Category Archives: Hard Stuff

Independence

Hope and I try to ride our bikes together once a week, on the weekends, when I have time to recover. #ImOld. She seems to relish the time together. We’ve ridden along the river and over to a nearby military cemetery on Memorial Day. Even though I desperately need a nap afterwards, I enjoy riding with her and switching up my exercise routine.

When I bought the bikes, I envisioned that Hope would use it to stretch a little. I thought she could use it to go places like to the movies or to the store, the Starbucks, to a friend’s house. I thought at nearly 16, she would use the bike to gain some independence. That seemed, kind of normal right?

I thought so.

Hope did not agree.

Recently, Hope and I were enjoying dinner together. She asked me if we could go to a nearby store to get something she likes. I said, sure, but that she could walk or ride her bike there if she wanted. It is a store in the neighborhood.

She slowly replied, yeah, she could but she’d prefer if I just took her.

I paused and then pressed.

“I know I keep saying this, but you really can use your bike to go to a lot of places. I know you like riding it and you’ve got some freedom and independence with it.”

She replied that she was kind of afraid of all this independence I talked about. She said, first it’ll be the bike and then something else with more independence and then something else with even more independence and then one day, I would just put her out so she could be independent.

I had to sit down; the realization that Hope saw my efforts to give her some freedom and independence was seen as a set up for abandonment! It never occurred to me that she would think that. Never in a million years did I ever make that connection.

I had to reassure her that abandoning her was not the plan at all. I had to explain to her that learning how to do things for herself was just a part of growing up and those things included transporting herself places. My encouraging her to use her bike as a mode of transportation was not my way of pushing her out; I was just trying to help her grow.

I’ve spent the last week kicking this conversation around. I’m still stunned, but I guess it makes sense. I often tell people that Hope is a homebody, that she seems content to be home, watching videos, munching on chips. She rarely asks me if I can take her somewhere—to the movies, to the mall. I always have to drag her places. She’s learned to trust that whatever I have planned will be entertaining, but the onus is always on me to be the social planner.

She really doesn’t have a lot of friends, and the few she has often fail to keep their plans with her. She brushes it off, but I know it hurts…heck, it hurts me. In the end, Hope always seems content to just be home.

And that’s the point, but I didn’t make the connection. Hope needs to be safe. She doesn’t want independence yet. She needs me; she needs our home; she needs to feel safe. For her, the bike is only entertainment, not a way to be independent. She’s not ready for that. Even though I intellectually get it; it still a revelation to me.

A few days after our conversation about the bike, Hope told me that she was ready to retake the test for her learner’s permit. I chuckled that she didn’t want to ride her bike, but she still wanted to learn to drive.

Learning to drive is more time with me, teaching her, spending time with her. I was planning on taking her driving, but largely outsourcing the hardcore driving lessons because the way my nerves are set up…#scared I’m guessing I might have to rethink that plan.

Thinking back to our conversation about her independence, I have come to believe that her desire to get her permit is about fitting in. It’s a way for her to keep up with her peers, but she doesn’t really want to be independent at this point.

My Hope is still very much a little girl in a young woman’s body, and she’s still afraid of being abandoned. I just didn’t know, and it makes me so very sad for her.

For now, I’ll stop recommending that she go forth and be free. Instead, I’ll continue to focus on just making sure she still feels supported, loved and safe.


Emotional Confessions

Author’s Note:

I wrote this post at the start of the week after an emotionally taxing weekend. I wasn’t showing myself much grace; I wasn’t giving myself space to just breathe.

I’m on the upswing now with a lot of support and love from my village.

I sat on this post, changing the post schedule repeatedly. It was too raw; it was just too much.  I felt ashamed about my meltdown. I felt embarrassed about whining about how hard this journey is…a journey I chose. As I begin to feel better, I realized that I needed to just go ahead and put it out there, hoping that giving it air and light would validate the raw feelings of other folks who are struggling.

So…here it is. I hope my transparency makes someone who also feels these feelings know they aren’t alone.


As a parent, I would like to think that my good characteristics outweigh the bad. I hope so. I hope that one day, when I’m really and truly called to account for my many, many flaws, that the good stuff will get me through the pearly gates.

