(This piece also appears on HuffPost Parents.)
The first time I saw my only child Harry was a quarter century ago when the surgical nurses who assisted the doctor perform what I call my triple E-section held him out for me to see. “Who’s baby is that?!” I thought.
During my trip to epidural land and in the months before that, I imagined a dark-haired baby who looked like me, with black lashes and olive-tinted skin. Instead I saw a newborn with white-blond brows on alabaster skin that resembled his dad’s baby pictures. I reached out to touch this tiny stranger’s cheek and fell instantly in love. He wasn’t what I’d expected, but he was the most beautiful baby I’d ever seen.
Before Harry was born, I fantasized cradling him in my arms, as I’d done with a baby doll when I was a child. But if I cradled baby Harry, he’d scream so loudly I was sure the neighbors were calling the police. He only stopped his attempts to break the sound barrier if I cradled his head inside my elbow and held him upright. I hadn’t expected to hold him that way, but Harry knew what he wanted. Then as soon as he could hold up his head, Harry clamorously insisted that his dad and I carry him around the house facing out.
What Harry saw in tours of his room was created with purpose. His dad was cool with me decorating Harry’s room gender-neutral. I wanted to stay away from stereotyping our son. So instead of one or two colors, I chose every color, from lime green and lemon yellow to hot pink and royal blue. Among the books, blocks and puzzles in his room were also boy and girl dolls, trucks and stuffed animals. My hope was that Harry would be a boy sturdily balanced to navigate the world’s expectations of gender.
But when Harry told me at age two “inside my head I’m a girl,” I have to admit it was an unexpected moment. And it took me awhile to realize that the awareness he’d had of his outer world as an infant, applied also to his inner self as a toddler and growing boy.
And so began the journey of being Harry’s mom, an unexpected parenting adventure with a child who knew not only what he wanted, but who he was.
As this weekend leads up to Harry’s twenty-fifth birthday, I celebrate with pride not only what he’s become, but also what I’ve learned from him. Sure he learned from his dad and me to look both ways before crossing the street, the importance of his education and what it means to be a good person. But I so appreciate my remarkable son – who just happens to identify as genderqueer – for teaching me the necessity of individual freedom, the importance of self-love and the true meaning of happiness.
I’m eager to see what Harry creates for himself over the next quarter century. And I’m sure he knows I’ll have his back all the way. Happy Birthday, Harry James!
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