It Still Stings

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. I’ve written about my own journey a few times in this space, but whenever it comes up in my offline life my emotional reaction to it always surprises me.

I’m always surprised by how deep-seated the pain of not being able to bear children is. It’s ironic since having biological children never seemed to be super high on my bucket list, but the process of learning that it wasn’t going to happen still stings to the point of tears.

I’m also surprised by how deeply personal it feels. Certainly, I write about a good chunk of my life here, and I share a lot in my work because I don’t mind and it makes me relatable which makes my job a lot easier. Yet, some of the people closest to me still don’t know about this loss or if they know about it; I’ve successfully downplayed it to the point where it is assumed to be a non-issue, something I problem-solved through adoption.

I love being a mom, and more specifically, I love being Hope’s mom.

But please be clear that Hope is not a replacement kid; she doesn’t fill the hole of grief that sits below my navel. My love of her and mothering her co-exists with that grief, just like her grief around the circumstances that necessitated adoption sits beside her love for me.

It all just sits together at a big lunch table, maybe at separate ends, but it is there, sharing space, it’s visible, and it’s real.

Recently I was talking to a close relation on my way to work. We got to talking about assistive reproduction and the choices people make. There are so many ways you can rule out so many risks in having a child these days, but somewhere in the gap science meets miracle, and sometimes miracles aren’t always pretty. My conversation partner played up how science has reduced so much of the mystery and that really there should be no surprises. Our conversation eventually led me to tell her my own story about not being able to have biological children.

Before I knew it, I was reaching for a tissue from my glovebox and my voice was hitching with emotion. The rush of sadness and feelings of being betrayed by my body were surprisingly close to the surface despite my routine efforts to just contain them on an emotional box in my emotional storage shed. No, there they were in all their glory practically sitting on the living room table on Front Street in my emotional house.

It is still tender. It still hurts. It will probably hurt in some way or another forever.

There is no shame in not being able to bear children. There isn’t. It doesn’t make me less of a woman or a failure, even if my mind and heart sometimes tell me that it does. There is no shame in grieving the ability to have children, and yet many of us feel shame or something close to it—guilt, fear of judgment, cloaking sadness, even wild-green jealousy—and all of those feelings keep us from talking about infertility.

I look forward to the day when I don’t drop tears when telling my story. I look forward to just being able to talk about it more freely—I mean, sure it doesn’t come up all the time “Hey Brad, could you tell me what aisle the cinnamon Frosted Flakes are on? BTW, I am infertile!”—but I long for a time when I’m not as silent on the issue. I think it will help me continue to move past that chapter. I look forward to being well past childbearing age (Damn you fly, 50 yo Janet Jackson), when the looking beyond fertility becomes moot.

Sigh.

I just want to look forward to a time when it just won’t sting so badly.


Parenting Dilemma

Sometimes parenting decisions are real rocks in hard places. You want to give your kid a chance. You want to give them some freedoms and some rewards. But you also want, nay need, to hold the line on your principles and standards. In the midst, you want to be reasonable and flexible.

And sometimes all of that is a bunch of hooey because you still have to make a decision.

Hope was invited to prom by a friend. She doesn’t have many friends, very, very few. I also know that this friendship teeters on more than friendship.

So here’s the deal: I have long had this lovely fantasy of my daughter going to a formal. She went to one in 8th grade and it was so much fun helping her get ready. My daughter is not girly; I manage to wrangle her into a dress once or twice a year. So, the selfish stage mom wannabe in me is like:

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The more realistic part of me is like um, she’s in 10th grade, I know she’s feeling this kid, I said no dating until she’s 16 and she ain’t 16 yet, and she doesn’t even LIKE the girly rituals involved in prom.

Then I think about how hard it seems for Hope to make friends, how many Friday and Saturdays she just sits around watching K-dramas because there were no invitations to go anyway or do anything. I think about my hopes and dreams for her to be socially integrated and to be happy.

And I soften and try to imagine the scenarios that would allow me to still say yes. Get all the schoolwork done. Stick to the chore list. Stretch and go to the weekly Korean language meetups I found for her.

