Category Archives: Teen parenting

Sex Chats

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

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

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Say what now?

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

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

O.

M.

G.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worked for us!


A Reflective Birthday

Hope is officially a baby adult, and we have feelings…big feelings.

I can’t believe that so much time has passed since she emerged from the secured part of the airport with her small suitcase (the bulk of her personal items arrived later). She’s so different now. She was a scared little girl in a teenager’s body. She was overwhelmed by the trajectory of her life; she was moving into a completely unknown chapter…with me.

I remember being so green that night, watching a petite 12-year-old emerge from security. I already had so many hopes and dreams for her and her future. I knew we would have challenges, and that Hope would have specific challenges, but I didn’t really grasp what those would look like. I didn’t really understand that we would end up with a hospitalization, frequent anxiety related visits to the urgent care (they knew us by name), multiple therapy appointments per week and different kinds of therapy. I didn’t understand at the time that my hopes and dreams needed a serious reframing. I really had no idea what this journey would look like, and it still doesn’t look like anything I could have imagined.

And now Hope is 18 and college bound, and another chapter is starting.

All day, Hope was sullen on her birthday. She shrugged when I tried to hype this big birthday. She nearly recoiled at the idea of being an adult of any kind. At one point, she actually booed. We went out for an early Korean dinner (of course) and bubble tea. She had no activity desires or a list of preferred birthday presents. In a word, my daughter seemed depressed about turning.

And I was sad. I wanted to be excited about this life marker. I wanted to make a big deal about it. But I got the impression early on that Hope was not all that keen on a big celebration.  A recent conversation revealed that she was thinking about her alternative lives—the one that might have manifested with her parents and the one that might’ve been had she stayed in the foster care system. Those lives would have been drastically different, and in the foster care scenario turning 18 would have had serious implications. She seems stuck in that hypothetical place even though this life with me is the one that she’s living. There’s some reconciliation that seems to need to happen around all that.

When I think about my own life and those forks in the road leading to a completely different outcome, I find my own reconciliation resulting in gratitude, not for any person, but rather for the fact that my life is different. I don’t expect gratitude for Hope, and I recognize that this birthday dredges up a lot for her. I’m not sure how to help her reconcile the different scenarios with where she is now. I’m at a loss other than just continuing to be supportive.

There’s also the resistance to being pushed out of the nest, which I’m not actually doing with Hope. The prospect of being an adult is not embraced by Hope at all. To be clear, I am committed to supporting Hope in every way indefinitely. That said, I am also committed to teaching her life skills that will allow her to function as an adult, to one day live independently, and to embrace that independence. I want to foster a confidence in her that lets her know, she can stand on her own, but I’m still right here, beside her, behind her.

It’s hard though. A recent chat with AbsurdlyHotTherapist let me know how angry Hope is about not having the life she was entitled to. Grief is still very much with us; it still very much has Hope in its grips. I’m at a loss on how best to pry those cold hands from around her to set her free. I also know that ultimately, I can’t do that; Hope will have to get there on her own. It makes me sad on multiple levels to know that she is and likely will be so controlled by her grief for a while yet. It’s not that I don’t understand it; it’s just…I can’t fix it.

This is not at all what I thought this birthday would be like. I have become good about moderating my expectations when it comes to Hope. I still seem not to have made the appropriate adjustments this go around. I know that there are seasons when happy life markers trigger dark thoughts, memories and just sadness. This birthday seems to be one for my new baby adult. I’m treating her tenderly with it.

I guess I should probably do the same for myself.

I’m still driving her towards learning some life skills this summer. I’m finding that each time she does something new, usually successfully, she gains a little confidence. These little wins will add up over time, and she will learn to do more things for herself. Yeah, I’m still here, but I want to change positions where I’m behind her, rooting her own instead of in front of or beside her, leading her.

Only time will tell if she moves forward as I move backward. For now, we just will press on.


Life Skills

Hope will be 18 in a few weeks and in 12 short weeks, she will be off to college. It’s all very exciting, and in some ways, I am a little surprised that she’s not pulling away from me a little.

But, no. She’s not pulling away at all. In fact, my lovely daughter is more attached to me than a barnacle. She wants to watch TV with me. She wants to go to the gym with me and use the machine right beside me. She has taken up residence in my spot on the couch—which low key annoys me because, like Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory, that spot is MY spot. There’s just a desire to have me nearby.

A lot of this is explainable of course. Hope has been away at boarding school for a year, and even though I saw her a couple of times a month, we were separated by many miles. So, I can see why she would be drawn to me after all this time.

