More Than Love?

An interesting article was posted yesterday to the Today show’s website: Life After Adoption: Is Love Enough?

The essay is an autobiographical account of an adoptive mom who struggled to raise her son who was deeply affected by a traumatic past. Her essay posited that love simply is not enough when you are trying to help a child heal from their past.

Micah Johnson, host of the radio show, Unscripted, tweeted me, and others, this morning to ask if “is love enough” in adoption?

I started to tweet back and realized that I would be responding in like 100 tweets, so I figured I’d just turn it into a post on my own blog.

Is love enough in adoption?

Well, it depends on how we’re talking about love and how it’s expressed.

My short answer is no, it’s not enough. Managing my life with Hope at times is a second job filling the role of caseworker. There are appointments to be made, emails to write and follow up with, doctors to consult with, therapists to consult with, new therapeutic approaches to research, school social workers to touch base with and teachers to get together because they don’t understand what’s going on with my daughter.

It’s another job, and not an easy one. Right now, I’m finally breaking down and considering horse therapy for Hope—forget about the expense—I’m trying to figure out therapeutic goals, timing, and logistics to just get my daughter to an appointment once or twice a week at a facility that’s 40 miles away. But I think it will make a difference, so I gotta figure it out.

I think of it all like a project management situation. At times I have to be very clinical about the whole thing because if I let myself feel too much of the emotion of why Hope needs whatever it is that she needs or the secondary trauma that sometimes I catch because of the drama, I can’t make it all happen. I have to compartmentalize the ugly, heavy emotional stuff so I can get her therapeutic needs met.

It’s easy to compartmentalize all of the project/case management as separate from love for my daughter, but I make it happen because I love her.

It’s not more than love, it’s part of the way I express my love for her. Is it different than me packing her lunch, which I do every day? Well, not really. Is it different that typical parenting stuff like picking her up from band practice? Meh. The truth is: all this stuff is the kind of parenting my daughter needs and I do it because I love her and want her to have the opportunity to grow into her best self.

It’s extra, and it looks like more than just the hug and kiss that I get from her before school in the morning, but this is our version of a ‘normal’ loving home.

My love requires some extra stuff, and my love has required me to learn about stuff I never anticipated needing to know. This love has demanded different kinds of activities of me in supporting her. The needs were different, so the responses were different. This love can break my heart repeatedly as I try to help Hope. The love hurts sometimes. It sometimes even appears counterproductive. But in the end, it’s all love.

No, it doesn’t mean I love her more than other people love their kids or that I get extra heaven points (they would be nice tho!); it just means that loving Hope looks and feels different than loving a kid who wasn’t exposed to trauma and loss, among other things.

So, the answer to the question for me is, yes, love is enough but it just looks different, its demands are different and sometimes how it even makes me feel is very different.

And that’s ok.

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Weeping May Endure

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning…

I drafted this post a few days ago. I am no longer weeping, but I wouldn’t say “joy” has settled in either. Hope and I are deep into the regular weekly schedule, and we are very tender. We are both in better places. We are at least a few steps above where we were on the day I wrote this. We are fortunate that these moments don’t last always. We are seriously still having a rough time, but I am on working on getting my mojo back.

Today is a bad day. A very bad day for me emotionally. I’m guessing it’s probably been a challenging day for Hope too.

But for real, I care, but I don’t. I’m so far in my feelings today that, um, yeah, I’m totally being self-absorbed today.

I’m tired. I’m so tired of fighting to keep us alive, reasonably functional and moving forward. It feels like my life is a giant mule that has decided that it isn’t doing a damn thing ever again. And today, I’m exhausted from dragging, pushing, and pulling it along.

This weekend was a three day weekend. A couple of weeks ago, I fancied taking Hope and Grammy to New York for an overnight in the city. I dreamed of doing some sightseeing, having a lovely dinner and just enjoying all that girl time together. But as with everything in my life these days, I feel like the weekend snuck up on me and it arrived with no plans.

