Category Archives: Hard Stuff

Doing Right by Hope

I listen to a podcast called, Terrible, Thanks for Asking. A recent episode explored the feelings of a father and daughter who lost their wife and mother to cancer when the daughter was just a toddler. The father remarried and never really discussed his late wife, so his daughter was never sure whether it was ok to talk about her.

As I was listening to the show, I started wondering am I doing enough to make Hope feel comfortable talking about her birth family. We have a relationship with a portion of her birth family, and that has been a little hit or miss just based on Hope’s desire. I made sure that I got numerous pictures of one of her parents and they are hung prominently in our home. I have made it clear that whenever she is ready to visit her family, I’m down to make it happen. She expressed an interest in her birth mother, I looked for her and found her. When she said she was satisfied just knowing where she was but didn’t want contact, I put the info away and told her she can have it whenever she wants.

I’ve told her numerous times that if she wants to talk, I’m here. Anytime, anywhere.

And yet, I do wonder if I’ve created the right environment for Hope to feel like she can tell me what she needs around accessing her birth family.

I have learned that my daughter’s feelings about her family are complicated. There is a lot of loss, feelings of rejection, anger, but also love and affection. I know that my daughter can sign a birthday card and say that she hopes to see them soon, but when I ask to schedule a visit she says no, what she wrote was really just a pleasantry.

Early on, I fretted that her birth family would be upset that I was keeping her away from them. We are a four hours’ drive away but are connected by phone, email and social media. We’ve visited several times; of course, they would like us to visit more often. I don’t want to put up roadblocks to reunion if that’s what everyone wants. The reality is that my daughter’s idea of reunion and theirs don’t jive at this point. I’ve learned to be really honest with them about what she’s going through and how much contact she wants. Those are hard conversations to have with a family that also feels like Hope is the prodigal kid, who was lost and now found. I try to make sure that cards get sent, pictures and band concert programs are mailed so that they can see she’s doing well, but truth be told, there’s not much contact between Hope and her family.

On the daily, we don’t talk about her family of origin much either. Occasionally something will remind her of an episode from before my time and she’ll share it with me, usually something funny, sometimes something dark. The dark stuff is always very sad, and honestly, those are the stories that more often get repeated…verbatim. Therapy has helped her write some new scripts, but old habits and trauma die hard. Occasionally, I’ll ask about a parent and she’ll share a little story or shut down the conversation, depending on her mood. This is how we roll; I don’t have much to compare it to, so I guess this is normal. I listen to adult adoptees and know that it can be super complicated. I know that Hope will come into her own and decide if, how and when she wants more of a connection to her birth family. I just don’t ever want her to feel like she doesn’t have my support or that she can’t bring it up in our home. I try to follow her lead on creating and sustaining chosen connections.

On the whole, I feel like I’ve tried to create a space that supports her, values her family yet consistently prioritizes her emotional needs. It’s hard though; it’s complicated. I find myself wondering if I’m doing enough or too much sometimes. Hope is getting older; emotionally she’s still pretty young despite her gains over the last few years. I see her turning into a young adult; I see her questioning a lot of things about the world and about herself and about her personal history as she lived it and interprets it. I know in the coming years I’ll be transitioning from active parenting to a parent-guide of sorts as she comes into herself and launches into the world. I have no idea whether what I’m doing on the birth family stuff will bear fruit—or even what that means, honestly. I just know I want her to be happy and healthy, and I want her to know I’ll always ride hard for her.

I hope I’m doing right by Hope.

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The Deal with Me & School

How do I explain this so the masses understand my fixation on school…ok here goes.

I love school; even when it was hard I loved school. I like learning. I’m curious. I watch historical shows, google subtopics and gobble up Wikipedia pages right down to the footnotes. I appreciated the challenge that school brought. When it came to my doctoral work, I actually liked the rhythm and pace of things even though it was grueling. The writing and rewriting…I was creating something, and it was and remains awesome.

I love school.

I’ve benefited greatly from my academic pursuits. Good job, buying a house, got a car, planning for retirement. Definitely enjoying the material trappings of hard work and earned accolades. I’m proud of my accomplishments. I had big aspirations when I was a little girl. I thought I would be an attorney someday. I realized early in college that I didn’t want to do that, but I also believed that I would earn a doctorate in something. I would one day be Dr. ABM. I have always been ambitious as hell. #heymomImadeit

Walking across that stage being hooded was an amazing feeling.

Graduation

Best Day Ever!

And then there’s there the reality of what it means to me to be educated.

One of the things I value most about all this schooling is that I feel like it gives me a little social privilege which can counterbalance the reality of living in black skin. I’m a little more welcome in white spaces. The education does not make me better than anyone, but it makes a lot of white people see me differently. And if white folks think I’m safe because I’m educated, well then, I might actually be a little safer while walking around in this skin. I move in circles that are sometimes uncomfortable, but I have the right letters, the right credentials, I “belong,” and so I’m safe.

It’s true what we tell our kids about working two or three times as hard to get half as far. I busted my ass, and loved it, to get *here* and one of the fruits of my labor is moving a little easier in white spaces.

