Tag Archives: adoptive parents

Hope and Worry

I’ve been parenting for about 1,140 days. I am a babe in the woods. I have triumphed, and I have fallen down repeatedly.

Lately, I question everything I’ve learned these couple of years, and I’m scared.

I love my daughter, Hope. I have done my very best to help her heal, to help her grow, to help her catch up. I have tried to protect her from the world that has been brutal towards her. I’ve tried to protect her from herself when she has been unkind. I have prayed for and with her; I’ve wished for her. I’ve poured myself into her healing.

And for all the improvement we’ve made together, it’s still only 1,140 days, and I feel like we are in a bit of a free fall right now. It feels like I can never do enough. As a natural fixer, I am feeling woefully inadequate right now.

Something is wrong, very wrong. I know that Hope is struggling more than usual. I started paying close attention to moods, to behavioral patterns, to details that I had let go of a while ago. There are so many clues that something is wrong. I’ve seen them; I’ve started ramping all the support systems up again. I reached out to the therapists. I’ve scheduled appointments. I’ve been steeling myself to get back to the state of hypervigilance I used to maintain. But, I’m feeling my age now, remembering how exhausting the constant need for awareness can be. I’m wondering can I really maintain that level of being for an extended period of time, now. I’m also wondering what happens if I can’t.

I’m also wrestling with my own guilt. How and why did I get lax? Was I really lax? How come I didn’t know we had started spiraling? Why didn’t I just maintain everything? How did I let it get like this? Is this even something I can fix? How hard will this get before it gets better?

Is this free fall my fault?

I know intellectually that it’s not my fault but that fact really doesn’t matter, does it?

I see my daughter struggling. It seems she’s struggling with everything right now. School is hard. Social stuff is hard. Home is probably hard too. Emotions are thick; memories are vivid and on some kind of repeating loop. There are constant stomach aches and nausea and headaches and stress induced rashes. There are binges. There are hard core study times that swing to complete immersion into escapist fantasies. There is exhaustion, that’s really depression that swings from days of insomnia to sleeping for 18 hours.

I see it, but I can’t fix it. I gather those long arms and legs up and occasionally cradle Hope. I try to cook her yummy food. I try to be home as much as I can. I try to give her space, but I also try to smother her with attention. I try to give her lots of opportunities to thrive and to experience as much or as little as possible. I am strict but not inflexible. I’m compassionate. I try to meet her where she is, but I also walk away sometimes wondering if I did the right thing.

I want to heal her. I want her to be able to shrug off the effects of her trauma so that we can deal with the social challenges of blackness and womanhood. The reality is that we rarely get to wrestle with those because we are stuck in the quicksand of trauma. Her trauma suffocates us both. I fight with myself trying to just be ok with her life performance and trying not to worry that every bad grade will prevent her from a bright future.

I’m constantly forcing myself to abandon everything I conceptualized and believed about success. Our success is different. I know that, but it’s hard to believe that conventionalism is completely inappropriate in helping Hope navigate. So many of my firmly held, deeply etched values about life are constantly challenged and it is discomforting, disorienting, and dismaying. My prayers lately have been distilled to, “Lord just let us get through this day with no drama.”

And I still feel like we’re failing.

So, right now, Hope is struggling, and I’m worried. I’m not panicked by I’m really worried about the future, and by future, I mean next week and the week after.

I’m leaning back into my strengths: looking for possible solutions, marshalling resources and leveraging connections. I have no idea what happens next—long term is now just next month. I do think my daughter knows I’m trying; I don’t know what she really thinks about my efforts, but I know she thinks I’m trying to help her. I’m hopeful that she will continue to see me as helpful, reliable and safe. I’m hopeful I can continue to be that for her.

Hope and worry are sitting side by side for me these days.


Stargazing

Hope has been having body issues lately. As if we needed more drama…but at least teen girl body issues is ‘normal’ right?

Right.

I’ve been cooking more. I pack Hope’s lunch daily. Hope supplements everything with junk food. This is also apparently normal for a lot of teens, but we cross over into snack binging when Hope is stressed, which is like, all the time.

