Family / Life

How will my child break my heart?

tznius

The other day, I came upon this heartbreaking story written by a mother whose religious beliefs kept her from accepting her gay son as he was, realizing only too late she had confused fear with faith.

I cried reading it. It made me think simultaneously about my own coming out story and, as a parent, about being on the other end of a coming out event some time in the future, when one of my girls gets up the courage to tell me something I never expected to hear, but that I will have to accept and embrace.

Certainly, I wasn’t what my parents expected. In the tiny Orthodox Jewish town of Monsey, N.Y., I was raised to be a God-fearing, law-abiding, skirt-wearing, man-loving woman of valor. When I realized in my teens that I would not, could not, be that person—well, things got rough.

That’s me in the middle. (Ok, no, not really. But it could have been.)

I remember vividly what it was like, thinking there was no way forward, no life choice that would result in anything but gloom and doom. I saw only two roads: 1) deny who I was, marry a man, live the life God and my family expected for me, and lose a huge piece of myself; or 2) live as myself and lose my family, my Yiddishkeit, my history, and a huge piece of myself.

Like it has for so many other LGBT teens of all backgrounds, suicide did cross my mind. Thankfully, Jewish guilt overpowered my panic and depression. I couldn’t kill myself for the simplest of reasons: it would kill my mother.

Fortunately, I was able to hold on long enough to see the fog lift, and the path in front of me was real and bright and full of possibility. I was able to move forward and to accept myself and live my truth. And I was one of the lucky ones: after a bumpy beginning, my family found their way to acceptance. I don’t know if they consulted any rabbis, I don’t know whether any of them still silently prays for a miracle cure. But as far as what they show me, and how they treat my partner and our children, I am worthy of love and acceptance, just as I am.

When I was pregnant with our first child, I remember thinking about how lucky she would be. Our daughter would never be forced to wear those hideous frilly dresses I despised as a child. We’d buy her trucks and transformers instead of dolls and princesses. She could be herself, tattooed and pierced and spiky-haired, and she’d never have to fear coming out to us.

Of course, when I thought of my future daughter, still in utero, I realize now I was picturing myself as a child, fantasizing about an unconditional understanding and acceptance I would have loved to have had early on. I wasn’t picturing the child I gave birth to, who, as it turns out, has quite a fondness for lace and frill, glitter and glitz, fancy dresses and fancier shoes. All that I ran from, she holds dearest.

My fancy fashionista, age 7

That has made me wonder about what it is she may tell me and my partner in 10 or 15 years, wringing her hands, terrified, searching our faces for signs of acceptance or disapproval. What will she say that will knock the wind out of me and make me think to myself, “Where, oh where, did we go wrong?”

It took me a little while, but I think I’ve got it. One day, my eldest daughter, young, beautiful, full of promise, will tearfully confess that she is a registered NRA-card-carrying Republican and is dropping out of medical school to marry a Hassidic man named Chaim-Yankel from Borough Park.

Had I not planned ahead for this, my natural reaction probably would be to either have a stroke or lock her up in the basement and call whoever it is that de-programs people. But then I’d be no different than the moms who called Exodus International for help with their gay sons and daughters. So I choose to think of my response now, and practice it regularly. I will say, in all sincerity: “Sweetheart, I love you and I only want you to be happy and healthy. You will always be my daughter and I will always be there for you.”

I will watch her drive off with Chaim-Yankel to Brooklyn. And when their station wagon tail lights disappear around the bend, then, and only then, in the privacy of my kitchen,  will I drink an entire bottle of bourbon, cry for three days, and mourn the loss of the raging liberal tomboy I had always hoped she’d grow into.

The next time I see her, I will remember that all I ever wanted was for her to be happy. And if she truly is, I will be, too.

Secretly, though, I will probably still pray for a miracle cure—or at the very least, that it skips a generation.

 

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10 Comments

  1. Okay, so you might have missed the rest if the items on the list, but “woman of valor”? Sounds like you’ve got that one down. Your daughter is a lucky kid.

    • Heartily agreed. I love this meditation, C.J. My own path has some similarities (minus the God-fearing). I was so ready for my daughter to unfurl into the sort of free-range tomboy I was, and was shocked (shocked!) to find that, all things being the same, she preferred sitting still and reading or drawing, over running rampant and clambering up trees.

      It’s such an exercise to keep the mind and heart so open that we’re ready to prioritize parental love over even our own expectations. But a worthy one. Thanks for the company on the never-ending journey.

      • Thanks, Polly. It is indeed a never-ending journey towards acceptance of our children’s differences. I’m thinking maybe it’s an evolutionary/survival thing, like one of our motivations to procreate is to keep not only our lineage alive, but ourselves, to kind of stave off mortality, and that’s one of the reasons we need our children to act like us, or in familiar ways, as much as possible. But you’re right, a very, very worthy exercise. Thanks for reading.

    • Thank you, Cheryl! That is always comforting to hear.

      (PS, you’ll appreciate this: my name is Cheryl, too, and I once dated a woman named Cheryl. We met in a bar. We were talking and I asked her her name. “Cheryl,” she said. I paused, confused and then said, “No, what’s YOUR name?” 🙂 )

  2. My daughter is three and a half and I am flabbergasted almost daily on how different she is from me. She, like your daughter, is all about the dresses and frill and few things make her happier than Hello Kitty and princess anything. My mom used to have to fight me into a dress as a kid. She’s also incredibly outgoing, loves everybody, and loves being the center of attention. BUT we have one hint that maybe she’s a bit like me after all, more tomboy-ish than she lets on. She loves sports and her favorite pair of socks have soccer balls, basketballs and footballs on them. There is nothing quite like watching her run around playing soccer and climbing and playing in the dirt while dressed in her frilly dresses. I love watching her grow, even if she’s turning out nothing like I had expected.

  3. Michelle, your response made me smile. There is something so rewarding about seeing them comfortable in their own skin, whether it’s covered with lace and frills or soccer uniforms, watching them move freely, it really is its own joy. Makes up for all the time I have to spend shopping online for just the right glittery headband to go with the dress and the shoes and…

    🙂

    • Her confidence and comfort in her own skin floors me and makes me so darn happy for her. Its not something I’m personally familiar with because, honestly, I still have neither and I’ve had 27 years and 9 days more to figure it out than she has. While I never liked the frills and sparkles myself, I am learning to love shopping for them for her because they give her such joy. Who knows, maybe she’ll convert me where my mom’s 30 years of trying failed lol.

  4. My son once asked, “Mom, will you still love me if I’m straight?” and I thought, “How could he even wonder?” But kids want acceptance, even if it’s just for that NRA membership. Beautiful piece, CJ.

    • All kids really want is our love and acceptance and if they’re used to the norm of a two mom family and same sex relationships then maybe being straight would be something to actually be a little worried about. We know you’ll love him no matter what, and I’m sure someday he’ll catch on to the not-so-secret secret too =)

  5. Vicki, it’s really true—i think ours has thought it but not said it yet. I’m almost 101% sure she plays for the other team. She’s had crushes on boys since right around the time she started walking. So I make sure always to say “…one day when you find a girl OR boy you love….” 🙂

    On the other hand, she really likes the idea of having another uterus in the house. She’s not big on being preggers yet. Apparently, I mentioned something about pain. So maybe she’ll end up being a mormon polygamist.

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