Hope came along right as I was finishing my doctorate, and as helpful as being Dr. ABM at work has been these last few years, the real benefit of having $70K in educational debt comes when I step across the threshold off Hope’s school.  Hope’s first summer here, she got into trouble at her summer camp and they were planning to kick her out. I met with the camp director who immediately started berating me. I held my hand up, insisted that we start over with proper introductions because I’m not going out like that—“Let’s start over. Hi, I’m Dr. ABM and you are?” By the time it was over he was apologizing profusely, Hope was allowed to stay in camp and got a promotion to junior camp counselor and I didn’t have to pay for the rest of the summer. Maybe it was the Dr, maybe not, but I know everything changed when I introduced myself as Dr. ABM. That was a moment when my privilege was extended to Hope.

I’ve found that my educational privilege has played out in numerous ways shielding Hope and I from a lot of drama. It was a lot easier for me to be *that* parent with the Dr in front of my name. The conversations always change when meeting participants who initially see me as some kind of stereotype black mother progress to seeing me as an educated professional mom. It’s always clear when some kind of back story for me and Hope is challenged and somehow the acceptable version of us is welcomed …my education somehow makes us safe, different and sadly, respectable.

This is the reality of racism, and it’s so utterly apparent to me since I finished my degree. It’s nearly stunning. In my 45 years, 8 with a president who looks like me, I’ve never been as afraid for myself or my kid’s future. I dreamed of what having kids would be like. I worried a lot about countless things, but these last few years, my fear of racially motivated harm has escalated sharply. I feel like there’s a part of me that’s always unsettled and looking to avoid the inevitable hurt that racism brings.

So, when I wrestle with my emotions around Hope’s academic experiences it’s largely motivated by fear, not by any expectations of Hope in particular.  I am terrified that she won’t have this little buffer of safety that I feel like education can provide (even when it doesn’t, really). What happens when Hope isn’t covered by what little privilege I have amassed to buffer us from some of racism’s ugliness? I already worry about her various vulnerabilities. It’s not just that I want her to do well for the sake of doing well, I just worry myself sick that someone will read her wrong and she will end up in trouble or worse…dead. I don’t know if doing well on her SAT will protect her from being harmed, but my sense is that not trying will certainly not offer any protection.

I’ve started to see school as an avenue for self-protection.

So, when well-meaning, kind of shared experience having white parents urge me to let it go, to not worry about school, to let Hope handle it all and fail on her own…it’s not that I disagree, but I feel like there’s a huge part of the story of my worry that is completely unheard or not even considered.

Their stories are considered universal—everyone can and should relate because well, I’ll be frank, white is normative. Their kids fail and it’s heartbreaking. It is, but it’s not failing in a system that already doesn’t give two shits about you.

My worries about school are very different; this is about Hope’s survival in a racist world. This is about amassing elements of protection that can provide small buffers of the worst of a life routinely disrupted by racism. This is about being considered safe enough to be granted entrée into white spaces where more opportunities and resources await. This is about liberation and freedom.

The stakes feel so much higher and not just because I’m an absurd high achiever, but because I’m scared shitless. So, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely let the school thing go.

And Hope is starting to understand this. It isn’t really just about her performance; it’s about the long game. I know she struggles with her interpretation of my academic push; I also know that somewhere in there she wants to do well. I’m also keenly aware that there’s an additional layer of pressure on her because of what I’ve achieved. People see me and wonder why Hope isn’t doing better; they often assume she’s rebelling.

My desires for Hope are expansive, but honestly I just want to keep her safe. Education is one avenue to help do that. I don’t know how it will all work out. I have no idea.

I do know that being educated and working in academia doesn’t always offer the protection I wish it did. Even in my job, I feel it. I had hate mail too; I’ve had students say nasty things about me and to me. I’ve had professors say I was a “troublemaker.”

And yet, I still think it’s one of the best options we’ve got.

So, this is why I fixate on Hope and school. This is why it’s so important to me. This is why I can’t just let it go.


Self-Care Tuesday

When I returned from taking Yappy for our early morning walk this morning, I seriously contemplated taking the day off. Then I remembered some things that I needed to do that seemed kind of important, and I set about to just continue on my morning routine.

I packed lunches, prepared breakfast, washed up the dishes, engaged in a bit of sniping with Hope about the continued state of disarray that is her room. I gave Yappy some benadryll in hopes that it would help his worsening separation anxiety. I showered, dressed and did hair and makeup.

I found myself well ahead of schedule and so I ran the vacuum in my bedroom and in the kitchen to clean up the crumbs that Yappy seemed disinterested in noshing.

I still just wanted to get back in bed and pull the covers over my head.

I’m just worn down and over it.

