One morning, the school drop off line was moving quickly. Izzy had his backpack on ready to hop out, except he turned to me and tears were streaming down his face.
“Honey, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to go.”
He didn’t say anything, and it was time to get out. The tears were coming full force now, not crocodile tears, but real “help me” tears. I pulled on through the line and parked out of the way. I hugged him tight.
“Baby what is going on?” I pleaded.
“I don’t feel good.”
I felt of his forehead to check for a fever, but it was cool.
“Do you not feel good, or you don’t want to go to school.”
“I don’t feel good,” he pleaded.
I wasn’t sure he was telling me the truth, but I could tell this was different than other times he had said I don’t want to go to school.
My schedule was clear that day, so I took him home. We cuddled for a while and he went back to sleep. I thought, maybe he is just having a bad day. We’ll try again tomorrow. His teachers sent homework through email. As he was working on it, I tried to get him to confide in me, but all he would say is that he was clashing with one of his teachers. I knew which one, but I felt like there was more to the story.
Izzy continued to not want to go to school. I let him stay home when I thought he absolutely could not get through the day. I thought if I just kept encouraging him, things would get better. Later that year, he ended up with a case of strep throat on top of a sinus infection. He missed a week of school. I had already used all my parent notes for excused absences. The doctor excused him for two, but we ended up with some un-excused absences as the first semester of 4th grade was ending. When I received an attendance intervention letter, I knew something had to change. I had to get to the bottom of what was going on with him.
I reached out to my girlfriend, also a school counselor, in tears. All of my feelings spilled out in a torrent. I explained Izzy didn’t want to go to school, he was crying and very emotional. I explained all the days we had missed, that he was like a different child from elementary school to this his first year of middle school, that he was clashing with one of his teachers, that I thought he would be happier as a girl, that I didn’t know what to do. She was very supportive and sympathetic. She explained that sometimes we didn’t understand why kids behaved the way they did. She advised me to call his school counselor. I thanked her and did just that.
His counselor and I met soon after; she was sweet, and I knew Izzy would like her nice personality and blonde hair. I hoped his 9-year-old self would open up to her. She spoke with him on several occasions, but it did not seem to help. All Izzy would say is they talked about nothing. His counselor did not reach back out to me.
Looking back, I wish I had of taken him to an outside therapist. I wish *I* had spoken to a therapist! I thought about it. A therapist was for kids who were unstable, exhibiting poor behavior or emotionally unstable, right? That didn’t describe my kid. “After all, I’m his mother. I can handle this,” I told myself. But, there are some things love can’t overcome.
I was determined to help him the most I could to get through the last semester. I packed his lunch every day for school. I put in notes of encouragement and love. Suddenly, it didn’t matter what I put in his lunch, he would not eat it. Every day, his lunch came back untouched and the notes it seemed unread. This made me very afraid for his health and his well-being.
I asked him, “what do you drink at school?”
“Nothing,” he said, annoyed.
“I’m not thirsty,” he retorted.
That is all I could get out of him for a while. I started putting water bottles in his book bag. One morning he noticed it before he got out of the car. He pulled it out and threw it on the car floorboard. I worried about him all the time. Every day we would go to Chick fil a after school. I’d get him a meal with a large drink. He downed it before I could drive the 2.8 miles home. I didn’t know how to make things better.
One afternoon as we pulled up our twisting drive way and I backed into my usual spot to park our gold van, he opened up to me. He said he didn’t want people looking at him while he was eating.
“Really honey. Okay. I don’t like it when people look at me eating either.” But, I wasn’t completely buying his explanation. The thought ran through my head that maybe he had an eating disorder, but I dismissed that because he ate fine at home.
I looked over at him. The look reflected in his face told me in my gut he was holding something back.
“You can tell me. It doesn’t matter what it is. I’ll always love and help you.”
I think he decided in that moment that he could trust me.
“I don’t want to eat or drink because I don’t want to have to go to the boy’s bathroom.”
He thought urinals were disgusting and he definitely was horrified by taking his penis out through the flap to pee.
“What about using the stall?”
“It’s disgusting, our bathrooms are nicer, cleaner,” his female mind stated as a matter of fact. I had to let this sink in. “Our bathrooms.” Out in public when he was with me, he always used the women’s bathroom with me since he was a small child. With his long hair, no one gave it a second thought. It hadn’t occurred to me that school was the only time he was required to use the boy’s bathroom.
I imagined my older daughter being forced to use the urinals in the boy’s bathroom—assuming for a moment she could actually do that physically—with the boys staring at her, many larger than her and intimidating. Even if she used the stall it would still be awkward at 9 to wade through the sea of eyes on her as she made her way to the stall. Horrifying I thought. How uncomfortable that would be for her.
This is how Izzy felt. I really let that sink in. I started to become aware how deep this concept that he was a girl went. I tried to imagine how I would feel if in my awareness of my brain and spirit, I knew I was a girl, had always been a girl, but my body parts did not match up with my awareness—and no one would believe me! It would be like walking into an episode of The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror except you couldn’t get out and it never ended.
“Baby.” I asked him for the first time that I could recall. “If you could have your deepest desire, would you transition to a girl?”
He nodded yes.