Flat Envelopes

One of the most striking things I’ve discovered during my time as a parent is how deeply I feel things. I believe that I was really in touch with my emotions before parenting. I spent a lot of time in therapy wrestling with big emotions, feelings I had, things I believed about myself and the world. I thought I understood feelings before being a parent.

Yeah, I didn’t understand ish.

I did not, nay could not, anticipate how deeply I would feel things. How the very core of my being might be overwhelmed by joy or pride or how I could feel so crushed, sad and disappointed that there didn’t seem to be any sobbing that could even come close to helping make sense of what I was feeling.

I didn’t have a clue.

Over and over I’ve had moments while parenting Hope that the jumble of emotions I felt was so messy, so convoluted that I couldn’t really say what I was feeling. Even now, sometimes I think about Hope, something we are experiencing and it’s almost like I have a phantom feeling in my chest—love, joy, sadness, sometimes despair (no worries, my doc says my heart is fine). In these moments I often find that I need to shove my feelings into an emotional closet so that I can be what Hope needs in those moments. I am there to help her navigate her own emotions and figure things out, even when I really have no idea how I’m doing that for myself.

This week brought new emotional drama for both Hope and me. After weeks of waiting oh so anxiously, for decisions on Hope’s college application, two flat envelopes showed up. Flat envelopes in college admissions is rarely good news.

To be fair, one flat envelope indicated that consideration of her application had been put on hold to allow her the chance to strengthen her application. The other envelope was an admissions denial. Hope did not get into her (our) 1st choice school. They encouraged her to do a year somewhere and reapply. She’s sad, but it really helps that there’s one school in the bag and 3 others we are waiting on.

As someone who works in higher education, I know that the other 3 schools are iffy and become more iffy with each day that passes.

But yo, the parenting emotions are so damn real! I knew I was anxious, constantly offering up prayers, but when I got her message (& saw the first flat envelope), my heart broke. I wanted this for her so badly, even if I knew that she might finally meet her “natural consequences” match. Hey, you don’t do your work, you fail classes, you don’t get admitted to the 1st choice. Still I found myself hoping, praying that she would get the fat envelope.

Hope’s academic performance last semester was not even lackluster; at some point it looked like she was phoning it in. When the semester grades posted, I clucked to myself that this upped the risk of not be admitted anywhere. These were the grades that would go to the schools. I could feel the natural consequence reckoning coming. I know that at some point, Hope didn’t really believe me that all of this mattered in how colleges would look at her. I remember listening to her anxiety a month or so ago as the reality seemed to really hit her.

Oh…they have expectations of me academically. Wow!

There was a season in my parenting when I would have piled on with “I told you so!” or “See? Do you believe me now?” Then I got a clue that maybe that wasn’t helpful; in fact, it was only really to validate that I was right. Again, not helpful, but possibly harmful.

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So, I learned to keep that internal momologue monologue to myself.

When I learned about the flat envelopes, I needed a moment to gather myself. I’m an overachiever–ridiculously so. I’ve never received a flat envelope, so this is uncharted territory. I didn’t want to be right, and I desperately wished that her natural consequence comeuppance came at some other time, in some other form. I knew that the reject stung and probably undermined the little confidence that she had mustered during this process. I felt horrible that and guilty that maybe I pushed too hard, that maybe we should have not applied there, that maybe the college counselor who recommended the school was so wrong and this was partly her fault. The guilty feeling that I had set my daughter up for failure gnawed at me.

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As a parent though, I had to switch gears immediately, check in on Hope’s well-being. Of course, she is sad about the first choice and unclear how she feels about the admissions hold. I’ll have a better sense of her emotions when I see her this weekend, but I’ve been working my brain extra hard to pivot this into a pep talks about schools that are the right fit, that there are alternative pathways (transferring later), that there are still possible options out there since all decisions hadn’t been made yet. Also, hey, look, you do have a safe school, so there’s that. #brightside

I feel like I’ve made a good case, put on a genuine face for her, and I genuinely do believe all of those things. Absolutely. I also know that what she needs to hear right now, that reassurance that she’s going to be fine and that I believe she’s going to be fine, and I still believe in her. #teamHope It happens to lots of kids.

So, stay tuned and hope for chunky envelopes.

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The Birth Certificate

Grammy recently came up to visit me for my birthday. During our mother-daughter bonding time, we somehow got to talking about adoption documentation. It occurred to me that I had never shown her Hope’s post-adoption birth certificate.

This document drives me batty.

It drives me batty because it is a lie.

Hope’s post-adoption birth certificate reads as though I gave birth to her and chose not to name her father.

I pulled out the document and showed it to Grammy. She was shocked! She had a ton of questions about why I had a legal document for something that she and I both know never happened.

Yeah, me too, Grammy. Me too.

Grammy just kept exclaiming that the document is a lie. I have never given birth to a child. Frankly to suggest that I did is a painful reminder of how my body has failed me. I have muscled my way to all kinds of life achievements, but that act of carrying a child in my body to term and producing a living, breathing baby…well that will go down as one of my personal failures.

(I don’t ruminate on that as much as I used to, but know that the sting of infertility will always be there.)

But I have a document that says my body did just that. In fact, this legal document that will for the rest of my and my daughter’s days and beyond says that my body did do it and that I did not name a father for the child that I did not birth in the first place. It is a seriously perplexing one-page document characterizing my daughter’s entry into the world.

