Category Archives: Parenting

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.

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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.

 


A Window into Hope

Last weekend I took Hope to see a second college she’s applying to this year. We were supposed to visit a few schools, but weather on the east coast cut our plans short and we had to skedaddle back to school and home.

Leading up to the visit, Hope’s mentor, counselor and I all traded a series of emails about how she was progressing through the application process tactically and emotionally. It was clear things were starting to kind of click and that some motivation was starting to take hold. I was encouraged since applying to 4 year schools was a major pivot in expectation of and for her.

In the last couple of months, I have watched Hope grow a bit more comfortable thinking about the future in more realistic and concrete terms. The first big challenge was answering the question what will Hope major in?

For the last couple of years, she told everyone that she wanted to be a linguist. She has a knack for languages and when she’s motivated, she will self-teach, but she hadn’t been motivated for more than a year making the set up for undergrad a little challenging. Couple that with the fact that most of the schools under consideration don’t offer linguistics as a major or minor and don’t offer enough languages to cobble an independent study program together, oh and the fact that Hope really didn’t fully grasp what a linguist really does on a day to day to basis and it became clear that she might need give some more consideration about what she wanted to study and how.

Helping Hope be ok with being undecided as a first-year student was the first barrier. She still worries about what that sounds like and what it means, but she’s grateful that there’s space to figure it out.

The next big barrier was getting her to ask for help and follow directions. This is where the counselor and mentor have been godsends. I talk to Hope and occasionally back channel the others. I don’t want to be a helicopter parent; I want to be a guardrail parent—there to prevent disasters and provide guidance but not intervening so much that I prevent empowerment or natural consequences. So far, so good. Hope is figuring out how to use her resources and how good it feels when she does it successfully on her own.

Last month I was ‘suggest-telling’ Hope what to wear on the first college visit. This month she put together her outfit and upped her game. She looked smart, a little sassy and super chic with her new hair cut! Some college girls on their way to the dining hall during our tour stopped to compliment her on her outfit. My girl, who lives for Korean graphic t-shirts and ripped jeans, was embracing a side of her that exuded confidence. I beamed. Honestly, I could not stop telling her own fabulous she looked. She cleans up well!

I liked the school, but I was largely unimpressed by the facilities. The school is nearly 200 years old, and well, it shows, and I’m thinking for all this money, does she *really* need to be at a school where she will need a damn box fan in the spring and summer?????? The school we visited previously seemed to invest a lot more into the facilities, well, things were very nice there. Hope and I were chatting throughout the tour, sharing our opinions. I smiled when she focused on the offered programming over facilities as she tried to influence my thinking about the school. I eventually said nothing about the facilities (or that very sad dining hall situation #tragic); Hope was all about the academic offerings and how she might major in this, minor in that and maybe get involved in this thing over there.

Again, I beamed as I watched her see herself on this campus.

I noted when I asked about the cadet corps that she was willing to listen to the admissions counselor’s spiel. I know she’s said she didn’t want to be in a corps in undergrad, but I also know that it’s provided her with such an amazing structure that I’m glad one of her chosen schools has that option. There was a time when she would have shut that whole line of conversation down out of hand. She humored me and even asked follow-up questions as she side-eyed me. She demonstrated patience and it was just so lovely.

This 24 hour trip gave me a window into the young woman Hope is becoming. It’s so exciting to watch. I’m so proud of her, and amazed that I got the chance to help her get to this point. She’s like this flower that I’ve been watering, had a heat light on, fertilizing, covering due to frost, repositioning to get enough life, talking to because aren’t you supposed to talk to plants, spraying with pesticides so bugs and a-holes didn’t distract too much, bought new pots as she grew and just prayed that she would get to a place of thriving.

Every now and then I get to see the fruits of that, or at least a little glimpse of what’s to come, and it is amazing. It’s this part of parenting that makes it all so worth it. Seeing the bud of the bloom appear on the plant and knowing that it still needs all that nurturing but it’s happening, it’s really happening. It’s so…rewarding seems like an understatement. It’s so very cool (also an understatement).

