Damsel in Distress

I’m in a hotel room in New York. I didn’t go to the parade Hope was marching in today. It was chilly, crowded and Grammy desperately wanted to see the Fearless Girl down in the Financial District. I have bronchitis, and it’s gotten worse in the last 24 hours. So, I took mom to Wall Street to get her picture of Fearless Girl, and then we came back to the hotel where I watched the parade on tv and on YouTube. Then I slept most of the afternoon.

Hope is on her way back to campus. Her band marched, and then practically marched right back to the bus and rolled out. But not before Hope could attempt to set off a bit of drama.

It’s become clear that school trips are triggering for my daughter.

Kids get excited about school trips. They pick hotel roommates, seatmates for the bus, who to eat with and all the things that kids do on trips. Hope has a hard time navigating social relationships, and there’s a lot of socializing on school trips. Hope also is always desperate for attention, and if kids won’t give it to her, she will go to her old standby, illness, which brings the sympathetic adults running.

There is always a stomach ache, and thanks to raging anxiety, there is no doubt that it really hurts. Sometimes there’s headaches, other times there maybe other various ailments. But trust, it’s always something. One time I was traveling and I had to dispatch that Grands to go fetch her from a trip to spend a recovery day with them and then rejoin the trip the next day.

Hope texted me last night to tell me she didn’t feel well. Then today she nearly demanded that I come gather her up and take her home (our home). Um, ma’am? I reminded her that I wasn’t leaving New York for another day, and that I didn’t drive here and would need to buy a ticket to take her back to the DC area. Soooo, no love, she was going to need to get on the bus to go back to school.

Her response?

Why did I even bother coming to New York?

Sigh…

Then she just was mad.

I get it. I am supposed to rescue her. She is a damsel in nearly perpetual distress, and I’m the damsel’s mom—the prince stand-in.

Sometimes it is so hard to remember that she is still very much a scared little girl inside a young woman’s body. Sometimes she stuns me with how well she can hold it all together, while other times I swear it feels like parenting a bunch of scattered marbles.

It’s also sometimes hard to reconcile just how little progress has been made in the face of progress that is like moving light years. It’s like always feeling like, “Oh, I thought we were past this.” No, we may never be past this.

And sometimes Hope and I lament how we may never be past it. There are moments when she is self-aware enough to recognize the behaviors and wish she could be/do different. Those moments are almost as hard because I can see her own internal struggle to heal rise to the surface, recognizing that she is engaging in behaviors that aren’t great but essentially enslaved to them for basic survival.

I try to comfort her, but sometimes I have to say no or to force her to finish what started or to face her fears. All in love, but sometimes also for my own self-preservation.

I know that my damsel has the potential to suck us both into a dark place. One of us has to keep it together and well, that has to be me.

So, tomorrow I’ll head home for more rest after what’s turned out to be a lazy trip to New York.  Hope will be back on campus soon, and I’ll make plans to see Hope this week and try to meet her need for attention.

Parenting just doesn’t get easier.

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Baseboards and Tears

A lovely chat with someone recently reminded me of what it was like going through my home study in the summer of 2013.

I had started the adoption process about 5 months before; I had finished my PRIDE training. I had done my finger printing and turned in what seemed like dozens of forms. I had been assigned to a lovely Black social worker, who has a big heart and a kind face.

At the time, I was finishing my dissertation proposal, the first 3 chapters of what would eventually be a 6 chapter tome, and my first defense date was just a couple of weeks away. I was prepping for a major conference during which I had several presentations I would be making. I was finishing up a paper on my internship and had finished my last residency for my academic program. Did I mention I was also working full time?

I was wound up pretty tightly, really stressed and perpetually exhausted.

I started reading up on how people prepped for the home study. Folks were out here scrubbing baseboards and practically sterilizing their home. It all sounded insane and stressful. I remember just having mini-panic attacks thinking there was no friggin way I could manage any of that.

By nature, I’m a bit of a clutter bug. I’m not messy, but I’m not the neatest person either. I’m ok with a home that looks and feels lived in. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve intentionally cleaned my baseboards in the 18 years I’ve lived in my home. Yeah, that kind of thing isn’t *my* thing.