I have a terrible temper, seriously it’s awful. It makes me shake it’s so awful. I sometimes have a hard time controlling it. My preferred weapon is words. I will grind you right down; my anger makes me want to make you small with words.

I have the capacity to be really, really mean. I know this; I’m not proud of it, but I know this.

I’m passive aggressive, though through the years I’m managed to abandon a lot of those behaviors, but please know that they are still there.

I’m selfish, incredibly selfish. I like what I like and I don’t want to compromise or give it up or whatever. I often think about what I had to give up to be a parent, and I feel some kind of way about all of it.

My natural state is to be super blunt without care for feelings. I am a good Southern woman, though, appropriately brought up to mind my tongue most of the time. I try to mind my manners and demonstrate tactfulness, so the bluntness often appears dulled.

I am very comfortable with conflict. I don’t necessarily like it, but I am very comfortable with it and sometimes will trigger it just so I can use my word weapons and “win.” Why? Because winning makes me feel better about myself and sometimes I really just want to feel better about myself and sadly, winning a conflict, no matter how ridiculous, is the quickest way to achieve that.

At 44 as much as I try to continue to evolve, especially as I parent, I know that my personality is locked in. I am who I am. My dissertation was all about resistance to change; yeah, I am. I’m totally resistant to change. I hate change. I hate thinking about it. I hate the need to be flexible even though I promote it and have to practice it for everyone’s well-being. I don’t want to.

I liked the old me and I’m not so sure that I like the parenting me. Actually, I’m sure I don’t, which just makes me feel awful. I love my daughter, but I’m not a huge fan of this parenting thing.

As I think about these flaws, I wonder what the hell made me want to be a parent. Seriously, talk about the most-long term triggering activity one could sign up for. I mean…seriously, parenting…while it brings out the best in me; it also brings out the absolute worst in me. I spend countless hours biting my cheeks trying to hold my own dragons in check.

Hope knows that biting my cheek is my anger/anxiety tell. She learned that early on. She also knows I have a wicked temper. She’s been subjected to the brunt of it a couple of times. She knows that I have the capacity to destroy her. It’s the truth, and it’s a truth that shames me. emotionally.

Our mutual knowledge of this fact terrifies me. I try so hard to build her up knowing that a horrible bout of anger and frustration could bring it all crumbling down. Knowing that kills me; the guilt…is…crushing.

Daily, especially bad days like one I had recently, I wonder if I was the best home for Hope. I think she could have done better. I wonder was this route right for me? Could I have led a child-free, but happy and fulfilled life? There are days when I wonder if I’m just making things worse for her, in spite of the permanence she desperately needed—is this really what was best for her?. I wonder a lot of things.

It’s taken me years and a lot of therapy to face my own deep seated flaws and I had a “conventional, normal” upbringing. Will the glare of adoption ever dull and allow me to just be a regular old parent? My flaws, while still bad, don’t seem so drastically horrid, under the softer lighting of parenting with no adjectives.

I’m struggling with my own identity as me and not ABM or Hope’s mom. I’ve been so consumed with trying desperately for Hope to be successful that my own personal goals and successes have fallen by the wayside. I’ve had two major work publications come out in the last two months. I barely acknowledged them even though they are the culmination of years of work. I have withdrawn from friends because I’m “busy” making sure geometry homework is done, chemistry quizzes are taken and A Brave New World gets read. I spend an absurd amount of time monitoring the general comings and goings of online behavior because…distractions are bad and ADHD teen life is stupid.

I’m going through the motions just trying to keep my own dragons at bay while I tend to Hope’s dragons.

I’m tired, so very tired, and I suspect falling back into my old chilly friend, depression. I’m sure that my self-care game is weak right now, which allows the time and space for my flaws to step to the forefront.

Hope and I remain hopeful, but right now it doesn’t feel like hope bears out. She insists that the world is against her and finds the tiniest evidence that fits her world view and magnifies it into a universal conspiracy against her. I keep hoping that overnight her limitations will disappear leaving me with expectations that are routinely unmet making me frustrated, angry and disappointed in me, her and the world in general.

We are doing everything we are supposed to be doing. I am marshaling every external resource I can. On the outside, we are doing it, but behind these doors, we struggle. We struggle day in and day out. We struggle with our individual flaws, our individual limitations, our shared problems, and ranges of emotions that are just…overwhelming and exhausting. Some days, we struggle just to stay alive. And it’s rarely seen under the carefully worded and curated social media posts. It’s rarely shared because the glare of judgment is likely to just sear a hole through me.

