Category Archives: Lessons Learned

Changes, My Guest Post

I recently had the joy of having a piece published on Michelle Madrid-Branch’s website. In the article called, Changes, I took some time to think about how I have changed and what I’ve learned on my journey as an adoptive parent. You can find a link to the article below!

While you’re there, be sure to check out other posts and links on her pages! She’s pretty awesome! 😊

Changes by AdoptiveBlackMom

Seriously

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We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties,

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile,
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

~~~Paul Laurence Dunbar

I used to have this poem hanging in my office as a reminder to visitors that sometimes we hide our feelings to just get through. As a diversity professional, I am constantly, intentionally exposing myself to emotional ish in order to help people move to the next level of inclusion. Consequently, I wear a mask.

A lot.

This poem kept me up really late one night this week. I couldn’t get it off my mind because of something Hope said to me. Essentially, my daughter wears a mask.

She wears a mask to get through every day, and it exhausts her.

Hope is an amazing young woman, and there are days when I simply marvel at her. There are other days when I see the turmoil on her face, but the reality is that on most days, she’s really, really good at hiding it.

Having been a long-time depression sufferer, my own mask is worn as much as to protect me as it is to motivate me. My own intrinsic motivation wills me to get through things and wills me to just fake it and it will get better.

I recognize that most people wear their masks for everyone else’s benefit. Who wants to be around a person who is wearing their suffering? The self-protection mechanism is such that if you desperately want to be around people, you just try to keep it together and conform so that they won’t be put off by you. You drag out your mask and hide all the ish behind it.

I feel like Hope and I are in a battle for her life right now. I see her; I see her working so hard to keep it together. I see her fighting so hard to get to a place that doesn’t hurt so much. She does take her mask off with me; sometimes not all the way, but enough for me to know what’s lurking underneath.

On the one hand, I’m so relieved that Hope trusts me enough to lower her defenses, her shields, but on the real…I feel helpless. I feel like I’m doing everything I can, everything I can think of to help shepherd her to a healthier place, but it isn’t helping the way we need it to.

That helplessness has got me feeling like I must wear a mask too. I mean, who goes around sharing that their kid is just struggling to keep it together, which means that you’re struggling to keep it together too. Who wants to see your eyes after you’ve sat in the bathroom sobbing and urgently praying for 10 minutes because you know the path this could all go down? Who do you trust, besides other parents walking in these shoes, with this kinda thing because most folks Just. Don’t. Get. It.

So, you both put on your oxygen masks in the morning and try to make it through another day.

I try to model authenticity for Hope. I try to use ‘good’ communication skills; I try to ask for what I need. I coach her to take care of herself. I encourage her to emote, to build solid friendships so that she has some peer support. I email the health professionals and the guidance counselors, even after Hope and I have decided on a course of action. I need allies to step into the gap to help her help herself.

This week has been a huge turning point for me. I have fought the good fight on trying to make sure that the homework has been done and that school stuff was a priority. School is such a core value for me; it’s social currency, especially for black folks. But, I’m done. It’s just not worth it. Hope doesn’t need the extra pressure, and neither do I. I’m fighting for my kid’s survival. School, while still important, can’t be central to that paradigm. Healing must be the sole focus. It has to be; our future depends on it.

And so, we’ll start this week differently. We’ll go back to basics. I’ll prioritize quality time. I’ll focus on more family care, not just self-care. I’ll ask about school, but not about the work. I’ll find another doctor who can help me chase down the right pharma-combo for her. I’ll lower my mask so I can always have a clear view of Hope and her mask.

Hopefully this will be the beginning of the end for Hope’s mask.


I Was Missed

I’m finally home. It took my mom and I planes, trains and automobiles to get home from Europe. Seriously, two days of travel, including a 9 hour plane ride that made Thursday feel like groundhog’s day.

Anyhoo, I’m home. Home with my kiddos—2 legs and 4 legs.

Hope has melted the ears off of my jet-lagged head. Nonstop. I’m almost dizzy with fatigue and this kid is telling me about the minutia of the last week…while coughing like she’s about to hack up a lung because she has developed a cold while I was away.

And then there’s Yappy. His separation anxiety is so bad that he won’t let me out of his sight. He lost weight because he wasn’t eating consistently—doggy depression. To hear Hope tell it, there was whining, under-the-bed-hiding, and in-house pooping (TMI).

In short, without mom, this place fell to hell in a hand-basket.

Is it wrong that I kinda feel good about that? I mean, it’s nice to be missed. It’s nice to know you’re needed.

It’s nice to be loved.

I told the dog and the kid I loved them. I took Hope to the dentist and therapy then forced some Robitussin cough syrup with a McDonald’s chaser on her. I picked up a few groceries, then took Yappy to the park and plied him with lots of treats. There’s a load of my travel laundry in the wash.  Momming doesn’t give a crap about fatigue.

I asked Hope if she missed me. She hemmed and hawed; then said, “Yeah, I guess I missed you, but I knew you were coming back.”

She knew I was coming back.

