National Coming Out Day

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240px-Logo_ncod_lgStand with Trans is here for trans youth and their families. Our intention is to be a resource, a source of support, a safe place, a non-judgmental-all inclusive organization which is growing and evolving every day. Vocabulary is changing. As a community, we are becoming smarter about gender identity. As a mom of a trans masculine identified teenager, I work everyday to be an ally and an advocate. I have made mistakes. I am not perfect. I hope to be a strength to other parents out there, whether they are just beginning to come out or have been on this journey for years. On National Coming Out Day, I thought I’d share a bit about my own coming out as a parent.
When my son told me he was transgender in 2013, I was clueless. The word transgender was unknown to me. It wasn’t part of my vocabulary. The phrase “gender identity disorder” sounded scary. Did my son have a disorder? What did all of this mean?
Many of you have heard our story. You know that I talk about unconditional love and what parenting choice is all about. However, I’ve never given much thought to talking about my “coming out” or my family’s “coming out.” I’d like to share a bit here in the hope that other parents who are just finding out who their child is, may learn from my words.
Let me preface this with a caveat. Talking about a parent’s coming out in no way minimizes or erases what a transgender person goes through when they decide to tell the world that they have a different gender identity then they were assigned at birth. What I want to point out is that parents, too, have a journey and it begins with their child’s coming out, regardless of what day it is.
In March 2013, my younger child told me that she was a he; that he was transgender. I didn’t know what to do with that information. Honestly, initially I thought it was about shopping in the boys’ department. I had never given any thought to my own gender identity much less that of my children. I never questioned that I was female. I did often wonder why my “daughter” had male avatars in all the games and wanted to wear “boy” costumes and clothing but beyond that, the internal dialogue ended.
I told my husband about the “coming out” conversation. Then, I began to google. I knew, deep down, that this was not a phase. I knew that my child was going through something really BIG that would change the course of his life. Little did I know that it would change mine as well.
Beyond discussing this with my spouse, I told no one. I didn’t know how to bring up the subject. I didn’t fully understand what this all meant. I wasn’t ready to come out.
About a month after my son told me he identified as a trans guy, my husband and I went to visit some friends across the country. This was my best friend (friends since 7th grade) and her husband. I could tell her anything and knew she would not turn her back on me. During the visit I wanted so badly to “come out” to her; to tell her what was going on in my world with my child. Every day of our trip I wanted to spill the beans. I just couldn’t. I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for all the questions I couldn’t answer, for all the conversation that would ensue, for the topic that would monopolize our visit. So, I kept it to myself that week and for many weeks to come.
For my son to come out to me and then to the world (of social media) not long after, it took an enormous amount of courage. He spent two years researching so he could figure it all out. He didn’t choose a special day to tell me; it was a an ordinary day that included a request to schedule a haircut appointment. The only significant thing about request is that the style he chose was a boys’ hair style. This was unexpected. Surprising, in fact. That was his “coming out” moment. That otherwise perfectly normal, “I need a haircut” statement, became a monumental marker in the turning point for our family.
He had never been so sure of anything in his life and I had never been so unsure and shaken. I didn’t want it to be true. I didn’t know how to talk about it. I had nowhere and no one to turn to for advice. I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t ready to come out.
When my son, Hunter, decided to come out on Facebook, he neglected to let any of us know that he was taking the public, social media plunge. Once he hit “post” the floodgates opened. Many of his sister’s friends didn’t know. She wasn’t ready to “come out” to them. She was still processing what it meant and how to manage the fact that her baby sister was now her little brother. Her phone erupted in a steady stream of pings as the questions and texts from friends began to flow. She wasn’t ready or prepared to come out.
For those of you out there who are choosing this day to “come out” I honor your courage and respect your choice to share. If you are a trans youth who is just coming out, remember that you’ve been thinking about this for quite some time – likely years. You may need to be patient with your parents. Help them with resources and statistics so they can learn and help support you on your journey to becoming you. And, most of all, remember that you are enough just the way you are. Let your light shine.


Stand with Trans is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. You can find more information at http://www.standwithtrans.org or @standwithtrans on Facebook or @standwithtransmi on instagram.

