Category Archives: Empty Nest

Thoughts on our Attachment Journey

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about attachment. I’ve read a lot. I’ve listened to a lot of experts—including adoptees, the ultimate experts. I’ve talked to our family therapist, AbsurdlyHotTherapist, and my personal therapist about attachment too.

There have been big questions and little questions. I’ve fretted about those moments when our conflict was especially hard whether I had damaged us, whether I had fractured the glue I was working so hard to make us stick together. More recently, I’ve worried about my and Hope’s attachment status and journey as she is away at school. I find myself wondering if I did the right thing by her with the school thing even though I left the decision to go away to her; every evening I come home to just Yappy, I wonder if she’s ok and if we’re ok. After 4 years together, is this distance thing ok?

I’ve felt times of distinct struggle in parenting Hope. Single parenting is hard. Single parenting a teen is hard. Single parenting a teen from a hard place is hard. This isn’t a complaint; it’s just my truth. I’ve shed a lot of tears. I’ve worried a lot about the present and the future. I’ve worked hard to be a good advocate for Hope, but I also know that I’ve worked hard to push her, and probably not always in the best or most healthy ways. Parenting in general is hard, and “knowing what you’re doing” is a myth even in the best of circumstances.

And yet, I have sat in on adoptive parenting support groups and heard my peers also shed tears for the kids they love going through far more challenging events than I have experienced with Hope. I’ve left some of those group meetings feeling like even though these people are my people and we have some shared experiences, that my experience in parenting Hope is less challenging than I may have thought. I don’t take credit for that; I think we’re lucky and Hope has a well of resilience that I still don’t quite fully appreciate the way I should.

The last few years, I’ve really tried to give Hope the quality time, love, care, and security she’s needed. She did go to band camp for a week or so for a couple of years. I saw that she loved that experience, maybe because she loves band more than anything. In pushing her to go to an academic program this summer, I wanted her to have a different kind of experience. I wanted her to have a different opportunity. I didn’t think it would turn into anything because surely, she needed to be home. We still needed to work on attachment. She still needed my security close by.

The changes we have experienced these last 5 months or so have been dramatic. I didn’t expect that we would be here, or rather that she would be there, much less that she would choose to be there. I also would not have anticipated how it affected our relationship. It has really given me a lot of peacefulness around how I think about our attachment journey.

During a recent visit home, I noticed how relaxed Hope seemed. I asked her how she was doing, she said she was good. I asked about the depression and anxiety that riddled her academic experience. Sure, she said, school was stressful, but she didn’t feel bad about it or about herself, she felt better than before. I asked her if she felt like she made the right decision going to this school. She looked at me like I’d grown goat horns; yeah, she said yeah, shrugged, put in her headphones signaling that this was the endpoint in this discussion.

Um, ok, so, yeah.

Here’s what our relationship looks like now. We text…a lot. We send pictures, jokes. She sends me funny videos; she sends me political videos, which I especially enjoy. Sometimes we just text to say we love each other. Her goodnight texts warm my heart almost as much as when she would come into my room to say good night at home when we would invariably chat about silly things and maybe watch some silly animal videos on YouTube. When things get rough, Hope calls me—which as any parent of an adolescent kid knows is huge. Hope went through some roommate challenges recently, she texted me first and then called me. My heart both broke and soared because she was sad, and because she called me. She didn’t want me to fix anything, she just wanted mom’s comfort. She just wanted me to comfort her, that’s it. Of course, I did make some moves to lessen her pain points, but she just wanted mom’s comfort. There was a time when she would not have sought that out, much less my intervention.

I’ve learned that Hope trusts me, and that feels…amazing. I’m learning to trust Hope more on this part of our journey too.

We also delight in the time we get to spend together. The moment we see one another it’s just joy (and a huge stack of laundry). She indulges me as I take dozens of pictures of her in her ROTC uniforms and then texts them to our extended family. She can’t wait to tell me about what she’s reading or how drama club is going. We have these great conversations, and we bicker about the college applications that need to be done. Before you know it, the visits are over, and we hug it out, and she skips off back to her dorm. I don’t know what happens for her after that. I wish I could be a fly on the wall. As for me, I leave campus, pull over and cry every time. I cry because I miss her. I cry because I’m grateful for the time we’ve had together during the visit. I’m grateful that I gave her a choice on the school thing and that she seems to be doing well there. I’m grateful that we seem rock solid as a family. I’m grateful that I have a date on the calendar for the next visit.