Besides, I was in the middle of my dissertation; there were literally piles of paper on my living room floor related to my literature review. And I really mean piles, reams of paper, reams, people!

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I even studied on the floor back then; I was a mess.

So, I made the piles as need as I could, and scheduled the first visit of my home study with my social worker for a few days after my bi-monthly housekeeper visit.

What I forgot to do? Deal with my anxiety.

How about I cried through a good portion of my first home study visit.

I felt like I was unhinged. I could not keep it together. I was a nervous wreck. I wasn’t worried about an unkempt house; I was worried about coming across as somehow unfit.

The stress of it all—the dissertation, the schedule, being assessed for being an adoptive parent—it broke me that day.

I remember barely being able to keep it together and thinking that this would surely mean that I would never get a kid.

During my mini-cryfest, my social worker was kind. She saw past the tears and saw me. She comforted me and emphasized that she was there to help me get to motherhood and not to be a barrier, but to be an ally. She was empathic and compassionate.

And still I cried. I was a frigging disaster, and my dog, The Furry One, was all over the place trying to meet our guest on top of everything else. As he skittered around, jumping all over the furniture and skidding on my stacks of paper related to my research, the room became increasingly disheveled. So did I. I was nervous and anxious, and it spilled out all over the place.

In a word, day one of my home study visits was a mess.

A whole mess.

I was convinced that I had failed. That there is no way they would give this overextended and clearly a bit unstable woman a child who might’ve already survived a trip to hell and back. I was surely unsuitable. So, naturally, I was in a state of distraught after the social worker left.

Talk about undone.

We did our visits over a weekend due to both of our jam-packed schedules. So guess what? She came back the next day for a couple of hours to do it all over again.

Because who doesn’t want a repeat of that disaster, amirite?

Day two, I managed to pull myself together. I worked out, did some meditation, drank some tea and took a couple of Ativan for my anxiety.

I was much more confident and gathered this go ‘round. The house? Well, again, I’d straightened up my piles of paper and hid my dirty laundry in the closet.

By the time it was all over, and by over, I meant more than a year later having our last visit with the social worker, I had come to see her as the ally she really was. I’m grateful to her and thankful that she didn’t hold my anxiety about this process against me. I’m glad she saw my piles of paper as a visual indication of my grit and perseverance. I’m glad she listened to my story and saw the real me. I’m glad that she was such a comfort to me from beginning to end.

A few weeks after our visits, a draft of her narrative came to me for review. Thankfully, she didn’t mention my breakdown. All the things she mentioned though…well, it was so lovely. I was and am grateful for her. She remains in my and Hope’s universe.

So, newbies and hopefuls, you don’t have to clean your baseboards if you don’t want to, but you might want to take something to settle your nerves if you’re a crier like me.

 


The Big Night

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

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

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And then it was time for her to leave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kids are all together these days.”

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Me: Still not sure where this is going…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weird right?

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

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

Ugh.

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

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


Thoughts on Control

When I was growing up, my friends and family thought my parents were strict. Honestly, they weren’t. If my sisters and I wanted to do something, they mostly said yes. Certainly, there were some general things around the house like no phone calls after 10pm (which I still believe is a nice rule of thumb), early to bed, early to rise, minimal access to sugary stuff, go outside to play after homework was done…just what seemed normal to me. I had friends and family members whose parents were permissive, but honestly, I didn’t ask to do a lot of things because I didn’t have the interest to.

I wanted to do very well in school as a set up to college. I played some sports—not well, but I played. I was engaged in clubs and activities. As I got deep into high school, I had multiple jobs and internships. I was busy. I went to football and basketball games with friends, hung out a little late and enjoyed hitting the McDonalds on Parham Road or Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House on Rt. 1 until the wee hours –you know midnight!

Honestly, I didn’t feel deprived, and I didn’t feel like I was ever locked in a control battle with my parents. When I did something egregious, I was grounded. I knew it was coming, and frankly, calculated whether it was worth the inevitable punishment before doing it.

When I became a parent, I found myself expecting to roll into things much like my parents did. Boy was I shocked. Hope pushed all my buttons all the time. My reaction was to establish a bunch of arbitrary rules to try to create the structure that I had.

