Tag Archives: Adoptive Parenting

Thoughts on Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mistakes I made were countless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2019 Parenting Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your parenting goals for 2019?


Five Years

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

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

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

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

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

In a word, no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Year of Transition

I finished my vision board earlier this week. I started it on New Year’s Day and got stuck, so it sat on my screen for a week.

I usually choose a word that drives me for the year. Originally, I thought 2019 would be about liberation. I would be even more liberated in m travel. I would try to make some moves to make this writing thing, well, a thing. I would continue to make and achieve my financial goals which would bring me closer to financial liberation. I would pursue companionship, hopefully shedding some of my hang ups that have shaped my love life for so long. I would continue to wrestle with the emotional part of empty nesting with Hope soon off to college, possibly reframing it as a way to think about some adult freedoms to do things I haven’t done in years.

In all things, I would do, I would pursue personal freedom, my own little forms of liberation.

And most of those things are still on my vision board; they are very much a part of my plan.

But I realized over the last couple of weeks with Hope home, that I don’t think I’ll really have much of an empty nest. I’m not sure where Hope will be after graduation. To be honest, I worry a bit that we won’t make it to graduation. It’s made me think a lot about what that means for Hope, but with respect to my vision board, it made me also spend a lot of time pondering what it means for me.

Mothering Hope is not quite all consuming. Some days are less intense than others. This is not complaining but just a description of my experience with my daughter. Even the great days can be consuming. Like most parents, I am able to do a bit of revisionist history when I reflect on these few years. I am able at times to gloss over the many times that had me laying awake at night quietly praying for us to get through an especially challenging trauma-shaped period.

These few months with her away at school taught me just how much my own life had been shaped by secondary trauma. The anxiety, the depression, the fear, I had become so used to this especially heightened state of being that I didn’t realize how much trauma had just rubbed off on me.

And while I spent some time coming down from that state, I also transitioned to something new distance parenting. I case manage from 75 miles away. Finding new health care providers, therapists, hypnotists, pharmacies…building relationships with new teachers, guidance counselors, resident advisors. I beat the highway twice a month to see her, manage the bank accounts, buy way more ramen than I ever thought I would. I definitely still parent, but with Hope in such a structured school, I am not consumed in the same ways I was before. My day to day exposure to her trauma was limited, and I think I was able to heal a little.

As I look forward, I am unsure what will happen this summer and this fall.  Hope and I are waiting for the colleges to make their decisions and then we will figure out our options and make ours. It’s a weird time for her, for me and for us. I hope she gets admitted somewhere—she needs the emotional boost. That’s the first hurdle. Then I wonder whether she’s ready to go anywhere; these last few weeks at home and her first semester grades suggest maybe college isn’t really for her at least right now. And if it’s not, then what will being at home look like for us. She has done minimal volunteering and hasn’t had a job yet. She still doesn’t have her driver’s license. What will I expect of her if she is home for a long period of time; how will our relationship change?

There’s just a lot that is up in the air, and I’m thinking about all of it all the time. And thinking about something all the time is not liberation.

So, we’re in transition.

I’m in transition.

I’m moving into another life chapter. A lot of my personal goals remain the same, but Hope is and always will be a game changer. My master goal, to somehow usher Hope into functional adulthood, remains, but the incremental goals feel a little iffy at the moment. I need more information. I need to figure out young adult resources. I need Hope to play a bigger role in her own life in terms of figuring how what the next steps will look like.

So, my word for 2019 isn’t liberation. I might have some goals that will lead to my personal liberation, some that are designed to make me be and feel free. But really, this year will be about transitions for me and Hope.

I’m not sure how to feel all about that, I just know that transition will drive the year.

Here’s to 2019.


#NAAM2018

I’m resting this month, recovering from weeks of travel and gearing up for the holidays. I’m exhausted mentally and physically so I’m taking a bit of time for some self-care. I’m also beginning to work through some big feelings I have about my and Hope’s attachment. No worries, we’re good and my recent post on this topic remains true, I’m just realizing that I have big feelings about our long game and what that looks like and what I should be doing to not muck it up. I’m taking some time to just roll that around in my mind.

I didn’t want the month to pass without acknowledging that it is National Adoption Awareness Month in the US. Five years ago this month I announced to my larger circle of friends and family that I was adopting and that I had already matched and met my daughter Hope. I was delighted and terrified, and I’m sure Hope was really emotional as well.

