Category Archives: Parenting

What Hope’s Graduation Taught Me

Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. Watching my daughter walk across the stage and graduate surrounded by family and friends was such a wonderful experience that really, it’s almost hard to explain. Family, friends and even colleagues drove a long way to join us for this event, and it was more than I could have dreamed.

During the processional, I gasped and choked up because it was so real. Getting to this day was a long hard slog through not just regular teen years, but through a history of trauma, anxiety, depression, placement, adoption, just so much stuff. Sooooo much. I just started to cry because it was a culmination of so much love and effort and dreams and prayers.

One thing that was especially special about Hope’s graduation day was the presence of her biological family. This day represented the full on merging of Hope’s family. Hope knew that her aunt would be coming, but as she descended the stage with her diploma to return to her seat she caught sight of her aunt and the delight on her face…my heart smiled.

Now I’m not going to lie, there were moments leading up to the graduation that were emotional. There were members of my family who didn’t want to share Hope, who still super side eyed her family, who just had feelings about them attending this event. I’m glad that I made my own declaration early on that this was our, my and Hope’s family, and that there would be space and love for them. On yesterday, the merging was seamless, and the excitement turned to talk about all the parties there will be when Hope graduates from college.

It was so much more than I could ever of hoped for and that’s because we all centered what was best for Hope.

There is so much discussion in adoption about the triad—birth family, adoptees and adoptive parents. We rarely highlight the ripple effect that adoption has throughout whole families. The removal, placement, adoption, whatever terms we use, of a child from their family of birth reverberate across a family like a skipped rock on a body of water. The absence of that child is a hole, and the trauma of it is far more widespread that we care to acknowledge.

Hope’s relationship with her paternal family is complicated and losing her to foster care…well in these 5 years, I’ve learned that everyone in her family has a story and big feelings about that. There is a lot of emotion; there’s a lot of sadness, a lot of pain about how it all went down. I have my views and opinions of the story, but real talk, I wasn’t there, so I have to listen. Hope has her version of what went down too, and I listen.

There is so much hurt.

And the only way to heal it is to pitch that big tent and constantly try to cultivate an environment of inclusion. Graduation was a big tent event, and as a parent in general, you don’t always get to sit back and say, hey, I got it right, but I got yesterday right. Yesterday was a healing day for Hope and this family.

There were so many tears. There were tears of joy, of grief, of loss, of pride, of happiness. My daughter sobbed for a good 10 minutes as she was feted by family and friends. In the moment, noting concern by some guests, I just said my daughter was overwhelmed—and she was— but it was more. As much as my own family was there to support and celebrate, the presence of biological ties was just so powerful in this moment.

Having an open adoptive relationship with my daughter’s biological family is critical. I believed it before, but yesterday, the confirmation of that belief was so strong and so true that it makes whatever criticisms I might’ve endured on this journey possible. They are members of our village; full stop.

The second big thing that I learned yesterday was just how much this achievement meant to Hope. I remember early on that Hope thought I was nuts for wanting her to dream about going to college. She quickly got on board with at least humoring me. I know that Hope has humored my pushing and prodding for years now. I also know that my pushing and prodding was not always a healthy thing for her. Upon reflection, I know that there are times when my pushing and prodding were directly contributing to her low self-esteem and depression around not living up to standards I’d set. I know I was less than flexible sometimes. I also know that even here in this space, readers encouraged me to pull back, to remember that college wasn’t for everyone.

I’ve heard you, and I’ve reflected on that a lot this year.

And yet, yesterday, after Hope, Sister M and I had packed up her dorm and we were making one last stop on campus to pick up something from the band room, Hope sat in my car, heaved a big sigh and said, I did it. I graduated from high school!

It was a record scratch moment for me since of course, it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t finish high school. I was always focused on what would happen beyond high school. Never in a million years did I ever think Hope would not finish high school.

But there was a time when Hope didn’t think she’d finish high school. I did not know this before that moment.

It was an assumption for me, but not for Hope.

I pressed her for why she didn’t think she’d graduate from high school. Well, the response was easy for her—look at all she had been through, why would she think she would graduate from high school? Look at the trauma, the loss, the hardship, the rejection, the lack of permanence and instability for years, why would she think she would be able to finish high school?

High school graduation should be a momentous occasion, but when your life was such an unstable mess for so long, you stop dreaming about it.

I realized in this moment that graduation was even more pivotal for Hope. It was more than just a personal achievement, but it also represented that she was on track and that maybe she really could start dreaming. The uncertainty of the college search took a lot out of Hope this year; it marked another transition that made her questioned herself. It marked another thing she had to go through the motions on, but still tried for a while to remain somewhat detached from in order to protect her fragile emotions. Graduation is freeing; she did it! She can do it. If she did it once, she can do it again. That is real for Hope.

The revelation is real for me. She is now so excited about going to college. Graduation is the ultimate confidence booster!

And finally, the last lesson for me, the Holy Homeboy still has jokes for me. I have had lifelong issues with a lack of patience; I thought that it was the ultimate joke that he fated me to jump into parenting a 12-year-old as I stretched into middle age. He pushed and pulled me, stretched me in ways I didn’t know possible, especially challenging my own notions of morality, personal values, parenting, family, education and health. One of my biggest personal values struggles was how Hope didn’t fit into my ideals about academic performance.

Of course, at the time, I didn’t appreciate how she never saw herself making it this far. I do now, which makes my revelation all the more meaningful.