I’ve learned that we’re ok during this chapter of our journey. I’ve learned that I’ll always wonder if we’re solid, if our attachment is strong enough or sustainable. I’ll always wonder if I’ll screw it up. I’ll always wonder about it all. But I do know that it feels like we’re ok right now. I’m holding on to that and to Hope.

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At a Distance

So, for all this empty nesting, I am finding that there is still a lot of parenting going on around these parts. If I’m not running back and forth to do visits, sending packages of necessities or checking in on performance, I’m offering love, guidance and occasional chastisement at a distance. It’s really a lot. Sure, there’s only my laundry to do, and I’m not actually peeping into her room to see if she’s working, so the day to day stuff is minimal. The emotional stuff? Yeah, that’s still happening.

Hope and her roommate have been squabbling recently, and things escalated to the point where it was determined that Hope needed to change rooms. Who knows the real story, since I only have one side and I’m sure there are at least two more sides to hear, but how the move went down was incredibly upsetting and a bit triggering and damaging. Essentially, they made Hope move with very little notice and tossed her stuff in a bag to drag to another room. When she told me about it, all teary, all I could envision was all the times she moved during foster care in similar dramatic fashion. This was not good.

I’m sure it may take a little time to bounce back for Hope, who is strong and courageous, but she is also a big kid who needs reassurance, stability and soothing. The move triggered lots of anxiety, which triggered the bug thing, which just spun her out of control. It wasn’t pleasant.

One thing that was different during this last week was that Hope actively reached out to me for the emotional support that she needed.

I’ve listened to her cry and snot in my ear. I’ve listened to her be mad, then be sad, then feel rejected and hurt. I’ve listened to her fears. While my heart hurt to hear her so emotional, the fact that she reached out to me, to mom to have her emotional needs met was so reassuring to me. I worried whether we could really be ok with her away after only 4 years home. She actually seems more connected than ever. It made my heart sing because I know she’s still healing and that there’s a good foundation there.

I miss her. I’m not going to lie, there are things about this life that are easier. We are both less anxious overall. I am getting used to entertaining myself, and thanks to a robust travel schedule with work for the next several weeks, I’m pretty occupied. I’m still parenting though. I’m still really involved. I’m still sending lots of emails and making calls. I’m still coordinating care for her. I’m still her mom even if she is away at a distance.


A Change of Plans?

So, the latest in this parenting from afar saga is getting Hope to embrace a change of plans for post-high school.

I’ve been putzing around the house wondering what this year at boarding school would mean for Hope’s future. Sure, I really wanted to create a situation where Hope would be successful in high school, making decent grades, figuring out the social stuff, getting mentored, all that good stuff.  But, really, all of that is supposed to lead to a college launch.

Some time ago, Hope and I concluded that she might do best staying home and attending the local community college. Then she did well on the PSAT, and then she went away for the summer and shined. Now she’s at the school for her senior year. In my mind, this represented a trajectory change. It was huge directional step away from that original post-high school plan. I mean, why go to a community college when you’ve graduated from a college prep school, right? I bore no illusions that Hope would go to some big university. Given what we’ve learned in the last year, it’s clear the smaller school the better and the most structured environment the better. Hey, she might even consider the military. In all the change in the last few months, I saw the widening of options for Hope and a change in plans.

Hope did not see things this way at all. With me, she hemmed and hawed about what she wanted to do after graduation. When her mentor started asking questions about the SAT and the ACT, Hope said they really weren’t necessary since she didn’t plan to go to a university. We’d talked about whether and how Hope saw the move to boarding school as a change in her trajectory. She said she did and then she didn’t say much. I would ask about how “the plan” might change and what should that look like? She would say she didn’t know.

It all seems like a ploy to avoid inevitable confrontation since this weekend I learned that maybe she didn’t see a change in plans in play at all.

My response? Well why not???

Her response? Why should it change anything?

My next response? Are you kidding me? I think it changes everything!

And so, I went inside my head and heart to wrestle with my expectations of Hope all over again. When given chances to change course, usually Hope doesn’t. The decision to go to boarding school was shocking, and I thought maybe it marked a big change. Of course, it did. It just didn’t mean what I thought it meant. The truth is I have no idea what it means. I don’t think she really knows what it means either.

