Category Archives: Teen parenting

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.

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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.


Fear and Thirst

Last week I suffered a serious car accident. My car will be fine, but I sustained a concussion and the standard body blows that come with being rear ended. A trip to the ER suggested really nothing too serious since I wasn’t knocked out, but as the days waned on and I left for a business, my concussion symptoms began to emerge.

I’ve been dizzy, fatigued, headachey, having language and memory problems. For example, I hid my Tito’s vodka before leaving on my work trip (#becauseteenagers) and for the life of me I cannot remember where I put the damn bottle. It’s seriously like a black hole. I work with a lot of data, and so part of my job is crunching numbers. Normally my brain is like a mini computer; I can see data patterns sometimes just looking at a spreadsheet and can predict what SPSS is going to spit out. Presently, I’m not certain I could count to 50 without stopping. This is frustrating and humbling.

This may last a week. It could also last much longer. After ruling out anything more serious, my doc has said it’s just a game of wait and see.

Of course, Hope knows about the accident and was relieved that I was ok. So was I. But as more serious symptoms have emerged and I’ve needed to stop, rest, and take naps, I can see my daughter’s anxiety levels rising. I’ve tried to be low key about the whole thing.

“I’m fine really. I just need to take a little time out.”

I had to have an MRI, which made being low key kind of impossible. We were due to head out to the beach for our summer vacation (um, trip because a kid is involved), but we had to delay departure because of the MRI scheduling.

Soooo, the night before I figured we’d pack the car, assume that all will be fine and just depart directly from the testing center. Hey, I’m thinking positive here! Fortunately, everything turned out as planned but ugh, poor Hope.

Hope asked, “So, what happens if your brain is bleeding?”

Me: “Um, well…I’ll have to go to the hospital and stay for a day or two.”

“What about our trip?”

“Well, we wouldn’t be able to go, but I’m ok if you want to go be with your cousins that we’ll make sure you get there. Either way, I’m going to be ok.”

My daughter put on a brave face, told me she utterly refused to talk about it anymore and proceeded to spiral into thirsting for attention behavior.

“My leg hurts.”

“Do your stretches, and take some ibuprofen,” I reply.

“I think I need to go to that doctor for my leg…” Sure you do, the specialist that was $250 a visit because he didn’t take our insurance. He managed to get her together in two visits (he better had at that price) and he looked great in his khaki pants, so there’s that.

“No, you just need to get a little exercise, stretch and take some Motrin.”

I had a few girlfriends over for a girls’ night to catch up and have a little fun. #grownwomen Hope crashes the gathering and it becomes a replay of Look at Me! I finally send her off to watch TV and to get out of grown folks’ business. As she leaves I take note of the exaggerated limp and audible groans, which of course prompts inquiries and the requisite levels of sympathy from my friends.

Vent alert!

This parenting a kid of trauma is so…ugh! I seriously can’t even have a damn possible brain bleed by my damn self. I can’t just have a moment of respite in a sickbed without Hope practically laying on top of me so that the doctor can see her first.

I mean, I get that this health scare is scary; especially for a kid who isn’t living with her biological family. The feelings of fear of going through that kind of loss must be consuming. I know she is scared. But she is also jealous of any attention I may get as a result of being injured. That is really effed up, even with an explanation, it’s understandable, but effed up. The need to compete for attention and her lack of empathy just drives me up the wall. It’s all complicated, and even worse, I know that she’s not even really conscious of why her behavior is the way it is. And that lack of consciousness just makes my righteous indignation worthless because there is a huge awareness gap between us.

So I’m just left to either stew in my own juices or just find a way to let it go like I always do.

I want to call my own mama to take care of me, but I know that Hope will shoehorn in and make it about her. Sigh. Can I live?

No, really, can I live?

It’s in moments like these that I am forced to remember that my daughter still has so much emotional catching up to do. It’s also moments like these when my patience is a little thinner than normal.

I’ve tried to be upbeat and encouraging of my worried family and friends. The truth is…I’m increasingly hyper aware of my physical limitations. I’m still recovering from the blows my body sustained in the accident. I hurt and I effing can’t count to 50 without stopping. I don’t know how long that’s going to last. There are moments from the last two weeks that are just gone; it’s like a black hole. I’m scared, and I need some time to sit with that, just to figure out my way through it and ponder what I need to do and wrestle with if this takes a long time to resolve or if some parts of me just don’t come all the way back. I’ve got my own bucket of sadness and gief I’m picking through right now.