Hope’s academic performance, her struggles, were sadly an ongoing challenge for me. I value education so strongly, I found it personally offensive. I know it wasn’t right. I know that lengths I went to try to “help” Hope improve were not helpful to her mental and emotional health. I know that my dreams for her were a source of stress.

I have never not felt so strongly about education. I do believe it is key to social mobility and financial freedom. It is all I’ve ever known. The ongoing confrontation to that belief system has been difficult.

And then yesterday, I realized a couple of things. Hope spent two years in honors classes where she did reasonably well in before things went downhill. Those grades are weighted, which set a solid base for her overall GPA. She graduated with a reasonable GPA. She lettered in her freshman year thanks to band. I didn’t realize when she entered her senior year that she only needed a couple of credits, really like two required courses, all other requirements had been completed. She went to a college prep school, and yeah, she struggled, but the curriculum was rigorous. Her squadron earned honor status among all the school squadrons for their overall adherence to all the important things in JROTC.

In the end, Hope graduated from a tough college prep school with an advanced diploma because she had way more credits than necessary; she has a special ROTC designation, and is college bound. Things I figured were just beyond us, and yet it is right where we ended up. Better than fine.

And the Holy Homeboy laughs at me (again) for trying to muck up his plans for me and my family.

So, yeah, yesterday was a big, effing deal for me and Hope. It was also full of life lessons for me. Family, all family, is important. Our kids can dream and can achieve. I gotta trust the process and my faith that things will end up just they way they are supposed to.

Yesterday was a good day.

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Sometimes It’s So, So Sweet

This past weekend I was dragging. I mean, the weather was perfect, and I would have been just fine if I never moved farther than the bed, the kitchen and the couch. Note the only reason the kitchen made the list was because I had to eat, otherwise, I probably could’ve relied on my fat stores. I just wanted to be lazy.

Instead, I rang up Sister M and enjoyed a late lunch and a few glasses of vino. Sunday, I planned to ride out to Hope’s school and see my daughter. By that morning, I was feeling funky, attitudinal and just meh. I wanted to stay home. I texted Hope, trolling for a reason to stay home and just video chat her.

Me: So, um, I know the arts showcase is today. Is the band playing too?

Her: You know the band sucks. Yeah.

Me: Yeah, I know you think the band sucks. IS that a yeah the showcase today or that the band is playing.

Her: Yeah.

Me: UGH! Yeah to both?

Her: Yeah.

I swear how teens have managed to be monosyllabic via text is nearly an art form.

Me: You want me to come (silently praying she gives me an out even though I want to see her, feel guilty about looking for an out, and am wondering if I should venture to the bakery for a piece of depression day cake.)

Her: Um, yeah. That would be cool.

Me: K.

I could only muster the K. Seriously, I look at that text thread and feel a bit guilty. I did and I do, but I also was like, “Dang it. I gotta get myself together, drive 80 miles when I really, really, really just want to change pjs and figure out if I can get UberEats to fetch me that cake.”

Two hours later I pulled into campus, walked into the gym, scanned all the Air Force band blues and landed on the back of Hope’s head.

It’s so amazing how you can actually recognize the back of your kid’s head. The first time I picked her out of a crowd I thought, “I might actually be able to do this mom thing.”

Anyhoo, Hope hadn’t spotted me, and I took a moment to watch her. She was joking around with some kids. She looked good, maybe a little thinner than when I last saw her a few weeks ago. She’s been really going through a rough patch, which is why I wanted to lay eyes on her. I watched her for another minute or two, before she turned and saw me.

That smile.

The beeline into my arms.

The hug that was tight and long and…perfect.

Hope missed me, and the depth of my own emptiness from missing her hit me. I held back a little tear while she began to tumble out words about all kinds of stuff. I’m still not sure what all she said.

She grabbed my hand like the little girl she is inside and took me to see her graphic artwork.

Keep in mind that at no point did my kid tell me she had artwork in the showcase…because #teenager.

I looked at the exhibits and then I found a replica of the  Christmas card she had given me a few months ago. I was shocked because what she had written to me was so emotional that the original card is tucked away with my most important papers in my fire box.

Hope is typically rather private. She is very open about being adopted and how much she loves her family—all of her family, birth and glued. But she doesn’t like to wear her emotions on her sleeve. She tends to keep a lot bottled up.

And yet, there was the short paragraph that she had written me in the inscription, on the table for everyone to read.

This card…well, my daughter wrote of her love for me and for giving her normalcy. I’m not much on the whole adoptee gratitude thing. Too many people expect adoptees to be thankful, grateful for having been adopted, not really thinking about the circumstances that led to the necessity of that outcome. As much as I want to give my daughter the world, the most important thing I could gift her was something akin to normal.

In some ways, of course, there’s nothing normal about our life. In other ways and perspectives, it’s delightfully normal. We get up, go to work and school. We had breakfasts and dinners together. I harassed her about chores and homework. I reminded her to turn out the lights when she left a room. We spent fall Friday nights at the football field, sitting with other band families, assessing the band’s field performance. We video chatted when I was away on business travel. I dragged her to mentoring and coaching programs for tweens and teens. We took vacations or really trips where we bickered on bed choice, food choice, destination choice, and whether I would let her have another dessert. I balked at paying $70 for jeans with holes and redirected us to that awesome Old Navy jeans for $15 sale. I wrestled my dress hating daughter into an Easter/Christmas/Band Banquet dress over several years and watched her go through phases trying on makeup, press on nails and every Korean skin care product her allowance could burn through.

