The Bitter

With the decision now made now there’s all kinds of stuff to deal with. I need to get her enrolled in the new school, unenrolled from the new school, I need to reach in my purse and figure out the financial part of this investment and I need to help Hope figure out what she’s going to do with her hair while she’s away. More on that later because it’s a doozy.

As Hope was going through the motions of her decision last weekend, one of the conversations that we had centered around how there’s no perfect decision. Most decisions have an element of bitter that goes with the sweet. In this case, going to the new school meant that she would be leaving her marching band, not going to the band competitions with her bandmates, leaving the one or two friends she had behind. The trade off was being in a better academic environment with a band that does appearances in big parades that are sometimes on TV.

I thought that we would have a bit of time before the bitterness of her decision made itself known, but seeing as we adults can sometimes just be trash, the bitter taste was nearly immediate.

I decided that I would not take Hope out of her home school until the contract had been signed for the new school, because, you know I have some sense. Also, with Hope still enrolled in her home school she would be able to go to marching band camp this month. She would miss the last week of camp because we are going on vacation, but I looked at the vacation as a transitional time for her. In going to band camp, she would have a bit of time with her bandmates, she would be able to coach and mentor the new freshmen who were joining the band, and she would have some time with her favorite teacher (also her only black male teacher she’s had in 5 grades with me). I encouraged her to be mindful of her role in planning the marching since she would be a missing bass drum in a few weeks and the band needed to accommodate that.

Meanwhile, I was in communication with the guidance counselor and had made an appointment for the upcoming week to get the enrollment stuff taken care of.

Hope told her friends that she would be moving on to a new school and seemed to relish the attention around having made such a big decision. As she was finalizing her decision, she talked about it with her band teacher who flatly responded, “And?”

I know that Hope had really already made her decision by the time this conversation occurred, but I know that the response was hurtful and was probably that last little nudge for her to choose to move on.

By Friday morning I received an email from the band teacher asking if it was true that Hope would be attending a different school in September. After I told him yes, but I hadn’t started the enrollment process and no changes had been made, he responded by dismissing Hope from the marching band. He went so far as to ask me to stop what I was doing to come pick her up immediately because she couldn’t be on campus.

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I was stunned.

This teacher is Hope’s favorite teacher. He and his colleague teacher at the middle school have been the only stabilizing academic forces she’s had since she arrived here more than 4 years ago. He’s been one of few people of color and the only man of color teacher she’s had. He’s been kind to her, advocated for her and been genuine in his interest in helping her be successful.

Until this week.

This week he hurt her feelings and kicked her out of the one thing that has really motivated her during her high school years.

I refused to pick her up and told him that the humane and right thing to do would be to talk to her and give her a chance to say goodbye to her band friends. He reluctantly agreed.

By the time I picked her up she was In a bit of shock. As the hours passed and the grief set in, I saw her deny that he dismissed her, get angry because she felt like she was being punished, want to email to negotiate swinging by next week to help out with the freshmen without actually being “in band camp,” being really sad about how she was treated both when she mentioned it to him early in the week and after he knew she was leaving, reaching out to some newbies on snapchat to give advice for the drumline, and finally concluding that she made the right decision to go to a new school since it was clear that her teacher really didn’t give an ish about her anyway.

I’m grateful that she had therapy right after band practice, and I was shocked to see her go through the stages in mere hours. I was also proud that she never questioned her decision to go to the new school. I was so hurt to see her question the whole of her connection with her teacher due to this rejection. This weekend she’s wallowing. She might’ve moved through the grief stages, but she’s still grieving.

This is the bitter, and it kinda sucks.

I’m planning to have a “nice” (not really) chat with the band teacher, the counselor and the principal this week to talk about how this was handled. The reality is that it just didn’t have to be this way. I’ve looked up the regs and he was wrong since my daughter is still a student in the county, our intentions to withdraw, notwithstanding. Oh and in epic mixed messaging he told her she could attend camp for two more days—no doubt there’s some benefit to the band to having her there. I no longer trust that the invitation is for her benefit. The whole thing is just a mess with a lot of hurt feelings.

