Dear Mom: You’ve often joked that kids don’t come with instruction manuals...

It sure would’ve been nice if they did, though, because nothing really prepared you for having a transgender kid. Let’s face it: nothing about the suburbs of Michigan screams “pride parade.”

So it doesn’t surprise me that when I came out as transgender three years ago, you were overwhelmed.


You told me you’d always wanted a daughter — that you’d imagined the sweet sixteen, the wedding dress, and even being there for me through a pregnancy. You had to grieve the future you’d imagined for me when I was born and all the experiences you pictured us sharing along the way.

Life didn’t just throw you a curveball when I came out — it threw you several. You learned that you had a gay, transgender son… and he’d just run off to San Francisco to be a writer.

But despite all that, your response to my coming out actually blew me away.

Photo by Rémi Walle / Unsplash.

You started by reminding me of something that had happened a few years before.

You asked if I remembered that time I had to get your car towed.

How could I forget? I was backing out of a parking spot, and didn’t realize until it was too late that I’d driven right into a median, impressively burying the tires deep into the wood chips. The more I hit the gas pedal, the deeper I got stuck.

I called you, panicked. Grandpa drove you to meet me, and I’ll never forget your horrified expression when you saw that tiny blue car, tires buried in the dirt. I’d somehow managed to find the only landscaped median in the entire parking lot. It wasn’t my finest moment.

[rebelmouse-image 19346523 dam="1" original_size="4786x3190" caption="Photo by Balazs Koczina / Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Balazs Koczina / Unsplash.

The car was a little scratched up, but all in all, it survived my disastrous driving. We drove home separately, though, because you needed time to cool off. I was sure you’d be angry at me forever.

But you weren’t. Like always, you came around.

As we recalled that day’s events, you said “Do you know why I came around?”

“Because you love me,” I replied.

“That’s right,” you said. And in that moment, I understood why you brought up my terrible parking job, of all things, when I came out as transgender. Because even if in that immediate moment, when you were overwhelmed and confused, you still loved me.

Looking back, I understand now that there wasn’t anything I could do to make you love me any less.

Sam in 2010 (left) and 2018 (right). Photo via Sam Dylan Finch, used with permission.

Like you’d told me many times before, while the initial shock of something might throw you, there wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle. All you needed was time.

“Though I really wish you’d stop raising my blood pressure,” I remember you joking. Apparently I’m responsible for a good portion of your grey hairs, and I’ll give you that — I can be a handful.

I’ll be honest, I never really expected that you’d stand by me when I began my gender transition. But I’ve been grateful every day since then that you have.

Just a couple months after coming out, you and Dad sent me a birthday card in the mail. As I tore open the envelope, there peaking out was a card with a big rainbow on it. “100% chance of happy,” it read. And there was a little cloud on it raining glittery raindrops.

I was in tears. It was the first card I’d ever gotten that didn’t call me your daughter. And it meant the world to me that on the day I was born, you chose to celebrate me exactly as I was, rainbows and all.

I still have the card saved to this day.

The birthday card my parents sent me after coming out. Photo via Sam Dylan Finch, used with permission.

You never tried to change who I was — because you knew that what made me unique was also precious.

And whenever I told you that I felt like the 'black sheep' in our family, you'd lovingly remind me that I was still your "special child."

You were there to help me shop for men's attire for my brother's wedding, you listened to me as I excitedly blabbed on and on about all the ways I was starting to look like Dad, and I could always count on you to tell me if my haircut wasn't flattering.

What I expected least of all, though, was that you and I would be able to laugh along the way about all this, too.

When my facial hair started growing in, you didn’t skip a beat when you said to me, “Sam, you need to start manscaping.” I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped when you said that to me.

Sam, present day. Photo via Sam Dylan Finch, used with permission.

I’ll never forget when I told you about my surgery, too, and you jokingly asked if the plastic surgeon had a “two-for-one special,” because you had some work you wanted to get done, too.

So many of the transgender people that I know have been disowned by their families. Instead, I have the opposite problem — I can’t seem to get rid of you (not that I’d ever want to, of course). I feel lucky to be loved and accepted exactly as I am. It is what every kid deserves, but too few LGBT people actually get.

Sam, present day. Photo via Sam Dylan Finch, used with permission.

I know you wish you could do this whole “ally” thing perfectly. But what I want you to know is that trying your best is perfectly enough for me.

The truth is, I never wanted you to be a transgender expert or to lead a pride parade (you can leave that to me — I’ve got us covered!). I just wanted you to be there for me.

I can’t thank you enough for doing just that, even when you had your own grief to process. It takes a remarkable kind of mother to not just talk about unconditional love, but to actually love without conditions.

For someone without an instruction manual, Mom, I’d say you’re doing a pretty amazing job.

Love, your "special child,"

Sam

Courtesy of Elaine Ahn

True

The energy in a hospital can sometimes feel overwhelming, whether you’re experiencing it as a patient, visitor or employee. However, there are a few one-of-a-kind individuals like Elaine Ahn, an operating room registered nurse in Diamond Bar, California, who thrive under this type of constant pressure.

Keep Reading Show less
via Pexels

If you know how to fix this tape, you grew up in the 1990s.

There are a lot of reasons to feel a twinge of nostalgia for the final days of the 20th century. Rampant inflation, a global pandemic and political unrest have created a sense of uneasiness about the future that has everyone feeling a bit down.

There’s also a feeling that the current state of pop culture is lacking as well. Nobody listens to new music anymore and unless you’re into superheroes, it seems like creativity is seriously missing from the silver screen.

But, you gotta admit, that TV is still pretty damn good.

A lot of folks feel Americans have become a lot harsher to one another due to political divides, which seem to be widening by the day due to the power of the internet and partisan media.

Keep Reading Show less
Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

Family

Mom and stepmom become best friends and hope to inspire more togetherness

The "Moms of Tampa" are officially besties and loving it.

Meet the Moms of Tampa, winning hearts online while advocating for healthy co-parenting.

Tiffany Paskas and Megan Stortz, aka the Moms of Tampa, weren’t always the best friends that they are now. The unique story of how they became that way is catching a lot of positive attention and shining a light on how we might rethink co-parenting dynamics after divorce.

Stortz and her ex-husband Mike (married now to Paskas) share custody of their 11-year old son, Michael. At first, like many moms and stepmoms, Stortz and Paskas never spoke to one another.

Paskas explained to local NBC affiliate WFLA, “We just didn’t know it was okay to talk. We were under the impression, being children of divorce, that the ex and the new never intermingle, so it was like, best to stay away. So that’s kind of how we dealt with the first four years.”
Keep Reading Show less

Prior to baby formula, breastfeeding was the norm, but that doesn't mean it always worked.

As if the past handful of years weren't challenging enough, the U.S. is currently dealing with a baby formula crisis.

Due to a perfect storm of supply chain issues, product recalls, labor shortages and inflation, manufacturers are struggling to keep up with formula demand and retailers are rationing supplies. As a result, families that rely on formula are scrambling to ensure that their babies get the food they need.

Naturally, people are weighing in on the crisis, with some throwing out simplistic advice like, "Why don't you just do what people did before baby formula was invented and just breastfeed?"

That might seem logical, unless you understand how breastfeeding works and know a bit about infant mortality throughout human history.

Keep Reading Show less