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Mother’s Day: Part II

I can’t remember when I decided that I wanted to have children. As a tween, I babysat a few times but didn’t really enjoy it. I never felt comfortable in someone else’s home changing diapers for babies I wasn’t related to. As the oldest of three I definitely did more than my share of “babysitting” every Saturday night when my parents went out. So, I had lots of experience caring for children. And, I loved to play house as a young child. But that was all pretend; it wasn’t a future I planned for. It wasn’t something I saw myself doing as an adult. Certainly, I didn’t have dreams of being a mom – my view of what that meant was narrow and skewed.

My mother was a homemaker in the late 50s through the 70s; a house wife. Until this moment I hadn’t pondered the phrase “house wife.” What does that mean? Just the words sound belittling and demeaning; rather Cinderella-ish, if you ask me. My mom never worked outside the home. In fact, my dad used to joke that she quit her job the day they got engaged. She wasn’t a fan of school and had no interest in going to college. In those days, women weren’t encouraged to get an education. Her brother, however, was expected to go to college and earned his Ph.D., teaching at the university level for more than 40 years. That was not for my mom and there was no expectation to advance her education. She wanted to have a family. In fact, she confessed that her motivation to get married was so she could have babies and be a mother.

That life wasn’t for me. I wanted to “be something.” To me, staying home and managing the household wasn’t appealing. I didn’t see value in it and my mom didn’t make any effort to endorse her role or sway me in a different direction.  Without an alternative in mind, I knew for sure that I wasn’t going to be a stay at home parent. I had no dreams about a white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a husband who would provide for me. I was my own woman and would figure it out. (More on that later)

Growing up, I was told, “you can be anything you set your mind to.” Funny thing is that whenever I mentioned a career aspiration, my father would find some reason why that path was not good enough. If you hear that enough times, it’s hard to find confidence in any decision or the inner strength to forge ahead. Other than the negative feedback, I had no guidance whatsoever. Neither of my parents went to college so they hadn’t a clue as to how to advise me when the time came to apply. And, parents back then were not likely to hover; there were no college tours, test prep or AP courses to worry about. Just bring home A’s and make the folks happy. Good grades equaled success. Sadly, when I got to college and everyone had A’s in high school, I quickly learned that good grades were not enough.

College in the 70s was interesting and quite different than college today. Life in the 70s was very different. We didn’t have technology to connect us to a universe of resources, high-end laptops to write and research, mobile devices that never left our hands or a need to worry about security and safety. Dorm room doors were always open; if you wanted to talk to someone on the floor, you walked down the hall. Feeling lonely and wanted to call home, you picked up the corded phone attached to the wall in every room and dialed your house phone. Smoking pot was not prohibited, blue security lights across campus didn’t exist and you could walk around in the wee hours of the morning drunk or high without anyone giving you a second glance. College was a place to find yourself, figure out your future, meet Mr. or Ms. Right and begin a life worth living.

I didn’t find myself or Mr. Right or my future path. I found sadness and loss and escape.

When I graduated it was without my mom by my side. My dad, his new wife and my siblings were there. It was not a joyous day. I was no closer to identifying my career path than I was four years earlier. There isn’t much I remember about the day other than my dad was in a horrific mood and ranted that, “we were all ruining his day.” HIS DAY!?

Soon after, I boarded a plane with a friend to travel around Europe. As part of the planning, I practiced walking with a full backpack that was a cross between a hiking pack and a soft-sided suitcase. I cut my hair short, which alleviated the need to pack hair styling products. I don’t think I even took a single make-up item. This was the no-frills version of me. Since the pack could only hold so much, I limited myself to a few necessary clothing items, a journal, a rough itinerary and a yearning to get away. It was late summer, 1980, and the plan was to see London, Paris, Munich, multiple cities in Italy and Greece. Once again, the fatherly feedback was negative. His opinion – don’t travel, use the money to buy a car, and get to work. In my mind, this was the only time in my life when I would be able to just take off, work could wait (I had no idea what I was going to do anyway), and I’d figure out my transportation when I returned. I needed to do this.