To balance that and soothe Hope’s fears…ironically, it’s almost more than my brain can handle right now.

So…I’ll just do what I can and figure out how to draw some boundaries with Hope as I recover. I love this kid, I do, but I just wish our collective emotional capacity was a bit bigger so getting through this was a wee bit easier.

 

 

 


Look at Me!!!

So this weekend I decided that I was finally going to break my promise to myself to never ever visit another plantation in this lifetime.

I grew up in central Virginia, and while growing up I visited numerous plantations. They creep me out. I swear I feel the ancestors, hear their cries and feel their anger about folks traipsing around still profiting off of their backs. I don’t care that some of these places now have some memorial placed to the enslaved or whatever—a profit is often still made. I just want them all to go away, but since they won’t I choose not to visit anymore.

Then Hope came along, and I remembered how much I learned from actually visiting historic places. I started feeling like maybe I should break this promise just once so she had the historic (and awful) experience and so I could teach her about these places and the irony that they are preserved and revered so. I’ve struggled with this for more than three years.

So, this past weekend I resolved to rip the band-aid off and take her to visit Mt. Vernon. It’s not far and well, there’s the whole first president, founding father narrative. So, we were getting ready to head out when my dad called and asked if he could come visit from a few hours away.

I took that as a sign that the Holy Homeboy was not ready for me to go back to a plantation.

Image result for look at god meme

Anyhoo, my dad comes to spend the afternoon with us, and Hope…well, she acted like an attention-starved little kid.

Dad and I are having our routine “cell phone with unlimited data plan” conversation.

“Mom, mom, mom!!”

“Yes Hope.”

“I’ve saved a lot of money from my allowance. I think we should put it in the bank.”

“That’s a good idea, Hope. We can talk about that tomorrow.” She hands me a wad of money.

WTH?

Dad and I are talking politics.

“Mom, mom, mom!!”

“Please say excuse me because we are taking, but yes Hope.”

“I don’t think I want to go to that Korean immersion camp.”

“Um, OK.” I attempt to draw her into our conversation about politics since we talk about that kind of stuff often, but no dice.

Image result for thirsty meme

Dad asks her about her activities and she does the mime thing.

This back and forth goes on for hours. My dad was patient while I was visibly patient but ready to wring Hope’s neck on the inside. I took a break and had them chatting while I fixed a light dinner for us all. I thought about why it all was going down like this.

I don’t get to see my parents as much as I used to, and they are getting older so having them drive up for a day is a rare thing. I don’t know how many times this will happen in my lifetime or his. This visit was especially precious, and I’m a daddy’s girl.

Hope is so jealous of anyone who takes my attention away from her. Although my dad was eager to spend time with her, and she genuinely is fond of him, it was like she was threatened because he showed me attention. She’s like this with almost anyone who comes across our threshold to visit us. If the scope of the visit is not entirely devoted to her then she is hell on wheels. She’s full of non-sequiturs, rude interruptions, and just level 10 annoyances. It’s exhausting, and I often wonder if she behaves this way with her peers. Like if she manages to develop a friendship, is anyone else who comes around a threat that triggers this antisocial behavior?

I did my best to be patient with her, gently correcting and redirecting her, but I was frustrated. I was trying to enjoy my dad’s visit, trying to portray solid parenting in front of my dad, not get rattled by this wacky behavior, get dinner on the table and search for some kind of understanding that would trigger some empathy for my daughter.

The long and short of is that Hope and I still have a long way to go on this journey. I hope one day she feels safe enough with me to not have to compete for my attention. It’s a reminder for me that she still feels like I might abandon her, even in the smallest way. It’s painful to think about that, and it’s tough to find away to address it without meeting full on resistance and denial.

I got so much more than I wanted this weekend, having time with my dad, but I was also reminded that my daughter is still a fragile little girl screaming “Look at me, mommy! Look at me!”

I see you, Hope.


Thoughts on Being 16-3

Hope turned 16 this weekend. It was a fun filled weekend with lots of quality time, shopping, family and good eats. I went a little overboard on the gifts, but it was fun and 16 is a significant birthday. She seemed to enjoy herself; she relished under the nearly non-stop glare of my attention. I catered to most of her whims—including agreeing to vacuum the walls and ceiling of her room in order to eliminate possible bugs in her room. She was a delight to be around; seemed genuinely happy to be the center of attention. #nosurprisethere

During the course of the weekend, I asked Hope how she felt about turning 16 and did she feel like she was 16? She replied that she felt like she was 3.