And yet, it’s interesting to acknowledge how emotionally young Hope really is. I see a mix of maturity levels with Hope. There are some times where she rises to the occasion and nails it; and then there are other times and circumstances where I’m like, I might need to go back to laying out her clothes, socks sand shoes in the morning. I legit worry.

Hope has been home a couple  of weeks now, and given the looming birthday and the impending life change that coming in a couple of months, I’ve been setting up my own hidden curriculum of life skills building activities.

I made Hope start using public transit a couple of years ago, so she can figure out how to get to places if she really wants to go somewhere. I’ve been manipulating creating opportunities to go on more complex outings and showing her resources for how to navigate it.

Her college is nearly 4 hours away, but Amtrak runs right through the town and we have a stop 2 miles from our house. Once I discovered that, I announced that Hope would take the train for weekends home; she balked. So, last week, I bought her a train ticket to go see the Grands midway through my business trip. I did spring for a Lyft to take her to the train station. She realized that it was not scary, but comfy and something she can feel comfortable doing on her own.

Tomorrow, we’re going to DMV so she can take her road test for her license. She’s had her permit for nearly 18 months, and she’s still pestering me about how will she get 15 more hours of driving at night before taking the road test. Bless her heart. Um, yeah, that’s not going to happen, you can drive and I’m taking you to go take the test. You will pass, and you will do what we all do—do your best not to hit people and stuff. She is a competent driver who, like everyone else, will get better with time. It’s time she do that…without me in the car. #Igotstufftodo #canyouruntothestoreforme?

She is having a difficult time finding a summer job. The rejection has been difficult for her. I’m not sure why she’s not getting any callbacks, but she’s not. So, I announced that “we” will start looking at volunteer opportunities, for which I will pay her a salary. I explained that the volunteerism will be good for her emotionally and help build her resume a bit. I sent her 10 listings today with the directive that she needed to sign up for more info for all of them before I got home today. She wasn’t thrilled, but I’ve told her I love her but the human adults (baby adult included) need to have meaningful work—paid or unpaid—to do because Casa d’ABM does not run on watching K-Dramas all day. #getajob I hope to have her out of this house by late next week going to somebody’s volunteer orientation.

We’ve also been role playing asking for help. Hope’s room has returned to its pre-military boarding school state—mid-century apocalyptic. I have her pulling together a 1 bag of trash, goodwill or storage item a day this week after role playing questions about deciphering being overwhelmed, needing direction and asking for help. By the time Hope figured out the conversation I had backed us into, she was sheepish about her role and responses. I didn’t shame her, we were role playing, remember. I let it go and resolved to revisit it after this weekend’s business trip.

I’m trying to help Hope understand her banking. I’ve set up a number of accounts for her: checking, savings, investments. I’m dreaming up ways of helping her understand budgets better—money in money out. She gets that better, she’s just not grasping that after ‘money out’ it’s ‘money stop.’ I’m hoping that she will get the hang of it, pay attention to the details of her checking account. I know that there will come a day when she overdrafts or gets a credit card she shouldn’t have. I’m trying to teach her about natural consequences with respect to money. Like driving, sometimes you just have to do it and ride it out. I’m hopeful.

After Hope’s visit to the Grands, Grammy shared with me that Hope said she would be content to live with me forever. My mom said she wanted to talk to me about buying a larger house with a basement for Hope.

Oh how I laughed from the living room of my 2 bedroom condo. #condolifeforever #nextstopaseniorcentercondo

I’m not buying a bigger house for Hope to have a basement to move it. Is you crazy? No, no, no, no, no, ma’am. Not happening.

After wiping hysterical tears from my eyes, I told her that I know Hope will launch and it may be a little late, but I do not believe at this time that I need to make a life change to accommodate Hope living with me in until my dying days. Uhhhh, no, I do not believe that is necessary at this time.

Hope will gain the life skills she needs. She will gain the confidence she also needs. I will always be around to be guardrails and guideposts, but I firmly believe that she will launch and have a life of her own not living in her current bedroom. I do not need a basement.

I have not been obvious in my nudges and pushes; I don’t want to be the helicopter or bulldozer parent. I do need for Hope to gain some practical life skills and to learn them while I’m around. Each lesson boosts her confidence a little; she needs that.

I need that.

So, stay tuned for all the stuff Hope will do and felt good about by the end of summer.


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.


The Bitter

With the decision now made now there’s all kinds of stuff to deal with. I need to get her enrolled in the new school, unenrolled from the new school, I need to reach in my purse and figure out the financial part of this investment and I need to help Hope figure out what she’s going to do with her hair while she’s away. More on that later because it’s a doozy.