Seriously there are layers to this thing. Hope had biological parents, both parents were named. That document shows information about both of those parents. There was a legal document that marked her entry into the world. In the document I received after our finalization, it’s like those people never existed. They are erased. Just vanished into the void. As one of my daughter’s biological parents is deceased, this erasure feels especially harsh. It’s like the Bureau of Vital Statistics simply decided to erase him from her story.

It’s crazy enough when this all happens with infant adoption, but when you adopt an older child, they remember their people. It’s not just a psychic or metaphysical thing, Hope lived with her parents. She remembers them; their names, what they looked like, how much she loved them, dinners they made, gifts they gave her, adventures they had, bikes they rode, books they read, places they went…she remembers the life she had with them.

We have a document that suggests that never happened.

It.

Is.

Bizarre.

Because.

It.

Is.

A.

Lie.

I listened patiently as Grammy worked through all of this in her head and outloud. We talked about whether the state thought that this approach to post-adoptive birth certificates was a holdover to the days when you weren’t supposed to talk about adoption or admit adoption. We talked about how it double downed on the shame that those of us who have experienced infertility feel by simply pretending we gave birth. We talked about how far things have come that single motherhood was generally less stigmatizing that admitting your family was created by adoption and how effed up that was. We also talked about how my characterization in the birth certificate made me seem like I *might* be a candidate for the Maury Povich show because I didn’t name my child’s father.

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Years from now, without an addendum, will some future genealogist wonder if I knew my child’s father or if he was married or if paternity was in question or some other thing that just wasn’t true.

Grammy concluded her vocal processing by folding up the document, handing it back to me and declaring that it’s just wrong.

No kidding.

This is one of those things they don’t tell you about in the adoption process—whether or how the post-adoption birth certificate will characterize how you created your family. They don’t tell you that the document that comes in the mail after finalization may simply be a lie, a legal one, but a lie nonetheless. They don’t tell you that because of privacy laws, this may be the only document that shows up 50 years from now on Ancestry when someone is trying to figure out who Aunt ABM and Cousin Hope are and how do they fit into the family. They don’t tell you that those privacy laws, for some adoptees, mean they will never have access to the original document that accurately documents their birth.

Of course, I have my and Hope’s adoption decree, but as she approaches adulthood, there is hardly any need to refer to that document. But you need access to your birth certificate throughout your lifetime. It’s one of a few documents that proves American citizenship—it states where you were born. It’s just not the same.

As readers know, the fact that Hope will be 18 in about 4 months hade been weighing on me emotionally.. After her birthday, provided her surviving birth parent hasn’t blocked release of the original birth certificate, Hope will legally be able to get that document for the price of some paperwork and $20. At least she doesn’t have to pay more for the OBC than the adoptive birth certificate.

I intend to help her order a copy. Her social worker was kind enough to have a non-official copy included in Hope’s disclosure records. I didn’t appreciate back then what a gift that was, to see what the original looked like, what it said. I do now. So even though we have a copy, I will help Hope order an official copy. What she does with it is her business; I just think it’s important for her to have an accurate document that documents her entry into the world.

As for me, when we make the request, I’ll also be writing letters on simply having an OBC that has a adoption notation to increase the accuracy of this important legal document. I’ll include that my daughter having access to a document that describes her birth should not be withheld from her. She shouldn’t have to Hope anyone else thought to block access to a document about her. Yes, the document is about other people as well, but there should be some transparency there for everyone. It’s only right.

So, yeah, I have a document that reminds me of my body’s failures and advances a lie about my daughter’s birth. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to parent Hope, but some of the stuff that goes on within Adoptionland is just weird.


Thoughts on Ralph & Blackface

Earlier this week I posted a story about a guest speaker at a private school who dressed in blackface to teach about a white missionary.

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Chile…

I am sick to death of revisiting conversations about blackface, but here we are in an endless news cycle discussing this image from the Virginia governor’s med school yearbook, circa 1984.

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Lawd heyzeus. Really?

Yes, really, in 1984.

Now, I grew up in Richmond, VA, and most of my extended family still live there. The Klan was, and no doubt low key probably still is, a big thing there; I remember seeing them march on occasion down Monument Avenue—or the Avenue of Losers as I like to call the tribute street to the Confederate leaders. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson shared a holiday in January; which eventually became Lee-Jackson-King Day—yes, Martin Luther King, Jr. shares a holiday with confederate leaders, because #virginaisforhatersandlovers

I don’t recall seeing a lot of blackface, but I certainly knew what it was and that it was a no-no. Folks who wore blackface, well, they were to be avoided because they probably wore or knew people who wore hoods.

So, Ralph Northam, Virginia’s beleaguered governor, included a picture of two dudes on his personalized med school yearbook page. One dude is dressed in blackface, and the other is dressed in a Klan ensemble.

He apologized this past Friday for the picture.

On Saturday he said (paraphrased), “I’ve been really looking at it and I don’t think it was me. I called some old classmates to see if they thought it was me, and I’m pretty sure that’s not me.”

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Bruh.

But he continued, “I’m pretty sure because there was this other time I did blackface as Michael Jackson and I used shoe polish to ‘darken’ my face and the shoe polish was hard to get off.”

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Say what now?

Da faq?

To be clear, he denied being in the Klan robe, but says he’s not the one in blackface either because he did blackface some *other* time, and the time in the picture wasn’t it, despite the fact that its on his personalized yearbook page.

The page he now says he doesn’t know how it came to be.

When I tell y’all that this foolishness is exhausting, it is an understatement.

