Tag Archives: Adoption and Parenting

Summer School

Yesterday I dropped Hope off at summer school.

It was kind of surreal. I got a taste of what my parents must’ve felt when they took me to my first summer program years ago. I went to a two-week writing program at Hampton University. I remember packing up the car with my things, arriving and watching my mom look around my dorm room with a bit of disdain about my living conditions. She and Daddy were at least happy that we had air conditioning.

I remember my parents looking around at how far the boys’ dorm was from the girls’ dorm. I recall them asking about the course schedule and fretting about whether I would be ok.

I’m now convinced that they were worried about whether they would be ok.

As I helped Hope lug her stuff to her dorm room and unpack I was really struggling to keep my emotions in check. In the week before move in, I realized just how much I’m going to miss my beautiful girl. I spent time indulging her with favorite foods, sweets, cuddles with Yappy and me on the couch. I hugged her, kissed her cheek and just loved on her.  By the time Hope used her key card to open her dorm door I was sporadically holding my breath. I was excited to give her this opportunity at something more. I felt worried about whether she’d like the food and if she’d make friends. I had mixed emotions about her not having a roommate but thought having her own space might be nice sometimes. I was happy she had her weighted blanket. I was miffed that she forgot her pillow and a few other things, even though I knew we would need to make a Walmart run because…don’t you always need to make a Wallyworld run when you move into a dorm?

I knew I would miss her so much. I knew Yappy would also look for her like he did this morning.

In the couple of days before move in, Hope just…sank. I knew she wasn’t excited about going, that there was a lot of anxiety about it and that my daughter was just resigned to go since I didn’t give her any other options once she was admitted. To see her withdraw broke my heart and I began to question my decision.

Oh, she was still going, but I wondered if sending her to an academic boarding program would hurt us. I wondered if the return on investment would give Hope a leg up this year, increase her confidence, help her with her social skills…I don’t expect a miracle, but I definitely hope to see Hope grow some this summer, but I pray that any growth doesn’t at the expense of our relationship.

It’s funny, I sold this experience to Hope as a chance to try on a bit of what it might feel like to go away to college. What I didn’t really appreciate is that it would be a chance for me to try on an empty nest. It feels strange that she didn’t walk through the door a little after 3pm or that she wasn’t here to ask me how I slept last night, something genuine and endearing she does every single day. It was strange to buy groceries for one after all this time.

I’m eager to hear from her tonight. I want to know how the first day was, how the food is, does she get along with her suitemate. I’m also hopeful that she’s having such a great evening, that she doesn’t get around to calling or texting me before lights out.

It’s all awesome and sucky all at the same time.

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Doing Right by Hope

I listen to a podcast called, Terrible, Thanks for Asking. A recent episode explored the feelings of a father and daughter who lost their wife and mother to cancer when the daughter was just a toddler. The father remarried and never really discussed his late wife, so his daughter was never sure whether it was ok to talk about her.

As I was listening to the show, I started wondering am I doing enough to make Hope feel comfortable talking about her birth family. We have a relationship with a portion of her birth family, and that has been a little hit or miss just based on Hope’s desire. I made sure that I got numerous pictures of one of her parents and they are hung prominently in our home. I have made it clear that whenever she is ready to visit her family, I’m down to make it happen. She expressed an interest in her birth mother, I looked for her and found her. When she said she was satisfied just knowing where she was but didn’t want contact, I put the info away and told her she can have it whenever she wants.

I’ve told her numerous times that if she wants to talk, I’m here. Anytime, anywhere.

And yet, I do wonder if I’ve created the right environment for Hope to feel like she can tell me what she needs around accessing her birth family.

I have learned that my daughter’s feelings about her family are complicated. There is a lot of loss, feelings of rejection, anger, but also love and affection. I know that my daughter can sign a birthday card and say that she hopes to see them soon, but when I ask to schedule a visit she says no, what she wrote was really just a pleasantry.