I start to wonder if she can legit do the things I ask. She doesn’t do them on a regular basis on a good day, so am I knowingly setting her up to fail? Her failure would make my life easier, but make her feel horrible.

So…I’m back to just saying no when I’m fighting so hard to say yes. Prom is a special occasion. It is meant for seniors; juniors get to go because they raise money to host the event. It is a rite of passage that marks the end of high school. Going with an upperclassman is a privilege, it’s not a right. Hope’s time will come, but that time is not now.

So, I need to put my fantasies about dress and shoe shopping and hair and makeup back in my emotional shoebox and put it back up in the closet. It is too early to allow those thoughts to bloom.

And even with a decision, my heart hurts. I know this will hurt; that it will enrage Hope and then I’ll have to deal with that. I know the rage will underscore the fact that she isn’t ready for such an event.

I’ll try to find something interesting for us to do that day; something fun and something distracting.

Sometimes parenting really sucks.


Here We Go

Sigh.

Sometimes I really don’t know how to respond to Hope’s “stuff.” I often wish I could just ignore it all, but I can’t.

Hope slipped into a funk earlier this week, probably because of school because school is *always* funk triggering. I seemed to pull her out of it one night when I forced her to sit with me and just talk. What I thought would be a painful 10 minutes turned into 90 minutes of good conversation and quality time.

This morning’s routine was smooth, but I could tell just by the way she put her key in the door that we were going to struggle this evening.

“Here we go,” I mumbled to myself.

And go we did.

Complaints about me at the hair salon.

Complaints about her stylist.

Complaints about the hairdryer.

Complaints about the hairstyle.

Heavy sighing about getting something to eat which was always the plan.

Mumble-whisper about the restaurant selection.

Momentary feigned contentment about the selected restaurant.

Cold shoulder over dinner.

Doesn’t eat dinner…at all. It just sits there.

I’m thinking, “ I could have just taken us home, but I’m trying to be a mom of my word. #fail”

Mumble-whisper about something in her random pseudo-language.

“Here we go. Here we are.”

Somedays I just want to grab my keys and run to the car and just keep driving. I know I’ll come back, but oy, she had best be in a better mood when I return.

This trauma-teen thing feels just impossible. And I’m annoyed by the way we present to others. It’s not so much that I care what people think; but it would be so nice to just be…inconspicuous, to blend in, to be everybody-normal and not just our version of normal.

I was incredibly naïve; I thought that being a same race adoptive family would allow us to blend in. It does in many ways; but when we have “here we go’ moments in public we become conspicuous. People notice. They don’t understand, and we stand out in ways that I just don’t want us to. It’s not even like these episodes can be passed off as just surly teen moments; no, it’s pretty obvious that they are different. They are special because Hope is special; because we are special.

Here we go…again.

These moments happen far less frequently than they used to and for that I’m grateful. We’ve worked hard to get better at this family and trauma thing, and so the stretches between the episodes are longer now. And while that’s great, the stretches sometimes give me a false sense of normalcy. It feels like we fell off the wagon when they happen now. We’ve fallen backward into the muck of trauma, and it takes a little bit to get that muck off me. She moves on more quickly, but I still struggle. I don’t anticipate these moments the same way I used to. My guard is down, and in some ways, I am more vulnerable to their emergence. After we recover from each episode I hope desperately that it is the last time.

It hasn’t been the last time yet.

I know one day that it will be.

Until then..here we go…again.


Eat the Cake

I like cake.

Scratch that.

I love cake.

The first few weeks after Hope was placed with me, I made what I called my weekly stress cake. It resulted in what I now like to call my “adoption weight” that I’m still carrying around.

hellnah

via Giphy

Making a simple white cake with chocolate buttercream frosting is something that happens with some level of regularity around these parts. I get it from my mom. She also loves to cook and bake. I can go to her house on any given day, having driven 100 miles, and find cake. It might be leftover cake, typically, I’m going to find cake.

I love cake.

Cake isn’t one of Hope’s favorite things. I can probably count on one hand how many times she has expressed any interest in having some cake I baked. Even when we get to my mom’s house, she’s uninterested in the baked goods, typically bonding with my dad over Popsicles. Cakes aren’t Hope’s thing.