And I’m afraid. As much as my own self-criticism and loathing bring me down and the fear of external judgment paralyzes me; I’m most afraid of Hope’s view of me. I am terrified of what she must think of me. I know she loves me, and I’m sure there’s a healthy amount of “I hate you!” because she’s a teen girl, but critically, I fear her perception of me as her adoptive mother.

I’m afraid as I listen to adoptees talk about what works and what doesn’t that Hope will one day tell the world about all of my shortcomings as her mother. Will Hope be hypercritical of me? Will she spend these latter years of adolescence thinking that I was a failure as her mother? Will she be on social media talking about me badly? Will she write lists enumerating all the things I should’ve, would’ve, could’ve done despite what feels like the sacrifice of the very core of my being and the need and desire to suppress everything I ever thought or thought I knew about parenting to parent her the best I could?

I’m mindful of the pain I caused my own mother as I often wrote about her in the beginning of this journey and my disappointment and anger towards her for how she “treated me” in the early months of my journey with Hope. It wasn’t pretty, and it should’ve been private, but it wasn’t.  Will Hope look back on these years with righteous anger about all I did wrong when I was trying desperately to hold on and do right by her? How will she see me? How will she see us? I already know that I live in the shadows and shoes of those who came before me and that there are romantic notions that I will never be who they were or could have been. I acknowledge that but I do wonder, five, ten years from now, will Hope know how hard I tried to give her the love and life that she deserved?

Parenting is so very hard and it magnifies all of your flaws. Parenting a kid from a hard place with a ton of her own baggage…it’s another level of crazy.

Ultimately, my confession is that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing and I’m desperate not to screw up. I feel like every personal flaw is on front street and out of control right now. I feel like I can’t get anything right and that I can’t motivate, coax, drag, pull, prod, cheer, nudge or pray Hope into the success she deserves. I’m back to wanting more for her than she wants for herself, and worse, I love her so much that I now own that failure, and I know somewhere, somehow that she and others probably think I own that self-hate too.

It’s just too much.


Blank Stares & Nods

Hope doesn’t like confrontation. I’m guessing she comes by that quite honestly. Unfortunately, life has a lot of opportunities for confrontation.

I am pretty comfortable with confrontation, but during these three years, I’ve had to learn how to manage my ease with confrontation in order to meet Hope’s needs and to not scare her off from conversations that must be had.

I have greatly improved how I initiate these chats, how to tell when I need to abort the mission and navigate how to keep it going long enough to have something close to the desired impact. And what is the desired impact?

Well…who knows. It’s complicated, and to be honest, sometimes I get so flipping frustrated.

I often chat with Grammy to better understand how she parented me when I was Hope’s age. Oh, I know that it’s entirely different, but I just want a baseline—I’m also checking to see if I’m just crazy.

I also chat with Sister K, who has a son close in age to Hope. We often talk about how our children practice the “Blank Stare.”

The Blank Stare is apparently some sort of protective mechanism that teens use when parents are providing correctional confrontation. Kids actually seem to go mute and just stare blankly as you discuss the issue, ask questions and await responses.

My mom assures me that my sisters and I did not practice the Blank Stare; we immediately started talking, apologizing and doing/saying whatever was necessary to reduce anticipated consequences (my peeps were firm believers that a hard head makes for a sore bottom). But Hope and her modern-day colleagues seem to prefer to hold their tongues and just retreat into a Stare mode.

Hope does have a whole set of behaviors that surround the Blank Stare; it’s not the only thing in her unresponsive bag of tricks.

Initially, she’s defensive; Hope is likely to try to offer some rationale to explain her position; when that proves unsuccessful she descends into what I call Mime phase.

The Mime phase is when Hope’s voice volume lowers with each word until she’s just mouthing inaudible words. At first, I thought that she was trying to make me crazy by thinking my hearing was going out.

 

Notinmyhouse

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Nah, she seriously just turns the volume down on herself.