So, we’ve been talking about it. Have you looked at any schools? Yeah, sure. Do you want to share the schools? I get the list, and applications to those schools will be met with rejection. I don’t say this; I don’t want this conversation to shut down and well, there’s a college counselor who will convey this message. Then, she announces maybe she will go to school in Seoul, South Korea. Um, have you looked into going to school abroad and what you need to do in order to do that? Do you have any idea how much money they want you to have in the bank in order to do that? OMG…

This is such a tumultuous, transitional time for kid’s her age. It’s a crazy times for parents too who are hoping, praying that their kids explore their choices and then make good informed choices. This is what I hope for Hope, but I know this kid and decision making isn’t a strong suit with this one. She avoids them. She doesn’t like change. She may still really need some time before launching, but I also know that that being the default position is not the best thing for her. She always needs a push or pull to stretch a bit, to trust herself and to trust her ability to stand on her own. I’m trying to give her some space to figure it out, but yeah, I’m a bit vexed because it’s so unknown for both of us.

I have no idea if she even has a clue what she wants to study? Does she even really still want to be a linguist? Who knows.

All I know right now is that I need to finish SAT and ACT registration and start work on the FAFSA so that we can keep options open.


Years Later, What Now?

This weekend I’m in a much different place than I was with this whole empty nest thing.

This weekend, I’m not as gracious with it. I’m a bit more reflective. I’m still pretty emotional about it but in a different way. I’ve got to figure out what to do with myself now.

Twelve years ago, it was just me and the Furry One. Life was fairly simple. Then eleven years ago, I was in a relationship that I knew from the start wasn’t really going to be sustainable. I stayed for three years. Doing my doctorate was as much a life goal as it was an exit strategy for that relationship. I reasoned, if I went to chase that dream I wouldn’t have time to sit around in a dead end relationship *and* study while working full time.

So, I ended my relationship and started school. I replaced one with the other. I stayed super busy. I found a rhythm and made it work.

Halfway through my program, I hit a major health event that scared me. Actually, it terrified me. My presence here is a testimony to great medical care and not having finished my purpose here. The event changed my life though. After I recovered, I learned that I would never have a biological child, and I accelerated my adoption plan.

It was an insane time. I was still finishing my coursework. I began juggling the adoption process and school. The month I defended my dissertation proposal was also the same month I received Hope’s adoption profile. I was writing my chapters when I went to visit for the first time. When Hope was placed with me, I still had two chapters to write. I wrote those chapters while we endured several of the roughest weeks of my life (and probably some of hers as well), even worse than when I thought I might die.

Around the same time, Elihu came into my life. We were happy for a long time, but I was juggling work, a long distance relationship and raising an amazing child with a trauma background. Eventually, I just got exhausted. It was too much, and one thing had to go. E and I said our sad goodbyes and I focused all my energy on Hope.

I feel like this last year of my life has been wholly devoted to Hope. There were days when I felt like I was dragging us to some imaginary line, probably graduation. I just wanted Hope to have the best opportunities I could give her. I was up at her school all the time. Emailing teachers, emailing counselors and therapists. I threw myself into parenting in a different way. As this spring rolled in I got it in my head that she needed a summer enrichment program to help her prep for her senior year. I started to research programs. I found a few; I presented them to Hope and we settled on this one. She applied, was accepted and thrived in the summer program.

As I prepped for those few weeks, I thought maybe I should think about doing something for myself during that month. A good friend suggested that I get back into the dating game.

Sigh, so I told myself that if Hope got into her program, I would, and I did. I went on a few dates, and I learned that if you are married, you had better make that ish work. These dating streets are rough; make it work. Anyway, I met someone; it didn’t seem serious at first, but then it might’ve been. I dunno. We had fun together, and the next thing you know a couple of months had passed. Hope was away at school, and I thought maybe…

And then it ended abruptly thanks to external circumstances.

The fact that it ended is sad, not full-on breakup sad, but just sad. It’s lovely when a courtship is new, and you’re getting to the point when you start trying to figure stuff out. It was lovely and sad and romantic and icky and then I realized something.

I was more emotional about the fact that I had to really, really, really sit with this empty nest thing. For the first time in 11 years, it’s just me and my dog, Yappy. There’s no school. There’s not a relationship to nurse or navigate. or buffer this emptiness. And Hope is 80 miles away finally stable and taking baby steps in the next chapter of her life. 

I mean, yes, I’m still parenting Hope, but not in the same intense way. In fact, there’s a major void. I’m single, I am parenting her from afar, but I went from our version of an 8 in intensity to a 1, and I feel a little lost.

These are the first steps of my next life chapter, and I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing. It’s all so strange. I didn’t expect to be here. I’m not sure where I expected to be, but it’s not here. Here’s not bad, it’s just unknown. 

I feel like I have to figure out how to do this life again. What exactly was I doing 12 years ago, when I was single with minimal responsibilities on a day to day basis? And surely, I can’t just recreate that life; I’m 12 years older now. I’m a different person now.

What do I do now?  

I’m not sure, and I feel like I have way too much time on my hands to figure it out.


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