Since then I’ve learned to spend a bit more time during this month listening to adoptees and what they have to say about their experiences. Certainly, this is something I choose to do all the time, but I try to be really, really intentional about it this time of year.

So to that end, I’m just going to share an old podcast that Hope and I recorded for Add Water and Stir. It’s lovely to hear her voice and to have captured this chat with her. I am just so honored to have the opportunity to parent this amazing young woman. I’m proud of her and the woman she is becoming. She’s a really cool kid.

I’ll be back soon. In the meantime, listen to Hope and share her words—she still wants to be famous. 😊

Hope Shares Her Script

 

flipthescript


At a Distance

So, for all this empty nesting, I am finding that there is still a lot of parenting going on around these parts. If I’m not running back and forth to do visits, sending packages of necessities or checking in on performance, I’m offering love, guidance and occasional chastisement at a distance. It’s really a lot. Sure, there’s only my laundry to do, and I’m not actually peeping into her room to see if she’s working, so the day to day stuff is minimal. The emotional stuff? Yeah, that’s still happening.

Hope and her roommate have been squabbling recently, and things escalated to the point where it was determined that Hope needed to change rooms. Who knows the real story, since I only have one side and I’m sure there are at least two more sides to hear, but how the move went down was incredibly upsetting and a bit triggering and damaging. Essentially, they made Hope move with very little notice and tossed her stuff in a bag to drag to another room. When she told me about it, all teary, all I could envision was all the times she moved during foster care in similar dramatic fashion. This was not good.

I’m sure it may take a little time to bounce back for Hope, who is strong and courageous, but she is also a big kid who needs reassurance, stability and soothing. The move triggered lots of anxiety, which triggered the bug thing, which just spun her out of control. It wasn’t pleasant.

One thing that was different during this last week was that Hope actively reached out to me for the emotional support that she needed.

I’ve listened to her cry and snot in my ear. I’ve listened to her be mad, then be sad, then feel rejected and hurt. I’ve listened to her fears. While my heart hurt to hear her so emotional, the fact that she reached out to me, to mom to have her emotional needs met was so reassuring to me. I worried whether we could really be ok with her away after only 4 years home. She actually seems more connected than ever. It made my heart sing because I know she’s still healing and that there’s a good foundation there.

I miss her. I’m not going to lie, there are things about this life that are easier. We are both less anxious overall. I am getting used to entertaining myself, and thanks to a robust travel schedule with work for the next several weeks, I’m pretty occupied. I’m still parenting though. I’m still really involved. I’m still sending lots of emails and making calls. I’m still coordinating care for her. I’m still her mom even if she is away at a distance.


Empty Nesting

I just got home from the office and I’m posted up on the couch with Yappy. It’s just the two of us.

IMG_20180917_181159

Me, Yappy & his impressive side eye.

I’m trying to decide what I’m going to have for dinner, especially since it’s just me.

I’m a little anxious because it feels like I *should* be doing something.

Oh right, Hope is away at school, so…

There’s no one else to say hi to when I get home.

There’s no one to cook dinner for in the evenings.

There’s no homework for me to check in on.

There’s no monitoring of internet usage while studying to do.

There’s no planning for the football game and band parenting to do.

It’s just me and Yappy, and I have feelings that I’m still sorting through.

The first week Hope was away was similar to when she went away to school this summer. I was exhausted. I know parents are exhausted; the constant vigilance that parenting requires is kind of draining. This summer I could barely get off of the couch the first week she was away. This time I was recovering from our vacation and had a bit of jetlag so I was exhausted, but it wasn’t quite as bad as the first time she went away to school.

Last week, week two, I spent the extra time working. I worked late and brought a bit of work home to do in the evenings since I could and I needed to catch up on some things that languished while I was in Europe.

This week, I’m getting my bearings a bit. I am thinking about rallying and going to the gym this evening. I’ve got a happy hour night and a date night planned this week. I’m thinking about my plans for the weekend as well. And if those plans fall through, I will pivot in my freedom and do something spontaneous or nothing at all.

I like the freedom. It’s kind of nice.

But I really do miss Hope.