After a long chat with AbsurdlyHotTherapist, I decided to phase out most of the snacks in the house and replace them with healthier options. Happily, this means I’m getting closer to my pre-Hope dietary regimen. I never used to have this crap in the house. I grew up thinking Crispix was a sugar cereal! #IDigress The house will soon be stocked with more fruits and veggies. Sure we’ll keep the granola bars, the hummus and pretzels, but the fruit snacks that she binges on are out of here as are the chips.

Hope put on a few pounds last year. She’s tall and the extra pounds fill her out; she looks good. She more or less agrees that she likes her body, but she is concerned about gaining more weight.

The relationship between weight gain, food and exercise are all lost on her.

I exercise regularly, nearly daily. I often invite Hope to join me. It always seems like a good idea to her at first, until she actually has to physically get up to join me.

A couple of weeks ago, I dragged her on a 3 mile walk with me. She dragged her feet, but eventually stopped complaining. It was clear that she enjoyed spending time with me. That night she fell asleep early; she was knocked out.

So, yesterday, on my way home from the office, I called Hope to inform her we were going for a walk when I got home.

She groaned. I told her it was not a request; she was going to walk with me.

I got home, changed and told her, “Let’s go.”

She groaned and put on her jacket. We hit the street and asked about each other’s day.

She told me about a sick friend. We talked about how I was phasing out some of the household snacks. She asked about nutrition. We talked about her problems in geometry and chemistry. She told me that she actually does a lot of reading about Korean culture besides the K-pop scene. I learned her hands really don’t warm up with exercise like mine do. We talked about the weather and pondered why it was so chilly when it was so warm at the beginning of the week. We talked about our hair and nails, and how I keep buying nail polish with the hopes of having time to sit down and paint my nails but never getting around to it.

We talked about her band assessment this week. Her reed cracked during class this week, and she needed to make sure her new reeds were ready before the next performance. We talked about test anxiety and what that looks like and how we might have a little problem with it. We discussed going to the St. Patrick’s day parade this weekend and the need to pick up her glasses at Costco. I asked her if she had any special requests for dinner next week so that I could make the weekend shopping list.

As we were walking back, we talked about how the skyline looked. She pointed out what appeared to be the North Star. She asked about Halley’s Comet, and I told her about how I saw it when I was a young girl so she should see it in her lifetime, when she’s about 60. If I’m lucky, I might get to be around for it a second time too. We stopped walking to look at the sky so we could confirm if it was really the North Star.

It was dark, but just before 7pm. Rush hour was happening in the sky; planes were coming in for landing at the airport a few miles away. We perched on the side of the bridge we were on to count all the planes. I explained why some were low but flying in circles; they were waiting their turn to land. A few planes were taking off. A military helicopter flew by in the direction of the nearby base. We looked up and saw the planes that were maintaining their elevation; they were clearly headed north of the DC area.  We picked out the big and little dippers and a few other constellations. Hope clapped excitedly that she was able to pick out the constellations.  We noticed a few stars that appeared to be more yellow and a few that appeared more red.

Hope’s hands were very cold, her only complaint, so we started walking again. She asked if we could have cocoa, I said of course.

We walked and talked.

As we got close to the door of our building, I told her that I really enjoyed catching up and looking at the stars with her.

Hope replied, “Me too.”

We’ll be walking in the evenings more often.


Thoughts on Being Average

I hang out in a number of online spaces looking, listening and learning. I’ve tried to capture so much of what I’ve learned on my parenting journey in this space. I’ve tried to be transparent about the things I’ve done well and the things I’ve failed at miserably. Sometimes, I really sit and think about how naïve I was when I first started. I had read a few books and read a few blogs, but boy was I green.

I also remember people asking me was I ready to be a parent, as though choosing to adopt assumed greater preparation than having a biological child. I often responded, “Hell no, of course I have no idea what I’m getting into.” I mean, I took the PRIDE classes. I went to pre-adoptive support groups and listened to parents talk about their journeys. But, let’s be serious…are you ever really ready to be a parent?