I’m rescheduling our visits to the other schools to early January, and I can’t wait to see what I will learn about Hope during that journey. It’s really just the best thing ever, and I can’t wait.

In other news, when I completed the parents’ portion of the FAFSA I was devastated to find that technically because Hope was still 12 when we finalized, she might not be eligible for additional grants/scholarships having been a former foster child. I spent several days just trying to remember that her permanence was more important than the 19 days that kept her from being adopted when she was 13. Adoptees adopted at 13 or older are deemed independent for the purposes of financial aid. Well, we completed the completed the FAFSA during our trip, and I guess there’s a grace period in there. Hope is considered an independent, which positions me to be way more helpful in bridging the gaps in college costs. I am still wary; I don’t trust the system not to screw this up, but her student aid report confirms it. Definitely an important development on this journey.

Oh yeah, #RVA in the house! 😉


Thoughts on our Attachment Journey

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about attachment. I’ve read a lot. I’ve listened to a lot of experts—including adoptees, the ultimate experts. I’ve talked to our family therapist, AbsurdlyHotTherapist, and my personal therapist about attachment too.

There have been big questions and little questions. I’ve fretted about those moments when our conflict was especially hard whether I had damaged us, whether I had fractured the glue I was working so hard to make us stick together. More recently, I’ve worried about my and Hope’s attachment status and journey as she is away at school. I find myself wondering if I did the right thing by her with the school thing even though I left the decision to go away to her; every evening I come home to just Yappy, I wonder if she’s ok and if we’re ok. After 4 years together, is this distance thing ok?

I’ve felt times of distinct struggle in parenting Hope. Single parenting is hard. Single parenting a teen is hard. Single parenting a teen from a hard place is hard. This isn’t a complaint; it’s just my truth. I’ve shed a lot of tears. I’ve worried a lot about the present and the future. I’ve worked hard to be a good advocate for Hope, but I also know that I’ve worked hard to push her, and probably not always in the best or most healthy ways. Parenting in general is hard, and “knowing what you’re doing” is a myth even in the best of circumstances.

And yet, I have sat in on adoptive parenting support groups and heard my peers also shed tears for the kids they love going through far more challenging events than I have experienced with Hope. I’ve left some of those group meetings feeling like even though these people are my people and we have some shared experiences, that my experience in parenting Hope is less challenging than I may have thought. I don’t take credit for that; I think we’re lucky and Hope has a well of resilience that I still don’t quite fully appreciate the way I should.

The last few years, I’ve really tried to give Hope the quality time, love, care, and security she’s needed. She did go to band camp for a week or so for a couple of years. I saw that she loved that experience, maybe because she loves band more than anything. In pushing her to go to an academic program this summer, I wanted her to have a different kind of experience. I wanted her to have a different opportunity. I didn’t think it would turn into anything because surely, she needed to be home. We still needed to work on attachment. She still needed my security close by.

The changes we have experienced these last 5 months or so have been dramatic. I didn’t expect that we would be here, or rather that she would be there, much less that she would choose to be there. I also would not have anticipated how it affected our relationship. It has really given me a lot of peacefulness around how I think about our attachment journey.

During a recent visit home, I noticed how relaxed Hope seemed. I asked her how she was doing, she said she was good. I asked about the depression and anxiety that riddled her academic experience. Sure, she said, school was stressful, but she didn’t feel bad about it or about herself, she felt better than before. I asked her if she felt like she made the right decision going to this school. She looked at me like I’d grown goat horns; yeah, she said yeah, shrugged, put in her headphones signaling that this was the endpoint in this discussion.

Um, ok, so, yeah.