It took me a long time to understand that what I had growing up was structure, security, permanence, attachment, all basic needs consistently met, and relatively no threats to any of those things.

Hope had not had that, and back then, she didn’t trust me to provide it. The result was a huge mismatch of expectations resulting in awful behaviors that we both struggled with.

It took me months to realize that I couldn’t control my and Hope’s relationship or her reactions to being in what is now our home. That was hard because I am a control freak. I take pride in orchestrating a lot of my life, and Hope was having none of that.

The mistakes I made were countless.

Forcing her to say grace. Saying no to all her favorite (sugary, fatty, salty) foods. Extraordinary limits on screen time. Book reading time. Closed kitchen after 8pm. Eat this or nothing!

I have a number of regrets, though honestly, I am not sure I could’ve known better back then. I’d heard stuff, gone to the training, blah, blah, blah, but until I was in it and it wasn’t working? I wasn’t really trying to hear that swinging to the other end of the continuum was really the better option.

A few weeks into our journey together, Hope hit the skids and everything went topsy turvy. And while my girl was hella resilient, I was really the only one of us who had the capacity to really turn things around.

So, I had to stop trying to artificially create structure, security, permanence, attachment and meeting her needs through controlling behaviors. That’s when I started learning about connected parenting. Now, I still loathe all these crazy parenting theories and parenting books and coaching and all that stuff, but connected parenting helped me to understand that I needed to focus on Hope’s needs to help her feel safe and secure in our home.

I bought ramen, Fruit Loops, and bags of chips to go with the broccoli, clementines and orange juice. I let her listen to music all night long, even after her phone locked down at 9:30pm. I said the prayers at dinner. I gave her 24 hour access to certain foods to ease her fears about going hungry. I read bedtime stories to her like she was 5, followed by breathing exercises and tucking her in every night. I wrote out affirmations for her every day.

She still snuck food and left wrappers everywhere. Her room still looked like it had been ransacked. She still pushed boundaries, sneaking the laptop after I had fallen asleep so she could stay up all night watching videos. She still did inappropriate things on her phone that scared me to death.

And then one day, I noticed that she was far less likely to do any of those things. I realized that she didn’t need me to tuck her in because she came to me to say goodnight, get a kiss and retire on her own. She would go in the pantry and happily make herself some ramen and drink a tumbler of orange juice on the side. She might still break a rule or two, but she would remark how rude other kids were to their parents or how they were breaking rules and how she thought it was terrible.

Sure, I’ve had to mete out consequences, but had I kept on my control freak pathway, we would never have evolved to where we are now.

Hope and I talk about these moments these days, and we tease each other. I’m grateful that she practices grace with me and gets that I was figuring things out in the beginning.

My advice to newbies who are parenting older kids—give them what they need, which may be different than what you need or think is initially best. Our kids need lots of love, and they need to feel like they are seen, valued and worthy of being safe. Meet them exactly in that place. Get those favorite foods, be ok when they gain a little weight, make sure they know that they will not go hungry with you, avoid emotional tugs of war, side step controlling behavior. Recognize their agency and work on being persuasive instead of controlling. Build trust and watch it flourish. It all takes time and patience—something I am not full of—but it’s worth it.

I haven’t broken myself of being a control freak; I just know to limit it in my parenting now. Trust though, I continue to fail from time to time.


Flat Envelopes

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

Yeah, I didn’t understand ish.

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

I didn’t have a clue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh…they have expectations of me academically. Wow!

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

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

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

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

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

So, stay tuned and hope for chunky envelopes.


The Birth Certificate

Grammy recently came up to visit me for my birthday. During our mother-daughter bonding time, we somehow got to talking about adoption documentation. It occurred to me that I had never shown her Hope’s post-adoption birth certificate.

This document drives me batty.

It drives me batty because it is a lie.

Hope’s post-adoption birth certificate reads as though I gave birth to her and chose not to name her father.

I pulled out the document and showed it to Grammy. She was shocked! She had a ton of questions about why I had a legal document for something that she and I both know never happened.

Yeah, me too, Grammy. Me too.

