My second born child is a force to be reckoned with. Jameson (a name I picked for either a boy or girl) is silly, stubborn, curious, fearless and has always known exactly what he wanted.

It started with small changes like choosing My Little Pony over trucks, playing with mommy’s makeup over digging in the dirt, and wearing shirts over the uniform shorts at school to pretend it was a skirt.  Near the end of kindergarten, Jameson asked me to buy some real skirts.

Our purchases included a very purple sweater dress. We hadn’t made it out of the store parking lot before my son had the purple sweater dress on.  Beaming at me, he said, “I can’t wait until everyone sees me and says ‘SHE’S so pretty’” I knew then our lives would change forever.

I spent hours googling websites, reading articles, and finding Facebook support groups that night.  At first, I didn’t even know what search words to use.  The language was new and confusing.  Gender expansive.  Gender diverse.  Transgender.  Before that moment, I had thought my child might be gay. It had never dawned on me that he was born in the wrong body.

I had a million questions. What if this is a phase?  What if allowing my child to wear dresses does damage?  I’ll admit I panicked the first time he went to school wearing a skirt. I feared he would get made fun of or bullied.  What would people think of me as a parent?  I was surprised at how soon I grew comfortable with it. My ex-husband took a little longer.  He initially didn’t want to allow Jameson to wear a skirt in public, but practical considerations took over.  Once he both saw how happy Jameson was, and how easy it was for Jameson to get dressed in the morning, he was all for the skirts.

What I have learned many times over since then is that, as a parent, all you must do is love your child.  Plain and simple.  Love them, support them and let them know you will love them no matter what they wear, play with, or call themselves.  With the support and resources we found through PFLAG Charlotte, my child and I continue to grow and learn as we travel this journey together.

The skirts multiplied, the shoes changed, the school uniform transformed from shorts to pleated skirts and polo dresses, pronouns changed from he/him to she/her, and her name changed to Alexis.  The most incredible part about these changes was how happy she was and how much friends around us (hers and mine) embraced and encouraged the changes. Within a few months, my 5-year-old child had come out as her true self with such bravery and fierceness that most adults do not have.

It’s been three years since her social transition.  Alexis is 8 now, and it has been amazing to see her continue to change and grow.  There have been times when I worry more than others.  When she wore her first bikini to a pool party, I was so frightened about what others may think or how they would judge me.  The pure joy of seeing my daughter in a bikini and how confident and happy she was made me cry in the bathroom at the party because I was ashamed about worrying. She has taught me what true bravery is.

We are fortunate that her teachers have championed her every year, although they don’t always know what to expect.  Her second-grade teacher told me with some relief after meeting my daughter, “Alexis is all girl.” I laughed and replied, “Yeah, I know!”  It’s hard to even remember her before the changes.

Of course, other family members have had concerns. Alexis has a 10-year-old brother, Ryland. At first, he was afraid kids would make fun of him. He tried to even let Alexis know kids would make fun of her for liking “girl things” at school. But we have always been very open in talking issues through with our children. I read the book I Am Jazz to the kids and it clicked for Ryland in a big way.

That doesn’t mean all family members are on board. My father-in-law has not fully accepted the change and will use Alexis’s dead name and old pronouns occasionally.  We just keep reminding him who his granddaughter is and what she needs.

I have never mourned the loss of a son, like so many other parents in our circumstances do, and I know that’s unusual. I have been able to celebrate the fact that I have such a special daughter.  I am so proud to cheer her on to continue to live her truth. She has taught me to really listen, understand the differences we all have, and to embrace those differences. I am so lucky that she helped change my life for the better.