One year ago today, your father and I began a journey to change our lives. A real, physical journey, rushing suddenly to put the house in order and pack ourselves into a car for a 4 hour drive up to Fargo, North Dakota, where Cyndel's birth mother had been admitted for labor. We didn't know if we would arrive before our child was born. We didn't know if our child was a boy or a girl. We didn't even know if we would for certainly be allowed the gift of calling that child ours.
It was the kind of October that looked forward, with a chill wind and the illusion of snowflakes in the air. Sometimes we sat in awed silence - at other times, our rapidly spinning minds churned out long babbling brooks in the other's direction. Unlike the previous trips, where arrival and departure sat alongside each other in our plans, now we couldn't see beyond the one way. The destination was not back home. The destination was forward. Through the early October into a future that did not exist beyond each second we lived it.
We waited in the lobby of the juvenile court center, 9am in the morning on a frigid February day. The case before ours was another adoption, one of the few happy events that judges and their clerks get to participate in on their jobs. That case looked to be two parents and their child, maybe 7 or 8 years old, and they left smiling. I wondered to myself how our journeys had been similar, and how they had been different. You had been in our arms since you were 10 minutes old. You wouldn't be able to remember a time before our family, and you wouldn't be able to remember this day - the butterflies in your Daddy's stomach, the shine of tears kept tight in your Papa's eyes, the loving cluster of all four of your grandparents around us.
The judge was a formal man until the gavel was swung (even now, mere hours later, I wonder if he truly did that... details blur so quickly). Then you could tell how happy he was for us, for the part he could play. You found his voice mesmerizing, and during the pictures, as we all knew you would, you grabbed onto the offered hammer, and tried to put it in your mouth. It was just another day for you, just another outing into some strange, wondrous new place to explore. And when we finally returned home, you and your Papa napped on our bed the same you would have done any other day.
Except now you are a Winters. Now the eyes of the law recognize you as our child. The butterflies in Daddy's stomach settled down to rest, and Pape let one tear fall and was unburdened. You will grow up never knowing a life before we were all together, but Papa and Daddy will remember that strange time when you were our child yet not, and how blessed we were when that strange contradiction was finally laid to rest.
When you were first born, it seemed that every day was a recovery from the travail of coming into this world. That has changed. You are awake now, with eyes gone curious and a body impatient to conquer. The patterns we thought we had woven are coming undone, and we must struggle to adapt again, to catch up to your rapidly growing world. Now what we say matters, as does how we say it. How we spend our time, how we guide your patterns, what we present before you - all this feels critical and vital. It's not a limbo hung between feeding and sleeping. Now, you are here, and we must give you the best of everything your mind hungers for, and teach it to hunger more.
I present as a white, thin, able-bodied, straight, Christian, cisgendered male. Some of this is from appearances, and some of this is defaulted from the observer's cultural prejudice. Some of these are false - I am not straight, thin or Christian. But I still benefit from these assumed qualities when it comes to social privilege on an immediate and casual basis. Places like the grocery store, the bank, walking in my neighborhood, going to a job interview. Because I represent such an 'idealized' demographic (as far as American society is endoctrinated to believe), I have always experienced this privilege, and it means I have a huge blind spot as to how it benefits me. It has taken me a long time to accept this fact - who wants to be told that they've gotten where they are in life due to factors other than hard work and 'deserving it'?
My daughter will most likely not present as white. Regardless of how her body develops, she will be held to different standards when it comes to thinness. She may present as able-bodied, straight, Christian, cisgendered and/or female, but she might not. And for each immediate deviation that a casual observer sees, the assumed qualities will disappear as well. It's very possible that my daughter, for whom I will give my everything, will just have a harder time in the world through no fault of her own.
This is not a huge revelation to many people - women, PoC, transgendered individuals. This is a fact that is always in front of them. I don't pretend to be coming down from the mountain with an epiphany for all. But it is all the more real with this little person, this wonderful child in my charge. It is unfair that it took the birth of my daughter to get me to rise to action. I should have fought against the inequalities before now, on behalf of people I know and people I don't. It's comfortable up on this pedestal. However, for her sake, I would do anything. So for her sake, I have to be vigilant, and have to fight against my own benefit a little harder.