In the meantime, we’ve got a bunch of other lesser bitter stuff to wrestle with as we prepare for a rapid transition over the next couple of weeks.

Stay tuned.

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The School Decision

Wow, thank you to so many of you for weighing in on Hope’s big decision about where to attend high school this fall. This last week has just been amazing. In giving her complete autonomy over this major life decision, I witnessed my daughter’s transformation. I’m awestruck by her process.

Honestly, when she broached the subject of revisiting her decision a week ago, I’m also shocked at how easily I was able to just step back and give her the space to think about her options. I genuinely no longer was deeply vested in one school or the other. I was just committed to supporting Hope make a decision she would be confident in moving forward. As I begin to reflect on this last week, I will always, always be focused on the decision process rather than the decision. It’s the process that gave me such an amazing glimpse of who Hope has become and her big picture potential.

So, it’s like when Lebron was on ESPN announcing that he was moving to Miami, right?

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It certainly feels like it.

So, without further ado, I’m delighted to announce that Hope will be enrolling in boarding school in just a few short weeks.

By Sunday evening, it was starting to become clear that she was leaning in this direction, but by Monday she had fully committed. With the decision now made she is reveling in all the imminent changes. There’s minimal anxiety, more excitement than fear and so much pride in sharing her news with her friends and teachers.

I’ve got to make a lot of magic happen in a very short period of time since we will be going on an extended vacation in less than two weeks, and she will almost immediately report to school when we return stateside. I’m just basking in her excitement at the moment, but thoughts about what does the extended empty nest really mean for me are tinging the edges of my consciousness. Not in a bad way, but my gut tells me that this move is really a game changer. My gut tells me that when Hope returns after graduation she will have really found her sea legs and will be launching a little sooner rather than later. So random thoughts about what this next phase of parenting will look like and how will I document it float gingerly through my mind. There are other happy developments happening in my life that will no doubt fill some of the time Hope’s departure will create, but it won’t be parenting her, cooking for her, harassing her about laundry or cleaning her bathroom. The daily rigors of parenting have become such a part of my life and I haven’t really had much time to think about what it would look like if her departure was extended. I think I might be in a bit of shock.

I’m so excited for this next chapter, even not having any friggin idea what shape it will take.

So, yeah, Hope is morphing from an Eagle (home school) to a Yellow Jacket (new school, with an insect that she’s terrified of) in just a couple of short weeks, and we are ecstatic!!!!!


How the Decision Process is Going

It’s been a really interesting weekend. Hope is doing things I’ve never seen her do before.

She’s making pro and con lists.

She’s reaching out to classmates at both schools and parsing out the good advice from the not so good advice.

She’s asking me to check the blog comments and votes (she’s incredibly grateful for all of your contributions and comments!).

During her therapy appointment, she talked about her options with AbsurdlyHotTherapist.

She’s thinking about her future in ways I’ve never seen her do before.

She is researching. She’s making a question list to send to the boarding school for more information.

Whatever her decision, I’m seeing her do what I saw her do throughout the summer program: Rise to the occasion.

Talk about stepping up: She’s organized, thinking critically, asking questions and shouldering a huge decision.

Every few hours I make a point to remind her of a couple of key considerations:

  • I want her to prioritize her happiness.
  • This decision isn’t just about academics; it’s also about emotional needs and that one is not more important than the other.
  • There is a chance for a do-over. We could figure out how to make it work if it comes to that.
  • Don’t fret about the financial consideration—that’s a mom issue and I got it under control.
  • I and Yappy will miss her like crazy.
  • I will also make sure that if she chooses to go to the boarding school that she can still make it to a few of the football games at her home school if she wants to go.
  • I’m happy to also invest in a private online language courses in Korean if she goes to the boarding school since they don’t offer it there and I know she wants to keep up with her language development.
  • I will never, ever abandon her. I’m her ride or die, no matter what, where or why.