Yesterday I had to rush to Hope’s school because the nurse said she was so sick she was considering calling the paramedics. I get there to see all the signs of one of my daughter’s “spells” including the unrelated limp that accompanies her stomach ache. (#stomachboneconnectedtothelegbone) Over the years we’ve become frequent fliers at the local urgent care thanks to these spells. I don’t doubt that Hope actually feels pain and discomfort, and yes, I have to take every episode seriously. But I also know how this plays out 99.999% of the time. So I rush to the urgent care, where they quickly refer us to the local children’s ER (the usual nurse practitioner who sees us wasn’t there…#newbies). So, I rush her to the children’s ER about 30 minutes away and by the time she’s on the gurney, she’s made her usual miraculous recovery. I kid you not, Hope stammered and told the nurse that her pain level was a 1.

The nurse looked at me, and I tried to keep my irritation to myself and said, “I’m glad you are feeling better.”

And I was sincere since I genuinely believe my daughter feels the pain. I also kind of wanted to scream because I’m fully cognizant of what triggered all of this.

I wish I could say I was shocked. I’m not and I haven’t been the last 20 times this has happened.

<opening scene>

Onset of earth shattering abdominal pain that surely must mean death is imminent. Mom comes running. Mom rushes her to the ER because this is serious and needs immediate medical attention. Mom is awash with worry and if she’s not, she performs worry adequately and on cue.  A flurry of professionals scurry around to triage and get answers to the questions of life. Tests are run. CT scans and MRIs are scheduled. Hope is wheeled around on stretcher with head lolling back so that orderly double check to make sure she hasn’t lost consciousness. IVs are placed. As quickly as the episode began, it vanishes. The attention is lavished and soaked up like a sponge. All is right with the world with no findings in any of the tests. Hope declares that she has no idea why this keeps happening to her; it’s so weird.  Like good cast members we all nod sympathetically in agreement. It is so weird. We are referred for follow up (including mental health referrals) , and we are sent on our merry way.

<end scene>

And so this morning I found myself going through a more reasonable routine, and even though I did it, I just was so over it. I rallied though and got in my car, turned on the Waze app and started to head into the office. 5 minutes in Waze announced that there was a new 23 minute backup, and it would take me more than an hour to get to work.  I sat in it for 30 minutes as the traffic only worsened, and then I had the opportunity to finally turn around.

And I did.

Still I thought about just taking a different route to work. I balanced my work things to do with my own need to just have some time to get myself together.

I won; work lost.

I quickly dictated an email to the office that I was taking a personal day.

Today, I will sit in the quiet. I will not look at Hope’s room. I will walk Yappy. I will finish a trashy novel I’ve been reading. I might got get a pedicure and my brows waxed. I will drink a cup of matcha. I will let my brain rest since my TBI symptoms have been worsening and making me feel like ish lately. I will go to the parenting support group tonight.

I will just sit and rest because I really need to. Despite my robust travel schedule, I don’t do much respite. It feels weird to admit needing respite when I travel so much, but those trips are work and I’m usually pulling long hours. I might be away from home, but I’m not resting.

So today, I will rest and take care of me.

And I might do it tomorrow too because I need it.


I’m Spent

I intellectually understand why Hope engages in self-sabotage. I totally get it on an intellectual level. There’s the need to actually be the failure she sees herself as. There’s the need to create a situation where she is not increasingly independent as she moves to adulthood. There’s the reality that her brain, having been subjected to early and multiple traumas just doesn’t make the same kind of connections that neurotypical kids do.

I have read the articles. I’ve listened to adult adoptees. I chat with other adoptive parents. I totally get it.

And then there’s the reality of living with it.

And the reality is that I don’t get it at all. Like not even a little bit. Not even the smallest fraction.

The emotional roller coaster is like being on one of those obnoxious carnival spinner rides that makes you feel kind of nauseous halfway through. The kind of ride where you just close your eyes, take long, slow breaths as you try not to hurl while the ride is still going.

This was an especially trying weekend with Hope. She broke a rule on Thursday night that required immediate and meaningful consequences. Of course, this meant that essentially my first weekend home in a month *we* were grounded. The tearful, depressive “woe is me” episodes were authentic if brought on by her own behavior. I tried to be connected. I had her drive me around on my weekend errands most of the morning. I tried to bond over shopping for Mother’s Day gifts for the grandmothers. I insisted that she come with me and Yappy for a couple mile walk out in the glorious sunshine.

I finished the application for the summer boarding program I hope she will attend this summer this weekend. The application prompted a difficult conversation about the academic reckoning that Hope is facing as she looks to start her senior year of high school. Despite multiple meetings, lots of conferences and long, painful conversations with Hope before today, there’s still remains a core of denial that graduation may not happen as scheduled. We are rolling headlong into some real natural consequences that have been 4 years in the making, and I’m in a state of nausea waiting for Hope to act like none of us tried to tell her that the situation was this serious.

And I’m trying to figure out how to balance a possible delayed graduation with the fact that my daughter has zero desire to grow up anyway. Hope deserves a childhood, but Hope also needs to be doing a few more things independently than she is. I’m not kicking her out, but I do wonder what the long game is for her, for us, for me. Will she ever want to be independent? Will she continue to self-sabotage to see if I’ll come save her? When will it be too much for me? As I’ve been working on updating my estate planning recently, I’m really thinking about my own mortality and how I want to spend the next 30-40 years, assuming I have that long.

