Category Archives: Lessons Learned

I’m Proud of Her

As I mentioned in a previous post, Hope is working two jobs this summer. Once it became clear that summer school wasn’t going to happen, I made it clear that Hope had to get a job. I remember that she sat right down on the couch that morning and filled out nearly 10 applications.

She had a job within 48 hours, and within two weeks she had a second job.

Honestly, I was surprised. In previous years, Hope had applied for jobs and never had any luck. I would repeatedly ask her if she needed help filling out applications. She didn’t. I asked her to call to follow up. I told her she might have to really put forth more effort, be eager, be hungry for the job.

It never worked out, and honestly, I doubted her. Worse, I made sure that she knew I didn’t quite believe she put in all the effort she did.

I have since apologized to my daughter because I was so absurdly wrong and I made things hard for her. Her penchant for laying around in her pjs in a messy room reeked of laziness to me. I felt like she had a lack of drive. I rode her about her schoolwork, her grades, her room and her inability to find a job.

And I sit around and wonder why she struggles so much with depression.

Now, I do want Hope to work hard; I want her to have a strong work ethic. I want her to understand what it takes to make it in this world and to be able to support yourself and have nice things. In the last 4 months, Hope has had a front row seat at watching me work. Why my work isn’t physical, the number of zoom meetings I have a day can be exhausting, and I don’t get a lot of work actually “done” on those days. Occasionally she pops out of her room to join me for tea and coffee, to ask how many meetings I have for the day or to ask when I get to stop working. One night last week I was working until 9pm.

What I’ve learned in these last few weeks of Hope’s employment is that Hope has a strong work ethic. She probably has always had a strong work ethic. She works differently from me; it doesn’t look the same and my own biases around what it should look like made me believe my daughter wasn’t trying.

Gosh, I have so many regrets.

Hope has taught me some valuable lessons about understanding her. I know she has always struggled with school, but I understand that she was working hard to keep up. I realize that despite her social anxiety she puts herself out there a lot to try to connect with people. I realize just how kind she is; her second week of working she was recognized for how many compliments from customers she received. I have begged her to use tools to help keep her ADHD in check; I see now that they didn’t click for her until she figured out the best tools for her.

Hope will be a sophomore in college in just 2 months, and I feel like I’m seeing her as a real young adult for the first time. I would like to think I taught her loads, but I am conscious of the ways in which I made things more difficult for her. That makes me incredibly sad and angry with myself.

I tell Hope I’m proud of her every day.

And every day she asks me why I keep telling her.

I tell her that I have always been proud of her, but she has shown me that she is so much more than I thought she was in this moment. She’s juggling jobs. She picks up groceries. She’s proud of her savings. She puts gas in the car, and she offers to run other errands. We talk about science and politics and history and trap music and she’s knows all the things. I’m actually starting to feel old around her.

She just needed this opportunity to prove herself to herself.  

These months at home, I see my daughter through new eyes. I know she will be ok.

Hope’s college is planning to resume in-person classes this fall. I never thought I’d say that I hope they change their mind so that she can stay a little longer. Of course, I’m worried about COVID-19; I worry that with such a tiny campus (700 students) that one case can easily create a major outbreak, especially with the dorms. Add to that the school is in a town with another university where the leadership believes that COVID-19 is a hoax, and you’ve got one worried mom.

But the real reason I wouldn’t mind a few more months with my daughter is because I know that I will miss her terribly when she goes back. When I think of her returning to school, I get those early empty nest feelings all over again. I also don’t want to lose watching her mature into this formidable young woman right before my eyes. I’m super conscious that when she returns to campus, the times I see her after that will make it seem like she’s really changing so much faster. I want to see it in real time and up close.

But I know that’s not how these things work. She might be here, she might not. She may keep working; she might not. It’s really all a crap shoot right now and I don’t have control over any of it. I’m just going to have to ride the wave and see what happens.

What I do know is that Hope is really blossoming into this really cool person—she was already cool, but this is different. I’m starting to see glimpses of her future. It’s not perfect, but it is good. I think I can worry less. I think I my parenting can really switch to coaching. I know I can believe her and really believe in her.

I’m so very proud of her, and I’m glad and appreciative of the grace Hope has shown me over the years. I’m realizing that I got a lot more grace that I ever realized.


4 Things

What are 4 things I’m grateful for in the context of adoptive parenting?

One of the questions people tend to ask folks on the cusp of becoming parents is, “Are you ready?” Usually the question is surrounded by a bit of levity, maybe even said in a joking matter with a wagging of eyebrows for effect.

I remember folks asking me and my response was always deadpan: Hell no, but I’m doing it anyway.

Of course, stepping into parenthood is beautiful and all, but it’s hard. It’s exhausting and expensive and discombobulating.

And largely wonderful, even if it is punctuated by many less wonderful experiences.

In the grand scheme of things, my parenting journey has been good. Some would even say that it has been relatively easy for a family coping with the long-term effects of trauma and grief. I don’t disagree with that, but yes, it has been challenging.

And there have been times when I felt like parenting broke me.

Since becoming a parent, I have had to have several increases in anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications—so I’m now taking two meds at true therapeutic doses. I’ve had to resume intensive therapy to help deal with my own mental health during these years. I’ve survived but it’s taught me a lot about myself, my limits and my coping mechanisms.

There has been a lot of growth during these years for me and Hope.

So, what are the things I’m most grateful for in the context of parenting?

  • My primary care physician. Dr. G has been my doctor for 21 years. He’s rocked with me through major health challenges, weight gains and losses, cancer screenings, preventive health you name it. I remember when I had to take the form to him to give me a clean bill of health to share with my adoption agency, he was so kind to me. He and the entire staff have always been so supportive. He’s been fantastic with Hope. He’s patient and considerate. He gives sage advice and counsel without judgment.

I realized recently just how much I adore him and how he has supported Hope and I through this journey when he went out of medical leave and I legit panicked that he might not come back. Dr. G has been there rocking with us since the beginning and I’m so grateful.

