Category Archives: Lessons Learned

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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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.


Anxiety Sucks

I had a huge meeting this weekend that I spent months preparing for. Truth be told it wasn’t that the content was dramatically different than what I had done before. I recruited a team of some of my favorite colleagues to work with me to pull the content off; these folks are among the top notch folks I’ve worked with and I was delighted that they joined up.

For some reason this meeting really affected me in ways I didn’t really like in the weeks leading up to it. Frankly I was an anxiety-ridden nervous wreck. I can’t even say I know why I was so anxious about delivering this program. The group was one I hadn’t worked with before, but many of the people had either heard of my work or maybe even have been to a program somewhere else.

I fretted about who would come, what they would say about the program, whether they felt like I was teaching or shaming, whether they would think I was worth their time. As much as I love my job, it takes an emotional toll to step in front of a bunch of white folks to talk about diversity and inclusion. Not every appreciates me doing my job or even see a need for jobs like mine—and that’s me being polite. For some reason, stepping in front of this group felt particularly challenging. It required a lot of personal and professional vulnerability.

It felt like a lot of pressure to get this right. I couldn’t sleep. I haven’t been able to get back to my disciplined routine of exercise and eating—so I’ve also put on a few pounds. I started having tummy issues. My shoulders started hanging out near my ears. Tension headaches and exhaustion.  I was a functioning panic attack for the last week.

The program came off beautifully. I hit my zone in the first 15 minutes; I love this stuff. I’m good at this job. Not only did it go off well, I had a wonderful time. It was a blast.

And as I exhaled, it dawned on me that some version of this anxiety is how Hope feels all the time.

All the damn time.

I cried.

It feels miserable, just miserable. I don’t know how she gets up every day. I don’t know how she functions. I don’t know how she can focus on school or the few chores she has or anything. I don’t know how she ever has an appetite. I don’t know how she keeps any weight on. I don’t know how she can sleep. I don’t know why she wouldn’t sleep all the time.

I don’t know how she deals with me? How does she internally manage her reaction to my nudging and pushing to do school work? How does she not breakdown when I fuss at her for letting her room get messy?

How the eff does she do anything?

We’ve been really working on Hope’s coping skills a lot these last few months, trying to raise her self-awareness about how anxiety affects her physically. Most of her symptoms are somatic and it’s often hard for Hope to associate the physicality of her anxiety with the fact that it’s actually anxiety. We’re getting better at recognizing it, but after a couple of week so of my own anxiety and how many days went by before I could admit that I was really suffering…I don’t get her.

She is more magical than I even imagined before.

I get why she can spend hours, days even, watching K dramas; the ability to escape is critical to her very survival.

I hated my brush with intense anxiety this month. I hated it, but I’m grateful for the my own raised awareness about what my daughter must experience regularly. It is a reminder that I really do need to be supportive and sometimes extra gentle with her. I also want to be sure to continue helping Hope build her coping skills.

Anxiety sucks.


That Time Before & During My Search

I recently got a couple of follower inquiries about the emotions I felt about my agency during the adoption process as well as how I “knew” to say yes to Hope. I thought that in addition to trying to answer those inquiries personally, I’d share more broadly.

So, how did/do I feel about my agency? Did I ever get frustrated with the agency and the process?

I have had a great, fantastic relationship with my agency. There were times that I made choices that the agency was pretty adamant were not great, but I went with my gut and things worked out. The agency I worked with offers a lot of post adoption support that I’ve definitely utilized during the last four years. Did I ever become frustrated about my agency during the adoption process?

In short, no.

My adoption process went very, very fast. My daughter moved in 380 (1 year and 15) days after I dropped off my agency application to start the process. We finalized 135 days later, at my urging, because lingering around finalization did not provide my daughter with the stability she craved. It worked, and I’d like to think I was right.

Because my time was short, I didn’t have time to get super frustrated and I was green as grass naïve about this whole thing.

I wish I had known more, but if I had I would have been crazy. There never would’ve been enough information; I would’ve been backstroking in it. I don’t recommend going into the process as green as I was, but I do credit my ride or die willingness to commitment to my daughter in the face of some pretty incredible disclosures and striking mental health issues during out initial few weeks together all to be naivete! It never occurred to me to disrupt; I figured, it just wasn’t done.

So, I never even entertained that was never an option.