We’re getting into a rhythm where I text her in the morning, maybe sending a picture of Yappy or a goofy selfie. She responds when she gets out of class with an update about her day. We trade a few messages before she heads off to an activity. I’ll get an itemized receipt for something she bought at the bookstore. I’ll get a little annoyed about how she spent $4 on a pack of gum at the overpriced bookstore and I’ll go on Amazon to ship her a multipak for the same price.

I might spend some time on YouTube looking at funny videos to send her. I might find some hairdo on Pinterest that we might try on her when she comes home. I’ll make a list of the appointments that need to be crammed into her next visit home–therapist, dentist, hairdresser.

She came home this past weekend, and I ended up being pretty quiet for a good chunk of the weekend. Hope had so much to share. I didn’t want to interrupt her because I relished hearing her voice. I also found myself in awe of her.

She rattled off the homework that needed to get done over the weekend. I told her it sounded like a lot; she replied it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. She showed me her graphic arts assignments, and I quietly marveled at how creative she was. She told me about how one of her teachers was encouraged to achieve a certain rank in the next few weeks and what that meant for her. I smiled. She shared how she and her roommate were getting on, and how a momentary issue that might’ve resulted in her switching roommates was easily resolved because she and her roommate wanted to stay together. They were eager to continue practicing English and Chinese together. I chuckled to myself about her early fears that her roommate might ignore her because of the language barrier and culture concerns. She smiled and shook her head when I showed up on campus to sign her out for the weekend with my “Not Today Colonizer” t-shirt on, because I’m nothing if not an agitator. I happily watched all the “woke” videos about social justice that she watched and saved on FB  just to share with me when she had a chance. We talked about politics and the latest with the Kavanaugh SCOTUS nomination; she has thoughts, y’all.

She told me about her upcoming SAT and ACT tests that she was not eager to take a few short months ago. She told me how she learned how to do stage lighting as she works backstage on the school play and announces that she might audition for a part in the next one; I hold my breath because I seriously don’t know who this kid is. I still didn’t have a picture of Hope in her duty uniform, and I didn’t want to bother her with it for fear that she’d huff and puff and blow my house down. I just asked her to take a selfie in her uniform when she had a chance. I nearly cried when she insisted that I wait while she changed into her uniform so I could take all the pictures I wanted when I took her back to school; she was proud to show me what she looked like in uniform. I saw how neat her room was (thank you daily room inspection) and smiled that someone managed to bring order to her life.

Hope is happy. Nearly every moment of her day is dictated for her, and she’s just thriving. I’m so happy for her.

And then I turn a bit sad because I could not do this for her at home. I could not create or provide enough structure to help her be this kind of successful. I had to find a place to do that because I couldn’t. There’s a bit of all of this that feels like a failure. I know it’s not, but a tiny bit of it pinches my heart because I couldn’t do this at home.

I know that she would have revolted if I tried to do this at home. This military school has given her purpose. I know that my role was to get her to a place where she could go there and thrive. I know that it’s not failure; this is a raging success. All that I poured into this kid got her to this place, and I was fortunate enough to be able to give her a chance at conventional success at this school. That is a salve to my soul.

But it still stings a bit. There’s something that feels kind of wrong after 4 years to send her away for her final year of high school. I mean, I didn’t send her away, Hope made this choice and it really was her choice. Hope and I thought that she would be a late bloomer, maybe staying home for a few years. She may still home, but I also see and know that she will be fine going away to school next year, so…we’re starting to look at small schools that can give her what she needs. The landscape has totally changed.

I know I can take credit for this…that *we* can take credit for this, but I still miss her. I kinda miss the exhaustion of worrying about whether she’s studying or staying up sneaking the laptop while eating candy all night. I don’t miss the dysfunctional trust issues we still work through, but I miss the some of the absurd routine behaviors that accompanied them.

Sometimes I feel silly and will email the dorm counselor to check in and see if Hope is really thriving as she appears to be. I check on her grades, bracing myself for the disaster I had become used to seeing when I checked grades. Dorm counselor emails back with glorious things to say and pictures of Hope’s room at last inspection. Grades come back with A’s and not the kinds of grades I used to see that made both of us feel like shyt. Hope calmly texted me that about my reaching out to the counselor last week. I read it as though she were mad and lashed out. #truthtelling She just explained the situation as she saw it and provided some additional information and context that the dorm counselor didn’t share. #contextiseverything I felt silly, having spun out into some of the dysfunction we endure at home. I apologized, and I resolved to talk to my own therapist about avoiding that in the future.

