A coming out story – how not to tell your parents

Wave the flag!

Wave the flag!

 

My daughter is many wonderful things: she’s beautiful, she has a razor sharp wit, she loves children, animals, art and music.  And oh yeah, she’s gay.  This is not a story about parenting a gay child or coming to terms with having a gay child or any of that jazz.  She’s gay, that’s cool, we’ll deal with what we need to deal with as she lives her life and support her however we can (that doesn’t result in her living at home till she’s 35, that is).  This is a story of the day our daughter decided she was ready to come out to those people most important in her world, and by that, I mean her close friends, some neighbors (who heard from their children, from the close friends group), her social media circle and then, oh yeah, her parents.  The order in which this information was spread was not necessarily her intention but it is how it worked out.  Hell, I think the cats knew before I did.

This happened a year or so ago – more or less.  I’m not entirely sure what filled our day that day but I do know it was a Saturday.  We all had our stuff to do and our places to go.  Our morning was likely filled with getting the kids up and out the door to their various private music lessons and back home again. Other stuff happened – it was a typical Saturday. At some point during the course of the late afternoon, I had to stop at a neighbor’s house – good friends of ours – and pick up my son who had spent part of his afternoon playing video games with their son.  As is usual when I run into these folks, the boy got an extra half hour of video time because the grownups got to chatting. In the course of my conversation with this lovely couple, one of them remarked at how proud I must be of my fearless daughter and how wonderful it was that she was so open and willing to talk about her identity.  The conversation went on along this thread for some time, with me smiling and nodding but having no real idea of what they were referring to.  I discovered later, of course, that my daughter had talked to her friend, who then mentioned it to her parents – the couple in question.  Frankly, their daughter should also be congratulated for being so open with her own parents about my girl’s revelation.

DAAfternoon wore into evening and we all went about our business.  My husband and I were getting ready for bed when I noticed a Facebook alert.  My daughter had posted a note on my and my husband’s walls:  “Mom, Dad, look at this:”  with a link.  The link, as it turned out, led to her Deviant Art profile page (DA is a social network for artsy types) where there was a simple message posted.  “I’m bisexual”.  Well okay, then.  Not what I was expecting to hear and certainly not HOW I’d expect to hear it.  Suddenly, things became clearer – this is the “brave, fearless move” she’d made earlier that her other friends already had seen and their parent’s discussed.  She’d posted this news on her DA page and word got round but as I didn’t look at her page that day, I didn’t see it when everyone else did.  She finally got sick of waiting and took the Facebook post route.

We called our daughter in to talk to us.  Nothing too deep – just that we were glad we knew and that we loved her and yes, she was very brave for being so honest.  Leave the bigger, deeper conversations for another day – the “how did you know?” and “how long have you known?” and “why the hell did you decide to use a social network used by almost a billion people to tell us?”.  Frankly, we treated it rather matter-of-factly; not to diminish the importance of her declaration but rather to make it not feel like a crisis or SOMETHING WE MUST DISCUSS.  Little by little, over the following days and weeks, more came out about her feelings and hopes.  She felt more comfortable talking about things like how it felt to be open and whether she felt accepted by her friends.  A month or two later, I noticed that her Facebook profile page listed her as “lesbian”, not “bi” any longer.  (See, I’m learning – I need to stay on top of these updates!)  I did ask her about that and she confessed that she never actually was bisexual – she just thought it might be easier for us if we did the transition from straight to gay gradually.  Uh, sure.

Here’s the important thing.  She’s my daughter.  I love her no matter what.  I am in awe of her bravery and ability to hold her head high and say to the world who she is.  Gay, straight, blue or purple, she’s my girl and my dearest hope is for her to be happy in her own skin and lead a fulfilled life.  My and my husband’s job is to support her while she grows, protect her when she needs it, comfort her when it’s hard and keep on pushing her to be her best her.  How we do that – who knows?  We’re learning as we go along, much as we are with our son.  And there’s a ton I don’t know – are her needs different?  I’d love to connect with folks who have been through this – both parents and those who have come out – to understand what I don’t know.  If you’re gay – what would you have liked to have had from those you loved when you were a teenager?  What did you get that helped – or hurt?

likeOne thing I do believe we’ve learned from the experience.  Major life announcements should not be made via certain social media networks. 🙂

 

CC Flag Image used courtesy of Datchler on Flickr

This one other time at the nail salon…

On the heels of a long discussion on the duty we all have to care for our parents as they age.