Early on, I fretted that her birth family would be upset that I was keeping her away from them. We are a four hours’ drive away but are connected by phone, email and social media. We’ve visited several times; of course, they would like us to visit more often. I don’t want to put up roadblocks to reunion if that’s what everyone wants. The reality is that my daughter’s idea of reunion and theirs don’t jive at this point. I’ve learned to be really honest with them about what she’s going through and how much contact she wants. Those are hard conversations to have with a family that also feels like Hope is the prodigal kid, who was lost and now found. I try to make sure that cards get sent, pictures and band concert programs are mailed so that they can see she’s doing well, but truth be told, there’s not much contact between Hope and her family.

On the daily, we don’t talk about her family of origin much either. Occasionally something will remind her of an episode from before my time and she’ll share it with me, usually something funny, sometimes something dark. The dark stuff is always very sad, and honestly, those are the stories that more often get repeated…verbatim. Therapy has helped her write some new scripts, but old habits and trauma die hard. Occasionally, I’ll ask about a parent and she’ll share a little story or shut down the conversation, depending on her mood. This is how we roll; I don’t have much to compare it to, so I guess this is normal. I listen to adult adoptees and know that it can be super complicated. I know that Hope will come into her own and decide if, how and when she wants more of a connection to her birth family. I just don’t ever want her to feel like she doesn’t have my support or that she can’t bring it up in our home. I try to follow her lead on creating and sustaining chosen connections.

On the whole, I feel like I’ve tried to create a space that supports her, values her family yet consistently prioritizes her emotional needs. It’s hard though; it’s complicated. I find myself wondering if I’m doing enough or too much sometimes. Hope is getting older; emotionally she’s still pretty young despite her gains over the last few years. I see her turning into a young adult; I see her questioning a lot of things about the world and about herself and about her personal history as she lived it and interprets it. I know in the coming years I’ll be transitioning from active parenting to a parent-guide of sorts as she comes into herself and launches into the world. I have no idea whether what I’m doing on the birth family stuff will bear fruit—or even what that means, honestly. I just know I want her to be happy and healthy, and I want her to know I’ll always ride hard for her.

I hope I’m doing right by Hope.


Contemplating Drama

Hope is a bit of a drama queen. I don’t even think it’s really about the attention; she usually goes full drama after she’s already being doused in attention. It’s also usually related to illness, even and especially when there’s nothing wrong with her. I’m not sure if it’s to up the ante, if it’s a triggering thing…I have no idea, but it drives me insane. And it usually makes it hard for me to believe any health-related whine she makes.

And…that makes me feel guilty when she really is sick.

Such is the case when my daughter clanged around in the dark this past weekend at 4am. Yappy and I poked our heads out from the covers…Ok, Yappy poked *his* head out and then I reluctantly followed. I called her name, asked if shew as ok and prayed that she was so I could roll back over.

The truth is that she’d complained for a couple of days about stomach pains, which isn’t really new. She’d complained before bed and I encouraged her to take some Advil, drink some water and go to bed. I’d heard her a few hours earlier, putzing around in the middle of the night. I slid my eyes closed and relished that it was Friday and I could sleep a little late.

Alas, Hope was really, really not feeling well. Like, really not feeling well.

Mom-mode was activated, and I began coordinating the effort to get us to the closest ER. We were at the hospital within 30 minutes and in a hospital bed in another 15.

We were there about 6 hours, but around hour 3 is when Hope brought the drama. I was bleary-eyed, craving coffee and chicken fingers and a pastry. I’d played numerous games of Mahjong and catnapped a few minutes here and there. So, when Hope decided that she could not tolerate having her IV flushed for the CT contrast she needed all hell broke loose with the CT tech, the orderly, the nurse and the doctor.

This was my face the whole time.

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I finally quietly asked everyone to leave me alone with my daughter for a few minutes as she raged in hysterics. I then went Darth Vader Mom on her. Seriously, I went off. I lost it on my kid who was in a hospital bed. I feel like I probably should feel guilty about doing the quiet, deadly yell but I don’t. Hope was so damn extra and I was so damn sleepy and hungry and getting that CT scan was going to be key in diagnosing the problem and that was necessary to get us out of the ER.

