Being grateful

I read a story in the paper today where a doctor tells her account of her best friend, a stroke victim, and his ongoing recovery: you can read it here. So on a hot (30 degree Celsius) Queensland morning on the 24th December, I thought I’d write down some things for which I am grateful.

I am grateful all my limbs are in good working order. I am grateful I can run, and jump, and climb stairs, and play sport, and lift a spoon to my mouth, and type, and play piano, and sing, and talk, and catch a bus. I am grateful I can do all these things without experiencing pain or suffering (the stuff that’s not self-inflicted, I mean). I am glad all my teeth are in good working order.

I am glad I have a functioning brain. It currently shows no signs of disease or empty patches (as part of a study into tinnitus in which I was a guinea-pig, I had an MRI scan 2 years ago which came up all clear). I can think, reason, feel, joke, laugh, cry. Sometimes I can even synthesize information.

I am glad to be in robust good health with low blood pressure, to hear (mostly),  smell, taste, touch, balance, and see. I am glad I live in a society that still provides universal health care and that I don’t need private health insurance to get emergency medical care.

I am glad for my education, my literacy and my ongoing studies. I am glad I live in a society mostly tolerant and accepting of difference, that is open and accountable to its members, and basically peaceful. I am glad I get to vote for my preferred government and that the process is not corrupt or dangerous. People often think Australia is racist, mean and phobic of success, and in many ways it is, but it is less so than most other countries. We are lucky to be here, and lucky to have civil and libertarian rights mostly upheld.

I am glad I and my family have the capacity and will to earn a decent income, that we can enjoy the fruits of our labours, and that our work is meaningful and satisfying. I am glad I work in a job and industry that I love, that I get to make music every day. I am glad for my students and their ambition and perseverance and commitment.

I am glad we (and the bank) own our home, our cars, and that we have the finances to keep these things. I am glad we have a full pantry and fridge and that we can afford to make dessert and buy Christmas gifts.

I am glad for my children and my wonderful husband and my big, generous family. I am grateful to my mum and dad that they have cared for my daughter throughout her transition from MtF. I am very glad for my neurotic dog and cat, who bring me joy every day.

I am glad every year I can give someone something to make this world a better place, and that as I get older, this desire grows.

And, finally, I am grateful we have the technology to connect with so many people from all walks of life through this medium, the InterWeb. So, to all my readers, I am grateful for your readership too! A happy Xmas to you and a safe and productive New Year.



It gets better – my transgender child part 2

Well, I’m feeling great this week! Telling my story and hearing the stories of other people whose family members, friends and relatives have transitioned makes me feel part of a wonderful, caring, sharing community. Today I feel a silly sense of joy and relief that my child Mara has survived her adolescence and is becoming an adult. She has a lot of growing up to do, given how she has dampened her true self over the last 10 years.

I am struggling with the pronoun issue – biologically Mara is still male, sounds male and looks male, despite the new clothes. And I’ve thought of Mara as male for more than 21 years. That’s hard to change over night. Luckily Mara thinks it’s hilarious. It’s not, really. But I’ll try hard to change my gendered approach to EVERYTHING now that I have to. What I guess Mara doesn’t yet understand is that my brain has to change the way it processes how I think about her. Even writing “her” and “she” causes a brain fart. Ugh. I’ll get used to it I guess! I think it’s probably hardest for those who have lived with Mara as a male the longest. Which is me and her brother. Who also suffers. Grief is a funny thing. Right now, grieving is the last thing I think I feel. Today I feel joy.

And I’m really excited because I get to see my children very soon. And soon I’ll write about how I managed to finish my literature review and complete a long overdue article to RSME and get a BOOK published. All in good time.



My transgender child

My 21 year old son recently came out to me that he identified as a she. Over the phone. He said, Mum, can you get down to Melbourne soon? I need to talk to you. I said, Why? Is it because you’re going to tell me you identify as female? And he said Yes.

I didn’t tell him that I cried as we talked. I walked wildly round the house trying to find a quiet place (our house is on a busy road and in no way sound proofed) as I listened to my boy coming out to me – not coming out that he is gay, because I don’t think he is, but that he is, inside, a woman.