  • I’m grateful for the grace Hope’s family has shown me. Every holiday we get two cards in the same envelope sent by Hope’s biological grandmother. The big card is for Hope and the little card is for me. It’s so thoughtful.

These last few years, Hope has not had a lot of contact with her family. This has been her choice. I encourage her reaching out, but I don’t push it. I understand why it hard for Hope, and I know that her reticence to maintain contact has been painful for her family. I’ve often worried that they thought it was me blocking contact; they have kindly reassured me that they know that I’m not. I try to send letters, lots of pictures and updates on how she’s doing. I feel a real pain in my heart knowing and seeing this estrangement and not being able to smooth it over. I’m a fixer, so I want it to work out.

I don’t know what the future of the relationship will be, but I’m so grateful that they have been kind to me and have welcomed me into their homes and hearts. They are wonderful people, and I’m grateful for them and what they’ve brought to my life.

  • I’m grateful for this this goofball, Yappy, and his predecessor, The Furry One.

Yappy

Image may contain: dog

The Furry One

When Hope moved in, I was doggy mom The Furry One. I’d had him since he was 8 weeks old and he was closing in on 15. Most of my truly adult life I’d had this dog.

The expansion of our dynamic duo to a trippy trio was very hard for The Furry One. He was old, delightfully grouchy and still forever my sweet baby. He passed away about 7 months after Hope’s arrival, and I was devastated.

My grief was overwhelming. For months I couldn’t look at another fluffy white dog without bursting into tears. I know my grief was magnified because Hope and I were headlong into beginning to really cope with challenging behaviors, mental health issues and more. I was also still trying to integrate my new realities with my career. I was a mess.

It took me a long time to realize that The Furry One had a long life and his last gift was his affection during a really hard transition.

About 4 months later, we got Yappy through a Craigslist ad and I’ve been hopelessly in love ever since. Yappy is seriously the cheeriest dog I’ve come across in a long time.

He is super social and affectionate. He loves people so much that I rarely take him to the dog park because all he does after his business is lap surf all the other dog owners sitting on benches. He is my constant companion, snuggle buddy and wordless cheerleader. He looks at me like I hung the moon and the stars.

Sure he has severe separation anxiety, but hey, he ADORES me unconditionally.

I’m grateful.

  • I’m grateful for my sisters. I have amazing siblings. We are close, very close. We love hard, and we try to show our love constantly in our support for one another. We each have our own ways and love languages, but we are always there for each other. My sisters have been unwavering in their support of me and Hope. They’ve listened to me cry. They’ve been there to celebrate. They’ve sent gifts. They hosted overnights. They shopped with us and for us. They’ve been the best aunties ever. We’ve always rode hard for each other, but during this chapter of our lives, it’s been amazing. And I’m grateful beyond measure.

Of course there are many, many other things for which I’m grateful. There have been so many people along the way who have touched my life, helped me be a better parent and helped me get myself together. It is more grace than I deserve. It is humbling and beautiful. So I’m sending a big thank you to the universe for so much on this journey.


Unlearning Things

Fall used to be my busiest time of the year, but these days have me gallivanting all over the place all dang year.

And you know what?

It is exhausting!

I haven’t been on this kind of grind in nearly 10 years, and I definitively know that I did not miss this pace. And did I mention I’m 10 years older now? I mean, I’m still fly, but it’s still a whole arse decade!

Anyhoo, I’m launching into a month of travel with a legit vacation wedged in there around week 3. #costarica

Because of this grueling schedule, I’m suffering from some major writer’s block, aka “productivity exhaustion.”

So, all of that to say, I’m using some writer’s prompts to help me keep writing through the layovers.

This post is about the things I had to unlearn on my parenting journey with Hope.

There were a lot of things I had to “unlearn.”

Like a lot.

A lot a lot.

Ok, here are the top 3 things I had to unlearn.

I had to unlearn my existing identity when I became a parent.

When I began my adoption journey, I was single and not even dating, about to be 40, entering my dissertation year, and about 6 months past one of the most serious health crises in my life. Up until those few months prior, I had focused primarily on my career. I enjoyed brunching with friends. I didn’t particularly enjoy dating, but I did enjoy the notion of finding my person. I had been traveling for a number of years, but still not yet to the real adventures I wanted to take on.

Life was good, but of course, something was missing.

Once I was parenting Hope, I learned quickly just how hard the self-sacrifice that parenting required was on one’s identity. Initially, it was like my life shrunk instead of expanded and I had no idea how to handle that.

I’m a contrarian by nature, and seriously sometimes I say no just because. No reason,  no rationale, for no possible reason that could make sense. There are times when saying no is so clearly not in my interest and I cannot stop myself from declining. I’ve been this way since I can remember.

This made sharing my life so stinking hard at first. I wanted Hope here, but having someone in the house after living alone for so long was super hard.

I am an overachiever. I constantly felt like a failure while parenting Hope. Initially it was when I inadvertently triggered her. Or when I felt like I made the wrong decision for her wellbeing. I thought I would make life worse for her.

I had to get to a place of really letting the old me go and rising up as something new. It was hard, but I think I finally got the hang of it. Now I’m realizing that I’m struggling to reintegrate my old identity and elements of what’s on the horizon.

I’m back into work hardcore in ways I wasn’t in recent years. It feels different. I’m reassessing what it means to have a kid in college and what does the next chapter looks like.

I’ll be 50 in a few years, and that’s a big year. I’m not immediately sure what’s on or in that horizon. It’s like I don’t even have a 5-year plan right now. I know I’ll still be working, quite probably at the same organization. I’ll be wondering what’s up with Hope. I don’t know academically or professionally what she might be doing. No idea. I don’t have a plan, but I probably should.

So now I’m learning that I’ve got to recreate myself again, somehow. I thought evolution was more linear, clearly, it’s not.

I had to unlearn my preexisting ideas about parenting.