And that’s probably for the best; this is one of the few times in my life when I think being naïve and riding the wave worked in my favor. If I pursued adoption now, knowing what I know, I would do things very differently. I was fortunate to deal with an agency that prides itself in its ethical approach with a team of folks who genuinely seemed to want the best for my daughter and for me.

In a couple of words, I was lucky-blessed.

I know families who have had different experiences at my agency and others. I would say my feelings are probably a bit of an outlier because my process went quickly and I rolled right on with it. I would not characterize my experience as typical.

How did I know Hope was a good fit and other kids were not a good fit for me as a single mom?

I only received two profiles; my agency search was very brief. Hope’s profile the very first profile I received from my agency to consider.

I was at my office; I had just arrived. I still have the email from July 30, 2013 at 9:03am. My response was eager yet short; technically more search hadn’t even started. I asked about behaviors; I tied my question to something I’d recently read and asked to get my information about Hope. My daughter had been featured on one of those Wednesday Child spots on the local news, so I was able to see more than just a profile. I saw her moving around, trying her best to be charming and have fun and be on TV all the while having a shadow of sadness that all of this was *really* about her needing a family. I know now that she kind of hated that video.

There are hundreds of emails between me and Alex (the coordinator) about my now daughter, the process, the match meeting, the first visit.

The truth is that I just thought it was a fit when I saw that video. I was so done after I saw that video. Her challenges seemed manageable to me as a single mom and they have been. It’s been hard, but it’s been manageable.

My agency coached me well. When there were gaps in my questions, they helped me fill them. Alex was supportive and encouraging.

My saying yes to Hope was easy.

Saying no was not easy. I only had one opportunity and I’m glad. I’m glad that my search was so brief that I didn’t have to get numerous profiles only to say no they aren’t a good fit. Looking back I’m not sure I could’ve endured a process that required me to say no numerous times. The idea of that rejection is just too much for me.

I did say no to one child, and you can read about it here: The First No.

My heart still hurts that I had to say no.

I was open to kids who identify as LGBT+. Apparently that’s rare, or at least it was then. So many folks are quick to say that adolescents don’t understand their sexuality and they just are mistaken. Um, no. I knew in elementary school that I loved boys; I liked their energy, I thought they were cute, I was curious about them in ways I was not curious about girls. Straight folks take that for granted. #heteronormativity Kids who have same sex attractions know early and are often forced to make decisions about conforming to heteronormative behavior to keep the peace and stay safe. That conformity can last a few years or may years. As a part of my adoption process I knew that this wasn’t an issue for me and I was open to giving a kid who identified differently a chance at a stable, loving home.

I got a profile. The only part of it that matched my list of possibilities was that fact that she was LGBT. Everything else was so beyond what I thought I could handle behaviorally that I had to say no I knew I was not able to parent her.

I don’t regret the decision now that more time has passed, but I do think of that young woman ever so often. I hope that she was able to be matched with a loving family.

The need for loving, supporting parents for LGBT kids in the system is so great that her advocate reached out to us despite my obviously not being a good fit. That tells me that there is desperation in getting that kid a family and that breaks my heart.

What does a good match mean to me?

I was very specific about my desire to adopt an older child. Of course, I got all the icky commentary from a few people about how I should try to get a kid as young as possible since they wouldn’t be as “messed up” or I could train them (like a puppy) to not be messed up. #eyeroll

I knew that I wanted a child of color—though I labored over the race and ethnicity questions on the match form for about a week. I wanted to feel like it didn’t matter, but ultimately, I wanted us to be able to choose if/when we disclosed our adoption—we tend to be open about it. I wanted the ability to disappear as a same race family. I knew how our kids are overrepresented in the foster care system. I wanted to mother a black kid. #theend

I had dreamed about mothering a son; a daughter was my future.

I tried to focus less on diagnoses and more on presenting behaviors and whether I could handle them as a new single parent. I had some limitations on some mental health concerns.

I tried to ask questions about what behaviors looked like. It’s one thing to read descriptions; it’s entirely another thing to see video, hear descriptions, and ask pointed questions. And I asked lots of questions, there are seriously 270 emails from this period in my adoption. I did lots of Googling during this period.

My day job has honed my “read between the lines” skill—I leaned into that a lot during my match with Hope.

Weeks went by before Hope learned I existed. When she learned about me, my questions started all over again. I wanted Hope to feel like she was a part of the process and not just the subject of it. How did she feel about it? What felt good? How did she process a potential cross country move? With a previous placement that didn’t go all that great, what’s her confidence in this process like?

