Tag Archives: Adoption and Emotions

Emotional Confessions

Author’s Note:

I wrote this post at the start of the week after an emotionally taxing weekend. I wasn’t showing myself much grace; I wasn’t giving myself space to just breathe.

I’m on the upswing now with a lot of support and love from my village.

I sat on this post, changing the post schedule repeatedly. It was too raw; it was just too much.  I felt ashamed about my meltdown. I felt embarrassed about whining about how hard this journey is…a journey I chose. As I begin to feel better, I realized that I needed to just go ahead and put it out there, hoping that giving it air and light would validate the raw feelings of other folks who are struggling.

So…here it is. I hope my transparency makes someone who also feels these feelings know they aren’t alone.


As a parent, I would like to think that my good characteristics outweigh the bad. I hope so. I hope that one day, when I’m really and truly called to account for my many, many flaws, that the good stuff will get me through the pearly gates.

I have a terrible temper, seriously it’s awful. It makes me shake it’s so awful. I sometimes have a hard time controlling it. My preferred weapon is words. I will grind you right down; my anger makes me want to make you small with words.

I have the capacity to be really, really mean. I know this; I’m not proud of it, but I know this.

I’m passive aggressive, though through the years I’m managed to abandon a lot of those behaviors, but please know that they are still there.

I’m selfish, incredibly selfish. I like what I like and I don’t want to compromise or give it up or whatever. I often think about what I had to give up to be a parent, and I feel some kind of way about all of it.

My natural state is to be super blunt without care for feelings. I am a good Southern woman, though, appropriately brought up to mind my tongue most of the time. I try to mind my manners and demonstrate tactfulness, so the bluntness often appears dulled.

I am very comfortable with conflict. I don’t necessarily like it, but I am very comfortable with it and sometimes will trigger it just so I can use my word weapons and “win.” Why? Because winning makes me feel better about myself and sometimes I really just want to feel better about myself and sadly, winning a conflict, no matter how ridiculous, is the quickest way to achieve that.

At 44 as much as I try to continue to evolve, especially as I parent, I know that my personality is locked in. I am who I am. My dissertation was all about resistance to change; yeah, I am. I’m totally resistant to change. I hate change. I hate thinking about it. I hate the need to be flexible even though I promote it and have to practice it for everyone’s well-being. I don’t want to.

I liked the old me and I’m not so sure that I like the parenting me. Actually, I’m sure I don’t, which just makes me feel awful. I love my daughter, but I’m not a huge fan of this parenting thing.

As I think about these flaws, I wonder what the hell made me want to be a parent. Seriously, talk about the most-long term triggering activity one could sign up for. I mean…seriously, parenting…while it brings out the best in me; it also brings out the absolute worst in me. I spend countless hours biting my cheeks trying to hold my own dragons in check.

Hope knows that biting my cheek is my anger/anxiety tell. She learned that early on. She also knows I have a wicked temper. She’s been subjected to the brunt of it a couple of times. She knows that I have the capacity to destroy her. It’s the truth, and it’s a truth that shames me. emotionally.

Our mutual knowledge of this fact terrifies me. I try so hard to build her up knowing that a horrible bout of anger and frustration could bring it all crumbling down. Knowing that kills me; the guilt…is…crushing.

Daily, especially bad days like one I had recently, I wonder if I was the best home for Hope. I think she could have done better. I wonder was this route right for me? Could I have led a child-free, but happy and fulfilled life? There are days when I wonder if I’m just making things worse for her, in spite of the permanence she desperately needed—is this really what was best for her?. I wonder a lot of things.

It’s taken me years and a lot of therapy to face my own deep seated flaws and I had a “conventional, normal” upbringing. Will the glare of adoption ever dull and allow me to just be a regular old parent? My flaws, while still bad, don’t seem so drastically horrid, under the softer lighting of parenting with no adjectives.

I’m struggling with my own identity as me and not ABM or Hope’s mom. I’ve been so consumed with trying desperately for Hope to be successful that my own personal goals and successes have fallen by the wayside. I’ve had two major work publications come out in the last two months. I barely acknowledged them even though they are the culmination of years of work. I have withdrawn from friends because I’m “busy” making sure geometry homework is done, chemistry quizzes are taken and A Brave New World gets read. I spend an absurd amount of time monitoring the general comings and goings of online behavior because…distractions are bad and ADHD teen life is stupid.

I’m going through the motions just trying to keep my own dragons at bay while I tend to Hope’s dragons.

I’m tired, so very tired, and I suspect falling back into my old chilly friend, depression. I’m sure that my self-care game is weak right now, which allows the time and space for my flaws to step to the forefront.

Hope and I remain hopeful, but right now it doesn’t feel like hope bears out. She insists that the world is against her and finds the tiniest evidence that fits her world view and magnifies it into a universal conspiracy against her. I keep hoping that overnight her limitations will disappear leaving me with expectations that are routinely unmet making me frustrated, angry and disappointed in me, her and the world in general.