My ability to articulate my complex emotions about this change is very poor. I love my youngest child. So much. He was always the son I felt I had to protect, even as he was the stoic, quiet one, who never complained and rarely made a fuss. From an early age I sensed a gentleness in him that needed care and nurturing, but there are only a few times when I can pinpoint a moment that made me think, Hey, I think this one is different. He suffered from childhood asthma – quite badly, and we frequently did the midnight run to the emergency department as his asthma attack worsened. Luckily his attacks were slow building, so one could tell how far along before we had to do the hospital run. The medication he took was effective, just not quite effective enough. At age 6 he nearly drowned, and I blame myself for this – an inattentive moment, a carelessness about the safety of my children. He spent several days in hospital recovering from that and a simultaneous asthma attack. In his final 18 months in primary school he broke his arm 3, maybe 4 times. All at school. I should have sued. But he was stoic, quiet, uncomplaining.

I remember he used to love textiles and soft furnishings and I would occasionally buy him fabric offcuts from Spotlight, which he sewed into cushions. For special events he bought me love heart gifts, boxes shaped like love hearts, beautiful little gems. As a young boy he frequently ideated suicide, which I always assumed was a response to his mad father attempting it when my son was very young. Throughout primary school he made many friends but as he entered high school those friendships dropped off and he became a recluse, withdrawn and seeking cave-comforts: sleep, dark rooms, and too much computer gaming. He wore horrible, horribly dreary clothes. Grey cargo pants and dark t-shirts, trainers and sweat tops. For years. He would wear the same 5 pieces of clothing until they wore out. I tried to get him into jeans but he would have none of it. I couldn’t understand why he chose to wear the most hideously unattractive clothing when he himself was a remarkably handsome, slim young man.

People saw his fear and reclusiveness and saved him, many times. His last high school music teacher and home room teacher. His grandparents. His auntie. His sister-in-law. They all saw, as did I, a young man who had difficulty getting out of bed, who was always tired, who was afraid to go and get a job. Who was afraid of the world.

And then, after he had spent 2 unhappy years living with his father and brother in a tiny inner city flat, working in a dead-end job and studying sound engineering, something snapped. Last year, in September, he finally told me how unhappy he was living with his crazy dad, how awful it had been and how miserable he felt. That was it. I took action. In November I told my other son and his girlfriend that my youngest was moving in with my grandparents for a year. They were aghast, upset that their own plans were being stymied by someone else. But it was the best thing for all of them. Within a couple of months they too had gone, leaving their out-of-work, mentally-ill, self-medicating father to man up and pay his own way at last.

And then, a slow transformation began. Something in my son came alive again. It began when he asked for a kilt for his birthday. My husband and I were overseas and bought him two, plus a sporran and socks. We had bought him Doc Martens for Xmas, so I felt we were just completing the process. Of a punk-based kilt-wearing 80s retro look. Wrong boots, it turned out. Over the next few months, as his school work declined and he had more and more trouble getting out of bed he spent more and more time playing with his appearance. And by the time he visited in July, he was wearing a very beautiful black lace shift dress and stockings. With Doc Martens. Gorgeous.

And I realised at that point that something was really going AWOL. He wanted a different hair colour so I treated him to a fabulous hair-do – flaming pink – and we enjoyed an evening of makeup fun prior to going out to dinner in Noosa. He looked a million bucks and was the happiest I had ever seen him. And I was thinking, OK, I think he might be undergoing something odd – maybe he is transgender?

I sought advice from a work colleague who walks the interstices between straight, gay and queer, who knows everything one needs to know about this, and we talked in her office, with my boy there, sort of mute (because I am bossy and needed to articulate MY feelings about this change), but clear in his mind that what he was experiencing was a life-altering one. And it was ok. It was ok that he was there, talking about this, because he was with me and I could see how he was, and it was easy while he was in front of me. My mind could process this change.

But then he went back to his preferred home town and I was stuck here, busy with work, married to my wonderful guy, and unable to see my son or witness his journey. Except that over time his FB posts got weirder and he started looking at transgender community sites and HRT and surgical intervention. And I realised he was serious and that this was permanent.

And then, last week, he finally told me over the phone he identified as female. Rather, I told him that I thought he was becoming female and he agreed. And he told me he wanted to change his name, to remove his father’s made-up surname and create his own. All of a sudden I could hear intelligence in his voice, a lightness I hadn’t heard before and a way of talking that was – well – more open and free sounding, deeper in meaning and just plain smarter.

And I cried for grief and loss and fear and longing, feeling like I was losing my boy, my little man, and I cried for joy and relief and pride that my son, who had hidden himself for so long, finally revealed himself to me. I realised, gratefully, that we live in a time where he can express his femininity without too much repercussion. That we can begin to understand transgender people and not label it evil or sick, that we live in a country that is remarkably free of hatred and violence against ‘others’, despite media commentary stating the contrary. And I was so proud of him, his courage in admitting his insides don’t match his outsides.