And why the fuq will she not just fold her laundry and take out her trash like I tell her to? This on top of all the really serious stuff just is the most triggering because it’s stuff completely within her control which is probably why it’s not getting done. URGH!

I adore Hope. She has added so much to my life. But despite really working hard this year to practice self-care and trying my best to be a more emotionally regulated parent (I’m not even yelling anymore) I’m just exhausted.

In fact, I think I’m not yelling because I’m just spent.

It seems nothing I do motivates Hope. This last year has felt like we’re on emotional eggshells. Family members have suggested that maybe I’ve spoiled her. I would LOVE to spoil my daughter, but I don’t know if that’s a thing for her. I know there are things she enjoys about this life, but after four years, she still struggles to ask for things she wants/needs. I know that her trust for me only goes so far.

And so we just go round and round with me nudging, pushing, pulling, cheering, encouraging, and loving and Hope sitting, stalling, denying, avoiding, and sabotaging.

I’m accepting that this is our life and that she’s undoubtedly having a hard time. I honestly am a little tapped out though. I don’t know what to do or say other than a hug and a pat and a “there, there it will be ok, I promise.”

This weekend has been hard. I’m proud that I didn’t barf—figuratively, emotionally or literally. But I’m going into the next week feeling like I’ve been through an emotional ringer, and it almost always feels that way these days.

I’m not sure when this part of our ride will change, but I hope it’s soon.


Nine Months Later

I’ve been on the road ever since Hope and I returned from #thebestspringbreak ever. It has been kind of grueling and I know that it’s been hard for my daughter. She’s a great sport when it comes to my job; I know that Hope is not thrilled that I travel so much (neither am I half the time), but she knows that it is just the way things are.

This month’s travel connected me with colleagues and friends who I deeply care about so there’s been lots of bar time catching up, thinking about new collaborations and debriefing on the workshops we ran or sat in on. I love my work, but it’s these times when I’m super energized—hanging out with cool, creative souls whose work dovetails with mine and who like to work together to change the world. Bar time makes the whole ordeal of preparing content, schlepping to the airport and being away from my family worth it.

This weekend, I participated in a leadership workshop in which I was asked to consider a number of questions about my life that I realized needed further examination. I found myself listing incidents that positioned me or push/dragged me to the next level of personal development. I did this exercise last fall in a colleague’s workshop, but I guess I was still in the thick of things and didn’t have the perspective I do now.

I started thinking about last year’s car accident and my head injury and what these last 9 months have been like.

I started thinking about how the injury blossomed; it took more than a week for most of the symptoms to emerge. I started thinking about all the weird things that seem different after the accident. I never had dry eyes before. I still occasionally experience aphasia and some short term memory issues. I get tired more easily than I used to when I’m doing more brain work. My feel for numbers eventually came back and I’m comfortable with my research and data analysis and can spout off my findings but something still feels just off 9 months later.

Ironically I don’t have a word to better describe “feeling off.” It just doesn’t come quite as easy as it did before.

Normally I dive in and research a lot about what is going on neurologically with Hope. I want to understand the science behind what she’s experiencing and struggling with and why. In 9 months I have never done that with my brain injury. It’s like getting that info makes it real, concrete, and maybe semi-permanent. I’m not sure I want to know if the rest of my life will really be reflected in a pre-post accident way. I’m not sure I want to know a lot about how post-concussion syndrome comes back a year post accident. I’m not sure I want to fully know what I’m dealing with.

So, I just don’t deal with it. #surpriseme

My attorneys aren’t thrilled with my refusal to really understand the nature of my injuries. That’s ok, I’m not thrilled that I found myself having to sue the other party. The suit isn’t frivolous; I have real impact and expenses, but the suit just makes things linger around for who knows how long—much like my symptoms and in the words of Hope, “Can we just not?”

I was asked this weekend about why I didn’t tell people about the accident and my injury. It’s not shame or worry. It’s just…I wanted to move on. I wanted to push through. I wanted to get back in control after going through a period that seemed really uncertain. I’m a control freak. I wanted to push my brain (including the rest it needed) to get its ish together.

I didn’t want to accept that the accident would redefine me in any way. Nine months later, I can admit that it was a turning point. Life after a brain injury is different. It just is. I’m ok; I’m still sharp, and I feel like most of my black girl magic is back, but it’s not the same.

I am different, and it’s a pretty fair guess that things will never be what they were before I was hit in the 3rd Street tunnel on my way to work.

This is my life post-trauma.

Last night I was turning this fact over in my tired brain, and I thought about Hope’s experiences with trauma. I started thinking what I learned about her when we were first matched and what I’ve learned about her life since. I thought about how my own avoidance of emotionally dealing with my ONE injury stacked up against Hope’s reluctant work on her multiple moments of trauma.

I remain in awe of her. She’s done some remarkable work in these last few years. I know she’s healthier for it, but I know that that stuff is still there, that the effects just linger and reemerge periodically.