We are doing everything we are supposed to be doing. I am marshaling every external resource I can. On the outside, we are doing it, but behind these doors, we struggle. We struggle day in and day out. We struggle with our individual flaws, our individual limitations, our shared problems, and ranges of emotions that are just…overwhelming and exhausting. Some days, we struggle just to stay alive. And it’s rarely seen under the carefully worded and curated social media posts. It’s rarely shared because the glare of judgment is likely to just sear a hole through me.

And I’m afraid. As much as my own self-criticism and loathing bring me down and the fear of external judgment paralyzes me; I’m most afraid of Hope’s view of me. I am terrified of what she must think of me. I know she loves me, and I’m sure there’s a healthy amount of “I hate you!” because she’s a teen girl, but critically, I fear her perception of me as her adoptive mother.

I’m afraid as I listen to adoptees talk about what works and what doesn’t that Hope will one day tell the world about all of my shortcomings as her mother. Will Hope be hypercritical of me? Will she spend these latter years of adolescence thinking that I was a failure as her mother? Will she be on social media talking about me badly? Will she write lists enumerating all the things I should’ve, would’ve, could’ve done despite what feels like the sacrifice of the very core of my being and the need and desire to suppress everything I ever thought or thought I knew about parenting to parent her the best I could?

I’m mindful of the pain I caused my own mother as I often wrote about her in the beginning of this journey and my disappointment and anger towards her for how she “treated me” in the early months of my journey with Hope. It wasn’t pretty, and it should’ve been private, but it wasn’t.  Will Hope look back on these years with righteous anger about all I did wrong when I was trying desperately to hold on and do right by her? How will she see me? How will she see us? I already know that I live in the shadows and shoes of those who came before me and that there are romantic notions that I will never be who they were or could have been. I acknowledge that but I do wonder, five, ten years from now, will Hope know how hard I tried to give her the love and life that she deserved?

Parenting is so very hard and it magnifies all of your flaws. Parenting a kid from a hard place with a ton of her own baggage…it’s another level of crazy.

Ultimately, my confession is that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing and I’m desperate not to screw up. I feel like every personal flaw is on front street and out of control right now. I feel like I can’t get anything right and that I can’t motivate, coax, drag, pull, prod, cheer, nudge or pray Hope into the success she deserves. I’m back to wanting more for her than she wants for herself, and worse, I love her so much that I now own that failure, and I know somewhere, somehow that she and others probably think I own that self-hate too.

It’s just too much.

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Caught Up

During a recent session with AbsurdlyHotTherapist, I got incredibly frustrated. All Hope wanted to discuss was band and her crush. For 18 minutes I sat there stewing in my increasing frustration.

Really? Is this what we’re doing today?

We aren’t going to talk about the fact that there were bugs in your room?

We aren’t going to talk about no chores?

I’m paying a co-pay for this ish?

AHT eventually got Hope to mention several things that were bothering her since school started.

I shot him some side eyes as I clearly didn’t think *those* things were nearly as important as the fact that she had a room that lured bugs to it.

Oh, I was righteous in my frustrated indignation.

AHT eventually asked Hope to give us some time to talk without her.

He asked me what I heard, had I listened? He told me what he heard. I acknowledged those things, but still wanted my drama to be acknowledged too.

I grabbed a tissue as I dropped a few tears.

He smiled and said, but you didn’t really hear her.  She is having a very hard time in school already, and she needs your help with that stuff more than you need her to tidy up.

Wait, what?

But what about *me?* #mynarcissismwasreal

Then he told me the good news. Hope is behaving like a ‘normal’ teenager. Her ability to communicate even about challenges is light years better than what it was months ago. She doesn’t practice avoidance and her confidence is up in spite of her lingering and new challenges. She can see a successful future even if she isn’t sure how to get there.

And oh yeah, she still wants to make me proud.

Well damn.

He’s right. Hope has grown emotionally so much this summer.

And I seemingly have regressed a bit.

How did I miss when she evolved into a kid who largely behaved like other kids her age? She hasn’t caught up on everything, but wow she has caught up a lot, given that she was emotionally about 5 when she was placed with me.

And me? I missed that what she really needed was for me to be responsive to her, to help her with her new problems, to just shut up and listen.

She spends so much time talking about band (and we know that I hate that) and what she’s fretting about ish that might happen a year from now. And she goes ‘round and ‘round and ‘round and ‘round, for hours.

It has been easy for me to zone out after 20 minutes and take to my couch.

Instead this weekend, I stopped her and listened for that 20 minutes, and instead of zoning out and I asked her questions. I worked on redirecting her; I focused on solutions to current problems rather than imagined problems of 2017.

And I stopped the babbling and got some responsiveness.

She’s got some new limitations right now that we need to work through, and I’m going to have to chill. I’ve got to focus on being a cheerleader rather than a disciplinarian.