I have loving parents who worked very hard to raise me and my sisters. I definitely do not always agree with them on many things, but I thought that they were a good parenting model.

The problem was that my parents created 3 overachieving, highly intrinsically motivated, bright, curious, minimally rebellious during the teen years women.

This meant that our standards are absurdly, and as many therapists have told me, sometimes unachievably high. We’ve surrounded ourselves with similar folks. Our friend circles are populated by some super cool, wicked smart and highly successful folks.

Hope came to me performing well in school. She’s bright. I marveled at how she had managed to endure her past and still make such good grades. I thought, “awesome, she’s bright and will continue to slay at school!”

But then the neurocognitive issues really emerged, and depression, anxiety, and PTSD all pushed their way to the front and center stage in her life.

Grades plummeted. Self-esteem plummeted.

I was flummoxed. It took me a while to figure things out, get the proper diagnoses and advocate for her. And yet with each grade…each one, I realized that nothing I was doing was actually resulting in improved academic performance.

Hope felt awful. There were definitely times when I didn’t appreciate her depression around this like I do now.

As for me, I felt disappointed on multiple levels. Why couldn’t I get Hope to do her work and do it well? I felt shame because I run with a crew who shares my love of high standards, so *of course,* they routinely asked how Hope was doing in school. I felt frustrated and low key mad all the time. Why couldn’t I fix this? Why didn’t she try harder?  Doesn’t she know what’s on the line here?

I had to unlearn all the scripts about what achievement looks like in childrearing. More than not, the achievement is raising a child who feels safe and confident. Sure, I tried to provide that for my daughter, but what that looks nothing like what I thought it would.

I knew it would be hard, but I thought it would be easier. Not looking for any credit or criticism; I thought my logical outlook would get me through parenting. Ha!

As I’ve unlearned my preconceived notions of parenting; I’d learned that there is nothing logical about 90% of parenting.

It is all magic though.

I had to unlearn a bunch of stuff I thought I knew about loss.

I realized through parenting Hope, that I needed to recalibrate how I thought about loss. I don’t mean to suggest that there’s a loss Olympics—there isn’t. Folks feel what they feel.

I definitely have had my struggles over the course of these 47 years. But real talk; the losses I’ve endured and the hurts I’ve survived though deeply impactful to me are radically different than what my daughter has experienced.

I thought I new loss and grief. I thought I understood the emotional burden therein. I thought I got it.

I wasn’t even close to getting it.

I’m very privileged when it comes to loss in the grand scheme of things. Meanwhile, Hope can practically tell me dates of those moments in her pre-adoptive life where she felt small, out of control, grief-stricken and more. I didn’t save her from those moments. She lives with those moments daily still.

Getting over and around loss and grief is enormously challenging. Of course, folks do it all the time, but it’s hard work for many of us. I had to realize that I had a lot of impractical mythology around loss. I had to set about to unlearning that stuff and replacing it with knowledge and strategies to help Hope and me work through huge emotional stuff on this journey.

I’m grateful for the notion of “unlearning.” I’m still learning and unlearning stuff. It’s a routine with no end in sight.


Not Sharing It

So, I haven’t shared the story of the little boy whose kindergarten class came to witness his adoption finalization, and I will not be sharing it. I think it’s worth unpacking briefly why in hopes that we can all practice some discretion and reflection on adoptee narratives.

Hope and I finalized our adoption by Facetime since the court with jurisdiction was across country. We invited my parents, sisters and a local cousin and his family. We had a little BBQ afterward and shared the time with family. There are some pictures, and although Hope looks happy, I now remember tinges of sadness around the day. I felt it then, but I couldn’t understand why. Now, years later, I appreciate the gravity of the occasion so much more; Hope was leaving a life behind in many ways. While many adults might not have looked at that life fondly, she was with a parent she adored and that’s what mattered to her. She has told me on more than one occasion that she would give anything to have that again. Our finalization day represented that option being completely closed off to her in her mind.

We do acknowledge our family day these days, but in a very, very low-key fashion. It’s hard to know what that young boy will feel in the future with so much public attention on this moment in his life, but I don’t want to be a part of publicizing something that  might result in some really, really complicated feelings as he ages.

I also recognize, now even more than ever as Hope is 18, that at only 5, he can’t consent to having his story publicized. Yes, it’s warm and fuzzy, but it is his story—yes, it is a shared story, one that would have been just as warm and fuzzy if kept private. Take the all the pictures, the videos, make a scrapbook for him to have an remember, but keep the kid off the internet and let him create his narrative.

I’m hardly perfect in what I’ve shared about my and Hope’s life in this space, but there are many, many details that I really try to keep private. Those are the times when I have more vague references or just gloss over information. It’s just not my stuff, and I shouldn’t take stuff that isn’t mine and share it with you. I just shouldn’t. So as much as the story is heartwarming, I just wish it was kept private or even just keep his name private..

And because of this…clipped from the CNN article on the adoption.

Capture

This child didn’t orchestrate this, the adults in his life did. And, again, adorbs that the kiddies showed up and out for their classmate, but be clear that this wasn’t something he initiated. If you watch the interviews, you’ll see him (cute as a button) talk about it, but be clear that it was orchestrated. Sometimes, in this overly socialized world we live in, we just share, share, and share when maybe we should be more judicious. This was the ultimate social media post; I’ve seen it at least a dozen times this week. I just couldn’t share it.

And last, but certainly not least, is he really the only little black boy for miles in Grand Rapids, MI or what? He *is* the racial diversity in his class. He is in an environment that is nice but really homogenous looking. It makes me hope that his parents are taking pains to create extensive and meaningful connections to folks who look like him. His support system is adorable, but there’s no one in it who looks like him. That shook me a bit. I also didn’t want to put that out in the universe either.

So, do I think his adoption day story is lovely?

Sure, but I also appreciate that it’s probably complicated. Even if it’s not complicated, I wish his story wasn’t so public. Yes, it’s feel good, and yes, it may even promote the adoption of children in foster care who need permanent homes. But is that all worth the loss of this child’s private narrative?

