Being Dad: Trystan Reese
Director of Family Formation and member of the Family Equality Council, Trystan Reese, was in his twenties when he and Biff Chaplow were asked to foster Biff’s sister’s kids. They had spent their early years falling in all sorts of love gallivanting around the country together, but when a social worker called saying that Hailey and Riley would be put into foster care due to an abusive and neglectful home life, Biff and Trystan hopped in the car to go and get them. Little did they know; this was going to be the start of a very difficult adoption process.
Trystan explains, “Hailey and Riley came to live with us during a time of chaos in their home; we had been in contact with the social worker assigned to their case and she called us as a courtesy to let us know that things were getting untenable in their living situation and that the state would likely be stepping in to take them into custody. Luckily, we were able to house them with us and were soon approved as a temporary living situation. Over the following months we won emergency and then permanent guardianship. They had been living with very little support and structure, and thus struggled with healthy and appropriate eating and washing routines. There had been abuse and neglect in the home, which meant that each child suffered from issues like PTSD and attachment issues. At times their birth parents were supportive of us as guardians, while occasionally they would show up to court dates to try to fight us. There were some positive, productive parental visits and many, many missed appointments and even threats of violence against us. Finally, in 2015, parental rights were terminated and we were able to adopt them outright. It took thousands of dollars and countless sleepless nights, doctor’s visits, therapy appointments, crying on friends’ shoulders, strategy sessions, and moments of sheer overwhelm but we finally got it done.”
Adopting is hard. Adopting as a gay couple is even harder. The thing about Trystan and Biff – they seem to make any mountain look like a molehill. After finding their groove with life as parents to Hailey and Riley, they decided to expand their family by conceiving a biological child. As a trans man, Trystan still has the necessary parts to carry a healthy pregnancy.
When asked about the process, Trystan said, “I just stopped taking my testosterone and started trying! Our first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage at six weeks, which is very common (about 1 out of every 3 known pregnancies isn’t viable). But after that we waited a few months, tried again, and made Leo! Nothing about it was complicated. I simply worked to eat healthy whole foods, laid off caffeine and sugar, and generally maintained a good sleep and exercise calendar. I swam when I could and walked the neighborhood as often as possible. But I didn’t do anything else that was special. As I reached 40 weeks, I was induced and every stage of the induction went exactly as planned. I was in the hospital for a day and a half before Leo was born, and stayed another day and a half after that. He was extremely healthy—a whopping 9 pounds 6 ounces and long and chubby and fully formed. He slept the entire first night and we actually got in trouble because apparently we were supposed to wake him up to eat! But he put on weight appropriately and has been a pretty good sleeper ever since.”
Curious about how Trystan coped postpartum, I asked about depression and anxiety. Turns out he had the opposite: postpartum elation.
“I was completely overwhelmed with affection and adoration for this tiny human in our family. If I ever had negative thoughts where I worried something might happen to him, I just worked to label that thought as unhelpful, made sure that he was physically safe, and kept moving. To be honest, I thought it would be much more work than it’s been—it’s more fun and joy than I would have expected. Leo makes us laugh all the time with his funny faces, tiny adventures, and daily mastery of new skills. I also try to identify when I’m feeling maxed out and let Biff know if I have to do something on my own. He always says yes and I’ll go to a movie or a show. His thing is going to the gym—it helps him feel good about himself and stay in a good mood. I also travel a bit for work and occasionally I’ll tack an extra day onto a trip so I can see a friend or check out the city I’m in. That really helps me be a better partner and parent when I get back home.”
Even though Trystan makes #dadlife look easy, he and Biff still have three tiny humans to look after, which is no easy fete. Trystan explains that they try to each embrace what they’re good at or pick up the tasks that the other hates.