Yeah, we are normal. That’s what I wanted for her.

And she let me know that we achieved that in spite of everything.

My heart hugged itself in my chest, as I looked over at her and she just nodded.

Me: You good with putting this all out there like this?

Her: Redirecting me as she sometimes does, “Hey I did a good job designing the fox on the front.”

Displaying the card was bold of her. It was also the sweetest, precious thing she’s done for me.

Hope continued her efforts to redirect me to her other artwork before I made a emo puddle in the middle of the gym.

Putting half her life story out in the showcase was cool. Me getting super emotional about it was too much.

So, I continued on in feigned interest looking the rest of the school’s art displays, glad that I roused my ambivalent arse out to campus.

Of course, then I endured more than an hour of a choral and band “concert.” Why do schools call these things concerts????  Hope’s school is very small and while a lovely little school, let’s just graciously say that the talent pool is…shallow. The “concert” of high school students served middle school concert realness.

Hope and I had a nice chuckle reminiscing about a 7th grade pops concert during which the school orchestra attempted to play the theme to Star Wars.

It.

Was.

Horrid.

A auditory assault. #butidigress

Our chuckle? Also normal.

I headed back right after the concert, but not before Hope gave me another long, loving hug and I called her my big baby, which she hate-loves.

I was still exhausted and out of sorts when I got home, but there was a part of me that had clicked back into place.

Gosh I love this kid. And, even though I know she loves me, there are times like this one, when her openly showing it just fills me with joy.

17 days before she graduates.


College Bound

I just paid the deposit to the college that Hope has decided to attend this fall.

And now I’m sitting here crying.

It’s amazing how going to a website, clicking few links that carried me to Paypal and a few more key strokes represent such a monumental thing for Hope. I feel so many emotions.

I am joyous. Anxious. Excited. Scared. Worried. Hopeful. Proud. Relief.

Hope made her decision before I left on my vacation to Italy last week. After a visit to the community college, she was clear that she felt like the college would be a better fit for her. I fretted that she might be comparing the schools in an unfair light, so I pointed out a few key things to consider. I offered to sit down with her and make a pro/con list.

She reiterated her decision, clearly, concisely.

As I left on my trip, I asked her to discuss it during last week’s therapy appointment. When I returned I asked her about her decision and whether she had talked about it with AbsurdlyHotTherapist.

Yep, and she was still going to college.

Hmmm, ok. I *still* kicked a little dirt for a few days, and then today, I did my part and ponied up the deposit.

I am relieved that this chapter is over. This college application thing is cray. It’s crazy if you have high achieving kids, regular kids and struggling kids. It’s just cray. I’m glad that Hope had options, and I’m glad that she feels good about her decision. I’m also glad that it wasn’t my decision. It shouldn’t have been and I’m glad it wasn’t.

Our trip to the college, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in VA (though not that town dear pal who shall remain nameless), was just lovely. The school is very small, less than 1,000 students and really seems committed to giving students like Hope the chance they need. It’s about 3.5 hours away from home, but connects are about 1.5 hours away if necessary. There’s also a direct train to DC, making it very accessible. I felt good about the place; it’s clear she felt good about it as well. Of all the schools we visited—they were all nice and Hope said she could see herself at each of them—this one seemed different. It featured elements of the other schools and also offered some educational offerings they others didn’t.

As I thought about her decision, I also talked to AbsurdlyHotTherapist and my own therapist about how best to support her. Really, ultimately it was about letting her know that this decision isn’t permanent; she can change her mind, transfer or change course if necessary. It was about reminding her that I will be here to support her and what’s best for her. I hope that knowing that contributed to her ability to step out and try.

I’m looking forward to her being home this summer. I miss her. I’m not going to lie though, I’m excited that she will be attending the college in the fall. It was hard to get over the empty-nest thing. I wasn’t looking forward to going through it all over again, even though I know I will in some ways. I’ve gotten back into some of my old habits, lightening up the diet a bit and knowing that whatever I put down somewhere is going to be right where I left it.

All that said, I’m reflecting a lot on when I made my own college decision 28 years ago. The emotions I feel right now are eerily similar—excitement, fear, pride, anxiety, joy, worry! I remember wondering what my parents thought and how this was all going to work out. All these years later, I still wonder how it’s all going to work out.

I’m proud of Hope. I’m so in awe of this kid; she never fails to amaze me.


The Big Night

Well I survived the big night. The day of Hope’s military ball, I went into the office for a few hours, left to pick up the corsage I ordered for her and then hit the road to drive the 75 miles to her school. I’d packed a “glam” bag full of beauty products, hair products undergarments, and any emergency thing I could think of that might be needed. I, of course, had the dress, Hope’s dress coat, and her 3.5 inch heels.

When I arrived my daughter was painting the mini-claws she had adhered to her fingers. She asked for my opinion, and I’m sure she didn’t want the super honest one, so I gave her what she needed. I plucked her eyebrows, while her roommate used the curling iron I packed. I slicked edges back to place the sparkly headband, all the while trying to play it cool even though I was over the moon with delight that I was finally getting to have this experience with my daughter. I made suggestions on her make-up, but not too many so that I wasn’t annoying. I zipped up the side zipper on her ornate gown and just breathed taking her beauty in. I snapped pictures of her, selfies of us, body shots and head shots, shots with the hall monitor…Hope was serving goddess vibes with her perfectly fitted black and gold detailed gown. She was breathtaking. I was and am so proud. I’ve already ordered a dozen prints of my snapshots to send to her family and some of mine.