I thought at first she was joking, and while she might have been a little tongue in cheek, it was about the truest thing she’s said.  I talk to AbsurdlyHotTherapist regularly, and Hope’s emotional age is much younger than her chronological age. It isn’t 3, but it is in the single digits. Grammy was with us when she responded; she was speechless.

I thought the response was interesting for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we just celebrated our 3rd family-versary. Could she have been born again when she was adopted? Maybe, I guess.

I know there are times when she is very much like a big threenager. She’s taking a break from her ADHD meds at the moment. We made it through one store reasonably well, but then we went to Target. She expended all of my reserve energy with one sprint around the store. Target = #overstimulation. So many things to see, notice, comment on, show me, touch, sniff. I swear to God that Yappy does not sniff at the dog park as much as she was distracted at Target. After a 15 minute visit, I told her I needed to rest for a bit. I asked her how she felt—anxious, excitable, jumbled, having a hard time remembering all the things she saw, swearing she didn’t say things she did. It was maddening, and a challenge for both of us.

I told her that sometimes I think she acts like a 5 year old, and she laughed.

I totally meant it.

Sure she has come so far; she has matured emotionally a lot, especially in the last few months. Her ability to vocalize her feelings has really come a long way. All told though, Hope is still emotionally very much behind her peers.

As she enters her 16th year, I wonder what that means for her. She spent her birthday with me and a family friend. There were no friends to invite. There was no party. There were no dates. And while that might be true for many teens; I wonder how long Hope will be in this space. I will always be here for her, but I wonder when she will be able to develop healthy friendships with peers who will provide her a kind of support that I can’t. I wonder when she will desire some level of independence. I wonder whether she will have any healthy romantic relationships.

My curiosity and worry about Hope’s future isn’t new though. The fact that my daughter sees herself feeling much younger than she is chronologically is new. The self-awareness is growing, and as it continues to develop I’m hopeful that it will help her catch up somehow. I know it won’t be overnight, but I hope it speeds up.  I Hope that she will get closer before she graduates in a couple of years so that she has the joy of experiencing some meaningful high school rites of passage. I want my daughter to suck in all the life she can. I recognize that she probably just wants to suck in all the normal she can, and her normal has double backed to a time when she didn’t have what she has now.

For now, I have a sweet 16, 3 year old who at least knows she’s a 16-3 year old.

I guess that’s something.


Independence

Hope and I try to ride our bikes together once a week, on the weekends, when I have time to recover. #ImOld. She seems to relish the time together. We’ve ridden along the river and over to a nearby military cemetery on Memorial Day. Even though I desperately need a nap afterwards, I enjoy riding with her and switching up my exercise routine.

When I bought the bikes, I envisioned that Hope would use it to stretch a little. I thought she could use it to go places like to the movies or to the store, the Starbucks, to a friend’s house. I thought at nearly 16, she would use the bike to gain some independence. That seemed, kind of normal right?

I thought so.

Hope did not agree.

Recently, Hope and I were enjoying dinner together. She asked me if we could go to a nearby store to get something she likes. I said, sure, but that she could walk or ride her bike there if she wanted. It is a store in the neighborhood.

She slowly replied, yeah, she could but she’d prefer if I just took her.

I paused and then pressed.

“I know I keep saying this, but you really can use your bike to go to a lot of places. I know you like riding it and you’ve got some freedom and independence with it.”

She replied that she was kind of afraid of all this independence I talked about. She said, first it’ll be the bike and then something else with more independence and then something else with even more independence and then one day, I would just put her out so she could be independent.

I had to sit down; the realization that Hope saw my efforts to give her some freedom and independence was seen as a set up for abandonment! It never occurred to me that she would think that. Never in a million years did I ever make that connection.

I had to reassure her that abandoning her was not the plan at all. I had to explain to her that learning how to do things for herself was just a part of growing up and those things included transporting herself places. My encouraging her to use her bike as a mode of transportation was not my way of pushing her out; I was just trying to help her grow.

I’ve spent the last week kicking this conversation around. I’m still stunned, but I guess it makes sense. I often tell people that Hope is a homebody, that she seems content to be home, watching videos, munching on chips. She rarely asks me if I can take her somewhere—to the movies, to the mall. I always have to drag her places. She’s learned to trust that whatever I have planned will be entertaining, but the onus is always on me to be the social planner.

