Tag Archives: Adoption and Trauma

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.


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.

 


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.


The Losses are Real

I never understood the gravity of real loss until I became Hope’s mother. I look back and realize that there isn’t much at all that I’ve lost in my 43 years around the sun. Sure, I have grieved for long gone family members; lost some friends. I have grieved deeply about my infertility. I’ve lost some sentimental tangible items along the way.

And certainly each of these losses have touched me and either created or smoothed my edges. But, honestly, beyond the loss of fertility, none of my losses have been earth shattering, grand scale life altering.

I am fortunate.

I am privileged.

I think about that every time I trip or kick over an emotional rock in an otherwise innocuous chat with Hope.

There is so much loss in her life; it permeates her skin, her breath, her beating heart. There are times when the memories of the loss are just overwhelming, all consuming and it’s like she watching things on a loop in her head.

I see this a lot with Hope. And I still struggle to really understand what that means, what that must feel like. I don’t know what it’s like to try to put the shred of memories in my life back together because they are like broken, scattered marbles that were dropped down the side of a hard faced mountain. #trauma

When I think about it, I mean really think about it, I totally understand why it’s so hard to get her up in the mornings. I wouldn’t want to get up and consciously ponder all those things for the next 18 hours or so either.

Hope has some summer reading to do for school; recently she commented that she had no interest in reading the books that were assigned. At my initial inquiry what was it about the books that she didn’t like, she indicated that it wasn’t really about the books.

Hope said she loved to read when she was little, would curl up with books and read for hours, but she stopped reading when she went into the system. Her beloved books were lost to her; she doesn’t know what happened to most of them. She only was able to salvage a few; they are on her book case in our home. Hope briefly talked about how some of the books were so sentimental and they were just…gone, gone like so many other things that were lost during that time.

As it turns out, sitting down to dive into a good book triggers memories of all that’s been loss for Hope.

I thought back to my various efforts to get her to read over the last couple of years. I tried everything I could to get her to read. She read a couple of things; mostly faked it, though. I had no idea I was essentially saying, “Hey spend the next couple of hours thinking about losing everything, especially the stuff and the people who meant everything to you. No, DO IT NOW!!”

I just had no idea, but now I do. I told her I understood.

I’ll still encourage her to read, but certainly with a lot more sensitivity than before.

I hope there will be a time when Hope’s life isn’t consumed about all she’s lost—not for my sake, but for hers. She’s still a little girl though (even at 15), and in reality, all the trauma wasn’t that long ago. The path to healing is a long one, with lots of potholes. I am learning to be patient with her. I’m also learning to empathize more deeply. I realize just how fortunate I’ve been in this life, and I want Hope’s life to flourish. I want her to have faith again.

To get there though, we have to wade through loss like we’re in a mud bog, praying that it doesn’t take us down. It might be all in our heads at this point, but make no mistake—it’s all very, very real.


Thoughts on Racial Identity Development

I’ve been fretting lately…fretting about Hope and her Blackness or rather her racial development.

Did you know that moving from the initial stage (pre-encounter stage) of racial identity development to the second stage (encounter stage) is usually precipitated by a negative encounter around race for people of color?

In lay terms, we all are getting along peachy keen until some dingbat says/does something racist, pointing out that the brown or black kid is different and that difference is bad.

For me, this happened when I was little, before I even started kindergarten. It’s a moment that I have long likened to eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The evil is knowing that people hate me because of my skin color and might go so far as to hurt and/or kill me. The good is having this knowledge and avoiding the naiveté that might get you killed. Racial identity is built on this foundation. If you are privileged not to have to this experience then your identity as a racialized person is stunted, and your privilege is allowed to bloom, so says the research.

I know that there have been events in Hope’s life that meet the criteria that would push a regular kid to the next stage of racial development, but given all that she’s endured it doesn’t seem to have registered. So much of her development in general was negatively affected. The racial piece, well, maybe it just didn’t register when she was just trying to survive.

I get all that. I really do. That said, racial identity development then is recognized as just another area that has to catch up.

When Hope first moved in 2.5 years ago, I remember being a bit put off because all the posters of pop stars were white, with very, very few exceptions—Selena Gomez, the Black girl in 5th Harmony and Bruno Mars. Turns out there aren’t really any teeny bopper pop stars of color these days. Hope’s not really into Beyonce or Rihanna so…yeah, white kids on the wall it is.