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It’s convenient that he cops to the blackface because clearly of the two absurdly racist folks in the picture copping to blackface is infinitely still better than admitting to being the one in the Klan robe.

This is where we are folks—the choice between a robe and shoe polish, and shoe polish is the lesser of evils.

Just ugh.

And he has not resigned and doesn’t seem to intend to. And that is really the demonstration of privilege here. When you have ascended to the highest position, your day of reckoning comes and you think it doesn’t apply to you because it just doesn’t.

Here’s the thing, Ralph, the MJ blackface wearer, may really be a new creature. He may have genuinely eschewed being the racist prick that this image suggests. He may genuinely believe in social justice. He may be genuine in his friendships and relationships with people of color—incidentally during the explanatory presser this weekend he shouted out having African American friends and I laughed heartily. He may even come up with the story of his parents marching with King because, why not?

It could all be true, and he still has to go, because when you do dirt and it comes to light then a day of reckoning follows. How is anyone supposed to take him seriously after this? I know I can’t.

And to the MAGA folks and their whataboutisms…have all the seats. All of them. In the back. In fact, turn your chairs to face the wall! Your political house is infested from the top down, go handle that and then we can talk. Dems are in surgery right now excising this problem.

So, Hope and I were chatting about this last night; she’s away on a school trip but called to wish her mama a happy birthday (because she’s awesome!). She’d heard a bit of what was happening, and I was filling her in. She was bewildered about how this yearbook photo came back to bite Ralph in the arse.

It was a teachable moment about how a picture in a book went viral and how easily it could happen, so just think how easy a picture already on the internet could go viral.

I’m a GenXer; I grew up in an analog world and transitioned to digital as I emerged into adulthood. I’m grateful that a lot of dumb stuff wasn’t documented in film or on jump drives. My daughter has never known a world where snapping a picture didn’t involve a swipe or tap. We had a nice chat about what that meant for her, and her friends and how she controls her image because yeah, actions and images have consequences, even if those consequences don’t pop off for 35 years. Parents, remind your kids that sometimes pictures have big consequences so gauge yourselves accordingly.

So here’s my shout out to Gov. Northam:

Ralph, I voted for you. I was rooting for you, and you’ve said some dumb ish this week, but this is ridiculous.

I quit you.

Here’s the thing…it’s not just about this picture; it’s the larger story that it tells.

Best case scenario, it wasn’t you (that time because it wasn’t the Michael Jackson blackface time…smh). You still rolled with a crew who included folks who thought it was cool. You were ok with it. You thought it was hilarious; you probably thought it was just jokes and who was going to have a problem with any of it anyway because it was just a group of like minded folks doing like minded things. So this is also about the character of those with whom you surround yourself.

I don’t buy that you didn’t know that picture was in the yearbook. In my yearbooks, I carefully thought about my quotes and the pictures I was asked to approve to include. You included that photo because it was funny and characterized you and the funny guy folks knew you to be. Just jokes, right? There’s no hipster irony on the page; irony doesn’t seem like it was a thing for you. Those pictures encapsulated who you were and who folks knew you to be. This page is how you chose to be remembered during med school. This is what you wanted your friends and would-be colleagues to see and remember you as the funny, authentic guy you were in med school. And we see it Ralph.

And it was all so casual that it was utterly forgettable, which is what makes it just so shocking in context 35 years later. The casual racism was so insidious that you didn’t even remember it; that looking back you marvel at how the page could have possibly been approved because it was sooooo racist to include the picture that you couldn’t have possibly done that! No Ralph, it was so casual and occurred in an environment that was so casually, persistently racist that of course the image was approved for inclusion.

Tell us Ralph, as you flip through your yearbook, did you have any POC classmates? Gosh, I wonder what it felt like for them just learning and being in an environment that would think nothing of approving such images for inclusion in what would also be *their* med school yearbook. But of course, it’s clear that no one, including you, really thought about that much, huh?

If fact, it was so just regular for you and those who surrounded you that when your campaign managers over the years no doubt asked you before each campaign, “Is there anything out there that could be a problem?” you replied, No.

No?

Of course no, because even if you had left all of that behind, it was so casual, so reflective of you in that moment, that you had forgotten about it. I mean, it was just a picture of two fun loving dudes yucking it up at a party in blackface and a Klansman hood. It’s forgettable when it happens so often and it doesn’t impact you because you’re white. It was just this thing you had done in your “youth” at 25 (an age by which apparently POC are socially believed to be middle aged by comparison; y’all stay accusing our children of adult behavior while white kids get to be kids until they’re like 45, but I digress).

And so even if you are the real deal now, a believer in social justice, your drawers have skid marks. We don’t expect perfection and demanding that you be held accountable for being and/or wanting to be remembered as a racist prick in your mid-20s isn’t a high bar as far as accountability goes.

And even if this story was planted by opposition as payback for some other political stuff, the fact remains that it was there for the plucking. It was there because you created it, because again, it was your memory page that was a snapshot of who you were and how you wanted your friends and colleagues to remember you. You can downplay it, but it is what it is.

And now, here we are, watching you at a press conference say that that isn’t you in the picture because that wasn’t the time you actually did blackface for a contest. Of COURSE it’s not you in the Klan robe. I mean, really…Ralph. #sarcasm

Your wife had to say it was “inappropriate circumstances” when you looked around to see if there was enough room to actually show you could still moonwalk. #unreal #eagerfordistraction

You topped it off with the cherry—but I have African American friends. #thegotomoveofreformedracists

Sigh, we know, Ralph, we know, and we still need you to step down and gracefully exit stage left.