It really is a new day at Casa d’ABM. I have no idea what’s next for me and Hope. I’m excited and emotional and…proud. I feel like we made it, or at least I have survived. I can’ speak for her.

I try to be very sensitive about listening to adoptee voices. I’m not sure how Hope would characterize our life together. I hope she shows me a little grace as she reflects on it. I don’t expect her to be a “happy” adoptee; I know there is so much that shapes this experience. I know and have walked the path of depression and anxiety with her these last few years. I know she isn’t fully healed. I know that she will have some kind of hurt and pain probably forever. I’m a realist. I just hope she knows that I adore her. That I accept her as she is, imperfectly at times but I do, and I will support her lifelong journey to healing. I hope she knows I believe in her, purely and wholly.

I’m an empty nester looking at the next chapter for me and Hope, and it’s so dang emotional.


More than a Mom

Women fill so many societal roles. I mean, you know, we are society’s backbone. We work, we bear children (at least some of us do), we raise children, we are partners, we are matriarchs, we are badasses.

We are multidimensional.

I’ve thought about this a lot since becoming Hope’s mother. I’ve been thoughtful and deliberate about role modeling womanhood for her, and especially mindful about modeling Black womanhood for her. I’ve also tried to be thoughtful about my “image” as a mother. While mothering Hope has been the center of my life the last four years, I’ve tried to hang on to other aspects of my identity. I’m still a hard worker. I’m still a professional. I’m still a friend (well less time to hang out, but still). I’m still a sister. For three years, I was a loving partner to E. I am more than a mom.

Of course, what this looks like on a daily basis is pretty fluid. Eight hours of work, 90+ minutes of commuting, getting a kid up and out to school and feeding and caring for said kid in the evenings sucks up an enormous amount of time. I haven’t been as available to friends the last few years and since splitting with E, dating was something that wasn’t even on the back burner—it didn’t make the stove, despite a few efforts.

So, when I started looking at summer programs for Hope this spring, I started wondering what I would do with a possible empty nest for a few weeks. I wondered whether my life would look like it did pre-Hope with regular happy hours and brunches, Friday nights with friends, and regular dating. I thought about what it might be like to rejuvenate other areas of my life.

It’s kind of hard to be honest. Life goes on you know? Everyone is evolving and four years…well, you can graduate high school in four years, college in four years, do a bit in the military in four years. A lot happens in four years. Time definitely doesn’t stand still for anyone.

With this summer program, I got about four weeks to figure out how to breathe some life in to…my life. Don’t get me wrong; the whole time I’ve been parenting I’ve been living. I’ve really started traveling again. I’ve made some new friends. I’ve made huge strides in my professional life. Still, with Hope away, there was some time and space created to focus on me. #selfcare

Of course, the first week after Hope enrolled, I could barely get off the couch I was so stinking exhausted! #parentingisexhausting Then I got a bit of my groove back.

A few days in to this break, I was chatting up a good neighbor and close friend about my plan for this #respitesummer; I was shocked when she kind of shut me down with a smile.

“But you’re a mom!!! You’re not supposed to be doing all this stuff.”

Wait, what?

All this stuff would be…um, living. Dinners and drinks out, partaking in a little extra fun in Denver where certain things are legal, dating, which feels incredibly hard after a few years out of the game.

I love my friend, so you know, don’t bash her, but I was shocked that she saw me so differently than I see myself after four years of parenting. I went from full woman to mom with a limited world framework in her eyes. That hurt.

I pushed back on her comments; she admitted that maybe she was a little strong, but still insisted that she just saw me as a “mom” these days.

Girl…You mean to tell me that you only see this?

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I mean, I do this…but…

When I’m trying to get to some mom-inclusive version of this?

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Yassss! #goals

 

I frowned.

So, I’ve just lost all the other stuff that makes me…me? I mean, I know the mom identity is strong, but I thought I was kinda managing the other identities a little bit. At that moment, I felt like I apparently was really failing at this womanhood thing if I was “just” seen by my good friends as a “mom” now and not a well-rounded woman.

My edgy haircut with currently aquamarine-colored locks didn’t buy me any woman street cred? My efforts at the gym to make sure that my body makes me feel good and look nice in the clothes I want to wear was just eh? The work I do that brings me a lot of fulfillment is just something I do during the day while I’m really supposed to be focusing on Pinterest recipes to feed my kid?

