Blank Stares & Nods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Sometimes, there’s so much drama with Hope.

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

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


Life with a Teen Girl

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

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

Indecipherable grumbles.

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

“Is your room housekeeper ready?”

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

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

All preventable, but whatever.

I head out to the office; Hope texts me:

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

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

OMG. What is it with teenagers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a good day, Miss.

 

 


Thoughts on 13 Reasons Why

Last weekend I binge-watched Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. If you’re not familiar with the series, here’s the low down. The series recently launched on Netflix and features 14 episodes about a high school student, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide. Before her death, Hannah records 13 tapes in her own words detailing the reasons why she decided to take her life. Each tape is devoted to someone who hurt her or failed her. The show is seen through her classmate Clay’s eyes as he listens to the tapes and tries to make sense of her death. Hannah details the isolation, bullying and assault she endured while trying to adjust to a new school. She has crushes, she loses friends, she’s betrayed, she’s violated and repeatedly let down by the people around her—kids and adults.

I’d heard rumblings about the show on FB and Twitter, but really missed coverage of it on the news. The Today Show apparently featured a few segments on 13 Reasons Why, but I haven’t watched them since they did Tamron Hall dirty earlier this year. #BlackGirlLoyalty When Hope’s high school sent out an email to parents about the show last week, I thought perhaps I should sit down and watch it. The likelihood that Hope would watch was low since there are no Kpop references, and it’s in English, but on the off chance that she wanted to watch it, I thought I’d preview it.

I’m glad I did. There’s a lot to unpack and I won’t go blow by blow, but I thought I’d share some general thoughts about the show and urge parents of tweens and teens to watch before they let their kids watch.

Where the hell are these kids’ parents???
A few episodes in I just kept thinking where the hell are these kids’ parents? Are parents supposed to trust teens this much because I don’t. My parents certainly didn’t, and my sisters and I were supposedly “good kids.” Parents for some of these kids were completely missing in action, and it is interesting that the more affluent or the more poverty stricken the family, the more absent the parent. Parents were leaving teens alone for weeks and weekends. Kids were climbing through windows and spending the night. WTH?

I was watching like:

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My parents were on me like a second skin, and we didn’t even have cell phones back then. I remember one time a friend and I were going to see a movie, and the early movie sold out early so we bought tickets to a 9pm movie. I fed the payphone (remember those???) some quarters to let my parents know I would be late; to this day I remember hearing my mother’s side eye through the phone and being chastised for not skipping the movie all together and coming straight home. I had never missed a day of school; I was 17, stayed on the honor roll and still got the side eye over going to a 9pm movie.

But the kids on this show? Only the families with parents who were middle class seemed to have some kind of parental engagement. What is *that* about?

Minimal parental supervision leads to kids pretending to live adult lives.
These kids are running around town as they please acting like they are living adult lives. #nomaam All the access to booze and drugs they could want. I’m hardly naïve; I’ve had to install a lock on my liquor cabinet recently, and I know it’s not hard to find someone to score from or for you, but the ease with which these kid characters came and went as they pleased acting as though they were grown? Nah.

Nope

I admittedly thought to myself, “Um, is this a white kid thing?”

The show has some diversity; there Hispanic Tony, Bi-racial Jessica, Asian adoptee and sexuality questioning Courtney, Black Sheri, Asian Zach and Black Marcus.

Tony is a gay, Bruno Mars doppelganger with a sweet ride lives on the “other-side of town,” read as wrong side of the tracks and can be seen working on cars in the yard with his dad.

Jessica is a potentially substance abuse problem having, military kid whose father is black and mother is white and likes to use a Crockpot; her milkshake brings all the boys to the yard because #prettyhair and #eurofeatures.

Courtney is the in the role of model minority but struggling with being a lesbian because her gay dads have already had to deal with the “gay thing.”