You can even moonwalk if you like.

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I hope that you live out the rest of your life truly devoted to social justice issues and teaching kids and young adults to be mindful of the company they keep and how they portray their images online and in print. You can be a great spokesperson for the repercussions of bad decisions and what reform can do for you.

I know it will take some time for you to get to that place, but for now, please, just go.

Beat it.

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Post Script: The irony of doing blackface to mimic a person whose skin was lightening by the month…just sigh…smh.


The Mystery of Turning 18

Hope will be 18 in a few months.

I don’t even remember looking forward to 18; sure, I remember 21, but I don’t remember looking forward to 18. I mean, I was still in high school, getting ready for college. I was already illegally boozing at a local bar where one of my friends’ boyfriend’s older sister tended bar. I had a car and a after school job. I actually had a fair amount of freedom, earned by good grades and decent character.

Beyond that, I don’t remember looking forward to turning 18.

I might’ve been more into being a high school senior and all the traditions that go with that, final year of sports, the awards, homecoming and prom, banquets and convocations. I have quite a few snapshots from that time. I looked happy, content, like I was having fun. But I just don’t remember being all eager to be 18. I don’t even remember what I did that birthday; Google says it fell on a Saturday and knowing my besties from back in the day we were out and about doing something, even though I was the first of my closest friends to become a “legal adult.”

I knew that nothing would change at home. I chuckle at the thought of somehow asserting my newfound adulthood while still living at home and being in high school. The notion is straight up laughable. That said, I knew that things were stable, not much was going to change after my birthday and that I certainly was not going to be a real adult. I was ok with that.

At best, for me, 18 was like…being an adult preemie.

I don’t actually know that Hope is looking forward to her next birthday, but I know it’s one of those birthdays that is somehow significant.

Maybe depending on the circumstances it’s more significant for parents. Maybe that’s why it’s on my mind these days.

A friend’s son recently turned 18, and it was clear from my friend’s post that they were having some conversations about what it meant to be an “adult” still living at home with the parents. The comments on the post were funny and smart, and I got the sense that this father and son had some negotiating that would soon be taking place about all kinds of things. It was also clear that by negotiating, I mean that dad was going to tell him that many of the same rules still applied today as they did last week.

I’m mindful that my experience and the experience of my friend and his son are ones that folks take for granted. We grew up with our biological families. Stability was never an issue. The threat of separation never even brushed our lives. We knew that being 18 was a formality; we were still members of our families, still dependent on them, still loved by them and loving on them, and that nothing was going to really change. We were still firmly ensconced in the family nest.

Hope and I haven’t talked about her upcoming birthday at all. We’ve been so focused on the college application thing and the layers of anxiety around the process and what it meant to her and me that it didn’t even occur to me that there might be feelings about her 18th birthday. During out long drives to visit schools, I know that my daughter seems to feel a mix of excitement and anxiety. For the most part that is normal, but I know it’s not totally normal because she’s worried about being abandoned. Will I cut her loose when she goes to college? How will she manage? Can she function in a college environment on her own? What are the other options and how do you make decisions? There’s a lot of big feelings for both of us.

So, we’ve been consumed by the big life, landscape issues and not some of the more down to earth, daily drama that the late adolescence/early adulthood period brings with it.

That is until earlier this week, when I discovered that she had signed up for something that I *know* had a 18+ requirement. I promptly sent her a quick message to shut it down since she was underage. I reminded her that there are age limits for a reason and that I would not be relenting just because she was close to 18. She didn’t respond; she just shut it own.

Now that’s all great and everything, but the reality is that Hope will be 18 in just a few months, and I’m realizing that it opens up a whole new set of opportunities for bad decisions. Hope will be 18 chronologically, but emotionally? Not even…

I believe she feels attached and reasonably secure in this moment, but will she feel that in a few months? Have I done enough to nurture the confidence in our relationship, in my reliability as her mom? Does she trust me enough?  Does she trust me enough to still be a bit of a kid? I don’t think she wants to grow up, and I know she needs more time, so I’m hoping that we don’t get hung up on the imaginary trappings of adulthood that come with being 18.

Of course there are also things that I will need to evaluate in terms of my parenting. Will I still monitor online activity? I don’t heavy monitor anymore, but I have the ability to. Usually I just rely on my “mom’s spidey sense” to let me know that I need to check something out. Since Hope is away at school I know that the school blocks somethings on campus and I also think she’s just earned a higher degree of privacy than she did 5 years ago. Are there things that I will change in my parenting when Hope turns 18? Hmmmm…honesty, I just don’t know.

I’m hoping that in the grand scheme of things, 18 won’t be a big deal for us. I am looking forward to celebrating it with our family, but beyond that?

Well, that’s a mystery!


2019 Parenting Goals

I’ve already written about this being my year of transition with respect to my vision board, but I have tried to also be mindful about what kinds of things I want to pursue in my parenting. Here’s a quickie list of my goals when it comes to parenting.

I will prioritize my core needs.
I realize that when I feel my worst, when I’m parenting my worst, when our relationship is the most rocky, I have not made sure my core needs have been met. Many times over the last few years, I failed to put my oxygen mask on first. If I can’t breathe, WE can’t breathe. And it’s not just about self-care or being selfish. It’s really about making sure that I have space in my life for me. Hope can’t take up all the air either.