We dealt a little while with colorism and issues around Hope wishing she had lighter brown skin. Ughhhhh, she still vocalizes this when we go shopping for tinted moisturizers (#damnmakeup).

Then I noticed she only liked white or Hispanic boys; there aren’t many Black kids in the band and only like one or two boys and ok, they aren’t her type. So there aren’t many kids of color in her social circles here; they heavily populated her circles back home, but it’s like she left it all behind.

Recently, I realized during a social outing that she deliberately avoids kids of color; she doesn’t even want to associate with them. Same with my efforts to have us “friend date” other families with kids of color. She wants nothing to do with it.

I know she struggled with my version of Blackness; I was really different than the Black folk she had previously experienced. She even told me one time that in some ways it was like I wasn’t really Black. I struggled with that, and I don’t know if it’s my perceived unicorn status or what, but she is ok with me and my bougie, upwardly mobile, educated black folk. But she doesn’t seem interested in accepting the black diaspora.

And maybe it’s too much for me to expect from her at this point. She is still healing from all her trauma, embracing Blackness as an identity is probably not even on her subconscious list of things with which to grapple.

It doesn’t stop my fretting though, as I watch my beloved Hope cloak herself in social Whiteness. Even if I hope it never happens, I know that something will happen, something that will hurt her. I hope that her friends will be wonderful allies. They are good kids, but they aren’t forced to think about the things I think about, the dangers that our color expose us to, they don’t have to think about it unless they choose to.

From a parenting perspective it’s odd; I am glad that she’s bridging some of her social challenges, but I feel some kind of way about her not having any brown or black friends and her refusal to pursue any of those kinds of relationships. I’d love to see a mix of folks in her life who love her and support her. I want her to have safe spaces—sure her White friends can offer that, but I fret that having no friends of color limits her safe spaces if and when something goes down.

Add to this, my abject horror in thinking about police brutality, microaggressions, the resurgence of laws codifying acceptable discrimination and a nation’s willingness to increasingly accept racist discourse.

I worry.

Actually, describing my emotion as worry is an understatement. I am afraid. I’m also aware that all of this has a huge impact on my own well-being. I think the current political environment has exacerbated my emotion around Hope’s racial identity development. It’s complicated. I also know that this process is a natural one; it is not something I can control. I can’t control when, where or how it might happen.

I can only be there for my daughter. That’s it.

But it doesn’t feel like enough. Hugging her tight and soothing her over what might feel like an enormously painful betrayal, just doesn’t feel like enough. Teaching her how to move past it doesn’t feel like enough. Nurturing her healing doesn’t feel like enough.

I wish I could make it all go away. I wish I could make racism all go away. I wish I could make the need for this kind of identity development vanish. I just wish I could protect her from every other thing that might make her path hard; she’s suffered enough. I just want to keep her safe.

But I can’t, not from everything.

I know that, but it still breaks my heart.


She’s Got a Safe Place

This week Hope was invited to a sleepover with a friend. She was invited to stay over a friend’s house last month, but I said no since I didn’t know the girl’s parents. This week, I did my due diligence, called the mom, had a nice chat and allowed Hope to go.

She was so excited.

So. Was. I.

Seriously, do you know what this means???????

Ok, here’s all the ish I’m supposed to say: OMG, my daughter is improving her social skills. She’s developing solid friendships. She’s being invited to parties and sleep overs. She’s finally, finally starting to blend in and find her groove socially, something that has really been so hard for her. Her social struggles, among other things, have been the source of much anxiety and depression, so I’m ecstatic about this development. Yay.

On the real, though, OMG!!!!! Hope’s social evolution also means some freedom for me. I might have some Fridays and Saturdays with Elihu and friends just cold chillin’ this summer.

Check it, last night after she happily kissed me good bye, tossing her backpack over her shoulder, striding out of the house confidently, I cabbage-patched my way to the coffee table to grab the remote. I cupid-shuffled on into the kitchen to pour myself a tumbler of red wine to go with some tortellini. I snaked my way to my beloved couch, clicked on Netflix and began what I expected to be a quiet evening with Yappy binge watching Orange Is the New Black.

dancing

I got through two episodes.

Just as I was padding into the kitchen to pour myself another tumbler of wine and smash another brownie, I got the wild hair to text Hope goodnight and that I loved her.

She called me back.

