Yesterday I spent a rare Friday in my physical office so that I could enjoy lunch with a good friend and colleague. She asked how Hope and I were doing, and I started my update with a heavy sigh and a weak smile.
As I gave her an abbreviated update, I realized that recently I’ve found myself really having to re-balance my world view and value system in order to parent appropriately. Sure, I think most parents have to do this, but I think that there’s probably something about adoption, and specifically adoption with older kids, that is a little bit different.
My and Hope’s backgrounds could not have been more different. In many ways, the only things we have in common are being black and some of the universality of what that means in terms of experience and culture. I don’t mean to discount that, because it really is the foundation for a lot of our relationship, but really that’s it.
As we go through all of the diagnostics necessary to determine learning styles, brain processes, etc, etc, I am sensitive to Hope’s desire not to be labeled. I have to balance that with the reality that labels open the doors to more resources and help that she desperately needs.
I remember originally seeing her profile and the classification that she was “special needs.” I was told that, while there were some issues, the designation was more about race than anything else. I remember seeing it again after our finalization when I went to do my taxes and the paperwork for the adoption credit: “special needs.” Again, she fell into that label because of race, a black American adoptee.
In the last six months, I’ve been watching lots of symptoms emerge. I’ve been monitoring behavior, grades, performance, social interactions, all kinds of things. I’ve watched my daughter’s increasing anxiety trigger bad dreams, insomnia, stress word tics, nerve spasms…I’ve engaged all kinds of people: teachers, counselors, therapists, psychiatrists. I resisted pulling the “special needs” card. I struggled with my own quest for high performance and perfectionism and how Hope’s poor grades made me feel.
It’s taken me a long time to realize that my desire for Hope to perform well academically is rooted in my own need to have the “perfect” kid in the “perfect” adoption story. Neither is true or even attainable; though my Hope is wicked smart, more resilient than a rubber ball, and perfect in all the ways that really matter. Dealing with the impact of Hope’s past has been the first time in my life when I couldn’t really fix something. I’m a fixer. I have a problem; I find a solution or I create one. I thrive on making things happen. I have built my adult life on an identity that revolves around getting ish done, done well and taking it to the next level. This is who I am at home and at work. It is an identity that has rewarded me in countless ways and fosters a huge sense of pride in myself and my abilities.
Being mom to Hope is so challenging sometimes that not only can I not fix any of the issues that plague Hope; but most of the time, the last six months especially, I feel like we’ve just been regressing…just not moving forward. For her, it’s all finally starting to come into the focus that we’ve got a serious mess on our hands. For me, it’s like watching a slow crash finally make impact and not having been able to stop it or even minimize the devastating effects.
For both of us, the realization that Hope has (as opposed to is) special needs that are real and now visible has struck distressing blows to our self-esteem, individually and as a family. There isn’t an easy way to fix this and that shakes the identity I’ve created for myself. It provides Hope more evidence that she is broken in the identity that she’s created for herself. For us together, it feels like she’s stuck with a a mom who can’t fix it and I have a daughter who fears she’ll never make me proud of her (even though I am more than proud of her). Our relationship is rocky, right now—the push/pull dynamic coupled with normal teenage surliness is a bit of a powder keg at the moment with Hope being the one prone to fire flashes.
I found my mind wandering over coffee this morning how hard this would be even if I had birthed Hope. Would it be easier because I would have seen some issues as she hit developmental markers? Would I have been able to get her all the resources she needed earlier? Would she see her struggles as strengths by now? Before I knew it I was reminded of my infertility, how that fantasy didn’t consider Hope’s real life story, how that narrative was about my need and desire to fix this to prove that I could. It wasn’t really about Hope at all; it was about my need to shore up who and what I am and feel validated.
This storm we’re in won’t really allow me the luxury of seeing immediate results from my efforts or fill my need to be validated. I’m fighting against 12 years of messy dysfunction; it’ll likely take us twice as long to make sense of it all.
In the meantime, there’s this special needs thing. Hope does have special needs that must be met. She is both special and needy, but also amazing and, when the obnoxious teen part steps back, delightfully charming and funny and lovable. I still don’t know how I feel about labels; I guess I see them as a means to an end—they help me, help her—again, while she benefits, it’s about me tapping into resources to fix this. But I’m increasingly sensitive that for her the label is another crack in her armor, just more evidence that she is bad. I still don’t know how to balance all that, and I desperately wish I could figure that out.
Gosh I love Hope. I love her so much. This challenge is so stressful on both of us, and although help is on the way, this is, like everything we endure, an ongoing thing. And in time, something else will just layer on top of it.
It sucks on so many levels. It just sucks on so many levels.