It has been a stressful weekend for Hope. This has been the biggest decision she’s been faced with since deciding about wanting to be adopted. It is weighing on her. So today, we’re going to do some fun things to take our minds off of the choice that has to be made.

In all though, it’s all good. I’m happy with how the process is shaking out; so much so, I’m really not focused on the decision. I’m really into just Hope’s immediate emotional needs.

Some of you posed some questions and comments in the comments of my last post that I’ll address below!

Do we have a school selected?
Yes, Hope attended a lovely military academy about 80 miles away from our home in Northern Virginia. It’s in the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, on a small but beautiful campus. The school is very small, just 350 students in the high school total with about a third or so in residence. I hadn’t even heard of the school 6 months ago, but I’ve been wowed by the support they offer, the responsiveness, the racial and ethnic diversity and their commitment to excellence. Of course, at that price, they should be, but it’s definitely a good school. They know what they’re doing there. I do wish it was close enough for day school, but 80 miles is just too far.

Can she switch mid-year?
Yes, but only in one direction. She can go from the boarding school back to the home school, but not the other way around. I’ve told Hope that if after the first quarter or semester it’s really not working out, she can come and finish up at her home school.

Decisions of the Head and Heart
Several readers have noted that this is a decision of both the head and the heart. That point has really resonated with us. Thank you for framing it that way! I’ve tried to impress upon Hope that it’s totally valid to want to just be home. Home is critical; home is especially important when it’s been elusive for periods of your life. A decision that is centered on home and everything that comes with it is a valid decision, and it even might be the best decision.

What about accountability and can it be replicated at home?
To some degree yes, but I simply can’t replicate what they do at the boarding school. I don’t think I could do it here with the best planning and execution, and I especially don’t think I can replicate it as a single parent. One, my work/management style is just not as rigid as what is offered there. At heart I’m a creative; I know that I don’t thrive in that kind of environment and my ability to construct that kind of home is just…nonexistent. The home school is a good school, but with a couple thousand students, they don’t have the time or resources to create the structure that Hope seems to crave and thrive in. What’s been interesting about this summer experience is that Hope has started considering a possible military career because the structure and direction just works for her. It makes me proud and scared shi%less.

Counseling by phone?
AbsurdlyHotTherapist is totally down with this. We would also schedule her appointments on the weekend when she can have in-person therapy as well. Of course, he has declined to offer an opinion, but is delighted that we’re considering options and how well Hope is doing self-managing through her decision-making process.

Small college in the future?
The plan was always to do community college for the first two years and transfer. This decision potentially changes the trajectory of the future. Actually, I think no matter what decision is made, the future path has evolved. I wanted Hope to do community college, so she would have more time at home before launching, but her transfer school would definitely have been a small, liberal arts style school. We’ve actually considered a few over the last year or so to visit.

Now of course, Hope is seeing a wider range of possibilities including going straight into the military, going to a small college first and going into the military as an officer, launching straight from boarding school, still sticking to the original plan. I’m delighted that she sees choices. One of our big values in our home is that choices equal freedom. You want to have choices, and you want to create scenarios where you have the best choices available to you. Hope sees what she needs to do where ever she chooses to go to get the widest array of choices. So, we’ll see!

We’ll make an announcement when a decision is made! Thanks to so many of you for weighing in. We both really appreciate it!


In a Stunning Turn of Events…

Hope is reconsidering boarding school. She acknowledges that she thrived there academically and that it provides all the stuff she needs to be successful except being at home. She seems to really want to go.

So, at Hope’s request, she’d love all of you good folks to weigh in. That’s right, Hope has asked me to crowdsource votes on going to boarding school vs. her home school.

