Kamilah Kashanie (KK): Growing up is all about change, which can sometimes be scary. But what can make it less scary is having someone by your side to ride it out with you.
On this episode, we’re going to listen to conversations between kids and their parents who have been through a lot together, and how they’ll deal with the next big change apart.
It’s the StoryCorps podcast from NPR. I’m your Kamilah Kashanie Kamilah Kashanie.
When Sylvia Grosvold was a little girl, her mom would always take her to school. It was their special time together.
In 2019, Sylvia came to StoryCorps with her dad, Joshua Weiner, to remember one morning, when Sylvia was 5 years old.
Sylvia Grosvold (SG): I pretty clearly remember going to school, and mom would always walk me inside to the classroom. And, this day she, uh, walked me onto the playground and then she said I could go in by myself, if I wanted. And I felt so grown up. And I didn’t give her a hug that day, and I didn’t say goodbye. And I got into the classroom and I immediately started crying, and I ran back out. But by that time she was gone. I just felt so guilty that I hadn’t given her one last hug.
KK: Sylvia’s mom, Kari, died by suicide that day.
When Sylvia and Joshua came to StoryCorps, they talked about the weeks, months, and years that followed.
Joshua Weiner (JW): I remember getting the call from the office, that she had not picked you up… In those first year or two, after mom died. I just remember feeling helpless, you know, like there’s nothing I can do to fix this… Do you remember when I apologized to you? For throwing the note away?
Sylvia Grosvold (SG): For throwing away the note? Yeah, cause I learned that some people write suicide notes and I was like, “where’s mom’s?” I really wanted to read that for a long time.
JW: I know, and I felt really bad. But I think I was just so angry when I read that.
SG: I mean I totally understand why you did it.
JW: Mmhmm. Do you remember how when you were little you would look up at the moon?
JW: And you would say, “oh mom’s up there on the moon.”
SG: I had this whole story about how she lived in a city on the moon. We had that bathroom window that opened up and didn’t have a screen, and you could see the moon perfectly from there. And so I would look out the window and talk to her.
JW: So, what would you want your mom to know about you now?
SG: I’d want her to know my personality. And, I would want her to know how tall I am. I’m almost taller than you and I don’t know where I get being tall from. It’s not like our family is giant.
JW: I think she would be very proud of you. Is there anything that you’ve learned about yourself?
SG: I’ve learned a lot about death and dealing with it because I struggled with that for so long. I couldn’t go to sleep. I didn’t want you to leave because I was worried something would happen. But one time I was at camp and we were supposed to say our biggest fear and I was like “death… hold up, wait… that’s not my biggest fear anymore.”
SG: So I guess I’m stronger than I think I am.
KK: That’s Sylvia Grosvold and her dad, Joshua Weiner, in 2019.
The two of them have been really close over the years but with Sylvia starting college, they’re prepping for a new phase in their relationship.
So they sat down for another StoryCorps conversation over the summer to talk about what’s next, for both of them.
Joshua Weiner (JW): Losing your mom when you were five years old, there was just so much more responsibility on me to take care of you and keep you safe. But now I don’t need to know where you are all the time, or when exactly you’re going to be back, and that’s been hard. And that’ll be hard about you going to college as well.
Sylvia Grosvold (SG): Yeah, but I’m terrified because the longest I’ve been away from home is two weeks.
JW: Yeah, but you are going your own way, which is beautiful. You know, there’s nothing good about your mom dying, but our relationship is really special because of that.
SG: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve gone through everything together, and we’ve had long conversations about really hard stuff.
JW: Yeah, and that’s something that you have in common with your mother. She was like that, too. When she had things that were bothering her, she had to talk about them. Although a big difference is you do a good job of recognizing that you’re not going to be in that place forever and moving forward in a way that she had trouble with.
JW: Yeah. What is it that you hope for me now that you’re leaving for school?
SG: I mean, you’ve worked really, really hard. As a teacher, you’ve always put your students first and then you were a single parent. So, you deserve some rest and tea on the front porch.
JW: [laughs] Thank you. I mean, ever since you were born, you have been the center of my life. Everything I do kind of revolves around taking care of you and making sure you’re okay and stuff like that.
SG: Yeah. What do you think that first night alone is gonna feel like?
JW: For you or for me?
SG: For you.
JW: It’s going to be quiet, which I like. But your presence is gonna be absent and that’s going to be like a little hole in my heart, and it’s gonna feel like there’s a part of me that’s missing.
SG: That’s how it’s going to feel for me, too.
JW: Mhm. But, wherever I am will hopefully still feel like home to you.
KK: That’s Joshua Weiner and his daughter Sylvia Grosvold. Sylvia is now officially a freshman at Ithaca College where she’s studying theater.
The first conversation that she and her dad recorded was part of StoryCorps’ Road to Resilience project, which uses storytelling to help children cope with the death of a parent or loved one.
We’ll be back after a short break, Stay with us.
KK: Welcome back.
We’re listening to conversations between kids and parents who have leaned on each other, especially through big life moments/
Like Kaysen Ford and Jennifer Sumner, who first came to StoryCorps in 2015 when Kaysen was 12 years old.
Jennifer Sumner (JS): Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Kaysen Ford: I am a martial artist. I play the stand up bass. I am learning how to play the guitar. And I am transgender.
JS: What level are you in martial arts?
KF: I’m a level two blue belt. That means I’m halfway to black belt.
JS: What is your favorite subject in school?
KF: Or lunch.
JS: What grade level were you in school when you decided to tell your friends and family that you were transgender?