That’s when we hit the Blank Stare. It’s epic really, much respect. It’s as though Hope is encased in some imaginary, sound proof box that apparently requires no resistance. It’s almost as though she is focused on sending me soundwave messages to join her in the box. She’s nearly doll-like. I know she can hear me and see me, but there is zero response. She blinks, she *might* cock her head to the side, but really, she just stares, making direct eye contact.

 

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As a resistance mechanism, it drives me batty. I have to fight back all the rage. I cannot stand the Blank Stare.

But it doesn’t stop there, from the Stare we fall into the Nod.

 

Kimmy2

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She pulled this avoidance technique during a meeting with her counselor, teachers, tutor and me last fall–a whole room of folks discussing her 504 and her school performance. I’m sure it was overwhelming, but OMG. 

The Nod is Hope’s peak avoidance schtick; it’s all downhill from this point on. It was so impressive that the guidance counselor asked if she could be doing drugs. I was horrified, and apparently so was Hope since she snapped out after the inquiry.

The Nod is reserved for Hope’s most uncomfortable moments.  I don’t see it too often anymore, thank goodness, but it’s there.

Sometimes, there’s so much drama with Hope.

I do find some comfort in knowing that some of this foolishness is completely normal. I am aware that some of it isn’t normal, and I just have to deal and wait her out. I really spend a lot of time breathing through my own emotional responses and thinking about ways that I can offer confrontation, correction, and consequences in ways that don’t make Hope feel bad about herself and in ways that avoid this continuum of, ahem, artistic avoidant responses.

I’m hoping for a day when more engaging interactions tip the scales, but from the looks of the Blank Stare and the Nods lately, it’s going to be a while.


Life with a Teen Girl

I tapped on her door at 6:30am, opened the door, flicked on the light.

“Good morning, time to get up. It’s housekeeper day.”

Indecipherable grumbles.

An hour later, Hope emerges, pops her meds, grabs her lunch, and put her water bottle in the backpack.

“Is your room housekeeper ready?”

I know some folks think “cleaning” before the housekeeper comes is ridiculous, but really, there’s some stuff that you need to do to maximize their usefulness. I’m not paying them to deal with Hurricane Hope’s room. The floor needs to be clear and the tops of the desk and dresser need to be reasonably tidy. If we leave sheets out, the housekeepers will change our linens. All dishes need to be in the kitchen, and personal stuff in the bathroom needs to be put away.

Hope put down her stuff and headed to her room where she spent 10 minutes tidying up while grumbling. This meant she missed the bus.

All preventable, but whatever.

I head out to the office; Hope texts me:

Then she got on the wrong bus, because the world is petty.

She was fine by the time I got home and moody again 90 minutes later.

OMG. What is it with teenagers?

Is it the water? Is it just the rite of passage? Is it just the misery of middle teen years? Hormones? Bitchiness? WTH? And it just doesn’t stop. Every time I tap on her door, I wonder what version of Hope will answer.

The day after the housekeeper drama, she drags in the morning and once again misses the bus. I run into her on my way to the gym. She reveals that she missed the bus, lost her bus pass for the public bus and apparently doesn’t spend her own money on the public bus.

I continue to head to the gym for my workout because this is just so ridiculous and so routine I have a case of the “cannot-right-nows.” When I return Hope is still home, still supposedly looking for her pass.

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Check it: she still has a $5 Walmart gift card in her wallet from 3 years ago, but she can’t keep the bus pass that is essentially her ticket to independence and freedom. Yeah, you can unpack all the, “maybe she doesn’t really want independence and freedom” hooey, but on the real, I cannot-right-now. I just can’t.

I implement consequences for not keeping up with her stuff, which will stay in place until she either finds her pass or acquires another one. I bark, “Get in the car,” and cart her off to school

And that’s it; no more rides to school unless I’m truly feeling benevolent. There is zero reason she can’t catch the bus. Yes, yes, inattentive, blah, blah, blah. I’m over it.  She can ride that bike I just bought her with her new lock and helmet.

Have a good day, Miss.

 

 


It Still Stings

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. I’ve written about my own journey a few times in this space, but whenever it comes up in my offline life my emotional reaction to it always surprises me.

I’m always surprised by how deep-seated the pain of not being able to bear children is. It’s ironic since having biological children never seemed to be super high on my bucket list, but the process of learning that it wasn’t going to happen still stings to the point of tears.