Some considerations to consider…

Home school offers

  • Her band
  • Her counselor
  • Social connections (friends might be a stretch, but kids she knows)
  • Routine
  • Being at home with me and Yappy
  • Time *away* from school

Boarding school offers

  • Smaller classes
  • Fewer classes
  • A lot of structure
  • A different kind of routine
  • Opportunities for travel
  • Opportunities to come home for respite

Sure, there’s a lot of other stuff both offer in terms of emotional needs and wants, but these are the things she’s focused on this weekend. We hope to make a final decision and let both schools know by Tuesday COB! Sooooo…vote! 😊

We’ll report back early next week!  Thanks for weighing in!

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The Final Tally

 

 


More than a Mom

Women fill so many societal roles. I mean, you know, we are society’s backbone. We work, we bear children (at least some of us do), we raise children, we are partners, we are matriarchs, we are badasses.

We are multidimensional.

I’ve thought about this a lot since becoming Hope’s mother. I’ve been thoughtful and deliberate about role modeling womanhood for her, and especially mindful about modeling Black womanhood for her. I’ve also tried to be thoughtful about my “image” as a mother. While mothering Hope has been the center of my life the last four years, I’ve tried to hang on to other aspects of my identity. I’m still a hard worker. I’m still a professional. I’m still a friend (well less time to hang out, but still). I’m still a sister. For three years, I was a loving partner to E. I am more than a mom.

Of course, what this looks like on a daily basis is pretty fluid. Eight hours of work, 90+ minutes of commuting, getting a kid up and out to school and feeding and caring for said kid in the evenings sucks up an enormous amount of time. I haven’t been as available to friends the last few years and since splitting with E, dating was something that wasn’t even on the back burner—it didn’t make the stove, despite a few efforts.

So, when I started looking at summer programs for Hope this spring, I started wondering what I would do with a possible empty nest for a few weeks. I wondered whether my life would look like it did pre-Hope with regular happy hours and brunches, Friday nights with friends, and regular dating. I thought about what it might be like to rejuvenate other areas of my life.

It’s kind of hard to be honest. Life goes on you know? Everyone is evolving and four years…well, you can graduate high school in four years, college in four years, do a bit in the military in four years. A lot happens in four years. Time definitely doesn’t stand still for anyone.

With this summer program, I got about four weeks to figure out how to breathe some life in to…my life. Don’t get me wrong; the whole time I’ve been parenting I’ve been living. I’ve really started traveling again. I’ve made some new friends. I’ve made huge strides in my professional life. Still, with Hope away, there was some time and space created to focus on me. #selfcare

Of course, the first week after Hope enrolled, I could barely get off the couch I was so stinking exhausted! #parentingisexhausting Then I got a bit of my groove back.

A few days in to this break, I was chatting up a good neighbor and close friend about my plan for this #respitesummer; I was shocked when she kind of shut me down with a smile.

“But you’re a mom!!! You’re not supposed to be doing all this stuff.”

Wait, what?

All this stuff would be…um, living. Dinners and drinks out, partaking in a little extra fun in Denver where certain things are legal, dating, which feels incredibly hard after a few years out of the game.

I love my friend, so you know, don’t bash her, but I was shocked that she saw me so differently than I see myself after four years of parenting. I went from full woman to mom with a limited world framework in her eyes. That hurt.

I pushed back on her comments; she admitted that maybe she was a little strong, but still insisted that she just saw me as a “mom” these days.

Girl…You mean to tell me that you only see this?

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I mean, I do this…but…

When I’m trying to get to some mom-inclusive version of this?

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Yassss! #goals

 

I frowned.

So, I’ve just lost all the other stuff that makes me…me? I mean, I know the mom identity is strong, but I thought I was kinda managing the other identities a little bit. At that moment, I felt like I apparently was really failing at this womanhood thing if I was “just” seen by my good friends as a “mom” now and not a well-rounded woman.

My edgy haircut with currently aquamarine-colored locks didn’t buy me any woman street cred? My efforts at the gym to make sure that my body makes me feel good and look nice in the clothes I want to wear was just eh? The work I do that brings me a lot of fulfillment is just something I do during the day while I’m really supposed to be focusing on Pinterest recipes to feed my kid?