Here’s what our relationship looks like now. We text…a lot. We send pictures, jokes. She sends me funny videos; she sends me political videos, which I especially enjoy. Sometimes we just text to say we love each other. Her goodnight texts warm my heart almost as much as when she would come into my room to say good night at home when we would invariably chat about silly things and maybe watch some silly animal videos on YouTube. When things get rough, Hope calls me—which as any parent of an adolescent kid knows is huge. Hope went through some roommate challenges recently, she texted me first and then called me. My heart both broke and soared because she was sad, and because she called me. She didn’t want me to fix anything, she just wanted mom’s comfort. She just wanted me to comfort her, that’s it. Of course, I did make some moves to lessen her pain points, but she just wanted mom’s comfort. There was a time when she would not have sought that out, much less my intervention.

I’ve learned that Hope trusts me, and that feels…amazing. I’m learning to trust Hope more on this part of our journey too.

We also delight in the time we get to spend together. The moment we see one another it’s just joy (and a huge stack of laundry). She indulges me as I take dozens of pictures of her in her ROTC uniforms and then texts them to our extended family. She can’t wait to tell me about what she’s reading or how drama club is going. We have these great conversations, and we bicker about the college applications that need to be done. Before you know it, the visits are over, and we hug it out, and she skips off back to her dorm. I don’t know what happens for her after that. I wish I could be a fly on the wall. As for me, I leave campus, pull over and cry every time. I cry because I miss her. I cry because I’m grateful for the time we’ve had together during the visit. I’m grateful that I gave her a choice on the school thing and that she seems to be doing well there. I’m grateful that we seem rock solid as a family. I’m grateful that I have a date on the calendar for the next visit.

I’ve learned that we’re ok during this chapter of our journey. I’ve learned that I’ll always wonder if we’re solid, if our attachment is strong enough or sustainable. I’ll always wonder if I’ll screw it up. I’ll always wonder about it all. But I do know that it feels like we’re ok right now. I’m holding on to that and to Hope.


It’s Ok

I remember watching Anita Hill testify about what Clarence Thomas did to her when I was a wee one in college years ago. It was painful watching a woman who looked like me being grilled in front of a nation. It was especially painful watching someone who looked like me talk about sexual harassment and not be believed or worse, be believed but dismissed because “boys will be boys.” At that point in my life, I’d already become accustomed to handsy, gropey fellows and street harassment. Just a few months after the Thomas debacle, I found myself as a young intern on Capitol Hill. The members were minding a few of their manners, but I still found myself the subject of lecherous looks and wildly inappropriate commentary—from actual Members of Congress who apparently thought that because they didn’t speak to me directly, they were probably in the clear. I was so young, and it was baffling. I thought then, as I do now, this is why we don’t tell people just how shitty some men can be when they think they are entitled to our time, attention and bodies just because we are present in “their” spaces.

I wanted to be an attorney before all that, but I skidded into a career in advocacy and eventually education, probably because my interests evolved, but also because I wanted to give voice and visibility to other brown and black girls who wanted to and could make a difference. Many years later, I have way more inappropriate experiences in my memory bank. Some of them way more intense and damaging than others. Some I shared with friends contemporaneously; others I never shared and probably still won’t. I don’t do this because I shy away from naming and shaming, but more because I have either had to reconcile and forgive so that I wasn’t consumed by things and or because I just don’t want to even go there. It’s just too much.

Now I’m a mom, and not just any mom, but mom to a kid who has seen and experienced worse than me in just about every aspect of life. I see how this has affected her. I see how she avoids anything that might be unsafe, anything that might make her physically vulnerable. I see her distrust. I see those moments when she lets the shields down, and I see the crumbling little girl who sobs because she was hurt, because no one protected her, because she feels that it’s all her fault. I feel overwhelming sadness, love for her and unmitigated rage. A few years ago when a case involving my daughter went to trial and sentencing I sent a 10 page victim statement and sobbed while I talked to the court representative ahead of sentencing. I know that I’m capable of murder; I learned that through that experience. I don’t say that lightly. I know I wouldn’t flinch to take that person’s life.