I’m also surprised by how deeply personal it feels. Certainly, I write about a good chunk of my life here, and I share a lot in my work because I don’t mind and it makes me relatable which makes my job a lot easier. Yet, some of the people closest to me still don’t know about this loss or if they know about it; I’ve successfully downplayed it to the point where it is assumed to be a non-issue, something I problem-solved through adoption.

I love being a mom, and more specifically, I love being Hope’s mom.

But please be clear that Hope is not a replacement kid; she doesn’t fill the hole of grief that sits below my navel. My love of her and mothering her co-exists with that grief, just like her grief around the circumstances that necessitated adoption sits beside her love for me.

It all just sits together at a big lunch table, maybe at separate ends, but it is there, sharing space, it’s visible, and it’s real.

Recently I was talking to a close relation on my way to work. We got to talking about assistive reproduction and the choices people make. There are so many ways you can rule out so many risks in having a child these days, but somewhere in the gap science meets miracle, and sometimes miracles aren’t always pretty. My conversation partner played up how science has reduced so much of the mystery and that really there should be no surprises. Our conversation eventually led me to tell her my own story about not being able to have biological children.

Before I knew it, I was reaching for a tissue from my glovebox and my voice was hitching with emotion. The rush of sadness and feelings of being betrayed by my body were surprisingly close to the surface despite my routine efforts to just contain them on an emotional box in my emotional storage shed. No, there they were in all their glory practically sitting on the living room table on Front Street in my emotional house.

It is still tender. It still hurts. It will probably hurt in some way or another forever.

There is no shame in not being able to bear children. There isn’t. It doesn’t make me less of a woman or a failure, even if my mind and heart sometimes tell me that it does. There is no shame in grieving the ability to have children, and yet many of us feel shame or something close to it—guilt, fear of judgment, cloaking sadness, even wild-green jealousy—and all of those feelings keep us from talking about infertility.

I look forward to the day when I don’t drop tears when telling my story. I look forward to just being able to talk about it more freely—I mean, sure it doesn’t come up all the time “Hey Brad, could you tell me what aisle the cinnamon Frosted Flakes are on? BTW, I am infertile!”—but I long for a time when I’m not as silent on the issue. I think it will help me continue to move past that chapter. I look forward to being well past childbearing age (Damn you fly, 50 yo Janet Jackson), when the looking beyond fertility becomes moot.

Sigh.

I just want to look forward to a time when it just won’t sting so badly.


Parenting Dilemma

Sometimes parenting decisions are real rocks in hard places. You want to give your kid a chance. You want to give them some freedoms and some rewards. But you also want, nay need, to hold the line on your principles and standards. In the midst, you want to be reasonable and flexible.

And sometimes all of that is a bunch of hooey because you still have to make a decision.

Hope was invited to prom by a friend. She doesn’t have many friends, very, very few. I also know that this friendship teeters on more than friendship.

So here’s the deal: I have long had this lovely fantasy of my daughter going to a formal. She went to one in 8th grade and it was so much fun helping her get ready. My daughter is not girly; I manage to wrangle her into a dress once or twice a year. So, the selfish stage mom wannabe in me is like:

hellyeah

The more realistic part of me is like um, she’s in 10th grade, I know she’s feeling this kid, I said no dating until she’s 16 and she ain’t 16 yet, and she doesn’t even LIKE the girly rituals involved in prom.

Then I think about how hard it seems for Hope to make friends, how many Friday and Saturdays she just sits around watching K-dramas because there were no invitations to go anyway or do anything. I think about my hopes and dreams for her to be socially integrated and to be happy.

And I soften and try to imagine the scenarios that would allow me to still say yes. Get all the schoolwork done. Stick to the chore list. Stretch and go to the weekly Korean language meetups I found for her.

I start to wonder if she can legit do the things I ask. She doesn’t do them on a regular basis on a good day, so am I knowingly setting her up to fail? Her failure would make my life easier, but make her feel horrible.

So…I’m back to just saying no when I’m fighting so hard to say yes. Prom is a special occasion. It is meant for seniors; juniors get to go because they raise money to host the event. It is a rite of passage that marks the end of high school. Going with an upperclassman is a privilege, it’s not a right. Hope’s time will come, but that time is not now.