Hope was sharing with me recently how she had shared her life story with someone recently and how it made her feel—seemingly a bit numb. I considered how hard I have worked to avoid dealing with the emotional part of my injuries and how week after week, I take Hope to therapy to wrestle with her memories of trauma. It’s incredibly hard work.

I know she struggles with it. I know she sometimes hates going to therapy to talk about her pain. I see it in her eyes. I hear it in her voice. And yet, she never fights me about going. She goes, and she engages. She does the work.

I asked her recently about how it felt to go to therapy. She shrugged, said it was easier than it used to be. I asked her if she thought it helped. She sighed and nodded her head.

I go to therapy as well, but I haven’t spent much time working on what it feels like to be affected by a brain injury. I haven’t done that work. Other than a couple of sessions during the worst of my symptoms, I just haven’t talked about it. It’s been easier not to.

I suppose I owe it to myself and to Hope to go wrestle with the baggage I acquired 9 months ago. I can’t say I’m looking forward to doing this work, but Hope is right: it gets better.


Hopeful for Hope

Hope is extraordinary. Seriously, I don’t know how she does it.

Ok, so some days, are much (seriously, so much) better than others. I and everyone around her has noticed the good days versus the bad days more than usual in the last year.

These last four years for Hope have been stable. I’d like to say that they’ve been good, great even, but I know that that’s probably not true, and I’m guessing that the benchmark for good might be fuzzy. On the outside looking in, it’s been great, on the inside looking out, it’s been…more good than not; it’s also been super challenging for her and for me.

Hope’s life before was hard. There was a lot of upheaval and a lot of safety issues. There was also a lot of love in her previous life; I never doubted that. I might side eye a lot of stuff that I know about her past, but I never doubted that her family of origin loved her so very much. There were just a lot of problems and barriers to probably being the type of parents they wanted to be.  All that stuff made Hope scared, distrustful, headstrong, and survival focused. That stuff also left Hope with some real developmental challenges that linger and make life harder for her. That love shaped her, and it made Hope have hope about her future life. I cling to that probably as much as she does.

We seem to be at a bit of a fork in the road in this journey.

My daughter has to make some choices about the type of future she wants. I’m not talking about 5 or 10 years down the road; I’m talking about the next year. To me, the choice for her is obvious, but it’s not. It seems that those extraordinary survival qualities Hope developed in times of need make it hard for her to see the range of choices clearly. It makes what feels like should be an obvious choice not so obvious for my daughter. As a mom, it’s so hard to see the struggle she endures trying to find her way through this maze. The skills that served her so well for so long don’t work as well in this chapter of her life, and the time hasn’t been long enough yet for her new survival skills to evolve.

It’s like taking an Olympic swimmer and putting her on a stage with a concert violin and demanding that she play as though she’s been playing professionally her whole life. She hasn’t and so she won’t.

And yet, she muddles a rocky rendition of Chopsticks and calls it a day. Hope is extraordinary.

Sometimes I find it so incredibly hard to understand how Hope sees and maneuvers through her world. I see immense talent, tenacity, courage and street smarts in her. I have wondered how to help her leverage her skills to her benefit. I’ve tried all kinds of things, but neither of us have found the magic sauce yet. It takes time. With a major life event (finishing high school) looming, it feels like we’re behind schedule.

We’re not, but it feels like it.

As a mom, all this feels so weird, awkward even to guide her though this—it’s a bit of the blind leading the blind. I mean, I went through traditional life events, but with none of the history or life experiences that Hope has had. Sometimes my life experience feels irrelevant and ill-suited for any kind of possible comparison. I can only imagine how it feels to Hope to know how to live a life only to be thrust into another one where everything, EVERYTHING was different. I chose this life to mother and parent her; she didn’t choose anything about this life. I try to remember that as we muddle through together.

These next 4 months will have a major impact on my daughter’s life for the next year. I’m not sure what she will choose; I’m starting to question what the “right” choice is for her. I thought I knew, but I’m also realizing that she and I have different views and different sets of choices ahead of us over the next few months. Things aren’t as obvious as they appeared, I suppose.

As we talk about the choices, I try to assure her that I love her, accept her, still think she’s an extraordinary kid and I will support her no matter what. I hope that Hope believes me. I hope that she does what she thinks is best for herself and that it sets her up for success.

I’m hopeful, and prayerful, and anxious, and worried, and committed and still more hopeful.


Over-Under Achievers

Hope is in serious danger of needing to repeat this school year. I’m not sure what set it all off, but this year has been an academic nightmare. And for me as an academic junkie who used to verbally spar with her teachers over whether they really should have deducted a half point for some academic infraction, Hope’s academic performance has caused more than a little heartburn.

Each week I receive a progress report summary on her academic standing. Those damn things are so upsetting this that I sometimes don’t open them. They make my stomach hurt; they give me headaches and stressed out neck pain. Education and achievement are a part of my core values system. It’s been hard to understand how Hope’s background shape her views on school. It’s been hard to accept that her version of trying doesn’t look anything like mine. It’s been incredibly maddening that I can’t seem to influence her choices at all.