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And then it was time for her to leave.

All the girls on the hall were fluttering around, applying last minute glosses and trying to walk confidently in stilettos. We stepped outside and there were a few limos, even though most of the students were taking the school bus to the country club. Hope turned to say good bye, and I gave her air kisses, a hug and told her to have a great night. As she walked away I snapped one last picture of her heading off for her prom. I smiled because it was so sweet, and I’d managed to not ruin the evening by being an overbearing, opinionated mom.

In the three hours since my arrival, the temperature dropped and I was blocked in by one of the limos, so I grabbed my coat and sidled up to another parent, a mom, who was watching the kids head out for the evening.

We engaged in some filler banter, giggling a little when one of the young woman clearly was having issues walking in her super, super high heels. Another young woman stepped out in a full length rose gold sequined gown. The other mom and I watched for a while as she stepped into the evening sunlight and started snapping selfies. The gown was stunning; she looked great, glamorous even.

The other mom and I continued to banter a bit, and then our banter took a weird turn.

“It’s amazing, you know, how much things have changed over the years,” she said.

Me: “Uhhhh, yeah, sure.” I have no idea what she is alluding to.

“Kids are all together these days.”

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Me: Still not sure where this is going…

“In my day, things were segregated. Blacks lived on one side, and we lived on the other. Separate schools and everything.”

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Me: Huh, ok, I see what this conversation is about, still not sure where this conversation is going or what is happening. I’m just here to watch my kid go to prom with her classmates. WTH…

“I was ok with them (black folks). One time I invited this little black girl over to my house to play. My dad had a fit and forbade her from coming over. He announced that no black people can ever be in our house.”

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Me: “Huh, ooooookay.” So, what am I supposed to do with this information that is soooooooo not what I want to deal with. Can’t I just look at the pretty girl in the rose gold dress in peace?

“I was so upset; I mean I was mad! I told my dad, ‘You know, God could have made you black!’” She looked at me pointedly; I’m guessing for some response.

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Me: Oh, is this White woman is looking for some kind of validation or something? Lady, are you serious? Can we just look at the dresses and shoes, make small talk and leave? Why am I being subjected to this non-sequitur need for racial reconciliation/validation? Really, what the entire hell.

So, I responded in a way that would quickly bring this weird confessional to an abrupt end.

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Me: “So you’re telling me your dad was or is a racist, but you’re not?”

Her: Color seeps into her cheeks. “I’m just saying things have changed.”

Me: “Indeed they have. Well, it’s chilly. I’m going to go ahead and head out. You have a nice evening.”

Weird right?

I mean, Hope’s school is very diverse—about 20% African American, and close to 50% students of color and international students combined. I have been very happy with Hope’s environment at the school, which is saying something because the school is located in a town where Confederate flags wave openly and proudly. We’ve had a few issues related to some international culture clashes, but generally, I feel like she’s had good exposure with racial mirrors among both the students and the faculty.

So to the rando mom lady who wanted to have both an acknowledgement that things have changed and that she’s not what she grew up with…well, I just wanted to enjoy my evening. I wanted to bask in having the joy of girlie time with my very tomboyish daughter. I just wanted to watch the kids get all dressed up and go out for a night many of them will think about for years to come and will hopefully tell their kids about. I just wanted to be a mom in this moment, and not a Black ambassador hanging around to validate a hopeful woman who wants to believe we’re all post-racial.

Ugh.

Anyway, Hope was off. She said the filet mignon was delicious if a bit rare and the potatoes were yummy. She danced and wore her heels all night. She had a good time and texted me when she was on the way back to campus. She was clearly still on a prom high when I went back to campus to pick up for the weekend, chattering with her friend about the music, the couples and the food.

It was a big night, and I’m so glad I got to share a part of it with her.


Flat Envelopes

One of the most striking things I’ve discovered during my time as a parent is how deeply I feel things. I believe that I was really in touch with my emotions before parenting. I spent a lot of time in therapy wrestling with big emotions, feelings I had, things I believed about myself and the world. I thought I understood feelings before being a parent.

Yeah, I didn’t understand ish.

I did not, nay could not, anticipate how deeply I would feel things. How the very core of my being might be overwhelmed by joy or pride or how I could feel so crushed, sad and disappointed that there didn’t seem to be any sobbing that could even come close to helping make sense of what I was feeling.

I didn’t have a clue.

Over and over I’ve had moments while parenting Hope that the jumble of emotions I felt was so messy, so convoluted that I couldn’t really say what I was feeling. Even now, sometimes I think about Hope, something we are experiencing and it’s almost like I have a phantom feeling in my chest—love, joy, sadness, sometimes despair (no worries, my doc says my heart is fine). In these moments I often find that I need to shove my feelings into an emotional closet so that I can be what Hope needs in those moments. I am there to help her navigate her own emotions and figure things out, even when I really have no idea how I’m doing that for myself.

This week brought new emotional drama for both Hope and me. After weeks of waiting oh so anxiously, for decisions on Hope’s college application, two flat envelopes showed up. Flat envelopes in college admissions is rarely good news.