As Hope was going through the motions of her decision last weekend, one of the conversations that we had centered around how there’s no perfect decision. Most decisions have an element of bitter that goes with the sweet. In this case, going to the new school meant that she would be leaving her marching band, not going to the band competitions with her bandmates, leaving the one or two friends she had behind. The trade off was being in a better academic environment with a band that does appearances in big parades that are sometimes on TV.

I thought that we would have a bit of time before the bitterness of her decision made itself known, but seeing as we adults can sometimes just be trash, the bitter taste was nearly immediate.

I decided that I would not take Hope out of her home school until the contract had been signed for the new school, because, you know I have some sense. Also, with Hope still enrolled in her home school she would be able to go to marching band camp this month. She would miss the last week of camp because we are going on vacation, but I looked at the vacation as a transitional time for her. In going to band camp, she would have a bit of time with her bandmates, she would be able to coach and mentor the new freshmen who were joining the band, and she would have some time with her favorite teacher (also her only black male teacher she’s had in 5 grades with me). I encouraged her to be mindful of her role in planning the marching since she would be a missing bass drum in a few weeks and the band needed to accommodate that.

Meanwhile, I was in communication with the guidance counselor and had made an appointment for the upcoming week to get the enrollment stuff taken care of.

Hope told her friends that she would be moving on to a new school and seemed to relish the attention around having made such a big decision. As she was finalizing her decision, she talked about it with her band teacher who flatly responded, “And?”

I know that Hope had really already made her decision by the time this conversation occurred, but I know that the response was hurtful and was probably that last little nudge for her to choose to move on.

By Friday morning I received an email from the band teacher asking if it was true that Hope would be attending a different school in September. After I told him yes, but I hadn’t started the enrollment process and no changes had been made, he responded by dismissing Hope from the marching band. He went so far as to ask me to stop what I was doing to come pick her up immediately because she couldn’t be on campus.

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I was stunned.

This teacher is Hope’s favorite teacher. He and his colleague teacher at the middle school have been the only stabilizing academic forces she’s had since she arrived here more than 4 years ago. He’s been one of few people of color and the only man of color teacher she’s had. He’s been kind to her, advocated for her and been genuine in his interest in helping her be successful.

Until this week.

This week he hurt her feelings and kicked her out of the one thing that has really motivated her during her high school years.

I refused to pick her up and told him that the humane and right thing to do would be to talk to her and give her a chance to say goodbye to her band friends. He reluctantly agreed.

By the time I picked her up she was In a bit of shock. As the hours passed and the grief set in, I saw her deny that he dismissed her, get angry because she felt like she was being punished, want to email to negotiate swinging by next week to help out with the freshmen without actually being “in band camp,” being really sad about how she was treated both when she mentioned it to him early in the week and after he knew she was leaving, reaching out to some newbies on snapchat to give advice for the drumline, and finally concluding that she made the right decision to go to a new school since it was clear that her teacher really didn’t give an ish about her anyway.

I’m grateful that she had therapy right after band practice, and I was shocked to see her go through the stages in mere hours. I was also proud that she never questioned her decision to go to the new school. I was so hurt to see her question the whole of her connection with her teacher due to this rejection. This weekend she’s wallowing. She might’ve moved through the grief stages, but she’s still grieving.

This is the bitter, and it kinda sucks.

I’m planning to have a “nice” (not really) chat with the band teacher, the counselor and the principal this week to talk about how this was handled. The reality is that it just didn’t have to be this way. I’ve looked up the regs and he was wrong since my daughter is still a student in the county, our intentions to withdraw, notwithstanding. Oh and in epic mixed messaging he told her she could attend camp for two more days—no doubt there’s some benefit to the band to having her there. I no longer trust that the invitation is for her benefit. The whole thing is just a mess with a lot of hurt feelings.

In the meantime, we’ve got a bunch of other lesser bitter stuff to wrestle with as we prepare for a rapid transition over the next couple of weeks.

Stay tuned.


The School Decision

Wow, thank you to so many of you for weighing in on Hope’s big decision about where to attend high school this fall. This last week has just been amazing. In giving her complete autonomy over this major life decision, I witnessed my daughter’s transformation. I’m awestruck by her process.

Honestly, when she broached the subject of revisiting her decision a week ago, I’m also shocked at how easily I was able to just step back and give her the space to think about her options. I genuinely no longer was deeply vested in one school or the other. I was just committed to supporting Hope make a decision she would be confident in moving forward. As I begin to reflect on this last week, I will always, always be focused on the decision process rather than the decision. It’s the process that gave me such an amazing glimpse of who Hope has become and her big picture potential.