When you’re adopting an older child; you got to remember that they are more that just the subject of all this discussion. I was keen on Hope having a big say in our match. I wanted to learn how to make a transition better for her. I wanted her to feel like she had some agency.

A good match is one where all parties think this can work out. A good negotiation means everyone at the table has to stretch a little. There’s no perfect fit; there’s a “I can give this kid what they need” fit. There’s a “I can manage these behaviors and hopefully create an environment that promotes healing” fit. There’s a “I will respect this kid and their birth family (even one’s that screwed up royally) and commit to working this thing out” fit.

In the wise words of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, “Make it work.”

make it work pop tv GIF by Nightcap-downsized

More Questions?

If you have questions like this drop me an email, reach me through the blog’s FB page or on Twitter. I’ll see what I can do! I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my experience and consider what I might do differently. This is a journey, not a destination. My and Hope’s adoption was a chapter, an event. This life we are creating as mother and daughter is the destination.


The Single Life

I rarely mention my dating life in this space. Elihu and I split last year after over three years together.

It was, and is, sad. E is an amazing man; our time together will be a highlight of my life.

That said, the end of a nice relationship is never a happy occasion. Sometimes it feels worse than an awful end to a relationship; saying goodbye just hurts.

Since our split, I’ve taken some time to mourn and reflect on being a mom, being a woman, and being a partner. It’s all kind of hard. There’s the stuff you envision about all of those roles, and then there’s reality and never do those all those things ever match up. There’s always a level of dissonance; sometimes it works in your favor, but most of the time it doesn’t.

So here I am, right around what would’ve been our fourth year together, single again.

When E and I got together, I had just become a mom. How I fell into a relationship at the same time I became a mom, I’ll never know. In retrospect, it was lovely, but I look back at myself through the multiple lenses of my life, and I hardly know who that frantic, overstressed, exhausted woman was. I was trying to figure this mom thing out with a traumatized tween who was nearly emotionally a toddler. My partner grounded me in ways that I desperately needed. As steady as a compass, E helped me get to a point where I really understood that I had to make arrangements for self-care. I had someone coming in twice a week for a few hours, so I could just go breathe. Some of those days I never left the condo property. I sat in my car and cried. Sometimes I slept. A few times I managed to pick up takeout and go eat in the park. I remember being excited to go out, exhilarated by a new relationship and the need to flee from the stresses of ‘connected mothering.’

And then I got the hang of parenting—as much as one can get the hang of parenting. Things eased. I got better at managing Hope’s challenges. I got better at helping her heal. I got myself together. I just seemed to get my footing.

I continued to evolve. Oh, I still think my mothering is a hot mess, but I’m confident about my mess. I don’t fret so much about whether I’m messing Hope up. I have space to think about me and my life before and what things I want to get back to.

Maybe I’ll finally get back to taking Portuguese language lessons. Maybe I’ll start back with hot yoga or at least studio yoga classes again. I feel like I’ve aged a lot, but I am finally getting back hitting the gym at 5am.

I stretched, reaching forward to the new me and reaching back to pull bits and pieces of the old me back into the fold. Sadly with all this stretching, reaching and pulling, it made the work of my partnership a lower priority and consequently, my season with E ended. I’m still trying to figure out where all that relationship stuff is supposed to fit, so sadly, for the time being, it doesn’t.  (I don’t know how you partnered people balance it all!)

Hope probably won’t be out of the house right after graduation, but really, she’s finished high school in less than two years. Time is marching on, and I can see a different kind of future for both of us with these experiences in my back pocket. I’m but a lot wiser now. I understand myself a lot more than I use to. I get whatever my version of “it” is now.

If it’s one thing I know I’ve learned in these four years, it’s what I want and what I don’t.

For now, I want to be single. Not because I don’t want to be partnered, not really. I love being partnered. Rather my current embrace of singleness is really because I just want to have time to focus on me. I miss the luxury of just worrying about myself. I miss having fewer responsibilities. I actually miss being completely and utterly untethered. I miss the ability and luxury of seriously epic levels of selfishness.

I’m up to date (maybe, possibly, I dunno), but I don’t think I could handle much of a major emotional connection and all that demands.