ABM’s internal millisecond monologue: “Awww, baby girl loves me! She’s actually calling me back. I bet she’s going to tell me what time to pick her up in the morning. Occasionally, she can be so darn sweet. I love this kid.”

What actually happened: “Um, hi mom. Um. I think I’m going to come home. I am not going to stay at XX’s house.”

1million

I’m sorry, what???

Wait, what? I’ve only watched two episodes of OITNB! I’ve only had one tumbler of wine and one brownie. I haven’t even put on my good lounge wear yet. Something must be horribly wrong.

No, nothing’s really wrong, the movie creeped her out she just wanted to come home.

Huh? The movie? The rated R horror movie that you insisted wasn’t a big deal and that I was being a stick in the mud about because I didn’t normally let you go, but this time I relented because you were going to a sleep over and well, horror movies are a part of sleepover culture?

That movie?

For realsies?

Yeah, that one.

Just when I think we’ve gotten all the missed developmental hoops out of the way, the one where you get scared on your first sleep away and need to go home hits us square between the eyes.

Sigh. There are just so many little landmines on this journey to emotional health and well-being that you really, just can’t catch them all. You just can’t!

There was a silver lining though.

Kids who get scared on their first sleep away want to go home because home is safe. Hope called her mommy (that would be me) and she wanted to come HOME to her MOMMY where its SAFE!!!!!

I smiled and started cabbage patching again.

It’s true sometimes when they say a setback is a setup for something better.

I was nervous about her being away. I enjoyed my evening so much, but I kinda missed just having her in the house. If she had been here she probably would’ve been in her room not talking to me, but she would’ve been here. It was strange to be in on a Friday night and not have her here. In truth there were a few mixed emotions there. I was thrilled for her and for this rite of passage, but it only reminded me that I may only have her this close for a few years before she flies off into adulthood. I want that for her, but gosh the time is flying by so dang fast. This week she will celebrate her third birthday with me. In a year she will be able to drive (I don’t know if she WILL drive, but she’ll be legally able to do so). In three years, she’ll finish high school and don a cap and gown and stride across a stage to pomp and circumstance while I cheer and use Elihu’s hankie to mop my tears of joy.

It’s just going so fast.

But Hope’s desire to come back to home base where it’s safe is so significant. Her willingness to share with me that she was scared and needed a hug is such a big deal. Her desire for me to toss some salt at her door and window (to ward off evil spirits and purify the space) and her desire for Yappy to cuddle for a while with her are all such big leaps for her, that I was happy to give up the remaining hours of my freedom.

I was happy to greet her at the door with a big smile and a warm, safe hug.


Competition Pains

So this happened this week.

20160607_110919I had hand surgery on Monday, and I’m dictating this post (ain’t technology grand?). I’m in this pretty impressive bandage until next Tuesday. If you can’t see it, the bandage also covers my thumb, and as it goes, you actually do need your thumb for a lot of stuff, like a lot of stuff.

So, I’m laid up a good portion of this week.

The upside? I actually needed the downtime. There’s something wrong with your life force when you actually look forward to anesthesia sleep.  So I cancelled a few things on my calendar. Used dictation to remain somewhat productive and lowered my expectations of myself.

I actually took a nap today, and let me tell you, that ish was deeeeelicious! Yappy and I got back in bed and snoozed for a good hour and it almost briefly lived up to my fantasy of napping on white bedding with the perfect temperature and the ceiling fan whirling at mid-speed.

I’m wearing comfy, flowy clothes since I have time pulling up pants or clasping undies. So I’m just “free.”

So, aside from the hand/thumb situation (and the plastic bag I need to wear in the shower) I’m resting, snuggling with Yappy, and being nice and comfy.

And then there’s Hope.

You know, I proudly admit my petty, but seriously, Hope’s need for attention is just so extra sometimes that it really provokes my next level pettiness and that’s hard to manage. I’ve got a big arse cast and now she’s complaining about how her wrist hurts, how she can’t use her hands, how she’s suffering.

I swear, I can’t have a friggin few days to be the “catered to invalid.” She’s actually worse than she was 7 months ago with my last surgery. The narcissism is strong around these parts.

Hope hardly does chores, but my requests to walk Yappy are met with the usual teen “ugh’s” despite seeing how he jerks me on walks and how that not only causes me pain, but could mess up my surgical bandaging.

We ran into a neighbor this morning who asked me how my recovery was going; Hope jumped in and shared how her arm was greatly pained and that she really needed the offered prayers more than me. The neighbor gave me a WTH look and I just rolled my eyes.