I also want to model for Hope that living her life authentically, I mean *really* living her life fully and authentically should be a personal pursuit. So yeah, I’m trying to make me a priority this year.

I will affirm my daughter.
A couple of years ago, I papered Hope’s bedroom door with affirmation memes. Every time she went in her room, I wanted her to see some positive messaging. It stayed up for more than a year. She groaned when I first started doing it, but it was kind of emotional when we took it down to repaint her door.

Now, with Hope away at school, I text her affirmations a few times a week. Much like the door, she doesn’t always acknowledge them or she sends me an eyeroll emoji. Sometimes I luck out and she sends me a quick “TY” or a smiley. Sounds hokey, but I know that sending her affirmations resonates. When she first moved in I did a note every single morning that highlighted my love for her, what day it was, a goal for the day and an affirmation. Five years later, she has every single one of those notes. She keeps them in special folder. I know my girl likes a good affirmation.

I will care less.
I will really, really, really, really, really try to care less. I struggle with this; I always have, probably always will. My worries about Hope’s academic ability and overall ability to launch is rooted in some tough stuff. I know that there are aspects that have me thinking about what my expectations would’ve been with a biological child—totally unfair to Hope—but real nonetheless. But as I’ve written before, more of my concerns are rooted in my fears around systemic racism and the inequities that go with it.

Education has been key to my own ability to navigate and be successful as both Black and female. Academic performance opened doors; it’s the pathway I know and believe in because it works for me. More than anything I want to give my daughter every opportunity to excel and to acquire certain kinds of social privilege that will protect her. The reality is that at this time, academics isn’t Hope’s thing, and that’s for lots of reasons, including ability, interest, maturity, competing priorities (emotional survival). This has been hard for me these last years. It never occurred to me that Hope would struggle academically, and that was just a freakish assumption I made.

I do know that in emphasizing it so much, yes, Hope got the message, but she also struggled and never measured up to the goal I set in isolation of her. I know how harmful this has been. I cared too much about some of the wrong things; I will still care, but I will care less so that I can show her my increased care for her to just do what she is capable of at any given point. I’ll try to meet her where she is and not where I think she should be.

I will still push.
Hope is immature and there are definitely times when it’s clear she just wants to be babied. I’m ok with some of that, but I do hope to strategically step back in some areas to encourage her to chart her own path. I want her to feel my support, but I want her to be more willing and comfortable to try her sea legs. I think this will help build her confidence. I think it will help build my confidence in her as well.

And that’s it. I think those are BHAGs—Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals—and will keep me busy this year. It’s enough. Hopefully I’ll continue to be enough for Hope too.

What are your parenting goals for 2019?


Five Years

It’s hard to believe that it has been 5 years since Hope moved in from her last foster home. In some ways it seems like couldn’t possibly be that long; in other ways it feels like a lifetime ago.

I’m about 15lbs heavier, and I have a LOT more gray hair than I did back then. I have grown a lot. I’ve learned so much…about everything.

I learned that parenting is a lot about fake finding your way through the universe with only a vague road map based on your personal upbringing, values and resources. So much of it is just…wandering in the wilderness trying to keep kids alive and as close to thriving as you can get them.

For me, Hope and I dropping into each other’s lives…yeah, we’ve wandered a lot. We’re still wandering.

The wilderness is dark and thick for parents with kids who have experienced trauma and who have special needs. So much of what we endured post placement was confusing and just felt crazy in a never-ending way. I had tried to prepare myself for parenthood, but really, can you?

In a word, no.

So, I talked, wrote, reflected, talked other parents, listened to a lot of folks, especially adoptees, got help wherever, however I could figure out how to cobble it together.

I also lashed out, withdrew, and apologized to a lot of people in my life, over and over again, including my daughter.

I eventually got the hang of things, as much as you can with parenting. I can’t say parenting has become any easier over these five years. There are always new challenges, new goals, new problems, new therapies, new stuff to find your way through. I figured out that the way I had powered through other things in my life, I would power though parenting too.

Hope and I have done so much in the time we’ve been together.

We’ve been to 5 kinds of therapy. We’ve both taken many meds for depression, anxiety, and mood stabilization. We have connected with birth family. We’ve tackled grief. We’ve resolved legal stuff from long before I came along. We’ve cried more tears than I ever dreamed. We’ve argued and screamed and cursed. We found tutors and tutoring programs; we quit those as well. Music classes came and went. Programs for teen girls, yep did that.

We also traveled to 10 states and 4 countries. We went to the theatre. We did a lot of sightseeing, a lot of edutainment. We read a lot of books, including going down the rabbit-hole romance sub-sub genre of interracial relationships featuring Black women and Asian men—because KPop. We went to a lot of concerts and movies. Our dining palates grew to try lots of new things. We raised a puppy after saying goodbye to my beloved Furry One. We have laughed and danced and stayed up late doing silly things together.

And now, somehow, some way, Hope and I have gotten to year five, and she will graduate in 116 days days. We are waiting for decisions on her college applications. There are decisions to be made about the future, driver’s licenses to still get and just so much to still do. It’s really amazing.

Another 5 years from now, I’ll be in my early 50s and Hope will be in her early 20s. No idea what life will look like then. I’m sure that my parenting will continue to evolve; hopefully it will continue to improve. I’m hoping Hope will launch smoothly. I’m hoping that I’ll continue to reflect on this day that I became a parent, while it fades from my daughter’s memory. I just want it to be some day that happened, but that she moved on from. There are so many moments that stick out for her, big and small, painful and joyous, I’m ok with this day fading away for her.

