Category Archives: Hard Stuff

Parenting in the Era of #MeToo

As my fellow sisters continue to take to social media to share their experiences around sexual harassment, assault and other predatory behavior, I’ve been thinking about how all this affects Hope and kids like her.

Hope is 16. We watch the news, and I try to keep her abreast of current events. Last year, we sat and watched Bill Cosby’s legacy tumble down as numerous women came forward to say he sexually assaulted them. For me, it was painful to watch the Jello pitchman, Cliff Huxtable, lovable, funny guy I grew up watching shed all of that and be revealed as a sexual predator. He wasn’t a part of Hope’s youth, so it was more removed for her.

But the moment that we’re in now where the revelations are weekly or daily, where a senatorial candidate has been accused of trolling for girls close in age to Hope, where social media is flooded with stories of #metoo: it’s kind of triggering for both of us.

So many kids have a history of sexual abuse; nearly 1 kid in 10 among all kids, and over 1 in 4 of US kids 14 to 17 years old. When this latest moment launched, Hope and I had a really personal #metoo discussion. I shared my stories with her, and she shared a little bit of her story too. I thought it was important for me to talk about things that I felt were violating, so Hope could continue to develop her own benchmarks. We talked about limits, about how to defend ourselves against unwanted advances, and about who and how to tell when something unwanted happens. I wanted this conversation to help both of us feel empowered.

A few days later, on the way to school and while listening to a pop culture podcast, the topic came up again. This time I focused on being clear with Hope about my hope and expectation that she tell me if she’s ever hurt. We’ve already established that I have a tiny bit of Huck from Scandal in me, and I promise to try not to straight up murder anyone who hurts her (torture might be more fulfilling anyway). I wanted her to understand that I want her to be safe and that I am prepared to do whatever I need to do to make that happen.

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We’ve had talks about dating safety and what that looks like In practice. We talk about consent and slippery slopes that aren’t consent. I posted this summer a podcast series that I listened too, The Heart, that explore how many women are “gently” pressured into sex when they were clear they didn’t want to have sex. The show explored how insidious pressure can be and how easily a no can be converted to not a yes, but a “well, ok, but I’m not really into it.” We talked about always making sure you have bus fare and that maybe, just maybe I should let her in on my Lyft app so she can always get a ride if she finds herself in a not so safe situation. We talk about how you can hold your keys so they can be used as a weapon.

We talk a lot.

And still, it feels like we’re oversaturated with news of predatory behavior.

Earlier this week over breakfast as we watched coverage about Matt Laurer, Hope asked, “Is that the one who flashed himself from the bathroom?” No that was allegedly two other guys. “The one from that Netflix show?” No he seemed into assaulting men and being an a-hole to both genders. “Ok I know it’s not Bill Cosby because this guy is white.” I finally remind her that we used to watch Today until they did Tamron Hall wrong, and I switched to CNN. “Oh…oh yeah.”

There’s seriously so many stories tumbling around that it’s hard to keep up.

I try not to be alarmist with Hope. She has enough anxiety without my contributions, but I do want her to be aware of what’s happening and how relevant the discourse is to her life. More importantly, I want her to learn so she can be safe in ways that affirm her confidence and security. It’s hard though; it’s hard right now when we’re having conversations about high profile predators in positions of power making decisions about other people’s lives. This is some scary ish.

The bet I can do, is keep talking, keep affirming, and keep my inner Huck contained.

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Battle with a Teacher

I’m an educator. My sister is an educator. I work for educators. My friends are educators.

Educators are my homies, and you can usually find me defending educators—especially K-12 teachers—hard!

My engagements with Hope’s school regarding her academic challenges have been far more positive than not. Of late, it’s been more challenging to get Hope to avail herself of the accommodations designed to help her be successful. Pride is one of the 7 deadly sins for good reason.

In any case, midway through this quarter I continued to monitor Hope’s grades. I didn’t put pressure on her, I just wanted to keep an eye on things. I reached out to several of her teachers; she seemed to be especially struggling in those courses and I wanted to know a bit about how she behaved in class, had she been to visit them about her work and whether she was regularly engaged.

One teacher was outright dismissive. I told her that her response was problematic and what I needed to know moving forward.

Hope managed to pull her grades up, but I knew it would be a long year with this teacher.

Fast forward to this morning when the teacher sends me a lengthy email about Hope’s lackluster performance, the fact that she has given her additional assignments and the fact that I was not holding up my end of the educational social contract.

Oh really?