Grammy just kept exclaiming that the document is a lie. I have never given birth to a child. Frankly to suggest that I did is a painful reminder of how my body has failed me. I have muscled my way to all kinds of life achievements, but that act of carrying a child in my body to term and producing a living, breathing baby…well that will go down as one of my personal failures.

(I don’t ruminate on that as much as I used to, but know that the sting of infertility will always be there.)

But I have a document that says my body did just that. In fact, this legal document that will for the rest of my and my daughter’s days and beyond says that my body did do it and that I did not name a father for the child that I did not birth in the first place. It is a seriously perplexing one-page document characterizing my daughter’s entry into the world.

Seriously there are layers to this thing. Hope had biological parents, both parents were named. That document shows information about both of those parents. There was a legal document that marked her entry into the world. In the document I received after our finalization, it’s like those people never existed. They are erased. Just vanished into the void. As one of my daughter’s biological parents is deceased, this erasure feels especially harsh. It’s like the Bureau of Vital Statistics simply decided to erase him from her story.

It’s crazy enough when this all happens with infant adoption, but when you adopt an older child, they remember their people. It’s not just a psychic or metaphysical thing, Hope lived with her parents. She remembers them; their names, what they looked like, how much she loved them, dinners they made, gifts they gave her, adventures they had, bikes they rode, books they read, places they went…she remembers the life she had with them.

We have a document that suggests that never happened.

It.

Is.

Bizarre.

Because.

It.

Is.

A.

Lie.

I listened patiently as Grammy worked through all of this in her head and outloud. We talked about whether the state thought that this approach to post-adoptive birth certificates was a holdover to the days when you weren’t supposed to talk about adoption or admit adoption. We talked about how it double downed on the shame that those of us who have experienced infertility feel by simply pretending we gave birth. We talked about how far things have come that single motherhood was generally less stigmatizing that admitting your family was created by adoption and how effed up that was. We also talked about how my characterization in the birth certificate made me seem like I *might* be a candidate for the Maury Povich show because I didn’t name my child’s father.

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Years from now, without an addendum, will some future genealogist wonder if I knew my child’s father or if he was married or if paternity was in question or some other thing that just wasn’t true.

Grammy concluded her vocal processing by folding up the document, handing it back to me and declaring that it’s just wrong.

No kidding.

This is one of those things they don’t tell you about in the adoption process—whether or how the post-adoption birth certificate will characterize how you created your family. They don’t tell you that the document that comes in the mail after finalization may simply be a lie, a legal one, but a lie nonetheless. They don’t tell you that because of privacy laws, this may be the only document that shows up 50 years from now on Ancestry when someone is trying to figure out who Aunt ABM and Cousin Hope are and how do they fit into the family. They don’t tell you that those privacy laws, for some adoptees, mean they will never have access to the original document that accurately documents their birth.

Of course, I have my and Hope’s adoption decree, but as she approaches adulthood, there is hardly any need to refer to that document. But you need access to your birth certificate throughout your lifetime. It’s one of a few documents that proves American citizenship—it states where you were born. It’s just not the same.

As readers know, the fact that Hope will be 18 in about 4 months hade been weighing on me emotionally.. After her birthday, provided her surviving birth parent hasn’t blocked release of the original birth certificate, Hope will legally be able to get that document for the price of some paperwork and $20. At least she doesn’t have to pay more for the OBC than the adoptive birth certificate.

I intend to help her order a copy. Her social worker was kind enough to have a non-official copy included in Hope’s disclosure records. I didn’t appreciate back then what a gift that was, to see what the original looked like, what it said. I do now. So even though we have a copy, I will help Hope order an official copy. What she does with it is her business; I just think it’s important for her to have an accurate document that documents her entry into the world.

As for me, when we make the request, I’ll also be writing letters on simply having an OBC that has a adoption notation to increase the accuracy of this important legal document. I’ll include that my daughter having access to a document that describes her birth should not be withheld from her. She shouldn’t have to Hope anyone else thought to block access to a document about her. Yes, the document is about other people as well, but there should be some transparency there for everyone. It’s only right.

So, yeah, I have a document that reminds me of my body’s failures and advances a lie about my daughter’s birth. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to parent Hope, but some of the stuff that goes on within Adoptionland is just weird.