I pivoted and thought, “Hey, it’s been a rough few weeks, why don’t we just take it easy.” I’ve been dealing with some reemergent pain from my accident so a low key weekend wouldn’t be so bad right?

Ha!

How about face masks and manicures? Foot dragging.

How about a streaming movie? Nonstop complaints.

How about brunch? Nah.

How about….? No.

I ran my errands, got some exercise to stave off the pain a bit, popped some meds and settled into binge watch The Mindy Project. I had plenty of time to get invested. Hope sat in and watched a few episodes; we were in the same room, but I wouldn’t say we had a shared experience.

It was a pretty lonely weekend and if I’m completely honest, I felt pretty rejected.

I had a lot of trouble sleeping because of my pain, but I resolved this morning to liven things up, get us out of the house and have a little fun on our Monday off.

Yeah, all of that came crashing down before 9am.

I thought, hey let me call my stylist and let her get a quick wash and set and then we can get our manis today. Hope shut me down with her own song and dance about her stylist’s instructions.

By the time it all went down I was trigger happy and spun off into a mad, sad, depressed, sulky spiral that, frankly continues.

I’m mad that I feel like I “wasted” a weekend waiting around for my daughter to do something with me that might seem like quality time. I was sad that she was clear that she would somehow hold up the battle of the hair dressers as a trust thing when God knows she never follow’s her hair dresser’s instructions for hair care. I was offended that she would rebuff my offers to go do stuff together—especially the hair thing because I don’t pay to get her hair done (see doesn’t take care of hair reference above). I was pissy about the fact that laundry takes her 87 hours to do two loads because it just does and it pisses me off and I knew once she started that there was no hope of trying to salvage the day. Frankly, I was just a messy, emotional tinderbox and this morning was a match.

I’ve been fighting past my own human emotions to keep us going. I don’t get the luxury of feeling a lot of the time. Today I wish I just hadn’t allowed those emotions to settle in and rise to the surface.

I am tired, and hurt, and angry and tired, and sad, and tired, and hurt and I find myself hating the people who hurt her, hating the system that didn’t help her enough, being angry with myself for just not figuring out the right pieces at the right time. And while I adore my daughter, I would give my very life for her I do not like her very much right now. #keepingitallthewayreal  And before anyone thinks that my daughter and I don’t talk about how we love each other but sometimes we don’t like each other—we talk about that A LOT both in and out of therapy. I will probably like her again in a few hours…because…she’s my kid and I do adore her.

I find myself just wishing I had kept pushing forward instead of feeling all of this today. It’s just too much and the energy in our home is just icky.  My marbles are splayed all over the floor. Sigh…it sucks.

It. Just. Sucks.


Changes, My Guest Post

I recently had the joy of having a piece published on Michelle Madrid-Branch’s website. In the article called, Changes, I took some time to think about how I have changed and what I’ve learned on my journey as an adoptive parent. You can find a link to the article below!

While you’re there, be sure to check out other posts and links on her pages! She’s pretty awesome! 😊