I don’t think it is.

I wish the family well. I wish that beautiful child well.


Find the Thing that Keeps You Going

I don’t talk a lot about religion and faith in this space. I’m transparent about being a woman of faith, but I am not one for proselytizing, and I cringe when I think about how religious narratives run through adoption in ways that are not ok.

I was raised Christian, Baptist specifically. I grew up very active in church. My faith was always strong but my views on Christianity and organized religion in general have always been a bit rebellious. I don’t like the perversions of faith, I loathe how religion is often weaponized, how it is used to marginalize and oppress, the intolerance that usually comes along for the ride.

I’ve always, and I mean always since in elementary school, been curious about other religions, other ways of knowing, other faith orientations and how people come to explain the world around them. Consequently, though I identify as Christian, my beliefs are quite a bit more expansive than that. When Hope and I left the church that declined to have public adoption blessings of older adoptees, landing with the Unitarian Church made a lot of sense.

Even with that, I tend to find it confining sometimes so I’m more of a drop in kind of congregant.

Some things that have never budged: my love of gospel and my ability and willingness to pray without ceasing.

As an adult, there have been about 5 episodes when life kept me on my knees either literally or emotionally. The last big episodes were when I found out I would never have biological children and the first year of my and Hope’s life together.

The grief I felt after being plunged into infertility still gnaws at me. It still stings even as I have entered peri-menopause. It was a betrayal of body and of what I thought was faith promise. I did everything I was supposed to do and my body *still* wasn’t worth ish. My prayers were so angry, furious, accusatory and grief stricken. And then I got back to focusing on the moment that really should have overshadowed the loss of my fertility—the fact that the health issue *only* left me infertile. The original prognosis for my health issue was terrifying; the surgeon told my parents he had not seen anything like what he had found and told them to get ready for the worst. A couple of days later a second surgeon, heavily pregnant, burst into my room, my mom sitting by my bed and shouted that the pathology reports were clear and I was going to be ok. The tears that flowed…I still am reduced to tears thinking about that moment. It took me a long time to shift my focus to that moment because I focused so much on my loss.

I focused on the loss and not the life extension.

The reminder grounds me, even as I still wrestle with my grief years later. There’s a song that takes me there and was so instrumental in me getting to that shift, Byron Cage’s I Will Bless the Lord. That part when he sings, “You don’t know cause you weren’t there when God snatched me out of the enemy’s hand…”

That part.

My life was spared; the price was infertility and while it still feels like a high price, this song reminds me of how much I want to live. I play it anytime I need to get right, especially in those moments of deep depression when it’s hard to pray.

The other recent period was the first year of placement/adoption for me and Hope. I knew it would be difficult, but I really, really had no idea how difficult. When I tell you I prayed all the time and for everything and to any deity…whew.

I was parenting a kid who had more issues than Newsweek. I was alone. No one in my life really understood what home life was like. I was judged a lot. I didn’t have a lot of support in large part because people have such warped perceptions of older child adoption. I exacerbated the isolation by writing about the lack of support, which seemed to make people in my life take sides—they didn’t take my side because I was being mean. So few people asked whether I was ok, why I was writing the things I wrote, what support that I needed that I low key still hold some resentments about it, but that’s another story for another day.

I joke about it now, but there were legit times when it was so difficult to navigate the emotional landmines inherent in adoption that I found myself sitting on a stool in my tub in my bathroom with the curtain drawn, the door closed, sobbing, eating chocolate cake and feeling like I could not possibly do this another day. It wasn’t unusual for me to lay in bed in the wee hours of the morning, looking at the ceiling fan praying for relief and strength to carry on.

I feel like I was a shadow of myself. Alone, with a daughter who needed me in ways that I could barely wrap my head around. I was just trying to get it together, constantly. Songs like this one got me through. #letgoandletgod

My point in this post isn’t to try to convert anyone to anything other than figuring out what you need to give you the umph to get through another day. For me, music, prayer and meditation did it in the worst of times. I’ve certainly added coping mechanisms along the way (a good therapist, anti-depressants among other things). But something about a good gospel song gets me together.

This life thing isn’t easy sometimes and finding emotional energy to build you up can be so hard at times. Figure out what works for you, what fits with your faith orientation (shout out to the atheists and agnostics as well, much love to you). Sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s a prayer, a book and glass of wine. Find what recharges you, even if it’s just a quick spark and lean into it. This isn’t just about infertility or adoption; this is about life. And for many, this time of year life feels…even more difficult. Figure out what lifts you and do that.

I tell HAPs all the time to get a therapist, some drugs and some serious coping skills before they bring a child home. I’m serious about that too. Folks have sent me messages about whether that’s really necessary…yeah, it is. Do it, it will help you be the best parent you can be and kids need that. Recognizing and reckoning with your own stuff better situates you to deal with someone else’s.

So that’s it. That’s the post, lean into what keeps you going, what reminds you of the joy of living, what gives you the energy to go another day.


Freshman Year Challenges

I low key like a challenge. I like crushing goals and projects. I like pushing myself to do more and different. I don’t think I’m flashy about liking a challenge; I want to focus on the task and not all the stuff around it.

Hope focuses on everything around the task, except sometimes, the task itself. While I look at things at a systems level to figure out how to get from beginning to end, my daughter focuses on every possible step from beginning to end, but not necessarily the beginning or the end.

Challenges sometimes overwhelm Hope. She gets consumed by the individual steps down the line while she’s stuck on step one. She has trouble conceptualizing the system of big pictures that connect A and B. She is skeptical of the process in a challenge. For Hope, a lot of this leads to stagnation and imposter syndrome.

Observing Hope in this first semester of college has been remarkable. When she was at the military school last year, there were so many limits there that, in retrospect, I’m wondering how much I learned about Hope overall during that time. Don’t get me wrong, I saw my daughter grow a lot, but as an individual being, I’m just realizing I’m not sure I learned a lot about her.