So, I need to put my fantasies about dress and shoe shopping and hair and makeup back in my emotional shoebox and put it back up in the closet. It is too early to allow those thoughts to bloom.

And even with a decision, my heart hurts. I know this will hurt; that it will enrage Hope and then I’ll have to deal with that. I know the rage will underscore the fact that she isn’t ready for such an event.

I’ll try to find something interesting for us to do that day; something fun and something distracting.

Sometimes parenting really sucks.


Here We Go

Sigh.

Sometimes I really don’t know how to respond to Hope’s “stuff.” I often wish I could just ignore it all, but I can’t.

Hope slipped into a funk earlier this week, probably because of school because school is *always* funk triggering. I seemed to pull her out of it one night when I forced her to sit with me and just talk. What I thought would be a painful 10 minutes turned into 90 minutes of good conversation and quality time.

This morning’s routine was smooth, but I could tell just by the way she put her key in the door that we were going to struggle this evening.

“Here we go,” I mumbled to myself.

And go we did.

Complaints about me at the hair salon.

Complaints about her stylist.

Complaints about the hairdryer.

Complaints about the hairstyle.

Heavy sighing about getting something to eat which was always the plan.

Mumble-whisper about the restaurant selection.

Momentary feigned contentment about the selected restaurant.

Cold shoulder over dinner.

Doesn’t eat dinner…at all. It just sits there.

I’m thinking, “ I could have just taken us home, but I’m trying to be a mom of my word. #fail”

Mumble-whisper about something in her random pseudo-language.

“Here we go. Here we are.”

Somedays I just want to grab my keys and run to the car and just keep driving. I know I’ll come back, but oy, she had best be in a better mood when I return.

This trauma-teen thing feels just impossible. And I’m annoyed by the way we present to others. It’s not so much that I care what people think; but it would be so nice to just be…inconspicuous, to blend in, to be everybody-normal and not just our version of normal.

I was incredibly naïve; I thought that being a same race adoptive family would allow us to blend in. It does in many ways; but when we have “here we go’ moments in public we become conspicuous. People notice. They don’t understand, and we stand out in ways that I just don’t want us to. It’s not even like these episodes can be passed off as just surly teen moments; no, it’s pretty obvious that they are different. They are special because Hope is special; because we are special.

Here we go…again.

These moments happen far less frequently than they used to and for that I’m grateful. We’ve worked hard to get better at this family and trauma thing, and so the stretches between the episodes are longer now. And while that’s great, the stretches sometimes give me a false sense of normalcy. It feels like we fell off the wagon when they happen now. We’ve fallen backward into the muck of trauma, and it takes a little bit to get that muck off me. She moves on more quickly, but I still struggle. I don’t anticipate these moments the same way I used to. My guard is down, and in some ways, I am more vulnerable to their emergence. After we recover from each episode I hope desperately that it is the last time.

It hasn’t been the last time yet.

I know one day that it will be.

Until then..here we go…again.


My Triggers, Pt. 2

Ok, I can’t let the school thing go. I just can’t. I wish I could, but on the full real: I cannot.

I know that Hope struggles in school. It breaks my heart. I see how it affects her. Her self esteem is awful because she can’t perform at her full capacity. I know she’s bright, but the barriers to success…let’s just say they are more real than Trump’s wall will ever be.

But between the actual performance and the protective attitudes that Hope displays to downplay her performance issues…I. Just. Can’t.

This combo is the thing that I struggle with every single day.

crying

I try to only look at her grades occasionally. I ask her about assignments and if she needs help. I encourage her to use a timer to help her manage time. I try desperately to leave it alone.

And it all drives me mad.

I have advocated for so many accommodations. I have spent a fortune on tutoring. I’ve tried new organizational tools. I’ve identified the incredible anxiety we both have about school.

I’ve tried to just let it be and try to work itself out along with Hope experiencing the consequences of not doing her part in the areas where she can.

And still I am filled with a mess of emotions about Hope and school.

I’m realizing that education is such a core value for me, something so important that 1) I can’t let it go and 2) I might not be able to fix this. And being a natural born fixer…this is a problem for me.

It’s not *just* that education is important; it’s been my gateway to upward mobility. I want that for Hope. I still have dreams of my daughter doing better than me in this life. I want her to have the cloak of protection that education kind of provides us. I want it so badly for her that the idea that school would be a struggle for her seriously never occurred to me during the adoption process. Her previous performance had been quite good. Now it’s the thing we struggle with the most.