I’ve learned a lot about therapeutic parenting and connected parenting and racially conscious parenting (the only one of which seemed intuitive to me). I’ve learned about adoptee voices. I’ve learned about other adoptive parents. I’ve sucked up a lot of info, and I’ve constructed a weird calculus to value each of the voices and info dependent on the situation.

And you know what? I’m still just an average bumbling parent. No better and no worse than any other average bumbling parent.

But it seems that the glare of observation and expectation seems so much brighter on adoptive parents. I don’t mean to pull out a mini-violin and whine or anything, but the parenting pedestals seem so much higher and the ravines we get dragged through seem so much lower. On one end of the spectrum, folks tell me I’m so awesome for *saving* Hope, insinuating that Hope should be grateful for our adoption. On the other end of the spectrum, the few vocal adoptees who mistake rudeness and toxicity with “reality” see and point out every parenting flaw I make and drive me into silence for fear of revealing just how average, or below average my parenting might be. There is no grace on either end.

There hardly ever seems to be a middle ground, despite the reality that Hope and I are getting closer to whatever normal is every day.

I work very hard to be a good parent to Hope, and most days I feel like I am doing just ok. My end game has been if I am able to do more than simply keep her alive and as functional as she was when she came to me then that would be a version of success. Of course, I hope for so much more than that, but parenting is absurdly hard. If it would make parenting easier, I would probably do a few more dissertations, and that was no walk in the park either.

I recently read a blog by an adoptee who wrote a pretty extensive list of things she wished her adoptive parents had done before choosing adoption. I felt really convicted because there seemed to be so little on that list that I had done; I just didn’t know. I was ignorant. And while I often don’t cut folks slack for their ignorance, I’m not sure how I could’ve ever known then what I know now. Even if I did know all that I know now back then, I’m not sure I would have applied it in the way my daughter would have appreciated.

Parenting is an evolutionary activity. We grow through it. We learn; we try to get it right. We often fall short. But my God, we try.

I remember in my early 20s rambling off a lengthy list of my parents flaws and foibles. Oh, they were true, and they probably served as barriers to their parenting perfection, a perfection that was and is elusive on a good day. I know better now. I see them as not just my parents but as people who, remarkably, had lives outside of me and my siblings. They did their best, and that was more than ok. They were and are amazing parents. I know that without any doubt; I see it so clearly.

I try to emulate them with a therapeutic spin. I try my best, and I hope that it is more than ok.

On the outside, adoption is rainbows and sparkles. On the inside, it can be very dark and tumultuous. Folks rarely gets to see what happens behind closed doors where everyone is fighting for survival. I do my best to fight with my daughter instead of against her. I fight for her. I try to apply every lesson I learn. I replay every family squabble to assess how I could handle it better. I try to provide every possible resource that I can access and afford. I problem solve as much as I can. I try my very best to be a good parent to Hope.

And if I’m lucky, I’m average. That’s real, and that’s ok.

So, whatever kind of parents we are, I hope that we can practice more grace with one another. I hope that Hope sees me as I am one day. I imagine that she will find that my parenting fell far short of what was needed or desired, but I also hope that as she continues to grow and evolve that she will know that I did my best not make things harder than they already were for her. I hope that as she lists the things I missed or failed that she will also see the things that I manage to get some kinda close to right. I hope that she will see me through lenses blessed with a bit of rosy grace. That would be nice.

If she doesn’t see me that way, it’s ok. It really is.

Average isn’t so bad.


Three Years Ago

Three years ago today, Hope arrived at DCA with her social worker. She was originally scheduled to arrive the day before, but the weather on the east coast was so bad that her flight was canceled.

I remember heading to the airport that cold January night and waiting for her to emerge from security.

I was alone.

I was alone because I worried that a big group of folks would be overwhelming to a child who, for the previous few weeks, had resisted moving. Hope was afraid. She’s already experienced so much change in her life. She wanted to have some normalcy where she was for just a few more months.

Alas, all the adults thought that it was time to make the move. And so, she did.

I arrived at the airport early, snarfed down a couple of doughnuts from Dunkin’ Donuts while I waited for Hope to arrive and deplane.