At tutoring, she insisted that she was just in too much pain to hold a pencil.

Really girl?

Oh, I get it, I do. I get that she is a serious thirst trap for attention right now. I have finally realized that she really just wants to be around me—even if she insists on being a pain in the arse. I get that she can be a bottomless pit of need and that we are currently inhabiting the pit. But damn, can I get a few days? Can you bring me some damn beans and rice? Can you ask how I’m feeling?

Hey, how about you not compete with me on pain levels when I have on a frigging cast?

A CAST, GOSH DARN IT. A FRIGGING CAST!!!!

Seriously, I am in a fight for attention, and apparently sympathy, with my daughter…except that I’m not. She’s in this competition alone.

I finally get forced self-care; seriously, I let things get so crazy that the only way I will stop, drop and rest is to have a surgeon cut into and all around my effing wrist. Can I enjoy the lovely time to rest with a slight, but delightful medically-induced haze in peace?

Can you just walk the dog without me having to play along like I’m going to take you to the emergency room to have your wrist looked at?

Can I just live?

Damn.

I am so annoyed, and while I totally get why she is so self-centered and why it is hard for her to consistently demonstrate empathy, it doesn’t mean that I don’t get totally pissy and petty about it. I still love her like mad, but she can take her competition pains and shove it.


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


Beauty and the Beast

Houston, we have a problem. I might’ve mentioned recently, the Hope has started sneaking food again, but I probably didn’t mention that she has generally stopped eating lunch. She’s stopped eating lunch at lunch, but still wants me to pack her a lunch. Usually, Hope will wait to pick through her lunch at home in the evenings and snarf the bits she likes and leave the bits that she doesn’t.

It drives me nuts for so many reasons. I get up early to pack lunches that often don’t get eaten. I buy snacks that last only about half the time they are supposed to, and I find food wrappers all over the place because despite my constant exhortations, Hope leaves wrappers strewn about and/or stuffed in her clothing and desk drawers.

This thing of Hope’s—the sneaking, hoarding and lack of cleanliness—seems to be a mixture of food security issues and teenage junk food cravings and nastiness.

Hope is my lovely Beauty in this story.

Yappy is the beast.

Our lovely little terrier mix is a hunter-gatherer. He has an absurdly strong nose and can root out possible food treats like we’ve been starving him and he’s about to have his Last Supper with the Holy Homeboy. Typically we ban Yappy from entering Hope’s room because of his hunting/gathering desires. One of personal highlights is when Hope leaves the door open to her room; he has that rare opportunity to hunt for treasure.

I bet you can see where this story is going…

Recently, I found chunks of a three day old chicken sandwich under my bed. Yappy had sought out the food from Hope’s open lunch box on her floor, dragged it to my room, dispatched with the cling wrap and tried to devour the old sandwich. Of course it made him sick.

Just awesome.

I found these lovely presents under my bed (aka Yappy’s Lair) while fishing him out to put him in his crate for the night.

Me: Hope did you put a sandwich in your trash can?

Hope: No.

Me: Did you put food wrappers in your trash can? (She’s not allowed because of the risk of bugs and because Yappy roots through her trash).

Hope: Nope.

Sigh.

I clean the mess under the bed.

I open the door to Hope’s room. I find the remnants of last week’s lunch and wrappers. Oh and the trash is full of wrappers.

Sigh.

Me: Hope, there are wrappers in the trash and all over the floor.

Hope: Oh, I forgot.

Me: Hope, your lunch from last week is strewn about the floor.

Hope: Bad Dog.

Me: Bad Hope and bad dog. You lied and you left food out.

Hope: (not meaning it) Sorry.

We have worked on the food stuff in therapy. We have had brief periods of dormancy. I have tried calm responses. I have tried outrage. I have given consequences, I have pitched fits, I have taken to just cleaning her room myself on a regular basis because it seems she can’t or won’t. I have even tried banning food in the room, but she always finds a way—I think she gets up at night to sneak food. I’m wondering if I’m going to have to move all the snack food to my closet so they are inaccessible. But that doesn’t solve the messiness or the Beast’s treasure hunts.

I’m not sure what else to do. The next stop seems to be full on food poisoning leading to a vet visit along with an infestation of pests.

I really need a vacation.

Suggestions [not for the vacation; for the Beauty and the Beast problem]?????


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