KF: It was around fifth grade when I told my friends and family I was transgender because up until then, I did not know that the word existed. It was misery every day. I hated being called a girl. I hated being called a daughter. But most everybody…my family, friends, they were just…okay! Because they kind of knew it was coming.
KF: Over the summer, I went to art camp. And they did not know I was transgender. They just called me ‘he’. And that was awesome.
I think the happiest moment in my life would probably be January 16th, 2015, 8:45 PM. You bought me boxer pants.
JS: You’d been telling me for quite a while that you wanted boxers. You were wearing all boy clothes. Getting boy haircuts. And that was like the final change. And you were just ecstatic.
KF: That was awesome.
JS: Is there anything else you would like for people to know about you?
KF: Well, even though I’m transgender, I’m a kid too. I have homework to deal with…I have tests to deal with.
JS: I have been extremely proud of you because you have been true to who you are. And you’re very courageous.
KF: It shouldn’t be scary to be who you are. I mean, maybe a little bit at first. But it’s way happier this way. Trust me.
JS: I don’t think you realize what a leader you are. People look up to you because you are not afraid to take a different path and…we know that it’s your life and you’re the one that’s got to live it but we are there for you every single step of the way. And we’re going to do whatever we can to…to lighten your load. I’m very proud to be your mom.
KF: I’m proud to be your son.
KK: That’s Kaysen Ford and Jennifer Sumner in Birmingham, Alabama in 2015.
Today, Kaysen and Jennifer are in a similar spot to Sylvia and her dad Josh.
Kaysen is 19 and also starting college. But before they left, they had an opportunity to record another StoryCorps conversation with their mom, Jennifer, to talk about what’s changed since their last interview.
Kaysen Ford (KF): I’ve definitely become more mature, but that’s bound to happen when you go from 12 to almost 19. And now I’m graduating and planning for life and stuff. How are you feeling about that?
Jennifer Sumner (JS): Oh boy, I am excited for your future. I sometimes want you to be a little baby again so I could just hold you and rock you. But I’m very glad that you have reached some milestones that, to be quite honest, I was afraid we weren’t going to reach – you weren’t
going to reach.
KF: What type of milestones?
JS: You had suicidal ideation. Um, there were times that I wasn’t sure how school was going to go because you were so depressed. You were up against so many challenges and yet you stood strong and you were still brave.
KF: I didn’t really get a choice. I kind of had to be.
JS: Yeah. And and you did it.
KF: Yeah. I graduated.
JS: I’m going to cry.
KF: I’m trying not to say anything that’ll make you cry, I don’t know, like, my brain really wants to thank you for, like, being in such a supportive parent. I know that parents should be, but still. Thank you.
You know, media tends to focus around queer tragedy. And I think that’s why parents have such a hard time accepting. And like, yeah, that stuff is real and it happens, but another real thing is being queer and happy. Being happy is not in spite of being queer. It is a part of it.
JS: No matter where life takes you, no matter how far away, I’ll always love you unconditionally.
KK: Earlier this month, Kaysen started classes at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, so I called them up to see how things were going.
KK: So you said you wanted to stay close to home. You wanted to be close to your mom?
KF: Yes, my parents both live in Alabama, so I wanted to stay near nearby.
KK: Are you close with your parents?
KF: Somewhat. I mean, like about average amount for a 19 year old.
KK: Yeah, that’s fair, [laughs] I get that. So, Is there anything that you’re particularly nervous about starting this new chapter?
KF: I am nervous about, dorm life because I want to make friends. And also, since I’m trans I’m a little nervous about having a roommate. I told the housing that I’m trans and so they’re trying to find a good roommate for me.
KK: That’s good. I hope the person is, like, dope and you guys can hang out and like do roommate stuff.
KF: Yeah, I’m excited for that.
KK: Are you interested in dating when you get to school?
KF: I’m already dating someone. So.
KK: AHH! Are you?
KK: Oh my gosh. Are they also going to UAB? What’s that going to be like? Are you going to be separated? I’m asking so many questions right now. You can stop me whatever you want.
KF: You’re good. Um, He doesn’t go to UAB. Uh, he has, like, a job in Birmingham. But I’m excited because he’s going to come visit me sometimes.
KK: So you’re going to do, like, weekend, like, date situations?
KK: So exciting. Oh, my gosh. I’m like shaking. I love this. [laughs] OK, so going off to school is… it’s a big change. Is there advice that you have for someone that might be scared to take that leap?
KF: What comforts me about being scared is that so is literally everyone else around you.
KK: Yeah. It sounds like you are about to embark on something really exciting.
KF: Yes, I think so, too.
KK: And you always have people at StoryCorps rooting for you. Don’t forget that.
KF: Thank you.
KK: Not long after we spoke, Kaysen let me know they were assigned 4 “awesome” suitemates — and they’ve all been getting along great.
That’s all for this week’s episode of the StoryCorps podcast.
It was produced by Jey Born. Our story editor is Sylvie Lubow. Our executive editor is Jasmyn Morris. Jarrett Floyd is our technical director. Natsumi Ajisaka is our fact-checker. Special thanks to Aisha Turner, Mia Warren, Kerrie Hillman, and Christina Stanton.
To record your own interview with a loved one – visit StoryCorps.org. While you’re there you can also check out what music we used in the episode, and see original artwork created by Rosalyn Yoon.
We also want add that if you or anyone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help at 1-800-273-8255. Or you can text the crisis line. Text talk to 741-741.
For the StoryCorps podcast, I’m Kamilah Kashanie. Catch you next week.