But cake is totally my thing.

So, during our great family visit of #springbreak17, Hope’s grandmother started asking me about cooking and baking. My cake fetish came up. She laughed heartily as Hope and I described my love of cake and particularly homemade white cake with buttercream frosting. She chuckled and began to describe her baking process.

Now, no disrespect, but my granny, my momma and me…we don’t do cake mixes. I bought a cake cookbook one time and found when I got home that it was a cookbook dedicated to fixing up cake mixes. Um. No. The book was returned.

Not only is cake my thing, but I am an unapologetic cake snob.

As a part of her baking process, Grandma Hope talked about how she jazzed up her cake mix, and I smiled broadly and politely, delighted in the story. I’m sure it’s good; it may even be great….but um…cake mix? #thatscute #cakesnob

So, the next day when we went over for our last visit, Grandma Hope presented us with a heart shaped chocolate cake. It was the sweetest thing. So very sweet. She even put it on a real plate that we were to take with us back home.

So, we make our way to our next major travel stop, cake in tow. Despite my snobbery, I looked forward to having a nice piece of cake as we settled into our hotel that evening. I even had my wine in a can. It was fittin’ to be a good night.

Having cake is soothing to me; it’s not just my sweet tooth, it’s one of my favorite comfort foods. So, a cake, including cake mix cakes, made with love is going to hit my emo spot every time. This cake was going to allow me to get lit after several days of maintaining my emotions in a vice grip.

That is until Hope started making rumblings about *her* cake and how preemptively annoyed she was that I intended on taking a *big* piece of cake.

Wha? Hmmmm. Interesting. Ok.

Sister K ran an errand to get some things including some paper plates and plastic forks because I was getting some cake that night and needed something to put the cake on. Hope accompanied her and encouraged the purchase of small plates so as to limit the size of my anticipated cake debauchery. Sister K got an earful about the cake situation.

hellnah

via Giphy

By the time Hope and I checked into our room and settled in, my taste for cake had been soured by Hope’s anxiety about me cutting into the cake her grandma made for “her.” Never mind that she doesn’t even LIKE cake.

I called my mother and explained the situation. We marveled at how a proper Southern granny didn’t make scratch cakes! Yes, we were petty and judgy. I really wanted cake but SWORE that I would not touch Grandma Hope’s cake. I reasoned that I ain’t want her old box cake anyway.

After the family lovefest of the previous view days and the grace and southern charm required of me, I was saltier than a salt lick about not having cake–even a box cake! It brought out my petty and I confided in my Add Water co-host and good pal Mimi–who enjoyed a good chuckle at my cake related emotional shenanigans.

Despite my pettiness, I understood that Hope saw this as a very special gift from Grandma Hope. I intellectually understood that she had to play out this possessiveness, especially after how welcoming her family had become of me. This was an opportunity for her to have something from this visit all to herself. Oh, I get it, but I also knew that Grandma Hope made that cake largely for me because HOPE DOESN’T EVEN LIKE CAKE and she told her grandma so.

But whatevs. <Cue more laughs from Mimi.>

So I’m talking to my mom about this cake situation, and I ask her to make me a cake. Oh, yeah, I did. Dueling cakes. I had held my petty in check for 4 days…that might be a record. Ha! She said of course she would make me a cake because my momma loves her big petty, cake-loving kid. We debated the finer points of cakes made from scratch, milk vs. dark chocolate powder and marble cakes, because I come by my pettiness honestly.

I licked my lips in anticipation.

In the meantime, I hit the grocery store for a bit of commercially made cake to tide me over. I ate it alone and disposed of the container so Hope didn’t know. I might be petty, but I do have some semblance of couth that was still hanging on for dear life.

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I soon lost it though, and my petty was on full display by the time we arrived at my parent’s house a day or so later. I kissed my daddy hello, chatted about the lawn for a minute; walked into a house, grabbed a saucer and a knife and proceeded to cut myself a nice slice of homemade, lemon buttercream frosted white cake.

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It was delicious. And it was like a big emotionally satisfying sigh: Ahhhhhh.

Hope watched, and said, “You’re just going to eat that cake?”