I’ve got to do the laundry. I need to meal plan so that I know she’s eating healthier, and I need to be sure she’s in bed at a decent hour whether homework is done or not.

I have a meeting with the counselor this week about additional support needs for Hope.

She’s finally catching up in some key areas, so it’s time for me to change strategy and catch up too.

This parenting is a constantly evolving game of come from behind and sprinting ahead.


So Much Love for Hope

This parenting thing is hard. It really is.

Parenting, in general, is tough.

Parenting a kid who has seen some things and gone through some stuff is especially tough.

There are days when it brings me to tears for so many sad, sad reasons.

And then sometimes, often when Hope isn’t even around when the rush of emotions warm me from the inside out.

I love my daughter.

Oh don’t get me wrong, not only is parenting tough, and this teen girl thing? Um, yeah, it’s a beeotch. The snarkiness, the attitude, the occasional defiance, the mood swings. It’s crazy with a capital C.

But this person, this soul for whom I’m responsible, I am totally in love with her. Madly in love with her.

Last night we sat on the couch and I watched her snarf down a Big Mac and fries after a very long day of school, band practice and tutoring. She was exhausted. I sat at one end of the couch, she at the other and Yappy in between us.

I studied her. I saw her tired, but relaxed, content, fully absorbed in this life we’ve created together.

I could never have imagined that this family of mine would exist.

This morning I got up early to do her hair for picture day. I fixed her breakfast. I ran a pair of hoop earrings up to the school after school started so she had them in time for her sitting.

As I was pulling into the parking lot, I just thought about how much I love this kid. My heart actually hurt with so much love and gratitude for her.

I also thought about how much her parents must have loved her; in spite of whatever problems they may have had. I just know that they loved her; they had to love her! I don’t know how they couldn’t; she’s just marvelous.

I drove her to school yesterday, and we immensely enjoyed the extra 20 minutes we had together. We joked and teased one another.

It is in these moments that I am just so overwhelmed with emotion.

I love her.

I love her even when I’m nagging her about her room and her homework and walking the dog.

I love her when I watch her sleep, covers strewn about.

I love her when she says, “Hey mom, we should…” which is her indirect way of asking if we can do something fun.

I love her when she is a total pain in my ass.

Love doesn’t really describe this emotion. Although I still grieve about the inability to conceive and carry a biological child, I can’t imagine loving such a child any more than I love Hope.

I adore her.


Histrionics on a Friday

There are few things in the world more heartbreaking than your kid, your adoptive kid, telling you that she moved here because she thought she would be happy and that she thought you would try to understand her but you don’t.

sadABM

Yeah, that got yelled at me today. #shetoldme

Sigh.

TGIF.

So, I’m still simmering over the early events of the week and what I feel like was the defiling of my house. And because I’m petty, my behavior has really been unpleasant this week. #regressive #notproudbuthonest

About a year ago, AbsurdlyHotTherapist had us imitate each other in the midst of a fight…yeah, Hope stomped around, hemmed, hawed, yelled and stomped some more. When she was done she added that I would do that for days at a time when I was mad.

Yeah, I do. When I have been wronged…I’m like a virus, you just gotta stay away and wait until I sputter out.

That, admittedly, is not conducive to consistently good parenting, and I’m working on it. I’ve gotten so much better talking myself into just letting it go, most days.

But I’m way more petty than just ordinary petty, and I’ve got a nasty temper, and sometimes it makes me wonder if I should’ve ever become a parent given my penchant for high strung emotion.

But, that’s neither here nor there, right? I just gotta keep pushing for improvement.

Normally when our conflicts have escalated to Hope’s screaming that she’s miserable or that she thought things would be different, I run to hug her. I feel guilt about triggering that kind of honesty from her (which as an aside, in those moments of high emotion she is an incredibly effective communicator about what she’s thinking and feeling). In those moments, I want to gather her up and dab her tears and tell her that it will be ok.

I didn’t do that today, though.

Nope

I resisted the urge, not because I didn’t feel those things, but because I needed her to have a reality check. I needed her to understand that families have conflict, that happiness is not judged episodically but holistically, and that I still need her to take responsibility for the things that she utterly refuses to acknowledge. Like clean that gotdamn room of hers.

A hug was not going to get us to that space in that moment, even if I wanted to offer it. #lowkeyrealtalk I didn’t want to anyway.

This last week has been like watching my bank account spout like a geyser. Money has been flying out of the house like Elphaba on a broom, and flying out for some ridiculous ish. Yesterday morning, I just cut the cash tap abruptly amidst wails of poverty and starvation. The sense of irresponsibility and entitlement had pushed me to this point:

 

giphy

You would’ve thought she was in a Russian bread line with all that wailing.

 

Now I can afford an occasional oil spout, and once money is gone, it’s gone, but if it’s one thing I can’t stand it’s spending money that doesn’t need to be spent on things that could have been avoided.