Thoughts on Ralph & Blackface

Earlier this week I posted a story about a guest speaker at a private school who dressed in blackface to teach about a white missionary.

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Chile…

I am sick to death of revisiting conversations about blackface, but here we are in an endless news cycle discussing this image from the Virginia governor’s med school yearbook, circa 1984.

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Lawd heyzeus. Really?

Yes, really, in 1984.

Now, I grew up in Richmond, VA, and most of my extended family still live there. The Klan was, and no doubt low key probably still is, a big thing there; I remember seeing them march on occasion down Monument Avenue—or the Avenue of Losers as I like to call the tribute street to the Confederate leaders. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson shared a holiday in January; which eventually became Lee-Jackson-King Day—yes, Martin Luther King, Jr. shares a holiday with confederate leaders, because #virginaisforhatersandlovers

I don’t recall seeing a lot of blackface, but I certainly knew what it was and that it was a no-no. Folks who wore blackface, well, they were to be avoided because they probably wore or knew people who wore hoods.

So, Ralph Northam, Virginia’s beleaguered governor, included a picture of two dudes on his personalized med school yearbook page. One dude is dressed in blackface, and the other is dressed in a Klan ensemble.

He apologized this past Friday for the picture.

On Saturday he said (paraphrased), “I’ve been really looking at it and I don’t think it was me. I called some old classmates to see if they thought it was me, and I’m pretty sure that’s not me.”

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Bruh.

But he continued, “I’m pretty sure because there was this other time I did blackface as Michael Jackson and I used shoe polish to ‘darken’ my face and the shoe polish was hard to get off.”

giphy-downsized

Say what now?

Da faq?

To be clear, he denied being in the Klan robe, but says he’s not the one in blackface either because he did blackface some *other* time, and the time in the picture wasn’t it, despite the fact that its on his personalized yearbook page.

The page he now says he doesn’t know how it came to be.

When I tell y’all that this foolishness is exhausting, it is an understatement.

exhausted

It’s convenient that he cops to the blackface because clearly of the two absurdly racist folks in the picture copping to blackface is infinitely still better than admitting to being the one in the Klan robe.

This is where we are folks—the choice between a robe and shoe polish, and shoe polish is the lesser of evils.

Just ugh.

And he has not resigned and doesn’t seem to intend to. And that is really the demonstration of privilege here. When you have ascended to the highest position, your day of reckoning comes and you think it doesn’t apply to you because it just doesn’t.

Here’s the thing, Ralph, the MJ blackface wearer, may really be a new creature. He may have genuinely eschewed being the racist prick that this image suggests. He may genuinely believe in social justice. He may be genuine in his friendships and relationships with people of color—incidentally during the explanatory presser this weekend he shouted out having African American friends and I laughed heartily. He may even come up with the story of his parents marching with King because, why not?

It could all be true, and he still has to go, because when you do dirt and it comes to light then a day of reckoning follows. How is anyone supposed to take him seriously after this? I know I can’t.

And to the MAGA folks and their whataboutisms…have all the seats. All of them. In the back. In fact, turn your chairs to face the wall! Your political house is infested from the top down, go handle that and then we can talk. Dems are in surgery right now excising this problem.

So, Hope and I were chatting about this last night; she’s away on a school trip but called to wish her mama a happy birthday (because she’s awesome!). She’d heard a bit of what was happening, and I was filling her in. She was bewildered about how this yearbook photo came back to bite Ralph in the arse.

It was a teachable moment about how a picture in a book went viral and how easily it could happen, so just think how easy a picture already on the internet could go viral.

I’m a GenXer; I grew up in an analog world and transitioned to digital as I emerged into adulthood. I’m grateful that a lot of dumb stuff wasn’t documented in film or on jump drives. My daughter has never known a world where snapping a picture didn’t involve a swipe or tap. We had a nice chat about what that meant for her, and her friends and how she controls her image because yeah, actions and images have consequences, even if those consequences don’t pop off for 35 years. Parents, remind your kids that sometimes pictures have big consequences so gauge yourselves accordingly.

