Category Archives: Hard Stuff

It’s Ok

I remember watching Anita Hill testify about what Clarence Thomas did to her when I was a wee one in college years ago. It was painful watching a woman who looked like me being grilled in front of a nation. It was especially painful watching someone who looked like me talk about sexual harassment and not be believed or worse, be believed but dismissed because “boys will be boys.” At that point in my life, I’d already become accustomed to handsy, gropey fellows and street harassment. Just a few months after the Thomas debacle, I found myself as a young intern on Capitol Hill. The members were minding a few of their manners, but I still found myself the subject of lecherous looks and wildly inappropriate commentary—from actual Members of Congress who apparently thought that because they didn’t speak to me directly, they were probably in the clear. I was so young, and it was baffling. I thought then, as I do now, this is why we don’t tell people just how shitty some men can be when they think they are entitled to our time, attention and bodies just because we are present in “their” spaces.

I wanted to be an attorney before all that, but I skidded into a career in advocacy and eventually education, probably because my interests evolved, but also because I wanted to give voice and visibility to other brown and black girls who wanted to and could make a difference. Many years later, I have way more inappropriate experiences in my memory bank. Some of them way more intense and damaging than others. Some I shared with friends contemporaneously; others I never shared and probably still won’t. I don’t do this because I shy away from naming and shaming, but more because I have either had to reconcile and forgive so that I wasn’t consumed by things and or because I just don’t want to even go there. It’s just too much.

Now I’m a mom, and not just any mom, but mom to a kid who has seen and experienced worse than me in just about every aspect of life. I see how this has affected her. I see how she avoids anything that might be unsafe, anything that might make her physically vulnerable. I see her distrust. I see those moments when she lets the shields down, and I see the crumbling little girl who sobs because she was hurt, because no one protected her, because she feels that it’s all her fault. I feel overwhelming sadness, love for her and unmitigated rage. A few years ago when a case involving my daughter went to trial and sentencing I sent a 10 page victim statement and sobbed while I talked to the court representative ahead of sentencing. I know that I’m capable of murder; I learned that through that experience. I don’t say that lightly. I know I wouldn’t flinch to take that person’s life.

I think a lot about being triggered. I feel like the last few years has been a triggered life for me and Hope. Today, knowing that this hearing on Kavanaugh is about to take place, I am grateful to have back to back meetings all day. I am glad I can just avoid the shyt show. I’m glad Hope, who is increasingly interested in world affairs, is in a cloistered environment where she won’t be exposed to the news today unless she seeks it out. I’m glad about that.

So, what’s my point. It’s this: if you are having a hard time with all that’s going on right now, it’s ok to take a break and go binge watch something that makes you smile. It’s ok to go get a cupcake and sit on bench to eat it and watch folks on scooters roll by. It’s ok to watch animal videos on YouTube. It’s ok to check in with your therapist.

It’s ok to practice self-care. Don’t worry, the shyt show will be there tomorrow. Take care of yourself and take care of your kids. I know I will.

Be well.

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Thoughts on Living with a Phobia

Here are my thoughts: I loathe phobias.

I hate them with the hate of a thousand needles in a cheating ex-boyfriend’s eye. I hate them so viciously that I wish I could stab phobias with my phobic killing sword.

Hope has a bug phobia. It is horrible.

I fucking hate it. Yes, I do not like to use all out curse words in this space, but the reality is that this phobia thing warrants a full on f-bomb.

Everywhere we go, everything we do, somewhere, there is the possibility of there being a bug.

When we got to Paris, Hope acted shocked that there were bugs. But when we got to Switzerland it was like she was furious that I did not warn her that, yes, in fact, the country has bugs.

There seems to be a noticeable amount of ladybugs and bees here. They are not particularly noticeable to me and Grammy. They have largely shaped Hope’s miserable Swiss experience, and thus, they have shaped all of our miserable Swiss experiences.