Hope’s hysterics were standing in the way of progress.

By the time I notified everyone that the CT with contrast *was* happening and that Hope was *now* ready for transport, my daughter looked more concerned about me than the CT scan, and rightfully so.

Meanwhile, I waited and worked on my fantasy where they put me in the CT or MRI scan, told me to hold still and then I fall asleep.

Of course, things from there went without a hitch, and we were out of the hospital with info on kidney stones an hour later. We stopped got some Starbucks and chicken fingers and had breakfast.

As I tucked my daughter in for a nap, I explained that sometimes I have trouble knowing how seriously to take her complaints, that I don’t understand the hysterics that turn on and off like a faucet, that the way my tolerance is set up I just can’t suffer a lot of her nonsense.

In the midst of all of this, I worried about Hope. The WebMD of my mind had diagnosed some awful things were wrong with Hope. I prayed. I fretted. I texted family. I felt a little scared, and in some moments lonely. Hope, for all her prickly, high drama antics, is my baby girl. I love her expansively.

As it turns out, Hope will be fine. She had a kidney stone; which prompted lots of family chatter about what would make a kid have stones?

I don’t know, so I reached out to our extended family; turns out family health history explains a lot (Yay #openadoption).

Hope will be fine. I am fine.

I’m going to sit with some mom guilt with a side of ER mom boss and contemplate how those things sit side by side in drama-filled parenting.

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More Than Love?

An interesting article was posted yesterday to the Today show’s website: Life After Adoption: Is Love Enough?

The essay is an autobiographical account of an adoptive mom who struggled to raise her son who was deeply affected by a traumatic past. Her essay posited that love simply is not enough when you are trying to help a child heal from their past.

Micah Johnson, host of the radio show, Unscripted, tweeted me, and others, this morning to ask if “is love enough” in adoption?

I started to tweet back and realized that I would be responding in like 100 tweets, so I figured I’d just turn it into a post on my own blog.

Is love enough in adoption?

Well, it depends on how we’re talking about love and how it’s expressed.

My short answer is no, it’s not enough. Managing my life with Hope at times is a second job filling the role of caseworker. There are appointments to be made, emails to write and follow up with, doctors to consult with, therapists to consult with, new therapeutic approaches to research, school social workers to touch base with and teachers to get together because they don’t understand what’s going on with my daughter.

It’s another job, and not an easy one. Right now, I’m finally breaking down and considering horse therapy for Hope—forget about the expense—I’m trying to figure out therapeutic goals, timing, and logistics to just get my daughter to an appointment once or twice a week at a facility that’s 40 miles away. But I think it will make a difference, so I gotta figure it out.

I think of it all like a project management situation. At times I have to be very clinical about the whole thing because if I let myself feel too much of the emotion of why Hope needs whatever it is that she needs or the secondary trauma that sometimes I catch because of the drama, I can’t make it all happen. I have to compartmentalize the ugly, heavy emotional stuff so I can get her therapeutic needs met.

It’s easy to compartmentalize all of the project/case management as separate from love for my daughter, but I make it happen because I love her.

It’s not more than love, it’s part of the way I express my love for her. Is it different than me packing her lunch, which I do every day? Well, not really. Is it different that typical parenting stuff like picking her up from band practice? Meh. The truth is: all this stuff is the kind of parenting my daughter needs and I do it because I love her and want her to have the opportunity to grow into her best self.

It’s extra, and it looks like more than just the hug and kiss that I get from her before school in the morning, but this is our version of a ‘normal’ loving home.

My love requires some extra stuff, and my love has required me to learn about stuff I never anticipated needing to know. This love has demanded different kinds of activities of me in supporting her. The needs were different, so the responses were different. This love can break my heart repeatedly as I try to help Hope. The love hurts sometimes. It sometimes even appears counterproductive. But in the end, it’s all love.