So, it’s like when Lebron was on ESPN announcing that he was moving to Miami, right?

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It certainly feels like it.

So, without further ado, I’m delighted to announce that Hope will be enrolling in boarding school in just a few short weeks.

By Sunday evening, it was starting to become clear that she was leaning in this direction, but by Monday she had fully committed. With the decision now made she is reveling in all the imminent changes. There’s minimal anxiety, more excitement than fear and so much pride in sharing her news with her friends and teachers.

I’ve got to make a lot of magic happen in a very short period of time since we will be going on an extended vacation in less than two weeks, and she will almost immediately report to school when we return stateside. I’m just basking in her excitement at the moment, but thoughts about what does the extended empty nest really mean for me are tinging the edges of my consciousness. Not in a bad way, but my gut tells me that this move is really a game changer. My gut tells me that when Hope returns after graduation she will have really found her sea legs and will be launching a little sooner rather than later. So random thoughts about what this next phase of parenting will look like and how will I document it float gingerly through my mind. There are other happy developments happening in my life that will no doubt fill some of the time Hope’s departure will create, but it won’t be parenting her, cooking for her, harassing her about laundry or cleaning her bathroom. The daily rigors of parenting have become such a part of my life and I haven’t really had much time to think about what it would look like if her departure was extended. I think I might be in a bit of shock.

I’m so excited for this next chapter, even not having any friggin idea what shape it will take.

So, yeah, Hope is morphing from an Eagle (home school) to a Yellow Jacket (new school, with an insect that she’s terrified of) in just a couple of short weeks, and we are ecstatic!!!!!


I’m Spent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thoughts on Teaching Driving

I am a control freak. I like control.

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

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

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

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

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

That speed bump probably busted my muffler.

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

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

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

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

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

I think I briefly fainted from fright.

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

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

Go, go, go, go, go!

Stop, stop, stop, stop.

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

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

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

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

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

Thank heavens there’s the exit.

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh.

Ok, we made it.

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

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


Battle with a Teacher

I’m an educator. My sister is an educator. I work for educators. My friends are educators.

Educators are my homies, and you can usually find me defending educators—especially K-12 teachers—hard!

My engagements with Hope’s school regarding her academic challenges have been far more positive than not. Of late, it’s been more challenging to get Hope to avail herself of the accommodations designed to help her be successful. Pride is one of the 7 deadly sins for good reason.

In any case, midway through this quarter I continued to monitor Hope’s grades. I didn’t put pressure on her, I just wanted to keep an eye on things. I reached out to several of her teachers; she seemed to be especially struggling in those courses and I wanted to know a bit about how she behaved in class, had she been to visit them about her work and whether she was regularly engaged.

One teacher was outright dismissive. I told her that her response was problematic and what I needed to know moving forward.

Hope managed to pull her grades up, but I knew it would be a long year with this teacher.

Fast forward to this morning when the teacher sends me a lengthy email about Hope’s lackluster performance, the fact that she has given her additional assignments and the fact that I was not holding up my end of the educational social contract.

Oh really?

I quickly wrote her back noting that this might’ve been avoided if she hadn’t been dismissive weeks ago, that Hope would absolutely NOT be doing additional assignments under any circumstances, and that she really had no clue what the details of my social contract were so she might want to get back in her lane.

We scheduled a call for after I arrived at the airport and things didn’t just go left. I was so damn furious after this call that we will be meeting with some administrators in the future.

I no longer disclose that Hope is an adoptee or that she has emotional struggles unless it’s necessary. She is entitled to some privacy; she is entitled to some normalcy. I disclosed a few weeks ago that my daughter struggles with ADHD.

Today, the instructor indicated she knew all about that because her son has it and he even had to go on anti-depressants briefly because he was down and really at his tween age, what could he possibly have to worry about? And what could Hope have to worry about?

I had to close my eyes and take a breath not to verbally stomp this woman.

Now, sometime this quarter the teacher disclosed that she was an adoptee, specifically a Korean adoptee. Hope was drawn to her because of both the adoptee identification and she still loves all things/people Korean. What I didn’t realize was that Hope had chosen not to disclose that she too was an adoptee.

Well, I began to explain that Hope’s struggles with ADHD are not organic; they are trauma based. She is struggling with many adoption-related issues and she is being monitored closely. She’s not “down” and only requiring a brief stint on drugs; medication is a part of her life and helps keeps her functional. And yes, she is an adoptee, an older adoptee who is struggling and who is exceptionally good at masking her struggle outside of our home.