This would be her second trip to see me and her final destination this go ‘round.

I remember she emerged from security looking tired, a bit overwhelmed and a bit afraid.

I hugged her. I was so happy she was here.

She hugged me back, but I don’t know if the hug really made her feel better.

We got her luggage, and dropped her social worker off at the hotel.

And then it was just the two of us.

It has been that way ever since.

In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago, and others, it seems like just yesterday.

Hope has grown into an amazing young woman. She is creative, feisty, and musical. She is loving and kind. She is polite.

We have built an amazing life together.

We are growing and stretching. Sometimes it’s painful, and sometimes, it’s just the best thing ever.

I love Hope so very much.

This family is everything. It’s beyond whatever I could’ve imagined.

I’ve learned so much about myself during this time. I would not have ever anticipated what this life as a mom to Hope would have been like. It’s beyond my comprehension.

It hasn’t been easy. In fact, often, it has been devastatingly difficult at times.

It’s been difficult for both of us.

Transitioning to motherhood was swift. Understanding the true impacts of trauma and how to parent through it is a work in progress. Checking my anger is a learned process; I’m improving.

Ugh, and the weight gain. I’ve put on about 20lbs of teen adoption weight.

I’m older and wiser though.

Hope struggled with the transition to permanence. She got there with time. We still struggle with horrible memories and persistent grief. As she approaches normalcy we see latent issues emerge, and we tackle them.

She’s a little older and possibly a little wiser too.

We continue to observe these moments in our history; we may stop one day. I don’t know. But we still do count these milestones. We think about how far we have come. We think about how bonded we are now; we think about our futures.

We have a little something sweet.

And then we get on with the life we’ve created together.

I love Hope, and Hope loves me.


Thoughts on Discipline

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

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

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

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

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

Ok, so, there is a broken rule.

Does this really require a response?

Am I angry?

Is there any humor in this situation?

Do I understand why she did it?

Is this a trauma thing?

Is this a dumb teen thing?

Is this an adoption thing?

Will certain kinds of discipline trigger more undesirable behaviors?

If yes, is it really worth it?

Is safety a concern?

Can I have a glass of wine?

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

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

venndiagram

All decisions end with “Drink Wine.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I dropped it.

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

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

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

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

Save

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Race Issues in Adoption-Part 1

I recently had the pleasure of doing a long form interview with TraumaMamaDrama! I’m grateful for the opportunity to talk about these race, adoption and parenting with her.

Take a looksee at Part 1 of my interview!

Race Issues in Adoption – Part 1


Triggers, Triggers Everywhere

Hope’s life is a filled with trigger land mines. I’ve learned where most of them are; every now and then a new one will pop up. I make a mental note and try to just push on.

giphy1

It’s hard though because sometimes I feel like I have to give up some aspect of my life in order to avoid triggering her.

Sure, parenting is full of sacrifices. There’s always something, right? I try to remember that someday I’ll get to live fully again, but the reality is that I know that this parenting thing is life altering. Once some things are gone, they are just gone. I won’t go back to them. There are simple luxuries that I miss, like not having the same sad story told a million times because we stumbled over a trigger.

I mean, yes, I get it. Yes, I try to appropriately respond; yes, I know that it’s a good sign that Hope feels comfortable enough to tell me and share things over and over again.

All of that is true, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t grate on my nerves. #realtalk

So, of course the end of the year holidays are a trigger-fest.

Trigger, here!

Trigger, there!

Trigger, trigger everywhere!

It’s exhausting.

So, Christmas Eve, Hope and I open presents (or rather I open my 1 present, she opens her 25 presidents). This kid has a vendetta against headphones. She breaks every pair that she take possession of, even the borrowed ones. After buying her what feels like 872 pairs this year, I ponied up and bought her a decent pair of over the ear headphones. They have bells and whistles and were reasonably priced at Ross.

Cool. She oohh and ahhh’d.  And then it came….

“I used to have a pair of blue Skull Candy headphones, but a foster parent took them from me. I got them at a giveaway and she really liked them so she just took them.” Hope frowned as she was looking at the box of new headphones.