Me, mouth full: “Yup. My mom’s cake.” #becausepetty

My mom commented that she could still make me a chocolate cake if I wanted. I declined. Got a plate of mac and cheese, a turkey wing and another piece of lemon cake. And all was well with my soul.

Hope got a Popsicle with her grandpa.

We are home now. Grandma Hope’s cake has traveled about 600 miles in a warm car and is 5 days old and counting. It is still wrapped in plastic and still uncut. I’m guessing it’s not going to get cut either, because cake isn’t Hope’s thing; it’s just not. I know there is going to be hell to pay when I have to dispose of the cake; it’s unfortunate. I really did look forward to having a piece of love on a plate.

I really do intellectually get why there was cake drama, but I also know that there was something about shaming me into not eating it that doesn’t make Hope happy. She wanted to protect the cake, but she is shocked that I haven’t touched it. I’m not sure she knows what’s behind the cake thing. I know that she doesn’t understand my own emotional connection to the cake. It will probably be many moons and a lot of therapy before she gets that connection.

I wish we had been able to enjoy the cake together. When Hope finally cut into her cake, she did offer me some. I wish I could’ve said yes, but I really wanted no part of the cake. My feelings, sadly, just were too much for me to even take one gracious bite. I’m tired and have been on my relative best behavior for a week. I did not want any of that cake.

Of course she dropped the first piece on the floor, which the deeply petty part of me took as a sign that sometimes the universe is petty and reactive.

I made myself some brownies instead.

Another time and another cake.


We Are Family

I grew up in a very traditional nuclear family. So did my parents. So did my grandparents. And so on, and so on. I remember thinking nothing of it.

Today all the folks we consider kinfolk has expanded dramatically. Adoption, marriage, babies, step kids…I often joke that we have duct taped and stapled folks to our family tree.

And that’s a good thing for all of us.

Over spring break we visited Hope’s side of the family. Previous visits were short,this one had us in the area for 3 days. It was worth all the driving and all the angst.

I’ve always known this but I see and know it more than ever now: There is something about being with your people that is incredibly powerful. Nature means folks look like you and sound like you, act like you. Hope’s biological relationship with her kinfolk is undeniable; she looks just like them.

We learned a lot about Hope’s family on this trip. I better understand why kinship adoption wasn’t the best fit and how that truth has nothing to do with love. I wish that things had been different for Hope and for them, but we can only look forward. On this trip I learned what it feels like to also be grafted into a family tree. I imagine that this isn’t quite what Hope felt, but maybe something along a parallel track.

This is the family visit when it all came together.

Well it did for me anyway. I think Hope is still trying to figure it all out. For us adults, we have life skills and emotional intelligence to make this work more easily. I see their love for my daughter; they see my love for their daughter. There doesn’t need to be any drama; we are a family and we’ll do what we have to in order to make it work for Hope because that’s what sensible grown folks do.

Hope still has some work to do in this area. She has quickly become territorial about aspects of the experience and even the chocolate cake her grandmother made because she knows I love cake. Hope isn’t a big fan of cake. It will likely go uneaten because I decided to just let it be her cake, which I know she will not eat (more on the cake in a separate post).

It is a strange thing for all the adults in a room brought together by the love of a child to get it together only to watch the child struggle.

My daughter was frustrated by the family desire to talk about her parents; she quietly complained that she didn’t want to talk about them unless they came up in conversation, but they did, a lot. My inner monologue also was running and said, “Well why the hell are we here if not to be around your family who will no doubt talk a lot about your parents???” I knew better than to ask that question out loud.

I relished in getting pictures of my daughter as a little girl with her parents, while she alternated between balking and sobbing at the imagery and demanding copies of everything. Mid-trip we talked about what it felt like to sit up at night and intensely study the pictures looking for resemblance and connection.

While I’m happy to have taken this trip, now that we are home I’m realizing the real emotional cost. It is hurts to know that my daughter doesn’t understand that there is enough love and loyalty to go around. There will be more questions, there will be more trips. I feel grafted into the family, but I’ve still got lots of questions and curiosity from my own biological family about “them.” If history is predictive, there will be big emotions. There will be clingyness. There will be pulling away. There will be anger. There will be just a lot of stuff. It exhausts me thinking about it.

