The question was innocent, posed in the form of a meme on Facebook. The choice of two pills, red or blue. One instantly gave you ten million dollars while the other allowed you to go back in time to fix your mistakes.
My first instinct was to chose the ten million. I could pay off our small (but large to us) debt and fly the two of us to England to visit Lenny. We could also afford to go on the big family holiday to Cuba this winter. We could paint our whole apartment, get Jeremy a better computer, and enjoy the rest of our lives. Then I pictured Emma’s arms.
We moved to a big apartment complex when Emma was eight years old and Jeremy was six. We’d loved our old apartment, which was a lot more like a townhouse, but it was only two bedrooms. The new apartment had three bedrooms plus the building had a daycare on the ground floor. At first it seemed like a good move then both kids started getting bullied. Rumours flew around that Emma and Jeremy were having sex with each other. One girl even claimed to see them through Emma’s bedroom window (ignoring the fact she’d need either scaffolding or the ability to fly in order to do so). I told the kids the rumour was too weird to be believed. I was wrong. Years later, Emma was introduced to a friend of a friend and the first comment he made was “aren’t you the girl who had sex with her brother?”. I had to pull Emma off the elementary school bus and sent her via public transit instead while Jeremy was the target of homophobic slurs.
If I could go back in time, I would have stayed put in our small apartment, despite the lack of kids their ages.
Then there’s their father. He still contacts me and attempts a relationship with Jeremy. He comments that he doesn’t understand why I speak to him, mentioning repeatedly how much of an asshole he is. He recounts snippets of conversation with a friend where he admits that he deliberately lied to his father to turn him against me. My ex doesn’t understand why Emma won’t speak to him or even look at him if she runs into him, why she blocked him on the phone and on Facebook. He understands that she’s mad at him for things he did in the past but claims he doesn’t remember any of them so it shouldn’t count.
“Quick! Tell me what you had for breakfast on June 21, 2002. Tell me! You can’t can you. It’s not fair for her to expect me to remember stuff that happened that long ago.”
As if his abuse of her is on par with what I had for breakfast.
One of the worst incidences I remember involved a trip to Wal-Mart. Their father took them to McDonalds and settled them down with a snack while explaining that there was this woman who wouldn’t leave him alone, so he had to lie to her in order to get her to stop calling. He called her repeatedly through their whole visit, leaving them in the restaurant while he went outside to smoke and lie. Both kids insisted he was gone for ages, they were all alone in the store and didn’t know what to do. Then he jaywalked with them across a local highway, with traffic coming from both directions. The kids cried when they told me about it; Emma tearfully describing feeling the wind from a passing car against her feet as they jumped off the road. There was a large, clearly marked intersection not ten feet away. My ex claimed he didn’t see it.
Emma begged for supervised visits, she’d feel so much safer with someone else there to make their Dad behave. Jeremy agreed. I found a local place that offered supervised visits. They would be held in a room with someone taking notes. Emma wasn’t fond of that idea, she liked going out and doing things with her Dad. Maybe Gramma could go on the visits with them. Their Dad was furious at the thought. He would not do supervised visits. If she insisted, he’d never see her again. I wanted to step in and tell him it was an adult decision and had nothing to do with the kids. Emma begged me not to. She needed her Dad and begged me to not set up the supervised visits. I backed down then cringed as he forced her to apologize as if she’d done something wrong.
If I could go back in time I would have stood up and told him “no” more. I would have insisted on the supervised visits. Maybe he would have disappeared, maybe not, but supervision would have helped.
And there was Jeremy whose favourite colour was pink. Zie loved stuffed animals and dinky cars… Barbie and Bob the Builder… playing dress up and driving toy vehicles outside.
I was bullied all through school. Not teased, bullied. For years I didn’t have a single friend at school and for the handful of years I did, she was too scared to let anyone know we were friends for fear of being ostracized. I’ve been chased down by kids on bikes, spat on, had my coat flushed down the toilet. I’ve hidden from gangs of kids behind car wheels and in stores. I checked my assigned seat daily for spit (and often found it). And I adamantly did not want my children to go through the same experiences.
I didn’t ban Jeremy from taking zir stuffies to school but made it very obvious zie’d be teased if zie did. When zie complained that the boys clothing section was boring and didn’t have any good colours, I agreed and said it was disappointing… ignoring zir looks toward the girl’s section. I definitely didn’t let zir know Lego had sparkly pink and purple kits, even though I knew zie would be over the moon with excitement over them.
If I could go back in time, I’d let the kids chose the colour of their shared room, even though I know Jeremy would have chosen pink. I’d have assured Jeremy that zie could have a pink shirt. I’d have bought the damn Lego and watched Jeremy’s over the moon excitement as zir favourite colours and Lego combined to be the best present ever!
Then I listened to my friends, two of which have lost (and regained) their children through their local children’s protection services this past year. Both solely because they are supporting their child’s gender identity. A third is struggling, being supported by children’s services but floundering with the legal system, also because she’s supporting her child’s gender identity.
The main reason I was worried about pushing my ex too far was the fear he’d get angry enough to retaliate; angry enough to lie repeatedly and often enough to get someone to finance him through court against me. Which is exactly what he did when Emma was thirteen… leading to years of living with my parents and in group homes… and culminating in self harm and a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.
My friends are fighting in a society where Laverne Cox is winning awards and “I am Jazz” is on the air. They’re fighting while gender conversion therapy is being banned and we have access to a parents of transgender children group with over two thousand members. We moved to the apartment complex in 2004, which means I’d have to go back to 2003.
These days my ex is subdued. His health is poor, he struggles to walk and he’s had multiple strokes and heart attacks. When autism was brought up, he brushed it aside with a laugh and a comment that we always knew Jeremy was different. Court in 2003 was a different story. He was younger, angry, and vindictive. He insisted my diagnosis of apraxia (an oral motor sequencing disorder which causes delayed speech) was wrong. He wanted blood tests, an MRI, a CAT scan, and an EKG; despite the fact no doctor had ever requested any of them. He told the court I was putting the children’s lives at risk by refusing medical help and insisted he needed joint custody to ensure they got the help the needed. The court ruled on a second opinion with a local and well respected paediatrician. My ex agreed then was furious with the doctor, who not only confirmed the diagnosis but informed me that my ex wanted him to say Jeremy’s speech delay was a result of my poor parenting skills. My ex felt his personal attacks against me were supposed to be private and confidential. I’m assuming his lawyer convinced him not to ask for a third opinion.
We live in the Greater Toronto Area. The only doctor in the area who would have taken Jeremy’s case (at the time) would have been Kenneth Zucker. I know for a fact he would have had no difficulty blaming my “poor parenting skills” for Jeremy’s feminine behaviour. It wouldn’t have mattered to my ex that he suggested giving Jeremy zir first Barbie because, in the end, none of his actions were about the kids, they were aimed at getting back at me for daring to leave. The kids were casualties and pawns in his efforts to hurt me and Kenneth Zucker would have helped him right along.
So I’d take the ten million dollars because Jeremy’s sleeping in the room beside me wearing zir favourite lavender pyjamas. Because we’re going to paint zir room purple this weekend and put up purple floral curtains. Because our lives might not be perfect but we’ve made it. I’ll work on the future instead and leave the past where it is.