Changes by AdoptiveBlackMom

Seriously


We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties,

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile,
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

~~~Paul Laurence Dunbar

I used to have this poem hanging in my office as a reminder to visitors that sometimes we hide our feelings to just get through. As a diversity professional, I am constantly, intentionally exposing myself to emotional ish in order to help people move to the next level of inclusion. Consequently, I wear a mask.

A lot.

This poem kept me up really late one night this week. I couldn’t get it off my mind because of something Hope said to me. Essentially, my daughter wears a mask.

She wears a mask to get through every day, and it exhausts her.

Hope is an amazing young woman, and there are days when I simply marvel at her. There are other days when I see the turmoil on her face, but the reality is that on most days, she’s really, really good at hiding it.

Having been a long-time depression sufferer, my own mask is worn as much as to protect me as it is to motivate me. My own intrinsic motivation wills me to get through things and wills me to just fake it and it will get better.

I recognize that most people wear their masks for everyone else’s benefit. Who wants to be around a person who is wearing their suffering? The self-protection mechanism is such that if you desperately want to be around people, you just try to keep it together and conform so that they won’t be put off by you. You drag out your mask and hide all the ish behind it.

I feel like Hope and I are in a battle for her life right now. I see her; I see her working so hard to keep it together. I see her fighting so hard to get to a place that doesn’t hurt so much. She does take her mask off with me; sometimes not all the way, but enough for me to know what’s lurking underneath.

On the one hand, I’m so relieved that Hope trusts me enough to lower her defenses, her shields, but on the real…I feel helpless. I feel like I’m doing everything I can, everything I can think of to help shepherd her to a healthier place, but it isn’t helping the way we need it to.

That helplessness has got me feeling like I must wear a mask too. I mean, who goes around sharing that their kid is just struggling to keep it together, which means that you’re struggling to keep it together too. Who wants to see your eyes after you’ve sat in the bathroom sobbing and urgently praying for 10 minutes because you know the path this could all go down? Who do you trust, besides other parents walking in these shoes, with this kinda thing because most folks Just. Don’t. Get. It.

So, you both put on your oxygen masks in the morning and try to make it through another day.

I try to model authenticity for Hope. I try to use ‘good’ communication skills; I try to ask for what I need. I coach her to take care of herself. I encourage her to emote, to build solid friendships so that she has some peer support. I email the health professionals and the guidance counselors, even after Hope and I have decided on a course of action. I need allies to step into the gap to help her help herself.

This week has been a huge turning point for me. I have fought the good fight on trying to make sure that the homework has been done and that school stuff was a priority. School is such a core value for me; it’s social currency, especially for black folks. But, I’m done. It’s just not worth it. Hope doesn’t need the extra pressure, and neither do I. I’m fighting for my kid’s survival. School, while still important, can’t be central to that paradigm. Healing must be the sole focus. It has to be; our future depends on it.

And so, we’ll start this week differently. We’ll go back to basics. I’ll prioritize quality time. I’ll focus on more family care, not just self-care. I’ll ask about school, but not about the work. I’ll find another doctor who can help me chase down the right pharma-combo for her. I’ll lower my mask so I can always have a clear view of Hope and her mask.

Hopefully this will be the beginning of the end for Hope’s mask.


The House is Quiet

The house is quiet tonight. Hope has been asleep since I got home from work. I kind of anticipated that; things around here are becoming increasingly predictable.

Saturday, I did my best to get my own emotional train back on the tracks. Sunday was devoted to doing what I do best and what really brings me out of the darkness: problem-solving. As I got up yesterday morning, I resolved to help Hope put together a success plan for the day and the week. I resolved to develop a boss-level meal plan for the week. I thought I might get through some of the accident related paperwork since I finally hired an attorney this week (I could write a whole post on how awful that experience was, how personal injury lawyers have earned their ambulance chasing cred and how I just figured that the slime factor was what made them good at what they do, but well, that’s the gist of it). I thought I would organize my things to do list at work so well that I would be able to blow throw the week with a lot less emotional labor than last week.