So, instead of the immediate comfort, today I sat down and patiently waited for Hope to sit down with me. I talked about empathy—mine and hers. I talked about responsibility—ours to each other, but um mainly her responsibilities to me and to our home. I talked about communication efforts-ours-and how we need to continue to work on them. And we talked about choices—when she has them and when she simply doesn’t.  #eatthecake

She spoke; then I spoke some more. And then I walked away.

I often wonder what Hope thinks happiness looks like. I swear she thinks it’s like a nonstop carnival. It’s not. I know that happiness is a collection of experiences in which things are good, satisfying, fulfilling; they may be interspersed with disappointment, but not overwhelmed by them. I often feel like Hope needs every experience to be happy, happy, joy, joy to experience and acknowledge some kind of continuous happy; she doesn’t yet know how to be happy.

She simply doesn’t know how to be happy. I’m trying to teach her, but really how do you teach someone to embrace and experience happy?

The inability to recognize happiness and to choose it really hamstrings our relationship. I feel like I will always disappoint her because her expectations about being happy are so absurdly off-kilter that they are impossible to meet. Being unhappy is learned behavior; I don’t believe that its innate. Hope learned unhappiness.

Learned, pervasive unhappiness is a beeotch.  It is a smothering blanket.

I wish it were as easy to encourage her happiness as it is to for Yappy to be happy. This dog’s happiness hardly knows any bounds.

 “Hey boy, wanna go to the PARK????”

 

dancing.gif

Not Yappy, but Yappy-like!

 

“OMG! YES!!!!! I AM SO RIDICULOUSLY HAPPY!!!!”

Ah, but life with humans is so much more complicated and so much more dramatic than life with dogs.

And so, we just go on, trying to make a little progress at a time.

She just made me a grill cheese sandwich, so I guess we’re cool again. #anotherreasonIcantdropweight #apologyfood

Tonight we will host our first sleepover, and tomorrow I’ll drop off Hope and her friend at an amusement park before Yappy and I visit my parents for the day.

Tomorrow things will be happy, happy, joy, joy until the next hiccup that makes the world come histrionically crashing down. And I’ll be ready to have these conversations all over again.


Recent Reflections

The last week or so I realized that things had changed around Casa d’ABM. Things were…routine. Things were relatively smooth.

Hope and I have always been a loving family, even if it didn’t always seem very loving as we grappled with our challenges.

It’s been hard for both of us.

But I realized that something was really, really different and that upon reflecting, things had been different for like a good month.

I realized that our day to day life was very much what I envisioned when I started this journey.  I have this family that I adored. There was a healthy balance between goofing off and discipline.

Hope’s ability to demonstrate responsibility and initiative in some areas not only existed by really had dramatically improved.

She was affectionate.

We worked together.

We actually got back into the habit of eating together (Thank you Instant Pot).

We felt more attached.

Things just feel different; it’s difficult to explain.

But gosh, it’s so beautiful.

At a recent medical appointment, the doctor said to Hope, “You look…happy.”

She squinted and said, “Yeah, I guess so.”

She’d never said that before. Even if it’s temporary or fleeting…gosh that was a precious moment.

We are happy, and right now, right this moment, I’m living my dream.


Curious about Her

Earlier this year, Hope asked me how I would feel about her trying to find her birth mother. I immediately replied that I would help her any way I could and that if a healthy relationship was possible I would help facilitate it.

Then she never brought it up again.

I know it’s still in there somewhere. Hope has strong feelings about her mother; I’ll say they are complicated and leave it at that.

Having been found by her paternal extended family just after finalizing our adoption was emotionally challenging for both of us. It brought up a lot of resentment, a lot of grief, but also a lot of love and connectivity. Frankly, it remains a challenging relationship with our extended family, but families are complicated, right?

Right.

So Hope’s mom…I’ve always been curious. Not much is known about her. I know certain things about her and I know what Hope thinks she remembers, but was more likely told about her mother since they were separated at such a very young age. No one has pictures of her; I asked.

A few times I broached the subject with Hope about wanting to just know where she was, and Hope said no. She seemed intent on closing this door.

Given all that I’ve learned over the last few years, listening to adoptees, I figured it would come back around, probably more than a couple of times.  So, when she asked me about how I would feel about finding her; I wasn’t surprised by the inquiry. Actually I felt prepared for it.

Now that I look back on it and our growth through these last few months, I suspect that she was might have been curious  about*my* feelings on finding her mother than on her desire to actually find her mother.

But, even the most remote interest gave me permission to pull out my keyboard and start searching.

I had her mother’s name and not much else.

About two months ago, I thought I found her on Facebook. Some of the sketchy details matched up; not everything, but really close. I could not stop looking at her picture. I searched it for Hope’s features, her skin tone. I wondered what my daughter looked like as a newborn; did she look like this woman?

