"Hey, guys, look! It's the cross-country team!" I pointed out the window as we drove into our neighborhood. The high school team trains and competes on the running trails that weave throughout our neighborhood. As though they were in the presence of celebrity, my kids craned their necks to get a good view.
"Huh," Max noted. "They're all boys."
"Well, that's just because this is the Boys Cross-Country Team. There's a Girls' team, too."
A moment of silence as we watched the first runners of the group disappear into the woods.
"That would be hard for me," Max said.
"Running? You're a strong runner." I assured him.
"No. Dividing me up like that...If I'm still, you know, like this when I'm in high school."
And my heart. It shattered. I clenched my two hands tightly on the wheel. I willed myself to keep my eyes on the road even as they filled with tears.
Like doesn't fit.
Where have we failed him? Haven't we been so clear and convicted in raising him to express himself fully and completely and confidently? Doesn't he know that he's perfect just the way he is? Doesn't he know that he doesn't have to be "divided up?" Doesn't he know that he doesn't have to fit in one of the two neat little boxes that society has created for kids? Either/or?
I pulled into our driveway and put the car in park. The kids happily bounded inside the house, ready to begin the Pokemon game they had been planning during the drive home.
Sam was just coming up the driveway, too, so I stopped him and told him what Max had said.
"What did you say to him?" Sam asked, his Papa Bear in full effect.
"I just told him that no matter 'how' he is, he'll always be Max and we'll always love him just the way he is. That's all I could say before..." and my eyes once again filled and my voice got too shaky to continue.
"Should we talk to him about it? Should we say more?" Sam wondered.
"I don't know. Yes. I think so. I don't know. I need to take a shower."
Because sometimes you just need a good cry in the shower, you know?
So I did. I took a shower and cried for Max and for the world and for Evan, who's still not gaining weight, and for me, who has to shoulder this burden of not being able to just fix everything and make life smooth and easy for my kids.
And it helped. A little. At least I got to express all of the emotions I've been holding in since...I don't know. It's been awhile.
I toweled off and put on warm, fuzzy pajamas. Sam came upstairs and said that the other two kids were outside but that Max was in the kitchen. "It's a good time to talk to him if you want to say more."
And I did. And it had to be me. Sam hadn't been in the car with us and I didn't want Max to think that his statement was such a Big Bad Important Thing that we had to double team him.
So I sat next to him at the kitchen table where he was sorting his Pokemon cards in his binder.
"Baby, I want to talk to you about what you said in the car."
He looked up at me, for just the briefest moment, before looking back at his cards. "Yeah?"
"Listen. There are lots of different types of people in this world. Some of them feel totally like a boy. Some of them feel totally like a girl. And some of them feel somewhere in the middle...not totally boy or girl. And they're all perfect. There is nothing wrong with any of them. Right now, you feel somewhere in the middle. You may not always feel that way. But you might. Even when you're a grown-up, you may still feel like you're a little of both. And there's nothing wrong with that. You never have to pick one or the other because, no matter what, you're always going to be our Max. And you're perfect just like you are. You always will be."
I showed him an Instagram account of a beauty/make-up columnist that I follow: Tynan Buck. He's a gorgeous guy with short, candy-colored hair, scruffy facial hair, and the most fabulous nails and make-up I've ever seen. Max scrolled through his photos, commenting on which lipstick shades he liked and which metallic nail colors he wanted.
"I want you to know, baby, that you never have to be 'Divided Up.' You can be everything all at once. Let's say that when you get to High School, you want to run cross-country. And let's say that they still have two teams: a boys' team and a girls' team. And let's say that you don't feel like you fit in either of those teams. You know what you do?"
For the first time since I started talking, he looked up at me again.
"You join a Running Club that is open to boys and girls."
"Really. And if they don't have a boys and girls running club at your school, do you know what you do?"
"You start one. And Daddy and I will help you. Don't change who you are to fit in, babe. Change your world to fit you."
A smile spread across his face. "So you're saying you want me to be a wrecking ball who crashes down buildings to make more room for my huge palace?" And then he went off on a tangent about Miley Cyrus.
The time for our serious conversation, it seemed, had passed.
"Yes, baby. That's exactly what I'm saying." I stood up and wrapped my arms around him as he put the last of his cards in their appropriate slots in the pages of his binder. He closed his binder and wriggled out of my hug, eager to join the neighborhood kids playing outside.
He looked back at me as he opened the door. "You look like you're going to cry, Mommy."
"Happy tears, babe. I just love you so much!"
"Love ya, mama."
They weren't happy tears. They were the tears of an overwhelmed mama. But he doesn't need to know that.