These last few months have been totally different. I see my daughter positively thriving socially for the first time since becoming her mom. She has friends on her hall and in her classes. Hope tried out for and made the step team; she got involved in the Black Student Association. The social anxiety that plagued her for years seems to have faded away. When I went to visit for parent’s weekend, she confidently strode down her dorm hall while her core homies congregated to say to hello and be introduced to me. She has only been home once this semester because, even though she is homesick, she isn’t homesick enough to assuage her “FOMO” (fear of missing out) around hanging with the homies over the weekend.

During a lengthy, serious discussion a month or two ago, I asked Hope if she was happy.

She finally said yes.

Sure, she’s not totally happy about every single little thing, but she is overall happy with her social and extracurricular life.

I am thrilled. She’s actually seemed in a much better emotional space than I’ve seen her during much of her time with me.

Hope’s academic performance have been a bit of a different story. I’ve always worried about Hope’s academic performance. It took me a long while to really appreciate the struggles of folks with ADHD. I tried to get her to lean into what she was good at—music. I got tutors and regularly met with counselors and teachers. I expressed grave concerns about some classroom practices and whether the approaches were really teaching kids about how to improve or increase capacity for executive function. Hope is a really smart young woman, but challenges with executive function make it hard for her best to shine through.

Midterms revealed a lot.

College is different. Less grades, more autonomy and more responsibility, greater need for self-direction.

Getting her midterm grades was a bit of a reckoning for Hope. Whatever fears she had about going to college and what the next few years would look like, step by deliberate step, quickly rose to the surface. Despite my certainty that the grades would eventually come, Hope’s realization that she was really struggling was always top of mind. Panic began to set in, and I began fielding texts and calls saying she made a huge mistake in coming to college, she should be home working or going to community college.

My heart breaks a bit when I hear her self-doubt. I also feel guilty: you can’t keep telling your kid how important school/academics are and expect them to believe your more laid back attitude when they really begin to struggle.  I have no track record of not stepping into Hope when she brought home struggle grades.

I’ve listened to Hope work through her feelings. I’ve told her that I believe long term it will all work out and that the grades will come; this is a part of the transition. I’ve told her that she probably wouldn’t have the same wrap around support at the local community college. I’ve reminded her that we originally agreed to one full academic year. I’ve told her that I believe she’s working hard and things just haven’t clicked yet.

It feels like she’s having none of it. She’s practically dragging herself, her intelligence, her worthiness, her ability.

It breaks my heart. We go through a pep talk, I help her develop a to do list of folks to talk to and where to get support. I follow up a few days later. I make it ok to pontificate about what life back home might look like and what my expectations of her might be. I try to channel to the conversation about steps that can help her feel like she’s moving forward, using campus resources and chasing her version of success.

It is very difficult confronting reality sometimes. Hope’s reality is requiring her to step up; my reality is supporting her from the sidelines. As a parent, I am trying to support and encourage, but it feels a bit helpless seeing her be sad about her performance and question her abilities. Hope’s self-esteem about school has always been low, so I’m really sensitive about how hard this must be for her. I believe that largely, these are some of the first big adulting challenges, that she will experience, and adulting, well, it kinda sucks sometimes.

My biggest concerns are about whether she can stick it out past the rough transition, whether she can muster enough belief in herself to right her ship and figure out strategies that work for her and whether her resilience is strong enough to help her not internalize her grades.

Ironically, this is the first time I haven not fretted about Hope’s grades. I knew the transition would be challenging, so I was prepared for not the best grades. My hope was that she passed everything and could continue on into the spring semester where she would feel a bit more experienced and have a few more coping skills.

As we come to the end of this semester, things are really up in the air for next semester. I am not sure how I feel about that; it’s disconcerting. I am eager to hear more of her thoughts and ideas as we spend time over the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m hopeful that we can put together a good pro/con list. I’m hopeful that her grades will allow her to have a full range of options from which to decide. But for now, I don’t know what will happen.

We are going through the motions of preparing for her return to school in the spring. We are completing the dreaded FAFSA. We are looking at her course schedule for next year. We’re planning, so I guess we aren’t completely rudderless.

It sure does feel like it though.

Whatever the decision, I know it will be fine because I know Hope is researching, thinking and being deliberate. She’s communicating about her feelings and about the concrete stuff. We’ve always managed to be fine. We’ll be fine with this too.


Sex Chats

This week a podcast went viral featuring Atlanta based rapper and married but still trolloping, T.I.

Image result for ti rapper

T.I. revealed that he annually accompanies his now 18 year old daughter to the gynecologist. He went on to say that he does so for the purpose of confirming her virginity by having the doctor check to see if her hymen was still intact.

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Say what now?

Can I say that this dust bucket, who habitually cheats on his wife, is so problematic that it makes me feel like I need to lie down.

Sure, I’m down with encouraging your kid to delay sexual activity, but a hymen check? A hymen? Something I probably busted that time in 5th grade when I borrowed a neighborhood boy’s bike and hopped off without gently leaning it to the side? Something that could actually be broken during a gynecological exam?

O.

M.

G.

I mean there’s this young woman’s agency and autonomy to consider as well. And the hypocrisy of this man…I mean, I guess if he’s trying to protect his daughter from dudes like him, but really?

It made me reflect on the many conversations about sex and intimacy I had with Hope over the years and how different it was from how my parents were with me.
I was raised in a religious home; sex before marriage was a bad thing, forgivable, but you know, don’t do it. I knew lots of other teens who were sexually active and who even had children while were in high school. I messed around, but just avoided having sex until I was in college. I was so devoted to my studies and my goals that I thought having sex and possibly risking pregnancy was too great of a risk to my goals, so I was reserved. When I got with a long term boyfriend, I got on birth control and was on my way. I did feel some religious guilt; I did wonder whether the Holy Homeboy would punish me. I got over it.