I was consumed by this profile for a good week or so, and then one day I convinced myself that this was not Hope’s mother.

I was disappointed.

I wondered why was I looking, would it be better if I waited for Hope to be ready? Clearly, this was more about my curiosity at this point than hers. What would I do if I actually found her? I wondered if she even wanted to be found. Most of all, having realized that I didn’t find her, I felt a little twinge of pain in thinking she was lost to me, to us, to Hope. I wondered what that twinge of discomfort felt and how exponentially magnified it must feel for my daughter…to be lost again.

I walked away from the search that day.

A few weeks later, one Sunday morning, while sipping coffee in my PJs and watching Law and Order, I found myself searching again.

I can only explain it as a deep, bottomless curiosity about my daughter’s background. I wanted to know her full story; I love her and want to know everything about her. I want to know or at least see the person who birthed her. I didn’t know what I would do if and when I found her, but I just wanted this information so badly. I’d like to say I wanted to have it for when Hope was ready and I could just give it to her, the truth would be that I desperately wanted to know for myself.  Who is Hope’s birth mother? What does that biological link look like?

I don’t know if it’s my own infertility grief or that I’m nosey, or if knowing would somehow bring me even closer to Hope. I still had no plan for what I would do with the information after finding it. Who would I tell? What would I tell Hope? Who would support me in this crazy wild goose chase?

I never doubted that searching was the right decision; I just couldn’t comprehend what I would do with information about Hope’s mother when I found it.

Well, thanks to the power of the internet, a big hint on a search string and $35 I found her in short order from the comfort of my couch that Sunday morning. It took me longer to get out my credit card and decide whether making the information purchase was the right thing to do than the actual search for the info.

Before I knew it, I had her address, her phone number, and a background check. Two minutes later I was looking at her face on Facebook.

When I saw this woman, I knew right away, this was Hope’s birth mother. I saw that as much as my daughter looked like her paternal family, she bears a striking resemblance to her birth mother: the shape of her face, her eyes, her hair, her long limbs. It was meaningful to see the woman who gave her life because so many people comment that Hope looks like me and I think that it’s just not true. Putting me side by side her birth mother and the blood relationship is apparent.

I read the report over and over, committing some of it to memory. I saved it to the external hard drive. I printed out a copy and put it in my file box.

And then I went back to Facebook stalking her. There wasn’t much to see, with us not being friends. I saw a few pictures, a few pictures of friends and relatives.  I would check ever so often in hopes that she was one of those folks who changed their profile picture frequently. She’s not.

I began talking myself into reaching out to her, but what on earth would I say? Was that the right thing? Who was I reaching for—me and my own curiosity? Or Hope? Was this contact in our immediate best interest? What if the contact was completely rejected? What if the contact prompted a lot of expectations?

The what ifs are endless.

I eventually discussed it with my therapist. She asked a lot of questions, a lot, over a couple of sessions. She convinced me to put the brakes on things. She also asked me to broach the subject with Hope and AbsurdlyHotTherapist.

I sat with it for a couple of weeks, worried about Hope’s reaction.

During a game of 20 questions I asked Hope how she would feel if I found her birth mother. She grimaced, and said very little. I let it go for a couple of weeks. I circled back around and reminded her of our conversations about finding her and how she reacted to the possibility of finding her. I told her I had found her, that I knew where she was and knew how to contact her. Hope thought quietly and said, “That’s ok, I don’t want to.”

And so, I dropped it. The file is away on the hard drive and the papers are in the box. I sense that we’ll revisit it when she’s ready. I’ll be with her every step of the way.

I would be lying if I didn’t say I thought of her birth mother often. I still have all of these questions. I still want to know if there are baby pictures, what Hope was like as an infant. I have a deep desire for answers about our daughter’s life. And I want to know about this woman who gave Hope life. I just want to know more about her, since she’s just such a mystery to me and to Hope.

But that’s all for another day. I may find out, I may never know. I’m not even sure I’m happy I found her since it feels like she’s kind of off limits. She’s like money burning a hole in my pocket, I want to spend by asking a million questions. But it really…all this curiosity is for another day.

I know that, for now, the status quo is what Hope needs to feel safe and secure. I don’t know what is behind her birth mother’s door, and I have to trust that Hope’s memories and stories are what they are. More than anything I want to support my daughter and her continued healing and development, and right now, it seems that she wants me and just me.

So, curiosity won’t be killing me this time.


On the Humble

Sometimes, it hurts to think about how my learning curve impacted Hope.  I mean, I think we’re doing great now that I finally got a clue and because I’m constantly working to learn how to parent her and meet her needs. I’m proud of my growth, but yeah, I get sad and a wee bit embarrassed to admit what a bit of a parenting shrew I was in the early days.

I also recognize that I may be hard on myself, and I have had folks tell me to go easy on myself. I guess because I know that a lot of people were hard on Hope and didn’t go easy on her that I won’t allow myself that grace in her name.