To be fair, one flat envelope indicated that consideration of her application had been put on hold to allow her the chance to strengthen her application. The other envelope was an admissions denial. Hope did not get into her (our) 1st choice school. They encouraged her to do a year somewhere and reapply. She’s sad, but it really helps that there’s one school in the bag and 3 others we are waiting on.

As someone who works in higher education, I know that the other 3 schools are iffy and become more iffy with each day that passes.

But yo, the parenting emotions are so damn real! I knew I was anxious, constantly offering up prayers, but when I got her message (& saw the first flat envelope), my heart broke. I wanted this for her so badly, even if I knew that she might finally meet her “natural consequences” match. Hey, you don’t do your work, you fail classes, you don’t get admitted to the 1st choice. Still I found myself hoping, praying that she would get the fat envelope.

Hope’s academic performance last semester was not even lackluster; at some point it looked like she was phoning it in. When the semester grades posted, I clucked to myself that this upped the risk of not be admitted anywhere. These were the grades that would go to the schools. I could feel the natural consequence reckoning coming. I know that at some point, Hope didn’t really believe me that all of this mattered in how colleges would look at her. I remember listening to her anxiety a month or so ago as the reality seemed to really hit her.

Oh…they have expectations of me academically. Wow!

There was a season in my parenting when I would have piled on with “I told you so!” or “See? Do you believe me now?” Then I got a clue that maybe that wasn’t helpful; in fact, it was only really to validate that I was right. Again, not helpful, but possibly harmful.

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So, I learned to keep that internal momologue monologue to myself.

When I learned about the flat envelopes, I needed a moment to gather myself. I’m an overachiever–ridiculously so. I’ve never received a flat envelope, so this is uncharted territory. I didn’t want to be right, and I desperately wished that her natural consequence comeuppance came at some other time, in some other form. I knew that the reject stung and probably undermined the little confidence that she had mustered during this process. I felt horrible that and guilty that maybe I pushed too hard, that maybe we should have not applied there, that maybe the college counselor who recommended the school was so wrong and this was partly her fault. The guilty feeling that I had set my daughter up for failure gnawed at me.

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As a parent though, I had to switch gears immediately, check in on Hope’s well-being. Of course, she is sad about the first choice and unclear how she feels about the admissions hold. I’ll have a better sense of her emotions when I see her this weekend, but I’ve been working my brain extra hard to pivot this into a pep talks about schools that are the right fit, that there are alternative pathways (transferring later), that there are still possible options out there since all decisions hadn’t been made yet. Also, hey, look, you do have a safe school, so there’s that. #brightside

I feel like I’ve made a good case, put on a genuine face for her, and I genuinely do believe all of those things. Absolutely. I also know that what she needs to hear right now, that reassurance that she’s going to be fine and that I believe she’s going to be fine, and I still believe in her. #teamHope It happens to lots of kids.

So, stay tuned and hope for chunky envelopes.


The Mystery of Turning 18

Hope will be 18 in a few months.

I don’t even remember looking forward to 18; sure, I remember 21, but I don’t remember looking forward to 18. I mean, I was still in high school, getting ready for college. I was already illegally boozing at a local bar where one of my friends’ boyfriend’s older sister tended bar. I had a car and a after school job. I actually had a fair amount of freedom, earned by good grades and decent character.

Beyond that, I don’t remember looking forward to turning 18.

I might’ve been more into being a high school senior and all the traditions that go with that, final year of sports, the awards, homecoming and prom, banquets and convocations. I have quite a few snapshots from that time. I looked happy, content, like I was having fun. But I just don’t remember being all eager to be 18. I don’t even remember what I did that birthday; Google says it fell on a Saturday and knowing my besties from back in the day we were out and about doing something, even though I was the first of my closest friends to become a “legal adult.”

I knew that nothing would change at home. I chuckle at the thought of somehow asserting my newfound adulthood while still living at home and being in high school. The notion is straight up laughable. That said, I knew that things were stable, not much was going to change after my birthday and that I certainly was not going to be a real adult. I was ok with that.

At best, for me, 18 was like…being an adult preemie.

I don’t actually know that Hope is looking forward to her next birthday, but I know it’s one of those birthdays that is somehow significant.

Maybe depending on the circumstances it’s more significant for parents. Maybe that’s why it’s on my mind these days.

A friend’s son recently turned 18, and it was clear from my friend’s post that they were having some conversations about what it meant to be an “adult” still living at home with the parents. The comments on the post were funny and smart, and I got the sense that this father and son had some negotiating that would soon be taking place about all kinds of things. It was also clear that by negotiating, I mean that dad was going to tell him that many of the same rules still applied today as they did last week.

I’m mindful that my experience and the experience of my friend and his son are ones that folks take for granted. We grew up with our biological families. Stability was never an issue. The threat of separation never even brushed our lives. We knew that being 18 was a formality; we were still members of our families, still dependent on them, still loved by them and loving on them, and that nothing was going to really change. We were still firmly ensconced in the family nest.

Hope and I haven’t talked about her upcoming birthday at all. We’ve been so focused on the college application thing and the layers of anxiety around the process and what it meant to her and me that it didn’t even occur to me that there might be feelings about her 18th birthday. During out long drives to visit schools, I know that my daughter seems to feel a mix of excitement and anxiety. For the most part that is normal, but I know it’s not totally normal because she’s worried about being abandoned. Will I cut her loose when she goes to college? How will she manage? Can she function in a college environment on her own? What are the other options and how do you make decisions? There’s a lot of big feelings for both of us.