But I grieve. I grieve for the perceived ‘loss’ of my boy and his identity, as he forges his identity anew. I am angry and confused about my feelings, angry at him and confused about how I feel about the changes my son – my SON – will be going through in order to become my daughter. I am fearful that his current feelings are because finally he has a sense of ‘belonging’ and that his need to belong is so powerful that it transcends his own sense of self. And I am aware that as he heads down this path that my path will also intersect with the interstices and cracks in humanity – the different ones, the strange ones – the ones like my son, who will become my daughter.

My dear friend Al  succinctly identified the crux of the issue. He wrote to my son, simply and eloquently stating: The person I know and care for is independent of the body your soul inhabits. Mate, I’m humbled by the strength you have shown in making your decision to be who you really are.

But right now, despite my pride at his courage and stoicism and strength, I am still angry at my son and worried and very afraid. Because I feel like I am losing certainty. And to be uncertain is a very difficult place to live in. Which must be how my son has lived for a very, very long time.

Don’t get me wrong. My son is having professional help. He is now on antidepressants and has counselling twice a week. I am about to seek counselling too. Because I cannot yet make sense of this. And I need to. For him. Or, should I say, for her? And despite my grief and fear and anger and uncertainty, I support his decision wholeheartedly. I support him. Because he is my child, he is alive and I love him.

It has been a month since my last confession…

I’m not Catholic. Never was, despite my surname. So, apologies for stealing this confessional statement. But, wow! Hasn’t time flown!

No news is good news, right? Well….kinda. In my life this month, a bunch of stuff has been happening – mostly good, some not so good.

The new car is AWESOME. I love driving it. Tick!

My diet is TERRIBLE. But I’ve not gained any weight that I can tell. And I’m back on the straight and narrow today. Tick!

My exercise regime is LAUGHABLE. But I’m working on it. Little tick for motivational purposes.

My work life is FANTASTIC. I love my job. I have a minor yearning for some performance stuff but otherwise I have the perfect gig. Now to make it a permanent tenured position (never going to happen, but hey, a girl can dream). Tick!

My family life is WONDERFUL. I love my husband. We are easing into a lovely place – teasing yet caring, understanding of each others’ scruples but not averse to raising the eyebrow on occasion. Or the ire. I love my boys and miss them terribly but I saw them just recently and spent guilt money on them because I can. My extended family are all great and doing amazing things. Tick!

My social life is OK – could be better – I have little time to visit friends and have not called anyone lately, even though I’m a constant on FB. Bad Jessie. Must call friends and SEE them. No tick – a cross instead.

My PhD study is AWFUL. I have no time to work on it consistently, I have even less time to care about it at the moment, and I got the most horrible response back regarding the gaping flaws in my Methods Chapter. So I’m taking time off it again. Because I’m sick of it and I want a new supervisor who is pleasant and personable and who is a mentor and whose caring approach makes me want to do better. Right now I feel nothing but RAGE. No tick here. Cross.

The house renovations are SADLY in hiatus while our weekends are busy, but we are in the planning phase of the next job. If my youngest boy comes to live with us I will have to find another place to work because we can’t all fit into the house as is. And we will need to renovate the interior in order to get everyone to fit. This could be fun AND expensive. Half tick for planning, at least.

The dog is getting BETTER, calmer, and her training is going quite well. I’m a bit lazy about it and we rarely have time to do much, but she’s getting there. She’s a bit neurotic around the kids, who tend to psych her up a bit and make her jumpy. She growls at us when she is on her bed at night sleeping (with her eyes open), and we walk past. We are training her out of that, too. Half tick for perseverance and her ability to sit, drop, leave it, and sit on her mat.

Finally, our spending is a tad OUT OF CONTROL. This is what we bought yesterday. Because hubby was complaining about the poor result we were getting from our coffee machine (5 years old and is starting to fail a bit), and he wanted a new one. And I wanted a red one. We got a new, red, expensive, beautiful machine: a Breville 900CB. It’s awesome. Truly.Breville coffee machineOur coffee now tastes amazing and the machine was laughably easy to set up. But no tick for thrift. Big cross for being a spendthrift.

So, there you go. Ticks: 5 full, 2 half. Crosses: 3. Hail Marys required: none. I’m an atheist. Looking forward to when those crosses on my PhD become ticks, and when our spending is pulled back – this will NEVER happen because we want to renovate the house and that’s exxie. I can, at least, do something about my friends. See y’all soon. xxx


Finding the inspiration or losing the will.