She really doesn’t have a lot of friends, and the few she has often fail to keep their plans with her. She brushes it off, but I know it hurts…heck, it hurts me. In the end, Hope always seems content to just be home.

And that’s the point, but I didn’t make the connection. Hope needs to be safe. She doesn’t want independence yet. She needs me; she needs our home; she needs to feel safe. For her, the bike is only entertainment, not a way to be independent. She’s not ready for that. Even though I intellectually get it; it still a revelation to me.

A few days after our conversation about the bike, Hope told me that she was ready to retake the test for her learner’s permit. I chuckled that she didn’t want to ride her bike, but she still wanted to learn to drive.

Learning to drive is more time with me, teaching her, spending time with her. I was planning on taking her driving, but largely outsourcing the hardcore driving lessons because the way my nerves are set up…#scared I’m guessing I might have to rethink that plan.

Thinking back to our conversation about her independence, I have come to believe that her desire to get her permit is about fitting in. It’s a way for her to keep up with her peers, but she doesn’t really want to be independent at this point.

My Hope is still very much a little girl in a young woman’s body, and she’s still afraid of being abandoned. I just didn’t know, and it makes me so very sad for her.

For now, I’ll stop recommending that she go forth and be free. Instead, I’ll continue to focus on just making sure she still feels supported, loved and safe.


A Beautiful Day

I went into Mother’s Day with some complicated feelings. I find that it helps to simply acknowledge them, make a plan and keep it moving. I’m glad I did; it made for a nice low bar that set us up for a really lovely, lovely day.

I took Yappy on a three mile walk; he was super worn out afterwards and slept most of the day as a result.

Hope and I started our day at the local UU church we’ve been attending. Rather than go hang out with the other teens, my daughter chose to sit by my side. She even wore a dress—gasp! It was flower communion, and after some gentle coaxing, she even came with me to get a blossom. I lit a candle and said a prayer for Hope’s first mother. I prayed that she was as happy and healthy and that hopefully she knows that Hope found a permanent home as is no longer without permanence. I prayed that one day a healthy reunion would be in their future.

We headed to brunch at one of our favorite restaurants. We have celebrated all major family events here—my successful dissertation defense, our finalization, and her completion of middle school, just to name a few. We both love the food choices, and I especially love the wide range of beverage offerings. She suggested we order the usual—I reminded her that it was mom’s choice and I wanted to shake things up. I have a particular fancy for fries; I ordered up truffle-Parmesan fries to start, with a yummy coffee laced, chocolaty stout for me.

I think I opened Hope’s eyes to a whole new world related to quality French fries. She raved, danced in her seat and marveled at how yummy they were. I still smile to myself about how fries made her so happy. I actually have video of her; it was awesome.

We ordered our entrees, and bickered to the enjoyment of our waitress.

I told her that I was proud to be her mother; that even in the rough times I loved her so very much. I told her that being her mom has hopefully made me a better person all together. She smiled. She thanked me for giving her a permanent home that allowed her to call a place home, allowed her to not have to start over and over, that allowed her to just have a chance. I smiled and we went back to grubbing.

Yep, I used her account to pay, because…Mother’s Day. #noshame

We headed to the bakery across the street to find something for dessert. We selected individual key lime pies with beautiful meringues to go.

We took a few hours apart. I did some shopping and hit the hookah bar for a while.

Once home, we ate our desserts, and watched TV on the couch with Yappy, who incidentally, loves when his people are together on the couch. We have a huge couch, but he loves when we are huddled up so that he can sit between us and snuggle. I love that our dog wants his family close.

She gave me her homemade Mother’s Day gifts; a beautiful friendship bracelet that I immediately put on, and a beautifully decorated sheet that required me to pull off some cotton clouds to reveal the message underneath.

It was a far more detailed expression of gratitude for adopting her, for loving her unconditionally and for giving her a good life even when she’s a pain in the butt. She apologized for not getting me something fancy, but her message reduced me to a puddle of loving tears. She complained and eventually wriggled out of the vice grip hug I enveloped her in after reading her message.

It was perfect.

I have never wanted Hope to be grateful about her adoption; I hate thinking of the things that necessitated her adoption. That said, I got her meaning—it was about us being a family, about stability, about permanence, about unconditional love, about parenting, or in our case mothering, and about normalcy.