No, it doesn’t mean I love her more than other people love their kids or that I get extra heaven points (they would be nice tho!); it just means that loving Hope looks and feels different than loving a kid who wasn’t exposed to trauma and loss, among other things.

So, the answer to the question for me is, yes, love is enough but it just looks different, its demands are different and sometimes how it even makes me feel is very different.

And that’s ok.


Family Unions

This weekend Hope and I will travel to my mother’s hometown to join up with other descendants of my great-great grandparents. I haven’t attended a family reunion since I was a girl in grade school, so I’m excited to go see cousins from all over at a huge gathering of my people.

As I registered me and my daughter for this event, I really wondered about how Hope felt about attending this event.

Hope often remarks how large my side of our family is compared to her side. She comments on how her paternal side seems large but she just doesn’t really know many of the people even though they seem to remember her from when she was a small child.

Behaviorally, it’s clear that my daughter has found her place on my side of the family. She adores her aunts and cousins. She has relationships with her grands. We’re still working past the big emotions related to reclaiming her place on her side of her family. The visits are less frequent because of distance and emotional stability. The conversation is stilted and awkward. The perceived demands that she remember, forgive and embrace them all are hard to overcome. It’s definitely a work in progress.

But family gatherings during the holidays and summer break with my family seems substantially different than going to a family reunion. Did other descendants choose to build their families through adoption? I know of some kinship adoptions in our extended family, but there are still some relations there that just are.

Will Hope feel overwhelmed by the event—beyond her “I don’t like crowds” complaints? Will her new roots in this family be enough to make her feel safe at this event? Will she choose to blend in not mentioning our type of family or will she feel like she needs to separate herself by disclosing our adoption? How best do I make her feel safe with any choice she chooses to make?

My parents and a sister did our Ancestry DNA tests several months ago and have been intrigued and amused at the results. It’s interesting to see how DNA trickles through the bloodlines. I bought a test for Hope who at one point was very, very interested in doing her test, and then she just dropped it and resisted talking about it anymore. I wondered if all that was revealed in watching my immediate family go through the process, uncovering family secrets and connecting with far flung relatives, was just too much to consider for my daughter.

And so, here we are again, at the precipice of another major family event. Will my daughter embrace it? Will she be a distant observer and not feel connected to any of it? Will she reconcile that paper and blood can coexist in families? Will she feel something for these people…these strangers?

I would be lying if I didn’t say I had a lot of emotions about this family reunion. I’m excited to see kinfolk, but I don’t know how my daughter will fit this into her lived experience. I’m not sure what being sensitive looks like here. I’m sure I’ll figure it out, and hopefully maybe it won’t matter at all. Maybe, she will just slide in, grab a hotdog, sit down next to a distant cousin who is cute and figure it out. Sometimes she can be a total boss like that.

Taking my daughter to my/our family reunion is expanding her union and that feels really, really significant. I try to think of our biological families as tied together by us—similar to how families are joined in marriage—ours is joined in adoption. I think a lot about how unbalanced it already feels sometimes, and I wonder if and how this will add to that?

I wouldn’t want to not take Hope as that sends a dangerous signal. Hope is my daughter. Hope is my sole beneficiary to everything that’s mine. She is my lovely, beautiful girl. She is my daughter. Of course, she goes to the family reunion.  Duh! That’s a non-starter.

But there’s always another side to things and that’s Hope’s feelings about it.

I’ve asked her about it. She hasn’t said much. So, I guess I’ll press forward, put on my family reunion t-shirt on Saturday morning, see if Hope puts on her family ‘union’ t-shirt and see what happens. Whatever happens I’ll be there for her as usual.


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.


Thoughts on Discipline

I’ve been writing about how I’m trying to let natural consequences rule the day when it comes to discipline around these parts. In some ways it’s working; in others, not so much.