Even after 3 years, I’m not prepared. I have exhausted all of my “I can fix this” pep talks. I have practiced laying this burden down, only to pick it up again a few hours later. I have pushed, coaxed, pleaded, bribed, and lovingly reassured with no change in results. I have watched my daughter sink deeper into depression and I assume a lot of blame for that because I don’t think anything I’ve done has made her feel better. I have developed no new coping skills.

I do not know how to deal with this.

I just don’t know how any more.

I looked at a special school, but the $50K tuition made me suddenly remember the padlock code to the liquor cabinet without having to look it up.

Weekly I get so frustrated even though I know it’s not all Hope’s fault. I go to meetings only to quietly seethe when Hope refuses to participate in a semi-adult conversation because her emotional IQ is about age 5.

The whole thing makes me angry with the world.

The whole thing makes me wonder why I chose this path.

The whole thing makes Hope feel like a failure.

The whole thing makes me also feel like a failure.

We both are mad and ridiculously sad, and I can’t see any light in the tunnel we’re in.

I’m back to looking at tutors and special programs in hopes of helping Hope be successful. I’m also back to just trying to let it go so that she doesn’t think I also believe she’s a failure. She’s not.

So, the educationally dilemma is my true Achilles heel. It brings out both the best and absolutely worst in me and I have no idea what to do about it.


Thoughts on Searching

My family has long been interested in genealogy searches. Several members, including my mother, enjoy trying to find members of the extended family tree, trying to trace our lineage as far back as they can. This can be challenging given that African Americans were counted as property for so long in the US. Despite this reality, it remains an enjoyable exercise in unearthing our history.

More recently, my immediate family has gotten into the DNA testing game. My parents took the test and found all kinds of connections. Most stunningly, the test revealed the existence of a close relative none of us knew about.

We are all in the process of learning about each other, bonding and attaching, figuring out how we feel about all this new found information. The discovery has prompted a rush of emotions that can hardly be articulated as anything but overwhelming.

I had the pleasure of meeting my relative this weekend; at one point in the conversation I asked him what he thought about all of *this,* this being the discovery, how it fit into his life, how he’s managing all of this new information.

He acknowledged that it was overwhelming, but that he’d been wondering and curious for so many years. He had kind of resolved to himself that some questions would never been answered, but to have them answered and to experience acceptance was more than he could have imagined. It was all still settling in.

This wasn’t an adoption story, but I thought a lot about adoptees as he was talking to me. I like to consider myself an advocate of the adoptee voice, but honestly at that moment, that voice and the needs that come with it resonated so deeply within me.

People want to know who they are and where they come from. There’s a desire to connect somewhere, biologically. There’s a need to understand their origin, their history. This is why they search. They have questions, more questions than I could ever dream of.

I listened as my new family talked about wondering who they looked like, who their people were, did they have mannerisms like anyone related to them.

I watched him and marveled at how much he looked like us; I cried when he spoke because it was like listening to another close family member—nearly tonally identical. The mannerisms were so similar too, and yet, he never knew any of us.

It’s more than nurture; it’s nature, and it’s undeniable.

As I tried desperately to stop staring and focus on listening to my new extended family, I thought of all of the adoptees whom I have listened to, including my beautiful daughter Hope. We’ll be traveling to see her side of our family in a few weeks. I was reminded how important those connections were. I imagined how she must have felt when it seemed that she would never have contact with them again. I smiled when I think about how I look at her face and see her birth family. I watch her grow and how her body shape is morphing to look like her aunts. I see her genes coursing through her.

The search for birth families must be difficult. The call to search, the decision to heed the call, the desire and wonder to know what you’ll find at the end of the search and how it will make you feel. It must be so powerful, scary, joyous, heartbreaking and all consuming.

I know that sometimes it’s something feared by adoptive parents, but it shouldn’t be feared at all. We have puzzle pieces that we need to gather. This experience, which is still developing, has provided me with a greater sensitivity to understanding an adoptee’s compelling need to know and to seek out their families of origin.