I think a lot about being triggered. I feel like the last few years has been a triggered life for me and Hope. Today, knowing that this hearing on Kavanaugh is about to take place, I am grateful to have back to back meetings all day. I am glad I can just avoid the shyt show. I’m glad Hope, who is increasingly interested in world affairs, is in a cloistered environment where she won’t be exposed to the news today unless she seeks it out. I’m glad about that.

So, what’s my point. It’s this: if you are having a hard time with all that’s going on right now, it’s ok to take a break and go binge watch something that makes you smile. It’s ok to go get a cupcake and sit on bench to eat it and watch folks on scooters roll by. It’s ok to watch animal videos on YouTube. It’s ok to check in with your therapist.

It’s ok to practice self-care. Don’t worry, the shyt show will be there tomorrow. Take care of yourself and take care of your kids. I know I will.

Be well.


Empty Nesting

I just got home from the office and I’m posted up on the couch with Yappy. It’s just the two of us.

IMG_20180917_181159

Me, Yappy & his impressive side eye.

I’m trying to decide what I’m going to have for dinner, especially since it’s just me.

I’m a little anxious because it feels like I *should* be doing something.

Oh right, Hope is away at school, so…

There’s no one else to say hi to when I get home.

There’s no one to cook dinner for in the evenings.

There’s no homework for me to check in on.

There’s no monitoring of internet usage while studying to do.

There’s no planning for the football game and band parenting to do.

It’s just me and Yappy, and I have feelings that I’m still sorting through.

The first week Hope was away was similar to when she went away to school this summer. I was exhausted. I know parents are exhausted; the constant vigilance that parenting requires is kind of draining. This summer I could barely get off of the couch the first week she was away. This time I was recovering from our vacation and had a bit of jetlag so I was exhausted, but it wasn’t quite as bad as the first time she went away to school.

Last week, week two, I spent the extra time working. I worked late and brought a bit of work home to do in the evenings since I could and I needed to catch up on some things that languished while I was in Europe.

This week, I’m getting my bearings a bit. I am thinking about rallying and going to the gym this evening. I’ve got a happy hour night and a date night planned this week. I’m thinking about my plans for the weekend as well. And if those plans fall through, I will pivot in my freedom and do something spontaneous or nothing at all.

I like the freedom. It’s kind of nice.

But I really do miss Hope.

We’re getting into a rhythm where I text her in the morning, maybe sending a picture of Yappy or a goofy selfie. She responds when she gets out of class with an update about her day. We trade a few messages before she heads off to an activity. I’ll get an itemized receipt for something she bought at the bookstore. I’ll get a little annoyed about how she spent $4 on a pack of gum at the overpriced bookstore and I’ll go on Amazon to ship her a multipak for the same price.

I might spend some time on YouTube looking at funny videos to send her. I might find some hairdo on Pinterest that we might try on her when she comes home. I’ll make a list of the appointments that need to be crammed into her next visit home–therapist, dentist, hairdresser.

She came home this past weekend, and I ended up being pretty quiet for a good chunk of the weekend. Hope had so much to share. I didn’t want to interrupt her because I relished hearing her voice. I also found myself in awe of her.

She rattled off the homework that needed to get done over the weekend. I told her it sounded like a lot; she replied it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. She showed me her graphic arts assignments, and I quietly marveled at how creative she was. She told me about how one of her teachers was encouraged to achieve a certain rank in the next few weeks and what that meant for her. I smiled. She shared how she and her roommate were getting on, and how a momentary issue that might’ve resulted in her switching roommates was easily resolved because she and her roommate wanted to stay together. They were eager to continue practicing English and Chinese together. I chuckled to myself about her early fears that her roommate might ignore her because of the language barrier and culture concerns. She smiled and shook her head when I showed up on campus to sign her out for the weekend with my “Not Today Colonizer” t-shirt on, because I’m nothing if not an agitator. I happily watched all the “woke” videos about social justice that she watched and saved on FB  just to share with me when she had a chance. We talked about politics and the latest with the Kavanaugh SCOTUS nomination; she has thoughts, y’all.