As I write this Hope is about to miss the bus again and make her way down to the bus stop. Of this three-day school week, she’s clocking two late days. It’s time for me to look and see if she will eventually get detention for her tardiness; maybe that will make a difference. I don’t know.

I am still struggling with letting it go and not intervening too much. The instinct is to protect one’s kid from consequences. You don’t want them to suffer or hurt, but they also need to understand that life requires some discipline.

I think my strengths are better applied to responding to clear rule breaking.  Recently Hope broke a pretty significant house rule. The funny thing is I wouldn’t have known about it if she didn’t insist on snitching on herself. Seriously, she is a leaky bucket when it comes to keeping a secret.

Anyhoo, I had to sit down after our initial calm confrontation and think about what to do. Over time I’ve come up with a bunch of questions that I ask myself as I think through discipline.

Ok, so, there is a broken rule.

Does this really require a response?

Am I angry?

Is there any humor in this situation?

Do I understand why she did it?

Is this a trauma thing?

Is this a dumb teen thing?

Is this an adoption thing?

Will certain kinds of discipline trigger more undesirable behaviors?

If yes, is it really worth it?

Is safety a concern?

Can I have a glass of wine?

How can I end this unpleasant experience with a relaxing glass of vino?

I’ve created a Venn diagram of my decision tree.

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All decisions end with “Drink Wine.”

I try to be consistent, but I also try to be sure to avoid triggers. I also need to make sure that we stay connected throughout the experience; I don’t want to push her away.

I often think about how when I was punished as a kid I was sent to my room or grounded. I was restricted. With Hope…I can’t do that. I need to find ways of applying a consequence while still drawing her close to me to continue to foster attachment.

It’s confusing, especially when I am annoyed. I don’t want to be close when I’m pissy.

I’ve had to learn how to let things go and let them go quickly. That’s not my nature, but I have to for Hope’s sake.

The evening of our leaky bucket conversation, I sat her down and told her what she was going to have to do because she broke the rules.

Hope was angry. She raised her voice. I kept mine even. I explained my reasoning.

And then I dropped it.

I’d like to think I got it right, because she proceeded to spend the next two hours hanging out with me, being goofy. We laughed. We fixed dinner.

I finally had to send her off to finish her homework.

This isn’t how I was disciplined. I don’t remember wanting to hang out after getting a consequence. I don’t think my parents did anything wrong. But this is super different than what I understood it to be. It feels foreign, but not bad.

Hey, I did get my glass of wine at the end of the evening!

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Clouds of Sadness

The range of emotions felt at Casa d’ABM is pretty wide. I’ve always been pretty high strung, and I’ve written about my own struggle with depression in this space before. Living with a teenager is pretty tumultuous. The hormones…O.M.G. It’s amazing, really. I am convinced that I didn’t display the full range of crazy that I was feeling during my adolescence—not that I didn’t have the emotional swings, but that I didn’t act out.

Lots of people think my parents were strict; to some degree they were, but really they set high expectations and I had absurdly high expectations for myself. With the bar so high I was mindfully cautious about acting out.

I was a bit jealous of kids who didn’t seem to approach adolescence the same way. I wished I’d sneaked out more; went to more movies I wasn’t supposed to see. I did a fair amount of boozing my senior year, but still there was a hard limit on what I would do. Not a bad thing, but a self-control thing that gave me hang ups later in life.

So, now, years later, having a teenaged daughter who is a trauma survivor, is impulsive, at times angry, and seeming always sad…well it makes for an emotional roller coaster for all of us.

Except for Yappy—world’s happiest dog.

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So I guess that should say both of us.

This is an especially hard time of the year for Hope. Lots were crammed into the summer months of her young life. This year the memories seem to be crushing. We get treatment, therapy, but sometimes the sadness moves in faster than a weather cold front.

And if you know anything about weather, cold fronts, hitting warm air means storms. Sometimes really, really, crazy storms.

That happens here. The storms are a bit quieter now than when we first became a family, but they are no less disruptive or worrisome.