And I am grateful for those things too.

She didn’t say thanks for being her mom; instead she thanked me for meeting her needs.  I know that meeting her needs is what I do as her mother. The language is different, but the meeting of the minds is there, and to hear that from her—I’m so proud and blessed to have been chosen for this gig.

Those moments were a beautiful capstone for the day. I could not have planned it. I could not have anticipated it.

It was a beautiful day, and I will treasure it forever.

I love you, Hope.


Blank Stares & Nods

Hope doesn’t like confrontation. I’m guessing she comes by that quite honestly. Unfortunately, life has a lot of opportunities for confrontation.

I am pretty comfortable with confrontation, but during these three years, I’ve had to learn how to manage my ease with confrontation in order to meet Hope’s needs and to not scare her off from conversations that must be had.

I have greatly improved how I initiate these chats, how to tell when I need to abort the mission and navigate how to keep it going long enough to have something close to the desired impact. And what is the desired impact?

Well…who knows. It’s complicated, and to be honest, sometimes I get so flipping frustrated.

I often chat with Grammy to better understand how she parented me when I was Hope’s age. Oh, I know that it’s entirely different, but I just want a baseline—I’m also checking to see if I’m just crazy.

I also chat with Sister K, who has a son close in age to Hope. We often talk about how our children practice the “Blank Stare.”

The Blank Stare is apparently some sort of protective mechanism that teens use when parents are providing correctional confrontation. Kids actually seem to go mute and just stare blankly as you discuss the issue, ask questions and await responses.

My mom assures me that my sisters and I did not practice the Blank Stare; we immediately started talking, apologizing and doing/saying whatever was necessary to reduce anticipated consequences (my peeps were firm believers that a hard head makes for a sore bottom). But Hope and her modern-day colleagues seem to prefer to hold their tongues and just retreat into a Stare mode.

Hope does have a whole set of behaviors that surround the Blank Stare; it’s not the only thing in her unresponsive bag of tricks.

Initially, she’s defensive; Hope is likely to try to offer some rationale to explain her position; when that proves unsuccessful she descends into what I call Mime phase.

The Mime phase is when Hope’s voice volume lowers with each word until she’s just mouthing inaudible words. At first, I thought that she was trying to make me crazy by thinking my hearing was going out.

 

Notinmyhouse

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Nah, she seriously just turns the volume down on herself.

That’s when we hit the Blank Stare. It’s epic really, much respect. It’s as though Hope is encased in some imaginary, sound proof box that apparently requires no resistance. It’s almost as though she is focused on sending me soundwave messages to join her in the box. She’s nearly doll-like. I know she can hear me and see me, but there is zero response. She blinks, she *might* cock her head to the side, but really, she just stares, making direct eye contact.

 

christ

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As a resistance mechanism, it drives me batty. I have to fight back all the rage. I cannot stand the Blank Stare.

But it doesn’t stop there, from the Stare we fall into the Nod.

 

Kimmy2

via giphy

 

She pulled this avoidance technique during a meeting with her counselor, teachers, tutor and me last fall–a whole room of folks discussing her 504 and her school performance. I’m sure it was overwhelming, but OMG. 

The Nod is Hope’s peak avoidance schtick; it’s all downhill from this point on. It was so impressive that the guidance counselor asked if she could be doing drugs. I was horrified, and apparently so was Hope since she snapped out after the inquiry.

The Nod is reserved for Hope’s most uncomfortable moments.  I don’t see it too often anymore, thank goodness, but it’s there.

Sometimes, there’s so much drama with Hope.

I do find some comfort in knowing that some of this foolishness is completely normal. I am aware that some of it isn’t normal, and I just have to deal and wait her out. I really spend a lot of time breathing through my own emotional responses and thinking about ways that I can offer confrontation, correction, and consequences in ways that don’t make Hope feel bad about herself and in ways that avoid this continuum of, ahem, artistic avoidant responses.

I’m hoping for a day when more engaging interactions tip the scales, but from the looks of the Blank Stare and the Nods lately, it’s going to be a while.


Life with a Teen Girl

I tapped on her door at 6:30am, opened the door, flicked on the light.

“Good morning, time to get up. It’s housekeeper day.”

Indecipherable grumbles.

An hour later, Hope emerges, pops her meds, grabs her lunch, and puts her water bottle in the backpack.