Nail Tech: My mom had Alzheimer’s – it was sometimes very difficult to handle her care. This one time, she broke her hand and we had to take her to the ER.  They put a cast on and sent her home. The next morning, she woke up, saw the cast and, because she had no memory of going to the hospital, decided we were torturing her.  She yelled and screamed at me for days.

Me: That must have been very difficult to deal with.  How did you handle it?

Nail Tech: I got some medicinal weed.

Me: Did that help her?

Nail Tech: Nah, it was for me.  She kept yelling – it just didn’t bother me anymore. 🙂

 

Well played, Nail Tech.  Well played.

 

This one time at the nail salon…

My daughter in her pink phase. She's been many colors over the years.

My daughter in her pink phase. She’s been many colors over the years.

Nail Tech:  “Your daughter has lovely hair – where does she get it done?”

Me: “Thanks!  She’s a natural pink, actually.”

Daughter: (rolls eyes at mom) “My mom does my hair”

Nail Tech: “Well, either way, she gets it from you.

 

Well played, nail tech.  Well played.

Fear and loathing at solo and ensemble: the viola diaries

viola01

This is a long one, folks.  Might want to grab a snack…

My daughter plays the viola.  I may have mentioned this in the past.  She’s a junior in high school and has played since fifth grade – much of that with a private teacher in addition to school.  She’s a good musician – not Carnegie Hall-bound but she makes sounds that are lovely to hear and enjoys what she does and that’s enough for both of us.

Being a part of the school orchestra has been an integral part of her education.  In many ways, I think it makes high school survivable for her and many of these kids.  Her orchestra director handles both the middle school and her high school so she’s been playing for him and with many of the same kids since 6th grade.  It’s a lot easier walking into high school when you have a place you belong and a group that knows and accepts you, not to mention upperclassmen who have your back.  I hear it every year at the spring banquet when the seniors give their farewell speeches, they all (well, mostly the girls -they’re more highly evolved, as we all know, and able to express a feeling or two) express how wonderful it was knowing they had a safe, welcoming place to go every day.  So all that acceptance AND a musical education? Hard to beat.

this crazy-looking thing is an alto clef.

this crazy-looking thing is an alto clef.

However, along with all of this educational and peer-acceptance goodness comes a price.  For some, it’s giving up an elective every term. For others, it’s juggling practice and sports commitments.  For my daughter, that price is called “Solo & Ensemble”.  This is a yearly event where students are forced have the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of a piece of music for the four horsemen of the apocalypse a certified judge, who rates and critics their performance.  Students are graded on a 5 point scale, with 1 being the best, 5 the worst and a 3 considered average.  Students can play solo or in a group of 2-5 (hence, “ensemble).  Students that get a 1 rating can move on to the state competition, with the best demonstrating their chops at a big event at Western Michigan University.  It’s a pretty big deal, so I hear.

For many students, it’s an opportunity to hone their skills and rack up some nice entries for future college applications.  For my daughter, it’s sheer torture.  Her first year, it wasn’t too bad. She’d never been so didn’t really know what to expect.  She did her thing and came away with a 2 rating.  She was thrilled, wore her medal daily for a bit and time marched on.  The next year, she signed up again, but this time with more trepidation.  See, in the year since the first go-round, she’d discovered that many of her classmates scored 1’s.  She started to get nervous about the whole solo-for-a-judge-for-a-rating format.  Instead of throwing herself into practicing in order to be as prepared as possible – as her long-suffering parents were urging – she actually balked at practicing at all. The closer we got to The Day, the harder it was to get her to practice; And because she felt unprepared because she wasn’t practicing, her nerves grew worse by the day.  This is not a good scenario for anyone involved.  The Day arrived and things went much as expected: she worked herself into a pretty good froth by the time her turn came around. A few moments later, she came out in tears.  She’d lost her way part way through her piece, froze and had to start over.  The judge still gave her a 2 because the portions she played, she did well.  This was no consolation to my daughter – she didn’t want her medal but instead hustled me out the door as quickly as possible.  She not only felt she was given the 2 because the judge felt sorry for her (not likely – they are tough creatures) but she also knew her classmates would likely walk in with their 1 medals come Monday morning.