I feel better about my own search for Hope’s birth mother last year. I told Hope I’d found her; she said she didn’t want the information. She might one day and I’ll be ready to give it to her. Supporting her desire to know is important, and it’s no threat to me and my relationship with my daughter. I knew it was important before, but now sitting in the midst of a different, yet similar situation has me doubling down on the importance of supporting adoptee searches for birth families.

Certainly, adoptees don’t need me wandering in their space and co-signing on their voice, but I hope that other adoptive parents understand and are more supportive of their sons and daughters who choose to seek out their people.

The siren of biology does matter, and our hearts must be big enough to help our families answer if we can.

*Featured Image: giphy.com

Hope and Worry

I’ve been parenting for about 1,140 days. I am a babe in the woods. I have triumphed, and I have fallen down repeatedly.

Lately, I question everything I’ve learned these couple of years, and I’m scared.

I love my daughter, Hope. I have done my very best to help her heal, to help her grow, to help her catch up. I have tried to protect her from the world that has been brutal towards her. I’ve tried to protect her from herself when she has been unkind. I have prayed for and with her; I’ve wished for her. I’ve poured myself into her healing.

And for all the improvement we’ve made together, it’s still only 1,140 days, and I feel like we are in a bit of a free fall right now. It feels like I can never do enough. As a natural fixer, I am feeling woefully inadequate right now.

Something is wrong, very wrong. I know that Hope is struggling more than usual. I started paying close attention to moods, to behavioral patterns, to details that I had let go of a while ago. There are so many clues that something is wrong. I’ve seen them; I’ve started ramping all the support systems up again. I reached out to the therapists. I’ve scheduled appointments. I’ve been steeling myself to get back to the state of hypervigilance I used to maintain. But, I’m feeling my age now, remembering how exhausting the constant need for awareness can be. I’m wondering can I really maintain that level of being for an extended period of time, now. I’m also wondering what happens if I can’t.

I’m also wrestling with my own guilt. How and why did I get lax? Was I really lax? How come I didn’t know we had started spiraling? Why didn’t I just maintain everything? How did I let it get like this? Is this even something I can fix? How hard will this get before it gets better?

Is this free fall my fault?

I know intellectually that it’s not my fault but that fact really doesn’t matter, does it?

I see my daughter struggling. It seems she’s struggling with everything right now. School is hard. Social stuff is hard. Home is probably hard too. Emotions are thick; memories are vivid and on some kind of repeating loop. There are constant stomach aches and nausea and headaches and stress induced rashes. There are binges. There are hard core study times that swing to complete immersion into escapist fantasies. There is exhaustion, that’s really depression that swings from days of insomnia to sleeping for 18 hours.

I see it, but I can’t fix it. I gather those long arms and legs up and occasionally cradle Hope. I try to cook her yummy food. I try to be home as much as I can. I try to give her space, but I also try to smother her with attention. I try to give her lots of opportunities to thrive and to experience as much or as little as possible. I am strict but not inflexible. I’m compassionate. I try to meet her where she is, but I also walk away sometimes wondering if I did the right thing.

I want to heal her. I want her to be able to shrug off the effects of her trauma so that we can deal with the social challenges of blackness and womanhood. The reality is that we rarely get to wrestle with those because we are stuck in the quicksand of trauma. Her trauma suffocates us both. I fight with myself trying to just be ok with her life performance and trying not to worry that every bad grade will prevent her from a bright future.

I’m constantly forcing myself to abandon everything I conceptualized and believed about success. Our success is different. I know that, but it’s hard to believe that conventionalism is completely inappropriate in helping Hope navigate. So many of my firmly held, deeply etched values about life are constantly challenged and it is discomforting, disorienting, and dismaying. My prayers lately have been distilled to, “Lord just let us get through this day with no drama.”

And I still feel like we’re failing.

So, right now, Hope is struggling, and I’m worried. I’m not panicked by I’m really worried about the future, and by future, I mean next week and the week after.

I’m leaning back into my strengths: looking for possible solutions, marshalling resources and leveraging connections. I have no idea what happens next—long term is now just next month. I do think my daughter knows I’m trying; I don’t know what she really thinks about my efforts, but I know she thinks I’m trying to help her. I’m hopeful that she will continue to see me as helpful, reliable and safe. I’m hopeful I can continue to be that for her.

Hope and worry are sitting side by side for me these days.


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