I had such big hopes and dreams. I knew there was a high probability that the most important ones (about Hope) would end in emotional drama, but I just wanted to believe I could will it to go smoothly for one day.

Yeah, my will ain’t that strong.

I focused on researching ADHD and trauma friendly study strategies. I watched a lot of videos, read some articles and came up with a plan. Hope woke up already anxious about all she had to accomplish for school in one day. #11thgradeishard I pitched my plan to help her get organized with a few changes to the way she did things. I came prepared for resistance and didn’t meet much. I helped her create a plan for the day. I told her that I would check her planner during the week to see how she’s coming along. We made an agreement; we shook on it, we smiled.

I headed off to conquer the rest of my things to do, already feeling like I was climbing out of my hole of depression and anxiety. Those were some good moments, couple of hours even…and things went to hell.

Despite finding success in the new approach to time management for a couple of tasks, Hope decided that her approach was better suited to achieve overall success. We’ve been using her approach for a couple of years now, and I have far more gray hair to show for it and well academic performance would suggest that a different approach is worth considering. Sunday slid away with very little productivity, but increasing levels of anxiety, you know, just to balance things out. By day’s end, all the homework had not been completed and I was considering biting my nails.

I made a hard decision to give away our tickets to tonight’s Katy Perry concert. It wasn’t decision about punishment; it was a decision about protecting my emotional health and weekly capacity levels. Knowing that we were already behind on school work meant it was already going to be a rough week. A break in the routine meant that another night would be loss in potential productivity. I thought about the morning meltdowns of last week with crying and late trips to school and leaving work to go pick Hope up because she just tapped out by noon. I didn’t know if I could do another week like that so soon.

So, I gave away the tickets to just take the concert out of the equation.

And a darkness fell over the household, and nothing improved. This morning Hope overslept, and apparently came home from school and just went to bed.

And me? I took Yappy to the park (our happy place). Fixed myself a healthy dinner, poured a glass of Malbec and realized that I couldn’t do any of the work I brought home from the office. Today is just a wrap.

Seriously

This is what depression and anxiety looks like for us.

For the second day my daughter is overwhelmed and ground to a halt, and the one thing I rely on to pull myself out of the darkness felt like an epic fail. Oh and we didn’t see Katy Perry in concert. I’m not mad, I’m just sad that it’s so hard to find our groove.

I have never ever hated school, never. On the roughest days of going to school, there was still something I loved about the academic stimulation. I love that I found a career in education, my work is incredibly fulfilling. But seeing school through Hope’s eyes is incredibly painful. It’s so many things that are hard about it that it feels like it’s too many to list. One of the hardest things is seeing the wheels spin on the school bus and feeling like we’ll never make the progress we fight so hard for. The other hard thing? Feeling like I can’t do enough to help Hope acquire some educational privilege to help her journey through this life as a black woman. There seems to be nothing I can do to make this easier for her, nothing.

It hurts because I want so much for her, but also because so much of my personal identity is wrapped up on being a fixer. I’m constantly reminded on this journey that I can’t *fix* Hope’s life. It’s feels really barren, useless. And while I intellectually know that that isn’t quite the reality, that’s the thing about depression. It will spin its own narrative that isn’t based in any kind of reality.

And so, the house is quiet. I have no idea if we will bounce back to our version of normal tomorrow. I know it’s late on Monday and I’m already over this week. I know that there are key dates on the immediate horizon that are major triggers for Hope. All I can do is take a deep breath, try to get enough rest, exercise and healthy food and keep pressing forward with my daughter.

I actually wish the house wasn’t this quiet.


Self-Care Saturday

If you follow me on Facebook, you know that this week was just plain raggedy. I was in the office 5 days instead of 3 (I usually telecommute 2 days a week). Hope was riddled with anxiety about school and social issues. During a diversity related conference call I was called a guerilla, but of course on the call it sounded like gorilla and in either case it was so absurdly inappropriate that I felt like I was going to come unhinged. (He legit had me thinking I was crazy.) I have more projects than I can barely manage at the moment, and the small staff with whom I have the pleasure of working are experiencing multiple crises. These folks aren’t just my co-workers, they are my friends.

