The author of this post is my very best friend KK, whom C.J. knows affectionately as Auntie KK.
I love C.J.’s mom. She is my very best friend and my soul sister. We have been besties for more years than I care to say for fear of revealing our scandalously young age… Ha!
I also love C.J. and his brother as if they were my own. My husband and I have two children as well and they have all been raised together since birth. Brothers, sisters, cousins…they may not have these titles officially, but they are family. We are family.
As many families do, we have holiday traditions, non-traditions, random outings of all sorts and this holiday season was no different. Our two clans came together just before Christmas at a local amusement park for some seasonal fun and the standard picture with Santa. C.J.’s mom and I both agreed to dress the kids in festive attire so that we would have ourselves a great picture for years to come.
However, as I helped my nine-year-old daughter assemble her outfit for the day, I realized for the first time that I had reservations about her overly zealous use of accessories and things that glitter. The fact was, we were going to be spending the entire day in public with C.J. He would not be in full C.J. regalia and I did not want to make him feel jealous or uncomfortable. I did not have to even explain it to my daughter, just the simple mention of who our party included was reason enough for her to tone it down. Even something inside of her knew.
The day was crisp and the kids all looked adorable in their layers. C.J. was wearing his dark washed jeans, holiday appropriate red henley and super cool black motorcycle jacket. The other three children were also dressed in gender-typical chilly weather, holiday clothing. The day itself was a success. Us adults took turns riding different attractions with the kids as to not give any one parent total nausea from the spinning and jerking death traps.
Once all the fun was had at the park we set out for a conjoined family dinner at the nearby Mexican restaurant to conclude the day. After dinner we went our separate ways and called it a night. All things considered it was a normal outing enjoyed by all.
It wasn’t until the next day that I realized that, in fact, it was not a normal day at all. I could not immediately pinpoint it but there had been something off. The entire day had an air about it that was just wrong. After some more thought I decided to go back through my phone and look at the pictures from the day. And there it was…in color right before my eyes. I was staring at the picture of the kids with Santa. All of them were smiling, looking as cute as ever. And then there was C.J., smiling, but also fighting with himself. Holding his tiny little hands together, fighting the urge to strike a fabulous pose and pop his hip just so…
You see, I have been a passenger on this journey with C.J.’s Mom from the beginning but in many respects I am still an outsider looking in. Our families are so blended that almost all of our outings, trips and week long vacations end with us in the comfort of one of our homes, together. It is there that C.J. is able to be his true self. Either wrapped in his own dress up clothes or in my daughter’s hand me downs, this is C.J. It had been some time since we spent an entire day with “public C.J.” only. And, as I stared at the picture my heart broke. My heart broke for C.J. and for my best friend and for C.J.’s Brother and Father. The trials and tribulations are just beginning.
Although I was witness to this day’s internal battle for C.J., they live with this day in and day out. C.J.’s Mom and Dad will have to struggle every day with the public versus private C.J. How much of his true self do you allow him to show and still be able to protect him from the judgment of others? C.J.’s brother has many of these hard days in front of his as well. How does he use his words — not his fists — to help the other children understand that C.J. is special because of his differences and not to be the subject of childhood tortures? How do you balance a free and open spirit with a close-minded world?
I can only imagine what it is to struggle with the biggest part of yourself every day, your heart! We all struggle each day with something, those pesky 10 pounds, a bad hair day or the cranky boss/toddler/husband/insert noun here. But, to fight your true self each day at five years old? That is earth shattering.
As much as my heart is broken, it is also full of pride. I am proud of C.J. for not letting the world quell his fire. He is not at a point in his life where he has to claim a stake into one side of the fence or the other, although some may expect it. But he is not allowing the expected to totally define him. He is C.J…gender non-conforming. My hope is that he won’t always have to struggle between the “Public C.J.” and the “Private C.J.” If the two could just come together, the world would see one amazing child.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the overflowing amount of pride I have in my very best friend. Not every parent is equipped to handle a child that requires more… more help, more understanding, more patience. However, C.J. knew what he was doing when he picked her as his mother, there truly would be no better fit. C.J.’s mom is a remarkable woman and I am privileged to be her friend.
A strong woman stands up for herself, but the strongest women stand up for others. You my friend are among the strongest!
I love you.