Claude is like any little kid: He likes peanut butter sandwiches, his family, and wearing beautiful fairy wings for dress up.
Claude also wears a dress, and wants to be a girl when he grows up.
Claude’s parents, Pen and Rosie, want what’s best for their child. They let Claude wear a dress, and be who he is. His four older brothers don’t mind, because Claude is Claude.
The wonder of This is how it always is lies in the storytelling that Pen preforms for his five kids. He tells them a story that is applicable to what they are going through in their day-to-day lives, which I think is pretty smart. I love Pen’s story about Grumwald and Stephanie, and how they work together to bring order to the realm they live in. Grumwald is a prince, and Stephanie is a night fairy, one that helps bring out the stars.
As Pen’s kids mature, so does the story. The story becomes more elaborate, and more centered around what his kids–mostly Claude, and then Poppy–is going through in their daily lives. For me, Pen proves to be a smart and wonderful storyteller. He is attuned to what his kids need to hear, and is aware of what Poppy is going through as a transgender girl. (He frequents blogs, and other such places on the Internet for various information, preferring to stay up to date on what trans kids are going through.)
Claude becomes Poppy, a girl trapped in a boy’s body. Because Claude was starting to disappear–imagining himself getting smaller and smaller in his childhood drawings until he completely disappeared in them–it was essential that Poppy appear. With Poppy at the forefront, she is much happier than she was as Claude.
Still, becoming Poppy doesn’t solve all her problems. When she’s a little kid, one of her playmates father’s threatens her with a gun. Pen and Rosie come to the rescue, but it’s a moment that frightens the family, forcing them to move to Seattle for Poppy’s safety.
In Seattle, they don’t outright tell everyone that Poppy is transgender. They do say she’s their daughter, which technically is true. As a girl in a boy’s body, Poppy still faces challenges and differences: She has to use the nurses office in order to go to the bathroom, for example. She can join the Girl Scouts, participate in sports, etc. Her gender pronouns are important, too.
When Poppy’s classmates find out she’s a girl in a boy’s body, she shaves off all of her hair, and goes with her–now for the time being, his–mother to Thailand. While in Thailand, Poppy–then Claude–undergoes a transformation. Claude learns that the Buddha looks female. He also learns that there are many transgender women in Thailand, and that being trans is as much of a part of life as going to the market. In a bathroom in Thailand, Claude/Poppy comes to a realization:
Claude–Poppy–shook garra rufa fish off dripping legs and went to find the restroom. Right there in the hallway, exactly where you’d expect the bathrooms to be, there were three of them. One sign had a blue person in pants. And one sign had a red person with a cute flip hairstyle in a skirt. And one sign was half of each, a person whose left, blue leg was in pants and whose right, red leg came out from under a skirt. Claude–and Poppy–stood for a long time looking at it, making sure it wasn’t a trick, making sure they understood. It seemed impossible, but here it was. For the first time in their whole, whole lives, there was a right door.
Inside, there was a bathroom. Sinks, toilets, toilet paper even. Ordinary. Nothing special. A miracle.this is the way it always is, Laurie Frankel, pgs. 372-373.
This miracle is what decides Poppy. She is finding her “middle way” as the Buddha suggests, her middle ground, her form of how to be. In the form, she regains her friendship with Aggie, one of her best friends, who exclaims that while they are much too old to be playing princesses together, they can “be rival neighborhood weirdos from now on” (pg. 402). In promising to be weirdos together, Poppy and Aggie make up as friends.
This is how it always is is a bold story, a wonderful story about growing up just a little differently–or not so differently after all. Laurie Frankel paints a story about a family who loves all their kids–four boys and one girl. They teach tolerance, which is a beautiful and nourishing gift. Pen and Rosie protect and encourage Poppy to simply be herself, to grow up as she chooses, even when situations become tough. Even when Rosie doubts herself and wishes at times that Poppy would stay Claude. She comes around, though, and continues to love and support Poppy for who she truly is.
I do not personally know what it’s like to feel like I’m in the wrong body, because I have the luxury of agreeing with the gender my body was born with. I do have friends who are transgender, and I wish them only happiness on their journeys to becoming the people they truly are on the inside. I want them to have bodies that match their true selves, and to continue to be happy.
Maybe being in the right body feels like wearing the right shoes on both feet, where each shoe fits perfectly and molds itself to your foot just so. Instead of wearing shoes that don’t fit, or feel uncomfortable, finding the right pair is a relief.