Last week one of Hope’s teachers reached out really alarmed with all that’s going on with Hope and her class. Over the course of the next few days, I talked to the counselor, the social worker and the teacher. We all decided that we would meet next week to further discuss ways to support my daughter.

Realistically, I have zero faith that this team of amazing people can create something that will turn Hope’s intrinsic motivation “on.” It’s not on; I’m not sure if it’s been on at all for the last year. I think Hope would love to be a good student but being a bad student…well that just feels like what she’s worth.

Hope also does not accept that any of this is her fault. Nothing is ever her fault. She was late to school and missed the announcement of an assignment? That’s the teacher’s fault because she should have pulled her aside and made sure that she got it. Chased her down the hall if necessary.  She didn’t do her homework because the teachers skills are awful, and she didn’t understand the material.  Tutoring? She doesn’t need. Homework? Eh.

This approach to school triggers every bit of my anxiety. Part of it is just how I feel about education, but part of it is just how I can’t wrap my head around this kind of self-sabotage. I don’t get it. I see it happening. I get the pathology from a scientific and academic perspective, but lived experience?

This ish is cray.

Hope has the intellectual capacity to do well, in the traditional, classical sense. Even thought I feel some kinda way about testing, Hope’s PSAT score felt validating in a “see, I knew she had more capacity than she demonstrates in class” way. Hope is smart and where she has deficiencies, she’s balanced by a high curiosity and inquisitiveness.

I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I’ve harnessed so many resources for Hope only to be met with a blank stare. I have no idea how to handle that. We are incredibly fortunate that our school district is just leaning in to providing more support, all kinds of support. Every fight I thought I’d have with them proved unnecessary—they have been more than happy to help.

And then they get met with blank stares too.

I asked AbsurdlyHotTherapist for recommendations. He sent me articles about ‘underachievers’ and told me to keep making Hope accountable for her choices and her mental health. The art therapist said the same.

My sense is that there’s a huge, dramatic decision that has to be made and will be followed by hell breaking loose. People will tell me that it will be ok in the long run; yeah, maybe, but this sucks so hard that that response brings no comfort. I’m not excited about any of this. I hate it all. I just wish Hope had the capacity and was willing to work with me and with the school to create something positive for herself and her life.


Thoughts on Guns in School

In short, no. Just no.

I am a former gun owner. Yep, for friends and family, this will likely come as a bit of a surprise.

When I was in my 20s, I purchased a firearm. I took classes on how to properly fire it. I got it to help me feel safe after I very briefly dated a guy who turned out to be a stinking nut job.

After going out with him twice, he proceeded to stalk me. He sent letters, followed me, watched me. He called me nonstop. He sent flowers to my office every day for weeks at a time; I had to tell security repeatedly to refuse the deliveries.

After a couple of months, I called the police. They were dismissive, said he was probably a nice guy who was just clearly taken with me. I requested a temporary restraining order. He started back up shortly after it expired. More months went by and I took the police the letters, an affidavit from the office security, recordings from my answering machine. They finally pressed charges. He eventually did 30 days in jail. Got out, stalked me again. 30 more days.

I eventually purchased a 9mm because I didn’t think the cops were doing enough to keep me safe. I wanted to be prepared if things escalated. After more than a year, I moved when my lease expired and changed my phone number; he moved on and probably started stalking someone else. A year or two later, I legally sold my gun. I didn’t believe it was still a necessary part of my safety routine. I no longer needed it, and I divested myself of it.

I never really intended to own a gun and do not have any plans to buy another.

I don’t have an animus towards people who do. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why a sane someone outside of a war zone would want an assault rifle. Even in my What Would ABM Do in a Zombie Apocalypse dreams an AR probably would not make my list. I just don’t think we should have them.

But that’s me, and for whatever reason apparently, they figure prominently in other people’s lives beyond the zombie apocalypse.

Hearing about the Parkland shooting two weeks ago made my heart sink. I spilled tears thinking about all the death and trauma. I also spilled some tears for the shooter; knowing he was an adopted kid who had lost both parents and seemed to be lost made me think about how close my own daughter could come to disaster—either as a victim or a perpetrator. Trauma is a beotch.

Now, a couple of weeks later, the post-traumatic discourse about guns is in full swing. Do we get rid of all the guns? Do we get more guns and arm everyone? Do we just keep troubled, sick people from having guns? Shouldn’t the teachers have guns?

Sigh.

I’m an educator. My sister is an educator. My uncle was an educator. I know educators.

Education is amazing, inspiring work. Teaching kids and adults stuff is life-affirming. You get to watch minds grow. You get to see minds opening, skills developing and opportunities created.

I’m lucky. I exist outside of the actual ivory tower; I live in an organization where I’m well compensated. I don’t have to deal with the daily rigors of classroom life. I don’t need to personally buy supplies or call parents. I am a different kind of educator, and I’m routinely grateful for that since I still get the joys of seeing all the cool stuff with minimal exposure to the icky stuff.

I can’t imagine carrying a gun into a classroom. I just can’t. Clearly, I understand that there are people who would, but no. I can’t.

