Category Archives: Trauma

Fragile

Everyday I set a couple of small goals for Hope: help me with making dinner, going for a walk, showering and getting dressed. It is not easy, but most days we achieve one or two goals on the path towards healing from the trauma of the summer and early fall. Naturally, some days are better than others, but there is an element of “pulling teeth” to everyday.

This week I acknowledged to myself that juggling work full-time and a heightened level of care-giving is hard. Actually hard is an understatement. My job takes its own emotional toll on me, and this year that toll has been extraordinarily high. Racialized social unrest in a pandemic during an election year is like the worst of the perfect storms for folks like me who do diversity work. I usually am able to compartmentalize some things, but this year–really where was I going to compartmentalize my own emotion? Under the kitchen sink? I upped my therapy to weekly, figured out my preferred strains of cannabis that would help me relax a bit and cope and increased my exercise. I knew that my rope was frayed, but I felt like I wrapped around a little duct tape and was able to keep going.

Then things hit the skids with Hope, and everything has felt like a house of cards built on a seesaw for a couple of months now. At first I could busy myself with the immediate task of pulling together the medical and mental health teams (part of which involved securing a new psychiatrist who does not take our insurance). I’m actually not bad in crisis–I can clearly identify what needs to be done, so I got to doing those things.

Work continued to be demanding, and I began making a cake nearly every 4 or so days because: EATING MY FEELINGS. I tried to pull back on a few projects, and set better boundaries. My evenings became devoted trying to cook better meals, spend quality time with Hope and Yappy and trying to create some sense of normalcy in the midst of what is becoming the worst time in my life.

My own light began to dim a couple of weeks before the election. The idea that that Orange Demon could possibly win began to set in, and I had a harder time managing my anxiety. I took up crocheting a few months ago and I just started trying to focus on that. The COVID cases began to rise and the hopes of visiting my family for Thanksgiving started to fall. I started baking, crushing chicken figures like I was a toddler and throwing myself into dealing with Hope’s challenges. I started feeling just too tired to get my 13.5K steps everyday. It became hard to answer any phone call that wasn’t work related. I tried to pull it together. I bought a new desk, since it’s clear I won’t be in the office anytime soon. I became consumed with rehabbing an office chair I bought second hand (I ended up just running out to buy a new chair this morning), Amazon started making more frequent deliveries as well.

I could and can feel my depression and anxiety is at an all time high; I also feel like there was and is pitifully little I can do about it.

Hope began to make baby steps forward on her journey, and that was the only bright light.

And then both of our bad days collided. On the weekends, I try to plan several activities to get us out and about (safely of course). Last week we went to a farm and did some shopping. We got some fresh fruit and veggies, fresh pressed apple cider, jam and honey sticks. Everything was delicious and it set us up for a few good eats during the week. Hope wanted to go back this weekend, but I found another farm for us to visit that had more things (fresh ice cream!) to enjoy. We’re supposed to visit today.

But yesterday, I struggled. I keep crying for no reason. I was fixated on the stupid office chair, and I was furiously crocheting Yappy a 2nd new sweater. I was am emotionally exhausted, which makes me feel physically exhausted. Yesterday’s goal was to go on a short family walk. The walk happened and the walk was a disaster. By the time we returned from the house, I just felt like giving up on everything.

I didn’t cook.

I didn’t fold my laundry.

I binged watched Fargo.

People called, but I could barely talk.

I sporadically cried.

I tried to nap, but couldn’t.

I air fried half a bag of tater tots and ate the left over cake and a bunch of chocolate covered peanuts because yum.

I finished Yappy’s sweater (Bright side: he looks very handsome in it).

I sat and just looked into space.

Today, is not much better. I do not feel like dealing with anything or anyone, sadly not even Hope or Yappy. I am disgusted that there are no more chicken fingers in the house–yet I also know I’ll be disgusted if I ate more chicken fingers. There is not more cake which means I need to make some, which is energy I don’t have. I know I can make a mug cake but it’s not the same. It’s mid-month and I need to pay bills, which frankly enrages me for no apparent reason other than hating the exercise. I still don’t have the energy to talk to anyone, even when I know it will help. My gout has flared because I’m eating poorly, so I hurt and I have no one to blame by myself, and well the Holy Homeboy for allowing me to have gout.