I must admit that I try desperately to be kind, understanding and sympathetic to my daughter’s phobia but seriously, it has become a major trigger for me because her fear routinely creates dangerous situations for everyone around her.

Wanna know how I discovered she had a phobia?

A couple of years ago, a gnat got in the car and she literally came across the front seat and pushed me out of the drivers side door while the car was moving. Fortunately we were in a parking lot and the car came to rest on a parking block. I wasn’t sure what was happening; I just knew that I had to get away from her and whatever it was she was freaked out about. I’m glad we were in a parking lot; I shudder to think what would have happened had we been on the freeway.

We have tried hypnosis to modest success, but the reality is that this phobia is debilitating.If I don’t kill everything around us, the only legitimate response apparently, I’m a horrible person. Today, I had to keep her from falling in the Rhine River and pull her from the path of an oncoming bus as she spun out of control *running* from a bee minding its own business buzzing by. This evening I nearly dropped my laptop when she pushed me off of the couch from a bug that was across the room under a chair. I just sent her to her sealed off room in tears because she seemed insistent to stay on bug watch and as my grandma would say, you keep looking and you will find what you’re looking for. Magically, a spider appeared on the wall and she freaked the hell out, yelling, screaming and crying. I’m praying the neighbors don’t call the our host to snitch on us.

We could close the windows, but air conditioning is not really a thing here and it’s currently about 71 degrees outside. Screens aren’t a thing either.

I’m sure I handled it all wrong, but I’m like, it’s late, no one is up, stop looking for bugs, go the eff to sleep. #samueljackson I spent the afternoon saving you and trying not to get accidentally killed in the process because a bee flew by minding its own frigging business. I’ve done breathing exercises with her. I encouraged meditation and mindfulness. I’ve sat with her to try to get on top of the anxiety. I’ve drugged her.

Seriously. I. Don’t. Know. What. Else. To. Do.

And I am tapped out. I’m exhausted. This leg of the trip has felt like one miserable disaster after another and I can’t wait to get home. I know she feels the same. Grammy feels the same. We all feel the same. I just want to rest because this trip has been anything but restful.

So, I’m girding myself for one last day in Switzerland and one last day in Paris. I’m hoping for a mini-reset. We need it. Hope needs it. Grammy and I need it.

Phobias suck and they suck for everyone.

In an effort to put some good energy out there, here are some snaps from our time in Switzerland!


Things I wish Hope Knew

Today…Oy vey, why bother rehashing other than I managed to walk 7.5 miles today, so I feel no guilt about the chocolate I plan to consume tomorrow.

I am determined to get this trip back on track tomorrow if it kills me and/or everyone else. As I walked to the convention center earlier today after getting a text from Hope that really, really let me know just how self centered she is, I started thinking about all the things I wished she knew about me, my life and my life with her.

Then I started thinking that I’m sure my mom wishes I knew all the same things about her.

There’s so much about this life that is unknown. There’s so much that you have to live to just know–people can tell you but you can’t really know unless you have the life experience. Lots of adulting is like that. It feels like all of parenting is like that. And parenting a child from a tough place? Forget about it. You can explain it with formulas, diagrams and powerpoint presentations and you won’t even get close to understanding.

Not. Even. Close.

I really started thinking about the things I wish I knew from my mom and things I wish Hope knew about me. I wondered if any of the knowledge would really change anything or if it would just make me feel better–not that those two things have to be mutually exclusive.

Here are just a few things I wish Hope understood about me.

I am not Google. I’m not, really. I am wicked smart but I do not know everything. I am inquisitive by nature. I often will watch a show and look up something mentioned that interested me and then pause the show and spend the next two hours down an information rabbit hole gobbling up information about that tidbit. I know a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff, but I also do not know a lot about everything. The reality is very few of Hope’s questions really, genuinely interest me. Very few of them trigger my need to look up something, and with her being 17, I am uninspired to look it up for her. I am not Google. There is an app for that.