In either case, that learning curve remains steep.

We are sliding into our match anniversary soon; three years ago, some crazy professional people thought I would be a good match for Hope. Their decision changed our lives.  I remember so many people asking me if I was ready to parent a tween who had been in foster care for years.

Um, nope, but hey, I’m going to do it. We’ll get through it.

And we have, but not without so many struggles.

The transition was a dramatic struggle. At one point I thought that this would never work; she was having such a hard time.

Convincing her to buy into my idea of family life after having been in foster care was a struggle.

Food choices were a struggle.

School is a struggle.

Social interactions, yep, you guessed it, a struggle.

Therapies, medical care, medication compliance, all a struggle.

Understanding the full grasp of diagnoses and whether the labels help or hurt have been a struggle.

It hard. It’s all hard. And me and Hope, despite our narrative and this blog, we aren’t special. We’re just everyday folks trying to live from one moment to the next. I reject all the halos and angel wings folks try to foist on me; we’re just a family trying to make it.

One late night recently, I was catching up on reading some posts in an adoption support group. I was reading about a struggle a new parent was experiencing that Hope had endured and that, frankly we still kick around a bit: chores.

I reflected a lot as I was trying to type out my answer on my phone.

My biggest struggle in being Hope’s adoptive mom is checking my entire ego at the door. Admittedly I have a huge personality, I give off big energy, I like having a big voice and probably at some point in my life even demonstrated a few bully tendencies. Setting down my ego and keeping it in check is one of my life struggles as a mom.

Chores are a big flash point in my need to ego check.  Like many foster kids, Hope moved from place to place in trash bags. Valuing and caring for material things was a rare practice because things routinely disappear, are lost, stolen or otherwise just or go missing . The chaos in her room tends to reflect her emotional state. She loathes doing chores (who am I kidding, so do I). She wants to earn money, but she is so used to not having things over her short lifetime that she isn’t strongly motivated to do chores for money. Her ADHD typically means that unless the task is directly related to something she wants to do, is time bound, and personally beneficial, it really doesn’t ring her motivation bell.

It took me a year to realize that me telling Hope to clean her room actually jived with her desire to have a clean room but operationally she would try to clean every drawer, refold all the clothes and dig under the bed and the cleaning exercise would turn into a 10 hour, yell, cry-laden experience that made us both miserable. When my light bulb went on, I realized that I would have to be responsible for deep cleans and that Hope needed a short list that represented a tidy room daily.

My point really is that everything I thought I would do parenting Hope was, frankly, off course. My therapist sat me down one day and said:

“Do you want to be right? Do you want to give an ish about what other people thought about me and my parenting? Or do I want Hope to thrive? If it’s the last option, you’re going to have to put that ego of yours and those preconceived notions of yours in a box and put them on an emotional shelf in the back of the closet because they have no place here.”

Well, damn.

Part of checking my ego is about redefining success. I’m forced to constantly adjust myself and family assessment. I was away for nearly a week for work recently. What did success look like when I arrived home:

  • Hope took her meds every day.
  • Yappy didn’t poop in the house due to anxiety.
  • Some of the healthy food I left behind was consumed.
  • Chores while I’m gone? What are those?
  • Yappy got a bath while I was gone, not because I told Hope to bathe him but because she said he needed one (10 extra points for Hope).
  • I know that she bought school clothes that met my criteria for just one step outside of her jeans and tee comfort zone (30 extra points for Hope).
  • Her room was nearly spotless when I got home from my trip.

I treated her like she won the super bowl for Casa d’ABM because she showed initiative AND followed directions remotely.

The rest of the house was a mess. There were dishes in the sink that might have been there long enough to wave at me.

I made a short list of things for her to do the following day that began to get us re-regulated.

I used to be furious to have to do that. I used to get mad at the nanny for not taking care of more stuff around here. But then I realized that my absence was stressful; that the nanny’s job was to keep Hope and Yappy alive and entertained and that my job was to play my position—to love the kiddos, not judge them as they survived the stress of my absence and to get us back on our regulated journey.

The irony is that in fact, it was all about me. They missed me, and I missed them (note Yappy gets all zonky too, so yeah, it’s them). But my job is to help alleviate the stress and fear that I’m not coming back; in those moments, it’s not about me at all. It’s all about them.

Parenting is humbling, it really is. The decisions are tough, the expenses are crazy, the scheduling is consuming. It really is like just thinking of yourself as a cup and pouring it all out for the benefit of your kid. It is pretty selfless and pretty exhausting.

But ahhh, those moments when Hope tells me some parent-approved version of her secrets, smiles when we are in the kitchen together or just texts me that she loves me, those moments are everything. They are the greatest reward for learning to practice humility.

 


Help is a Dirty Word

Hope has been my daughter for going on 3 years. It’s amazing how time flies.