Oh yeah, I’m in deep. I *know* I should get Hope up and I know I should try to achieve the small goals, but real talk: My tank is empty and even the fumes are gone. I got nothing, and that’s hella problematic because Hope really doesn’t do well when I lose my shit.

And my shit is definitely gone today.

So because I’m the super fragile one today and I’m also the one who has to keep this boat from capsizing, I’m taking the day to just wallow.

My coffee is currently in a wine tumbler. I’m about to eat some buttered bread for breakfast. I’m going to take a shower, put on some comfy fleece and crawl under my weighted blanket. I might go for a walk at some point, and I might even stock up on more chicken fingers. I’m putting some butter on the counter for later, so I can make a cake. And I will make the Tikka Masala I was supposed to make yesterday, if for no other reasons than 1) the chicken might spoil and 2) I bought fresh naan yesterday and I don’t need the guilt of eating it without the dish.

Yeah, we are both fragile over here.

#sendmorechocolatepeanuts #fragilelikebombs


The Sun is Shining

My last post was a lot. As Hope would say, a lot a lot. I learned that my description of my family crisis was really upsetting to some adoptees. I want to acknowledge that sometimes I write  things that may be triggering for some readers. I will write more about that sometime soon, but I want to acknowledge that reality. 

Today is a new day, and the crisis is over. There are just waves of relief. My daughter is safe.

These last few weeks have really been scary. There are always times when I worry about Hope; I worry about her in some form or fashion all the time. This was different. The stakes felt higher, the threat to our relationship seemed higher, and I was just scared, really, really scared for her. 

I know I feel lucky. Parenting is hard; it just is, and some days are just harder than others. And some days, for some parents turn into weeks, months and years. 

The thing I’m most grateful for is being so close to Hope.These last few weeks have been an emotional ringer for both of us. We kept talking. We spent quality time together. We ate together. We used good communication strategies. For most of the time we were really patient with each other, and when we were able to articulate why. I feel like we are even closer now. 

There are and will continue to be some reverberations from this episode. There’s some monitoring and support that needs to happen to make sure things stay safe. There will probably still be some tears (from both of us). There will be lifelong lessons to reflect on (for both of us). 

But this morning, I’m just happy that the sun is shining and that Hope is ok. 


A Sad Escalation

I am still in the emotional whirlwind. We’ve been stable the last couple of weeks, but it’s like a stable version of hell, soooo it sucks.

I’ve been angling for a breakthrough in this situation. I made a request that went unanswered.

I’ve been patient. I haven’t lost my schitt in front of Hope. I have moderated my outward emotions. I have not raised my voice. I have tried reason. I have tried science (I’m a nerd, leave me alone). I’ve leaned into every bit of every skill in my toolbox.

And nothing.

I announced to Hope on Sunday that she had 2 days to move the needle or I was taking matters into my own hands and escalating things.

Nothing happened so, I made my move today.

There is a part of me that wonders if it is the right decision, and there is a part of me that sees this escalation as the only path toward making sure I’m doing my job of looking out for Hope’s wellbeing.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few weeks thinking about what I was like and who I saw myself as when I was Hope’s age. In some ways we are alike and others so vastly different. I realize just how much I took for granted looking back now.

I certainly engaged in my share of shenanigans in high school, but I was also a “good girl” so I showed up to college with some innocence. Despite all that Hope has been through, she also showed up with a bit of innocence.

I was an avid reader and continue to be an endlessly curious woman. I was certainly academically ready and my curiosity meant that I was always looking to understand all these new experiences. I am intrinsically motivated and I had some very specific goals to accomplish during college. I avoided just about everything that would possibly derail me—except a ridiculous boyfriend who was handsome but not at all what he appeared to be. Even that, I managed to escape with some emotional wounds that certainly shaped the way I viewed future relationships, but in the grand scheme of things, I got off lucky.