I left work early to go have adult beverages with an old friend and people watch all of the peeps in town for the Congressional Black Caucus. Then I headed to Hope’s evening band performance at her high school’s football game.

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This morning I staggered to the dog park with Yappy, stopped off to pick up cookies for the marching band, threw a couple of cornrows into Hope’s hair and dropped her off at school for today’s band competition.

I spent the next 4 hours running errands for the household.

I finally came home, showered, fixed myself some lunch and sat down on my beloved couch with Yappy.

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My fatigue is so damn serious.

FATIGUE1

My mom tried to funny shame me for not signing up to chaperone Hope’s band competition today. I laughed and told her that chaperoning was not my ministry this week.

The rest of the day is about napping, watching movies, dog cuddling and maybe painting my nails…maybe. I need to vegetate. I feel like I’m just barely hanging on to functionality. I’m tapping out.

None of this is particularly special (except maybe the guerilla/gorilla thing<<<definitely special). It’s just been a really challenging week. All parents have them.

Hope is wrestling with something I can’t quite understand aright now. I’m supportive and encouraging, but I’m really just along for the ride. I fret about it, but seriously, there’s only so much I can do about it.

So, for today, I rest.

Tomorrow, I’ll try again.


It’s Awkward

I read a lot of adoptee blogs and tweets. I also listen to several adoptee podcasts, especially Adoptees On. I know that being in reunion with one’s family of birth can be complicated. There are lots of emotions. Sometimes there are secrets. Sometimes you want desperately what you simply can’t have.

Sometimes it’s easy; it’s almost seamless.

Being in reunion can be amazing; it can also be really hard.

Hope is in reunion with her extended family. It’s always been complicated. I thought it was really me; that I complicated things. Now, I’m not so sure. I have tried to provide numerous opportunities for my daughter to see and connect to her biological family. I’ve driven many miles for visits, arranged for phone calls and gifts, and just tried to keep the lines of communication open. This year, I made spring break about our whole family—hers, mine and ours.

It was hard; it was emotionally draining. There were so many big emotions on both sides, but it seemed that no one had the words to adequately verbally communicate what they were feeling and what they wanted from the other. There were tears, lots of them. I stood by with handkerchiefs and hugs.

I found myself still trying to be the bridge trying to span the distance within this family of people who love one another so very much. At moments, I felt stretched beyond my own capacity, but I tried.

Since our big trip six months ago, I’ve still tried to help this family stay connected. Calls, flowers, cards. I’ve nudged Hope to stay connected.

One day recently she just blurted out that it was all so awkward, that it was too awkward and that she kind of just didn’t want to right now.

I tiptoed through a conversation about why it was awkward and what she wanted to happen next. It’s still unclear what the outcome should be in terms of my daughter’s family reunion. I know what I want for her, but it’s not about me. It’s about what she wants and what is best for her, and only she can figure that out.

I see Hope with our family after nearly 4 years. I watch her with her aunts. I watch her with her cousins and how those relationships have evolved during the last few years. I’m so excited about that, but my joy is tempered by my own comparisons across our extended family. I was hopeful that over time things would smooth out, that we really would be this big happy family on all sides. That simply hasn’t happened yet.

I’m still hopeful that awkwardness in these relationships will fade away. I’m eager to figure out what I can do, but my sense is that they will have to figure this out themselves.

The selfish part of me worries that Hope’s family will come to believe I kept her from them, that I somehow soured Hope against her biological family. I worry that I will be perceived as threatened by them. There was a time when I did kind of feel threatened, but it was brief and unwarranted. Families are big and complicated; I decided early on to make it work.

I feel like I failed in that endeavor. I really have tried to make a big tent. I feel like I did all the things I was supposed to do to help my daughter have a positive reunion. But, right now at least, it isn’t the happy reunion we had all prayed for, and there’s really nothing I can do about it.

My natural role in life is to be a fixer, but I can’t fix this. That’s a hard reality check for me. Not only can’t I fix it, it’s not my role to beyond what I’ve done to this point. My role was to facilitate that ability for these folks to work it out. I did that, but I guess I have to take a step back and really hope that they do, that Hope wants to figure it all out. Really, I hope she does whatever she needs to in order to be as close to whole as she can.