I have real grown arse problems. No she doesn’t need to know that work can be challenging or that I wonder whether a new relationship has real potential. But I need her to know I’m human. I screw up; I make problems for myself that could be avoided sometimes. I have steamer trunk baggage that shapes how I view myself, how I view the world, how I navigate through it and how I struggle to parent. I wonder if I’ll have enough to retire or if my parents have taken care of their affairs so that it won’t burden my sisters and me when the time comes. I worry about my weight and whether I’ll breeze through menopause like my mother did or if I’ll be hell on wheels like apparently my grandmother was. Will my health continue to be ok despite a host of hereditary and genetics disasters that seem to loom over my head? I wonder when I”ll be able to afford getting a new fridge with private school tuition and who I’ll get to install the two new AC units I’ve ordered for the house. Will I die with student loans and oh yeah, how will this private school tuition thing really work out? Will I ever manage to train/treat Yappy out of his anxiety before he chews up all of my good shoes and purse straps?

I wish she knew I was human with tender feelings–parenting makes those feelings more tender, not less. I wish she knew that even though I’ve gone to therapy monthly and sometimes much more frequently since I was in college that I’m far from “ok.” I struggle;  I have depression and anxiety too, and BOTH have gotten worse since I became a parent, and sometimes as much as I love her and as much as I want her to heal, I just want her to hush so I can have a moment to breathe. The highs are high, as we’ve seen recently, but the lows are also hella low.

That I have impostor syndrome like a mug. I wish she knew that I have way more confidence dealing with school folks, counselors, administrators, doctors than I do parenting her. Parenting her is by far the hardest job I have, and it is mostly thankless. I remember when she was first placed with me, during the rough transition period a doctor suggested that she had RAD. I didn’t accept that, refused to in fact. She’s definitely not RAD, but there’s no question that we have attachment issues that I struggle to acknowledge. All is certainly not golden around these parts. We’ve had a good stretch of late, but the reality is that it’s a struggle.

So I fake/wing it. I think lots of parents of all kinds of kids do this. We just wing it and pray that we don’t eff up our kids up at all or worse than they came to us. I wish she could have a peep behind my parenting veil to get an idea of what I see and experience. It’s funny, as I write that, I know it wouldn’t make a difference for us. Hope has greater empathy for dogs whose collars she believes are too tight than for other humans. I wish seeing me in all my messy realness would make a difference, but this isn’t a neurotypical, normal household with regular run of the mill drama. That expectation is just not even realistic at this point. Still, I wish she could see and I wish she could grasp it.

I heard you, but I’m just ignoring you in hopes that this problem will go away or that you will solve it on your own. Yeah, I said it. I remember asking my parents some ridiculous things. I also remember them not answering me sometimes. I don’t answer Hope sometimes. Yes, it’s purposeful. Yes, I want you to stop. Why? Because it’s annoying; I’m tired, and I’m really in search of quiet. Also, I can’t or don’t want to solve your problem. I’m tapped out, done, finito. Go try to solve it yourself. Sometimes parents are petty and annoyed with dumb kid ish. #facts

I love you, but I don’t like you very much sometimes. This doesn’t affect my commitment to you. It’s just a recognition that sometimes kids (little, middle and grown) can be jerks. When you’re jerky I don’t like it. I don’t really want to be around it. There’s a difference between the trauma and anxiety stuff and jerkiness. Sure sometimes it can overlap, but generally they are distinct. When you use the jerkiness to manipulate based on the trauma and anxiety, it is infuriating and I feel stuck. I’m a contrarian by nature, so I also just rebel against the jerkiness. It makes it hard for me work through these behaviors. I hate them, but I don’t hate you. But I really wish you would stop being a jerk; it’s getting in the way of a lot of your healing and my parenting. Don’t be a jerk.

I’m sure there are countless other things I wish Hope knew and that she will learn about me. Right now, I’m just trying to make it through. I’m committed to getting some rest tonight and to continue working to get us back on track tomorrow.