But I would do it again. How could I deny Hope her family? How in good conscious could I do that? My emotional output is minimal compared to the opportunity to reconnect with family. To see her family delight in seeing her again, getting reacquainted, to have the chance to share childhood stories of her lost parent, to see themselves in her…it is a beautiful thing to witness.  This isn’t just for Hope; it’s for all of them.

We’ll visit again and again. I look forward to inviting them to visit, to graduations, to a wedding, to birthday parties and other events.

We are family.


My Triggers, Pt. 2

Ok, I can’t let the school thing go. I just can’t. I wish I could, but on the full real: I cannot.

I know that Hope struggles in school. It breaks my heart. I see how it affects her. Her self esteem is awful because she can’t perform at her full capacity. I know she’s bright, but the barriers to success…let’s just say they are more real than Trump’s wall will ever be.

But between the actual performance and the protective attitudes that Hope displays to downplay her performance issues…I. Just. Can’t.

This combo is the thing that I struggle with every single day.

crying

I try to only look at her grades occasionally. I ask her about assignments and if she needs help. I encourage her to use a timer to help her manage time. I try desperately to leave it alone.

And it all drives me mad.

I have advocated for so many accommodations. I have spent a fortune on tutoring. I’ve tried new organizational tools. I’ve identified the incredible anxiety we both have about school.

I’ve tried to just let it be and try to work itself out along with Hope experiencing the consequences of not doing her part in the areas where she can.

And still I am filled with a mess of emotions about Hope and school.

I’m realizing that education is such a core value for me, something so important that 1) I can’t let it go and 2) I might not be able to fix this. And being a natural born fixer…this is a problem for me.

It’s not *just* that education is important; it’s been my gateway to upward mobility. I want that for Hope. I still have dreams of my daughter doing better than me in this life. I want her to have the cloak of protection that education kind of provides us. I want it so badly for her that the idea that school would be a struggle for her seriously never occurred to me during the adoption process. Her previous performance had been quite good. Now it’s the thing we struggle with the most.

Even after 3 years, I’m not prepared. I have exhausted all of my “I can fix this” pep talks. I have practiced laying this burden down, only to pick it up again a few hours later. I have pushed, coaxed, pleaded, bribed, and lovingly reassured with no change in results. I have watched my daughter sink deeper into depression and I assume a lot of blame for that because I don’t think anything I’ve done has made her feel better. I have developed no new coping skills.

I do not know how to deal with this.

I just don’t know how any more.

I looked at a special school, but the $50K tuition made me suddenly remember the padlock code to the liquor cabinet without having to look it up.

Weekly I get so frustrated even though I know it’s not all Hope’s fault. I go to meetings only to quietly seethe when Hope refuses to participate in a semi-adult conversation because her emotional IQ is about age 5.

The whole thing makes me angry with the world.

The whole thing makes me wonder why I chose this path.

The whole thing makes Hope feel like a failure.

The whole thing makes me also feel like a failure.

We both are mad and ridiculously sad, and I can’t see any light in the tunnel we’re in.

I’m back to looking at tutors and special programs in hopes of helping Hope be successful. I’m also back to just trying to let it go so that she doesn’t think I also believe she’s a failure. She’s not.

So, the educationally dilemma is my true Achilles heel. It brings out both the best and absolutely worst in me and I have no idea what to do about it.


Thoughts on Searching

My family has long been interested in genealogy searches. Several members, including my mother, enjoy trying to find members of the extended family tree, trying to trace our lineage as far back as they can. This can be challenging given that African Americans were counted as property for so long in the US. Despite this reality, it remains an enjoyable exercise in unearthing our history.

More recently, my immediate family has gotten into the DNA testing game. My parents took the test and found all kinds of connections. Most stunningly, the test revealed the existence of a close relative none of us knew about.

We are all in the process of learning about each other, bonding and attaching, figuring out how we feel about all this new found information. The discovery has prompted a rush of emotions that can hardly be articulated as anything but overwhelming.

I had the pleasure of meeting my relative this weekend; at one point in the conversation I asked him what he thought about all of *this,* this being the discovery, how it fit into his life, how he’s managing all of this new information.