And Sheri is a possibly wig wearing girl (cause that ain’t her hair), presumably from a good family who lets her use the car but doesn’t notice any damage from when she ran over a stop sign; despite this she is worried about her present Black father’s reaction to her serious traffic violation that resulted in the death of another student.

Zach is an Asian jock, who is smart, seems to want to have a kind heart but follows the douchebag crowd he runs with.

Marcus is the student body president and is expected to be valedictorian at graduation, but he’s also a cool nerd, plays sports, runs with the cool-douchey crowd and will do anything for self-preservation.

So yeah, we’re diverse, but we’re not bending over backwards to bust all the stereotypes; the show keeps a few presumably to keep it real, right?

Right.

So that leaves the dirt poor (Justin), middle class (Clay) and upper middle class (Bryce) white kids to drive the story line. Sooooo, is this a white thing (stereotype intended)? Wha? Maybe? Yeah? Nah? I don’t know; I’m still mulling this portrayal. I’m supposing this has something to do with the routine of having white folks always drive the narrative, but I’ve got questions.

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Sure teens are eager to try on adulthood, that is kind of the developmental point of the teen years, but all the freedom portrayed in this show had me shaking my head. I discussed it with a colleague who lives near a tony neighborhood nearby, and he confirmed that this portrayal of kids on the show is definitely a thing and close to reality for more than a few families on his side of town.

Huh. Interesting. Hope had best not get any ideas ’cause:

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Not in my house, it ain’t.

Where did the school counselor get his degree from? Kindercare?
I screamed at the TV, you’re doing it wrong, all wrong. I know you’re overwhelmed and stressed and there are so many kids, but do you hear this one kid? This one right here is telling you she doesn’t want to live anymore?

No?

Really?

Sigh.

She actually said she didn’t want to live anymore and that she survived a sexual assault.

OMG, did she need to write it on her forehead?

I’m in my daughter’s school counselor’s office regularly. I know she sighs to herself and shakes her head with pure annoyance when she sees my name in her email box or listens to yet another voicemail from me. I know I get on her gotdamn nerves. And I like it like that, and she knows I like it like that and intend to keep it that way until the day Hope graduates, ’cause what she’s not going to do is act like she doesn’t understand the words coming out of Hope’s mouth when she goes to see her.

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Bullying is real and it’s awful.
Information spreads so very fast these days. I think I wrote one time about how a neighbor’s mom sent my mom a Hawaiian postcard with a topless Polynesian woman on it and somehow someone said I said it was a picture of my friend’s mom. It took a good 2 weeks for that rumor to work its way through my neighborhood to my closest crew of friends. Nowadays, kids hit a send button and everyone in a class of more than 100 kids knows about some BS. It’s crazy.

A few years ago, Hope was being bullied on the bus. I complained to the school; they didn’t take it seriously initially. I bullied them into responding and the kid never messed with Hope again. Kids can be so trusting and so naïve about technology; they willfully ignore the warnings until it’s too late and people are hurt and reputations are in tatters. I’m constantly reminding Hope to be careful about what she puts out into the world. Sometimes I fret about how little she might trust me and how much she will trust an app; I try to coach her about being a responsible user with her and other people’s information. I don’t let her use certain apps or she can use things on my phone instead, but it’s so different now days to stay on top of how quickly things progress.

Overall the show made for pleasant Saturday afternoon binge-watching, but it’s not something I will let Hope watch without me sitting next to her for constant discussion. Teen suicide is real and foster kids and adoptees are far more likely to consider suicide than their counterparts. The show made me feel better about being so nosy about Hope and I am SUPER nosy. She knows I monitor her closely; she knows what things bring consequences. She knows I want to give her freedom with guard rail protections. She knows that I monitor her life online (which is also why I now lock up the Chromebook at night because someone is sneaky), but that I am low key about it. She knows I want to know the parents of kids she hangs with and that I care about where she’s going and with whom.