Well, that was the best welcome home gift ever. It means Hope trusts me. She trusts that I’ll be there, that I’ll move heaven and earth to get home to her. She believes in me and my love for her.

My daughter trusts me. Hope trusts me. That totally blows my mind.

All I could do was nod when she said she knew I was coming back to her. We were in the car, so there was no eye contact. I wiped my eyes and played it off as fatigue. I smiled on the inside. I didn’t smile on the outside since I didn’t want to turn the moment into anything mushier than it already was. I didn’t want to kill the vibe and make her play like she didn’t really mean it.

I really melted in that moment though.

Would be nice if I could convince Yappy that I was coming back, alas, life isn’t that simple.

After an amazing trip with my own mom, I’m so very happy to be home with my little family.


Still on the Mend

So, this head injury situation has become a major event in my life. I’m certain that I will remember this season for many years and for many reasons, even if some of the memories are lost to the ages because of short term memory loss.

Here are a few of my current brain injury lessons learned.

I’ve learned personally how invisible disabilities are so easily dismissed by everyone.

I’m still wrestling with memory issues, pain, dizziness, anomia (a lesser known form of aphasia. Thanks @SB for giving me a name for that symptom). My cognitive ability is a little slower. I need naps and have realized that I actually need to schedule them. I go from flat affect to overly emotional (emotional lability). I’ve definitely got some neurological issues too. It sucks.

But I “look” ok, so expectations of me haven’t changed. That’s been super humbling.

It is clear that my daughter also does not appreciate what I’m currently enduring and that makes me mad, really mad. And if I’m totally honest, I’m like, “Really, after all I’ve done for you and you can’t see that I’m kinda broken right now? Really? Fix your own damn lunch! And if you can’t take care of your hair like you said, I’m NOT taking you to the salon unless you’re paying.” (Ok, that last one does NOT seem unreasonable to me—her stylist is expensive!)

I am presently not exactly emotionally stable.

Also, not my fault but a reality nonetheless. I’m about a month out from the accident. I never cried. My body cried, but I couldn’t produce tears, which made the whole crying thing feel rather unproductive. That all changed this past Monday. I’m not sure if it was just how triggered I was by the events in #Charlottesville this past weekend or if my body just swung to the other side on its own. All I know is that by Monday, I could not stop crying. I said I would telecommute; I didn’t want to disclose that I couldn’t stop crying. My request to telecommute was denied because VIPs would be in the office and I was scheduled to give an hour presentation that I could’ve done online, but whatever. So, I took a washcloth with me to work to absorb the ridiculous number of tears falling from my eyes. I managed to pull myself together and only sob in my car and office. I counted those moments of control as a win that day.

I’ve also been prone to being extraordinarily cranky, and I’m embarrassed to say that last weekend my crankiness fell off a cliff. The typical teen behavior of loathsome laziness and parent blaming for her current life choices sent me right on over the edge of sanity. I raged and then fell into several days of sulking. Frankly I’m still in sulk stage, more because it has allowed me to maintain some kind of leveled out stage. I realize that my behavior could’ve been so much worse, but I began to worry that my injury was really going to be a major setback for me and Hope. I worried that a lengthy period of emotional upheaval for me would possibly mean problems with our attachment and leaving Hope feeling like she had didn’t have true permanence.

Because you know, when I take on drama, I want a whole Broadway show right in my living room. So, a joint session with AbsurdlyHotTherapist is on the books for this week.

That said, I’m still over Hope’s ish.

I’ve learned that I’m an abelist.

In my professional life, I’ve been doing some diversity work on ableism for a couple of years.  I am hardly an expert in that area and still have a lot of personal work to do. I remember last year doing some reading and really working on my facilitation of this issue at a few symposia. I took the Harvard Implicit Bias test related to ableism, which revealed that I was way less conscious about my ableism privilege than I would care to admit.

 

My experiences with Hope’s mental health challenges and diagnoses like ADHD have taught me a lot about ableism these last few years. I’m realizing that despite my best efforts, I’m an ableist and well, I guess I now have some personal experience on what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that.

If you were wondering, it sucks.

I am feeling betrayed by my limitations.

I keep asking how long this post-concussion syndrome will last. My doctor, who has also forbidden my love of brainteaser games so that my brain has time to rest, replied, “The shore looks far away when you’re up to your ass in alligators.”

Yes, he’s Southern and a gentleman of a certain age. 😊

He insists I’ll get there, but it may be as long as 6 months. He simply can’t predict, but if I take it easy and stop doing the most and take it down to doing just a lot, I will likely heal faster. My sister laughed at that, as would my closest of friends who know that taking it easy is not something I’m particularly good at. I’ve gotten better at it since Hope came along, but I’m not good at just sitting down and resting. I never have been.

I’m finding I am avoiding some things because I’m afraid I won’t be able to be 100% me. I got super frustrated when I said sauerkraut instead of sour cream yesterday; not a big deal but I’m wondering is there big stuff I’m switching up and messing up and I just don’t see it or remember it or what?

