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The Moment This Mother's Trans Son Announced, 'I'm a Boy'

The Moment This Mother's Trans Son Announced, 'I'm a Boy'

Mimi Lemay Book: Raising a trans child

In this exclusive excerpt from her memoir, writer Mimi Lemay shares a seemingly small, but truly significant, moment.

That parenting would transform me was expected.

I wore those changes on my skin and felt them course in the marrow of my bones.

I was thirty-two when my first child, Ella, was born. My outline metamorphosed into something rounder and softer, my eyes became rimmed with the dusky purple of sleepless nights, and my previously stick-straight dark hair sprang into unruly waves, as if to mirror the onset of entropy in my life.

The internal changes, however, were far more vast--what might best be described as a benign case of possession.

I found that the heart that beat inside my chest was no longer my own. The organ had been all but replaced by that of one, two, finally three little beings whose joys and sorrows would forever steer my emotions in a way I'd be helpless to resist. In a word, I'd been hacked.

But even this loss of self, to an extent, I saw coming.

The unexpected changes happened in the realm of my senses. I noticed it when Ella was about nine months old and had taken to scuttling about our hardwood floors like a hybrid lightning bug/vacuum cleaner looking for objects to place in her mouth.

Joe was in the kitchen assembling the last of our new kitchen cabinets, while I was clear across the house in the sunroom stacking blocks and shelving books. Ambient noises of traffic and nature wafted through the open window, mixing with the drone of the electric drill.

Suddenly, my ears pricked, and my spine tingled. I called out to Joe: "Honey, you dropped a screw on the floor." One quick pass turned up nothing. "You dropped a screw," I insisted. "Check again!" Sure enough, there it was, a one-inch screw that had rolled under the cabinet, just within reach of a tiny pincer grasp. "How the hell did you hear that?" Joe asked. "I don't know," I answered truthfully.

On reflection, I decided it was only natural that the body that had prepared me so comprehensively to give birth had equipped me to keep the product of that birth alive. From now on, formerly ignorable, undifferentiated sounds would trigger messages in my inflamed amygdala. Danger! Danger! synapses would fire.

Therefore, it never fails to amaze me that with my new sensory upgrade, I missed the moment itself.

I cannot tell you precisely when everything changed for my middle child, Em, and therefore for us.

I do not have a journal entry labeled The Day of Great Revelation or The Afternoon I Began to Lose Her.

While I can recall several of those early moments, the very first one eludes me. It has blended, shuffled into the deck with all the others, because, unlike the case of a choking hazard, my early warning system failed me.

I can only offer a vignette, one of a subsequent many, that could have been this watershed moment, but I cannot time-stamp it.

Because, even though I must have heard it happen, I don't think I was listening.

The moment I hear the cascade of Cheerios hit the hardwood of our dining-room floor, there is little doubt in my mind exactly what has been done and, furthermore, whodunnit.

The rapid-fire pttt-pttt-pttt reminds me of a sudden Amazonian rainstorm, pellets the size of dimes hitting wide lush leaves. I close my eyes, lingering in a crouch over Ella's school bag that I'm packing, unwilling to confront the cleanup ahead.

"Mama?" Em's gravelly voice wavers. "Mama?"

Big sister Ella, in the role of both defense and prosecution, cuts in. Accusatory: "Em knocked over the cereal, Mama!" Softening: "But she didn't mean it."

"I dudin't mean it." Em takes the cue from her three-foot-tall advocate in pigtails and overalls.

The baby gurgles, delighted, straining against the pricey Swedish bouncer, a shower gift, that rocks wildly as she kicks her feet. She nearly spills out in her efforts to reach the migrating rings that are settling into the far reaches of the room.

"I know you didn't mean it." I'm weary, and frustration creeps into my voice: "But like I told you many times, Em, when you wiggle around in your seat so much, you are going to knock things off the table!"

Like a well-timed punch line, Em tips off her chair and into a pile of Cheerios.


"I'm sorry, Mama!" Her voice sounds panicky and I instantly regret the sharpness of my tone.

Em starts to walk around, bending to pick up fistfuls of the cereal that is by now turning to powder under her feet-- baby Godzilla wreaking havoc on downtown Tokyo.

Crunch, crunch.

"Em, Mama will clean up. Girls, please get your coats on!" She ignores me as she stubbornly continues to pick up cereal, her little brown Mary Janes now covered in a fine dusting of oat. Crunch.

"Go!" I bark, and Em jumps. "Get your coats and sit on the couch now!" They scramble, and I follow with my eyes as spectral Cheerio footprints make their way across the living-room rug. "You don't need to yell, Mama," says Ella and her voice sounds teary. Even baby Lucia, the youngest of the three sisters Lemay, looks at me agape, momentarily still.

I change the subject. "Why don't I put a show on for you while I clean? Sofia the First? Which one were you watching last night? We can finish it."

Ella's face brightens. These days, this new-breed Disney show about a spunky princess and her enchanted amulet is everyone's favorite. The episode resolves just as I toss the last Cheerios from under the radiator and lean on my broom handle to rest. The credits are rolling, and Ella and Em begin to waltz to the music. Despite the November chill, the bright morning sun pours in through the large living-room windows, dappling their dancing bodies with flecks of light. Lucia pauses in her exertions again, this time to watch her sisters, transfixed. I feel a penitent tug on my heart. These inconveniences are just that, minor blemishes in a world that is just as it should be.

Ella, ever in charge, says, "Look, Mama! I am Pwincess Sofia and Em is Pwincess Amber and Woozy is . . . what are you, Woozy?" Lucia, owner of the nickname, grunts. "You can be the bunny Clover," Ella decides.

"Ella," I caution her automatically. "Take turns being Sofia with your sister, okay?"

Em cuts into the exchange: "I not be Sofia," she announces. "I not be Amb'a. I be James."

"You can't be James," Ella declares. "James is a boy."

"Ella," I say wearily, heading off this skirmish at the pass, "let Em make her own choices, love." Thankfully, Ella seems ready to move on. "Mama, who do you want to be?"

"Let's see . . . hmm . . . not Sofia's mom -- too obvious." I hoist Ella's backpack onto my left arm; the baby, now strapped into her bucket seat, I grab with the right. My keys and cell phone are tucked under my armpit. I am a morning mom, battle-ready.

"But I a boy." Em speaks softly but clearly.

"Ooh! I know!" I clap my hands. "I'm Minimus! The unicorn!" "He is not a unicorn, Mama." Ella is scornful. "Unicorns have horns. Minimus does not have a horn. He is a flying horse." "Okay! Okay! Don't hurt me!" I raise my hands in a pretense of fear. Our eyes meet, and we giggle. I love that she is at the age where she can laugh at herself. I love this age entirely. With four-year-olds, every day brings something new.

We tumble out the door and into our day. Sunshine bleaches memories of spilled cereal, castles of our imaginings, and things, once out of the package, that cannot be so easily squeezed back in.

Excerpted from What We Will Become: A Mother, a Son, and a Journey of Transformation by Mimi Lemay, with permission from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. What We Will Become is available now.

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