FML: Travel Version

Today I struggled. And by struggle I mean…wanted to strangle Grammy and Hope at different times and for different reasons.

I love traveling with my mom. It’s easy. She’s easy going, we love on each other and it’s just epic. We sometimes even cry together because the time together is so special. This trip has had all that but Hope is with us and that’s changed our dynamic. Hope is an attention hog, and I tend to dote on my mom when we travel. I’ve tried to mete out the doting, but I rarely get dedicated time with Grammy so I’m sure she’s winning the doting war.

Then, despite showing epic growth this summer and in the last few weeks, in the matter of a few short days Hope has regressed into some of her worst behaviors. She’s annoying with a bit of a smart mouth.

Emotionally demanding, and then, as we arrived in Switzerland, again had to go through the absurd routine of being *shocked* that the country has insects. Why didn’t I warn her?

Yeah, she has a phobia. Yes, I know that there’s components of phobias that are completely unrelated to reason, but Hope has turned the ancillary showmanship around her bug phobia into a high artform.
In the last couple of days her behavior has been quietly grating on my nerves…and I’m not the only one.

So by the time we arrived at the airport today, I’d survived Grammy’s worry that the car service wouldn’t pick us up at the hotel and Hope’s lollygagging in getting ready because she was up until the wee hours watching Kdramas in the dark. By the time we got through security and got Hope something to eat and made her do some of her required school reading, my shoulders were finally starting to relax. Grammy starts talking about how different Hope is from my sisters and me, and I get defensive. This is really the first time she’s seen Hope’s true colors up close and personal. Stuff that I understand now, stuff that I let go, stuff that I think is a parking lot problem when I only die on mountain style problems, just baffles Grammy. I get it, but I also know how to parent this kid (even when I want to strangle her), and I can’t parent her the way I was parented. It’s not better or worse, just radically different.

I briefly raised my voice, and then I lost my four day fight to hold back tears. I didn’t sob, but I did cry. Grammy pulled back and said she got it. I know she doesn’t totally get it, but I appreciated that she does on an intellectual level at least.

Then I felt like a failure for not managing to keep it together and disrupting our trip with this exchange. I ended up apologizing and trying to make it right later.

I get us to our AirBnB. It’s a charming apartment. It’s huge, everyone has their own space (precisely why I chose it). I find us food nearby. I manage Hope’s latest bug phobia drama and hand her a couple of Ativan. I video chat my dad and my sister. During my call with my sister, Hope declares that she’s not having a good time, and she wants to go home. Stunned, I abruptly end the call and began sobbing.

I’m exhausted, the airport meltdown took something out of me and then I was wedged into a seat with a dude who wafted funk with every move. (Bless the French and their apparent hatred for quality deodorants.) Just yesterday we went and saw all the stuff in the Apesh&t video at the Louvre, and it was epic. Today, in typical 13 year old in a 17 year old chronological body, Hope declared her teen angst misery, and I, completely depleted and fed up, skidded into the spin and claimed the dramatic southern woman wailing part in the tableau.

Seriously, the trip of a lifetime and misery abounds. Can’t I just get 10 days drama free? Please?

I adore Hope. There is little I won’t do for her, but don’t get it twisted, parenting her is hard. It’s exhausting. Sometimes it’s downright withering.

And sometimes on days like today, after having given Grammy a lecture on the need to have different kinds of expectations for my daughter, I heap on a serving of hypocrite to my parenting dish because for the life of me, I have no idea why I would think that Hope would really love/appreciate a trip to France and Switzerland. She barely appreciates when I pick up a nail polish that I think she will like or make sure that her special Korean ramen is in the house.

It’s not that she’s not thankful for some stuff, it’s just like…some of the things are so far beyond that she’s not sure how to handle them, so she doesn’t handle them well. It’s like she can’t process it in her operating system She’s not handling this trip well, which means we’re not handling this trip well. And I wish she would step up, because I know she can but just won’t, so I blame myself because I know what her default setting is: chaos. When in doubt, cause chaos, because for her, that’s something she understands.