Hope and I are very, very different in this respect. She is not motivated in the same way, and trust over the last 6+ years I’ve tried to understand what motivates her. I still don’t know, and I’m not sure she does either. She is naturally curious, but I’m still not sure that she has figured out that she can channel and leverage that curiosity in ways that would directly benefit her.

I never doubted that my family was my support system and that they would be there for me. They had been engaged with me my whole life, so of course I felt secure in that.

Hope has only been with me for 6+ years, which on some days seems like an eternity and others seems like the blink of an eye. We are very attached, but I feel like there’s a part of her that is just out there. I get it. I will never, ever fill some specific holes, and I don’t try to. I can only be what I am to Hope. I love her dearly. I know she loves me, but the path to our family is a littered with loss.

That kind of loss changes you. It changes your brain development and function. It changes you emotionally. I am sure it changes you at a cellular level. And those changes…

Well, I believe that those changes have left my daughter vulnerable to all sorts of things.

She has come so far over these years, but emotionally, she’s not 19. She’s like a 15 year old dropped into college student aged stuff. And, some of it, she can handle and other stuff…it’s just clear she’s out of her depth.

There are few times I’ve been as afraid for her as I am right now. It’s consuming me. Between work, which continues to just be barely bearable because of workload, our family crisis is taking whatever is left.

So, I escalated things today to see if I can get this situation to some sort of resolution. I don’t know what that resolution is going to look like and that terrifies me. I don’t know what my relationship with Hope will look like when its all said and done. I don’t know what she will do next. I don’t know what the next revelation will be or how much it will hurt to hear whatever it will be. I just know that there will be more emotional upheaval before its all over.

And I just…I am just so very sad. So, so, so sad.


Faking Calm In the Midst

I am trying to maintain a relatively flat affect at the moment. It’s the only way I can try to present a sense of calm in the midst of the drama. 

And there is so much drama. 

I’m so overwhelmed that I can pretty much sit and look out into the void for minutes, maybe hours. It’s not that I can’t emote; I just don’t see a point. A fit of crying is not going to resolve anything or make me feel better. Rage will likely only make things worse and shockingly, things could get way worse. There is no joy, there is no happiness. There is love, a lot of it, but mostly there is fear.

There have been many times on this journey when I felt fear for Hope, but real talk we side-stepped a lot of major trauma drama on this journey, comparatively speaking anyway. Hope is a kid that rarely acts out. With the exception of her room, she’s pretty responsive to rules and structure. I would go to support groups and real talk, feel kind of lucky that some of the drama I heard about had not touched us. I didn’t think my parenting had much to do with it, but I was so grateful that our blues were different. 

Now, here we are, and I could tell a story very similar to my parenting pals. It is a stark reminder that no one gets out of this journey without scars. 

What makes things even more complicated? Hope is legally an adult and can legally make horrible decisions, potentially deadly decisions on her own. I can make rules for my household, but she can legit just walk away and there is nothing I can do to stop her. I feel there is little I can do to protect her. This has just made me feel despair and kinda helpless.

I had a emergency chat with our family therapist yesterday. I was hoping to get insight, to see a path forward. AbsurdlyHotTherapist basically told me stuff that ripped my heart out. It was the conversation that finally had me back in the bathroom sitting in my tub to cry, like I used to in the early days of parenting. It was everything I didn’t want to hear, and the tentative plan forward is nothing I want to be a part of, but my choices are limited. 

The irony of limited choices is not lost on me. I began teaching Hope right away that the more choices you can create, the more freedom you have to move through the world. 

I don’t have many choices, so in addition to the sadness and grief around this whirlwind, I’m feeling trapped. 

I have come up with a discussion strategy that we’ve been using since the weekend. We have a discussion for about 30 minutes or so, usually over food, and one person gets to do most of the talking to explain their side of things. Then we table the discussion for a 24 hour cooling off period. This has allowed us to avoid too many raised voices and space for each of us to speak with minimal interruption with processing time before re-engaging. 