I feel like I should still reach out, just as me, but I don’t know if that’s appropriate. Hope is 16, and I’m loathe to get on her bad side in a perceived family *thing.* Despite my own efforts to blend the families, I’m not sure that is what Hope wants, at least right now. I try to follow her lead on adoption related stuff, but this…I’m not sure how to read this; is the lead to just let it alone and let it breathe for a while?

I’m guessing I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing—cards, pictures, letters and flowers on holidays—and get out of the way for them to figure it out.


Parenting Anxiety

When I started my doctoral work years ago, I freaked out. I had trouble sleeping. My stomach was in knots all the time. I was a bit of a mess. I had struggled with depression for years, but anxiety wasn’t something that I had directly dealt with even if it probably lurked in my background. The lifestyle change of working and going to school full time was hard; I was terrified of failing. I really had a hard time, but my doctor helped me get on top of it.

I thought once I ended my program, that the anxiety would subside, but of course, Hope came along and the roller coaster called parenting made sure that anxiety became a long-term companion in my life. Still I have managed.

Everyone’s issue with anxiety is different, so when Hope was formally diagnosed with anxiety a year ago, I realized just how different our experiences with this challenge were. Her diagnosis wasn’t really a shock, but it did give me some context to try to understand what she was experiencing.

My symptoms, which really had a major impact on my life initially, were not what I would call debilitating. Comparatively speaking, I can give myself a pep talk, hit up Pinterest and read some power memes, do some meditation and breathing exercises and a few other things and function.

Hope cannot. Those coping strategies do not work for her. She has more somatic symptoms, meaning she genuinely doesn’t feel physically well. There’s the extraordinary negative, depressive talk that the anxiety triggers that just drags her down. There’s the desire to practice an escapist form of self-care by diving into the K-dramas for hours or days. There’s the unwillingness and/or inability to get out of bed.

It’s just so heavy that it crushes her. It’s sad.

And it’s sometimes hard to parent, super hard.

You want to acknowledge your kid’s limitations. You want to be sensitive and meet them where they are. But you also want to push them to develop some resilience. You want them to “get over it.” You want them to put things behind them and get on with their day.

I find myself sometimes just closing my eyes and taking a big breath to calm my frustration, sadness, anger, anxiety and other emotions so that I can focus. It’s tough because at Hope’s age, her run of the mill teen problems are legit and really issues for her—even if I think many of them are absurd at best. For a teen, these are real problems and real problems for Hope tax her capacity in ways that I have never experienced before. A lot of the times, I just don’t understand. Most of the time I just don’t understand.

I often approach Hope’s mental health challenges as I do like religious faith—either you believe they are real or you don’t. But as a natural contrarian, I have pushed back on my own religious beliefs and understanding of faith, so you can just imagine how I struggle to process things that stop Hope in her tracks. Even though I intellectually understand all of the trauma and drama; I understand the diagnoses, and I get the symptoms, I admit I find myself more often than not thinking, “Oh good grief, here we go again. Can’t you just get over it already?????”

She can’t, and she can’t help that.

I am good about not saying this out loud, but I have no poker face and I’m pretty transparent—Hope already knows I’m thinking it. Sometimes she’ll even say, “I know you don’t believe me.”

I say, “No, I believe you.” I know she isn’t lying; I just can’t wrap my head around why she can’t function anyway.

Yeah, I know, I know, but I’m keeping it real here. It’s tough. I’m tough. I know that my inability to just accept my daughter’s mental health issues is harmful to our relationship. But I also know that sometimes, Hope is shadier than an oak tree. I’m always suspicious. I’m quick to pounce, “Aha!!!!” It doesn’t help, but the reality is that over 3+ years, we’ve typically got a 50/50 ratio of truly affected behavior, and sometimes Hope really is just trying to get over on me, so I feel my suspicions are justified.

I’m on the road again this week. I left before dawn today. Hope was to see herself off to school this morning, but she didn’t. I know this because her school stalked me to tell me that she wasn’t in school. She texted that she didn’t feel good.

And then she ghosted me.