After I got myself together, I told her that I am sorry that she is not having a good time. I do not regret bringing her, but I got the message that this isn’t her thing so I will be sure to extend an invite, but not assume she’s interested in going on these kinds of trips in the future.

I had hoped that after our Grecian adventure earlier this year that she would have got the travel bug, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. That’s ok. It’s not for everyone. I know that she will have these memories–however she frames them–and I’m glad for it.

As for me, I’m heading to my conference tomorrow and I’m looking forward to interacting with non-relatives for a few hours. I’m looking forward to just getting into a zone where I know I do good work, where I can learn, where I can just feel like I am seen and perceived as successful.

Quiet as kept, I’m looking forward to seeing the city, but I will also look forward to going home, seeing and cuddling Yappy, settling into my empty nest routine and going out with my new bae.

I’ve got 5 days though to get through without killing anyone. Prayers, if you’re into that kind of thing.


What to Do

Hope is only a little over a week away from completing her time in her summer program. I believe this has been a good experience for her. She seems to be a bit more independent and a little more confident. Her grades are good; though they’ve dipped a little bit with the last couple of tests. It’s likely she will finish with an A in both of her classes.

She seems to thrive in the highly structured environment. She has places to be, things to do. She seems to have embraced the structure and the opportunities to be active and engaged. She seems…healthier, emotionally and physically.

Yeah, I think it’s been a good experience. I look forward to hearing her true thoughts on her experiences when she gets home next week.

Up until this week I was really, seriously thinking about whether it might be best to enroll Hope at this school for the full school year. I see the possibilities for her to be really successful there. Sure, I think academically it would be good for her, but I really think that highly structured, small classes with low student to teacher ratios really works well for her. Her confidence is just higher, and I know its related to being in an environment that helps her be successful. I joked to some colleagues that I would embrace paying the equivalent of a year of private college to send her.

And then I really, really got to thinking: Did I really want to send my daughter away to school?

Well, no. I don’t. I worry about that; I want her to do well and feel good about doing well. I also want stability for her. Being home with me has been the most stability she’s had in years. She’s been able to go to the same school with the same kids for years now, a few of whom she met her first weeks after placement. She’s got her own room, a routine, a mom and a dog who adore her. She has a home, after not having had one for a good chunk of her childhood. She has permanence and that’s got to have a lot of weight in this decision.

This week Hope confided in me that she was torn about her academic future. She sees the opportunities this school offers and what that means for her life. She feels how much people care there and how she doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. She is seeing glimpses of her bright future with this kind of experience under her belt and the kinds of skills she develops while she’s there. That’s just what I wanted for her.

But Hope also sees being somewhere that resembles an institution, that doesn’t intentionally fix her favorite foods or makes a special trip to get Korean ramen at the international grocery. She sees starting over again at a new place which is really triggering for a kid who moved around a lot. She misses getting a hug from mom and seeing my family text stream that includes funny family vignettes and pictures of her and her cousins doing funny things that my sisters and I often trade about our kids. She misses her own bathroom and sometimes just having unstructured time.

She misses home, and I miss her.

And so, here we are, weighing all this stuff against the decision to be made. Oh, and never mind that I’ll probably have to dip into my retirement to send her to school and order a case or two of cat food for my future dinner options.

A couple of weeks ago, I think I would be moving heaven and earth to give her this educational opportunity. Now, I’m thinking that the stability of home utterly blasts the structure of the boarding school. I want her to have this year to continue attaching, emotionally snuggling with me. I know this is so important to both of us.

I would love to recreate the experience for her locally; heck I even wish having her go to this school for the day program was a viable option, but it’s not. It’s just too far at 80 miles one way. So, we’re really in a go or stay quandary.

And so, we’ll talk about it; I want to know what Hope really thinks. I want her to be a part of the decision. I want us to really decide what’s best together.

 


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.


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.


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