So, we’ve been consumed by the big life, landscape issues and not some of the more down to earth, daily drama that the late adolescence/early adulthood period brings with it.

That is until earlier this week, when I discovered that she had signed up for something that I *know* had a 18+ requirement. I promptly sent her a quick message to shut it down since she was underage. I reminded her that there are age limits for a reason and that I would not be relenting just because she was close to 18. She didn’t respond; she just shut it own.

Now that’s all great and everything, but the reality is that Hope will be 18 in just a few months, and I’m realizing that it opens up a whole new set of opportunities for bad decisions. Hope will be 18 chronologically, but emotionally? Not even…

I believe she feels attached and reasonably secure in this moment, but will she feel that in a few months? Have I done enough to nurture the confidence in our relationship, in my reliability as her mom? Does she trust me enough?  Does she trust me enough to still be a bit of a kid? I don’t think she wants to grow up, and I know she needs more time, so I’m hoping that we don’t get hung up on the imaginary trappings of adulthood that come with being 18.

Of course there are also things that I will need to evaluate in terms of my parenting. Will I still monitor online activity? I don’t heavy monitor anymore, but I have the ability to. Usually I just rely on my “mom’s spidey sense” to let me know that I need to check something out. Since Hope is away at school I know that the school blocks somethings on campus and I also think she’s just earned a higher degree of privacy than she did 5 years ago. Are there things that I will change in my parenting when Hope turns 18? Hmmmm…honesty, I just don’t know.

I’m hoping that in the grand scheme of things, 18 won’t be a big deal for us. I am looking forward to celebrating it with our family, but beyond that?

Well, that’s a mystery!


2019 Parenting Goals

I’ve already written about this being my year of transition with respect to my vision board, but I have tried to also be mindful about what kinds of things I want to pursue in my parenting. Here’s a quickie list of my goals when it comes to parenting.

I will prioritize my core needs.
I realize that when I feel my worst, when I’m parenting my worst, when our relationship is the most rocky, I have not made sure my core needs have been met. Many times over the last few years, I failed to put my oxygen mask on first. If I can’t breathe, WE can’t breathe. And it’s not just about self-care or being selfish. It’s really about making sure that I have space in my life for me. Hope can’t take up all the air either.

I also want to model for Hope that living her life authentically, I mean *really* living her life fully and authentically should be a personal pursuit. So yeah, I’m trying to make me a priority this year.

I will affirm my daughter.
A couple of years ago, I papered Hope’s bedroom door with affirmation memes. Every time she went in her room, I wanted her to see some positive messaging. It stayed up for more than a year. She groaned when I first started doing it, but it was kind of emotional when we took it down to repaint her door.

Now, with Hope away at school, I text her affirmations a few times a week. Much like the door, she doesn’t always acknowledge them or she sends me an eyeroll emoji. Sometimes I luck out and she sends me a quick “TY” or a smiley. Sounds hokey, but I know that sending her affirmations resonates. When she first moved in I did a note every single morning that highlighted my love for her, what day it was, a goal for the day and an affirmation. Five years later, she has every single one of those notes. She keeps them in special folder. I know my girl likes a good affirmation.

I will care less.
I will really, really, really, really, really try to care less. I struggle with this; I always have, probably always will. My worries about Hope’s academic ability and overall ability to launch is rooted in some tough stuff. I know that there are aspects that have me thinking about what my expectations would’ve been with a biological child—totally unfair to Hope—but real nonetheless. But as I’ve written before, more of my concerns are rooted in my fears around systemic racism and the inequities that go with it.

Education has been key to my own ability to navigate and be successful as both Black and female. Academic performance opened doors; it’s the pathway I know and believe in because it works for me. More than anything I want to give my daughter every opportunity to excel and to acquire certain kinds of social privilege that will protect her. The reality is that at this time, academics isn’t Hope’s thing, and that’s for lots of reasons, including ability, interest, maturity, competing priorities (emotional survival). This has been hard for me these last years. It never occurred to me that Hope would struggle academically, and that was just a freakish assumption I made.

I do know that in emphasizing it so much, yes, Hope got the message, but she also struggled and never measured up to the goal I set in isolation of her. I know how harmful this has been. I cared too much about some of the wrong things; I will still care, but I will care less so that I can show her my increased care for her to just do what she is capable of at any given point. I’ll try to meet her where she is and not where I think she should be.

I will still push.
Hope is immature and there are definitely times when it’s clear she just wants to be babied. I’m ok with some of that, but I do hope to strategically step back in some areas to encourage her to chart her own path. I want her to feel my support, but I want her to be more willing and comfortable to try her sea legs. I think this will help build her confidence. I think it will help build my confidence in her as well.

And that’s it. I think those are BHAGs—Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals—and will keep me busy this year. It’s enough. Hopefully I’ll continue to be enough for Hope too.

What are your parenting goals for 2019?


Five Years

It’s hard to believe that it has been 5 years since Hope moved in from her last foster home. In some ways it seems like couldn’t possibly be that long; in other ways it feels like a lifetime ago.

I’m about 15lbs heavier, and I have a LOT more gray hair than I did back then. I have grown a lot. I’ve learned so much…about everything.

I learned that parenting is a lot about fake finding your way through the universe with only a vague road map based on your personal upbringing, values and resources. So much of it is just…wandering in the wilderness trying to keep kids alive and as close to thriving as you can get them.