I’ll remember though; I’ll always remember her emerging from security at the airport and stepping into my arms to give me a hug. It was a sweet and scary moment in time that has turned into such an amazing chapter in my life. I’ll always remember it.


The Year of Transition

I finished my vision board earlier this week. I started it on New Year’s Day and got stuck, so it sat on my screen for a week.

I usually choose a word that drives me for the year. Originally, I thought 2019 would be about liberation. I would be even more liberated in m travel. I would try to make some moves to make this writing thing, well, a thing. I would continue to make and achieve my financial goals which would bring me closer to financial liberation. I would pursue companionship, hopefully shedding some of my hang ups that have shaped my love life for so long. I would continue to wrestle with the emotional part of empty nesting with Hope soon off to college, possibly reframing it as a way to think about some adult freedoms to do things I haven’t done in years.

In all things, I would do, I would pursue personal freedom, my own little forms of liberation.

And most of those things are still on my vision board; they are very much a part of my plan.

But I realized over the last couple of weeks with Hope home, that I don’t think I’ll really have much of an empty nest. I’m not sure where Hope will be after graduation. To be honest, I worry a bit that we won’t make it to graduation. It’s made me think a lot about what that means for Hope, but with respect to my vision board, it made me also spend a lot of time pondering what it means for me.

Mothering Hope is not quite all consuming. Some days are less intense than others. This is not complaining but just a description of my experience with my daughter. Even the great days can be consuming. Like most parents, I am able to do a bit of revisionist history when I reflect on these few years. I am able at times to gloss over the many times that had me laying awake at night quietly praying for us to get through an especially challenging trauma-shaped period.

These few months with her away at school taught me just how much my own life had been shaped by secondary trauma. The anxiety, the depression, the fear, I had become so used to this especially heightened state of being that I didn’t realize how much trauma had just rubbed off on me.

And while I spent some time coming down from that state, I also transitioned to something new distance parenting. I case manage from 75 miles away. Finding new health care providers, therapists, hypnotists, pharmacies…building relationships with new teachers, guidance counselors, resident advisors. I beat the highway twice a month to see her, manage the bank accounts, buy way more ramen than I ever thought I would. I definitely still parent, but with Hope in such a structured school, I am not consumed in the same ways I was before. My day to day exposure to her trauma was limited, and I think I was able to heal a little.

As I look forward, I am unsure what will happen this summer and this fall.  Hope and I are waiting for the colleges to make their decisions and then we will figure out our options and make ours. It’s a weird time for her, for me and for us. I hope she gets admitted somewhere—she needs the emotional boost. That’s the first hurdle. Then I wonder whether she’s ready to go anywhere; these last few weeks at home and her first semester grades suggest maybe college isn’t really for her at least right now. And if it’s not, then what will being at home look like for us. She has done minimal volunteering and hasn’t had a job yet. She still doesn’t have her driver’s license. What will I expect of her if she is home for a long period of time; how will our relationship change?

There’s just a lot that is up in the air, and I’m thinking about all of it all the time. And thinking about something all the time is not liberation.

So, we’re in transition.

I’m in transition.

I’m moving into another life chapter. A lot of my personal goals remain the same, but Hope is and always will be a game changer. My master goal, to somehow usher Hope into functional adulthood, remains, but the incremental goals feel a little iffy at the moment. I need more information. I need to figure out young adult resources. I need Hope to play a bigger role in her own life in terms of figuring how what the next steps will look like.

So, my word for 2019 isn’t liberation. I might have some goals that will lead to my personal liberation, some that are designed to make me be and feel free. But really, this year will be about transitions for me and Hope.

I’m not sure how to feel all about that, I just know that transition will drive the year.

Here’s to 2019.


Times are Hard

My holiday break has ended, and I’m dutifully back in the office. I could have telecommuted today, but if I had one more solid day with Hope I might snap.

These last couple of weeks with her have been great, but we learned quite some time ago that having breaks is a good thing for us.  My travel schedule has historically given us both the reprieves we’ve needed to maintain a health-ish mother/daughter relationship.  Since going to boarding school, we really seem to relish the time we spend together on the weekends.

During this break, we have had some good time to talk about 2019, about how graduation looms, about the college applications she’s sent off and how some decisions will soon have to be made about her future. When I initiated these chats, Hope talked about how fast it is all going and how anxiety provoking it is. I agreed; these last few years have flown by and knowing that graduation is only 130is days away has me reaching for the brown liquor bottle and a couple of cubes of ice. We are both really starting to get anxious.

Hope has made such great strides these last few months. I feel like she, and me by virtue of proximity, have backed away from the edge of the crazy cliff we were gripping to the last 18 months or so. During weekends home, Hope gives off a slightly more confident air. She’s not as anxious and doesn’t seem as depressed. I know it’s all still there, but it doesn’t feel as consuming as it used to. There was a time that I swear I feel like it was all I could do to just keep us…going, living, breathing.

The growth and stability has been encouraging to me as a parent. I began to allow myself to daydream about her life in college and beyond college. Of course, I have ridiculous hopes and dreams for my daughter, but honestly, I’d be thrilled if she was just ok, functional, independent, roaming out in the world as a regular Jane. Still the sprigs of growth gave me hope and allowed me to fantasize about Hope’s future. We visited a couple of colleges, and she submitted her college applications. We high fived even as all the activities were a little nerve provoking around the edges.