Actually, that’s not true; I could handle it, I just don’t want to. #true #realtalk

But I’m so incredibly smitten by the idea of having some level of freedom to focus on me as an individual that I just want to relish these moments, compartmentalize them and protect them so they stay just mine.

I am committed to giving Hope everything she needs to be whomever and whatever it is she will be, but I’m so fortunate to be carving out some time just for me again. I know we both will ultimately benefit from a healthier, happier me.

What are you doing to find yourself again?


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.


Coaching on Coercion

I read that essay on Aziz Ansari and “Grace.” I related to Grace since I have experienced a similar situation a few times in my day. I never thought I had been assaulted, but I definitely felt like I had experienced something incredibly unpleasant and really wrong. I’ll say this, none of the situations I found my way out of featured a dude who apologized after the fact.

Yeah, been there, done that.

And then I developed some skills. I learned how to avoid those situations whenever possible. I paid attention to my spidey sense. I learned to gracefully and ungracefully extricate myself from situations that made me uncomfortable. I learned to find my own voice about consent.

Sadly, I didn’t get to this place until I was probably in my early 30s.

I have tried to normalize conversations about sex and relationships with Hope. I’m certainly not encouraging her to go out and get her swerve on, but I want her to feel confident about herself, her body and her ability to make good decisions about all of this.

Since last summer we’ve spent more time talking about sexual misconduct and the #MeToo movement. We talk about assault. We talk about catcalling. We talk about harassment. I try to be frank and direct with Hope, but I’m also sensitive about what kinds of things might be triggering. I bring it up in the car since that seems to be the super safe space for us. A lot of what we’ve discussed are pretty clear cut cases of sexual misconduct. After mulling over the messy case of “Grace” and Ansari, I realized that even though I’ve spent a lot of time talking about consent with Hope, I hadn’t coached my daughter about something more subtle and insidious in sexual relationships—persistent coercion.

You like the guy/gal. You’re hanging out. Things get a little hot and heavy. You don’t feel as comfortable as you did 3 minutes ago. You kind of put your hands up and push back, but things get a little more insistent. You break away, but your partner tries to soothe your fears; maybe says they just dig you so much; they are really, really into you and don’t you dig them too? You do, and you might even say that you want things to slow down a bit. You might even say no verbally. Your partner goes back to the pursuit, a little stronger, a little bolder; whispering how into you they are and how this feels so right. You don’t think it feels totally right, but you dig the person and don’t want to wreck the flow. You might even feel like you still have control of this situation, but maybe losing that control kinda quickly.

You consent to do a few things; they do a few things and everything continues to escalate. Both of you are breathless. But it doesn’t feel so right so you try to slow things down again, but the pursuit, gentle as it may be, continues. You also still really dig this person and you begin to wonder what will happen if you really stopped everything right now. Will the budding relationship end? Will it get violent? You don’t think they will *really* hurt you will they? Will you seem like a tease after what you’ve done already? What will happen now? Can you even stop this right now after you did what you did? Was that consent for *everything?* And how do you stop or slow down things again without a making this a big deal? The cycle goes on and on until you are just worn down and you just give in and ‘consent’ to activities that you really don’t want to do. Afterwards you feel like crap, but your partner might not even notice, not because they are a rapist but because their twisted concept of consent means y’all are both cool with what just went down.

Yeah, that scenario. Is it assault? Not really. Did you consent? Worn down is a better characterization. Do you have regrets? Forever yes. Do you continue seeing that person? Maybe, maybe not.

I recently asked Hope had she heard about the Ansari/Grace story. She’s heard a little, so we did a recap and I asked her what she thought about it. We batted that around a bit, and then I got a bit more specific—“What if you were Grace? What would you have done and when?” And because it can’t just be a gendered lesson, “What if you were Ansari? What would you have done and when?” Everyone should learn about giving and getting consent. We talked about how to extricate ourselves from situations that don’t make us feel good. We talked about more than just regular safety concerns; we discussed the need to feel good emotionally about our decisions and choices. We talked about that middle ground that seems to exist between enthusiastic consent and reluctant consent.

This was probably one of our more delicate conversations about sex. I shared about some of my experiences and how old I was when they happened so that Hope would understand that I was older and still not as sure of myself as I thought at the time. I shared about how I felt after a particular situation, and noted that that relationship didn’t go far after that. I never demonized my partners, but I also didn’t portray them as the knights in shining armor that a 16 year old girl probably would either. We were and are just regular folks making some not great decisions at a point in our lives. I talked about what I wished I had done differently.