I quickly wrote her back noting that this might’ve been avoided if she hadn’t been dismissive weeks ago, that Hope would absolutely NOT be doing additional assignments under any circumstances, and that she really had no clue what the details of my social contract were so she might want to get back in her lane.

We scheduled a call for after I arrived at the airport and things didn’t just go left. I was so damn furious after this call that we will be meeting with some administrators in the future.

I no longer disclose that Hope is an adoptee or that she has emotional struggles unless it’s necessary. She is entitled to some privacy; she is entitled to some normalcy. I disclosed a few weeks ago that my daughter struggles with ADHD.

Today, the instructor indicated she knew all about that because her son has it and he even had to go on anti-depressants briefly because he was down and really at his tween age, what could he possibly have to worry about? And what could Hope have to worry about?

I had to close my eyes and take a breath not to verbally stomp this woman.

Now, sometime this quarter the teacher disclosed that she was an adoptee, specifically a Korean adoptee. Hope was drawn to her because of both the adoptee identification and she still loves all things/people Korean. What I didn’t realize was that Hope had chosen not to disclose that she too was an adoptee.

Well, I began to explain that Hope’s struggles with ADHD are not organic; they are trauma based. She is struggling with many adoption-related issues and she is being monitored closely. She’s not “down” and only requiring a brief stint on drugs; medication is a part of her life and helps keeps her functional. And yes, she is an adoptee, an older adoptee who is struggling and who is exceptionally good at masking her struggle outside of our home.

I thought a brief moment of compassion and some level of shared experience might wash over us, but nah. Teacher lady proceeded to tell me that Hope needed to learn responsibility with this ‘punishment’ assignment, and I needed to learn how to properly offer positive reinforcement and incentives.

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Say what now? Whoooosaaaaahhhhh….

Lady, I done took and told you she’s 👏🏾not 👏🏾doing👏🏾 your👏🏾 effing👏🏾 punishment 👏🏾assignment; you know nothing about Hope’s intrinsic or extrinsic motivation triggers so mind your beeswax and your adoption narrative is not the same as Hope’s so again, get in your lane.

She came again with how she would send me some incentive charts, and I just said, well, look at that, I’m at my airport gate, got to go. *Click*

Making me sing church spirituals, trying to get my mind right dealing with this teacher lady. Imma need the Holy Homeboy to show up and show out…cause for real…I am not the one.

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At home, I told Hope she didn’t need to do any other assignments for this class this week; the grown folks have some stuff we need to work out and I need to to focus on getting her feeling safe, attached and functional.

The ONLY good thing is that I really do not have any more damns to give about Hope’s academic performance right now. My daughter’s well-being is everything. Sure, I want her to do her best, but not at the risk of her mental health.

Meanwhile, I feel like this teacher and I are going to butt heads for a while. She was downright offensive today. I’m hoping that with time she will have a better understanding of Hope’s struggle, but if she keeps pushing and academically punishing I’m going to have to be *that* mom.

She really, really doesn’t want to meet that chick.


Thoughts on a Bad Night

I’ve started my fall travel-palooza. I’m only on my second leg, and I am very, very anxious about the rest of the trips.

I’m already exhausted and feeling overextended. I’m stressed, dehydrated and high or sluggish on carbs. I thought I would treat myself to a manicure and a massage at the airport a couple of days ago before my red eye, but by the time I got to my connecting airport everything—EVERYTHING—in my terminal was shut up tight. Closed. I couldn’t even get a diet coke. I folded myself up in my seat and tried to sleep.

I caught 90 minutes of shut eye at home that next morning, and then what feels like my never ending day got back on the road. I ran errands, bought food, filled prescriptions, bathed the dog, did the laundry, herded Hope to her band competition and back to fetch her at 11pm at night, tidied Hope’s room and prepped my room for the nanny. I grabbed a few—and I mean a few—winks of sleep before it was time to get up, finish packing, walk Yappy, and catch my Lyft to the airport.

But, I went left around that 11pm pick up. Actually, I didn’t go left, I went crazy.

My beautiful teen daughter is rather…messy. I was not allowed to be too messy; my room as a teen was tiny. There wasn’t much space to be messy. Hope has a decent sized room, and well, I hear that general messiness has come to be accepted as a typical teen quality.

I reject this, but apparently that doesn’t matter because at the level of my house, the data show that it is true.

Hope is a bit of a mess. I try really, really, really hard to be understanding. I swear to the Holy Homeboy that I do try to understand. I honestly believe that our messiness can be indicative of our emotional state—heck I call my front hall closet the magic closet. I swear, the lion, the witch, the wardrobe and all of Disney could possibly be in there, but I digress.