I thought a brief moment of compassion and some level of shared experience might wash over us, but nah. Teacher lady proceeded to tell me that Hope needed to learn responsibility with this ‘punishment’ assignment, and I needed to learn how to properly offer positive reinforcement and incentives.

giphy-downsized

Say what now? Whoooosaaaaahhhhh….

Lady, I done took and told you she’s 👏🏾not 👏🏾doing👏🏾 your👏🏾 effing👏🏾 punishment 👏🏾assignment; you know nothing about Hope’s intrinsic or extrinsic motivation triggers so mind your beeswax and your adoption narrative is not the same as Hope’s so again, get in your lane.

She came again with how she would send me some incentive charts, and I just said, well, look at that, I’m at my airport gate, got to go. *Click*

Making me sing church spirituals, trying to get my mind right dealing with this teacher lady. Imma need the Holy Homeboy to show up and show out…cause for real…I am not the one.

giphy

At home, I told Hope she didn’t need to do any other assignments for this class this week; the grown folks have some stuff we need to work out and I need to to focus on getting her feeling safe, attached and functional.

The ONLY good thing is that I really do not have any more damns to give about Hope’s academic performance right now. My daughter’s well-being is everything. Sure, I want her to do her best, but not at the risk of her mental health.

Meanwhile, I feel like this teacher and I are going to butt heads for a while. She was downright offensive today. I’m hoping that with time she will have a better understanding of Hope’s struggle, but if she keeps pushing and academically punishing I’m going to have to be *that* mom.

She really, really doesn’t want to meet that chick.


We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties,

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile,
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

~~~Paul Laurence Dunbar

I used to have this poem hanging in my office as a reminder to visitors that sometimes we hide our feelings to just get through. As a diversity professional, I am constantly, intentionally exposing myself to emotional ish in order to help people move to the next level of inclusion. Consequently, I wear a mask.

A lot.

This poem kept me up really late one night this week. I couldn’t get it off my mind because of something Hope said to me. Essentially, my daughter wears a mask.

She wears a mask to get through every day, and it exhausts her.

Hope is an amazing young woman, and there are days when I simply marvel at her. There are other days when I see the turmoil on her face, but the reality is that on most days, she’s really, really good at hiding it.

Having been a long-time depression sufferer, my own mask is worn as much as to protect me as it is to motivate me. My own intrinsic motivation wills me to get through things and wills me to just fake it and it will get better.

I recognize that most people wear their masks for everyone else’s benefit. Who wants to be around a person who is wearing their suffering? The self-protection mechanism is such that if you desperately want to be around people, you just try to keep it together and conform so that they won’t be put off by you. You drag out your mask and hide all the ish behind it.

I feel like Hope and I are in a battle for her life right now. I see her; I see her working so hard to keep it together. I see her fighting so hard to get to a place that doesn’t hurt so much. She does take her mask off with me; sometimes not all the way, but enough for me to know what’s lurking underneath.

On the one hand, I’m so relieved that Hope trusts me enough to lower her defenses, her shields, but on the real…I feel helpless. I feel like I’m doing everything I can, everything I can think of to help shepherd her to a healthier place, but it isn’t helping the way we need it to.

That helplessness has got me feeling like I must wear a mask too. I mean, who goes around sharing that their kid is just struggling to keep it together, which means that you’re struggling to keep it together too. Who wants to see your eyes after you’ve sat in the bathroom sobbing and urgently praying for 10 minutes because you know the path this could all go down? Who do you trust, besides other parents walking in these shoes, with this kinda thing because most folks Just. Don’t. Get. It.

So, you both put on your oxygen masks in the morning and try to make it through another day.

I try to model authenticity for Hope. I try to use ‘good’ communication skills; I try to ask for what I need. I coach her to take care of herself. I encourage her to emote, to build solid friendships so that she has some peer support. I email the health professionals and the guidance counselors, even after Hope and I have decided on a course of action. I need allies to step into the gap to help her help herself.

This week has been a huge turning point for me. I have fought the good fight on trying to make sure that the homework has been done and that school stuff was a priority. School is such a core value for me; it’s social currency, especially for black folks. But, I’m done. It’s just not worth it. Hope doesn’t need the extra pressure, and neither do I. I’m fighting for my kid’s survival. School, while still important, can’t be central to that paradigm. Healing must be the sole focus. It has to be; our future depends on it.

And so, we’ll start this week differently. We’ll go back to basics. I’ll prioritize quality time. I’ll focus on more family care, not just self-care. I’ll ask about school, but not about the work. I’ll find another doctor who can help me chase down the right pharma-combo for her. I’ll lower my mask so I can always have a clear view of Hope and her mask.

Hopefully this will be the beginning of the end for Hope’s mask.


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