Even as Hope should be blossoming into her independence I want her to know I’m her parent. I am not her friend; I’m here to protect her. I’m here to love her and care for her. I’m here to guide her as best I can. I won’t always be right, and I won’t always give great or even applicable advice, but I care about how she’s feeling and if she’s at risk for hurting herself and others. I only saw some of this from a few parents on the show. I know the show is seen through a particular set of lenses. My goal with Hope is to be in the frame. I want her to see me in her lenses and know she’s never alone; she’s got me and I will always help her no matter what and if necessary, no questions asked.

The show reaffirmed this goal for me. It also reminded me how much middle and high school sucked. You couldn’t pay me to go back to that BS.

I love Hope and I aspire to give her the love, support and resources to have no reasons at all.


Drawing Her Back In

The thing I’ve found that helps Hope and I move past drama more quickly is to just draw her closer to me. All I usually have to do is text her and say, “You want to…’

Watch a movie?

Watch a show?

Show me some K-Pop videos?

Share some popcorn?

Make s’mores?

Have some cocoa?

With me.

Ultimately, Hope wants to spend time with me. She doesn’t want drama; she wants love.

So, last week, after I dressed her down about her BS excuses about school and told her she could not go to prom with her friend; Hope retreated to her room. She put on her headphones and watched videos nonstop for an hour or two. I let her be for a while. And then, knowing that we needed to get past my fussiness of school and prom, I texted her from the living room:

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Next thing you know, Hope schleps out with her blanket, and we watch a couple of deep sea creature documentaries and all was well with the world. We were cool.

Even when Hope is in a lot of trouble, all she wants is the reaffirmation that I love her, that I want her, that she is safe and that we’ll always be cool. And we will be. We’ll be just fine.

I try to remember that when I get angry or frustrated with her; all I have to do is draw her back in.


It Still Stings

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. I’ve written about my own journey a few times in this space, but whenever it comes up in my offline life my emotional reaction to it always surprises me.

I’m always surprised by how deep-seated the pain of not being able to bear children is. It’s ironic since having biological children never seemed to be super high on my bucket list, but the process of learning that it wasn’t going to happen still stings to the point of tears.

I’m also surprised by how deeply personal it feels. Certainly, I write about a good chunk of my life here, and I share a lot in my work because I don’t mind and it makes me relatable which makes my job a lot easier. Yet, some of the people closest to me still don’t know about this loss or if they know about it; I’ve successfully downplayed it to the point where it is assumed to be a non-issue, something I problem-solved through adoption.

I love being a mom, and more specifically, I love being Hope’s mom.

But please be clear that Hope is not a replacement kid; she doesn’t fill the hole of grief that sits below my navel. My love of her and mothering her co-exists with that grief, just like her grief around the circumstances that necessitated adoption sits beside her love for me.

It all just sits together at a big lunch table, maybe at separate ends, but it is there, sharing space, it’s visible, and it’s real.

Recently I was talking to a close relation on my way to work. We got to talking about assistive reproduction and the choices people make. There are so many ways you can rule out so many risks in having a child these days, but somewhere in the gap science meets miracle, and sometimes miracles aren’t always pretty. My conversation partner played up how science has reduced so much of the mystery and that really there should be no surprises. Our conversation eventually led me to tell her my own story about not being able to have biological children.

Before I knew it, I was reaching for a tissue from my glovebox and my voice was hitching with emotion. The rush of sadness and feelings of being betrayed by my body were surprisingly close to the surface despite my routine efforts to just contain them on an emotional box in my emotional storage shed. No, there they were in all their glory practically sitting on the living room table on Front Street in my emotional house.

It is still tender. It still hurts. It will probably hurt in some way or another forever.

There is no shame in not being able to bear children. There isn’t. It doesn’t make me less of a woman or a failure, even if my mind and heart sometimes tell me that it does. There is no shame in grieving the ability to have children, and yet many of us feel shame or something close to it—guilt, fear of judgment, cloaking sadness, even wild-green jealousy—and all of those feelings keep us from talking about infertility.