The trip was amazing. I practiced my French, ate my way through Italy and inadvertently sampled goat’s milk in Greece. We drank beer in Munich at the Oktoberfest with the best roasted chicken and fries I’ve ever had. Our accommodations ranged from tents to youth hostels to small, inexpensive inns. We gravitated to others our age on the same identity seeking mission and rode the trains from one country to the next. After six weeks of being a nomad I was tired. I was homesick. I was broke. I needed to come home.

My travel partner was not ready to turn in her backpack for her cozy room at home. I needed to leave. In one day, I booked by ticket, flew from Italy to London and home. Before heading to the airport, I called home (from a call center designed to accommodate tourists) to let my dad know of my plans. The phone was answered by his new-ish wife; dad was not at home. So, I gave her my news, shared that I was just exhausted and needed to be home.

Her response, “So soon?”

 

Stay tuned for Part III

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Mother’s Day: Part I

I have been motherless for nearly 40 years. I was 21, a senior in college and unprepared and ill-equipped to fully deal with or understand what this profound, life-changing event would mean for me or to my siblings. Not yet an adult, I certainly lacked the maturity required to manage this loss. There was no guidance ahead of time or conversations about what we would do when the time came. No one talked about the big “C” forty years ago. And, no one talked about the severity and seriousness of my mom’s diagnosis in front of her. Somewhere along the line, a decision was made to keep things from her. This “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy meant that everyone walked around with their heads in the sand or truly unaware and unable to imagine a time without her.

As a teen, I was rebellious. My parents were stupid…(in my mind) didn’t understand anything and they never left room for possibilities. Conversations were shut down with a word. My mother never asked me about anything she didn’t want to know about. More “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That seemed to be the family motto. Truths were cloaked in secrecy. Private whispers shoved to the background because there were just some things that shouldn’t be talked about.

Ironically, as a young child I was clingy and hated leaving my mother’s side. I couldn’t play for more than a few minutes outside without running in to check on her whereabouts. I remember yelling down to the basement through the laundry shoot to see if she was there or where in the house she might be. God forbid she left me. In fact, one summer, when I was four years old, I overhead by mom talking about sending me to the parks and recreation day camp. Unfortunately, you needed to be five years old to attend…fortunately for me, I had one more summer at home with my mama. Apparently, in those days, proof of birth date was not required. My mom walked me to the camp and signed me up…just like that. Was she so desperate to get rid of me? She lied to the camp office. I never went anywhere without her except to my grandparents’ house. That day, 57 years ago, is imprinted on my brain like a tattoo. No sooner did my mom turn and walk off that I began to cry…hysterical, wracking sobs. “I want my mommy…. I’m only four,” I managed to get out in between tears. BUSTED. My mom was called to come retrieve me. She must have been so embarrassed. Can you imagine?

Then came puberty. My mother handed me a book and told me to let her know if I had questions. SERIOUSLY? This was the “film strip” era; health in school was delivered via this medium and certainly wasn’t taught in a way that celebrated puberty, changing bodies or healthy sexual relationships. I believe that at one point my mom did tell me that intercourse happens when a man and a woman (who are married) love each other. By the way, this is the very same woman who had three babies delivered while under general anesthesia. So much was hidden, not talked about and attached to some level of shame. She couldn’t teach me how to use a tampon and didn’t offer to go bra shopping or find appropriate make-up for a 12-year-old. I needed her for all of those things and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” mindset made it impossible for me to let her know this.

When I was a sophomore in college the call came from my dad who handed over the phone to my mom, I didn’t really know what to make of the information. Something had happened while she was out enjoying a ladies’ luncheon. Whatever she experienced scared her. She asked me to come home; she needed me. I don’t think I’d ever heard my mom say that. I didn’t know what my presence would do for her or why she needed me. But, she did. So, home I went. I went to the doctor’s appointment with both my mom and dad where difficult news was shared. I was just a kid (in my mind). On some level, I think I knew more than she did, but we never talked about it.

Surgeries, chemo, hair loss, radiation and devastating news…the tumor is back. More poisonous cancer treatments.

I was away at school so not plugged in to the day to day at home. Keep in mind this was before facetime was even an idea and the only phones we had were attached to the wall with a cord. I believe it was Passover. I came home for the traditional Seder and brought a friend from school. We took the bus from campus. When my parents picked us up at the bus stop, there was a stranger among the group… no one bothered to tell me that the cancer treatments changed my mom’s physical appearance. My mom was nearly unrecognizable. I actually let out a gasp when I realized who I was looking at. In that moment, I was angry and ashamed. That was not my mom. She didn’t look like that. And why didn’t anyone prepare me?