My parents really didn’t talk about sex with me, not directly anyway. In my teens I wished it wasn’t such a taboo questions, but I ended up getting my answers from the more experienced kids. I think my parents did their best; I’m not disappointed in them. I turned out just fine, normal even. That said, when Hope came into my life, I resolved to do things differently.

Child sexual abuse is a serious public health problem. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), every 9 minutes child protective services find evidence and/or substantiates a claim of child sexual abuse. Every 9 minutes! NINE! And foster children are especially vulnerable; they are 4x more likely to be abused. This doesn’t even take into consideration that some children are removed due to sexual abuse.

I considered this as I set about trying to talk to Hope about sex and sexuality. I’ve written about some of this before, but I don’t think I really covered my philosophy, which really is about sex positivity.

Given that Hope was so vulnerable, I wanted to put her on a track that would make sex safe for her. I wanted her to feel like she, and only she, had control over her body. I wanted her to feel like she had control over the decisions around what she did with her body. I wanted her to feel like she had good information and was capable of making good decisions about her body. I wanted her to know that her feelings and curiosity were normal. I wanted her to know how to extricate herself from risky situations.

I didn’t want her to be completely bound by religious constraints about morality. I didn’t want her to be forced to do anything she didn’t want to do. I wanted her to know how to care for herself and her needs. I also wanted her to know that when she was ready, sex could be fun, could feel good, could be bonding with the right person and could be beautiful.

I wanted my daughter to be and feel free, strong and empowered.

So, I started following a few accounts around social media like @Sexpostive_families and hashtags like #sexpositivity. I learned a lot about my own hang ups too. #bonus I thought a lot about how to foster open dialogue with Hope—sometimes that wasn’t so comfortable. I knew I had achieved the goal when she started asking me about condoms in the middle of school shopping at Target one Saturday afternoon (ERRRBODY got schooled that day). I held fast to a rule that whenever, whatever she wanted to discuss about sex, sexuality and relationships I would stop what I was doing and engage. I strategically shared bits of my own history, hang ups and times when I really felt like I made good or bad decisions. I did whatever I could to normalize conversations about sex.

I did talk about morality, but I also talked about maturity and personal responsibility. I talked about pain and pleasure, how body parts worked and could create either. I talked about sexual violence. I talked about all the awful persuasive lines I’ve heard in my day from would-be partners trying to get me in the sack. I talked about the walk of shame and the morning after pill. I talked about contraception and I talked about abortion (and being definitively pro-choice). We talked about straight sex, gay sex, oral, anal, digital, you name it, we talked about a lot of it. I did quite a bit of research on my “incognito” browser.

There were times early on when I was really, really uncomfortable having these conversations. There was one conversation that started shortly after we got in the car that resulted in me detouring to the beltway and driving us the 66 miles all the way around just so we could finish the conversation in the car bubble. It got easier with time; I learned to practice what I preached. Hope seemed shocked that I was willing to talk about everything, and then she started asking me questions in Target.

I answered her questions and the questions of her “friends,” some of whom I’m not really sure existed.

And you know what? Hope is strong and knowledgeable and has said she’s just not ready to take all that on.

Good, that was still my goal: an informed decision not to have sex until she’s ready.

She feels good about her decision; she finally feels like she has some control over her life and her body. Foster care had really ruined her sense of agency and autonomy. She feels like she has control now; she knows she has choices. She’s got good info and knows how to access resources.

Sex positive parenting requires vigilance; the heavy morality messaging can be pervasive and I firmly believe that it’s problematic for our foster and adoptive kids. Folks are easy to say, “just teach your kids ‘good’ morals.” I respect the position, but I believe that Hope needs good information and agency more than just good morals.

This year at her private boarding school, “family life education” was offered. I found out they contracted an anti-abortion organization to do the training thanks to some internet research, and I asked to see the curriculum. It was heavy on sexual morality and religion. There was no space for kids who might identify as something other than straight. It never considered that any of the students might have a history of sexual abuse; it wasn’t trauma informed. It showed awful anti-abortion pictures to students. It promoted adoption as a way out for girls who “got in trouble” while kind of absolving the boys from their contributions. #canwesaypatriarchy?

In all, the message was if you don’t buy into this, you’re probably headed for hell.

I immediately called to pull Hope out of the course, then I had a nice long confab with the headmaster. The least they can do is promote an inclusive, trauma informed curriculum. I told Hope that the curriculum was not consistent with what I believe and think she should know about sex and sexuality. She trusted me, even though she was the only student pulled out of the program. It was important to me that she not get that messaging and that she know that I was still her champion and advocate. (That curriculum was criminal as far as I was concerned. Let’s say it was an interesting discussion with the headmaster.)

As we prepared for Hope to leave for college this summer, I broached the subject of birth control. I told her that the intensity of going to a new school with so much freedom, so many options and some boring blocks of time (boredom can be a ridiculous aphrodisiac when you have nothing else to do, and sex is a free activity) that she might change her mind. I doubt that she will, but I wanted to emphasize the need to be prepared—hunting for contraception later is less likely to happen and “hoping” to not catch an STD or get pregnant isn’t a strategy. So, off to the midwife practice we went. I briefed the nurse and sat outside and waited for Hope to conduct her grown woman business.

I didn’t ask for a hymen check. I didn’t because it isn’t my business and because what would it really tell me anyway? My kid actually has drunk texted me from college (don’t ask)—I’m guessing if and when she decides to become active, she probably will sit on the info briefly before sharing it.

Yeah, I’m guessing she’ll tell me; she seriously tells me everything.

No, I don’t want to know. I honestly don’t want to think too much about it.

But in creating the open space for sex positive discussions Hope trusts me not to judge her; she knows that I will love her anyway. Hope knows that I will believe in her informed decision-making. She knows that I’ll still be there no matter what happens.

So, yeah, Hope and I have had a lot of sex chats. I believe that our kids, foster, adopted and everybody else, should get a good solid education about sex without messaging that condemns them. I never wanted anything in Hope’s past to be conflated with a healthy, enjoyable, positive sex life later.

