I have a friend who is an astrologist, and semi-regularly we have evenings at my home called “Veuve & Insights.” My friend Kristen brings nice champagne, I order Burmese food, and our friend Bevin, the astrologist, brings the insights.
As many of you know, I’ve always wanted to have more kids and haven’t been able to. It’s heartbreaking, and in addition to having to share custody of my kids, it’s definitely the thing I struggle with most. So every time I’ve ever had any kind of reading done, I ask about the chances of having more kids.
When I asked Bevin, she gave me a sad face and said she didn’t see it. (So much for astrologists telling you what you want to hear!)
What she said next was amazing though: She looked at both Eli and Evie’s charts and was astounded by their potential power and impact on the world. Evie—it will not surprise you—is astrologically projected for great things far, far, far greater than anything I’ve ever done. And unlike her mom, she will never have a shortage of resources, according to Bevin. I like to think that’s because Chairman Mom winds up becoming an insane success, but I also know that Evie is extraordinarily persuasive and won’t even need my money, should I ever make any.
But I was surprised by what she saw in store for Eli. She also saw tremendous potential for Eli to change the world, and cited in particular, his fluidity of gender as a real superpower. “He’ll have all of the privileges and advantages of a man, but as one who is also a woman, he’ll be able to use that power to advocate for people who aren’t white men,” she said.
(If this newsletter makes you uncomfortable because you hate astrology, just skip down a few more graphs or imagine the grandpappy troll in Frozen saying all these things about fictional characters. I know my wackiness is polarizing.)
She also said she believed the reason I wasn’t meant to have more kids was that both of these kids are so powerful and have so much potential, and I need to focus on helping unlock their amazing greatness. Put in the terms of the Southern Evangelicals I grew up with: “God only gives us what we can handle.” Apparently, Eli and Evie are IT!
At the time we had this conversation, Eli was going through a rough phase and the idea that he would come out of this as some confident, powerful leader… frankly, strained my own credulity. Evie: Yes. With apologies to Beto, she was “born for this.” Eli? The one with uncontrollably big emotions and real anxiety, who tends to be his own worst enemy? Uh…
And yet, by the end of first grade, his teacher told us that he’d emerged as a leader in his class. WHAT? MY ELI? The one who’s had two years of therapy because of his borderline crippling anxiety of rejection by his peers? The one who couldn’t speak in front of his class at the beginning of the year?
Almost a year later, Eli is clearly becoming that thing that Bevin described. He has amazed me in compounded ways every few months. He’s turned his own trauma into a powerful empathy and emotional maturity to shrug off some activity that others might see as bullying by saying it wasn’t about him, and the other kid was just upset. He made friends with them instead.
He wakes up on his own and helps me make breakfast nearly every morning. He recently helped me pack up Chairman Mom dinner kits because he was worried I was working too hard. And Sunday night when I was faced with prepping some French toast for a teacher appreciation breakfast at school, Eli announced he would happily handle it. He painstakingly buttered two loaves of brioche bread, shingled them in four pans, whisked the ingredients and poured them over the bread, all wearing a Minnie Mouse apron and chef’s hat. I’ve never been more grateful for his existence and Virgo-ness.
This is particularly impressive because Eli has struggled with far more major issues of identity and gender and bullying than anyone in our family. His emotional baseline going into a world he fears will reject him is something I can’t fathom dealing with. He’s had to face and process things at an incredibly young age that I never have and never will. But somehow, Bevin was right. These things have truly become superpowers of his. They have made him a leader, they have made him friends, they have made him a better member of our family and his school community.
A big part of this is two years of play-based therapy. He works out all the stuff he’s so worried about in that room and mostly leaves it there. For instance, Eli used to be an incredibly sore loser. We’ve noticed lately, he takes it in stride and congratulates you for having a good game. Meantime, I just learned he has spent weeks in therapy playing Trouble and screaming at his therapist when it looks like he might win, accusing him of cheating…the works. Every week, Eli smiles walking in, I hear all sorts of shouting and mayhem, and he smiles on the way out. “See you next week!”
To me, that’s a sign of how much Eli truly trusts his therapist, to show him the worst sides of himself. (Do I even trust ANYONE that much?) For a kid who had massive anxiety about rejection if people knew who he truly was, this is just astounding to me.
I was thinking about this last week, as I was reading Jonathan Van Ness’s memoir Over The Top. He opens by writing that as someone who has become a recent American sweetheart, he fears if we saw all the sides of him, we might hate him. Those words stopped my heart momentarily because it sounded exactly like the same fears Eli grappled with in kindergarten. Fears that for about a year made him retreat into himself.
Van Ness clearly had a lot of support other queer kids did/do not. But it was heartbreaking to hear about how this deep fear of rejection surrounding his identity, his inability to have someone he could talk to about it, burrowed so deeply into him, driving him to engage in reckless, dangerous behavior.
This is a common story in queer memoirs I’ve read in the last few years, and among queer loved ones from my generation, especially. There is all too often addiction and depression of some kind that stems from not fundamentally feeling loved, understood or appreciated for who you are at a young age. Sometimes they’re loved. Sometimes they’re “tolerated.” But with Eli, I tell him that the source of his power—the key to unlocking his greatness—is embracing these many things that make him different.
Just like Queen Elsa, to continue the Frozen analogy. Trying to keep what made her different into a box to please people only exploded in dangerous ways. But when harnessed it made her a powerful force for good, for bridging different worlds.
I am so grateful that Eli is growing up in a time that “tolerance” is a bad word, not a good one. Even in his darkest times, he’s always been so clear on who he is and his right to be that person. That’s not only remarkable for a queer child, that’s remarkable for any of us.
But it’s also taken money and work. We don’t live in a country where mental health care is cheap. As a founder, I do a lot of things wrong. But I know from covering startups for 20 years, what matters is getting the right things right. As Eli’s mom, it was clear to me from about 18 months in, that the one thing I had to get right— maybe the only thing—was making sure he felt loved and safe, putting his mental health above any niceties or family obligations or social awkwardness.
Why am I sharing all of this? In part because I simply can’t stop thinking about it, marveling at it. Maybe some of our readers are wondering if their kid with anxiety or their kid who is different could benefit from therapy and this can help them. Maybe others just had their child tell them they want to be/are the opposite gender and that sounds terrifying.
I can say this almost nine years into my Eli journey: I have never had any single person who made me expand my worldview, who made me such a better person, as Eli. Full stop. My growth has at least been as dramatic as his growth. I had no idea generally what I was getting into when I was lucky enough to become a mother. I certainly had no idea what I was getting into when I was lucky enough to become Eli’s mother.
Maybe these two are enough.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- Any virtual event experts?
- I’m at a cafe and this woman sitting next to me hates her husband. What can I do to make her feel like she’s not alone?
- I want to leave my partner but I don’t have the money. How have other people solved this?
- What’s one parenting decision you look back on and say, “Ugh, I should’ve handled that SO differently”?