For me, Hope and I dropping into each other’s lives…yeah, we’ve wandered a lot. We’re still wandering.

The wilderness is dark and thick for parents with kids who have experienced trauma and who have special needs. So much of what we endured post placement was confusing and just felt crazy in a never-ending way. I had tried to prepare myself for parenthood, but really, can you?

In a word, no.

So, I talked, wrote, reflected, talked other parents, listened to a lot of folks, especially adoptees, got help wherever, however I could figure out how to cobble it together.

I also lashed out, withdrew, and apologized to a lot of people in my life, over and over again, including my daughter.

I eventually got the hang of things, as much as you can with parenting. I can’t say parenting has become any easier over these five years. There are always new challenges, new goals, new problems, new therapies, new stuff to find your way through. I figured out that the way I had powered through other things in my life, I would power though parenting too.

Hope and I have done so much in the time we’ve been together.

We’ve been to 5 kinds of therapy. We’ve both taken many meds for depression, anxiety, and mood stabilization. We have connected with birth family. We’ve tackled grief. We’ve resolved legal stuff from long before I came along. We’ve cried more tears than I ever dreamed. We’ve argued and screamed and cursed. We found tutors and tutoring programs; we quit those as well. Music classes came and went. Programs for teen girls, yep did that.

We also traveled to 10 states and 4 countries. We went to the theatre. We did a lot of sightseeing, a lot of edutainment. We read a lot of books, including going down the rabbit-hole romance sub-sub genre of interracial relationships featuring Black women and Asian men—because KPop. We went to a lot of concerts and movies. Our dining palates grew to try lots of new things. We raised a puppy after saying goodbye to my beloved Furry One. We have laughed and danced and stayed up late doing silly things together.

And now, somehow, some way, Hope and I have gotten to year five, and she will graduate in 116 days days. We are waiting for decisions on her college applications. There are decisions to be made about the future, driver’s licenses to still get and just so much to still do. It’s really amazing.

Another 5 years from now, I’ll be in my early 50s and Hope will be in her early 20s. No idea what life will look like then. I’m sure that my parenting will continue to evolve; hopefully it will continue to improve. I’m hoping Hope will launch smoothly. I’m hoping that I’ll continue to reflect on this day that I became a parent, while it fades from my daughter’s memory. I just want it to be some day that happened, but that she moved on from. There are so many moments that stick out for her, big and small, painful and joyous, I’m ok with this day fading away for her.

I’ll remember though; I’ll always remember her emerging from security at the airport and stepping into my arms to give me a hug. It was a sweet and scary moment in time that has turned into such an amazing chapter in my life. I’ll always remember it.


The Year of Transition

I finished my vision board earlier this week. I started it on New Year’s Day and got stuck, so it sat on my screen for a week.

I usually choose a word that drives me for the year. Originally, I thought 2019 would be about liberation. I would be even more liberated in m travel. I would try to make some moves to make this writing thing, well, a thing. I would continue to make and achieve my financial goals which would bring me closer to financial liberation. I would pursue companionship, hopefully shedding some of my hang ups that have shaped my love life for so long. I would continue to wrestle with the emotional part of empty nesting with Hope soon off to college, possibly reframing it as a way to think about some adult freedoms to do things I haven’t done in years.

In all things, I would do, I would pursue personal freedom, my own little forms of liberation.

And most of those things are still on my vision board; they are very much a part of my plan.

But I realized over the last couple of weeks with Hope home, that I don’t think I’ll really have much of an empty nest. I’m not sure where Hope will be after graduation. To be honest, I worry a bit that we won’t make it to graduation. It’s made me think a lot about what that means for Hope, but with respect to my vision board, it made me also spend a lot of time pondering what it means for me.

Mothering Hope is not quite all consuming. Some days are less intense than others. This is not complaining but just a description of my experience with my daughter. Even the great days can be consuming. Like most parents, I am able to do a bit of revisionist history when I reflect on these few years. I am able at times to gloss over the many times that had me laying awake at night quietly praying for us to get through an especially challenging trauma-shaped period.

These few months with her away at school taught me just how much my own life had been shaped by secondary trauma. The anxiety, the depression, the fear, I had become so used to this especially heightened state of being that I didn’t realize how much trauma had just rubbed off on me.

And while I spent some time coming down from that state, I also transitioned to something new distance parenting. I case manage from 75 miles away. Finding new health care providers, therapists, hypnotists, pharmacies…building relationships with new teachers, guidance counselors, resident advisors. I beat the highway twice a month to see her, manage the bank accounts, buy way more ramen than I ever thought I would. I definitely still parent, but with Hope in such a structured school, I am not consumed in the same ways I was before. My day to day exposure to her trauma was limited, and I think I was able to heal a little.

As I look forward, I am unsure what will happen this summer and this fall.  Hope and I are waiting for the colleges to make their decisions and then we will figure out our options and make ours. It’s a weird time for her, for me and for us. I hope she gets admitted somewhere—she needs the emotional boost. That’s the first hurdle. Then I wonder whether she’s ready to go anywhere; these last few weeks at home and her first semester grades suggest maybe college isn’t really for her at least right now. And if it’s not, then what will being at home look like for us. She has done minimal volunteering and hasn’t had a job yet. She still doesn’t have her driver’s license. What will I expect of her if she is home for a long period of time; how will our relationship change?

