25 December 2008

Christmas, Then and Now

When I woke up this morning, I saw a lemon tree a few feet from my window. Its fruit glowed like little suns among the branches.

Six years ago, I woke up on Christmas morning to bare trees, a rocky dirt path and a stone house covered with snow.

So why am I mentioning these two holiday mornings on the same page? The contrast I've just described is almost reason enough. But the real reason why I've brought up Christmas 2002 is that it was the last holiday, before this one, that I spent with family members.

Yesterday I arrived at the home of my mother and father. That day had its contrasts, too: When I left my place in New York, the temperature hovered right around the freezing point, and rain alternated and mixed with sleet. Ice and hard-packed snow lined the sides of the streets, and many of the sidewalks looked like volcanic glaciers. From the bus I took from the Port Authority Terminal to Newark Airport, I could barely see the sides of the New Jersey Turnpike, as a fog had crept in and wrapped around, and clung to, signposts and siderails.

However, when I got off the plane in Jacksonville, the air glowed as warm as the sun that began to set as Dad drove me and Mom back to the house. My tan courduroy skirt, black pantyhouse, holiday-toned short-sleeved sweater and black cardigan were clearly too much; of course the jacket I wore over them was in the trunk, with my suitcase. Mom said the outfit, especially the short-sleeved sweater (knitted with bands of red, gold, black, white and grey) were nice, and I have worn the outfit I just described (along with the red slingbacks) on more than a few holiday-season occasions. But it definitely wasn't Florida.

Now, for that Christmas half a dozen years ago, I was dressed right: cable-knit sweater and courduroy pants, if I remember correctly. You might say it was one of my better boy-drag outfits. It also made perfect sense, not only for the weather, but for the fact that I was in rural Connecticut. That's where my brother Tony was living; a few months later, he, Rose, Lauren and Daniel would move to the Jersey shore, just a couple of towns away from where he, my other brothers and I went to high school.

That Christmas morning in Connecticut looked like a Burl and Ives illustration, which appeals to even someone as cynical as I am(!). And I never dreamed of a warm-weather Christmas, but I am enjoying this one. On the other hand, as you can imagine, I didn't come here for the weather.

The time I spent with Mom and Dad back in August made me want to come back. Imagine that! (Is my teenaged, or even thirty-something, self listening?) Somehow I knew I wasn't being naively optimistic in wanting to return after that week I spent here in August. We all agreed that it was a good visit, and I knew it wasn't just a matter of everything going just right and being just so.

What I realize now is that we were ready for the kind of time we spent together. Up to that time, I had assumed that it was a matter of my parents' readiness to see me. I kind of suspected they'd reached that point when they offered to accompany me to my surgery and to let me stay with them as I recover, not to mention that they offered to help me in other ways. But what I didn't realize was that, in some ways, I would need the lessons I've learned over the past few years.

The funny thing is that what has helped me in this situation are things I've learned from teaching. For one thing, people learn in their own ways and at their own pace. I could be Socrates and Anne Sullivan rolled up into one, and my students wouldn't learn if, for whatever reasons, they aren't ready. But they're ready more often than you think, and sometimes at moments when you don't expect them to be.

All of what I've just said about teaching applies to my relationship with my parents. Before my August visit, they had seen me in female clothes and make-up once. I knew it couldn't have been easy for them, and it took time before they could see me again. I was nervous although eager on my way down; I wondered what it would be like for them to see me living a day, a week as Justine. How would they react to seeing me in a nightgown? (They didn't.) And, during that week my father even took me shopping.

When I came down yesterday, my mother pointed to the small ceramic tree on the entertainment center. (They haven't had a regular Christmas tree for several years, my mother said; it's just "too much" for her and my father.) On that tree hung three teardrop-shaped Christmas ornaments. One on of them "Angie", my mother's name, was written in gold paint; another had "Nick," my father's name (and my former name) on it. And, to the right of them hung a ball with "Justine" in gold lettering. I started to sniffle and shed a few tears.

Actually, the ball with my name actually was "Justin" with an "e" added to it. There weren't any with the name "Justine," my mother said. I know that when I see personalized key-chains and such, there never seem to be any with my name on it. I guess it's just not that common. So I appreciated that ornament all the more.

And, this morning, Mom and Dad had a couple of gifts I hadn't anticipated. One was a nice leather shoulder-bag/organizer. The other was a long, satiny hostess robe in a pretty shade of green. I'd been meaning to buy something like that for myself to wear to bed during the winter months. How did she know. All right: Do I need to ask that question?

Since I began my journey from living as a man to being a woman, mom has given me some of her jewelery and a few items of clothing, including a black knitted sweater/bolero jacket that everyone (including me) loves when I wear it. But this is the first time someone in my family has given me something made specifically for a woman as a Christmas gift, or for any other special occasion. And, it's the sort of thing Mom wears. (In fact, she said she bought one like it, in red, for herself.) So, I felt in some way that not only was she accepting me as Justine; she was also welcoming me into her world, if you will.

I'm sorry if you think I'm making a big deal over a robe I got for Christmas. But I love it.

It fits perfectly.

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