For her part, Hope shared the goings on of a date she had last year and how she handled herself. I was glad she felt comfortable enough to share with me. #thrilled I was so proud of her, and coached her on how to identify coercion and things to say and do in the future to be clear about her expectations and her ability to give or withhold consent.

Sure, we’ll still talk about just good decision making regarding sex, but I’m realizing that it’s this grayish area that I will continue to talk to my daughter about. When she becomes active, I want her to feel confident in her choices and to have skills to react to unwanted pressure. I want Hope to be in control of her whole life, including the sexual life that she eventually chooses.


Rested & Ready

Normally, on MLK weekend I plan some edutainment activities, but I was just struggling with my emotional responses to my daughter so much recently that I couldn’t get it together enough to plan anything. So, on the one hand I feel like I failed in my aspirational goal of being a social justice mom, but really, I got something else right this weekend.

I took care of me.

After raging like a hurricane, and giving off caustic energy for several days, I was exhausted. So, I rested. I did my workouts, planned my meals and crawled into my bed with a good book, my heated blanket and Yappy. I just tuned everything out (including Hope, other than making sure she was alive and fed) and relaxed.

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I aspire to Yappy’s self-care commitment.

I breathed.

I made tea. I online shopped and ordered myself an obscene number of new spring dresses.

I luxuriated in solitude and exhaled.

And then I was able to think about how to get us back on track. Hope is an amazing kid, and amazing kids do dumb stuff sometimes, it’s just what they do. Heck, I did it too back in the day. Of course some of Hope’s dumb stuff is informed by a history of messy stuff.

I decided I would speak my peace to Hope and put this episode behind us, though she still has some consequence time to pull during the next week.

In speaking to Hope I had to remind both of us that anger is usually informed by hurt, deep hurt. It’s easier to be pissed than it is to be sad. I was sad that she broke the rules. I was sad that she violated my trust. I was sad that she self-sabotaged. I was sad that she seemed unable to take responsibility for her behaviors. I was sad and that made me mad.

And then I hugged her and reminded her that I loved her and that I have feelings that I struggle with too. And we turned the corner emotionally, ventured out to a new international store (I bought all kinds of goodies!), went shopping, and worked out.

I’m rounding out the holiday weekend by dying my hair—a new midlife crisis habit I’m enjoying. My hair is more gray than black now and about 4 months ago, I got it in my brain that after 10 years of avoiding dye like the plague, I would dye my hair fantastically bright colors. Because my gray is resistant to color and I choose semi-permanent color, I could enjoy temporary bursts of color without long term commitment. #perfect I started with a soft pink in October and followed with a bright purple. Tonight, I dyed it teal. It will have faded some by the time my annual conference rolls around in 5 weeks, but it will still be blue and the non-conformist in me is delighted about that. #notoconformity #mylifemytermsmyhair

I hated how I felt emotionally last week…really hated it. I’m proof that when you can choose to change your mood. It’s normal for all of that emotion to build up. Therapeutic parenting is….draining. I love my daughter, and I personally don’t have any other style of parenting to compare it too other than observation of others parenting, but I gotta say, I don’t enjoy therapeutic parenting much. #realtalk #truth

It’s essential for us and especially so for my Hope, who needs more connection and more safety than your average kid. And well, there’s hardly anything I won’t do for her; I’m committed to therapeutic parenting.

I’m ready to face another week and so is Hope. Tomorrow we will work out in the evening and chatter about our day, all while hoping that the anticipated snow misses us so we can keep the regulated good times rolling.

I am rested and ready. I’m thinking that is good enough on the edutainment front for this holiday.


Four Years Ago

Four years ago, Hope was here for a pre-placement visit. She spent two weeks with me, including Thanksgiving. I was a hot mess during that visit.  

I hadn’t got to a place where I really understood my soon-to-be daughter. In fact, I didn’t have an effiing clue. Looking back with clarity and a little rose-colored grace, I know that we were both trying our hardest to hold it together. It was scary as all get out to figure out how to be a family, but the alternative seemed like failure so the possibility of this visit being a disaster was a non-starter. We were doing this. 

But I hadn’t lived with anyone but the late, great Furry One for more than a decade. I lived all over my house. Hope’s room was still transitioning from a guest room. I was used to my mess, but no one else’s. I hardly ate meat at that time, so I had this super vegetarian friendly house. I didn’t buy snack foods; I didn’t buy ice cream (I was also about 30 lbs lighter, but who’s counting…). My house was not adolescent-friendly. It wasn’t even a little bit.  