I try to remind myself that the frequent presence of emotional storm, complete with downpours, represent that this is a safe place. Hope is able to express her full range of emotions in our home. This is a safe place to work through it all; she can emote here.

But here’s the thing, secondary trauma and compassion fatigue are real. It’s not just about loving Hope; it’s about demonstrating empathy (constantly); managing our life as a therapeutic case; navigating big and little decisions that may have triggering effects; always being anxious waiting for the other shoe to drop after stumbling over a trigger.

It is exhausting for both of us. Hope can sleep for hours and hours sometimes. I know that part of it is that her young body is run down and exhausted from fighting her own fight/flight response to life. I know the other part is just coping with the overwhelming sadness that she lives with.

On the weekends I am eager to resume my old life of running errands, hitting the gym, spending the afternoons and evenings doing something fun. I end up running the errands that I have to in order to keep the house running; taking Yappy to the dog park and waiting to see if I can help Hope get herself together. By evenings, I’m emotionally done and I don’t even feel like I’ve done anything.

We might’ve tried a new restaurant or rented but didn’t watch the Redbox movie I picked up in hopes of having some fun family time.

The reality is that a happy house is a rare scene around these parts. It’s about trying to survive and fighting to push the clouds of sadness away.

I hear that the hormonal part will settle down in another year or two; I hope so. Self-care helps with my ability to cope, but living with this level of stress is tough. It is exhausting. It is depressing.

So we both end up sharing her trauma. It ends up being cloudy and sad for both of us. I look forward to a day when it won’t be so overwhelming for Hope, that the depression she feels won’t consume her life, when so many things won’t be triggering.  When that happens for Hope, it know it will happen for me too.


Lessons Learned #8741

I haven’t officially written about lessons learned while parenting through adoption in many moons. As I sit in a hotel in Michigan this morning I realize that I really learned some cool things in the last few days.

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Business travel is a form of respite. This isn’t really a new lesson, as much as I really need a reminder sometimes. Hope and I actually get along much better when I travel at least once a month for work. It can be such a hassle getting everything in place to go away without a bunch of worry. She’s also a little older now and when I leave she tends to step up a bit more. Seriously, just being in a hotel where I can leave my clothes on the floor (something I don’t do at home) is simply indulgent. Even room service—wow, someone brings me food without kvetching about it. The validation I get after a lecture or a meeting; that’s something I don’t get at home much, so the ego stroke is super nice. I’ve been on the road for 5 of the last 7 days and it’s been marvelous.

Travel also gives me perspective, which is essential.  Back during the first year to 18 months, Hope and I would video chat while I was away. It was fun since we would also download apps that would allow us to draw on each other’s faces and make funny noises and everything. And then, one day, she didn’t want to anymore.

I was sad. I was kinda hurt too.

Every time I head out of town, I ask, “Hey you want to video chat while I’m away?”

“Nope.”

When I was leaving on Friday last week, she said, “Dang mom, you’re coming back!”

It was like a light bulb went off.

Hope knows I’m coming back. She believes I’m coming back. She’s secure in knowing I’m coming back. She doesn’t need to see me, sometimes acts like she doesn’t even need to talk to me, while I’m away, because my daughter who was afraid of being deserted knows I’m coming back.

I smiled because that’s probably the biggest positive development ever—she feels safe, even when I get on her nerves, even when we bicker, even when we yell, even when it all falls down around us, she knows I got her.

I am overwhelmed in trying to figure out how to handle all of this education stuff.  It’s not that I don’t know how; I’m so fortunate to work in education and to have some street cred with the whole doctorate. It’s really that I’m swimming in information. I’ve been doing a lot of reading, a lot of research, trying to figure out strategies might help us, what might help click some things into the right place. Trying to get a plan together is exhausting—who knows what will work.

I’m still not good at patience; I’m still not all that great with figuring out long games versus short wins. I’m still developing those skills, I guess.

Tomorrow I’ll get the latest psychologist report back and start that planning process all over again.