A friend of mine has, she felt, finished her thesis. At 91,000 words, she thinks she might be done. Not only do I have serious pangs of envy that she has “finished”, I envy her ability to just get on and “do it”. Obviously, nattering about in a blog like this ensures that of course I will NOT get on and do it, so I’d better get started before I lose the will. My dear friend R has kindly offered to BRING me the Stake Case Study Research book from the home library in QLD, which is definitely going above and beyond the call of good friendship. (She is also coming to the UK for this study trip, just in case anyone was wondering why a friend would offer to hop on a plane and bring a book here all the way from Australia.)

Some minor irritations today: I hate underfloor heating – it takes ages to warm up and cool down, and now the temperature which was too high is now too low. Can’t work the bloody machine and the instructions are worse than useless because they provide only half the information one needs. And I hate hate hate the new Gmail compose experience. They are trying to make email more like informal text, but actually, I use email more like letters. They formalise things and one needs the whole page for this. Gmail need to get a grip and realise that email is basically for formal letter writing and not to mess with something that was working just fine, thank you very much.

I’m having a gripe morning. Sorry. Back to work.


Getting to my goal weight!

Another kilo bites the dust! Actually, 2 lbs bites the dust, and not quite 1 kilo, so 2lbs sounds much better. I’m now 64.6 kilos (142.5 lbs) and 10.4 kilos (23lbs) lighter than when I started. Hooray! I do my training on Tuesday mornings with Bailey-the-trainer and the Achieve Team, and I do my weigh-in then, which is why a few of these happy posts are published now. Time to thank Bailey-the-trainer and the team at Achieve Personal Training in Bulimba, Brisbane for their support and friendship and encouragement throughout this time. It helps to have a team on your side. And apparently Bailey-the-trainer is trumpeting my success to anyone who will listen!

We’re doing measurements next week but when I checked my waist it was 74cm (29″). In my extreme youth I had a 67cm (26″) waist but I’m not sure I can lose much more fat from my waist.

My goal weight was originally 59 kilos (130lbs) by March – luckily there are 31 days in March. Last year I projected how much weight I wanted to lose by March, which was 15 kilos. I should nearly achieve this if I keep working at this pace. I’ve calculated half a kilo, or 1 lb a week until my goal weight is achieved, which takes me to April, but given that muscle is rather heavier than fat, my actual physique is already tauter than when I last did this, in my 30s. At any rate, my happiness is not predicated on a number: rather, it’s dependent on how I feel when I look in the mirror. I’m glad I took a sensible and realistic approach to my weight loss – it means I have been able to hit those goals and not lose hope when I didn’t lose as much weight as I had planned.

I’m getting stronger, anyway: I can leg press 180kgs (396lbs) with ease now and push ups are a breeze, and burpees really aren’t that hard any more. Planking? Meh. No biggie. Crunches? Meh, can’t even feel them.

Last post I reported buying new clothes – pretty much a necessity given that none of my regular clothes fit any more. They probably won’t last too long, either, if I keep this up. Of course, now that I’m so close to my goal I’m backing off the very heavy diet regime but still sticking to around 1500 calories per day. Given my exercise regime, this still means I’m losing weight, but I’m allowing myself the occasional mini-Magnum icecream or glass of wine and I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself.

Getting off the “white” carbs has been a great decision – removing potato, rice and wheat from my diet has seen a slow and steady weight loss, but I’m maintaining plenty of other carbs such as leafy green vegetables and salad. I eat enormous amounts of veggies – but then, I always have. I love my veggies.

I feel great. Thanks you guys for supporting me and my weight loss – I feel fitter, healthier and happier than I have in a long time.

DH does NOT mean Dick Head.

So, DH, which stands for Darling Husband, does NOT mean dick head. A bit too much toilet-graffiti-watching for my taste. Apparently every time my DH reads one of my posts, he thinks I’m calling him dick head. He told me this just now. Hmm. I worry about what he thinks I think of him. Well. I MIGHT get slightly irritated by a few small “mere male” type activities he indulges in, including poor dishwasher washing, mixing coloureds with the white clothes, failing miserably in the finance department and generally being unable to wipe down a kitchen bench, but these are hardly reasons to be calling him dick head.

I think if I started to call my DH dick head I would need to ask myself some very hard questions about how much I respected and loved my husband. And I must say I respect and love him very much. Good things about my husband? He makes me laugh, every day, sometimes a lot. He loves and respects me. We talk a lot. Together. He is my best friend and closest confidante. He makes me better than I am on my own. We like to hang out together. We are intellectual equals (pygmy puppies together). He believes in God and I do not, but that dichotomy is a good thing. We have similar but not identical interests, and I am happier with him than without. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being alone (aka single) – did it for years. But marriage to my man is AWESOME.