These two weeks are the longest that Hope has been home since before our vacation to Europe in August. The first few days were such a rush for both of us; it was Christmas after all. We traipsed around Virginia visiting family, doing some shopping and finally settling in back home for the second week of vacation. And…then I began to really see my beautiful Hope.

The trauma triggered behaviors began to peek out. The somatic anxiety ailments descended like a black, plague-filled cloud. The excuses for inability to function much became amplified. The failure to listen to full questions because she was more concerned about getting a chance to respond to questions that *weren’t* being asked increased exponentially. The attention seeking behavior—we just got back from our obligatory doctor’s visit which was wholly unnecessary and merely attention seeking, moving through unrelated phantom symptoms designed to elicit a surely deadly diagnosis, sympathy and a hopeful pass on all the homework she failed to do because she was watching K-dramas.

As Hope’s usual struggles reemerged, I have battled my own demons. This is a challenging time of year for me. I don’t mind the cold, but darkness feels…emotionally dark. I struggle the most with my depression during the winter months. My motivation shrinks; I feel exhausted all the time. I am continent to just cozy under a blanket and do…the least. It feels so hard to propel myself to function. I just feel like sleeping all the time. But, well being functional and high achieving doesn’t leave much time for that, so I power through with some sarcastic self-talk. I try to date despite feeling like the whole dating ordeal is just trash. I go to therapy to talk about my fears more than my hopes, and I pop that blue and white pill every morning praying that it keeps me firmly on the ledge, while contemplating the need to get back on the prescription that features a little white pill when I need more pharmacological help.

And because I’m always looking forward, I’m thinking about what happens after the next 130-some odd days. Will we be planning for college or a job? Will she make it to graduation? Will I have a better idea of what her new needs might be and the ability to come up with a plan to meet them. What will success look like for Hope? Right now, it’s all a bit of a black hole, and honestly, my personality type does *not* do well with black holes. I’m working on my patience. I’m working on taking it as it comes. I’m working on meeting Hope where she is, but I’m feeling like I have no idea where that will be.

I am a good mother. I know that. I have worked, really, really hard at mothering Hope. I’m far from perfect. I’m failed and dusted myself off countless times. I try to be reflective and course correcting, but I am feeling lost as we fast approach the next chapter. I don’t know what’s next.

I imagine that this is overwhelming for Hope as well. It’s scary not knowing what’s next. Hope and I are facing the next chapter independently and together—we both have our stories on what we think comes next and how we’ll handle it. We both have hopes and dreams, some of which are not based on reality at all. We are both afraid of failure even though what that looks like is probably widely varied. And then there’s reality and decisions and things we’re experiencing together for the first time. It’s exciting and overwhelming and it’s own dream come true to get to the senior year. But we both are looking into the void to figure out what’s next.

It’s awful and awesome in its own way.

I just know that I’m probably a bit overwhelmed and depressed at the moment, and I need to get on top of that. I can’t lead in the darkness when my own reality is too dark. Sigh…

This. Is. Hard.

 


More Thoughts on Holidays and Adoption

While laying on my parents’ couch earlier today, I was listening to Hope tell me some random story about something or other. I was only half listening, scrolling through my Instagram feed.

I suddenly stopped and interrupted her.

“Do you want to call your grandmother today?”

Hope was mid-sentence and her voice just trailed off. She just looked at me. I wasn’t looking at her, but I could feel her staring at me. I finally looked over at her.

“There isn’t a right answer, you know that right? Whatever you feel or decide is cool. I just…felt like I should ask. I’m sorry I interrupted you.”

About two minutes of silence passed; one of my sisters was sitting in a chair in the room with us. As those seconds continued to pass, it kind of felt like we were all holding her breath.

“Ok,” I said, and resumed scrolling through Instagram.

Hope never responded; instead she picked up where she left off with the story she was previously telling me.

I mailed Hope’s grandmother a framed copy of her senior ROTC portrait and a letter. I wrote that I know she would rather hear directly from Hope, but that for whatever reason it was left to me to provide updates.

As the months stretch into what will soon be two years since Hope had direct contact, I find myself wondering how things will play out for Hope and her biological family. In moments like today, I feel like I can genuinely feel Hope’s and her family’s pain in this rift. I think about how I talk to a member of my immediate family nearly daily, and how gleeful my parents seem on those occasions when I am able to drive down to visit them. I think about how it must feel to not have those feelings, or those expectations or any of that. It is honestly hard for me to conceptualize, and I’m acutely aware of how fortunate I am since the absence of all of that is experienced by many people throughout their lives and especially during the holiday season.

While I do not badger Hope about connection, I do try to bring it up during times that seem appropriate or advantageous. I make myself available to all parties to facilitate contact. I work out the logistics for possible phone calls, letters, social media interactions, whatever. One of the college’s Hope has applied to is about 50 miles away from her biological family; I’m planning a campus visit for us next month. My offer to set up a visit while we’re close by was again me with chilly silence. I’ve learned to just leave those responses there. Ultimately, I do not believe I can or should force Hope to have contact that she doesn’t want. I do not want her to engage in things she feels are unhealthy for her. Her feelings and well-being are paramount.

And yet, my heart strings wish desperately there was something I could do to help them bridge this gap.