“Is your room housekeeper ready?”

I know some folks think “cleaning” before the housekeeper comes is ridiculous, but really, there’s some stuff that you need to do to maximize their usefulness. I’m not paying them to deal with Hurricane Hope’s room. The floor needs to be clear and the tops of the desk and dresser need to be reasonably tidy. If we leave sheets out, the housekeepers will change our linens. All dishes need to be in the kitchen, and personal stuff in the bathroom needs to be put away.

Hope put down her stuff and headed to her room where she spent 10 minutes tidying up while grumbling. This meant she missed the bus.

All preventable, but whatever.

I head out to the office; Hope texts me:

Then she got on the wrong bus, because the world is petty.

She was fine by the time I got home and moody again 90 minutes later.

OMG. What is it with teenagers?

Is it the water? Is it just the rite of passage? Is it just the misery of middle teen years? Hormones? Bitchiness? WTH? And it just doesn’t stop. Every time I tap on her door, I wonder what version of Hope will answer.

The day after the housekeeper drama, she drags in the morning and once again misses the bus. I run into her on my way to the gym. She reveals that she missed the bus, lost her bus pass for the public bus and apparently doesn’t spend her own money on the public bus.

I continue to head to the gym for my workout because this is just so ridiculous and so routine I have a case of the “cannot-right-nows.” When I return Hope is still home, still supposedly looking for her pass.

cant.png

Check it: she still has a $5 Walmart gift card in her wallet from 3 years ago, but she can’t keep the bus pass that is essentially her ticket to independence and freedom. Yeah, you can unpack all the, “maybe she doesn’t really want independence and freedom” hooey, but on the real, I cannot-right-now. I just can’t.

I implement consequences for not keeping up with her stuff, which will stay in place until she either finds her pass or acquires another one. I bark, “Get in the car,” and cart her off to school

And that’s it; no more rides to school unless I’m truly feeling benevolent. There is zero reason she can’t catch the bus. Yes, yes, inattentive, blah, blah, blah. I’m over it.  She can ride that bike I just bought her with her new lock and helmet.

Have a good day, Miss.

 

 


Parenting Dilemma

Sometimes parenting decisions are real rocks in hard places. You want to give your kid a chance. You want to give them some freedoms and some rewards. But you also want, nay need, to hold the line on your principles and standards. In the midst, you want to be reasonable and flexible.

And sometimes all of that is a bunch of hooey because you still have to make a decision.

Hope was invited to prom by a friend. She doesn’t have many friends, very, very few. I also know that this friendship teeters on more than friendship.

So here’s the deal: I have long had this lovely fantasy of my daughter going to a formal. She went to one in 8th grade and it was so much fun helping her get ready. My daughter is not girly; I manage to wrangle her into a dress once or twice a year. So, the selfish stage mom wannabe in me is like:

hellyeah

The more realistic part of me is like um, she’s in 10th grade, I know she’s feeling this kid, I said no dating until she’s 16 and she ain’t 16 yet, and she doesn’t even LIKE the girly rituals involved in prom.

Then I think about how hard it seems for Hope to make friends, how many Friday and Saturdays she just sits around watching K-dramas because there were no invitations to go anyway or do anything. I think about my hopes and dreams for her to be socially integrated and to be happy.

And I soften and try to imagine the scenarios that would allow me to still say yes. Get all the schoolwork done. Stick to the chore list. Stretch and go to the weekly Korean language meetups I found for her.

I start to wonder if she can legit do the things I ask. She doesn’t do them on a regular basis on a good day, so am I knowingly setting her up to fail? Her failure would make my life easier, but make her feel horrible.

So…I’m back to just saying no when I’m fighting so hard to say yes. Prom is a special occasion. It is meant for seniors; juniors get to go because they raise money to host the event. It is a rite of passage that marks the end of high school. Going with an upperclassman is a privilege, it’s not a right. Hope’s time will come, but that time is not now.

So, I need to put my fantasies about dress and shoe shopping and hair and makeup back in my emotional shoebox and put it back up in the closet. It is too early to allow those thoughts to bloom.

And even with a decision, my heart hurts. I know this will hurt; that it will enrage Hope and then I’ll have to deal with that. I know the rage will underscore the fact that she isn’t ready for such an event.

I’ll try to find something interesting for us to do that day; something fun and something distracting.

Sometimes parenting really sucks.


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