My boss sat me down this morning to talk about my schedule and how I’m managing with the appointments and such. He gently encouraged me to take some time off or do a reduced schedule for a few weeks.

Now this is all so supportive and wonderful and fortunately, today was not a day that I was sobbing or overreacting to the empathy and compassion.

I finally admitted that I was still keeping a schedule that was too demanding because I hated admitting that I’m not 100%. I didn’t want to feel like I was letting my colleagues down. I didn’t like admitting that this injury is worse than originally thought. I wanted to feel like if I just could power through then none of this accident stuff would matter.

My boss thanked me for giving me that insight and suggested that I take a reduced schedule. (He’s kind of awesome.)

It’s not just shame, which I’ve learned is a nasty emotion, it’s just my own anger about being betrayed by my body—again. Kind of like my infertility emotions, I am struggling with what I can’t do right now. What makes it wose? It’s not even my poor body’s fault. I got hit, I was in a pretty bad accident. I’m hurt. It’s the other guy’s fault. But it doesn’t matter.

This body of mine took the hit, but it didn’t bounce back. It wasn’t supposed to be this bad…but I knew from the moment of impact that it was probably bad.

It makes me think about the fact that I really need to get into better shape.

It reminds me that I’m getting older and am just not able to bounce back as quickly as I used to.

I do not like these revelations; I do not like them, ABM I am.

___________________________________
I leave for a lengthy business trip abroad next week. There will be lots of learning and lots of downtime. My mom is coming with me; initially she as my companion; it was my treat. Now, I’m hoping that she’ll take care of me a bit while we’re there and I don’t have to share her.

Until then, it’s about resting as much as I can. It’s about keeping things calm so I don’t scare or damage my and Hope’s relationship. I’ve got some cool writing gigs coming up, and I’m confident that I can handle those. In fact, I’m feeling better about those more than anything else at the moment. Until then, it’s counseling, the couch and some cupcakes.


Independence

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

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

I thought so.

Hope did not agree.

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

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

I paused and then pressed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Lessons on a Saturday

When I was growing up, I never really thought about new experiences being learning opportunities. I mean, as a teenager, you think you know everything. What could you possibly have to learn? #sarcasm

This weekend was a BFD (big effing deal). Hope went to take her learner’s permit test. We had plans to go first thing in the morning because DMV on a Saturday is a certifiable zoo. Hope wanted to get her hair washed so that her DMV photo would be nice. We had a plan, but the way ADHD-time blindness is set up…we arrived an hour later than planned.

I gently lectured Hope on time management (again). I tried to explain that she needed to find a coping skill that works for her because this kind of thing would eventually affect her outside relationships and jobs that she would eventually have. #blankstare

And then we arrived…
Throatpunch

See that figure in the gray sweater and jeans? Yeah, that’s Hope…at the END of the line!

It took 45 minutes to get into the building. It took me 20 minutes to get a parking space. We get in and up to the first counter and she looks to me to manage the interaction.

Internal monologue: “Um, I have my driver’s license; why are you looking at me?”

I remind her of our house rule—you don’t ask (in a voice that can be heard by other humans), you don’t get.

She whispers to the DMV worker that she’s there to take her learner’s permit test. He squawks for her to speak up, so she does. He looks at her documents, gives her a number and a form to fill out. We find seats and she looks to me to complete the form.

Internal monologue: “Um, I have my driver’s license; why do you keep looking at me?”

I encourage her to get a clipboard and a pen. I help her complete the form.

And then we wait and wait and wait. The web page says we have an hour and 7 minutes of wait time just to get to the counter since there are 20+ people ahead of us. When I checked earlier, you know, when we were supposed to have been there, the wait time was 7 minutes. #bitter

I seethe.  Honestly I’m throwing a holy fit inside because spending the entire morning at the DMV was not my plan.

I look over at Hope; she sees the ramifications of not keeping to her schedule. It’s clear what happens when you don’t do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.

I pop an Ativan since I am losing my ish on the inside.

By the time we get to the counter to process the paperwork nearly 2 hours have passed, and technically the DMV is closed. It’s takes 15 minutes to get through the paperwork, take the picture and get another number for Hope to take the test.

Remember that Ativan? Yeah, I’m feeling a bit better now, though I could use a nap.

Throatpunch
She takes the test. She fails the test.

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.

That was like a total of 3 hours of my life I can’t get back and don’t try to repackage that mess as quality time…not when I had to take an Ativan to survive it.

Throatpunch
Surprisingly, Hope takes the failure well. She knows the question that was the problem. She knows the right answer and she will pass the next time.

Great. I have complete faith that she will prevail. Me on the other hand…I don’t know. I wish I could outsource this task.

She commented on the way home from the DMV that she will make sure she gets an earlier start next time so that she doesn’t have to wait so long.

Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it actually happen because honest, hand to God, I cannot believe that my beloved Hope can get herself together to get to the DMV at a time that will not be hazardous to my health if her life depended on it. #realtalk