He acknowledged that it was overwhelming, but that he’d been wondering and curious for so many years. He had kind of resolved to himself that some questions would never been answered, but to have them answered and to experience acceptance was more than he could have imagined. It was all still settling in.

This wasn’t an adoption story, but I thought a lot about adoptees as he was talking to me. I like to consider myself an advocate of the adoptee voice, but honestly at that moment, that voice and the needs that come with it resonated so deeply within me.

People want to know who they are and where they come from. There’s a desire to connect somewhere, biologically. There’s a need to understand their origin, their history. This is why they search. They have questions, more questions than I could ever dream of.

I listened as my new family talked about wondering who they looked like, who their people were, did they have mannerisms like anyone related to them.

I watched him and marveled at how much he looked like us; I cried when he spoke because it was like listening to another close family member—nearly tonally identical. The mannerisms were so similar too, and yet, he never knew any of us.

It’s more than nurture; it’s nature, and it’s undeniable.

As I tried desperately to stop staring and focus on listening to my new extended family, I thought of all of the adoptees whom I have listened to, including my beautiful daughter Hope. We’ll be traveling to see her side of our family in a few weeks. I was reminded how important those connections were. I imagined how she must have felt when it seemed that she would never have contact with them again. I smiled when I think about how I look at her face and see her birth family. I watch her grow and how her body shape is morphing to look like her aunts. I see her genes coursing through her.

The search for birth families must be difficult. The call to search, the decision to heed the call, the desire and wonder to know what you’ll find at the end of the search and how it will make you feel. It must be so powerful, scary, joyous, heartbreaking and all consuming.

I know that sometimes it’s something feared by adoptive parents, but it shouldn’t be feared at all. We have puzzle pieces that we need to gather. This experience, which is still developing, has provided me with a greater sensitivity to understanding an adoptee’s compelling need to know and to seek out their families of origin.

I feel better about my own search for Hope’s birth mother last year. I told Hope I’d found her; she said she didn’t want the information. She might one day and I’ll be ready to give it to her. Supporting her desire to know is important, and it’s no threat to me and my relationship with my daughter. I knew it was important before, but now sitting in the midst of a different, yet similar situation has me doubling down on the importance of supporting adoptee searches for birth families.

Certainly, adoptees don’t need me wandering in their space and co-signing on their voice, but I hope that other adoptive parents understand and are more supportive of their sons and daughters who choose to seek out their people.

The siren of biology does matter, and our hearts must be big enough to help our families answer if we can.

*Featured Image: giphy.com

An Anxious Life

I have learned a lot about living with anxiety since Hope came into my life.

I have always been a bit high-strung. I am incredibly self-motivated and will run myself ragged in the quest for achievement. I set goals. I achieve them. I have problems. I solve them. And while I have experienced depression and eating issues, I didn’t really think I had a problem with anxiety. That is, I didn’t until I started my doctoral program. During the first course, I started experiencing some physical symptoms of anxiety (chronic insomnia, IBS, etc) that I just did not understand. My doctor had to explain that I was really anxious about school.

Oh. Ok.

Now what?

He prescribed me something for my anxiety that reminded me of how my grandmother used to carry valium in foil in her purse. I used the medication judiciously, stepped up my exercise and clean eating and tried to get more sleep. I coped and got on top of it.

And then Hope came along and everything I understood about anxiety was completely blown up. I had no real frame of reference for a life with generalized anxiety dominated by somatic symptoms. While I could relate to her insomnia, I was mystified by the constant stomach aches, headaches, chest pains, constipation, diarrhea, the lack of hunger, the ravenous moods, the fear, the drama. We are regulars at the local Patient First clinic since I made a personal commitment to just take her in and let her have the attention she needs. It’s worth the co-pay.

Sometimes I’ll offer her some Tylenol or Advil. Sometimes I’ll make Hope tea or cocoa and we’ll sit together. Sometimes I sit and do some breathing exercises with Hope. I’ve even bought placebo pills to just give her something.

And still, she struggles. And when Hope struggles, I struggle. We all struggle.