There were quite a few life events that I was unprepared for, especially my first few Mother’s Days without my mom. More shame. I didn’t know how to get past the day of not having a mother. I felt less than. I couldn’t talk about it. Kids were supposed to have mothers and fathers. I didn’t know any different until it happened to me. And then, it was unnatural. It was something to hide. More “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I was ashamed to be a motherless daughter.

Four decades later, Mother’s Day has a very different meaning. However, I’m keenly aware of those who are without and those who are experiencing their very first without their mom. It is a loss that is unimaginable. Even as adults, we need our moms or a mom-like figure in our lives; someone who will love you without question, who will feed your soul, nourish your mind and fill your heart like no one else.

Part II

To come

 

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I am not ashamed to be transgender

Shame: a painful feeling of humiliation or distress

When I asked my son (who is transgender) what kind of impact our support had, he looked me straight in the eye (which teenagers generally don’t do) and said, “I don’t feel ashamed of who I am.” Several years later and I can still feel the power behind that statement that he uttered with such conviction, not a moment’s hesitation.

kindnessIf you’re a parent and grappling with the news that your child is now identifying as transgender or as a gender other than the one assigned at birth, I want you to think back to your childhood…elementary school, middle school or junior high as it was called when I was in 7th and 8th grade, or even high school. I bet you can come up with at least one instance where your eyes stung with tears and your cheeks burned red-hot because another child taunted you about your weight, your hair, your glasses, your braces, the way you ran, or some other comment meant to bully, put down and ultimately shame. All that humiliation comes flooding back, doesn’t it?

Learning that you have a transgender child can shake your world. The knowledge that your son is your daughter or that she is now going by they is life-altering. Without your support, not only will the instance of shame and humiliation increase, but 57% of youth who don’t have their parents’ support will attempt suicide. When I first heard the news from my younger child that he identified as a boy, I didn’t know anything. What I did know was that I would support him in any way that I could so he had every chance imaginable to lead a happy, healthy, productive life. When trans youth are supported, not only don’t they feel ashamed of who they are, they are less likely to be the target of harassment. They feel more confident and can hold their head up high. The message received from home is that they matter, they have value. This support validates them as a person.

The shame I felt when kids mocked me for wearing glasses (many moons ago a kid wearing glasses was in the minority) or called me names like chubby or four-eyes, penetrated me to the core. I could get contacts, or lose weight or wear different clothes. A transgender person cannot change who they are. Their identity is hard-wired.

So, the next time you hesitate when your child asks you to change pronouns or buy them different clothing or a chest binder, think about those moments when you were a child and what it felt like to be shamed or humiliated. Let’s give our youth the tools they need to succeed. We need to boost their self-esteem through acceptance. As a community we can educate others once we understand. As families, we need to celebrate these diverse, individuals who have so much to offer and such a unique way of looking at the world.

If you or a loved one needs additional resources, feel free to check out www.standwithtrans.org

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Every Day Transitions

This morning I read two stories on Facebook that brought sadness; each touched me in a very different way.

Part One

tony trupiano

Tony Trupiano

Tony Trupiano, a lifelong learner and a staunch ally to the LGBT community (especially the T), passed away. I’d only know Tony a few years. He ran a radio show, The Voice of the People, when we met via phone.

He invited me to come on the show to tell my story – a story about parenting a trans boy. Then, he invited me to become a regular guest. Before every show, I worried about what I might talk about, what was new in my world and what was topical relative to the transgender community. Though often times I landed on my topic at the last minute, Tony made it effortless. He was such a great interviewer and host. I always felt exhilarated at the end of the segment and couldn’t believe how quickly our time together passed. One day he called to let me know the show was ending. It wasn’t financially lucrative and he could no longer sustain the effort required to keep it going. I felt sad for him. He loved the role of radio talk show host. Several times we made plans for him to come to brunch or to meet for a glass of wine. Each time, there were circumstances out of his control that prevented him from keeping the plans. Then, he confided in me that he had a number of personal transitions in his life that he was dealing with. Time passed. Another day on Facebook and I see a notification that he is gravely ill and battling for his life. There was a gofundme to help with all of his expenses. I sent my good wishes, always hoping for a bright light to shine on him. From what I could gather, he was winning his fight and on the mend, though weak, physically and emotionally, from all he’d endured.