“Biff hates to clean bathrooms and do laundry, so I generally do those things. I hate grocery shopping so he handles that. He’s the frontline parent and I’m in charge of keeping us connected, so generally he deals with school stuff (parent/teacher conferences, homework, disciplinary issues) and I work to find date night opportunities for he and I. I handle kids’ activities (sign up and logistics of sports, etc.), he does the day-to-day fun stuff (like taking them to the trampoline place by our house or a play place or whatever). We both do consequences equally (we don’t have a “fun parent” and a “strict parent”) although I’m more likely to read books at bedtime because I like that. We are each a bit more connected to one kid, so we tend to spend a little more time with the kid we are most connected to at any given time but I work to have one-on-one time with each of the big kids throughout the week. So maybe I’ll take Hailey to tea once and go to laser tag with Riley once.”
One of the best things Trystan admits is that he really loves/ needs/ values sleep.
“Where Biff functions very well on little sleep; it completely obliterates every capacity I have. I’ve had to learn to adjust to just not getting enough of it, but strive to make sure it’s a priority. There is very little freedom when you’re a parent—everything revolves around being home for and available (physically and emotionally) to the kids. That’s something you just suck up and deal with. Most fun things that I like doing are not kid-friendly: quality theatre, live music, good movies, etc. So Biff and I each carve out time that is for us, where the other parent hangs with the kids and we are free to do something fun. But kids are also expensive, so we have to constantly find ways to do things for cheap/free.”
I love trying to picture life for Trystan and Reese in Portland, Oregon. With three kids under 12, I asked what a day in the life looks like for them.
“I wake up around 8am, just as Biff is leaving to take the big kids to school. I get ready for work and “clock in” around 8:45-9 (I work from home). I’m usually at my computer and if Biff and Leo are home during the day I have lunch with them in our kitchen and cuddle Leo on my bathroom breaks. Usually Biff puts Leo down for his afternoon nap before getting the big kids from school; occasionally Leo wakes up while Biff is gone so I help him get up and feed and entertain him until Biff and the big kids are back. Then I work the rest of the day, until 5 or 6. At that point, I usually take over the front-line parenting and manage kid stuff. Sometimes that means taking everyone to a baseball/softball game or soccer practice or leading everyone in yard work or gardening. Sometimes it’s dealing with homework or projects of some kind. A few days a week I usually have a media interview so I will duck out to take that call or Skype conversation. Biff makes dinner using HelloFresh, we all eat, then it’s bedtime! Baths, story-time, teeth-brushing, tucking in, etc. Biff and I put our phones away and cuddle while watching a show (The Office, The Good Fight, or something new we’ve latched onto). Then it’s bedtime for us!”
Fast Five with Trystan:
1. Describe your first Father’s Day in 3 Words:
I’ve been having Father’s Days for years now, because I’ve been a dad since 2012. But I hope this one will be like the others: Connected, Special, and Family.
2. What is one piece of advice your parents or a friend given to you that has resonated in your life?
When your kids get upset, it’s not always your job to fix it. Sometimes you just stay present with them in their anger/disappointment, let them know you see and hear them, and that’s it. As an empathetic person, sometimes that’s hard for me! I want to control their reaction to things and can feel overwhelmed when they are having big feelings—especially if those big feelings are related to something I’m imposing (no ice cream tonight, come in for dinner, grounded, have a shower, etc.). Learning how to let go and let them have an emotional reaction is hard for me, but I just keep trying!!!
3. How did your childhood shape the person/ parent you are today?
In a few ways. I felt 100% supported to pursue my personal dreams/goals as a kid, and I hope my children feel that from me/us. When I wanted to do theatre, my mom took me to lessons and auditions. When I wanted to be a better singer, my mom found me a teacher. And when I didn’t want to do piano anymore, my mom said, “too bad” and made me keep going. I wasn’t allowed to give up, but I was also given the freedom to choose the things I was passionate about.
4. Do you have any important family traditions that you want to share with your children?
We love to eat raclette, a type of cheese that requires a special kind of stove. We also do all the Christmas stuff—Santa (although the big kids aren’t into him anymore), a tree, presents (and one opened on Christmas Eve, which is always pajamas), etc.
5. What’s your biggest personal achievement?
Finding love and building a family, which I thought would never be possible.
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This piece was originally published on The Tot.