Hope’s room…Lawd.

When I’m home and can stay on top of her, she can stay on top of the room. I don’t expect it to be eat off the floor clean, but some level that hangs around “kind of tidy” is what I’d like to shoot for. That’s achievable when I’m home. Even still, I find that I have to roll through once a week with a trash bag and thin things out. I throwaway obvious trash and put personal care products away. I make her bed, pick up her laundry and put it in the hamper (literally INCHES away). I try not to go through “her” stuff too much, just align the corners of the piles. Then I hit everything with some sprays of Febreze and run the oil diffuser. I rarely comment on what I find, and she doesn’t get in trouble unless I find something really, really, really serious.

Well yesterday I had to do the trashcan routine, and Er Mah GAWD! For a kid who has a bug phobia, she has no problem creating environments where bugs would simply love to take up residence. I did what I normally do, but with the schedule and my lack of sleep, I ruminated on all the crap I had to clean up. I didn’t take into consideration that she might be stressed when I’m away and that it might contribute to the mess. I went straight tunnel vision with righteous fury that had hours to build.

And by the time I fetched her I was trying to keep a lid on my fury. I knew it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want to spend our few minutes together bickering. I knew both of us were tired.

But I just couldn’t let it go, and not letting it go was like lighting a match to dynamite. I totally blew and I totally blew it.

Before I knew it, I was yelling and saying horrible things, things I knew hurt. I was a crazy mess, and embarrassingly, I admit that Hope was more mature than I was. And even as I saw her face, I could feel my heart cracking because I was conscious enough to know I was being a total and complete asshole.

This was not mothering. This was not who I wanted to be. I was a total mess.

And so I apologized.

Yeah, after I got in one more verbal lick. Seriously, I was so stupid. But I genuinely regret those moments. I worry about how they affected her. I worry that I’ve pushed her away. I worry that I’ve irrevocably damaged us. I worry that she won’t forgive me. I worry that I’ve dredged up old emotions that we’ve worked so hard to reconcile.

I feel like I failed in the most epic way. I know we’ll survive, but I worry that this will be a big setback. I worry that I have broken so much trust.

I wish I had been able to keep it together.

I worry that this is only the beginning of my travel season and that the challenges will only escalate as will my fatigue.

I flew to my next destination this morning. Before I left I hand-wrote my daughter a letter of apology. I gave no excuses. I didn’t dig in about cleaning her room. I didn’t ask for forgiveness. I just said I’m so sorry that I said the awful things I said, that I made her feel bad, that I let my anger, frustration and fatigue get the better of me. I asked for grace as we press through my travel season.

I asked the nanny to take care and to check in to make sure she was ok. I let them go do a little retail therapy, and I gave her some space.

I’m hoping that we’ll be able to right our ship when I get home in a few days. Unfortunately, I’ll be off again to another city by week’s end. But I’m hopeful that my resilient daughter will bounce back. I hope that we won’t be too damaged by this event. I hope that I can learn how to keep my mouth shut and how to let the dumb stuff go.

I didn’t ask for forgiveness, but I hope to God that she does indeed forgive me.

My current worst fear is that she won’t.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Family Unions

This weekend Hope and I will travel to my mother’s hometown to join up with other descendants of my great-great grandparents. I haven’t attended a family reunion since I was a girl in grade school, so I’m excited to go see cousins from all over at a huge gathering of my people.

As I registered me and my daughter for this event, I really wondered about how Hope felt about attending this event.

Hope often remarks how large my side of our family is compared to her side. She comments on how her paternal side seems large but she just doesn’t really know many of the people even though they seem to remember her from when she was a small child.

Behaviorally, it’s clear that my daughter has found her place on my side of the family. She adores her aunts and cousins. She has relationships with her grands. We’re still working past the big emotions related to reclaiming her place on her side of her family. The visits are less frequent because of distance and emotional stability. The conversation is stilted and awkward. The perceived demands that she remember, forgive and embrace them all are hard to overcome. It’s definitely a work in progress.

But family gatherings during the holidays and summer break with my family seems substantially different than going to a family reunion. Did other descendants choose to build their families through adoption? I know of some kinship adoptions in our extended family, but there are still some relations there that just are.

Will Hope feel overwhelmed by the event—beyond her “I don’t like crowds” complaints? Will her new roots in this family be enough to make her feel safe at this event? Will she choose to blend in not mentioning our type of family or will she feel like she needs to separate herself by disclosing our adoption? How best do I make her feel safe with any choice she chooses to make?