But I was doing this thing. It was our second visit—the first one having been a month before and only about 4 days long. It was polite, hotel based and what I would probably call, more like kid-sitting than trying to start a mother daughter relationship. We had fun, but it wasn’t even parenting-adjacent.  

But during Hope’s trip to what has become our home, I felt like I was more in control. This was a home game. I would entertain Hope. I would introduce her to yummy, healthy foods. She would get to meet her new family for the first time. We would go visit what would end up being her school. We would pick out things for her room.  

We would bond and it would be glorious.  

But honestly, it wasn’t. I was bored senseless at the museum where Hope did her damndest to show me she was brilliant. She ate all of the gummy vitamins I bought her in one day. She showed her single digit emotional age more times than I care to remember. I fielded questions about why she did some of the things she did, which was hard since I didn’t have a clue why. I even managed to drop the Thanksgiving turkey all over the carpet right outside my front door in my condo building. It was a messy visit, literally, figuratively, emotionally. 

In the evenings I cried. The responsibility of caring for a kid was new and exhausting. I chugged a lot of wine after Hope’s bed time. I chronicled my experiences as a fledgling parent. I questioned if I was really cut out for mothering Hope. I doubted everything I knew about everything I thought I knew. I worried that backing out would be a shameful failure from which I would never recover. How could I reject this kid because I really wasn’t sure I wanted to give up my single carefree lifestyle? But as I cried and boozed myself to sleep during those two weeks, and as the day for Hope to return home drew closer, I found that my tears shifted to anticipating the pain of being separated from this scared kid who just wondered if I accepted and wanted her.  

It was all pretty humbling.   

Those two weeks, four years ago, Hope became my daughter. She was a scared, hot mess of a kid, who needed endless love, support, therapy, and permanence and an occasionally stern talking to. Even as we boarded the plane to take her back to her foster family, I couldn’t have known how I would come to love Hope. I loved her then, but my heart nearly hurts when I think about how much I adore her now. 

Four years later, I see so much growth in both of us. Lord knows we struggle on the daily. I mean, really, really struggle, but we’re so much farther than we were back then when we were trying to figure out if this family was even going to be a thing.  

As for me, specifically, I think I may have gotten the hang of this parenting thing; it’s still hella hard, but I think I’m doing ok. I’m not so secretly annoyed by how much food contraband has migrated into my house under the guise of being “teen friendly.” I bumbled along until I made a few parent friends. I got over my guilt about not going to PTA or band parent group meetings. I don’t like them; I’m not a joiner and as a single parent with a kid in multiple kinds of therapy, parent groups rank dead-arse last on every list. I made peace with only occasionally selling fundraiser crap (but also opting sometimes to just send a check because really, do any of us need a tub of pizza dough and ugly wrapping paper?). I also resumed my travel schedule, which I know puts a huge strain on us, but the experience has taught me a lot about Hope’s maturity and attachment to me. That girl loves her mommy, but doesn’t stress too much because as she says, “I know you’re coming home.”  

I have helped my daughter see places she never dreamed of—I’m currently trying to work out details for Spring Break in Greece, and I also get to see the world through her eyes. I’ve learned that I can still be selfish with my stuff and my time and that it’s ok. I have learned to say both yes and no when appropriate. I have new metrics by which to measure choices—what’s the impact on my family? Is it worth my time? Do I enjoy it? Do I really want to? I’ve also tried to create a framework for my daughter, who as far as I know, will be my only heir, to eventually experience financial freedom. I figure I’ll probably work until I keel over—partly because I enjoy working and partly because I’ll need to keep earning. But Hope? I’m doing my best to set her up to have a comfortable life filled with lots of choices, because choices equal freedom.  

Four years later, I’m an ok mother. I’m learning to be happy with being an ok mother. Mothering/parenting is hard work. Maintaining multiple identities is hard work. Centering my daughters needs in my life is still hard work. I’m doing ok at it all. There is always room for improvement. During the next four years, Hope will hopefully enroll in college, maybe even finish an associates degree. She will vote in her first election. She will get her driver’s license. She might move out into her own place. She probably will have finally visited South Korea (if we’re all not blown off the map yet). She’ll have many more passport stamps. She will continue to grow, continue to heal and thrive. And I get to watch from the front row. It’s the best reality TV show ever. It’s amazing.  