I look forward to the day when I don’t drop tears when telling my story. I look forward to just being able to talk about it more freely—I mean, sure it doesn’t come up all the time “Hey Brad, could you tell me what aisle the cinnamon Frosted Flakes are on? BTW, I am infertile!”—but I long for a time when I’m not as silent on the issue. I think it will help me continue to move past that chapter. I look forward to being well past childbearing age (Damn you fly, 50 yo Janet Jackson), when the looking beyond fertility becomes moot.

Sigh.

I just want to look forward to a time when it just won’t sting so badly.


Parenting Dilemma

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

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

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

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

hellyeah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes parenting really sucks.


Here We Go

Sigh.

Sometimes I really don’t know how to respond to Hope’s “stuff.” I often wish I could just ignore it all, but I can’t.

Hope slipped into a funk earlier this week, probably because of school because school is *always* funk triggering. I seemed to pull her out of it one night when I forced her to sit with me and just talk. What I thought would be a painful 10 minutes turned into 90 minutes of good conversation and quality time.

This morning’s routine was smooth, but I could tell just by the way she put her key in the door that we were going to struggle this evening.

“Here we go,” I mumbled to myself.

And go we did.

Complaints about me at the hair salon.

Complaints about her stylist.

Complaints about the hairdryer.

Complaints about the hairstyle.

Heavy sighing about getting something to eat which was always the plan.

Mumble-whisper about the restaurant selection.

Momentary feigned contentment about the selected restaurant.

Cold shoulder over dinner.

Doesn’t eat dinner…at all. It just sits there.

I’m thinking, “ I could have just taken us home, but I’m trying to be a mom of my word. #fail”

Mumble-whisper about something in her random pseudo-language.

“Here we go. Here we are.”

Somedays I just want to grab my keys and run to the car and just keep driving. I know I’ll come back, but oy, she had best be in a better mood when I return.

This trauma-teen thing feels just impossible. And I’m annoyed by the way we present to others. It’s not so much that I care what people think; but it would be so nice to just be…inconspicuous, to blend in, to be everybody-normal and not just our version of normal.

I was incredibly naïve; I thought that being a same race adoptive family would allow us to blend in. It does in many ways; but when we have “here we go’ moments in public we become conspicuous. People notice. They don’t understand, and we stand out in ways that I just don’t want us to. It’s not even like these episodes can be passed off as just surly teen moments; no, it’s pretty obvious that they are different. They are special because Hope is special; because we are special.

Here we go…again.

These moments happen far less frequently than they used to and for that I’m grateful. We’ve worked hard to get better at this family and trauma thing, and so the stretches between the episodes are longer now. And while that’s great, the stretches sometimes give me a false sense of normalcy. It feels like we fell off the wagon when they happen now. We’ve fallen backward into the muck of trauma, and it takes a little bit to get that muck off me. She moves on more quickly, but I still struggle. I don’t anticipate these moments the same way I used to. My guard is down, and in some ways, I am more vulnerable to their emergence. After we recover from each episode I hope desperately that it is the last time.

It hasn’t been the last time yet.

I know one day that it will be.

Until then..here we go…again.


Eat the Cake

I like cake.

Scratch that.

I love cake.

The first few weeks after Hope was placed with me, I made what I called my weekly stress cake. It resulted in what I now like to call my “adoption weight” that I’m still carrying around.

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via Giphy

Making a simple white cake with chocolate buttercream frosting is something that happens with some level of regularity around these parts. I get it from my mom. She also loves to cook and bake. I can go to her house on any given day, having driven 100 miles, and find cake. It might be leftover cake, typically, I’m going to find cake.

I love cake.

Cake isn’t one of Hope’s favorite things. I can probably count on one hand how many times she has expressed any interest in having some cake I baked. Even when we get to my mom’s house, she’s uninterested in the baked goods, typically bonding with my dad over Popsicles. Cakes aren’t Hope’s thing.