This morning I read that he passed away. I felt so sad for this man whom I never actually met face to face. This man who touched my life and lifted me up by sharing my story and helping to educate community about what it meant to be transgender. Tony, rest in peace, my friend. You touched many with your beautiful soul.

Part Two

The Toth family. In a instant all four family members were gone. Vacationing in Colorado. Their van didn’t have a chance against the black ice, low visibility and multi-ton semi in their path. I didn’t know them. Tom and Christina loved being parents.

“She (Christina) was so gracious and so effective without having to be condescending. Everybody loved her. Tom was just hilarious. He was like a giant Muppet. He was a Grateful Dead guy and he loved music.”

They were on a family vacation. They fully expected to return home and continue with their every day lives. Tom back to his job at Chrysler, Christina to her law practice, the girls to school. I didn’t know them. But, I know with certainty, that never in their wildest imagination could they have anticipated or predicted the outcome of this break from the everyday. I feel so sad for what could have been. I grieve for anyone who knew this beautiful family. I am shaken by the mere fragility of our every day lives.

These everyday transitions are all around us. When my youngest child told be that she was a he, I had to make a choice. Immediately. I knew what he was pronouncing was real and true and a piece of what made him tick. This was about him. I either went along for the ride or missed the boat. I couldn’t imagine not supporting him. I knew I had to find ways to understand and educate myself so I could be the parent the needed. Navigating this life transition has not always been easy, but I can assure you, it was the the only path. My son is growing into the person he was meant to be and together, we are exploring everyday transitions.


 

First Son

Many of you know that I would go to the ends of the earth for my kids. If you’ve been following Call Him Hunter, you also know that my youngest is transgender. What you don’t know is that Hunter is not my first son.

Twenty-baby handthree years ago (and a few months), in April of 1994, I gave birth to my first child. The birth was unexpected. I was only 29 weeks along and had only been to one childbirth class. It took a long time to get pregnant and we felt it was nothing short of a miracle when I finally conceived. So, when I woke up in the middle of the night cramping and bleeding, I knew something was very wrong.

We raced to the hospital in the dark of night, me shivering, my husband speeding on the empty road. Of course, we had called the doctor, who called the hospital. They were waiting for us.

For some reason, it took several hours to determine what was happening to me. When my doctor arrived, he grabbed one end of the bed and said, “we’re having a baby.” To say I was frightened would be an understatement. This baby was not ready for life outside the womb. And we were not ready for a baby – yet.

Our preemie weighed in at 1 lb, 8 oz – not much bigger than a loaf of bread. He was on life support and it would be days before I could hold him. This was the beginning of our journey; the beginning of learning what it meant to fight for my child. I didn’t know how fierce I could be or how much strength I had. The next seven months tested me more than anything before. Perhaps some other time I will share the details. The heart wrenching story of fighting to bring my son home; the battle to believe he would be ok; the anger and questioning – “why me.”

For now, what I will tell you is that my beautiful, most wanted, endlessly loved, first son, was a fighter. His little body with underdeveloped lungs and the less than perfect technology were not a match for what he needed to sustain life.

Twenty-three years ago today, we said good-bye to our first born, our first son, our baby boy. Twenty-three years ago I didn’t know if I would ever have another child, let alone the opportunity to parent a son.

For me, now, there is some interesting irony that our youngest, assigned female at birth (AFAB), would come out as a transgender male…that I would once again, be a parent to a son. I know there are many out there who mourn the loss of the child whom you knew pre-transition. I never felt that way. I didn’t or couldn’t equate my son’s transition from female to male (FtM) as the loss of a child. I knew that loss; nothing compares.

When I first heard the words, “I’d rather have a live son than a dead daughter,” I grabbed onto them and held them close. I knew the statistics were grim. Many trans youth were attempting suicide. If I had anything to do with it, my child would be supported, accepted and loved; I was going to do my part to ensure his safety and place in the world.