As Thanksgiving approaches, I needed to sit and just ponder that first visit to our home and how we’ve changed. I am incredibly grateful, and super proud of the hard work we’ve put in.  

Here’s to four more years.  


Thoughts on Momming an Adoptee

It’s National Adoption Awareness Month, and as I always do, I spend some time scanning Twitter reading adoptee tweets and reading adoptee blogs and articles. I do that all year, of course, but I take a special interest the adoptee voice during NAAM. I think a lot about what they are saying and what Hope might be thinking about her experience as an adoptee.

I mean, whether she knows it or not yet, these are her people, and they are giving voice to some of the stuff that is probably floating around in her head. Stuff she is unable or not ready to articulate.

So, I listen. I try to talk a little less and listen a bit more.

I write about my experiences as an Adoptive Black Mom, but I’m mothering an adoptee, Hope.

Part of my job as Hope’s mom is helping her find her voice. I don’t know what my daughter’s future holds for her. It would surprise me if she evolved into an adoptee advocate/activist; Hope is becoming a conscious kid, but it remains to be seen whether that will blossom into something. Who knows though, right?

Part of momming Hope is helping her figure out how she wants adoption to fit into her story. She gets help dealing with the stuff that led to her being in a position to be adopted. She talks to me about what she’s ok with being disclosed. Hope decides how much contact she wants with her extended biological family. Hope gets to decide how how/whether she wants to use her name, since we just added my name to her existing name. Hope gets to make a lot of decisions; my job is making sure that her surrounding environment is open and safe for her to make decisions and for her to have as many options as possible. My job is to be a facilitator. I get to help make this stuff happen. My other job is to check my ego as a adoptive mom.

Adoptive parents are often held up as these amazing saviors. Certainly, children need homes and people want families and adoption is often a bridge between those two facts. The truth is that I wanted to be a mom. My decision to adopt was selfish. Even the so-called noble choice to adopt an older child was rooted in my desire to maintain some aspects of my lifestyle—I didn’t want to have to deal with full time day care or feedings or potty training or any of that. I wanted to be able to still travel without taking a small house of baby stuff with me. An older child would be beyond that stage, would even as I parent offer some kind of engaging companionship, would be able to pack their own overnight bag for a trip anywhere. How I got to the mom I am now started in a pretty selfish place, and I’m ok with that.

I’m still far from perfect; and sometimes I fail miserably, but I hope my efforts count for something.

In pursuing older child adoption, I’ve also learned that there are a few more privileges that some other adoptive parents might not have. I don’t have to worry about figuring out how or whether to tell my daughter that she’s adopted. My daughter knows more about her story than I ever will, and she is more than capable of telling me what she wants me to know.

Like some other adoptive parents, I had to figure out early on how to incorporate biological family into our familial universe. I had to learn to lean into my own lessons on graciousness and the expansiveness of love. There can’t be a lot of jealousy or threatening feelings when you focus on welcoming people into a family. Your kid doesn’t have to figure out whose team they are on when parents conceptualize only one big team.

My daughter’s story is not normal, but I’ve worked hard to normalize our family and our life. I never want Hope to question my love and support for her. I never want her to think that I thought adoption cut her off from her biological and genetic connections. It’s easy to say those things don’t count when you have access to your biological/genetic connections.  I never want her to feel like she can’t talk about her birth parents in our home. I never want her to feel like she has to make a choice in defining her family holistically. When she has asked me to find someone in her family; I have. When she has then said she didn’t want to make contact, I put the information away until she changes her mind. When she asked to do something special for her family members who have crossed over, we have said prayers, celebrated birthdays with cakes and released balloons (sorry environment). What Hope needs to help her navigate her adoptive life, I do what I can to make it happen.

I have tried to create an inclusive family for us, and you know what? It hasn’t been difficult. It has occasionally been a little challenging, but it hasn’t been hard. Being Hope’s mom has called me to step my game way up. I’m better for it. I hope that Hope is better for it.

So, I hope this year, this month, National Adoption Awareness Month, that APs will create space for their kids to broadly love and be broadly loved. I hope that we can learn that more is better. I hope that we can support our kids in the ways they need, not just the ways we need. I hope that we can listen to adoptees more and heed their advice and guidance. I hope we can all just love more.


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