Back to school is a notoriously tough season for us. It’s not because we have to wake up and get going earlier than we did all summer (which, yes, sucks). And, it’s not because our days (once again) become dominated by schedules, homework and packing lunches.
Back to school marks the annual peak in C.J.’s anxiety levels (which, in turn, makes me more anxious than usual, though I try not to show it, especially to C.J.). For C.J., it marks the start of weeks and months of self-editing and agonizing over every little decision.
Will he wear girl clothes to school? Will he use the bathroom or hold it all day? Will he be brave enough to carry the “girls” backpack and lunchbox he cherishes? Will he let his classmates see his true, colorful, quirky, fabulous, sparkly, sassy self?
Or, will he play it safe?
The start of first grade was the worst. He took baby steps (and sometimes no steps) toward being his authentic self and finally started sharing his gender nonconforming ways with his classmates and classroom a full three months into the nine-month school year. He didn’t feel truly accepted and comfortable until five months after that first bell rang.
It’s little things, like picking a Monster High lunchbox, but refusing to carry it – opting, instead, for a plain brown paper bag – until November and not wearing a headband to school until March. The days leading up to finally carrying the Monster High lunchbox and rocking the headband were filled with questions and false starts.
“Should I take my Monster High lunchbox tomorrow?…I’m going to do it…I’m going to take it….Do you think the kids will make fun of me?…Do you think anybody will bully me?…Maybe I’ll just wait until tomorrow…”
My heart breaks with each step in the deliberation process, as I let him make his own decisions while reminding him that his father and I are supportive of whatever he decides because we love him no matter what.
This August and into September, C.J. was getting excited, not anxious. I worried that his usual slow, two-week climb up Anxiety Mountain would, this year, be a race to the top in two days. I was bracing myself.
But, it never came.
Then, the night before school was to start, as we were packing backpacks, C.J. turned to me.
“Mom, I can’t decide.”
“When I start second grade tomorrow, should I start as a boy or a girl?”
I panicked, and not because my son might be my daughter, but because a social transition like he was suggesting takes at least more than the 12 hours he was giving me – eight of which we were supposed to be asleep.
“I think that’s up to you. That’s a question that only you can answer,” I said calmly while feeling anything but.
“But, what do you think? Just tell me!” he insisted.
“I think you should go as you. I like you.”
“So, I should go as a boy because I’m a boy? A boy who likes girl stuff?”
“If that’s who you are.”
“That’s who I am.”
After I got C.J. and his brother to bed, I watched reality television and ate four more chocolate chip cookies than I should have, in an attempt to soothe my aching heart. I worried that the next day — the first day of school — would be drenched in anxiety.
C.J. carefully laid out his outfit. Yes, it was decidedly more masculine than first day outfits from years past and much more so than the clothes he wore during the freedom of summer, but the decision wasn’t painful for him. He wore blue and purple plaid shorts and a polo shirt with a necktie printed on it because he thought it was “fancy but not too hot.”
He carried his pink backpack and pink rhinestone lunchbox without a second thought. We walked onto campus and were greeted by one “Hi C.J.!” after another. He smiled and waved and got a little shy.
He got in line and scoped out his new classmates. After three years at the same school, he knows more than half of them. And, more importantly, they know him.
By the third day of school, he had a wrist full of bracelets he’d beaded himself and orders from classmates who wanted a few of his one-of-a-kind creations on their wrist too.
Tomorrow marks the end of the first full week of school and I would never jinx us by saying this has been the best back to school ever, so I’ll just say that C.J. is loving second grade so far and his teacher read Matilda to the class and C.J. loves Matilda.
I love it, this post brought tears to my eyes not because I felt anxiety for dear C.J but because he’s so brave, so imaginative, so creative, that I am sure his beautiful and loving heart will shine so very brightly in the world and he will touch so many lives in such a wondrous manner! What a beautiful child you’re very blessed!
Way to go, CJ! My husband has white relatives that are hardcore into Native American spirituality, and dress in Native American garb all the time. At first, I think a lot of people thing,”Wow, weird,” but after a while, you’ve seen it, big whoop. I think after three years at your school, CJ can just be CJ, regardless of lunchbox.
I love it. Sometimes it takes a while for young kids to understand that all children are unique, amazing individuals.