In the 7 hours of silence, while I was touring a facility and taking meetings, I have stewed over this development. I have called; I have texted. I have pondered various scenarios—none of which include Hope having a fever, vomiting, PMS, cramps, or the plague.

By early evening, I started replaying the weekend, searching for Hope’s triggers. I remembered some things that transpired. Would they trigger somatic symptoms such that she would beg off school for the second time in 3 weeks? Yep. Did my absence make it easier to blow it off? Absolutely. Is this an offense that requires a consequence? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

How do I feel about this?

I feel a lot of things…annoyed, frustrated, curious (since she wouldn’t call/text me back). I hate admitting that empathy, compassion, sadness are not at the top of the list of things that I initially feel in these moments. I hate that it takes me a while to get there.

I eventually talked to my daughter today. I could tell she was nervous; she knew I was going to ask some tough questions about skipping school. I did, and she stalled in answering. I shifted gears and asked her about how she was feeling emotionally. Tell me about your stomach ache. Tell me about what’s on your mind. And we got to the place we needed to get to. I got it. I just reminded her about some of our house rules (tell me before the school tells me!); reminded her that I love her.

Will tomorrow be better? I don’t know. Will it be just as hard? Very likely, yes.

Does that make me anxious?

Yeah.


I Was Missed

I’m finally home. It took my mom and I planes, trains and automobiles to get home from Europe. Seriously, two days of travel, including a 9 hour plane ride that made Thursday feel like groundhog’s day.

Anyhoo, I’m home. Home with my kiddos—2 legs and 4 legs.

Hope has melted the ears off of my jet-lagged head. Nonstop. I’m almost dizzy with fatigue and this kid is telling me about the minutia of the last week…while coughing like she’s about to hack up a lung because she has developed a cold while I was away.

And then there’s Yappy. His separation anxiety is so bad that he won’t let me out of his sight. He lost weight because he wasn’t eating consistently—doggy depression. To hear Hope tell it, there was whining, under-the-bed-hiding, and in-house pooping (TMI).

In short, without mom, this place fell to hell in a hand-basket.

Is it wrong that I kinda feel good about that? I mean, it’s nice to be missed. It’s nice to know you’re needed.

It’s nice to be loved.

I told the dog and the kid I loved them. I took Hope to the dentist and therapy then forced some Robitussin cough syrup with a McDonald’s chaser on her. I picked up a few groceries, then took Yappy to the park and plied him with lots of treats. There’s a load of my travel laundry in the wash.  Momming doesn’t give a crap about fatigue.

I asked Hope if she missed me. She hemmed and hawed; then said, “Yeah, I guess I missed you, but I knew you were coming back.”

She knew I was coming back.

Well, that was the best welcome home gift ever. It means Hope trusts me. She trusts that I’ll be there, that I’ll move heaven and earth to get home to her. She believes in me and my love for her.

My daughter trusts me. Hope trusts me. That totally blows my mind.

All I could do was nod when she said she knew I was coming back to her. We were in the car, so there was no eye contact. I wiped my eyes and played it off as fatigue. I smiled on the inside. I didn’t smile on the outside since I didn’t want to turn the moment into anything mushier than it already was. I didn’t want to kill the vibe and make her play like she didn’t really mean it.

I really melted in that moment though.

Would be nice if I could convince Yappy that I was coming back, alas, life isn’t that simple.

After an amazing trip with my own mom, I’m so very happy to be home with my little family.


Gazes

Greetings from Finland! What an awesome trip it’s been so far. Finland is really quite lovely. My mother and I’ve have figured out the public transit system, ventured to Tallinn, Estonia, and tried very hard to learn a few Finnish words.  I gotta say the language is different than anything I’ve ever heard, and I thought I’d really heard a lot. I’m not a neophyte traveler, but I have been this far north east in Europe. It’s definitely worth the trip, but the language is not an easy one to pick up. That said, the people have been very nice and generally a accommodating.

But then there is the gaze. 

I mean, in the US, we talk about the White Gaze a lot in terms of race. I’m not going to go into a full on explanation about White Gaze here. In a nutshell, the white gaze is white privilege and supremacy on full on display in such a manner that everything not white is wholly defined as and by its non-whiteness. Everything and everyone else is other.

As a black woman in America, I often feel subjected to this gaze, sometimes at work, sometimes when shopping, at church—where it’s diverse almost more so because Hope and I show up sometimes—at the condo board meeting…you know; it can just happen anywhere. But that particular form of white gaze, the American tradition of white gaze, I’m used to, if not annoyed by. 