There’s just a lot that is up in the air, and I’m thinking about all of it all the time. And thinking about something all the time is not liberation.

So, we’re in transition.

I’m in transition.

I’m moving into another life chapter. A lot of my personal goals remain the same, but Hope is and always will be a game changer. My master goal, to somehow usher Hope into functional adulthood, remains, but the incremental goals feel a little iffy at the moment. I need more information. I need to figure out young adult resources. I need Hope to play a bigger role in her own life in terms of figuring how what the next steps will look like.

So, my word for 2019 isn’t liberation. I might have some goals that will lead to my personal liberation, some that are designed to make me be and feel free. But really, this year will be about transitions for me and Hope.

I’m not sure how to feel all about that, I just know that transition will drive the year.

Here’s to 2019.


Times are Hard

My holiday break has ended, and I’m dutifully back in the office. I could have telecommuted today, but if I had one more solid day with Hope I might snap.

These last couple of weeks with her have been great, but we learned quite some time ago that having breaks is a good thing for us.  My travel schedule has historically given us both the reprieves we’ve needed to maintain a health-ish mother/daughter relationship.  Since going to boarding school, we really seem to relish the time we spend together on the weekends.

During this break, we have had some good time to talk about 2019, about how graduation looms, about the college applications she’s sent off and how some decisions will soon have to be made about her future. When I initiated these chats, Hope talked about how fast it is all going and how anxiety provoking it is. I agreed; these last few years have flown by and knowing that graduation is only 130is days away has me reaching for the brown liquor bottle and a couple of cubes of ice. We are both really starting to get anxious.

Hope has made such great strides these last few months. I feel like she, and me by virtue of proximity, have backed away from the edge of the crazy cliff we were gripping to the last 18 months or so. During weekends home, Hope gives off a slightly more confident air. She’s not as anxious and doesn’t seem as depressed. I know it’s all still there, but it doesn’t feel as consuming as it used to. There was a time that I swear I feel like it was all I could do to just keep us…going, living, breathing.

The growth and stability has been encouraging to me as a parent. I began to allow myself to daydream about her life in college and beyond college. Of course, I have ridiculous hopes and dreams for my daughter, but honestly, I’d be thrilled if she was just ok, functional, independent, roaming out in the world as a regular Jane. Still the sprigs of growth gave me hope and allowed me to fantasize about Hope’s future. We visited a couple of colleges, and she submitted her college applications. We high fived even as all the activities were a little nerve provoking around the edges.

These two weeks are the longest that Hope has been home since before our vacation to Europe in August. The first few days were such a rush for both of us; it was Christmas after all. We traipsed around Virginia visiting family, doing some shopping and finally settling in back home for the second week of vacation. And…then I began to really see my beautiful Hope.

The trauma triggered behaviors began to peek out. The somatic anxiety ailments descended like a black, plague-filled cloud. The excuses for inability to function much became amplified. The failure to listen to full questions because she was more concerned about getting a chance to respond to questions that *weren’t* being asked increased exponentially. The attention seeking behavior—we just got back from our obligatory doctor’s visit which was wholly unnecessary and merely attention seeking, moving through unrelated phantom symptoms designed to elicit a surely deadly diagnosis, sympathy and a hopeful pass on all the homework she failed to do because she was watching K-dramas.

As Hope’s usual struggles reemerged, I have battled my own demons. This is a challenging time of year for me. I don’t mind the cold, but darkness feels…emotionally dark. I struggle the most with my depression during the winter months. My motivation shrinks; I feel exhausted all the time. I am continent to just cozy under a blanket and do…the least. It feels so hard to propel myself to function. I just feel like sleeping all the time. But, well being functional and high achieving doesn’t leave much time for that, so I power through with some sarcastic self-talk. I try to date despite feeling like the whole dating ordeal is just trash. I go to therapy to talk about my fears more than my hopes, and I pop that blue and white pill every morning praying that it keeps me firmly on the ledge, while contemplating the need to get back on the prescription that features a little white pill when I need more pharmacological help.

And because I’m always looking forward, I’m thinking about what happens after the next 130-some odd days. Will we be planning for college or a job? Will she make it to graduation? Will I have a better idea of what her new needs might be and the ability to come up with a plan to meet them. What will success look like for Hope? Right now, it’s all a bit of a black hole, and honestly, my personality type does *not* do well with black holes. I’m working on my patience. I’m working on taking it as it comes. I’m working on meeting Hope where she is, but I’m feeling like I have no idea where that will be.

I am a good mother. I know that. I have worked, really, really hard at mothering Hope. I’m far from perfect. I’m failed and dusted myself off countless times. I try to be reflective and course correcting, but I am feeling lost as we fast approach the next chapter. I don’t know what’s next.

I imagine that this is overwhelming for Hope as well. It’s scary not knowing what’s next. Hope and I are facing the next chapter independently and together—we both have our stories on what we think comes next and how we’ll handle it. We both have hopes and dreams, some of which are not based on reality at all. We are both afraid of failure even though what that looks like is probably widely varied. And then there’s reality and decisions and things we’re experiencing together for the first time. It’s exciting and overwhelming and it’s own dream come true to get to the senior year. But we both are looking into the void to figure out what’s next.

It’s awful and awesome in its own way.

I just know that I’m probably a bit overwhelmed and depressed at the moment, and I need to get on top of that. I can’t lead in the darkness when my own reality is too dark. Sigh…

This. Is. Hard.

 


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