This summer, we have spent quite a bit of time working on attachment and academic help. I’ve realized that Hope really has blossomed in some ways this summer.

We have some pretty amazing talks these days. She is really opening up. She has been pretty compliant when it comes to going to tutoring. Her compliance in doing chores has improved a lot as well.

Recently, she dropped something on me that really stunned me into silence though.

We were sitting in the car talking. It was kind of heated. I was trying to understand why asking for help was so difficult for her. Why did she also always refuse help? Didn’t she realize I was killing myself trying to help her be successful, to be her personal best, not for me, but for her. Why on earth was it difficult to just say yes sometimes. Why was it hard to just say, “Hey mom, can you help me?”

We’ve had this conversation before.

We’ve had this conversation several times. Her response is always the same: nothing, silence.

The affect was flat; the emotional walls went up and I would eventually just drop it.

Until one day recently, she responded to my inquiry and I was silenced by the disclosure.

In a nutshell, Hope had been in the foster care system so long and been through so many families that even after two years in a forever home, she loathed even having conversations about needing to be helped and being helped. In Hope’s experience so many people in her life have wanted to help her and their “help” resulted in:

  • Experiencing emergency removals and placements.
  • Portraying her parents as horrible people.
  • Long term foster care.
  • Moving her stuff in trash bags to a new foster home that would be in a better position to “help her.”
  • Being made to take Tae Kwan Do because it would “help” her manage her anger even though she hated it.
  • Being medicated.
  • Being told her math skills were bad enough to qualify for a special math program that made her feel dumb.
  • Having to go to daily private tutoring all this summer.

And the list goes on.

Asking for, receiving or being forced to accept help has never made her feel good about herself, never. Why would she ask for help when her self-esteem was already so low? Why would she trust anyone, even me, to help her and that it actually would result in a better quality of life?

In her mind, help was and is associated with the breakup of her family, being shuttled around and not wanted, having no voice in her life and having her low self-esteem validated.

Help is a dirty trigger word for her.

That was a serious lesson for me to learn. It never, ever occurred to me that she would have such negative association with the concept of help. It silenced me. It broke my heart and just underscored how deeply hurt my daughter has been over her life. Efforts to keep her safe and to rebuild her life remain threatening to her.

We didn’t talk about it for a few days. I mean, what could I say to her at first?

We eventually sat in the car one evening and had a good talk about what help is supposed to be; what the potential for “help” could be in her life and how “help” is designed to make Hope the best Hope she can be—not for me, but for her.

I think this is turning point for us.

I am hopeful that her disclosure means she is feeling safer and willing to work with me to take advantage of all the opportunities in her life [note the word I DIDN’T use!].

So, for now, help is a dirty word in our house. It will come back into our vocabulary at some point, but using different language with Hope is an easy fix if it means increasing the likelihood that she will accept the things she needs to improve her life.

 


It is Still a Trip

I so remember fondly the days when I could throw some clothes in a bag, grab my passport and hit the airport for a vacation abroad that I threw together a couple of weeks before.

Those were the days.

Today, I grasp at shreds of vacation dreams.

Now I take trips instead of vacations, and I feel all kinds of ways about that.

On the one hand, I love the idea of vacationing with Hope, and even taking Yappy along. I dream about having the opportunity to have fun with her, to show her lots of amazing sites in the country and world.

On the other hand, I just miss the days of old.

This year, I rented a small condo on the beach in Virginia. Substantially less expensive and much closer to family than last year’s trip to Martha’s Vineyard. Oh and it was a fraction of the cost of our trip last year, which is good since the first payment on Hope’s braces is due next week.  And finally, Yappy was welcome to tag along on this journey to the beach, where he would see sand for the very first time.

Since I traded in the Mini Cooper last winter, we would be traveling a lot more comfortably and with nothing strapped to the roof of the car.

I went into the trip feeling guardedly optimistic about all the precautions I had taken to try to make sure that it would be fun time for us all.

And then we headed out.

We traveled nearly all the way to the house when I caught a flat tire. And when I say “all the way” I mean, we were 2.4 miles away from the rental.

When we finally get there, the landlord had not obtained a mini-box for the TV so the cable didn’t work. The landlord also didn’t respond to my 3 phone calls and 2 texts about the WiFi password. And that was day 1.

Day 2, I managed to get in some exercise before I headed out with Hope to go buy a new tire. Of course Wallyworld did not carry my tire size, so then we had to hit a service station where the only tire the right size was the most expensive tire that was about $200. #HappyVacation Hope complained about the wait, pissed off the service station staff because I couldn’t censor her anti-Trump tirade because her ability to self-censor at critical times, like in mixed company, is non-existent. It also underscores her inability to read social reactions. By the time we bought groceries and hit the Starbucks my nerves were shot. When the barista messed up my drink I started to cry. ETA: How do you mess up a venti iced coffee with sugarfree vanilla syrup???