My parents and a sister did our Ancestry DNA tests several months ago and have been intrigued and amused at the results. It’s interesting to see how DNA trickles through the bloodlines. I bought a test for Hope who at one point was very, very interested in doing her test, and then she just dropped it and resisted talking about it anymore. I wondered if all that was revealed in watching my immediate family go through the process, uncovering family secrets and connecting with far flung relatives, was just too much to consider for my daughter.

And so, here we are again, at the precipice of another major family event. Will my daughter embrace it? Will she be a distant observer and not feel connected to any of it? Will she reconcile that paper and blood can coexist in families? Will she feel something for these people…these strangers?

I would be lying if I didn’t say I had a lot of emotions about this family reunion. I’m excited to see kinfolk, but I don’t know how my daughter will fit this into her lived experience. I’m not sure what being sensitive looks like here. I’m sure I’ll figure it out, and hopefully maybe it won’t matter at all. Maybe, she will just slide in, grab a hotdog, sit down next to a distant cousin who is cute and figure it out. Sometimes she can be a total boss like that.

Taking my daughter to my/our family reunion is expanding her union and that feels really, really significant. I try to think of our biological families as tied together by us—similar to how families are joined in marriage—ours is joined in adoption. I think a lot about how unbalanced it already feels sometimes, and I wonder if and how this will add to that?

I wouldn’t want to not take Hope as that sends a dangerous signal. Hope is my daughter. Hope is my sole beneficiary to everything that’s mine. She is my lovely, beautiful girl. She is my daughter. Of course, she goes to the family reunion.  Duh! That’s a non-starter.

But there’s always another side to things and that’s Hope’s feelings about it.

I’ve asked her about it. She hasn’t said much. So, I guess I’ll press forward, put on my family reunion t-shirt on Saturday morning, see if Hope puts on her family ‘union’ t-shirt and see what happens. Whatever happens I’ll be there for her as usual.


Fear and Thirst

Last week I suffered a serious car accident. My car will be fine, but I sustained a concussion and the standard body blows that come with being rear ended. A trip to the ER suggested really nothing too serious since I wasn’t knocked out, but as the days waned on and I left for a business, my concussion symptoms began to emerge.

I’ve been dizzy, fatigued, headachey, having language and memory problems. For example, I hid my Tito’s vodka before leaving on my work trip (#becauseteenagers) and for the life of me I cannot remember where I put the damn bottle. It’s seriously like a black hole. I work with a lot of data, and so part of my job is crunching numbers. Normally my brain is like a mini computer; I can see data patterns sometimes just looking at a spreadsheet and can predict what SPSS is going to spit out. Presently, I’m not certain I could count to 50 without stopping. This is frustrating and humbling.

This may last a week. It could also last much longer. After ruling out anything more serious, my doc has said it’s just a game of wait and see.

Of course, Hope knows about the accident and was relieved that I was ok. So was I. But as more serious symptoms have emerged and I’ve needed to stop, rest, and take naps, I can see my daughter’s anxiety levels rising. I’ve tried to be low key about the whole thing.

“I’m fine really. I just need to take a little time out.”

I had to have an MRI, which made being low key kind of impossible. We were due to head out to the beach for our summer vacation (um, trip because a kid is involved), but we had to delay departure because of the MRI scheduling.

Soooo, the night before I figured we’d pack the car, assume that all will be fine and just depart directly from the testing center. Hey, I’m thinking positive here! Fortunately, everything turned out as planned but ugh, poor Hope.

Hope asked, “So, what happens if your brain is bleeding?”

Me: “Um, well…I’ll have to go to the hospital and stay for a day or two.”

“What about our trip?”

“Well, we wouldn’t be able to go, but I’m ok if you want to go be with your cousins that we’ll make sure you get there. Either way, I’m going to be ok.”

My daughter put on a brave face, told me she utterly refused to talk about it anymore and proceeded to spiral into thirsting for attention behavior.

“My leg hurts.”

“Do your stretches, and take some ibuprofen,” I reply.

“I think I need to go to that doctor for my leg…” Sure you do, the specialist that was $250 a visit because he didn’t take our insurance. He managed to get her together in two visits (he better had at that price) and he looked great in his khaki pants, so there’s that.

“No, you just need to get a little exercise, stretch and take some Motrin.”

I had a few girlfriends over for a girls’ night to catch up and have a little fun. #grownwomen Hope crashes the gathering and it becomes a replay of Look at Me! I finally send her off to watch TV and to get out of grown folks’ business. As she leaves I take note of the exaggerated limp and audible groans, which of course prompts inquiries and the requisite levels of sympathy from my friends.