The next year came and went without S&E – she’d decided not to enter that year (big surprise).  This year, however, she’d moved up to the top level orchestra at school.  This was a move she really wanted but with entree to the Symphony came a dreaded required appearance at S&E.  We all agreed that this year would be different.  We’d begin prepping earlier this year; plenty of time to practice and master the piece, plenty of time to feel better about the whole thing.  Yep, we were really going to lick this thing this year, my husband and I agreed.  Unfortunately, the girl wasn’t so much on board.  She was already convinced that doom was imminent and there was nothing to be done about it.  As with the previous time, the more we urged her to practice, the harder she fought it.  She spent the time instead, I think, creating a big, scary phantom in her head that told her how poorly she was going to do and how nothing was going to make a difference in this outcome.

The big day came.  She was largely subdued for the morning, practicing quietly when prompted.  Right around the time I suggested she get herself dressed and ready to go (it was an hour drive to the location), the wheels came off the bus.  My daughter largely collapsed, sobbing, begging me not to make her go.  It’s parenting moment-of-truth time, folks.  Do I prop her up, bundle her into the car and push her through the experience, safe within the Nietzche-ian truth that getting through this experience and coming out the other side still alive will make her stronger or do I back down, understand that the trauma being brought on by this experience, as my daughter sobbed, physically sick with fear, was more damaging than building?  I tried the peptalk thing to no avail, all while texting her dad, who was out of town for work to fill him and and get his take.  I was really torn – I didn’t want to hurt her but I’m so aware of the fears I harbor because I was allowed to walk away from anything I found too challenging.  Luckily, my husband could see things a bit more clearly, and perhaps less emotionally, (not having the sobbing girl in his lap) and called a halt.  This was doing her more harm than good.  A very relieved girl soon fell asleep, exhausted from all the to-do.  I notified her accompanist and wrote to her orchestra teacher to explain the situation. (He was lovely about the whole thing)

It’s been a week now since this happened.  I spent a day or so questioning whether we made the right call and then let it go.  We’ve spoken to her teacher, who had many good suggestions to get her through the next time and will work with her private instructor as well.  She has a recital coming up in June. I’m hopeful – I have to be – that this one will go better.  The most important thing to us is that her fear of occasions such as this don’t take the joy out of making music.

I’d love to hear from others, though.  How have you helped your child through a fear like this?

Hi Mom

Today would be my mom’s 87th birthday.

She isn’t here any more – we lost her at the age of 80 to complications from pancreatic cancer. She hadn’t even started her chemo/radiation yet.  Once night she complained she wasn’t feeling well. Later that night, she woke my dad and told him to call the doctor.  He left the room for a moment, came back and she was gone. Blood clot in the lungs was the informed guess from her physician.

When she died, it was like the center of our world went dark.  For my father, 82 at the time and with myriad health issues, the sun had ceased to shine when his wife of 61 years left him behind.  For us, it was simply astounding.  Mom was the strong one, the capable and steady one.  My father was battling so many health woes – cancer, CHF, kidney failure (caused by the cancer treatment!) and all of the minor ills that come with these major deals.  Mom was his caregiver; the keeper of binders full of test results and physician notes, the one who handled his dietary needs (considerable, for a dialysis patient), kept all of his doctors straight, doled out the drugs.  Sure, my brothers and sister and I helped but she was the rock in the center – all-seeing and all-knowing.

Time to step up.  The next year became a whirlwind of cleaning out, organizing care, communicating with everyone and the very difficult task of helping a truly heartbroken old man find a way back to living again. We had Dad for another 2 1/2 years before finally losing him to a stroke.

I think the crazy whirl of activity helping put my dad back together – and keeping him that way, at least while we could – in some ways blunted the grief I felt for my mom.  Yes, when it first happened and the shock passed, I sobbed. I found myself in tears at the oddest moments for at least a year.  I also found myself on an anti-anxiety medication, but that’s a story for another time.  I expect that some day I’ll have to finish my abbreviated trip through the grief process for Mom.  Days like today, her birthday, and the feelings that have come over me in waves today make that apparent.  It’ll come.  In the meantime, I miss you Mom. I still need you.

My mom at age 78, with her new kitten CoCo.  Coco now lives with me.

My mom at age 78, with her new kitten CoCo. Coco now lives with me.