M.’s dad and I sit down expectantly in tiny plastic chairs, our knees bent up to our chests, waiting for the report from M.’s sweet teacher. She’s the type of teacher who’s far more at ease with the kids than the parents, so we haven’t talked much up until now. I’m not too worried about M.’s academic performance, social adjustment, or behavior. She seems to be on the fast-track to reading soon, has lots of little friends giving her good-morning hugs at drop-off, and there hasn’t been a whisper of a problem with her behavior. But, of course, I’m wondering (and worrying) about the elephant that will likely dwell in every living room – and classroom – she will ever enter: Do the other kids “know” yet? Have any of the other parents said anything? (For new readers of this blog: M. entered her new school this fall simply as M., a girl like all the other girls. We didn’t see her transgender status as a secret, but we didn’t announce it either. The staff were told, and we assumed the kids would figure it out eventually and we’d cross that bridge when we came to it. That bridge seems to be getting closer.)
“We’ve been working on literacy through story-telling,” the teacher begins. We spend the next 25 minutes poring over a notebook full of adorable drawings accompanied by words with delightful misspellings (“Mi Mom pikd a prty flawr”). Then we move on to those math worksheets that apparently still have the power to make me queasy. “M. is doing really well with her numbers…”
I am fidgeting in my tiny chair. M.’s academics are clearly going well. I want to talk about the elephant!
With just minutes to go in our allotted half hour, the teacher finally brings it up. She says it “really hasn’t been an issue.” She says the other kids don’t seem to know, except for… Sophie.* She smiles.
I remember the first time I met Sophie. I was dropping M. off in the morning. Sophie was busy answering the “morning question” that their teacher writes on a white board at the start of each day. It was a Monday, so the question was, “What did you do this weekend?” I watched Sophie – a leftie, like me – put the finishing touches on a drawing of a child falling face-first down a set of stairs. She tugged on my sleeve and explained, delighted: “My little sister fell down the stairs!” A starfish of red lines erupted from the child’s chin. “That’s the blood!”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s a very realistic drawing, Sophie.” I told Sophie that I was left-handed, too. Sophie grabbed M. and they ran off off to tell the rest of the class her gory story.
Sophie’s dad, standing next to me, chuckled self-consciously and introduced himself. “She’s the only leftie in the family,” he said. “We’re not really sure where that came from. We’re not really sure where a lot of Sophie’s traits came from, actually…”
M.’s teacher tells us that Sophie’s parents came to her recently and asked about M.’s gender. Apparently Sophie had told them that M. had a penis. The teacher laughed: “Her dad’s a doctor, and Sophie was schooling him on the issue: ‘C’mon, dad,’ she said, ‘Don’t you know that girls can have penises, too?'”
We all chuckled. “But was he… OK with it?” I ask.
“Oh yeah, yeah, totally,” the teacher says.
“Do any of the other kids know?”
“I don’t think so,” she says. “Sophie is very protective of M. I think it’s their special secret.”
I imagine the two of them sitting close, as I’ve often seen them doing, their little blond heads bent together, giggling, confessing, conspiring. “Sometimes they distract each other during writing time,” the teacher says. “But their connection seems so special that I don’t want to discourage it by separating them.”
Most of our kindergarten friendships will not last anything close to a lifetime, but I suspect (and I can’t write this without starting to cry) that goofy little Sophie’s loyalty will mark my child’s life forever.
* Not her real name.