“Uh-oh Mom, look…” my 7 year-old daughter whispered in my ear as she showed me a Christmas ornament bearing her brother’s “old” name. She didn’t want him to see it and get upset. El noticed the ornament a few minutes later and frowned. “We can get new ones for those years,” I said, hoping to avoid disappointing him further.
Our first-born child, Ella, has been telling us since age 3 that he is a boy. Over the past year we have decided as a family to socially transition him from female to male. We have been slowly changing out baby pictures in the house to more recent ones, packing away old school work, photo albums, birthday cards, and any other trace of the name Ella. Every time he would come across something with his old name on it he would ask me to get rid of it. I never throw away anything important, but I keep it out of his sight. Even though El has never been my daughter, it feels wrong to throw away things that are still dear to my heart.
We didn’t even think about the Christmas stuff. Each year my kids get so excited to pull out the bins and start hunting for their ornaments, hand painted with the year and their name. They carefully pick one out from the mall every December, and proudly hang it on the tree. As my daughter pulled out the ornaments one by one, all except for one had Ella on it. My heart sank. I started unwrapping the pictures of the kids sitting on Santa’s lap. There was El, long hair, pink outfits, and sparkly shoes. “El, which one’s can I put up?” I ask, knowing he will not want most of them displayed. He picked the last 2 years, where his hair is short and he has his signature sports shirt on. Then there is the custom embroidered stocking from Pottery Barn I bought for both kids when they were little. “Ella” stares at me on the cute stocking with the ballerina on it. I feel sad for a moment. Not sad for myself, but sad for my child, who already has had to endure so much being born transgender. It’s just not fair. Why can’t we just have a normal night of holiday decorating like every other family? Why is my daughter whispering to me and hiding ornaments to make my son feel better? Why do I have to throw away his old stocking and buy a new one?
I sit in my pity party for a few moments. Then I see my husband with a razor blade, scraping off the “la” in Ella so it just says “El,” which is the nickname we call our son. I see my sweet daughter running to get the other ornaments for Daddy to fix. I hear El talk about how most of the ornaments can be fixed except the one when he is a baby. He wants to pick out a brand new one for that year. He is happy. I snap out of my temporary funk and our night of holiday decorating resumes. Being a family with a transgender child, we have learned to adapt on the fly. I see my family doing exactly this on our special night of Holiday decorating, and I am proud.
This Christmas is about new traditions in our house. It’s about celebrating our family, uniqueness and all. I’m thankful for our children and our journey. It may be difficult at times, but it’s worth the joy and richness it has brought our family.