Time continues its stealthy march, and I don't steal enough of it for you, my love. I haven't captured the moments, the gasps of breath that define who we are as a family in these early days. I don't have a trove of treasures for you to sit a top in twenty years, eyes alight with all that could be remembered. The noisy way you sleep, the uncontrolled snarl of your upper lip, the way your eyes open bright when in the shadow. These are things that sit on the surface now, and I can't imagine a time when I will forget them. But years of sedimentary memory will build, and I may recall that you had a curious gaze but not the exquisite detail of when you stopped looking and started seeing.
So I must push myself to record the wonder that is you. I must take pictures and rehearse stories and write, write, write the glory that is being your parent. Yet even now, do I romanticize it to the point where it becomes unbelievable, how much your Papa and I are entranced by you? Do I color a past that is still the present, even though the goal is to capture it for you? And for myself.
You were born in a warm October, when the leaves took forever to fall. You were with us twenty minutes after birth, and we've never let you go. Your sleep is far from slient, and it is a comfort to us when we listen for you from across our bedroom. Your burps are full, robust. We think your eyes will be brown, once the otherworldy shimmer of newborn leaves them. You have long fingers, a fold on the top of your right ear and a point at the top of your left. You hate a wet diaper and love time on your tummy.
In between a thousand moments of the newborn in our house, I found some brief time to mourn the one year anniversary of Buttons' passing. It was not a grand affair - it lacked pagentry, dramatics and ritual. I merely brushed against the scar, mostly healed now, and remembered what it meant to be a part of his life, what he meant for mine, and I wept three tears. He was a good boy. Miss you, my little dragon.
Your birth mother chose not to know your biological sex before you were born. Your Papa and I saw no need to know either - you would be who you would be, and all our planning up to that point had been for any outcome. But your mother thought you were a boy. Something in the way you were carried in the womb, something about the way you behaved.
Your Papa and I thought the same thing, independently of one another. We only confessed these feelings on the long, windy drive up to Fargo for your birth. We hadn't kept these feelings to ourselves because of disappointment, or excitement. Again, it just seemed a thing that didn't matter. It was a mere footnote to the experience.
All the hospital staff thought you would be a boy as well. When referring to you, still inside your mother, it was always 'he' and 'him' and 'that boy'. Some of it they attributed to your stubbornness; your mother ended up being in labor for over 24 hours. Some of it I imagine was the unfair way our society appends a male identity to the gender unknown. The anonymous male pronoun that seeps into our discourse despite our more enlightened wishes. And some of it may have been that strange feeling that had goaded your mother, your father and I to think that we would be having a little boy.
As the delivery loomed, I tried out the phrases 'my son' and 'my daughter' on my tongue. No longer this future child, but a very quickly approaching reality. Neither one sounded better than the other - in fact, they both thrilled and terrified me with their realness. Someday perhaps you will chastise me for being so caught up in the gender binary, and tell me that 'my child' should have remained more real, more honest and more important than an engendered title. Forgive your poor, simple father, for I had and still have no intention of limiting you based on your biological sex, but there was still a rush to soon know if you would be 'he' or 'she'.
You were born at 1:23 am. Your Papa and I were not in the room, but asleep in our own hospital bed down the hall. A knock awoke us, and there was your birth grandmother, who had driven for hours from Montana just to be with you and your mother for this event. We had just met that day - hours beforehand, honestly - and she had just left the delivery room to come to tell us. "It's a girl," she said.
And I wept, and I smiled. The breath was gone from me, and I embraced your Papa so hard. A daughter had come to us. She was here.
Cyndel for magic
Sophia for wisdom
Winters for majesty
In college, a dear friend of mine gifted me with a fairy that she had sculpted. Orange skinned and cocky, with a clock on his chest and a mohawk of purple feathers. He was a time fae, and a gift from one glamor-soaked mind to another. He sat on my altar for years, traveling with me from college dorm to college dorm, up north for summer stock theater, into three different apartments, a townhouse, and now to my current home.
I think it was only two years after she gave it to me that she remarked how surprised she was that I still had it. She said that so many that she had given away had already been broken, lost or forgotten. I took such a statement as a sign of my devotion to her and our friendship.
I do not know that woman any more. I don't remember the name that she gave the fae she gifted me. And this spring, an overzealous new canine in our home pulled him from my alter, and chewed him into seventeen pieces. I've held onto to those pieces, deluding myself that somehow, I will be able to put him back together. That the gesture of keeping him means that I am still devoted to a friendship that is merely history now, and no doubt skewed by memory and time.
But I cannot fix him, and I do not know that woman any more. So I resign myself to the loss, and try to deal with these feelings of failure.
I'm sorry, Susan.