My usual experience of traveling abroad involves white gaze, but usually a kinder, gentler gaze. In some countries, my experience with the gaze has been more exocticized—the affluent black American who likes to travel. I get hit on a lot, and bevies have been known to be sent from the other end of the bar with a raised glass, a wink and compliment.

But Finland. Oh Finland. This white gaze is so damn strong. 

My very being is other here. 

So Finland is super homogenous—Finnish folk, Swedish folk, Russian folk, Roma folk (who are admittedly a little more tan than the others, but still…white) and a really small smattering of Asian and north African immigrant folk. So, it’s like whiter than your average white. It’s seriously Clorox white here. Now Helsinki is a very cosmopolitan city with lots of tourists and a huge convention center, so there are lots of folks coming through here. That said, I’m guessing that your average Fin can go a long damn time without seeing someone like me anywhere around other than on a tv or movie screen. So, to see me on the street? Well that’s just an anomaly of huge proportions. 

Apparently, I’m like a leprechaun, but I’m not sure that I bring good luck. In fact the overt clutching and moving of some purses suggest that mayhaps I do not bring luck at all. 

I saw a child walk into a door while staring at me. Ok, I’ll give the kid a break, but the grown women and men who openly gape. Ugh. 

Immigration control acted like someone like me shouldn’t  or maybe couldn’t possibly be attending an international education meeting. The limo driver acted as though he were mute the 20 minute drive to my hotel, prompting my mother to tell me to give him a big tip to prove that we black folks know how to act. (It was he who needed a lesson in how to act.)The least he deserved was a tip, and it annoyed the hell out of me to give him that cash after he ignored us. But that’s what we do—people of color are always trying to prove belong in a world that was not intended for us. 

Things have eased up in the last couple of days. Our trip to Estonia was lovely, with low levels of gaze. Either the gaze was so low key it wasn’t bothersome or the engagement felt so genuine that it was easy to answer questions and to share how we ended up shopping in the town square. During our ferry ride, I decided to meet white gaze with black gaze for the rest of the trip. Open air, direct eye contact lessens the gaze. It makes folks aware that they are staring. It reverses the issues of comfort. It triggers the acknowledgement that being defined and subjected to another’s gaze doesn’t feel all that great. 

For me it allows me to take some of my comfort and my power back. It allows me to resist being a curiosity, no matter how innocently. 

No, I don’t think any of this behavior is intrinsically malicious, and the Finns are, apparently, known for being reserved. But the behavior does inherently reinforce a system of white supremacy that I openly resist. 

With every person of color, especially black folks, we exchange a small smile and the universal nod of acknowledgement. There is no gaze, but there is acknowledgement. It feels nice. 

I am not sure how Hope would cope with this experience. I know she doesn’t like to be gazed upon. I know she sometimes struggles with finding her own beauty in her brown skin. Because she lives with me, understands what I do and is exposed to things designed to embrace her blackness, I think like me, she might be hyper aware of her being a novelty in this setting. In some ways, I am sad about that for both of us—It’s like James Baldwin suggested that to be black and to be conscious of your blackness is to be aware and reactive all the time. 

It is exhausting. I kind of wish we were sometimes ignorant about what it is to wear this skin and to be this person. But that’s not even a realistic desire. 

My mother, having grown up in a different era also is hyper aware of the gaze we have experienced on this trip. She seems to experience a wider range of emotions: disappointment, sadness, anger, frustration and fear. She chastised me about meeting the white gaze with a black one. She worried that it might trigger “them.” She doesn’t like it when they are triggered. She was raised in an era where knowing your place and choosing forms of resistance were the difference between literal life and death. I don’t pretend to know what that kind of emotional confinement feels like. But I see it in her; I hear her when she talks about how things are returning to how that period felt for her so many years ago. 

I don’t mean to make this trip sound miserable. It is far from it. It has been a grand experience and experiment. Most of the people we have met are kind. We have shopped. We’ve ventured to places that weren’t even on our bucket list. We are wiser from our time here. 

We have a day left in Helsinki before we head back to the states. After a week under the glare of this gaze, I will be happy to return to the gaze I know. It still sucks, but I know it. I’ve studied it. I get it. I know how to push back on it. 

I know this because…it’s home. 


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