I’ve been wrestling with the conversation ever since. I don’t think my friend meant to send me in a tailspin, but I do think that she probably spit some life truths about how women are seen in society (even how we see ourselves and prop up the patriarchy simultaneously…another day for that). Sometimes we don’t get to be more than a mom in other people’s eyes. We don’t get to be creative beyond potty training and teaching cursive. We don’t get to care about our relationships with other adults. We don’t get to romanticize our partnerships because they exist to propel a family and not for our own fulfillment. We don’t get to be sexual beings, because “Eww gross you’re a mom.” We don’t get to be bosses at work because the real work is in the home.

I’m suddenly acutely aware that despite all of the progress made around womanhood, feminism and womanism and all of the things I do besides mother Hope that some people see me as “just” a mom and heap on a lot of limitations as a result. This shouldn’t be shocking and in my line of work it is a “duh” moment, but this interaction with my friend just made is such a salient point for me that I’ve been ruminating on it ever since.

I’m not sure where the breakpoints are between ways I’ve may have pulled back and where I was pushed back in the last few years. The conversation has me reflecting a lot…

I tried to cram in a lot of experiences before Hope came home. In fact, I’m just going to totally spin into this curve; I’m really going to try to achieve more balance in my womanly life through the end of this year. I LOVE being Hope’s mom; I do. And it is incredibly important to me, one of my highest priorities for sure. But I’m more than Hope’s mom. I’m eager to resurrect a few more aspect of my identity as Hope begins to transition to adulthood. I’m committed to being well-rounded and to living life well.

I’m grateful for the conversation with my friend, even though it was kind of ishttay, but it was definitely the motivation I needed to buck up and live.


What to Do

Hope is only a little over a week away from completing her time in her summer program. I believe this has been a good experience for her. She seems to be a bit more independent and a little more confident. Her grades are good; though they’ve dipped a little bit with the last couple of tests. It’s likely she will finish with an A in both of her classes.

She seems to thrive in the highly structured environment. She has places to be, things to do. She seems to have embraced the structure and the opportunities to be active and engaged. She seems…healthier, emotionally and physically.

Yeah, I think it’s been a good experience. I look forward to hearing her true thoughts on her experiences when she gets home next week.

Up until this week I was really, seriously thinking about whether it might be best to enroll Hope at this school for the full school year. I see the possibilities for her to be really successful there. Sure, I think academically it would be good for her, but I really think that highly structured, small classes with low student to teacher ratios really works well for her. Her confidence is just higher, and I know its related to being in an environment that helps her be successful. I joked to some colleagues that I would embrace paying the equivalent of a year of private college to send her.

And then I really, really got to thinking: Did I really want to send my daughter away to school?

Well, no. I don’t. I worry about that; I want her to do well and feel good about doing well. I also want stability for her. Being home with me has been the most stability she’s had in years. She’s been able to go to the same school with the same kids for years now, a few of whom she met her first weeks after placement. She’s got her own room, a routine, a mom and a dog who adore her. She has a home, after not having had one for a good chunk of her childhood. She has permanence and that’s got to have a lot of weight in this decision.

This week Hope confided in me that she was torn about her academic future. She sees the opportunities this school offers and what that means for her life. She feels how much people care there and how she doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. She is seeing glimpses of her bright future with this kind of experience under her belt and the kinds of skills she develops while she’s there. That’s just what I wanted for her.

But Hope also sees being somewhere that resembles an institution, that doesn’t intentionally fix her favorite foods or makes a special trip to get Korean ramen at the international grocery. She sees starting over again at a new place which is really triggering for a kid who moved around a lot. She misses getting a hug from mom and seeing my family text stream that includes funny family vignettes and pictures of her and her cousins doing funny things that my sisters and I often trade about our kids. She misses her own bathroom and sometimes just having unstructured time.

She misses home, and I miss her.

And so, here we are, weighing all this stuff against the decision to be made. Oh, and never mind that I’ll probably have to dip into my retirement to send her to school and order a case or two of cat food for my future dinner options.