Anyhoo, he just got a pretty impressive promotion. And I’m proud as punch for my DH.

First time for everything

Yesterday DH (darling husband) left to go on a study trip overseas for two and a half weeks. It will be the longest time apart since we married. Secretly, I may have been looking forward to this break. It has been a tense couple of months, what with me getting frustrated and a little grief stricken about my PhD, and then DH’s job going from “this is pretty straightforward” to “oh holy shit, what just happened?”. DH has been working in a shared acting-director capacity for some weeks, since his boss decided to step down from his post as Grand Poobah. DH is exhausted, and his mind understandably only on work. That impacts on our family life, when tempers become frayed and coping mechanisms become less, well, coping.

So, I’ve been secretly looking forward to time out from US. Needing some time to get back into the groove of study, of preparing for the rest of the year, of doing some long overdue work on a book proposal. Last night was nice. I borrowed Season 4 of True Blood, bought some quaffing stuff, had the ice cream and Tim Tams (world’s best sweet biscuits) ready. Bed freshly made, house reasonably clean, all ready to go for my indulgent night of True Blood and a couch session. It was nice. Really. Just nice. Not great. Actually, I got a bit bored. This free and easy single life is a bit blah.

Now, as two and half weeks yawn ahead, I think perhaps all I needed was a few days, not weeks and weeks apart from DH. Luckily, I’ve prepared a few things to keep me going. Girl’s night tonight, more movies, take away food and some chatting. The weekend is an empty shell as yet, but Saturday and Sunday Yoga beckon, and perhaps a pamper day. Monday I work, visit a friend and then my darling son comes up to visit. Hooray! I’m still working next week, but evenings are clear and the following long weekend is looking really great. I think DS is in need of some time out from study and work commitments, so I don’t think lounging about in the city will bother him at all, and we may pop off to a beach somewhere for a relax.

DH is due to arrive back home in October, and by then I think I will have missed him terribly. We’ve momentarily lost the art of making time for each other. I’m a bit laissez faire and DH is frankly too busy. So it’s up to me to smooth the way for a happy return to form when he comes back. Sadly, I teach every evening until late, which prevents me from preparing food and stuff. So home life often feels a bit rushed and imposed-upon by students coming in and out of the house. Thursday was date-night, and until late this year was working well. But we forget. And we get busy. And sometimes, we do things that look and feel like date night but are really just work commitments masquerading as fun.

But sometimes it’s too easy to overlook the little things my husband does for me: the flowers he buys me; the mowing of the lawn, the coffee he makes me in the morning. The little things that remind me: I love him and he loves me and together we’re better than apart. Which is why, just two days into my so-called “freedom”, I’m rather longing for his presence.


Sondheim Sondheim Sondheim!

This week a girlfriend and I decided to plan a weekend in Melbourne to see Stephen Sondheim in Conversation on a Monday night in October. Then we decided to see A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum on the Saturday night as well. It’s raining Sondheim. To top it off, I’ve bookmarked a few books to buy for the library – mostly by Sondheim. Fanboi, much? Can I afford any of this? NO. Care, much? NO. Well, I AM getting a shivery feeling about how I am to pay for it, but let’s put fingers in our ear and shout “la la la not listening not listening” whenever this shivery feeling occurs.

I’m a fan of Sondheim, but I will confess that the only two shows I had ever seen of his until a few years ago were Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music. I don’t count West Side Story, because Bernstein wrote the music to that. I taped Sweeney Todd when it was on TV in about 1985, with the incomparable Angela Lansbury, for whom the role of Mrs Lovett was created, and it was on high rotation on the teev, along with videos of the The Blues Brothers and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I loved A Little Night Music, and loved the MTC production starring Lisa McCune and others. I’ve since seen Into the Woods once, by a pro-am company. And I coached roles for Sunday Afternoon in the Park with George. And that’s it. That’s all. I teach his songs ALL the time, and I love his music. I think I love his lyrics more, but I am in love with the glorious, tricky repetition of his music, the intelligence shining through like a beacon amongst the Musical Theatre dross (that’s dross by ALW or anything with Les in the title). So when my friend wrote to me on FB and asked if I’d like to go to a live show starring him, I had no hesitation in saying YES! Because he’s 82, and who knows how much longer he’ll live?

So, on the weekend when hubby and I are discussing my lack of employ over summer, I’m planning on a fabulous weekend with a girlfriend, away from the hubby, down in Melbourne, all fun and no responsibility. I think I need it, though.