I also do not want Hope to be in a school where teachers are armed. No. Hard no.

I don’t think that armed faculty mitigates the risk of an armed gunmen entering the school, and if it does, show me the data because to date, I haven’t seen anything but hypothetical conjecture.

I don’t want Hope around guns, gunmen or teachers with guns. Just no.

I don’t want an arms race in education. Haven’t we seen what happens with nuclear weaponry and proliferation at the global level? You get a weapon, then your neighbor feels like they need to get a weapon to protect themselves from you. Then everyone gets more weapons. It only escalates and then we’re all more afraid that one leader who isn’t wrapped too tight gets pissy on Twitter, and the whole neighborhood is all dead.

Do we want that for our kids?

We are fortunate to live in a decent area with good schools. Hope doesn’t have any metal detectors; there’s no ‘wanding’ to go to school events. Kids get to be kids. Yes, there are worries, there are fears. The day after the Parkland shooting, there was a shooting threat at her school. It scared me. It scared her. My work with people convinces me that having armed teachers wouldn’t have prevented the fake threat, much less a real one.

I am locked in some ongoing drama with a couple of Hope’s teachers and counselors at the moment. They are passionate about their work. They care about my daughter and her classmates. I think they would do what they could to keep them safe if necessary. I still don’t think they should be armed.

I do not expect Hope’s teacher to die saving her. I also do not expect them to shoot someone to save her. I expect them to teach her.

English.

History.

Physics.

Anatomy

Algebra.

Band.

That’s it. That what they are paid to do.

If they need tissues and hand sanitizer, I’ll buy tissues and hand sanitizer. If they need some extra notebooks, pens, and markers for kids whose families don’t have the ability to provide them, I am eager to help out. I advocate for higher pay; I know they are woefully underpaid and hardly get bathroom breaks to boot.

I will not lobby for them to have guns in the classroom. I won’t do that. I don’t believe that is the appropriate response to trauma. I don’t meet Hope’s trauma with more of it. I won’t do it at home and I will not advocate for it at her school.

No.

I will advocate for schools to embrace and infuse their teaching with trauma responsive techniques and tools for student management. I will advocate for more student service resources to help identify struggling kids who may be at greater risk for violence. I will advocate for more programs and resources for people who find themselves young, but of legal age, without family or resources, but with lots of emotional trouble and turmoil and at greater risk for violence because the pain is unbearable.

Hurt people, hurt people.

We don’t give hurt people guns—before or after they are hurt.

So no, I don’t want to see guns in Hope’s school.

Nope.


Defiance & Regression

Of all the parenting struggles, and the trauma struggles, and the struggles that exist apparently just for existence’s sake, the one I struggle with the most is defiance.

We are apparently in the midst of period where Hope has decided to be defiant. #ohhellno

I honestly do not, nay cannot, deal with this in a positive way. It is a serious trigger for me. Defiance burns my house to the ground, leaving just ash and anger in its wake. I can take a lot in my little queendom, but open defiance is that thing that will get me all the way gassed up. #tothegallowswithyou

While I don’t think kids should fear their parents, I do think there should be a healthy respect for place in the family, authority and all of that. There is a certain deference that should just…be. To this day, there’s a line that I simply do not cross with my parents. The line might’ve moved with some time. I might even bump up against it as a now middle aged woman, but there’s just some ish I won’t do and if I do it, I apologize and take my lumps.

The defiance that Hope displays isn’t rooted in any of that. It’s trauma related, attachment related and then just sprinkle some moody teenager on top for bad measure.

The roaring that my parents may have engaged in, and the occasional righteous and well deserved-smack, were enough to get me back in line with a quickness, but these approaches are ill-advised and useless at best in my own parenting of Hope (but lawd…my palm is twitching something terrible #realtalk #mytruth)

This weekend we’ve had a quiet rage in the house.

I don’t even know why she’s pissy; I have my suspicions, but really, who knows. I know why I’m pissy. Hope’s antics killed my #BlackPanker, #WakandaForever high. I was feeling all good and hype after going to the movies. (That movie was everything I needed and more in a movie—go see it!) She woke up yesterday, and it’s been drama ever since.

I haven’t dealt with it well. I *might* have told her how I really felt in a fit of anger. That just made things worse; I knew that, but in the moment, ALL of my buttons were pushed and engaged.

For the love of everything holy, just do what I ask you to do, when I ask you to do it. It’s not a suggestion; I didn’t say, “when you get a chance.” Just get up, go do said task or ask me can you do it at a different designated time. But the blank state accompanied by a subtle, but still noticeable eye roll. When I tell you that it sends my pressure up…smh. #rollyoureyesonemoredamntime #doit #idareyou

She is really, really, really doing it right now.

Capture

I am not here for any of it.