So here’s my shout out to Gov. Northam:

Ralph, I voted for you. I was rooting for you, and you’ve said some dumb ish this week, but this is ridiculous.

I quit you.

Here’s the thing…it’s not just about this picture; it’s the larger story that it tells.

Best case scenario, it wasn’t you (that time because it wasn’t the Michael Jackson blackface time…smh). You still rolled with a crew who included folks who thought it was cool. You were ok with it. You thought it was hilarious; you probably thought it was just jokes and who was going to have a problem with any of it anyway because it was just a group of like minded folks doing like minded things. So this is also about the character of those with whom you surround yourself.

I don’t buy that you didn’t know that picture was in the yearbook. In my yearbooks, I carefully thought about my quotes and the pictures I was asked to approve to include. You included that photo because it was funny and characterized you and the funny guy folks knew you to be. Just jokes, right? There’s no hipster irony on the page; irony doesn’t seem like it was a thing for you. Those pictures encapsulated who you were and who folks knew you to be. This page is how you chose to be remembered during med school. This is what you wanted your friends and would-be colleagues to see and remember you as the funny, authentic guy you were in med school. And we see it Ralph.

And it was all so casual that it was utterly forgettable, which is what makes it just so shocking in context 35 years later. The casual racism was so insidious that you didn’t even remember it; that looking back you marvel at how the page could have possibly been approved because it was sooooo racist to include the picture that you couldn’t have possibly done that! No Ralph, it was so casual and occurred in an environment that was so casually, persistently racist that of course the image was approved for inclusion.

Tell us Ralph, as you flip through your yearbook, did you have any POC classmates? Gosh, I wonder what it felt like for them just learning and being in an environment that would think nothing of approving such images for inclusion in what would also be *their* med school yearbook. But of course, it’s clear that no one, including you, really thought about that much, huh?

If fact, it was so just regular for you and those who surrounded you that when your campaign managers over the years no doubt asked you before each campaign, “Is there anything out there that could be a problem?” you replied, No.

No?

Of course no, because even if you had left all of that behind, it was so casual, so reflective of you in that moment, that you had forgotten about it. I mean, it was just a picture of two fun loving dudes yucking it up at a party in blackface and a Klansman hood. It’s forgettable when it happens so often and it doesn’t impact you because you’re white. It was just this thing you had done in your “youth” at 25 (an age by which apparently POC are socially believed to be middle aged by comparison; y’all stay accusing our children of adult behavior while white kids get to be kids until they’re like 45, but I digress).

And so even if you are the real deal now, a believer in social justice, your drawers have skid marks. We don’t expect perfection and demanding that you be held accountable for being and/or wanting to be remembered as a racist prick in your mid-20s isn’t a high bar as far as accountability goes.

And even if this story was planted by opposition as payback for some other political stuff, the fact remains that it was there for the plucking. It was there because you created it, because again, it was your memory page that was a snapshot of who you were and how you wanted your friends and colleagues to remember you. You can downplay it, but it is what it is.

And now, here we are, watching you at a press conference say that that isn’t you in the picture because that wasn’t the time you actually did blackface for a contest. Of COURSE it’s not you in the Klan robe. I mean, really…Ralph. #sarcasm

Your wife had to say it was “inappropriate circumstances” when you looked around to see if there was enough room to actually show you could still moonwalk. #unreal #eagerfordistraction

You topped it off with the cherry—but I have African American friends. #thegotomoveofreformedracists

Sigh, we know, Ralph, we know, and we still need you to step down and gracefully exit stage left.

You can even moonwalk if you like.

moonwalk

via Giphy

I hope that you live out the rest of your life truly devoted to social justice issues and teaching kids and young adults to be mindful of the company they keep and how they portray their images online and in print. You can be a great spokesperson for the repercussions of bad decisions and what reform can do for you.

I know it will take some time for you to get to that place, but for now, please, just go.

Beat it.

beat it.gif

via Giphy

Post Script: The irony of doing blackface to mimic a person whose skin was lightening by the month…just sigh…smh.


The Mystery of Turning 18

Hope will be 18 in a few months.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, that’s a mystery!


2019 Parenting Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your parenting goals for 2019?


Five Years

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

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

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

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

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

In a word, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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