I can’t lie and say that I”m finding it easy not to jump in and screech “WTF are you doing????”, but I am trying diligently to abide by the rules so that Hope feels safe to tell me her 19 year old thinking. 

And for the record, 19 year old thinking can be more stupid than a box of rocks. I’ve sat listening to my daughter do her best grown ass woman impersonation and say some of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard since I was 19 and doing my own baby adult stupid shit. 

Today is my day to talk; I’m trying to keep it simple, but I’m desperate to build a case that screams NO. But, I know that is not what this moment needs though. I’ve got to play the long game to help us find our way out of this maze. 

Talk about 2020 being a whole ass dumpster fire. I’m so over this year.


The Hardest Time

I am a researcher and diversity professional.

The last few weeks have been the most difficult of my career. All day, every weekday and some weekends I’ve been on calls, zooms, chats, and other modes of communication talking about strategies for change in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

I’ve watched my blood pressure rise, and this week I broke out in hives and have a twitch in my right eye. I sleep like the dead and still wake up tired. My office calendar suggests that I have blocks of free time throughout the day, but it’s a lie. I don’t get much done on my to do list; I return calls, take on the fly meetings and dole out advice. It’s been almost 3 weeks at this pace, and while I feel like I’m making a difference, I know I can’t sustain this pace.

And that’s just at work. Hope and I have had several conversations about Black liberation, about police brutality and over-policing, about our hopes and our fears. I take great solace in how thoughtful Hope is about these things and how strongly she feels about justice. We watched Mr. Floyd’s funeral in Minneapolis last week together and talked about this moment in history.

Not even a pandemic can protect us from racism.

Through these weeks though, I hardly have had time to deal with my personal emotions around police brutality, the protests and racism. I took last Friday off, and plan to take a day or so next week, but I know it’s not enough.

I’m physically and emotionally exhausted. And just when I think folks can’t be anymore stupid, they prove me wrong.

I’ve been trying to practice self-care. I continue to walk a few miles in the morning. I allow myself to eat whatever I want (within reason). I have a bed-time. I allow myself to self-medicate when necessary. My social media feeds are a blend of social justice content, general news, and dog accounts, lots and lots of dog accounts. I mean, lots of dog accounts—like probably 10 more than you’re thinking.

I’ve allowed professional colleagues to see my struggle publicly, by allowing some of my normally private posts to be open for all to see. It was liberating because I stopped caring what they thought of me. This is an epic collision of personal and professional, and I wanted people to know that, to see it, to know that some folks aren’t good allies. Even in those moments I was teaching—so I was still caring.

I just hope my vulnerability was worth it.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m ok. Hope is ok. These are challenging times. They make me sad and angry, but they also give me hope. I don’t want Hope to be my age saying I remember the protests of 2020 as people take to the streets protesting the same thing. I I hope this flurry of activity leads to change. I’m a realist, but I’m still hopeful.

I’m hoping everyone is doing ok during this challenging time. Tell me what you’re feeling in the comments.

#BlackLivesMatter


Early Adulting

Way, way, way back in the day, I told my parents that I wanted to go party at another university for the weekend. I didn’t ask; I informed them.

They said no, I couldn’t go.

Nonplussed, I hopped in someone’s car and off my friends and I went to a university two hours away where I had all the fun to be had.

via Giphy

Back then “daisy dukes” (short shorts) were really in and I found a pair that “fit.” I was really proud of these shorts because I have some lovely thighs that usually made such shorts a no go for me. I recall sporting these shorts around my parents house one weekend when I was home from college. My dad, who is quite proper, commented on the shorts and asked me not to wear them anymore because he thought they were inappropriate.

I replied that I wouldn’t wear them in his home anymore.

He narrowed his eyes at me a bit, but said nothing.

I was in that gray area of life where I was still dependent, but I was also an adult and flexing about making some adult decisions like where I would party and what I would wear. I don’t recall asking for permission much during those days. I remember feeling so good about the increasing freedom I had to do what I wanted.