During the last few weeks Hope’s anxiety has escalated to levels I saw when she first transitioned to our home. She complains about being ill daily. She swore she had food poisoning a couple of nights ago. She didn’t. She works herself into a frenzy resulting in no sleep, save an hour or so when her body just shuts down in the wee hours of the morning.

I look at her grades; I can practically map the days her anxiety is heightened. It tracks so closely with her performance.

I’ve alerted the team of professionals. We’re trying some strategies; I’m hoping we can help her find better ways of coping and letting some things just go. It’s easier said than done.

And like trauma, anxiety is contagious. There are times when I can’t sleep either, when my worry consumes me; when I can’t figure out my next power move designed to save Hope from herself.

I find myself daily trying to remember to release the stress in my shoulders and let them just hang. I have to remind myself to do some breathing exercises. Throughout the day I use timers to remind myself to do short 5-minute bursts of exercise (youtube videos!) to relieve stress. I try to stick to relaxing an hour before bed to help me wind down. And yet, my shoulders creep up, and my mind races trying to figure the way out of this trauma induced maze that we are stuck in, and I’m often consumed with all the things that need to be done to try to set Hope up for her version of success.

The truth is, that I’m almost always exhausted as a result. Her anxiety is our anxiety. I know that how I feel is only a glimpse of what she feels. I’m certain she’s exhausted too.

Each year for the last 7 years my doctor has re-upped my prescription for my anxiety meds. I usually fill it one time during the course of the year. I save the small white pills. I rarely take them, choosing instead to find other ways of practicing self-care to cope with my anxiety.

This week, I reached into the back of my side table drawer and retrieved the bottle of meds. I took two before bed. And the next day I took two more. I may take them a little more regularly for a while.

Hope left for her 4-day band trip two days ago. I’ve been looking forward to it. I’m so tired. The idea that I’m only available to Yappy for a few days is a weight off of my shoulders. Not that I won’t miss Hope. I know I’ll be eager to see her on Sunday, but not having to remember to make sure she’s up and functional is a nice thing. I hope that her time away will also be meaningful and relaxing.

As for me, I’m focusing on self-care: yummy food, the love of my couch, time at the dog park and maybe, just maybe, I’ll stay awake long enough to get a manicure.

Maybe.


Hope and Worry

I’ve been parenting for about 1,140 days. I am a babe in the woods. I have triumphed, and I have fallen down repeatedly.

Lately, I question everything I’ve learned these couple of years, and I’m scared.

I love my daughter, Hope. I have done my very best to help her heal, to help her grow, to help her catch up. I have tried to protect her from the world that has been brutal towards her. I’ve tried to protect her from herself when she has been unkind. I have prayed for and with her; I’ve wished for her. I’ve poured myself into her healing.

And for all the improvement we’ve made together, it’s still only 1,140 days, and I feel like we are in a bit of a free fall right now. It feels like I can never do enough. As a natural fixer, I am feeling woefully inadequate right now.

Something is wrong, very wrong. I know that Hope is struggling more than usual. I started paying close attention to moods, to behavioral patterns, to details that I had let go of a while ago. There are so many clues that something is wrong. I’ve seen them; I’ve started ramping all the support systems up again. I reached out to the therapists. I’ve scheduled appointments. I’ve been steeling myself to get back to the state of hypervigilance I used to maintain. But, I’m feeling my age now, remembering how exhausting the constant need for awareness can be. I’m wondering can I really maintain that level of being for an extended period of time, now. I’m also wondering what happens if I can’t.

I’m also wrestling with my own guilt. How and why did I get lax? Was I really lax? How come I didn’t know we had started spiraling? Why didn’t I just maintain everything? How did I let it get like this? Is this even something I can fix? How hard will this get before it gets better?

Is this free fall my fault?

I know intellectually that it’s not my fault but that fact really doesn’t matter, does it?

I see my daughter struggling. It seems she’s struggling with everything right now. School is hard. Social stuff is hard. Home is probably hard too. Emotions are thick; memories are vivid and on some kind of repeating loop. There are constant stomach aches and nausea and headaches and stress induced rashes. There are binges. There are hard core study times that swing to complete immersion into escapist fantasies. There is exhaustion, that’s really depression that swings from days of insomnia to sleeping for 18 hours.