I’m glad that I have provided Hope a beautiful extended family. I chuckled to see her and her cousins holed up in a funky teenager room (why do they smell so bad???), shooting the breeze, playing video games, talking trash and making plans to hang out together tomorrow. I smiled inwardly as I grimaced outwardly when I had to tell her “let’s go” for the 6th time because she really didn’t want to come with me to check into the beach hotel. I’m glad she has this family.

But she does have more family; she just doesn’t know if she wants them, if they fit, if she can have a good, healthy relationship with them. And there’s lots of legit reasons to ask so many questions why. I respect my daughter’s inclination for sell-preservation. But it still hurts to watch from the sidelines. But as Hope slides into her 18 year, that’s my position on all of this—the sidelines.

So I will continue to point out or provide opportunities and follow her lead. Somehow, it will work out, right?


A Window into Hope

Last weekend I took Hope to see a second college she’s applying to this year. We were supposed to visit a few schools, but weather on the east coast cut our plans short and we had to skedaddle back to school and home.

Leading up to the visit, Hope’s mentor, counselor and I all traded a series of emails about how she was progressing through the application process tactically and emotionally. It was clear things were starting to kind of click and that some motivation was starting to take hold. I was encouraged since applying to 4 year schools was a major pivot in expectation of and for her.

In the last couple of months, I have watched Hope grow a bit more comfortable thinking about the future in more realistic and concrete terms. The first big challenge was answering the question what will Hope major in?

For the last couple of years, she told everyone that she wanted to be a linguist. She has a knack for languages and when she’s motivated, she will self-teach, but she hadn’t been motivated for more than a year making the set up for undergrad a little challenging. Couple that with the fact that most of the schools under consideration don’t offer linguistics as a major or minor and don’t offer enough languages to cobble an independent study program together, oh and the fact that Hope really didn’t fully grasp what a linguist really does on a day to day to basis and it became clear that she might need give some more consideration about what she wanted to study and how.

Helping Hope be ok with being undecided as a first-year student was the first barrier. She still worries about what that sounds like and what it means, but she’s grateful that there’s space to figure it out.

The next big barrier was getting her to ask for help and follow directions. This is where the counselor and mentor have been godsends. I talk to Hope and occasionally back channel the others. I don’t want to be a helicopter parent; I want to be a guardrail parent—there to prevent disasters and provide guidance but not intervening so much that I prevent empowerment or natural consequences. So far, so good. Hope is figuring out how to use her resources and how good it feels when she does it successfully on her own.

Last month I was ‘suggest-telling’ Hope what to wear on the first college visit. This month she put together her outfit and upped her game. She looked smart, a little sassy and super chic with her new hair cut! Some college girls on their way to the dining hall during our tour stopped to compliment her on her outfit. My girl, who lives for Korean graphic t-shirts and ripped jeans, was embracing a side of her that exuded confidence. I beamed. Honestly, I could not stop telling her own fabulous she looked. She cleans up well!

I liked the school, but I was largely unimpressed by the facilities. The school is nearly 200 years old, and well, it shows, and I’m thinking for all this money, does she *really* need to be at a school where she will need a damn box fan in the spring and summer?????? The school we visited previously seemed to invest a lot more into the facilities, well, things were very nice there. Hope and I were chatting throughout the tour, sharing our opinions. I smiled when she focused on the offered programming over facilities as she tried to influence my thinking about the school. I eventually said nothing about the facilities (or that very sad dining hall situation #tragic); Hope was all about the academic offerings and how she might major in this, minor in that and maybe get involved in this thing over there.

Again, I beamed as I watched her see herself on this campus.

I noted when I asked about the cadet corps that she was willing to listen to the admissions counselor’s spiel. I know she’s said she didn’t want to be in a corps in undergrad, but I also know that it’s provided her with such an amazing structure that I’m glad one of her chosen schools has that option. There was a time when she would have shut that whole line of conversation down out of hand. She humored me and even asked follow-up questions as she side-eyed me. She demonstrated patience and it was just so lovely.

This 24 hour trip gave me a window into the young woman Hope is becoming. It’s so exciting to watch. I’m so proud of her, and amazed that I got the chance to help her get to this point. She’s like this flower that I’ve been watering, had a heat light on, fertilizing, covering due to frost, repositioning to get enough life, talking to because aren’t you supposed to talk to plants, spraying with pesticides so bugs and a-holes didn’t distract too much, bought new pots as she grew and just prayed that she would get to a place of thriving.

Every now and then I get to see the fruits of that, or at least a little glimpse of what’s to come, and it is amazing. It’s this part of parenting that makes it all so worth it. Seeing the bud of the bloom appear on the plant and knowing that it still needs all that nurturing but it’s happening, it’s really happening. It’s so…rewarding seems like an understatement. It’s so very cool (also an understatement).

I’m rescheduling our visits to the other schools to early January, and I can’t wait to see what I will learn about Hope during that journey. It’s really just the best thing ever, and I can’t wait.

In other news, when I completed the parents’ portion of the FAFSA I was devastated to find that technically because Hope was still 12 when we finalized, she might not be eligible for additional grants/scholarships having been a former foster child. I spent several days just trying to remember that her permanence was more important than the 19 days that kept her from being adopted when she was 13. Adoptees adopted at 13 or older are deemed independent for the purposes of financial aid. Well, we completed the completed the FAFSA during our trip, and I guess there’s a grace period in there. Hope is considered an independent, which positions me to be way more helpful in bridging the gaps in college costs. I am still wary; I don’t trust the system not to screw this up, but her student aid report confirms it. Definitely an important development on this journey.

Oh yeah, #RVA in the house! 😉


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