As I write this I am sitting on a very tiny airplane flying to my tiny small town in the state of West Virginia. Edie is with me, as is my mother. In fact, on this leg of the trip Edie is sitting with my mother and they are having some “woman time”. Taking this trip always conjures a bit of nostalgia. It always seems like it is the same small plane flying over the familiar beautiful hills. Even the faces, mostly of Scotch or Irish heritage look familiar and familial.
Traveling home always gives me a little anxiety too if I am totally honest. I don’t see my family there often enough and my grandmother always looks a little older, a little more feeble and frail. My little niece isn’t so little anymore. Things change too in that gradual sort of way, like a tree does, that you don’t always notice when you see them every single day. I know I’ve changed too.
I have always been an anxious person. I’ve had panic attacks for as long as I can remember. As a kid they were those creeping sneaking devils that would appear after too much excitement, sugar, or fear. Being away from my mother always caused them too and caused me to be a bit of a homebody. I suppose I still am today. As I age I have learned ways to manage and deal with panic and anxiety. Some of them were healthy and others not so very much. I would say all in all I’m more comfortable in my own skin.
Returning home always sort of reminds me of that anxious and queer little boy me that seemed so different from the boys growing up around him. I was bookish, religious, timid, and into clothing and hanging out with girls. I didn’t really know anyone queer until I was in junior high and even then I thought, “I’m not really like them either, am I?” I can remember very clearly what almost everyone around me said about gay people or homosexuals-all five syllables drawn out and usually whispered in disgust.
This time is a little different. I still have a little anxiety. I always white knuckle the whole time I’m flying while praying the Hail Mary and Our Father with every single bump. Edie is with me though and she is getting older and is so incredibly smart. On the way here she’s asked several brilliant questions:
“Why was I adopted, Papa?”
“Why is the inside of my hand less brown than the rest of me?”
She’s so perceptive and real in a way that only a three-year-old can be.
As we travel to the Bible Belt, a place still known for racism and homophobia, I also have anxiety about how she will be treated. This is of course a fear and a reality that my Black and Brown friends and family know all too well.
But, one thing is different. I am her Papa and I’m going to make sure she loves herself and others no matter what. I know what it’s like to be constantly afraid. I do not want that for her. It’s one of the reasons that I try very hard to not say “Be careful” or “No, you can’t do that!”
I believe that as parents our voice becomes our kid’s inner voice. I want so desperately to counteract all the nasty stuff she is going to hear and experience about herself, and to an extent I can and will. But, sometimes you have to go places that might not be as welcoming and safe. When you do, you have to be able to have a strong and kind inner voice that gently reassures you that you are exactly enough. You have to know where you can find an ally and a kind face like your great grandmother, your aunty, your cousin, and others who refuse to let hate and fear guide them.
On this trip home I want it to be different. I want to show Edie the goodness of where I’m from. I want to show her the goodness that is in her as well as the strength and courage. As silly as it seems I also hope to have a chat with anxious little me. I want to show him how there is so much to be happy about and look forward to. Some day he will have a husband and a daughter that love him unconditionally. Some day he will live by the ocean, his favorite spot in all the world, and he will feel comfortable in his own skin.
The things I want for the child version of myself are the same things I want for my perfect Edie. I have to think that somehow one is connected to the other. Maybe I’ve had too many sessions of Family Systems Therapy. I know this post has been a little different and no clothing recommended. (Although Edie’s travel dress was on point.) As you can imagine she does not travel in pajamas.
We are about to land in these beautiful hills. As we descend, thought they are familiar, I hope to view them in a different light. I hope that I can view myself in a different light too. I hope I can help Edie to feel loved and at home, no matter where she roams. I have a feeling she will do the same for me.