I’ve heard this story many times. It’s one of the reasons I went with over ear headphones rather than more earbuds. I guess I knew it would trigger her, but I thought maybe she might  have moved a little bit forward. #nope

She hadn’t. So I prompted her to, “Yes, sweetie, I know that was hard for you. Someone took your stuff and that wasn’t right. Now you have a new pair of headphones that are really nice. I won’t take them from you. They are yours forever.”

“I know…but…she…” “No, Hope, look forward, you’re missing out on opening that box and checking out the ones in your hand, right now. They are yours. This is real.”

It took her 2 days before she opened the box to really take a look at them.

sigh.gif

Sister M has a new dog, a gorgeous, 6 month old pit bull puppy who is goofy as all get out.

Trigger alert.

wrappers

“I had a red nosed pit bull puppy once. She was pretty. She was supposed to be mine. But they gave him to my dad’s girlfriend’s son. He was supposed to be mine.”

I’ve heard this story what feels like 1000s of times.

“Yes, Hope. I know that was rough. You lost so much stuff along the way. I’m sure the puppy was special to you. I know that she can’t really be replaced, but remember that you have a family now and Yappy is a part of our family. Aunt M’s dog is a part of the family too. We will go visit him and one day, when you’re grown you can get your very own puppy.”

“I know but that puppy…she was mine.”

sigh

“Yes, I know sweetie.”

At the jewelry show…”I want a watch like my dad’s.” We visited 10 watch booths. None had an exact replica of her father’s watch, which she seems to have trouble describing.

I was pleased to see that this year she didn’t cry when we didn’t find the watch.

Could we find a watch “kinda” like it? Was this one close enough?

Nope. It needed to be exactly like her father’s watch.

sigh

After three years, I’ve gotten much better at being compassionate and empathetic during these moments, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t also trigger a place in my own brain that screams, “Oh God when will we be able to move past this?????”

Of course, it’s only been three years after how many difficult one’s she had? Um, yeah, more than 3, quite a few more than 3, so I guess I had better get over myself.

But the repetition, the triggers, they always make me feel like we aren’t making progress. I know that’s not true, but it’s hard. You push through to some new stuff and you feel like your kid is doing the dang thing and whoops, you trip over a rock and out comes the story you’ve heard a million times complete with all the emotion that was there the first time you heard it.

It’s a bit demoralizing.

More than anything I want Hope to heal from her trauma. I know that this is part of getting there. But I’m impatient, easily annoyed and occasionally, really selfish.

The truth is that in many ways these three years feel like I’ve lived a whole lifetime because there’s been so much upheaval. I’ve got a lot more gray hair. I’m carrying another 20 15lbs or so. I’m tired. I’m on more antidepressants. I have more crinkles around my eyes. I feel like 10 years have passed.

On the other end of the spectrum, this time has flown by. I struggle to remember how many Christmas’ we’ve been a family. It’s hard to believe that The Furry One has been gone nearly 2 ½ years and that Yappy has been with us for all of our Christmas’s. I’m shocked that it seems just yesterday I was enrolling Hope in 7th grade and now she’s in 10th.

The journey has my sense of time all jumbled up, which also makes my expectations of Hope’s healing speed a bit messy as well. Why isn’t she healing from the trauma as quickly as it feels like I’m aging while trying to help her heal from the trauma????

The upside in all of this is that I know what most of the triggers are, and now, Hope is stronger and can talk to me about her triggers. That’s progress. Actually, that’s a lot of progress.

While I can see and acknowledge all this progress; It’s still true that side stepping Hope’s land mines is hard, exhausting work. Both things are true. Being there for her isn’t always easy. It’s just not. Wishing that I didn’t have to hear the stories for the zillionth time is still true.

But I’ll listen for as long as it takes.


We are Successful

When Hope’s English grade bottomed out a few weeks ago, I found myself having to really make some hard decisions about what my next chess move would be.

For the last year, I’ve been just focused on giving everything I could to help Hope with her school struggles.

Testing.

Tutoring.

Accommodations.

Constant contact with teachers.