We are in an especially challenging time and I know it underpins this weekend’s behaviors. Hope wants to launch after graduation; we both know that she isn’t really ready but we’re kind of going through the motions like she is. I’m encouraging her to get an after-school job. Her grades are already iffy, so having a job isn’t a particularly big threat to academics and in my cost-benefit analysis, she’ll get some job experience and hopefully some more social interaction that will help her more than aspiring to get a C in algebra 2 will. Hope has career fantasies that are doable, but she’s going to have a few more rungs on the ladder due to academics, trauma, and a general lack of intrinsic motivation.

When we bump up against these truths, things get ugly. The walls go up, the lids go down and the lights go out. If I try to revisit the fact that I will be here to support every step, whatever the step—but there do have to be steps—no lights come on; no one is home in there.

I know this is all fear. I get it, I do. Theoretically, I get the push/pull, be an asshole so that you can just precipitate failure and abandonment dynamic, but really, can’t we skip this part?

Have we done enough of this?

Doesn’t it get old for you? I mean I feel like it’s gotten a lot of airplay and it feels old as hell to me.

Do we always have to regress into sh*tty behaviors? Can’t we see some of those other coping skills we’ve learned? Can we try a different tack since we *know* this one doesn’t work? Please?

Oh and I get that it’s not supposed to be personal—but when you’re single parenting and there are no other humans engaged in this back and forth, ish gets personal quick. Sigh.

Even Yappy is like, “she’s giving off icky energy, so I’m just going to post up over here…away from the fracas.”

I’m doing my best here and this weekend is one where it just doesn’t feel like it’s good enough.

Sigh…Just wash the dang dishes now…Dammit.

Yes, NOW.

Ugh!


Making Life Safe

Hope is in the second semester of her junior year of high school.  Soon enough, she’ll be a senior and we’ll be doing all those ‘senior’ things that families do–senior nights, college visits, planning, spending, more planning.

As Hope and I face this future the other thing that has emerged as a major issue is anxiety.

My “normal” parent friends chuckle and joke about this time as they begin to plan what to do with their impending empty nest time. Their kids get teased a bit about moving out, launching and being dropped off at college while parents RUN to the car and into their less intensive period of parenting.

This seemed so natural and Hope wants and plans to go to college, so I joked a bit with her about how she was going to grow up, move away and live her life. Occasionally she would respond that she just got here, did she have to go so soon?

It’s taken me some time to realize that was a real question for Hope, that maybe she felt like I didn’t want her around and that I was eager for her to graduate and move on and move out.

Oy. Sigh.

Parenting is intense and while I look forward to that period of life that is a little empty nested; I went into this gig knowing that Hope was probably not going to fly the coop, so to speak, when other kids did. I figured that she would need more time. I figured that she would need more time academically and emotionally.

What I didn’t understand was that my joking about this next big rite of passage would scare the ish out of her. I didn’t get it.

I’m not beating myself up about it; I’m sad though that Hope is not able to enjoy this season of her life. I’m sad that she was robbed of so much and that what she’s endured haunts her such that she is still so deeply affected by it. I’m sad that my baby girl wonders if I would really just kick her out of our home after she graduates.

It breaks my heart.

During one of our car chats recently, I found myself in a parking lot, asking Hope to look me in the eye, as I told her that she was safe, that she was home, that I wasn’t abandoning her, that I would always support her and that I hoped one day she would feel safe and secure enough to flirt with having some independence but that I wasn’t pushing her out.

She only nodded, and I hoped that I would only have to say this speech 10,000 more times instead of a million.

Just when I think I’ve dealt with my own emotional baggage about Hope and school, this realization that Hope isn’t all that jazzed about

Will next year just be one anxiety ladened episode after another? Will every ‘senior’ event be a trigger about independence and attachment? Will graduation be a celebratory event at all or will it just represent an independence that is not being asked of my daughter?

It all sound misery inducing. It also makes me wonder how much self-sabotaging is going on with Hope’s school performance. I swear the last two years it has often felt like she was gunning to fail.

It’s also makes me second guess my long ago decision not to hold her back a year academically. Four years ago, when Hope was placed with me, I seriously entertained demanding that the school system place her in one lower year grade. I thought it would suit her emotional needs and given that the schools in her home state weren’t that great, she could gain some academic confidence by repeating some content. When I mentioned this possibility to the social workers and with Hope everyone rained hell-fired down on me. I backed off and hoped that at least Hope and I would have a better start without that type of conflict.

While I’ll never know what our relationship would be like now if I had held her back, and I know that we experienced a really rough transition anyway, I think I regret the decision to give her another year to just feel safe.

I’ll never know if it would have made a difference, so I guess I’ll just have to keep pressing forward, but I definitely wonder what impact that decision had on her.

And even though she has seemed hellbent on failing important classes, I’m not sure she’s conscious of it. I’m not sure how much of this is ADHD or trauma/attachment related. I know that she feels awful in failing and that she knows it’s makes her appear to be something she’s not: dumb. Even knowing that, I’m not sure she knows what her psyche is really doing to protect her.

She’s scared, and I have got to spend the next year trying to make her feel safe about this next chapter.

All while trying to make her feels safe for another dozen issues we have.

I wonder how I’m supposed to do that. How do I make life feel safe for Hope?

Sigh.


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