She told me about her upcoming SAT and ACT tests that she was not eager to take a few short months ago. She told me how she learned how to do stage lighting as she works backstage on the school play and announces that she might audition for a part in the next one; I hold my breath because I seriously don’t know who this kid is. I still didn’t have a picture of Hope in her duty uniform, and I didn’t want to bother her with it for fear that she’d huff and puff and blow my house down. I just asked her to take a selfie in her uniform when she had a chance. I nearly cried when she insisted that I wait while she changed into her uniform so I could take all the pictures I wanted when I took her back to school; she was proud to show me what she looked like in uniform. I saw how neat her room was (thank you daily room inspection) and smiled that someone managed to bring order to her life.

Hope is happy. Nearly every moment of her day is dictated for her, and she’s just thriving. I’m so happy for her.

And then I turn a bit sad because I could not do this for her at home. I could not create or provide enough structure to help her be this kind of successful. I had to find a place to do that because I couldn’t. There’s a bit of all of this that feels like a failure. I know it’s not, but a tiny bit of it pinches my heart because I couldn’t do this at home.

I know that she would have revolted if I tried to do this at home. This military school has given her purpose. I know that my role was to get her to a place where she could go there and thrive. I know that it’s not failure; this is a raging success. All that I poured into this kid got her to this place, and I was fortunate enough to be able to give her a chance at conventional success at this school. That is a salve to my soul.

But it still stings a bit. There’s something that feels kind of wrong after 4 years to send her away for her final year of high school. I mean, I didn’t send her away, Hope made this choice and it really was her choice. Hope and I thought that she would be a late bloomer, maybe staying home for a few years. She may still home, but I also see and know that she will be fine going away to school next year, so…we’re starting to look at small schools that can give her what she needs. The landscape has totally changed.

I know I can take credit for this…that *we* can take credit for this, but I still miss her. I kinda miss the exhaustion of worrying about whether she’s studying or staying up sneaking the laptop while eating candy all night. I don’t miss the dysfunctional trust issues we still work through, but I miss the some of the absurd routine behaviors that accompanied them.

Sometimes I feel silly and will email the dorm counselor to check in and see if Hope is really thriving as she appears to be. I check on her grades, bracing myself for the disaster I had become used to seeing when I checked grades. Dorm counselor emails back with glorious things to say and pictures of Hope’s room at last inspection. Grades come back with A’s and not the kinds of grades I used to see that made both of us feel like shyt. Hope calmly texted me that about my reaching out to the counselor last week. I read it as though she were mad and lashed out. #truthtelling She just explained the situation as she saw it and provided some additional information and context that the dorm counselor didn’t share. #contextiseverything I felt silly, having spun out into some of the dysfunction we endure at home. I apologized, and I resolved to talk to my own therapist about avoiding that in the future.

It really is a new day at Casa d’ABM. I have no idea what’s next for me and Hope. I’m excited and emotional and…proud. I feel like we made it, or at least I have survived. I can’ speak for her.

I try to be very sensitive about listening to adoptee voices. I’m not sure how Hope would characterize our life together. I hope she shows me a little grace as she reflects on it. I don’t expect her to be a “happy” adoptee; I know there is so much that shapes this experience. I know and have walked the path of depression and anxiety with her these last few years. I know she isn’t fully healed. I know that she will have some kind of hurt and pain probably forever. I’m a realist. I just hope she knows that I adore her. That I accept her as she is, imperfectly at times but I do, and I will support her lifelong journey to healing. I hope she knows I believe in her, purely and wholly.

I’m an empty nester looking at the next chapter for me and Hope, and it’s so dang emotional.


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