Meetings with social workers and counselors.

Observing classes.

Medication management.

If I could think of it and afford it I threw it at the wall and assessed whether it could and would stick. I tried just about everything.

The day I got her progress report I nearly cried because none of it seemed to help. I felt like I failed; she felt like she failed. We both felt like isht.

So, here’s what I chose to do:

I laid down my king on this chess board.

I dumped the tutor for the rest of this semester. I backed off talking about it. I vowed to myself to stop emailing the teachers and counselors for the next few weeks.

I chilled out, and focused on just loving Hope.

And, she loved me back.

It’s funny, whenever I focus on attachment above everything else, Hope thrives. You’d think I’d simply maintain that focus. The reality is that with so many issues to juggle, sometimes I end up just going through the motions with the attachment thing.

I feed her, tidy up, make sure the laundry is done, make sure all basic needs are met. I go to the multiple band events, the multiple medical and dental appointments. I’m meeting with the teachers and the music coaches. And that’s just Hope’s stuff.

Sure we are affectionate. I tell her I love her every day. I try to hug her every day.

But it just is hard to focus on attachment in the middle of the whirlwind that never seems to end..

But the last two or three weeks, I did. I focused on doing things that mommies do: I fixed her hot breakfasts (that were portable); I packed her yummy lunches. I meal planned and made sure we ate dinner together every night. I asked about life. I hugged her. I teased her with my secret pet name for her that she loves but pretends to hate. I watched Korean dramas and music videos. I listened to her teen girl problems. I offered no criticism; just positive direction and reinforcement.

Did it work?

Well, yesterday, we went shopping, and it was everything I thought it would be. We were a mother-daughter duo who had fun, giggled, went way over budget and went for a diet busting bite before the long drive home. She randomly hugged me. When a booth vendor accused Hope of scratching a patent leather purse I mama-bear growled at him ferociously to my daughter’s quiet delight.

We felt loved, both of us. Yesterday will be one of my great mommy memories.

We talked about school. I learned to keep my pie-hole shut. I know she wants to be successful, and that she wants do see if she can do it her way. I want to give her the space to try.

And if backing off means I might get more days like yesterday, well, heck, I might never call the school again.

Hahahahah.

Of course, I’m going to call the school again, but more judiciously. I want her to be successful, and if her way works, then how wonderful would that be.

That English grade hasn’t gone up one point yet. But all the other grades have gone up; so there’s that.

I love this kid so madly, sometimes my heart hurts.

I will continue to focus on attachment. I will also focus on redefining success…and acknowledging that most days, we actually are successful.


By Any Other Name

I had chosen names for the children I would never give birth to. I only chose what would be first or middle names so that they could be adapted to names desired by my would be husband/life partner.

Those names were so important to me; each had special meaning. Each were strong names on which my children could scaffold their identities.

And then, one day, the realization set in that I would not get to use any of those names for biological children.

Even now, writing this, the sting of quiet tears fill my eyes.

And then Hope came along.

Hope got her pseudonym from being my “Hope Kid.” When I started the blog, I had just received her profile. I remember sitting in my office, opening the email, reading the little bit of information attached and then opening the attachment to see her picture.

I immediately fell in love with her.

In my heart I felt like she was my daughter. I just knew, which was ridiculous because she was the first profile I received having just started the national search with my agency the week before.

I also knew that there were many steps to be made before she and I might be matched. I dubbed her my “Hope Kid.”

After we were matched, I started just calling her Hope in this space.

It’s turned out to be a good strong pseudonym for her. She and I are both so hopeful.

At 12, I never once thought about changing her name. Her in real life (IRL) name is unusual and lovely.

A few folks asked if I considered changing her first name.

dancing

No. I mean, she was 12 and It. Is. Her. Name. And well, Hope had lost everything else, everything, why on earth would I take her name from her too?

And she’s feisty, why on earth would I want to start our life with a fight about changing her name?

As we neared the date of our finalization, I did have to make a decision about her last name.

Sounds like a no brainer, right?

I mean, she would just drop her given name and take my name.

No.