But cake is totally my thing.

So, during our great family visit of #springbreak17, Hope’s grandmother started asking me about cooking and baking. My cake fetish came up. She laughed heartily as Hope and I described my love of cake and particularly homemade white cake with buttercream frosting. She chuckled and began to describe her baking process.

Now, no disrespect, but my granny, my momma and me…we don’t do cake mixes. I bought a cake cookbook one time and found when I got home that it was a cookbook dedicated to fixing up cake mixes. Um. No. The book was returned.

Not only is cake my thing, but I am an unapologetic cake snob.

As a part of her baking process, Grandma Hope talked about how she jazzed up her cake mix, and I smiled broadly and politely, delighted in the story. I’m sure it’s good; it may even be great….but um…cake mix? #thatscute #cakesnob

So, the next day when we went over for our last visit, Grandma Hope presented us with a heart shaped chocolate cake. It was the sweetest thing. So very sweet. She even put it on a real plate that we were to take with us back home.

So, we make our way to our next major travel stop, cake in tow. Despite my snobbery, I looked forward to having a nice piece of cake as we settled into our hotel that evening. I even had my wine in a can. It was fittin’ to be a good night.

Having cake is soothing to me; it’s not just my sweet tooth, it’s one of my favorite comfort foods. So, a cake, including cake mix cakes, made with love is going to hit my emo spot every time. This cake was going to allow me to get lit after several days of maintaining my emotions in a vice grip.

That is until Hope started making rumblings about *her* cake and how preemptively annoyed she was that I intended on taking a *big* piece of cake.

Wha? Hmmmm. Interesting. Ok.

Sister K ran an errand to get some things including some paper plates and plastic forks because I was getting some cake that night and needed something to put the cake on. Hope accompanied her and encouraged the purchase of small plates so as to limit the size of my anticipated cake debauchery. Sister K got an earful about the cake situation.

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via Giphy

By the time Hope and I checked into our room and settled in, my taste for cake had been soured by Hope’s anxiety about me cutting into the cake her grandma made for “her.” Never mind that she doesn’t even LIKE cake.

I called my mother and explained the situation. We marveled at how a proper Southern granny didn’t make scratch cakes! Yes, we were petty and judgy. I really wanted cake but SWORE that I would not touch Grandma Hope’s cake. I reasoned that I ain’t want her old box cake anyway.

After the family lovefest of the previous view days and the grace and southern charm required of me, I was saltier than a salt lick about not having cake–even a box cake! It brought out my petty and I confided in my Add Water co-host and good pal Mimi–who enjoyed a good chuckle at my cake related emotional shenanigans.

Despite my pettiness, I understood that Hope saw this as a very special gift from Grandma Hope. I intellectually understood that she had to play out this possessiveness, especially after how welcoming her family had become of me. This was an opportunity for her to have something from this visit all to herself. Oh, I get it, but I also knew that Grandma Hope made that cake largely for me because HOPE DOESN’T EVEN LIKE CAKE and she told her grandma so.

But whatevs. <Cue more laughs from Mimi.>

So I’m talking to my mom about this cake situation, and I ask her to make me a cake. Oh, yeah, I did. Dueling cakes. I had held my petty in check for 4 days…that might be a record. Ha! She said of course she would make me a cake because my momma loves her big petty, cake-loving kid. We debated the finer points of cakes made from scratch, milk vs. dark chocolate powder and marble cakes, because I come by my pettiness honestly.

I licked my lips in anticipation.

In the meantime, I hit the grocery store for a bit of commercially made cake to tide me over. I ate it alone and disposed of the container so Hope didn’t know. I might be petty, but I do have some semblance of couth that was still hanging on for dear life.

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I soon lost it though, and my petty was on full display by the time we arrived at my parent’s house a day or so later. I kissed my daddy hello, chatted about the lawn for a minute; walked into a house, grabbed a saucer and a knife and proceeded to cut myself a nice slice of homemade, lemon buttercream frosted white cake.