Your blog is awesome – I relate to so much of it. My almost-5 year old son is gender nonconforming. He picked out a Hello Kitty backpack for school, he wears pink rainbow shoes, he loves female characters, his best friends are girls, he wants to be Daphne from Scooby Doo for Halloween. And at the same time, his physicality is very much like a boy. At home, he’s rough and wild. He loves to wrestle and have pillow fights. He seems to throw himself all around the room. I love learing about who he is and what he likes and how he operates. His dad and I watch him in awe.
I also have a son–he’s only 7 months– and I know it’s entirely too early for this, but I have sometimes thought, “What if my son goes through this?” There’s no doubt in my mind that his father and I would love him just as much as we do now what and that we will be supportive of him, no matter what. However, I have once or twice found myself thinking of how I would handle this kind of situation and I must say that I hope I have the strength as a mother to handle any circumstance the way you handled this one.
I can only image how tough it must be, as a mom, to watch your son struggle with how he wants to dress on the first day of school. I’m genuinely glad that he was able to be comfortable when the day came and even happier when it seemed like his classmates didn’t treat him any differently. You seem like a pretty great mom. 🙂 Thank you for sharing this story.
My son is just like C.J. Only one year older. After two weeks in his new third grade class, I asked him one day, “do any of your new classmates make fun of your liking girl’s stuff?” His reply let me know he is gaining confidence in himself…”oh, Mom, he said, waving a hand in the air, the whole school knows I like girls stuff; the only teasing I ever got was in first grade, and they got over that years ago.” My husband and I enjoyed a rare sigh of relief.
P.S. Ben loves it when I tell him stories about C.J. From your book. He feels less alone.
Hi, everything I read is just what we lived with our daughter. She born 8 years ago, giving her a masculine name because of her genitalia. When she start her transition we were pushed to left the school. Now she has started in her new school, she is brilliant and a happy little girl. Every day we repeat to her, we love you no matter what. That´s it , all they need is respect and love.
Beautiful blog, we wish CJ an awesome year.
(Daniela´s family from Spain)
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Yes. Just yes. Everything about this is wonderful and perfect. 🙂 I couldn’t be more thrilled to read anything! And more importantly YAY CJ!!!! (And YAY mom and dad) 😉
I always get excited when I see a post from you when I login to my blog list. I always feel the emotion of the situations that CJ finds himself in as he’s progressing through life. I always wonder how I would have been different if I was allowed to be open and could have been self assured during my youth. There was so much pressure to conform. I was always searching within myself seeking the feeling of normalcy that never came. I feel hope radiating from CJ to others going through what he is. Thanks Mom for being willing to share….Adon
“I think you should go as you. I like you.”
That may be the nicest compliment anyone has ever received. Just reading that made my day. 🙂
Best wishes to CJ and Chase for a great school year!!
This makes me so happy. xo
Love you and your boy!!! It sounds like it was a fabulous first week, and most importantly CJ could be his authentic self and be embraced by his peers!! Beautiful! Heartwarming!! Yay CJ! Yay Mama!!
It’s funny how proud I am of a child I’ve never met, but I am proud of CJ! I teach 5th grade and have been decidedly more conscious of my gender language. Your family is an inspiration. ☺
This makes me so much more than happy!
I am so glad he is having a good start to the school year!! I choose to go with a gender neutral outfit for my first day of school.
For those of you that does not know: there is a fab Facebook group out there called “parents of Transgender Children”, a lot of folks there has gender fluid children 🙂 Tons of help and support for families out there in the universe!!
Fantastic! That’s the way second grade should always start. You and your family deserve the very best and I’m so glad that you all enjoyed a wonderful beginning.
Wishing CJ a wonderful year xxx
Keep encouraging this dear child to be the person they will come to know and understand who they are in time. Being supportive parents is so wonderful. Glad people are seeing things that our parents did not. Blessing to you all.
CJ is brave and feeling more confident in his skin! What a great read!
Way to go CJ!!! Hope you have a great
year in second grade. I support you, all the way from NJ.
Mom and Dad your doing a fantastic job and Chase you seem like the best big brother ever…you rock Chase.
Hugs and hope to hear more on posts on 2nd grade.