It was her given name. It was hers. It was given to her by her parents, who loved her even if they didn’t always love themselves.

I thought about all those adoptees who talked about their birth names and the surnames of their birth family.  How hard it was to find people when names changed. How challenging taking on a new identity could be.

Because Hope is an older adoptee, I had the luxury of having a real conversation with her about her name. I’d like to think that even if she had been younger, I might have come to the same conclusion because it works for us.

Hope had just assumed that I would make her change her name. She understood why I might do that. She has resolved that it was just the way of the world, or rather the way of her world. In Hope’s world, she rarely got to make decisions, she lost lots of things and well, she supposed she was just happy to be getting a forever family.

I asked her what she thought about a third option.

I asked her what she thought about just adding my last name to her existing name.

The first thing she did was write it all out and count the letters.

There were a total of 29 letters in this proposed name. Four names, two of them last names, no hyphens and 29 letters.

She asked if the name would fit on forms.

So, I cruised the internet and found a few forms that we would have to eventually fill out and printed them and let her practice filling them out.

It worked.

I asked her if taking my name would be hard for her; she said maybe. I told her that she could drop it she wanted, and just sign things with her birth name. The four-name thing would just be her “government name.” I explained the times when she would need to use it.

I asked her to think about it.

When I told folks that this third option was on the table…well, there were so many questions. So many.

Why couldn’t I just change it? Why didn’t I want her to be fully a part of the family? Wouldn’t this be confusing for her? How would this help her move on?

There was a lot of criticism.

I stayed focused on me and Hope during the whirlwind.

In the end, extending her name was our choice.

During our Facetime finalization, Hope exclaimed to the judge that her new name was 29 letters.

She continued to use her birth name for a while, and then one day, she didn’t.

I’m not sure exactly when she started using both last names, but I know that now she wouldn’t dare sign her name without both.

When her birth family found us, they were surprised that I didn’t drop their name. I think it brokered some trust with them; I had no intention of erasing her identity.

Again, I have the luxury of having an older child who is capable of telling me her feelings. I know that even during the worst of times she endured, she would leave me in a flash if she had the chance to be parented by her birth parents again.

I’m hardly a saint and I’m judgmental as hell, but I’ve also had the luxury of having my birth family my whole life. I get it and I don’t blame her at all. If I had known them before, and known what I know now, I would’ve been rooting for them.

But our paths were different, and all I can do now is honor her family by supporting her in keeping the names she was given.

Our family is stronger for it.

And what have I really learned from this part of our journey?

I learned that I’m glad that we didn’t have to make a choice based on her safety and a desire not to be found. I think this would have been so much more difficult for her if that was necessary. For her to have to change her name, her identity, to remain safe, is a whole other level of trauma. We are fortunate that we were not faced with that situation.

I learned that even though I have replaced Hope’s birth parents in parenting her, I am additive in her life. For Hope, I didn’t just replace them. I am her mother, without question, but I am her second mother. I can never replace Hope’s birth parents; I can’t erase them. Even with a name change, that history, however brief, is still a real part of her life.

I learned that Hope’s name is her name. I am honored that my name has become a part of her name and a part of her story, but her story didn’t start with me. It won’t end with me either.

I imagine that her name will change again sometime in this lifetime.

And again, it will be Hope’s choice to shape her identity.

I learned that there are various ways to integrate a child into your family.

I learned that a last name can be more than enough of a connection to a new family.

I realized just how much power adoptive parents have…to change a child’s whole name…or just to get to name a child…it is a privilege that should be acknowledged as such.

I learned that the sting of not being able to have biological children rears its head more often than I care to admit. A discussion about changing a child’s name precipitates asking what might you change it to? And then your list of dream names springs to mind…and it drags that little bee sting with it.

I learned to treasure my own name even more. I love thinking about the origins of my name and the story my parents tell me about naming me.

I don’t know that at this point in my life I will change my name even if I get married. I’ve been with this name a mighty long time.

I do know that I’ll still be ABM whatever name I chose, and that Hope will always be my Hope and joy, no matter what her name evolves into during the course of her life.