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It was delicious. And it was like a big emotionally satisfying sigh: Ahhhhhh.

Hope watched, and said, “You’re just going to eat that cake?”

Me, mouth full: “Yup. My mom’s cake.” #becausepetty

My mom commented that she could still make me a chocolate cake if I wanted. I declined. Got a plate of mac and cheese, a turkey wing and another piece of lemon cake. And all was well with my soul.

Hope got a Popsicle with her grandpa.

We are home now. Grandma Hope’s cake has traveled about 600 miles in a warm car and is 5 days old and counting. It is still wrapped in plastic and still uncut. I’m guessing it’s not going to get cut either, because cake isn’t Hope’s thing; it’s just not. I know there is going to be hell to pay when I have to dispose of the cake; it’s unfortunate. I really did look forward to having a piece of love on a plate.

I really do intellectually get why there was cake drama, but I also know that there was something about shaming me into not eating it that doesn’t make Hope happy. She wanted to protect the cake, but she is shocked that I haven’t touched it. I’m not sure she knows what’s behind the cake thing. I know that she doesn’t understand my own emotional connection to the cake. It will probably be many moons and a lot of therapy before she gets that connection.

I wish we had been able to enjoy the cake together. When Hope finally cut into her cake, she did offer me some. I wish I could’ve said yes, but I really wanted no part of the cake. My feelings, sadly, just were too much for me to even take one gracious bite. I’m tired and have been on my relative best behavior for a week. I did not want any of that cake.

Of course she dropped the first piece on the floor, which the deeply petty part of me took as a sign that sometimes the universe is petty and reactive.

I made myself some brownies instead.

Another time and another cake.


We Are Family

I grew up in a very traditional nuclear family. So did my parents. So did my grandparents. And so on, and so on. I remember thinking nothing of it.

Today all the folks we consider kinfolk has expanded dramatically. Adoption, marriage, babies, step kids…I often joke that we have duct taped and stapled folks to our family tree.

And that’s a good thing for all of us.

Over spring break we visited Hope’s side of the family. Previous visits were short,this one had us in the area for 3 days. It was worth all the driving and all the angst.

I’ve always known this but I see and know it more than ever now: There is something about being with your people that is incredibly powerful. Nature means folks look like you and sound like you, act like you. Hope’s biological relationship with her kinfolk is undeniable; she looks just like them.

We learned a lot about Hope’s family on this trip. I better understand why kinship adoption wasn’t the best fit and how that truth has nothing to do with love. I wish that things had been different for Hope and for them, but we can only look forward. On this trip I learned what it feels like to also be grafted into a family tree. I imagine that this isn’t quite what Hope felt, but maybe something along a parallel track.

This is the family visit when it all came together.

Well it did for me anyway. I think Hope is still trying to figure it all out. For us adults, we have life skills and emotional intelligence to make this work more easily. I see their love for my daughter; they see my love for their daughter. There doesn’t need to be any drama; we are a family and we’ll do what we have to in order to make it work for Hope because that’s what sensible grown folks do.

Hope still has some work to do in this area. She has quickly become territorial about aspects of the experience and even the chocolate cake her grandmother made because she knows I love cake. Hope isn’t a big fan of cake. It will likely go uneaten because I decided to just let it be her cake, which I know she will not eat (more on the cake in a separate post).

It is a strange thing for all the adults in a room brought together by the love of a child to get it together only to watch the child struggle.

My daughter was frustrated by the family desire to talk about her parents; she quietly complained that she didn’t want to talk about them unless they came up in conversation, but they did, a lot. My inner monologue also was running and said, “Well why the hell are we here if not to be around your family who will no doubt talk a lot about your parents???” I knew better than to ask that question out loud.