Hope use to groan about all of the appointments and conversations; she doesn’t anymore and I know it’s because she also wants to believe we can figure this life knot out and help try to smooth her path a bit.

I want to believe it too.

Yappy is turning into one of the great loves of my life.  I honestly didn’t think I was capable of loving a pup again the way I loved The Furry One, but my terror of a terrier has wormed his way into my heart. He really is a comforting critter when things are hard, and his attachment to me…it’s probably unhealthy, but gosh, I love that he loves me more. It ain’t right, but it’s real.

You could not pay me to be a teenager again.  I remember these years—they are coming back to me because really, I had banished it from my memory—these years kinda sucked. I mean, there were some awesome times with my best girlfriends and all the football games, the sports I played, the fellas I pined after and/or dated. But the insecurity, the hormone swings, the drama, so much drama. The boys and what I liked about them and what made me dislike them.

Over dinner out this evening, Hope was telling me about some boy in her band section that she must’ve had a 15 minute crush on. She went on to say how the crush abruptly ended when she saw him sleeping ugly on the charter bus on the spring band trip.

What, that’s it? That’s all he did?  He slept ugly?

Yep, that’s what did him in.

I start scrolling through my phone pics, “You mean like this one? Or this one? Or what about this one?”{all pics of Hope sleeping less than ‘pretty’.}

“MOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMM!”

I’m also reliving a good portion of this developmental phase because Hope loves to talk. Now, I’m incredibly grateful that she does talk to me and that she wants to talk to me, but some of this ish is so utterly ridiculous that I actually feel precious brain cells slipping away.

It is hard feigning interest after say, the first 45 minutes of really trying to follow along.

Dear Holy Homeboy, help us all. Teenager-dom is hard work. Hard, hard work that is sucking my brain through a small, painful straw.

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So, the lessons are always coming, even when I don’t write about them! We are on the upswing and this time apart is giving us both an opportunity to breathe, think and reflect.


Communication Problems

When I was in elementary school I was enrolled in a program called TAG. It was a program for “gifted” (yeah, right) kids who needed a bit more intellectual stimulation to nurture them. For the first couple of years it was cool; TAG was fun.  We did lots of puzzles, logic games, stock market games, brain teasers and the like. By the time I got to middle school TAG was a drag. I was being pulled out of my classes to go, and the activities weren’t really entertaining anymore. They felt more like work.

The big kicker, though, was that being in TAG in middle school made me different; it put me firmly in the “nerd” social caste, which was akin to being untouchable unless someone wanted to copy your homework.

Nerd coming this way!NERD ALERT!

I enjoyed writing even back then. So, I wrote a pretty passive-aggressive play for the fall festival. It was all about how TAG had become socially stigmatizing for me, how I hated it, and that I really didn’t want to go anymore.

My TAG teacher was basically like, “Oh, ok….sooooo, you want us to perform *this* play at the fall festival?”

Yep.

In hindsight, I’m guessing that she probably called my parents to give them a heads up that I was using my “talent” to say “Screw this program, I’m dunzo!”

My parents sat and watched the play that fall night, and we drove home in near silence. I don’t know if they were embarrassed or proud or what they were feeling, but I distinctly remember the energy in the car being kind of thick. Frankly, I’d gone through all of the trouble of writing a play, convincing my teacher that I wanted to do it and dragging some classmates into the performance—I wanted a response dang it.

I got one.

Eventually Dad said something like, “Sooooo, you don’t want to go to TAG anymore? You could have just said so. You don’t have to go anymore.”

And that was the end of TAG.

Looking back all those years, I don’t know why I couldn’t just tell my folks I wanted to quit the program. I just remember that talking to them didn’t even really seem like a viable option to getting to my desired goal.

