This week, you turned six. Six feels like a big deal—suddenly, we need two hands instead of just one to hold up the right amount of fingers to reflect your age. And this birthday feels even more significant, of course, because it’s happening right on the eve of our family’s big move.
This kind of change, the kind we choose, reminds us that we live into an unknown future, that we can’t predict what comes next. It’s easy to fool ourselves into thinking otherwise when we are going about our usual business, but the truth is that life can change in an instant, in all kinds of ways and for all kinds of reasons well outside of our control.
Six years ago, your Gigi and I were on the cusp of another big change; we stood in the room as you came into the world, red and swollen and, blessedly, healthy. You had been promised to us but were not yet ours—for legal reasons, we could not assume guardianship of you until forty-eight hours after your birth, and we were keenly aware that the situation could shift from what we’d hoped for to what we feared at any time. Though we could not keep from falling in love with you, we reminded ourselves that you did not, existentially, belong to anyone but yourself. And we made a promise that, should we be lucky enough to take you home, our parenting would honor your individuality.
There is a version of the chicken-or-the-egg? debate when it comes to child-rearing; which is more powerful, nature or nurture? I am no expert, of course, and can base my conclusions only on my own experience, but there’s no doubt in my mind that you came to us with the person we now know as Shiv cocooned inside of you. We did not create that Shiv; the miracle of genetics and the magic of grace did that. But, like a geode waiting to be exposed by the right conditions, I also believe that our work to provide a particular kind of environment for you has allowed your true self to shine more fully than it might under other conditions.
This work isn’t always easy—we live in a society so attached to its gender roles that you’ve already learned that it’s easier for you to pass as a “she” than to be a “he” who wears dresses as well as shorts. But there’s never even been a question in my or your Gigi’s mind that we would help you carve out the space required to live as freely and authentically as possible. We both understand what it means to possess a truth deep down inside of you that others question the veracity or legitimacy of; we both know what it means to have to fight through a confusing tangle of what you’ve been taught and what you feel in order to come to a place of true self-expression.
The thing is, Shiv, you are way ahead of us. You know yourself better than almost anyone I know, including many, many adults. You know what you like, and you like what you see when you look in the mirror, to the extent that a part of me envies you. But a much bigger part of me is awed by your bravery, your refusal to conform even as you begin to understand more and more what the costs can be. And as you refuse to turn your hurt into unkindness, as so many in this world do.
We cannot control the rest of the world, and for this reason, some would urge us to be careful, to protect you by having you dull your shine. And I understand that impulse—I truly do—but I cannot support it. For your birthday, I asked a friend and former student to create a piece of artwork that will hang in your new bedroom in Phoenix, using the following quotation from James Baldwin:
“You have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all.”
Six years ago, your Gigi and I were entrusted with the care and protection of your one “wild and precious” life (to quote Mary Oliver), but that life is ultimately your own. Already we are so proud of how you choose to live it.
I love you for always,