I’ve been wrestling with the conversation ever since. I don’t think my friend meant to send me in a tailspin, but I do think that she probably spit some life truths about how women are seen in society (even how we see ourselves and prop up the patriarchy simultaneously…another day for that). Sometimes we don’t get to be more than a mom in other people’s eyes. We don’t get to be creative beyond potty training and teaching cursive. We don’t get to care about our relationships with other adults. We don’t get to romanticize our partnerships because they exist to propel a family and not for our own fulfillment. We don’t get to be sexual beings, because “Eww gross you’re a mom.” We don’t get to be bosses at work because the real work is in the home.

I’m suddenly acutely aware that despite all of the progress made around womanhood, feminism and womanism and all of the things I do besides mother Hope that some people see me as “just” a mom and heap on a lot of limitations as a result. This shouldn’t be shocking and in my line of work it is a “duh” moment, but this interaction with my friend just made is such a salient point for me that I’ve been ruminating on it ever since.

I’m not sure where the breakpoints are between ways I’ve may have pulled back and where I was pushed back in the last few years. The conversation has me reflecting a lot…

I tried to cram in a lot of experiences before Hope came home. In fact, I’m just going to totally spin into this curve; I’m really going to try to achieve more balance in my womanly life through the end of this year. I LOVE being Hope’s mom; I do. And it is incredibly important to me, one of my highest priorities for sure. But I’m more than Hope’s mom. I’m eager to resurrect a few more aspect of my identity as Hope begins to transition to adulthood. I’m committed to being well-rounded and to living life well.

I’m grateful for the conversation with my friend, even though it was kind of ishttay, but it was definitely the motivation I needed to buck up and live.


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.


That Time Before & During My Search

I recently got a couple of follower inquiries about the emotions I felt about my agency during the adoption process as well as how I “knew” to say yes to Hope. I thought that in addition to trying to answer those inquiries personally, I’d share more broadly.

So, how did/do I feel about my agency? Did I ever get frustrated with the agency and the process?

I have had a great, fantastic relationship with my agency. There were times that I made choices that the agency was pretty adamant were not great, but I went with my gut and things worked out. The agency I worked with offers a lot of post adoption support that I’ve definitely utilized during the last four years. Did I ever become frustrated about my agency during the adoption process?

In short, no.

My adoption process went very, very fast. My daughter moved in 380 (1 year and 15) days after I dropped off my agency application to start the process. We finalized 135 days later, at my urging, because lingering around finalization did not provide my daughter with the stability she craved. It worked, and I’d like to think I was right.

Because my time was short, I didn’t have time to get super frustrated and I was green as grass naïve about this whole thing.

I wish I had known more, but if I had I would have been crazy. There never would’ve been enough information; I would’ve been backstroking in it. I don’t recommend going into the process as green as I was, but I do credit my ride or die willingness to commitment to my daughter in the face of some pretty incredible disclosures and striking mental health issues during out initial few weeks together all to be naivete! It never occurred to me to disrupt; I figured, it just wasn’t done.

So, I never even entertained that was never an option.

And that’s probably for the best; this is one of the few times in my life when I think being naïve and riding the wave worked in my favor. If I pursued adoption now, knowing what I know, I would do things very differently. I was fortunate to deal with an agency that prides itself in its ethical approach with a team of folks who genuinely seemed to want the best for my daughter and for me.

In a couple of words, I was lucky-blessed.

I know families who have had different experiences at my agency and others. I would say my feelings are probably a bit of an outlier because my process went quickly and I rolled right on with it. I would not characterize my experience as typical.

How did I know Hope was a good fit and other kids were not a good fit for me as a single mom?

I only received two profiles; my agency search was very brief. Hope’s profile the very first profile I received from my agency to consider.

I was at my office; I had just arrived. I still have the email from July 30, 2013 at 9:03am. My response was eager yet short; technically more search hadn’t even started. I asked about behaviors; I tied my question to something I’d recently read and asked to get my information about Hope. My daughter had been featured on one of those Wednesday Child spots on the local news, so I was able to see more than just a profile. I saw her moving around, trying her best to be charming and have fun and be on TV all the while having a shadow of sadness that all of this was *really* about her needing a family. I know now that she kind of hated that video.