So stay tuned…Hope might be driving by 2018…maybe.


Revelations, Chapter 472

I snapped at Hope this morning and immediately regretted it.

We were talking about hair care and whether she was doing her part to care for her hair with her nightly routine. My inquiry was met with, “Well, it needs to be washed anyway.”

It was an easy jump for me to reply, “That wasn’t my question. It’s also not a good excuse for skipping the routine.”

She replied sharply, “I didn’t say it was.”

“But that was implied.”

“But I didn’t actually say that.”

We glared at each other because the tones of our voices had changed. This was no longer a simple inquiry, it was on the brink of a fight.

And then I remembered.

I remembered that this isn’t just a cut and dry surly teen giving me a roundabout excuse. I remembered that Hope doesn’t pick up on conversational nuance very easily. I remembered that sometimes context is lost on her. I remembered that sometimes Hope’s responses are like bringing hedge clippers to a manicure when a nail file will do.

I might read her response as a PR pivot—answering the question that she wishes I’d asked, but that really isn’t what she was saying. She prefers a world with clearly defined edges of black and white. Unfortunately for Hope the world is mostly gray.

I recently found an online support group for parents of kids with ADHD/ODD/ADD. A few days in the “room” and I told a friend, wow, these are my people. These posts resonate with me. It was like when I finally joined some child trauma rooms; there are a lot of similarities between these two groups by the way.

I was also talking to some colleagues recently about diagnoses for autism now being on a spectrum and the high rates of comorbidity for conditions that we use to think were just free-standing conditions. The truth is a lot of stuff, brain and hormonal stuff, cluster in packs, making treating and/or learning to work with the pack of conditions and not against it, really, really hard.

I remembered all of this as we sat there glaring at each other this morning. It made me think of several things.

  • One, this is not how I want our day to start.
  • Two, the hair thing was not that important in the scheme of things.
  • Three, conversational nuance is often lost on Hope.
  • Four, she genuinely thought she was providing a reasonable answer to my question.
  • Five, she has no idea what she did or said that triggered me to accuse her of giving me an excuse.
  • Finally Six, my deeper reading of the exchange has pushed her away which both is not good for us and doesn’t result in the behavior I was originally seeking to promote.

And all of this went down before 8am. Joy! #notreally

It’s hard to remember these things in the moment. It’s hard to remember it’s only been three years and that with all of the progress, there is still so much healing necessary. It’s just hard to remember everything all the time.

I course corrected our conversation. I tried to explain how I came to my conclusion, but that now I understood what she meant. I asked her yes or no questions and explained that it wasn’t to ‘catch her in something’ but rather because I realized that they were easier for her to answer. She eyed me warily, but she answered my questions and we made a plan for dealing with her hair this evening.

I’d like to think before becoming a parent I was a good person. I was smart, capable, worldly, even. I grasped deep, complex concepts and was able to offer solutions to many difficult and intricate problems. And then Hope came along, and every complex thing I’d bumped up against in my lifetime seemed like I had really just solved the great dilemma of getting off the couch to get an ice pop from the freezer. I was in the land of real complex isht now. Sometimes I feel utterly stupid trying to figure out why we hit a wall. I felt stupid this morning because I know better; or at least I thought I did.

Tomorrow, I will try again. I will likely have another revelation about how to relate something I read somewhere to a situation we are experiencing in the moment. I’ll hopefully have another chance to not just know better but to do better. Hopefully, Hope will be patient with me as I am expected to be patient with her.  Kids expect us to know stuff, and parenting her has revealed that I don’t know nearly as much as I thought. #bigreveal


My Triggers, Pt. 2

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

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

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

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

crying

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

And it all drives me mad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I do not know how to deal with this.

I just don’t know how any more.

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

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

The whole thing makes me angry with the world.

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

The whole thing makes Hope feel like a failure.

The whole thing makes me also feel like a failure.

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

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

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


Thoughts on Searching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Featured Image: giphy.com

Hope and Worry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this free fall my fault?

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

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

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

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

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

And I still feel like we’re failing.

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

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

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


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