I feel good my decision to take this approach. I feel confident that I’ve done what I can to set her up for good decisions about her body.

So, what’s your approach? Does this sound radical? Heretical?

Worked for us!


Parenting a College Student

Hope and I have settled into a nice routine of semi-daily texts and 1 phone call a week to catch up and talk shop.

The “catch up” part is really what’s going on in our lives. The “talk shop” part is derivative of the first—it’s how we talk about the things we need to do as a result of the “catch up” part.

If I’m lucky, I get a 2nd call a week because Hope misses me and just wants to chat for a few minutes.

The texts are pictures of Yappy (which as decreased because she can see every pic on our google folder for Yappy), memes, quick check ins and good nites.

I’m really loving this rhythm and what it represents: Good attachment!

I feel good about that. I’m also thrilled that I’ve managed to train Hope to tell me the important stuff by phone and let’s keep texting fun and not the place for good chats. I’m hoping that she is able to transfer that concept to her general texting interactions. #stillparenting

She doesn’t ask me to send her random stuff anymore. I nipped that in the bud after the first month. She proudly told me that she gets her groceries delivered to campus each week. Good for her, but “groceries?” I reminded her about that ‘generous’ meal plan I’m on the hook for…use it. I’m thrilled she figured out how to get what she needed.

Each conversation I see Hope growing a little. I hear her struggles but also how she is trying to problem solve things. I don’t hear too many excuses anymore. The biggest realization is that my opinion means a lot to her and that she trusts me as a knowledgeable human.

May every parent have this moment because like Jesus, I wept. Of course my tears were from joy.

This is the period of life, those adolescent years, when you just think that you are the schitts. You know EVERYTHING. And if you didn’t know it, someone in your peer circle probably knew it just like you probably knew that one rando thing that they didn’t know. And you think that anyone over the age of maybe 25 was pushing off to the nursing home any day and couldn’t possibly know more than you because they have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel and had no doubt lost so many brain cells that they should be on a mush diet.

Yeah, you know the age.

Y’all we are past it.

giphy

via Giphy

Hope doesn’t just want my opinion, she actually thinks I’m smart, like really smart. She knows I don’t know everything, but she knows that I know a lot, certainly way more than her. So Hope will text me questions; she will have deeper philosophical conversations with me. And in the moments when our chats are delving into “advice” territory, she actually pushes through the conversation, prompting, asking me for my thoughts and insights.

It’s really startling.

Of course then she will send me a video of someone trying to light farts. #disturbing #cantunsee

We have a ways to go yet.

Our chat a few days ago covered this knee injury she has, her recent cold, her grades, realizations about her ADHD and her upcoming trip home for the weekend that slid into us talking shop.

The student health clinic wanted to refer Hope to a specialist about her knee. We discussed and decided that she would see our GP when she came home this week and go from there. She’s happily over her cold, which I think developed from sinusitis and allergies. She said I might be on to something there. I told her she needed to get some Tylenol or scope out a kid on the hall whose parents remembered to pack Tylenol (I sent her with the gigantic jar of Advil. Whatever she can trade).

She confessed to not turning everything in on time and why and how she’s struggling to control her ADHD symptoms in the afternoon. I told her she should talk to our GP about that as well since he’s handling medication management these days. I told her I didn’t want him to hear it second hand (from me) and that she could just call the office to talk to him about her symptoms since we’re in a practice that allows that. She paused, toying with just asking me to do it or with the idea of dropping it. She said, send me his number. Since I’m coming home to see the doc can I talk to him about this too with him?

Me grinning on the other end of the call; “Yep.”

We talked about a hair appointment; she said she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her hair. I didn’t press but said, well, I found some salons in your neck of the woods that do Black natural hair. When you’re ready just make an appointment and check in with me to see if you need extra money to get it done. We verbally shook on it.

I swear boards of directors could take a page on the efficiency of our “talk shop” conversations. They’ve evolved and it’s really cool. It means we’re on the same page—What has to get done? What needs a step towards a solution?

And even more cool, Hope has real, cogent ideas about solutions. She may have even tried an idea or two before telling me. We’re beyond the, “maybe Beyonce’s foundation will pick us…” days. #girlwhat?

Oh there are many days when she has ridiculous ideas mixed in (all the time), but she’s more confident about all of her ideas and sharing them with me.

I don’t want to make it seem that all of the drama we have endured isn’t still there. I think that Hope and I have a bit more clarity about it and how it affects her and us. Hope is still well below her peers in overall maturity. She still is a vulnerable girl prone to being overwhelmed and succumbing to some specific kinds of peer pressure. She is not nearly as fragile as she once was, but she’s still somewhat fragile.

The patina of trauma that once was sooooo thick it just masked her is much thinner, but still very much a part of her. It covers her. I hear it in some of the pauses in our conversations about certain things. I feel it when she says she misses me. I see it when she is sad. I see it even in moments of joy. I see her conquering it slowly, but it is there.

There are many, many things we still talk about that my friends have already discussed with their 10-year-olds. Hope was in the system when she was 10. She moved a few times that year. She managed to progress to the next grade, but the lack of permanence was still there and would still be there for many months to come. And there were countless moments preceding her 10 years that led to predicament Hope found herself in at that tender age.

I hear all of that when I talk to Hope too. It’s still there. And I’m amazed to she her still pressing forward in spite of all of it. But, it’s still there, and it’s still hard for her and for me.

I’m so excited that she will be here for a few days next week. She hasn’t been home since she left in mid-August. I’m looking forward to fun chats, a happy dog, all around goofiness and to learn more about Hope in this new chapter of her life.

The more I learn about her, the more I learn about me.


Radical Self Care

I just returned from Puerto Rico, and I’m realizing I don’t do this kind of radical self-care often enough.

