Hope has been on winter break from school for over a week now. I can tell she’s finally unwound and has been just enjoying herself. We’ve had more time together and have just really enjoyed some good bonding time. Over the weekend we finally got a chance to see the movie Coco, about the Day of the Dead—if you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s amazing. As we were watching it, I thought to myself—well, there’s all kinds of stuff that is transferrable to adoption up and through this movie; I wonder how Hope will process this.
Well, I found out on Christmas night.
The thing about the Day of the Dead is it’s about remembering your people, your family. You honor them. You keep pictures up so you can see them, remember them, so that they can come back to visit you on that holiday.
For a kid who’s lost a parent—either to death or other kinds of separation—this is a bell ringer.
Earlier this year, we visited Hope’s extended first family and I made a point of getting copies of pictures of her parents. When we returned from the visit I had a collage made and the pictures are hung prominently in our home. I thought it was important, but after watching Coco, I saw the importance through a new lens.
We are coming up on a period in Hope’s life when she’s been separated longer than she was with her family. And because of her age and the countless transitions, memories are being questioned and sometimes things seem fuzzy. It wasn’t going to take much to trigger lots of emotion.
I found myself reminiscing about my own childhood and my grandmothers who are long gone now. I got a little choked up myself as I looked at my larger family on Christmas and pondered what they would have to say about their progeny. I was a bit in my feelings too.
And then there was the triggering event. It’s Hope’s story so I won’t share that, but it wasn’t bad, just some circle of life stuff. It was enough to have her snotting on my shoulder for 20 minutes.
The truth of the thing is that my daughter misses her first parents. She misses them deeply. She misses her extended family and understanding their connections to her. She’s seeing some of them age, and watching aging just ain’t fair. Hope’s realizing that some of the narratives about her life that she spun for her own survival aren’t holding up over time.
All of this sucks, it sucks royally. And there’s always some fairly innocuous event that triggers the avalanche of realization, and even when I *know* that it’s imminent, it catches me off guard.
I feel like those moments make my heart stop. I know I suck in air; my mind starts to race considering what’s the best approach to bring Hope comfort. My own tears trickle down my face and my heart aches for my daughter. More than anything I want to take away the pain, even when I know that the only way is to just help her push through it.
I sat with my daughter for a good 20 minutes as she sobbed. I cradled her; I stroked her hair. I waited for her to find words to describe her feelings. I told her I loved her, that I knew this all sucked, that none of it was fair. The only upside is that I know my daughter is feeling; for so long she wouldn’t allow this at all. Feeling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but it’s healthy and it’s necessary for healing. It’s taken us 4 years to get to these free-flowing, pain-filled tears, but the truth is that I hated when she couldn’t and didn’t cry and now that she does it breaks my heart in ways I didn’t think were possible.
Hope and I enjoyed a nice long chat Christmas night about grief, about aging, about memories and how to keep them alive. I try to draw parallels whenever possible, and I search for solutions to make the situation as close to right as it can get. It’s so hard. It really is.
It’s in these moments that I’m convinced that my journey to mothering was rocky and occasionally blocked just so I would have some wise-sounding ish to say to Hope who really seems to need to hear it. That day to day stuff I might be raggedy as hell, but this… for these in the moment, high intensity, therapeutic parenting episodes, I’m totally clutch. I also feel like these are the moments when I HAVE to get it right. I gotta do all that reading, all that prepping, all that internal monologuing just for these moments. It’s in these moments that I stop thinking about the unfairness of my own journey or at least put it in the larger context of how unfair life is in so many ways.
My and Hope’s Christmas was great, even with a moment overcome by adoption-related grief. We are learning to fold these moments into our lives. As a mom, I’m learning to spot triggers and other things that need to be processed by Hope. I try to do my own processing and reflection more intently, and I just try to sit with my daughter to help her find her way through this life of hers.
As I see my Hope come into a new life chapter filled with more healing, I am eager to see what the new year brings for us. I know it won’t be easy, but Hope is getting stronger and I’m so amazed to have this front row seat for her evolution. I’ll keep tissues at the ready and my shoulder available always.