I relished in getting pictures of my daughter as a little girl with her parents, while she alternated between balking and sobbing at the imagery and demanding copies of everything. Mid-trip we talked about what it felt like to sit up at night and intensely study the pictures looking for resemblance and connection.

While I’m happy to have taken this trip, now that we are home I’m realizing the real emotional cost. It is hurts to know that my daughter doesn’t understand that there is enough love and loyalty to go around. There will be more questions, there will be more trips. I feel grafted into the family, but I’ve still got lots of questions and curiosity from my own biological family about “them.” If history is predictive, there will be big emotions. There will be clingyness. There will be pulling away. There will be anger. There will be just a lot of stuff. It exhausts me thinking about it.

But I would do it again. How could I deny Hope her family? How in good conscious could I do that? My emotional output is minimal compared to the opportunity to reconnect with family. To see her family delight in seeing her again, getting reacquainted, to have the chance to share childhood stories of her lost parent, to see themselves in her…it is a beautiful thing to witness.  This isn’t just for Hope; it’s for all of them.

We’ll visit again and again. I look forward to inviting them to visit, to graduations, to a wedding, to birthday parties and other events.

We are family.


My Triggers, Pt. 2

Ok, I can’t let the school thing go. I just can’t. I wish I could, but on the full real: I cannot.

I know that Hope struggles in school. It breaks my heart. I see how it affects her. Her self esteem is awful because she can’t perform at her full capacity. I know she’s bright, but the barriers to success…let’s just say they are more real than Trump’s wall will ever be.

But between the actual performance and the protective attitudes that Hope displays to downplay her performance issues…I. Just. Can’t.

This combo is the thing that I struggle with every single day.

crying

I try to only look at her grades occasionally. I ask her about assignments and if she needs help. I encourage her to use a timer to help her manage time. I try desperately to leave it alone.

And it all drives me mad.

I have advocated for so many accommodations. I have spent a fortune on tutoring. I’ve tried new organizational tools. I’ve identified the incredible anxiety we both have about school.

I’ve tried to just let it be and try to work itself out along with Hope experiencing the consequences of not doing her part in the areas where she can.

And still I am filled with a mess of emotions about Hope and school.

I’m realizing that education is such a core value for me, something so important that 1) I can’t let it go and 2) I might not be able to fix this. And being a natural born fixer…this is a problem for me.

It’s not *just* that education is important; it’s been my gateway to upward mobility. I want that for Hope. I still have dreams of my daughter doing better than me in this life. I want her to have the cloak of protection that education kind of provides us. I want it so badly for her that the idea that school would be a struggle for her seriously never occurred to me during the adoption process. Her previous performance had been quite good. Now it’s the thing we struggle with the most.

Even after 3 years, I’m not prepared. I have exhausted all of my “I can fix this” pep talks. I have practiced laying this burden down, only to pick it up again a few hours later. I have pushed, coaxed, pleaded, bribed, and lovingly reassured with no change in results. I have watched my daughter sink deeper into depression and I assume a lot of blame for that because I don’t think anything I’ve done has made her feel better. I have developed no new coping skills.

I do not know how to deal with this.

I just don’t know how any more.

I looked at a special school, but the $50K tuition made me suddenly remember the padlock code to the liquor cabinet without having to look it up.

Weekly I get so frustrated even though I know it’s not all Hope’s fault. I go to meetings only to quietly seethe when Hope refuses to participate in a semi-adult conversation because her emotional IQ is about age 5.

The whole thing makes me angry with the world.

The whole thing makes me wonder why I chose this path.

The whole thing makes Hope feel like a failure.

The whole thing makes me also feel like a failure.

We both are mad and ridiculously sad, and I can’t see any light in the tunnel we’re in.

I’m back to looking at tutors and special programs in hopes of helping Hope be successful. I’m also back to just trying to let it go so that she doesn’t think I also believe she’s a failure. She’s not.

So, the educationally dilemma is my true Achilles heel. It brings out both the best and absolutely worst in me and I have no idea what to do about it.


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