While ministering in gender issues, I have met many people living out or midwifing powerful stories, some heart rending and many heart mending. One couple I have encountered in these travels, and cited, are Chuck and Nancy Snyder.
Which is how I learned of Nancy Snyder’s unique 2020 book, Lions for Ajax. It tells the fictional story of a few weeks in the life of a Christian home-schooling family. The family of mom, dad, four children, two of them adopted, absorb—because they are urban—a couple of tagalongs from the neighborhood. All the characters get one or more chapters speaking in their own voice, telling of an event in the unfolding tale from their perspective. So we get some of the thought life of each.
It is, as I said, labeled as fiction but the dialogue and characterization of the children are way too realistic to be made up. These no doubt composite vignettes allow a cohesive narrative to emerge while preserving what must have come from real life moments of strife and spiritual victory.
Consider this recounting by six year old Ajax:
Matthew and Mom were in Matthew’s room on the third floor doing schoolwork. I wasn’t allowed in even though they were reading about a carved boat that goes in lakes and rivers and goes all the way to the ocean. I wasn’t allowed in because Matthew says he can’t think when I breathe. And I don’t just breathe when Mom reads books–I run and kick a ball and shoot hoops and still understand the story.
I took my LEGO boat into the bathroom to do my own school. I wondered if I could flush my boat down the toilet and run outside fast enough to see it swoosh by under the bars of the drain on our street. My experiment wasn’t working out well. My boat disappeared and I ran fast outside but I didn’t see anything under the bars of that drain. Not even water. So I got a flashlight and tried my Fisher-Price boat. I flushed the boat down and ran as fast as I could, but I still couldn’t see anything in the drain. Not even with a flashlight. I went to my toy box to look for another boat. When I came back to the bathroom, there was a river on the bathroom floor.
I’d seen Dad fix the toilet. So I went to the closet and go out the plunger. I plunged hard and flushed again. Now there was sort of a lake in the bathroom. I figured I better fix this before Mom came downstairs and got upset. I took the top off the toilet. I was pulling out the pieces when Stephen walked into the bathroom and yelled at me. I ran after Stephen with the plunger. Ethan took one look at us and ran to the third floor stairs yelling, “Mom, you better get downstairs. Quick!…”
The charming conversations. The inevitable and sometimes willful misinterpretation of the parents’ instructions. The disobedience and delight always lurking in a child’s everyday life. The book made me remember the jubilant circus that four little ones create just by existing.
I am reviewing it here on this site because one of those children struggles with his gender. In portraying this the book is supremely real. Its full presentation of the child shows, for anyone attentive, that the gender dysphoria is a symptom, not a cause, of a deeper darkness in the child. As we observe how the parents interact with the dysphoric child, listen and teach, cry and cry out to God for wisdom, we gain tools for the journey.
This story’s creative parents show up for duty, day by day. They engage with eleven year olds and five year olds, at bedtime, at breakfast, at any moment when the need for counsel arises, which, as parents of multiple children know, is most of the time. Their story tackles gender trouble in the phase before that addressed by Across the Kitchen Table. So, it has become one of my two favorite story-type parenting books to read about—and maybe with—young children (the other one is Twig the Collie).
No lab coats. No degrees. No special programs. Just in-the-moment coaching and refereeing through sandbox relationships with siblings and neighbors. If you want to know how little boys become men, and little girls become women, this is how it’s done.