To all those parents who are experiencing a sense of loss once your child comes out, I hope you can find it in your heart to pass through those emotions swiftly and with minimal pain. Embrace this amazing human being you are raising. They are brave and unique and have much to offer the world.

I would love to hear from those of you who successfully moved past the sadness as your child has transitioned. What can you offer to others?


For some resources on regarding having a transgender child, visit standwithtrans.org.

Letting Go (Over and Over)

Seventeen years ago, we moved to a new city. New jobs, new day care, new neighbors – all part of the package.

One of the most vivid memories occurred just a few days after we moved. Our soon to be five-year-old began kindergarten in her new school. We hadn’t seen the school before our move. I had spoken to the school’s administrator and the kindergarten teacher ahead of time, both of whom assured me that our precious baby would be just fine in her new surroundings and that I had nothing to worry about. This child was very shy and often took some time to warm up to a new situation and new people.

So, we show up for school. It’s morning drop-off and the chaos level is high. Phones are ringing, parents are coming and going, distant cries coming from the preschool area can be heard from where we stood waiting to be welcomed to the school. The anxiety in me was rising. No one seemed to notice us and I began to wonder why the Director, who was so reassuring on the phone, was not at our sides. Finally, a middle-aged woman with a warm smile and kind eyes appeared.

“Hi. I’m Miss Dee.” We had spoken to this angel of a woman on the phone and I was relieved to meet her face to face. “You must be Danielle,” she spoke right to our daughter and reached for her hand at the same time. “We’re going on a field trip to the apple orchard this morning and you can sit by me the entire time.”

“Field trip?” I exclaimed. No one told me about a field trip. The new school was causing enough stress and now I had to entrust my small child to the bus driver and the new teacher.

Miss Dee held out her hand and without hesitation, my daughter took it and walked away. I stood there a bit shaken and puzzled. Why was letting go so hard?

I’m discovering that with each new milestone, I find myself experiencing varying degrees of angst surrounding the “letting go” process. Sending my daughter off with Miss Dee was infinitely more difficult than moving her into the dorm at the start of freshman year of college. I was so excited for her to have the “college experience” while living on-campus. This was the logical next step in her life and ours. I did not feel the least bit sad as said our last good-byes of the day. She had a sweet roommate, the room was arranged to suit both co-eds, her bed looked cozy and she looked like she belonged. So, letting go that day was a moment we were both ready for. I know that I left her prepared to learn. She had the skills to study, achieve her goals academically, and could create a social life of her choosing.

Of course, the first time they drive off with their shiny new license “letting go” takes on a whole new meaning. Every time the car pulls out of the driveway, I’m slightly on edge until I hear the hum and rumble of the garage door signaling the arrival home. There are so many of these “letting go” opportunities that one would think that by the time they are ready to leave the nest, I would also be ready.

Recently, I was privy to an intelligent debate among parents regarding access to grades once a child hits college. According to the law, parents have no rights. Even if you are paying tens of thousands of dollars each year so your child will get the best education, you may not see his grades, his bill, or anything else accessible only by the private log-in. Your student can give you access to grades and tuition bills if she chooses. Keep in mind, as parents, we are not entitled to it.

The online discussion was fascinating. I agreed with both sides – those for and those against seeing the grades. All the arguments made sense. I came to the realization that not only did I have a lot of “letting go” to do, I had some decisions to make about what kind of parent I was going to be to this novice student of mine living away from home for the first time. Would I hover and demonstrate distrust or would I continue to instill my confidence in him; the very same self-esteem boosting support that got him to this place? What good would it do me or him to see the grades? Would his rate of success be hinged on my knowing every detail in each class? Perhaps. But which side of the equation would I be on. What if my knowing caused him distress which got in the way of his focus? There are so many facets to the conversation. I do feel that if there’s nothing to hide, then why not see the grades. On the other hand, I hope that if there was a real struggle, he would come to me.

I am learning to let go over and over again. For any parent out there who thinks that it’s a one and done, I am living proof that it’s not. We must provide just enough rope at each stage so our children experience independence. It is our job to help them fly solo when they’re ready, even if we’re not.

PS That little go who went off with Miss Dee will be graduating college in a few short months. Not sure I’m ready for that “letting go” moment.