There are hundreds of emails between me and Alex (the coordinator) about my now daughter, the process, the match meeting, the first visit.

The truth is that I just thought it was a fit when I saw that video. I was so done after I saw that video. Her challenges seemed manageable to me as a single mom and they have been. It’s been hard, but it’s been manageable.

My agency coached me well. When there were gaps in my questions, they helped me fill them. Alex was supportive and encouraging.

My saying yes to Hope was easy.

Saying no was not easy. I only had one opportunity and I’m glad. I’m glad that my search was so brief that I didn’t have to get numerous profiles only to say no they aren’t a good fit. Looking back I’m not sure I could’ve endured a process that required me to say no numerous times. The idea of that rejection is just too much for me.

I did say no to one child, and you can read about it here: The First No.

My heart still hurts that I had to say no.

I was open to kids who identify as LGBT+. Apparently that’s rare, or at least it was then. So many folks are quick to say that adolescents don’t understand their sexuality and they just are mistaken. Um, no. I knew in elementary school that I loved boys; I liked their energy, I thought they were cute, I was curious about them in ways I was not curious about girls. Straight folks take that for granted. #heteronormativity Kids who have same sex attractions know early and are often forced to make decisions about conforming to heteronormative behavior to keep the peace and stay safe. That conformity can last a few years or may years. As a part of my adoption process I knew that this wasn’t an issue for me and I was open to giving a kid who identified differently a chance at a stable, loving home.

I got a profile. The only part of it that matched my list of possibilities was that fact that she was LGBT. Everything else was so beyond what I thought I could handle behaviorally that I had to say no I knew I was not able to parent her.

I don’t regret the decision now that more time has passed, but I do think of that young woman ever so often. I hope that she was able to be matched with a loving family.

The need for loving, supporting parents for LGBT kids in the system is so great that her advocate reached out to us despite my obviously not being a good fit. That tells me that there is desperation in getting that kid a family and that breaks my heart.

What does a good match mean to me?

I was very specific about my desire to adopt an older child. Of course, I got all the icky commentary from a few people about how I should try to get a kid as young as possible since they wouldn’t be as “messed up” or I could train them (like a puppy) to not be messed up. #eyeroll

I knew that I wanted a child of color—though I labored over the race and ethnicity questions on the match form for about a week. I wanted to feel like it didn’t matter, but ultimately, I wanted us to be able to choose if/when we disclosed our adoption—we tend to be open about it. I wanted the ability to disappear as a same race family. I knew how our kids are overrepresented in the foster care system. I wanted to mother a black kid. #theend

I had dreamed about mothering a son; a daughter was my future.

I tried to focus less on diagnoses and more on presenting behaviors and whether I could handle them as a new single parent. I had some limitations on some mental health concerns.

I tried to ask questions about what behaviors looked like. It’s one thing to read descriptions; it’s entirely another thing to see video, hear descriptions, and ask pointed questions. And I asked lots of questions, there are seriously 270 emails from this period in my adoption. I did lots of Googling during this period.

My day job has honed my “read between the lines” skill—I leaned into that a lot during my match with Hope.

Weeks went by before Hope learned I existed. When she learned about me, my questions started all over again. I wanted Hope to feel like she was a part of the process and not just the subject of it. How did she feel about it? What felt good? How did she process a potential cross country move? With a previous placement that didn’t go all that great, what’s her confidence in this process like?

When you’re adopting an older child; you got to remember that they are more that just the subject of all this discussion. I was keen on Hope having a big say in our match. I wanted to learn how to make a transition better for her. I wanted her to feel like she had some agency.

A good match is one where all parties think this can work out. A good negotiation means everyone at the table has to stretch a little. There’s no perfect fit; there’s a “I can give this kid what they need” fit. There’s a “I can manage these behaviors and hopefully create an environment that promotes healing” fit. There’s a “I will respect this kid and their birth family (even one’s that screwed up royally) and commit to working this thing out” fit.

In the wise words of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, “Make it work.”

make it work pop tv GIF by Nightcap-downsized

More Questions?

If you have questions like this drop me an email, reach me through the blog’s FB page or on Twitter. I’ll see what I can do! I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my experience and consider what I might do differently. This is a journey, not a destination. My and Hope’s adoption was a chapter, an event. This life we are creating as mother and daughter is the destination.


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