Every morning, I got up to walk. I love my daily walks with Yappy. It’s usually dark, and I’ve got to stop a half million times to allow him to sniff, try to reach the errant, tossed away chicken bone or pop a squat. I often go back out for a quick walk without him. These last few days I’ve walked close to 5 miles every morning, coming back to the hotel drenched in sweat, feeling alive and a little more tan.

I picked up some yogurt from the market, got cleaned up and headed to the beach. I enjoyed the sounds of the ocean, lulling me into a morning nap facilitated by early drinking and an edible or two. I read a trashy book, hit the ice cream shop for lunch and relocated to the pool in the afternoon.

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I discovered a little carry out shop across the street from the hotel; they make the best calzone crust I’ve ever had. I also purchased a bottle of rum and have practically had Cuba Libres on tap the last several days.

beach

I lounged in my king sized bed, channel surfing in the evenings, briefly considering going out, or at least going down to the cigar bar to smoke and drink in the luxe lobby.

Lounging stayed winning during this brief reprieve.

I’ve experienced so few moments of irritation over the last few days that they seem almost a distant memory. Oh, I remember them though and Holy Homeboy, white folks are at the heart of each moment. Now, just remember that part of what precipitated my quick vacation scheduling is having been pushed to the brink by white folks during a meeting on diversity and inclusion, so this is a sensitive thing right now.

Practically empty beach, no please come stand in front my chair to take your selfies for 15 minutes.

Whiny group of 10 traveling together who asked if I would move chairs so they could also sit together at the pool. This chair? The one I’ve been sitting in for 90 minutes? No. I’m good. Cue their melodrama of moving to another row to sit together. #theaudacity

I had time to do a lot of thinking and reflecting on this trip, but honestly…I didn’t. I thought I might take some time to think about my next career moves, maybe spend some time thinking about some of the volunteering I’ve been doing. I thought I might think about finding my way around this dating thing. I thought I might think about a lot of things.

Instead, I gave my brain a much needed rest. I thought about very little. I rested.

beach

Why is it that I had to hit a wall to embrace just doing nothing for a few days? I mean, I know that the daily routine isn’t designed for just being without expectation, but wow, not doing anything for 3 days should not feel so radical or costly. And yet it does.

I’m glad to be home, waiting for the boarder to bring Yappy home. I’m looking forward to getting back into my routine for a few weeks. I’ve got a trip to Hawaii in a few weeks for work. I’m looking forward to freshening my tan and enjoying time with colleagues.

In the meantime, I’m going to find a few minutes every day to just be, to just breathe and to just rest.

Challenging all of you to do the same.


Kids Don’t Want to be A$$holes.

I was surfing around Facebook this past weekend and stumbled upon posts with parents venting about kids’ behavior. The “kids” may have had trauma backgrounds, may have neurocognitive challenges and some had both and more. I could practically hear the frustration through my phone and laptop screens. I empathized deeply.

I’ve certainly posted here about my frustrations around Hope’s more challenging behaviors, and how they were really, really difficult to cope with, so I get it. I have a love/hate relationship with online adoption support communities, but I do think that online support groups are important because we all need safe spaces to just release the big emotions we have in trying to cope with what inevitably feels like very personalized behavior designed to destroy us. It’s natural to feel that frustration. It’s natural to need to vent.

What struck me, though, is how easy it is to go down the rabbit hole of seriously thinking your kid is out to get you, to impose consequences that serve to push the kid further away and to really think there’s nothing going on but what you see on the surface.

Pro Tip: There’s always something going on below the surface.

I learned some time ago that Hope’s behaviors typically weren’t about me at all, but they were a form of communication with me. Parenting Hope through trauma and ADHD was and is…hard. Of the over 2,000 days Hope and I have been a family, I experienced some level of emotional upheaval for at least more than a good third of it.

Way more than a third of it if I’m brutally honest.

This has not been a walk in the park, nor has it lived up to the parenting experience I thought it would be. It’s been, in many ways, better than that notion and way underachieving in other ways.

It took me a long, long time to understand and appreciate that Hope’s most challenging behaviors were really her trying to tell me that she was struggling, that I needed to meet her where she was, not where I thought she should be. She was, and sometimes still is, scared and unsure of the circumstances and her place in those circumstances. She didn’t always have words, so she acted out. She still doesn’t have many words, but she will apologize for not being able to tell me what she needs. Sometimes it’s like we play out charades as I run though a list of potential challenges trying to guess what it is she needs and whether I can do something that will relieve her stress.

Hope was never out to get me in those moments when she was acting all spawn of satan and ish. She was calling for me to save her.

As we spend some time venting, we’ve got to remember that kiddos need us. That they are, in fact, often telling us what they want and need. They don’t want to be acting out. They don’t feel good about any of it. They aren’t trying to stay in those dark places.

According to the US CDC, nearly 10% of kids have an ADHD diagnosis. And although only about 3% of kids have depression and 7.1% of kids have anxiety, there is a high likelihood that if you have a diagnosis for one, you will have a diagnosis for another with a side dish of high incidence of behavioral problems too. For those of us parenting adopted children and/or children with trauma or ADHD, it might seem like these stats are low. They are relatively low; it’s just that we all hang out together, plugging into communities with other parents who are living the same experience. It ends up feeling like it’s a lot more people because we are plugged in.

There was a conversation I had with Hope one time when she was trying to explain what ADHD felt like without meds and what her depression feels like. It was heartbreaking for her to vocalize what it actually felt like, but it helped me understand that as frustrating it is, as much as I feel so personally attacked with some behaviors, as disrespectful as it feels, what Hope feels in those moments is so much worse. I pondered it for weeks.

Our kids don’t want to have behavioral problems. Our kids would love nothing more to be “normal.” Our kids want to blend in. They don’t always have the capacity to keep it together. They don’t always have the skills to even perform normalcy. We have to support them and create space that will allow them to get as close to it as they are able.

It’s ok to vent. Really, it is absolutely ok to vent, just remember that they aren’t trying to be assholes. They aren’t.


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