A couple of weeks ago, I think I would be moving heaven and earth to give her this educational opportunity. Now, I’m thinking that the stability of home utterly blasts the structure of the boarding school. I want her to have this year to continue attaching, emotionally snuggling with me. I know this is so important to both of us.

I would love to recreate the experience for her locally; heck I even wish having her go to this school for the day program was a viable option, but it’s not. It’s just too far at 80 miles one way. So, we’re really in a go or stay quandary.

And so, we’ll talk about it; I want to know what Hope really thinks. I want her to be a part of the decision. I want us to really decide what’s best together.

 


Summer Respite

Hope is away at her summer program. She is thriving. Her grades are fantastic. She sounds a lot more confident. Her teachers say she’s a delight. She’s navigating social situations a bit better, and she is getting lots of exercise. She has a little crush on a cute classmate. She refuses to admit it, but she seems to be having a great time.

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I’m delighted and relieved.

As for me, well, this time with Hope away has been interesting. The first few days after dropping her off I felt almost a little lost. Like, Oh, wow, I don’t need to wake her up so I can keep going with my workouts. Oh, I can have cereal for dinner because I don’t need to make sure there’s a real meal available for my kid. Oh, there’s way less laundry. It was really a reminder of what life was like before Hope, which often I have a hard time remembering.

The first few days I also was EXHAUSTED. I mean, like bone tired. Like I hadn’t slept in years tired. I could barely get myself off of the couch. I ate my favorite foods, drank a lot of yummy things and just rested. Take away message, parenting is hard and exhausting, and self-care is important.

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So, we’re well into the second week now and Hope is doing just fine and I’m finally starting to stretch a bit. As a part of this summer respite I’ve focused on resting, connecting with old friends, trying to make some new friends (hello dating apps) and getting a lot more exercise. I’m also not writing as much because I’m busy trying to get out there and live. I’m headed away on a business trip tomorrow for a few days. I had to make arrangements for Yappy, but Hope is away at school so I’m literally packing and walking out of the house. I haven’t been able to do that in years.

I’m expecting that when she comes home at the end of the program I’ll be really refreshed.

I’ll also be glad. I do miss her. The house is missing her energy. It’s a little empty around here; it’s certainly a lot cleaner since things are exactly where I last left them. I am enjoying grabbing something simple for dinner, but I miss meal planning for her and fixing some of her favorite foods. When she was home for a few hours this past weekend seeing how much Yappy also missed her just warmed my heart.

We’ve got a couple more weeks. I’ve got a lot of resting and living to do during this time. This has definitely been a lesson in the importance of self-care and respite.


Summer School

Yesterday I dropped Hope off at summer school.

It was kind of surreal. I got a taste of what my parents must’ve felt when they took me to my first summer program years ago. I went to a two-week writing program at Hampton University. I remember packing up the car with my things, arriving and watching my mom look around my dorm room with a bit of disdain about my living conditions. She and Daddy were at least happy that we had air conditioning.

I remember my parents looking around at how far the boys’ dorm was from the girls’ dorm. I recall them asking about the course schedule and fretting about whether I would be ok.

I’m now convinced that they were worried about whether they would be ok.

As I helped Hope lug her stuff to her dorm room and unpack I was really struggling to keep my emotions in check. In the week before move in, I realized just how much I’m going to miss my beautiful girl. I spent time indulging her with favorite foods, sweets, cuddles with Yappy and me on the couch. I hugged her, kissed her cheek and just loved on her.  By the time Hope used her key card to open her dorm door I was sporadically holding my breath. I was excited to give her this opportunity at something more. I felt worried about whether she’d like the food and if she’d make friends. I had mixed emotions about her not having a roommate but thought having her own space might be nice sometimes. I was happy she had her weighted blanket. I was miffed that she forgot her pillow and a few other things, even though I knew we would need to make a Walmart run because…don’t you always need to make a Wallyworld run when you move into a dorm?