I see it, but I can’t fix it. I gather those long arms and legs up and occasionally cradle Hope. I try to cook her yummy food. I try to be home as much as I can. I try to give her space, but I also try to smother her with attention. I try to give her lots of opportunities to thrive and to experience as much or as little as possible. I am strict but not inflexible. I’m compassionate. I try to meet her where she is, but I also walk away sometimes wondering if I did the right thing.

I want to heal her. I want her to be able to shrug off the effects of her trauma so that we can deal with the social challenges of blackness and womanhood. The reality is that we rarely get to wrestle with those because we are stuck in the quicksand of trauma. Her trauma suffocates us both. I fight with myself trying to just be ok with her life performance and trying not to worry that every bad grade will prevent her from a bright future.

I’m constantly forcing myself to abandon everything I conceptualized and believed about success. Our success is different. I know that, but it’s hard to believe that conventionalism is completely inappropriate in helping Hope navigate. So many of my firmly held, deeply etched values about life are constantly challenged and it is discomforting, disorienting, and dismaying. My prayers lately have been distilled to, “Lord just let us get through this day with no drama.”

And I still feel like we’re failing.

So, right now, Hope is struggling, and I’m worried. I’m not panicked by I’m really worried about the future, and by future, I mean next week and the week after.

I’m leaning back into my strengths: looking for possible solutions, marshalling resources and leveraging connections. I have no idea what happens next—long term is now just next month. I do think my daughter knows I’m trying; I don’t know what she really thinks about my efforts, but I know she thinks I’m trying to help her. I’m hopeful that she will continue to see me as helpful, reliable and safe. I’m hopeful I can continue to be that for her.

Hope and worry are sitting side by side for me these days.


When Racism, Douchery and Adoption Collide

So this weekend known d-bag Iowa Congressman Steve King said this:

This dude. Usually he’s vomiting some sort of racist foolishness, but then he said this:

“It’s the culture, not the blood. If you could go anywhere in the world and adopt these little babies and put them into households that were already assimilated into America, those babies will grow up as American as any other baby.”

Sigh. Ok, let’s break this all the way down: Rep. King actually advocated international adoption for the purposes of advancing American culture against “somebody else’s babies.” Based on his frequent commentary those “somebody” folks are people of color primarily from Africa and the Middle East who are not Christian.

I got to say, that while I find 99.9999999998% of what comes out of this man’s mouth and typing fingers abhorrent; I appreciate his honesty. Lots of racists hide. They used to hide behind hoods. Today they hide behind systemically crushing policies and keyboards. With Rep. King, we can watch him plant his flag over and over again. We can see that thing and name that thing. And as someone who fights oppression for a living, I prefer tangling with devils I can see.

There is so much to unpack from his commentary, but let me focus on these facts:

  • Rep. King clearly doesn’t understand that adoption is supposed to be child-focused not civilization building.
  • He believes that we should burden our adopted children with *saving* American culture rather than focusing on ensuring they have access to safe, loving homes.
  • King doesn’t have any care for the first parents of the children he thinks should save American civilization.
  • King also doesn’t get that many of those “somebody” families are refugees in Western Europe who would rather not have to flee their countries of origin with nothing but the clothes on their back or to be treated like crap in the places where they seek asylum. They’d also like to raise their own children.
  • There is no appreciation that international adoption is rife with ethical challenges, not the least of which is that the actual number of orphans that need families internationally is far lower than what is often reported.
  • There is an unspoken, yet clearly inferred, charge that brown and black children need to be adopted by white folks so that they can be properly raised assimilated into “western civilization.”
  • Rep. King doesn’t see the value of black and brown lives here or globally; our melanin is blamed for the threatened failure of civilizations.

Oh, I could spend some time breaking Rep. King’s foolery all the way down, but I’m loathe to give this racist more airtime. It’s tough enough to dig through this guy’s public statements about race, poverty, and civics and not walk away wanting to douse yourself in Purell. Now he’s added this idea that Americans should be internationally adopting black and brown children from cultures different than ours in order to indoctrinate them. Sigh.

Just imagine for a minute how he views those of us who are not white and born here in the states.


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