Vent alert!

This parenting a kid of trauma is so…ugh! I seriously can’t even have a damn possible brain bleed by my damn self. I can’t just have a moment of respite in a sickbed without Hope practically laying on top of me so that the doctor can see her first.

I mean, I get that this health scare is scary; especially for a kid who isn’t living with her biological family. The feelings of fear of going through that kind of loss must be consuming. I know she is scared. But she is also jealous of any attention I may get as a result of being injured. That is really effed up, even with an explanation, it’s understandable, but effed up. The need to compete for attention and her lack of empathy just drives me up the wall. It’s all complicated, and even worse, I know that she’s not even really conscious of why her behavior is the way it is. And that lack of consciousness just makes my righteous indignation worthless because there is a huge awareness gap between us.

So I’m just left to either stew in my own juices or just find a way to let it go like I always do.

I want to call my own mama to take care of me, but I know that Hope will shoehorn in and make it about her. Sigh. Can I live?

No, really, can I live?

It’s in moments like these that I am forced to remember that my daughter still has so much emotional catching up to do. It’s also moments like these when my patience is a little thinner than normal.

I’ve tried to be upbeat and encouraging of my worried family and friends. The truth is…I’m increasingly hyper aware of my physical limitations. I’m still recovering from the blows my body sustained in the accident. I hurt and I effing can’t count to 50 without stopping. I don’t know how long that’s going to last. There are moments from the last two weeks that are just gone; it’s like a black hole. I’m scared, and I need some time to sit with that, just to figure out my way through it and ponder what I need to do and wrestle with if this takes a long time to resolve or if some parts of me just don’t come all the way back. I’ve got my own bucket of sadness and gief I’m picking through right now.

To balance that and soothe Hope’s fears…ironically, it’s almost more than my brain can handle right now.

So…I’ll just do what I can and figure out how to draw some boundaries with Hope as I recover. I love this kid, I do, but I just wish our collective emotional capacity was a bit bigger so getting through this was a wee bit easier.

 

 

 


The Thing about Grief

It lingers. Grief it doesn’t ever really go away. It just lingers.

I’ve lost all of my grandparents, a few close friends and some colleagues in this life. They are all missed; I think of them often. I remember defining moments big and small in our relationships. I talk to my grandmothers all the time; I often feel their presence too. I’m even fortunate enough to hear them in my head sometimes.

During those moments when I feel them, I smile, and as soon as they pass, I am reminded that they aren’t on this plane and I can’t see them, hug them, smell them, nothing. They aren’t here physically with me. I still grieve that. But I cope; I have learned to cope.

I am raising a child who has experienced grief on levels I didn’t know existed. Saying her grief lingers is an understatement. It’s woven into her like fabric, and now it’s also a part of my own daily life. But Hope’s coping muscle is still under construction. She was so very young when she experienced such profound loss. She barely understood what was happening to her, much less how to deal with it. Now, years later, she’s still figuring it out, and I do my best to help her. It’s hard on both of us.

It’s hard to watch your child hurt at all, and she hurts so deeply. Witnessing this kind of grief is hard; it takes its toll. I feel helpless, and sometimes hopeless. It’s like there is nothing I can do or say to make Hope feel better. I encourage Hope to emote, to cry, hoping that a good cry will be cleansing. She hates that suggestion because she loathes tears. And so…we sit, often quietly, together.

Sometimes I force a hug on her, and she buries her head in the crook of my neck, squeezes me and sighs. We both exhale and close our eyes. The grief just swirls around us. It’s just always there.

I email AburdlyHotTherapist about my observations, and encourage her to talk to him. I try to get her to practice talking to her therapist about her feelings.

I love on her. I love on her as hard as I can, hoping that I can will her strength enough to be able to wrestle with her grief and win.

Grief can take you to such dark, dark places. The desire to give up…the desire to be with folks you’ve lost…it can make you so very vulnerable to the unimaginable pain. I knew that before Hope, but I know it now on a deeper level. It’s one thing to read about it, to hear about it. It’s another thing entirely to live up close and personal with it.

I worry for my daughter. I fret for her. I wonder when her coping skills develop such that the pain that often feels unbearable becomes manageable and compartmentalized. I just want her to be ok.

I’m often afraid for my daughter. Fighting grief is one of the great fights of Hope’s life.

I just wish I knew how to help her; how to lead her to some kind of solace.

The thing about grief is…grief sucks.


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