I knew I would miss her so much. I knew Yappy would also look for her like he did this morning.

In the couple of days before move in, Hope just…sank. I knew she wasn’t excited about going, that there was a lot of anxiety about it and that my daughter was just resigned to go since I didn’t give her any other options once she was admitted. To see her withdraw broke my heart and I began to question my decision.

Oh, she was still going, but I wondered if sending her to an academic boarding program would hurt us. I wondered if the return on investment would give Hope a leg up this year, increase her confidence, help her with her social skills…I don’t expect a miracle, but I definitely hope to see Hope grow some this summer, but I pray that any growth doesn’t at the expense of our relationship.

It’s funny, I sold this experience to Hope as a chance to try on a bit of what it might feel like to go away to college. What I didn’t really appreciate is that it would be a chance for me to try on an empty nest. It feels strange that she didn’t walk through the door a little after 3pm or that she wasn’t here to ask me how I slept last night, something genuine and endearing she does every single day. It was strange to buy groceries for one after all this time.

I’m eager to hear from her tonight. I want to know how the first day was, how the food is, does she get along with her suitemate. I’m also hopeful that she’s having such a great evening, that she doesn’t get around to calling or texting me before lights out.

It’s all awesome and sucky all at the same time.


What about the Children

I’m traveling this week and trying to keep up with the horrors of the day in bits and pieces. I’m struggling emotionally with all I’m seeing, so bear with me in this post.

I’m heartbroken and I’m angry. And I’m really having a hard time with the frequent defenses I’m seeing that “these are criminals, and we remove kids from criminals in the US” narrative.

Ok, there are legitimate reasons why children may, and sometimes should be, at least temporarily, removed from parents care. Without question, there are criminal acts for which removal of a child is expected and assumed. This is done for the *child’s* safety and interests, not as a punitive action against the parent. Why? Because we recognize that the biological family bond is important. This is why foster care and adoption is *supposed* to be child-focused, child-centered.

Personally, I’m having a hard time believing that parents who are bringing their children when seeking asylum or simply risking illegal border crossing and residency for a better life are the types of ‘criminals’ we think of when considering immediate child removal. This is not child-focused or child-centered. This is punitive for everyone involved, and this does not center the health, care or well-being of children. Yes, I recognize that there is an adult that needs to be processed/dealt with (preferably in a humane and respectful way), but the children…how families are handled should prioritize the needs of the children. Children should be with their families of origin, whenever, possible: full stop.

When layering on other demographic features like color and poverty, it becomes easier for Americans’ latent, but often overt, racist tendencies to embrace child removal, since the US has always been quick to consider punitive measures when those race and poverty come into play. Don’t even get me listing all the ways this country…my country that I still love…has purposefully broken up families of color. White supremacy is a helluva drug.

I am not in favor of open borders; yes, I do think that we can and should do something humane about immigration—some of that has to do with our global work and positioning in the global economy and less to do with the building of a wall. But we are failing kids. We have become incredibly good, sickeningly so, at failing Black and brown kids in this country; we now seem to be willing to spread that failure, triggering more trauma, more mental health issues, more problems.

Prioritize the needs of kids. They should always be at the center of the discussion and the decision-making. When we do that we will make better decisions.

Can we do that? Will we do that?


Muscle Memory

I had a long drive to Philly today for work, so I got my podcast situation straight and got to listening. I cued up a recent episode of The Longest Shortest Time which featured the host of another show I listen to, Reveal, with Al Letson. It was an interesting story, but what struck me was when Letson talked about moving after a divorce and having several kids move with him and having to parent alone. He shared that in the early days he felt that he was juggling a lot and at night he sometimes cried because it was so hard; it was great, but it was excruciatingly hard. He noted that he kept at it and built some muscle memory around parenting.

Ah, that resonated: Muscle memory around parenting.

