My mom and me.

“Will you send that to me? It’s one of the best pictures of me since I don’t remember when.” 

My mom said this today. This is us smiling. She came to visit me for the first time since I moved back home to New Jersey a year ago today. It’s one of two pictures we’ve taken together in almost a decade. It was a great day.

For most of my life, my mom and I had a very difficult relationship. I never understood why but she said today, “we are more alike than different, I think that’s why we butt heads.” She’s probably quite right. Our sensitivity and empathy run deep as does our impatience. It’s the Irish maybe. 

My father left her with my sister, who was a toddler about to turn 3 years old, and me when I was 3 months old. He left his wedding ring in the dresser during a business trip. My mom found it and called him out while home alone with us. Then he left for good. My mother never went to college. She didn’t have a safe or comfortable home life. She hauled us both in her car and got food stamps until she could figure out another plan. That is her version of the story. I’m sure my dad has his. I may never hear it because he’s been pretty M.I.A. except for a few years when he really was great.

My mom is the one who fought through her pain and confusion and grief to make peace with my decision to transition my gender identity in 2012. It’s taken us six years to be able to hang out and smile like this together. Six years and a lot of work and growth on both sides. During brunch today, I saw my mother as a completely new and different person for the first time in my 40 years on this planet. It felt like time stopped.

This post is a short version of the long story of my mom and me.

This picture exposes the tenacious love and compassion we have for ourselves and each other. All I am I learned from this woman. I’m the mirror that reflects her. She’s so afraid of life but she’s a warrior. She’s the inspiration for all I do in my own life, leaving nothing unexplored and being brave beyond all limits. She conquered a big fear coming to visit me today. I’m fearless from her example.

This is my mom and I’m who I am because she’s who she is. Perfectly her.

I see you.

If the greatest human need is to be acknowledged, it's no wonder the greatest human fear is public speaking.

Asking for what you need or to be seen and vulnerable and face rejection? Yeah, right. No thanks! It can feel terrifying to put yourself out there, even if it's what we most crave and need.

And that's where most of us spend our whole lives--in that balance. Waiting or wondering for how to make things different. How to put ourselves out there and be seen so we feel acknowledged.

It may be even harder for those of us who were born lucky enough to face significant adversity, like I was. I say lucky because it's my opinion that facing adversity is a gift. It's a blessing. It's how we nurture resilience and become gritty to overcome the challenges of life. If we have enough tools and resources, adversity is great. Without enough of what we need, adversity is...not so great.

Ironically, more resources doesn't always make it better. Sometimes, the more privilege we have or are given in our family unit or in society, the harder life's challenges actually can feel. When things come easy to us, anything HARD feels HARDER. But when hard is what you know by get what I'm saying. What are your particular circumstances? Have you ever stopped to consider this?

Being seen and acknowledged and valued is essential to our survival. Lots of people want to pretend they are beyond or above it but there's probably something else going on with those folks. This primal human need to feel connected and be acknowledged is why social media is a hot damn mess and also why the news can be so hard to stomach right now because we see so much invalidation of human lives in so many different ways. It can trigger this feeling in us like, "whoa. Look at the lives lost. Am I even valuable?"

When we see this all day, every day, we can feel overwhelmed. Human beings treating other human beings unkindly is nothing new but the news and social media makes it seem bigger and worse right now. I try to keep perspective on it based on what I know from my days teaching Social Studies.

In those moments when we feel overwhelmed, when the compassion fatigue sets in, it may help to just start with seeing yourself. My inner child cries out to be seen especially since my relationships with my family have changed and I don't have their presence or support. To be honest, this isn't anything new and based on our differences, it's something I've come to accept. I'm learning to be ok with things as they are because I trust it's for the best. But the primal need to be seen and acknowledged is always there, in all of us. And one thing we can do in each moment is say, "I SEE YOU."

I did this on my morning walk and was surprised how quickly it worked to calm my anxiety. To hear my own voice acknowledge my own presence, it was like a magic spell! I thought how long I've walked around with this solution and didn't use it!

I encourage you to use it.

And you know what else? I see you. I see your attempts to improve your health. I see how you're trying to make the world better. I see how you're working hard to get by. I see how much you do for your family. I see how you're seeking to understand people who are different than you.

I see you.


Being seen helps us relax and feel connected. It inspires and encourages empathy, which is the cure and antidote to what's affecting human beings right now. We're working this out and it's messy and complicated and it's probably going to get worse before it gets better.

If you want to help in a way that really works for you and others, you can start being seeing yourself and acknowledging what you're doing to make things better or worse.

Focus on the positive.

Choose one thing to improve.

Go from there.