Category Archives: Parenting

Doing Right by Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope I’m doing right by Hope.

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The Deal with Me & School

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

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

I love school.

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

Walking across that stage being hooded was an amazing feeling.

Graduation

Best Day Ever!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Self-Care Tuesday

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

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

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

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

I’m just worn down and over it.

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

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

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

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

<opening scene>

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

<end scene>

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

And I did.

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

I won; work lost.

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

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

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

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

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


I’m Spent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


My Triggers, the Remix

I am exhausted. I’m in the second week of a three-week travel-palooza. I feel like I didn’t really get much time to come off of an intense vacation—seriously I LOVED it, but it was physically a lot and I have hardly had a chance to really process the fact that I checked off one of my biggest bucket list items. I’m still overwhelmed by the trip.

But there’s no time to really do all of that because I’m too busy being overwhelmed by work and home life.

That means I’m tired. I’m cranky. I’m prone to whipping myself into a crazy frenzy over ridiculous stuff. My communication skills are presenting a bit dull, and sometimes I can’t moderate my emotional responses.

So EVERYTHING is triggering me. EVERYTHING! It’s kind of like that time about a year ago.

Yesterday, while grocery shopping and mentally making a list of the chores I would ask Hope to do during the day, I managed to work myself into a lather over some dumb ish she did while I was away the previous few days. I managed to revisit my thoughts on teen laziness and narcissism, the fact that she seemed to really take advantage of things while I was gone.

I totally forgot about how well she communicated with me while I was gone. I totally forgot how stressed Hope gets when I am gone. I didn’t think about how much more anxious she is about school when I’m on business travel. I didn’t think about Hope actually at all.

I thought about how RIGHT I was!

I mean seriously, do I have to do everything?

Yes, yes I do.

And when I brought the groceries home, I immediately called Hope and demanded that she get pen and paper and write down the list of to do items I dictated. Before I knew it, I was making some unrelated point about school, future responsibilities and veiled threats about spending money for the upcoming band trip.

I lost my ish.

And I distinctly remember the moment that Hope went to her “this ish is cray” place. I lost eye contact as I practically yelled that I wasn’t mad—though everything about me indicated that I was totally pissed. Her face went blank and she stopped jotting down the things dictated from my ridiculous list.

My pinnacle of crazy? Taking the laptop until all chores were done, preferably by 4pm.

Now, first, if my daughter’s life relied on a speedy response to anything she would not be here in the land of the living. Secondly, the list was a failure set up. And finally? I was a complete nut-job, mom-beeotch; especially when my daughter insisted that there were no dishes to wash after I had washed two sink fulls and there were STILL dishes to do.

Being human is so overrated. I’m tired and stressed and I actually don’t want to be so easily triggered or wound up, but yeah, here we are.

I apologized to Hope. I was bad, and I regretted it. Then I let her be, and I got back to the tasks that would hopefully help me get on top of my workload. I know that I’ll have a breakthru this weekend; I just need it to hurry up and get here.

I also need to lay in my bed for a few days, but alas, that won’t be happening for a while.


Thoughts on Teaching Driving

I am a control freak. I like control.

I am teaching Hope how to drive, and it’s everything I can do to not freak the hell out every time I let her behind the wheel of my car. She’s not an awful driver; she’s just learning and learning is…challenging. And I feel like some of her daily challenges around self-esteem, impulsiveness, wide swings between detail orientation and oblivion make driving even more challenging. Knowing this on top of my already heightened need for complete and utter control over as much as my life as I can muster sends me into a frenetic emotional tizzy. But I have to hide it because of how I know my freak outs will affect Hope.

I’m committed to supporting her though and to helping her move toward successful achievement of this goal.

But I can’t say I’m thrilled about the process. But her development is more important that my internal freak outs.

That said here’s a quick run down of my internal monologue while Hope is driving.

Please Holy Homeboy, let us get out of this parking space without hitting any of the cars near us.

That speed bump probably busted my muffler.

[Waiting to turn left across traffic from property] Wait, wait, wait, wait. Go, go, go, go.

I mean, I guess the white lines on the road are suggestive. Wait, the YELLOW LINES ARE NOT SUGGESTIVE.

The speed limit is 35mph, we are going 19mph.

Wait, when did we start going 47mph? SLOW DOWN!

I truly believe in the sanctity of life but if she brakes like that again for an already dead squirrel….

I think I briefly fainted from fright.

My hand kind of has a cramp from holding on to the door.

Hope breathes a sigh or relief after every turn she makes. So do I.

Go, go, go, go, go!

Stop, stop, stop, stop.

YOU CAN’T CHANGE YOUR MIND IN THE MIDDLE OF A TURN.

I’m going to die in the passenger seat of my car.

Did I pay the life insurance? I’m pretty sure I paid the insurance last month.

Do not grab the door; keep your hands in your lap. It freaks her out if you look too scared.

We are on the highway for one mile and I might die from lack of oxygen. I can’t breathe.

Thank heavens there’s the exit.

Is she legit asking for directions to our house? She doesn’t know where we live? Sweet Hey-Zeus in a manger.

Is that a Bentley in our parking lot? #dafaq? Which of my neighbors is rolling like that????

Is she really about to park next to….OHMYHEAVENLYHOMEBOY NO!

We are parking….Please get it right, please get it right, please get it right. I’m not trying to spend my retirement on repairing that dang Bentley. Again, which of my neighbors hangs with folks who have a Bentley?

Did she just try to turn the car off while it was still in gear?

Sigh.

Ok, we made it.

Tomorrow she will take me grocery shopping and I will pray…a lot.

Hope is actually not a bad driver. She’s just learning and it’s a process and I’m a control freak and not being in control is really, really spazzing me out. Soon enough I will be able to just enjoy the ride.


Hopeful for Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’re not, but it feels like it.

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

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

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

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


Thoughts on Guns in School

In short, no. Just no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do we want that for our kids?

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

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

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

English.

History.

Physics.

Anatomy

Algebra.

Band.

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

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

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

No.

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

Hurt people, hurt people.

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

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

Nope.


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.


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