The last time I had to deal with "back to school" stress, I was on the other side of it... sometimes it feels not that long ago that I was Lauren, facing a year of high school. Sometimes I really feel how it was "two lifetimes" ago. I've come so far. Which is scary, since it also means I'm that much further from the life I started out with. Don't think I haven't occasionally eyed that "Tyler" I keep putting in my subject line with dismay, wondering if it's time to put it away... even if I become male again, I will never be that person to the outside world. But if I delete it, that leaves me as merely "Judith," which I'm not ready to say I am, either.
This time the stress is an entirely different beast. Not only did I have to take the lead in getting "Olivia" ready to go back to school - started at her new school, that is - Kitty and I also had to have some uncomfortable conversations about what that even means.
Let's face it, the kid is a 12-year-old boy at heart. You can convince a man to behave like a woman if that's how he looks (it's shockingly easy, I've found) and you can convince a grownup to tap into their high school years and go along with their lot. But a 12-year-old kid being forced to pretend he's two years younger? When all he wants to do is grow up and get on with his life? That's downright painful. I wasn't excited about the idea of slotting him into the fifth grade. but Kitty made the argument that being around Olivia's friends would help "socialize" him, because instead of making new friends, he would have ready-made friends who already had a bond with "her." Now, I don't think I would have bought into that argument much if it weren't for the fact that Lauren's friends actually did sort of help me adapt to my time as her, but I don't think that was as big an advantage here.
Think of the alternative, though: skipping him ahead, maybe even two years? That feels like it would make him an outcast twice over. The boys would see him as a girl. The girls would see him as a 10-year-old pipsqueak. It's a no-win scenario.
Kitty suggested a compromise: put Olivia in the sixth grade. I told her that would be the worst of both worlds: he's still repeating, and separated from Olivia's friends. Plus there's a whole web to untangle if the real Olivia gets back to her life and isn't prepared for what she missed... although that's low on our list of priorities right now, I'm sorry to say.
Kitty is very much into "Olivia" carrying on the life she appears to have. If that means Dylan has to suffer through the fifth grade again, so be it as far as she's concerned. He wants her to be a perfect little daughter, playing with the hopscotch other girls or whatever else a fifty-year-old woman imagines kids do.
But when I look at Dylan, I still see a rough and tumble boy who wants to explore and get dirty. He's smarter than a ten-year-old would be, by a lot, and more self-aware. You can't just plug him into someone else's life and say "tough luck, kiddo." He's going to ask questions about why it has to be a certain way.
And I know that, because in our first week as these people, he took me aside and said "Judith, why do girls have to pee sitting down? Why can't they invent a thing that lets them pee standing up?"
I told him that those things did exist, and that we could get him one if he wanted it, but most girls don't see the point in carrying around such a device everywhere they go. He understood that. I don't think that was him complaining about having to be a girl, I think he was just more interested in the theory. That tells me he's willing to accept the situation, but he needs a bit of reasoning.
So we sat down with him - under Kitty's protests because of course she believes parents have dictatorial powers and kids don't know what's best for themselves - and asked: what makes the most sense to you? Stay in the fifth grade, with Olivia's friends, and risk being bored learning things you learned two years ago, or skip ahead and risk feeling like an outsider?
When he's faced with a tough question he gets this blank look on his face that tells me he might not actually be exceptionally bright for a 12-year-old, but he wants to understand, and he wants to decide.
Even though I was rooting for the opposite outcome, I did note that with everything going on, it could be tough, and I would understand if he wanted to take the safer option of fifth grade.
Dylan deflated that pretty quickly by saying "Why would I wanna be stuck with a bunch of babies all year?"
I tried to supress a smile - any time Dylan sides with me over Kitty is a bit of a victory but I have to make sure not to get too outwardly. excited about it.
Kitty bit her lip and ran her hands over her head. "Okay, okay, fine. But if you're having a hard time, you let us know and we will make it right."
Afterwards, Kitty expressed some annoyance that we could never seem to get on the same page with the Kid, that I was just giving him whatever he wanted and earning his favor.
I thought that was a bit paranoid, but in retrospect she may have had a point. Kitty took him back-to-school shopping and, over his protests that he didn't want to swear anything with flowers, anything pink, preferring shorts, jeans and t-shirts, Kitty bought a bunch of dresses and skirts, some with pink floral patterns.
"I am not permitting any child of mine to go to school looking like... Huckleberry Finn! Male or female! It reflects poorly on us and on her. She'll be taunted endlessly. Nobody ever makes fun of a girl for dressing like a girl."
"What's the point?" I asked. "Why turn every morning into a battle of wills? Let the kid dress how he wants and the kids at school will react how they're gonna react. If he has his own sense of style he might make friends quicker."
Kitty grabbed his temples, miming a headache - borderline offensive given my stated headache issues as Judith - and said in a hushed voice, "Olivia is a girl. Stop confusing things... Judith."
I was not in the mood to be called that name at that time, so I stormed off, locked myself in the can and drew a bath. Lit some scented candles that are supposed to be calming. If I'm gonna be treated like a woman, I might as well treat myself the way one does.
I was still mad the next day, when it was time to take the Kid to the hairdresser. Kitty just wanted the ends trimmed, and "maybe some bangs if they feel she has the face for it," but Dylan was pushing me to let them cut it all off, and I was miffed enough at "Adrian" to let them do it.
I immediately regretted it, figuring the potential fight was not worth it, that I should work at making peace instead of stoking the flames. I was all set to apologize when I brought the kid home, but he rushed ahead of me and Kitty saw her and...
"Oh my God... talk... about... adorable! Was this their idea? Because I love it! I would never have guessed she would look so cute with a pixie! I mean, it's not even in anymore but... wowza!"
I sighed in relief, unclenched a bit, and said it was a spur of the moment idea and that we thought she was going to be mad.
"I don't want us to hate each other," she said. "We're in this together, for better or worse... right?"
Well, that sounds suspiciously like... marriage vows. I mean, I know we're "married," but I still haven't decided how seriously to take it.
"Sure," I said with a smile. "We're in this together."
It almost feels like we're on the verge of making this work. But at the same time, if we don't figure out what "this" is, we might have some problems down the road.