By Stella Kowalczyk
I grew up in a religious home. I was taught to love and give to others, to “…love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Matt 22:39) My mother is a social worker by degree, and later work, although I grew up with her home full-time until I was twelve. I watched her cook meals for those who were sick, drive carpools, take my brother and me to after-school activities and do everything, all the time. I thought and still do that she was one of the most loving, giving people on the planet. I hoped one day to be half the mom she was to me growing up.
As life and luck would have it, I married later in life and was blessed with two amazing stepdaughters. I also conceived but lost a daughter of my own. In sharing my life with my stepdaughters, I learned much of what it means to love. They each have beautiful, rich lives and, as adults, are changing the world. What I didn’t know was I would meet a human who would become a part of my world, as if it was always meant to be.
In the summer of 2014, I had the unique opportunity to volunteer at a sleep-away camp for LGBTQ+ youth. What I thought would be a growing experience for me, with maybe a chance to offer some “older mom-type” advice and support, turned into a life-changing moment in time! Our cabin had a camper who went by a different name and identified as a lesbian at that time. Through sharing time and coming out stories, I learned this sweet soul had a childhood that genuinely made me sob.
They (gender-neutral pronouns were used at that time) were raised partially by a biological mother who was addicted to drugs and then spent most of their formative years in the care of their grandparents. While younger, they endured abuse. Their life was subsequently turned upside down when they came to the realization they were lesbian, went to their first Pride event, and came home. At that moment, as a minor teenager, they were asked to leave and rendered homeless. They survived for a time and asked to return home to their grandparents. Coming home wasn’t without its conditions. To return, they had to agree to attend a “therapeutic camp.” It was conversion therapy with hundreds of volts of electric shock forced through their poor body. In the end, the “therapy” was unsuccessful, and this amazing person was given thirty minutes to pack and leave…again. Once again still a minor, and once again homeless.
This fighter survived on the streets, learning how to play the ukulele to earn money for food. This fighter found resources to make it (sometimes faking it) to do so, and then our paths crossed. Sometimes when you have next to nothing, you have so much more to give.
In the sharing time and coming out stories I mentioned, another camper talked of her life. She needed a friend, someone to relate to her. And I watched as this precious soul gave that camper a backpack, so she felt a part of something and that she mattered to someone. It was quite honestly one of the few possessions this sweet human had, but it was given freely. What unselfish love they showed!
I became “mama” to that sweet, kind, giving soul who chose to identify as Aiden shortly after camp. Aiden became my “chosen child” and I their “chosen mama.” I have seen my precious child begin and hold down full-time work and secure an apartment. I have witnessed Aiden begin EMDR therapy to process their trauma. In many of our times together, we laugh at all the similarities we share. From our mannerisms to our emotions to how we hold a pencil, Aiden is definitely my child! Seven months ago, Aiden decided to start gender-affirming hormones to fully transition to the person they are! They have chosen the love of self to heal from the inside out. During the past few years, Aiden has invited me and introduced me as their mom for events and holidays. And as I have had events, Aiden has come with my family and enjoyed having a new grandma who shares Aiden’s love of art. Aiden goes out of their way to include Grandma Betty in their life. So much love!
As life continues for Aiden, and we discussed legal needs such as name changes, medical power of attorney, end of life desires, etc., we discussed familial legacy. Last fall, my birthday gift to Aiden was the gift of just that. Almost all of my family is buried in the same place, and there is space for him. (He now uses male pronouns.) We have made our relationship official and legal. Aiden is now my son. He has taught me what it means to love, what it means to be a survivor, and what it means to find your true self and purpose in life. I couldn’t be more proud to call him my child and to be his mom! I am forever blessed and learning more about love from him each day!