I felt like crying so much those first few months of parenting Hope. Honestly, I don’t remember crying a lot, just feeling like I was constantly on the verge of tears. I was pulled in a lot of directions; there was so much to do and I was doing it alone. It was hard.

There was the day to day stuff. Making sure Hope got to and from school—she was pretty skittish so I had to take her to school; then I got her in an after school program that of course she hated . Then I had to feed her; we fought a bit over food. I didn’t keep much teen friendly food in the house at first and frankly didn’t want to bring it in either. There were rules that I needed to create and enforce while still figuring out what the eff ‘connected parenting’ was.

There were spoken and unspoken expectations of family and friends that just couldn’t be met, and that felt like failure because I just couldn’t figure out how to do that and parent.

Homework. Testing. Getting up, keeping a schedule, going to work, being productive.  Coming home, caring for geriatric dog who was not to keen on the familial interloper.

Insomnia.

Oh, yeah, finishing my dissertation.

Epic mental health crash, that was essentially a reset button a month into this new family thing.

Emergence of birth family.

Absurdly Hot Therapist who was nearly hard to look at (it’s like looking at the sun!), but an amazing therapist so I stuck it out.

Finding a psychiatrist and a dentist for Hope—Oh, wisdom teeth removal and braces? Check.

Glasses, lost/broken glasses. The brief, yet expensive, flirtation with contact lenses.

There was always something. ALWAYS. It never let up. None of it was gradual. I had to show I was doing all this stuff to a social worker ahead of finalization.

I was an effing zombie who wanted to cry, but had no time. I just had to keep going. I took a fair amount of Ativan during that period. It helped…immensely.

And as Letsen said, it got easier. It wasn’t that there were fewer things to do; I just found my rhythm. I got the hang of it and developed some Mom Muscle.

Parenting is a daily workout and I had to go from puny punk to being in a heavyweight boxer title fight practically overnight. It was excruciating. There is no way I really could have prepared for it. People ask parents-to-be that absurd question all the time, “Are you ready?”

Of course not. You think you are; you’re ready to jump in and figure it out, but skill set? Nah, this is an on the job situation.

I was chatting with someone recently who talked about her future parenting plans. I saw so much of myself 5 years ago in that conversation. I didn’t offer much commentary, and I tried not to say, You HAVE NO IDEA!!! I would’ve smirked and dismissed anyone who tried to tell me even a fraction of the stuff I now know to be true about parenting, especially parenting a child from a hard place.

I don’t think I’m a particularly good parent; I do ok. I’ve provided a safe, supportive environment for Hope with lots of love, support and hopefully great opportunities. I have kept her fed and clothed and progressing in school. I’ve read to and with her; defended her, talked with her, cooked with her, did homework with her. I’ve sat at her sick bedside and held my tongue at the bedside when she was seeking attention. I’ve attend awful, passable and actually decent band performances. Quality has vastly improved, but no lies: I still hate them.

As my and Hope’s experiences grew, I managed to remember some things that worked before and things that didn’t get us to the desired outcome. My decision trees became more defined, and I managed not to screw up nearly as much, much to my and Hope’s relief.

I finally feel like I have the hang of things, and of course, Hope and I are facing new challenges. I have a bigger back of tricks and skills now so I feel more prepared for the unknown than I did before. I don’t anticipate too many tears (from either of us), but who knows.

If you’re on the front end of this journey to instant parenthood, especially with an older kid, you aren’t alone. It’s ok. You’ll be ok; you’ll find your mojo. Just keep plugging away.

Also, it’s ok to sit in your shower with wine and snacks and cry. Totally normal. It’s part of you’re parenting workout—a rest day/moment—that is essential to your ability to build that parenting muscle. I can’t say that the individual challenges get easier, but your ability to face them will. I do think that there is a bit more social space for single parents to talk about how rough the transition to parenthood is; it’s assumed to be harder, lonelier. I’m guessing that it’s hard and sometimes lonely for most parents.

Just know that you got this. Give yourself some grace and dust yourself off and keep going.

Get your parent workout on.


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