While sobbing on the way back to the car, I began to wonder why I keep trying to take these vacation/trips at all.

I hit another coffee shop, got my fix, got some Yappy snuggles and hit the beach. Managed to burn my feet on the sand. They are still sore and red. Oh and as soon as we got the umbrellas up and I got settled, Hope announced she was hungry and wanted to go inside, but not by herself, to get something to eat.

I said no, as I was still wiping the sweat from my brow from dragging everything to the beach and getting us set up.

Sigh

Then there was the spider sighting at 9pm that spun night 2 out of control. We’ve been doing so much better with the bug thing so I was able to be a bit more patient and consoling about it.

I relaxed on the couch most of today with Yappy. It was just so hot, that there was little reason to go out. Hope pulled up a chair because I never located the spider, which meant the comfy furniture was contaminated.

After a few hours out and an about, we returned back where she quickly spotted a moth and the freakout started all over again. I killed it, but that hasn’t abated the evening meltdown.

Tomorrow afternoon we head home, and I’m left wondering will we ever have a truly, truly enjoyable time? Should I just plan staycations from now on?  Should I just rent a bug free, hermetic bubble? Is there a happy medium?

Sure there were moments of some contentment, but they were fleeting and the crush of anxiety, phobias, and PTSD always seems to outweigh those few moments of relaxation.

Yeah, this was definitely a trip. It’s always a reminder of the hard place my kiddo survived. It’s just hard to enjoy a good life. I hope that she continues to heal and is able to just enjoy the world around her.

Despite all of the drama of this trip, I am optimistic for her healing.  She is much more mature than she was last year. The ability to manage the bug phobia is improved. The drive and desire to heal is such much more than it used to be.

There is hope for Hope. I believe that.

But for now, vacations are still trips for us. Yappy seems to have had a blast though. He traveled well, killed bugs and has snoozed like I thought I would while on vacation. I am jealous.


Anxiety and Extroversion

I am an extrovert. I get lots of energy from being around people and stuff. I have some sensory issues that seem to be getting a bit worse as I get older, but I still love being in lively environments that give me the energy I need to remain vibrant myself.

I fretted last year that perhaps I was losing some bit of extroversion because I was increasingly desirous of just being alone. I had a new Meyers-Briggs assessment and found that I was even more extroverted than I used to be. I’m just really tired and that’s why I want to be alone…so I can go to sleep.

My darling Hope seems to be an introvert. She likes to be around people, but really seems to get more energy in super small groups, or alone with her own selected stimuli.

Here’s the thing though: because she struggles with anxiety, she presents as an extrovert.

It’s taken me a long time to figure this out, but I get it now.

Between the anxiety and her ADHD, she can chatter on for hours and hours. She bounces around. She can be boisterous and her voice really carries. Her conversations wind themselves like backwoods roads that have lots of little roads off of them: one left turn and she’s tripped down a long road to nowhere for a 15 minute drive.

Now these behaviors aren’t really associated with extroversion, but if you don’t know much about intro/extroversion, you might easily run up on Hope and think that she’s a little lively ball of people loving fun. Um, no. She’s just spastic and riddled with anxiety.

So, I’ve really, really, I mean really been on my “time-in,” attachment parenting tip these last couple of weeks. Movies, board games, cooking, rice krispy treats, dance parties. I’ve limited our screen time on devices unless we were watching something together. I’ve done her hair. I’ve cleaned her room and not freaked out about all the food wrappers. I have listened with interest as she talks through her social issues, her crush issues, her skin issues, her hair issues, her body issues, her issues’ issues. She has been delighted to just have all this time with me.

And I. Am. Exhausted.

The only time Hope is not chattering on or bouncing around is if we go somewhere. Her brain is so busy and so tired that it literally shuts down and she falls immediately asleep. Sometimes we can’t even get out of the parking lot of our condo property before she is asleep.

It makes me feel like those infant parents who take the kid on a drive in hopes that the kid will stop crying and fall asleep.

My brain and body have quite a bit more stamina and resilience than Hope’s so I’m able to hold it together until night fall, but the constant stimuli is just too damn much for me. I’m exhausted.

Sometimes while she’s talking I am literally wishing she would just be quiet. She never does though.

I take Yappy to the dog park nearly every day just to get a little quiet time, but then I low key chat with the other dog owners.

It just never ends and even extroverts need a break to recharge that small bit of ourselves that is introverted. I don’t even remember going to bed most nights, just mildly cursing when the alarm goes off in the morning because I know the interactions will start again within an hour.

How do introverts even kind of manage this level of interaction and engagement????

I’m hitting it hard right now because school is out and most of our evenings are free. I have an opportunity to make some headway on our relationship before the school year starts again.  I see the fruits of these labors, I do, but OMG this is just crazy.

How do folks manage the need to just go into your quiet closet to recharge a bit each day?


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