Fast forward many years and now I have a daughter of my own in college. I assumed that she would flex a bit.

For the most part, she hasn’t. In fact, she discloses WAY too much about what shenanigans she been up to. And before you say, oh she’s not telling you everything….even if that were true, she still has shared too much.

via Giphy

She also asks for permission.

Recently her favorite band announced that there would be a concert in the area this summer. She rang me up to ask if she could go if she saved the money.

My internal monologue was like, “If you plan to save up for the ticket, why are you even asking????” Out loud, I simply said, “Sure, save up your dollars and have fun.”

It’s in these moments that I’m reminded of the challenges Hope has endured.

When Hope’s social worker flew with her to visit me the first time, she shared that Hope was emotionally only about 5, despite a chronological age of 12. She’s grown so much in the years since then, but as for maturity….well, Hope has certainly matured, but is she emotionally 18?

Probably not.

Definitely not.

Hope is able to mimic maturity for short bursts, but eventually it all comes out. If I had to guess, I would estimate an emotional age of 14 or so. This would explain why she gets along so well with my 11 year old nephew and also has a whole lot of difficulty navigating socially with her own peer group.

This is also why my beautiful daughter called me from her college dorm to ask me if she could spend her own money on a concert ticket and actually go to said concert.

At her age, if I did ask, I didn’t have any difficulty openly defying my folks because I reasoned that I…was…

GROWN.

via Giphy

Hope is still very much my little girl. Which is kind of crazy to me. When I adopted a 12 year old, I never thought I would be tucking her in at night, reading her stories, buying her *white* tights to wear (she picked them while I screamed on the inside) or numerous other things that I thought were completely fixed to children much younger than 12. There were many moments that I treasure the connection forged in those moments while hating that Hope needed it because she was so deeply hurt.

It scares me, though. If Hope is really 14 and away at college…

*pauses to reflect more on my own collegiate shenanigans*

This could be a hot mess.

I know she is more vulnerable. She is so eager to make friends that she is at risk for manipulation. She’s often so lonely which only drives the risk and vulnerability up higher.

In the midst of my persistent amusement at Hope’s attempts to begin adulting, I’m saddened that once again her trauma puts her in such a predicament. I’m angry about it. I’m frustrated for her.

I’m hopeful that 2020 will bring advancements in her healing that will bring her closer to her chronological age and all the joys that come with it.


Sex Chats

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

Image result for ti rapper

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.

giphy-downsized

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!


Parenting a College Student

Hope and I have settled into a nice routine of semi-daily texts and 1 phone call a week to catch up and talk shop.

The “catch up” part is really what’s going on in our lives. The “talk shop” part is derivative of the first—it’s how we talk about the things we need to do as a result of the “catch up” part.

If I’m lucky, I get a 2nd call a week because Hope misses me and just wants to chat for a few minutes.

The texts are pictures of Yappy (which as decreased because she can see every pic on our google folder for Yappy), memes, quick check ins and good nites.

I’m really loving this rhythm and what it represents: Good attachment!

I feel good about that. I’m also thrilled that I’ve managed to train Hope to tell me the important stuff by phone and let’s keep texting fun and not the place for good chats. I’m hoping that she is able to transfer that concept to her general texting interactions. #stillparenting

She doesn’t ask me to send her random stuff anymore. I nipped that in the bud after the first month. She proudly told me that she gets her groceries delivered to campus each week. Good for her, but “groceries?” I reminded her about that ‘generous’ meal plan I’m on the hook for…use it. I’m thrilled she figured out how to get what she needed.

Each conversation I see Hope growing a little. I hear her struggles but also how she is trying to problem solve things. I don’t hear too many excuses anymore. The biggest realization is that my opinion means a lot to her and that she trusts me as a knowledgeable human.

May every parent have this moment because like Jesus, I wept. Of course my tears were from joy.