Love your family. Everyone can learn from your blog how to be a better and more accepting parent. We are trying to start our family through adoption and I know kids do not come with a handbook so I’m going to continue to follow your blog, learn through your hard work, victories, fails and triumphs. Thank you for sharing
Simply, lovely. xx
Brave, artistic kid. Matilda is a great book. And a terrific movie of the same title…one you should rent/buy and play to all his playmates after the teacher finishes reading the book.
So glad 2nd grade is starting off so well! You Rock CJ! (and so do your parents!!)
If we had more kids like C.J. and more parents who let them be, this world would be a much better place.
My grandson transitioned before entering second grade this year. She really sparkles and has so much confidence! It fills my heart with joy that she can truly be who she was born to be 🙂
Congratulations to your new granddaughter for being true to herself.
Yay! So happy to read that the year is off to a good start for CJ!
So glad it’s going well for CJ and love the heartwarming stories from the other parents who’s kids are being supported by their schools. We have a ways to go but what an amazingly far way things have come.
My second son started Kindergarten this year and picked out a very bright purple blanket for nap time. His older brother was afraid he would be made fun of but he just told him “it is ok for boys to like girls stuff and girls to like boys stuff!” I love the confidence at 5 years old. Isn’t that what it is all about!
I’m so glad 2nd grade is going well so far for C.J.. My 2nd grader had decided a couple of weeks before school started back that he was a girl, so we had to do some serious scrambling last minute to make sure the school was on board. Plus, we had to buy a whole new wardrobe, which is still a work in progress. If she had it her way, her whole wardrobe would have been dresses. Luckily, everything is going great, too, so far with our 2nd grader. Wishing all of our fabulous rainbows a wonderful school year!
We are in the same boat with our wonderful son. He also choose to wear a skirt (hello kitty) to school with a darling bright green hello kitty tank. He is so confident I am so proud. His school supports him and his decision daily and he is loved. The best thing his teacher has said is…T is so happy!” thank GOD
Oh wonderful! I’m so glad second grade’s going well for him!!!
So glad to hear it, Lori!
Yay! The start of 2nd grade exactly as it should be.
Yey! Well done CJ! I hope his journey this year continues to be a self-assuring and happy one. Everything you say here helps me deal with all of our very similar situations at home. You really helped me and continue to remind me of how to be a better mother. Thank you x
“You should go as you. I like you.” Absolutely the best thing any parent can instill in any kid (or any person!). You rock.
Oh yes, that anxiety, yes! This year our second grader started as a girl at a new school and I could have eaten an entire bakery and not quenched my anxiety! Heaven bless our children – especially with those last minute surprises (ours decided to change names on the way to a camp I had specifically arranged a name change for…oy!)
Jeremy told me on the way out the door that zie’s going to come out to Gramma tonight. I’ve got a whole bag of Fudgee-Os beside me right now. Although, like CJ, zie tends to second guess and back track so I figure zie’ll come home saying “maybe next visit”.
Hugs and best wishes! And here’s to our extra brave kiddios – and they day they don’t have to be so brave anymore. ❤
Every year, it’s getting easier to blur or completely ignore the boundaries between ‘boy’ and ‘girl’, and to just to be yourself.
The truly great thing is that more and more people (and in particular the younger generation) accept that the difference you feel is no big deal, that it’s allowed.
Being original, different, yourself, is IN, so milk it for all it’s worth!!
I love that child of yours. When I read ur book I cried that is my son I have a 9 yr old and a 6 yr old my youngest is transgender and I love his style just like your C.J. He started 1st grade wearing girl clothes and for me I couldn’t be happier to see him happy that I came home with some school clothes he kept thanking me saying I can really wear this there it brought tears to my eyes I have neglected him of this for way to long enough is enough he’s happy that’s all I care about no one is making fun of him thank god! You child has just opened my eyes!!!
Your blog constantly brings me to tears. What a beautiful family you have. Thank you so much for sharing with the world. All the love to CJ!
I’m not surprised you were taken aback! But I’m so glad that things are working out for him and that he’s enjoying himself. 🙂
I love this little person!
Hopefully each year will get easier and easier for your amazing kiddo.
This year, our second son started 1st grade. And this year, he picked out his clothes from the “girl” section of the store. All his clothes and sneakers are now from that side of the store. With a few exceptions of Skylander shirts. 🙂 He proudly wears them to school! They love him there and the teachers are awesome! We are very lucky! CJ is a great kid!
Your darling child is braver than many adults! Bravo!