I also don’t remember considering whether they might be embarrassed by my elaborate “messaging.” In many ways we’re a down to earth family, but I’ve always, always felt like we were concerned with our image. Or maybe it was really just me. My family was very involved in church; I always felt like I needed to behave in a way that would honor their positions for fear someone might see me acting out. I don’t know if that was me or if it really was a family thing, but it was an enormous amount of pressure I put on myself way back when, at such a young age. Ironically, I would never have dreamed of doing that kind of play at our church; gosh, parishioners would have talked about me forever. We couldn’t have them saying bad things about me. Nope.

I’ve carried that pressure to perform with me always, so it’s probably more internally driven, I guess. Achievement means a lot to me; a lot a lot. I have failed, but I’ve succeeded more than I’ve failed—which in hindsight is probably a bad thing.

I live in an area of the US where status is a cultural touchstone. We meet someone new, learn their name and ask what they do for a living. Sure we may be genuinely interested, but many also do some social sorting based on the response.

It’s a rat race of keeping up, at least for me, it’s always been that way. I guess it is hard wired as I describe it here.

So, as a new mom, this image conscious, high achieving, control freak has met her match, and I. Am. Losing.

I can’t even say I fear failure anymore because me and failure are like…BFFs now. Probably not, but it feels like it so it might as well be so.

Every one of my magical super powers of problem solving, Olivia Pope-fixing, being a total badass with a sterling reputation that I prided myself in have all come crashing down like a mirror around me. And I’m sure there’s a black cat somewhere lurking about (no offense to black cats…).

I have internalized the need to “fix” Hope, to be validated as a mom by the people who mean the most to me, to want to feel like I am totally winning at life. And well, I might not be able to do those things and that reality is settling over me such that I seem like a shadow of my former self.

The one thing I want to do the most, help Hope, seems to be the one thing I can’t do. Now intellectually I know that this is a long haul process, and that in the cosmic scheme of things, we *are* winning, but it doesn’t feel like it. And intellectually I know how this is all supposed to work, but see…my imagined reality is soooooo off, it’s not even funny.

I am not ashamed of my little family, on the contrary, I’m so proud of me and Hope and our naughty pup, Yappy, but our success is so radically different than how I saw and defined success before. It’s different than how my social and professional circles defined success. It’s like I tripped and fell into an alternative universe.

I’m on Star Trek, and well…I never really was into Star Trek.

It’s so different and hard to describe and explain that it’s easier to be somewhat self-isolating rather than to try to build bridges back to my pre-mom life.

Right now, I can’t keep up with the Jones’ of my pre-mom life, and so I feel like I’m slowly drifting away from so many of those connections. I am so insecure about how my new brand of success will be viewed. It’s awful, and it’s really not fair. It feels so very shallow because I am giving up on relationships, things, people that were once important to me because I can’t fix my mouth to just explain that my life is so different now, and I need people, I need emotional connections, I need reassurance, I need to get my cup filled. I’m guessing it’s probably offensive to my dear friends because I have convinced myself that they just won’t understand.

Oh, look there’s that self-loathing again!

I’m going through a lot of mental and social gymnastics rather than just calling up pals and saying,

“Hey, how are you? I miss you. My life is so different now,

you really cannot imagine,

no, really, you have NO EFFIN IDEA!

I don’t want to bore you to tears with the ups and downs

(besides I might breakdown in tears, snot and whatnot),

but there are massive ups and downs and some days it’s just soul crushing,

mind-erasing, and earth shattering in good and bad ways,

and I don’t feel like I can talk about it because so many folks

(but not everyone) assume it’s just “Add Water and Stir.”

I could really use a bourbon; don’t you want a bourbon too?

Can we grab a drink and catch up?

Yeah, I’ll bring Hope next time, but right now,

I just need some grown folks’ time to hang out like we used to…”

Instead, I’m writing 1300 word essays that echo a “quit” play I wrote in 6th grade.

Sigh.

At least I’m consistent, right? Consistency is supposed to be good for parenting…Ha!

Local peeps…if you’re reading, get at ya girl because I’m not sure I can break out of my rut to reach out first.

He Ain’t Heavy by Gilbert Young


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