This is the period of life, those adolescent years, when you just think that you are the schitts. You know EVERYTHING. And if you didn’t know it, someone in your peer circle probably knew it just like you probably knew that one rando thing that they didn’t know. And you think that anyone over the age of maybe 25 was pushing off to the nursing home any day and couldn’t possibly know more than you because they have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel and had no doubt lost so many brain cells that they should be on a mush diet.

Yeah, you know the age.

Y’all we are past it.

giphy

via Giphy

Hope doesn’t just want my opinion, she actually thinks I’m smart, like really smart. She knows I don’t know everything, but she knows that I know a lot, certainly way more than her. So Hope will text me questions; she will have deeper philosophical conversations with me. And in the moments when our chats are delving into “advice” territory, she actually pushes through the conversation, prompting, asking me for my thoughts and insights.

It’s really startling.

Of course then she will send me a video of someone trying to light farts. #disturbing #cantunsee

We have a ways to go yet.

Our chat a few days ago covered this knee injury she has, her recent cold, her grades, realizations about her ADHD and her upcoming trip home for the weekend that slid into us talking shop.

The student health clinic wanted to refer Hope to a specialist about her knee. We discussed and decided that she would see our GP when she came home this week and go from there. She’s happily over her cold, which I think developed from sinusitis and allergies. She said I might be on to something there. I told her she needed to get some Tylenol or scope out a kid on the hall whose parents remembered to pack Tylenol (I sent her with the gigantic jar of Advil. Whatever she can trade).

She confessed to not turning everything in on time and why and how she’s struggling to control her ADHD symptoms in the afternoon. I told her she should talk to our GP about that as well since he’s handling medication management these days. I told her I didn’t want him to hear it second hand (from me) and that she could just call the office to talk to him about her symptoms since we’re in a practice that allows that. She paused, toying with just asking me to do it or with the idea of dropping it. She said, send me his number. Since I’m coming home to see the doc can I talk to him about this too with him?

Me grinning on the other end of the call; “Yep.”

We talked about a hair appointment; she said she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her hair. I didn’t press but said, well, I found some salons in your neck of the woods that do Black natural hair. When you’re ready just make an appointment and check in with me to see if you need extra money to get it done. We verbally shook on it.

I swear boards of directors could take a page on the efficiency of our “talk shop” conversations. They’ve evolved and it’s really cool. It means we’re on the same page—What has to get done? What needs a step towards a solution?

And even more cool, Hope has real, cogent ideas about solutions. She may have even tried an idea or two before telling me. We’re beyond the, “maybe Beyonce’s foundation will pick us…” days. #girlwhat?

Oh there are many days when she has ridiculous ideas mixed in (all the time), but she’s more confident about all of her ideas and sharing them with me.

I don’t want to make it seem that all of the drama we have endured isn’t still there. I think that Hope and I have a bit more clarity about it and how it affects her and us. Hope is still well below her peers in overall maturity. She still is a vulnerable girl prone to being overwhelmed and succumbing to some specific kinds of peer pressure. She is not nearly as fragile as she once was, but she’s still somewhat fragile.

The patina of trauma that once was sooooo thick it just masked her is much thinner, but still very much a part of her. It covers her. I hear it in some of the pauses in our conversations about certain things. I feel it when she says she misses me. I see it when she is sad. I see it even in moments of joy. I see her conquering it slowly, but it is there.

There are many, many things we still talk about that my friends have already discussed with their 10-year-olds. Hope was in the system when she was 10. She moved a few times that year. She managed to progress to the next grade, but the lack of permanence was still there and would still be there for many months to come. And there were countless moments preceding her 10 years that led to predicament Hope found herself in at that tender age.

I hear all of that when I talk to Hope too. It’s still there. And I’m amazed to she her still pressing forward in spite of all of it. But, it’s still there, and it’s still hard for her and for me.

I’m so excited that she will be here for a few days next week. She hasn’t been home since she left in mid-August. I’m looking forward to fun chats, a happy dog, all around goofiness and to learn more about Hope in this new chapter of her life.

The more I learn about her, the more I learn about me.


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.


Times are Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s awful and awesome in its own way.

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

This. Is. Hard.

 


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