by Patti Hornstra
Other than that, my life is now and has always been, wonderful yet largely unremarkable. My story, my journey, started four years ago. My ‘normal’ life was suddenly a whirlwind of tension, research, confusion, and therapy; none of which proved productive for me.
About two years ago I realized that I had things bottled up inside that needed to be said. So, I started to write down my thoughts, my memories, my feelings. And then, one day—voila!—I had written a book.
My book, When He Was Anna: A Mom’s Journey Into the Transgender World, is a ‘no BS’ chronology of my first two years as the mom of Tristan, a transgender teenager—now a young adult. Writing was my therapy. Reliving the memories, happy and sad, helped me to mentally work through some of the ‘what-ifs’ that plagued me in my quest to understand my child.
I will admit, in the beginning, I was absolutely no help to my child
In fact, I was a wreck. I was in unchartered waters and felt like I was sinking fast. Kids, even teenagers, so often expect their parents to have all of the answers, to fix everything, or at least to have a lifeboat to offer when they start to sink. I had no answers, no fixes, and not even a buoy ring to toss out, much less a lifeboat. I decided to write my story with the hope that it might help others. I knew that there were other parents out there who would read my book and find comfort in knowing that they aren’t alone as they struggle to understand the child that they love so dearly.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you’re the only parent with struggles and to equate love with perfection. It’s easy to compare your family’s insides’ to another families ‘outsides.’
We see it on social media, perfect families with perfect parents and perfect children. It’s easy to see their ‘perfection’ and to let it magnify our imperfection. After 56 years I’ve come to realize that love and perfection are not equal. I’ve also learned that if perfection is your goal, then you will likely fall short—often if not always. I’ve found perfection to be a completely unattainable goal. Luckily, I’ve also come to realize that I can love completely with being completely perfect. That’s what I want people to remember when they read my book. It’s okay to own your imperfection, as long as you learn from it. Here’s a tiny excerpt from my book to explain what I mean:
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if childhood were the stuff of movies? I mean real family movies like The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins, not Meet the Fockers and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (both of which are incredibly funny, but let’s face it—not exactly the picture-perfect family you’d long to trade places with).
Childhood should be filled with laughter and love, unicorns, and rainbows. Children should not have to deal with death, they shouldn’t have to grieve. But life isn’t the movies, is it? In real life, we can’t always shield children from the loss of those they love and the grief that follows.
Anna, like so many others, experienced death when she was a child. She lost an uncle and a grandmother, and she lost a few great-grandparents. That was hard, as it’s always hard when you lose someone in your family. But, at the same time, it’s the circle of life, isn’t it? The older generation passes, and the younger generation is left. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.
We all know that the time will come when we’ll need to say goodbye to grandparents and parents, and then the time will come when our own children will have to say goodbye to us. That’s how it’s supposed to work. But things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to, and circles sometimes lose their shape. By the time Tristan (she was still Anna then) was twelve years old she had experienced more loss than any child should have; her circle had been absolutely mangled.“
That was a tough chapter to write; I wrote it as a “memory chapter”—a sort of ‘half chapter’ between ‘real chapters.’ My “memory chapters” are like flashbacks for me, glimpses of (mostly) happy times. This part of the book is obviously not about one of those happy times. This part of the book is about complete parental screw-up and regret. It’s about hindsight, regret, wanting more than anything to go back and fix my mess.
It’ll make more sense if you read the book, I promise. It made sense to Tristan. Tristan called me after reading the book to let me know that I was being too hard on myself, that I hadn’t screwed up nearly as bad as I thought. Tristan assured me that things weren’t nearly as bad as I had remembered.
Maybe I wasn’t a complete parental screw-up. I can live with that.
Patti is a proud mom of four adult children. She knows from first-hand experience that raising four children is not for the faint at heart. Life is a never-ending series of surprises when you have twice as many kids as you have hands. She’s been married to the love of her life since 1987. They have adjusted nicely to life as empty nesters and eagerly await life’s next great adventure. A link to the paperback. A link to the kindle version.
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Note from Anne Moss: Given that transgender children are at the highest risk for suicide, mostly due to nonacceptance by family and friends and the homelessness that often occurs as a result, the resources below can help keep a child safe from suicide. If you are a parent, share these with your school counselor.