to be home ten minutes!

“I’m gong to be late!” he cried.

“Don’t worry. I will get you back on time,” the unicorn promised.

The unicorn flew over tunnels and waves, valleys and lakes, rivers and streams. Even though Nate knew he had to be home, he didn’t want his journey to end. He wondered for the first time if this was a dream or real life.

The unicorn flew Nate right to his room just as the sun was rising.

“This was the most magical journey of them all,” the unicorn said, “and I am so glad you came along for an adventure with me. I will always protect you, Nate.”

Nate had already fallen asleep. He was so exhausted from the long journey. The unicorn flew silently out of the window and into the sky.

When Nate awoke, he thought his adventure was a dream. Then he felt something underneath his pillow and lifted it up.

There on Nate’s bed, the unicorn had left a snow globe of him, Kate and the unicorn at the beach watching the sunset.

“The dream must have been real!”

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