 


When They Don’t Listen: School Edition

Remember when I realized at the end of summer that we kinda hate school because of some of Hope’s challenges?

Yeah, that.

Yep, still hate it.

I thought that her counselor and I were on the same page in terms of what was in Hope’s best interest. Apparently, I was mistaken.

Hope does not like one of her teachers and has used this as an excuse to underperform.

After lots of back and forth with Hope and the school, I refused to offer Hope the opportunity to change teachers. I needed to see her apply herself, and knowing that she had a chance to get what she wanted would only cause manipulative behavior. After seeing her perform, we could all reevaluate whether a different teacher would be an appropriate move for her.

I know my kid. I know her.

I may have only known her for 3 years this month, by I know Hope.

Hope’s defiance typically comes in the form of showing me how badly she can perform rather than how well she can do the same. Although she hurts herself, she knows that her underperformance hurts me—it makes me worry for her, be a little stressed out, sometimes be angry at her willingness to self-sacrifice.

It took me awhile to figure this out.

I used to not believe in oppositional defiance, generally speaking, in some ways I still do. I think it’s a bunch of baloney in terms of a diagnosis. I was allowed to be openly defiant; the thought of behaving in such a way with my parents back in the day is just a completely foreign concept to me. I can’t wrap my head around it.

And yet, this defiance is supposed to be a thing. I’m supposed to give Hope lots of choices to help manage the defiance. Yeah, ok.

Of course, I know when Hope can handle choices and when she cannot. Often choices are hugely problematic for her.

So, anyhoo, new counselor lady meets with Hope and completely undermines the decision that I made about not switching teachers.

“Hope, sure we can talk about switching teachers; let’s make an appointment; there are 3 other classes you can be switched to.”

Thanks, lady, thanks a lot.

And once again, I get to be the bigger bad guy.

So, now, we’re looking at grades that are just not reflective of Hope’s capabilities with or without accommodations. For Hope, these grades are proof that it’s not working out with her teacher.

For me, they are reflective of self-sabotaging, manipulative behavior designed to get her way and use the naïve school counselor to get it.

Sigh.  Just great.

So, I send off a terse email to the counselor about how she got played and how my kid is in the dog house.

No answer.

I am clear with Hope’s school and with Hope that educational decisions are made by me, unless there is definitive evidence that my say should be overridden. I’m furious that I laid that ground work, and it was all destroyed during one meeting, and here we are with the first quarter jacked.

And Hope has created a legitimate appearing argument for getting her way and irritating me as a bonus.

I don’t care as much about Hope making honor roll these days, but I do know what she’s capable of and what her academically weakness are and how they manifest.

I hate that my knowledge of my daughter’s behaviors and capabilities weren’t treated as “expertise.” I hate that despite having 20 years of educational experience and an advanced degree in education that my knowledge of my kid or relevant content was discounted.

What’s the point of having some forms of privilege if I can’t leverage them? Isn’t that what privilege is about anyway?

With so many parents having to advocate for their kids, I see why it feels like we are rarely on the same team with our children’s educators. For adoptive parents, I could see how the “adoptive” part could be used to undermine what we know about our children throughout our advocacy efforts.

I see how we are marginalized.

I’m angry.

I’m so angry.

Why didn’t the counselor listen to me?

Why was it so hard to just listen to me and work with me to help my daughter be successful? I mean, we’re supposed to be on the same team right?

Why didn’t she listen to me? Why didn’t she trust that I know? Why did she undermine me?

I’m guessing that parents by birth go through this too, this feeling that their experiences as parents are devalued by educators as they advocate for their children.

I am pissed that I feel like I have to back down to that school next week and give them what for.

I’m pissed that my daughter has dug herself in an effort to manipulate her way into getting what she wants.

I hate setbacks.

I hate setbacks even when I learn from them; I always wish that learning didn’t require some form of suffering on this journey.

I hate setbacks that could be avoided if folks just listened and trusted me and my approach to parenting.

This is one of those few times when I have no doubts and no second guessing about my approach to this parenting issue. I knew and continue to know what needed to happen.

But it ends up just being another case of when they didn’t listen.


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