Tag Archives: african american adoptive families

White Gazes

This weekend social media was abuzz with commentary on Tyler Perry’s latest movie playing on Netflix (A Fall From Grace). I scrolled past most of it because I wasn’t in the mood this weekend for a TP flick. I’ll also admit to being one of many critics of his storytelling. I support him and want him to succeed, but his storytelling is mediocre. He recently boasted of his work ethic and how he writes everything he produces alone; well, it shows. A good writing room and/or a good editor can turn good writing into brilliant writing.

But I digress, this isn’t about TP and his Netflix movie, it’s about the critiques, who’s making them and who’s watching those who are critical.

An old friend recently posted something akin to if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all on social media today. I wrote a response that despite all of TP’s contributions, it is still more than appropriate for us to have a critical conversation about his work. His contributions to Black American culture are obvious, noteworthy and meaningful. At the same time, in my opinion, his work is lacking, often recycled and full of misogynoir. She eventually deleted her posted and I slid into her DMs to apologize for blowing up her post and to inquire about how she was really feeling.

Turns out, there was a lot of defensiveness because White folks in her life were yucking it up about how TP’s stuff is so bad that he was being dragged by other Black folks. All of this made it easier to dismiss all of Black creatives. She wished that we could have these critical discussions in private, away from the White Gaze but we can’t so the default position is to say nothing bad, nothing critical. She emphasized that this lesson in “can’t say anything nice, then say nothing at all” is one of her core parenting values.

Ah, I got it.

Again, this isn’t about Tyler Perry at all. It’s about White folks.

Seriously, so much of this life is about White folks that it is seriously a mystery how we get anything done.

In a nutshell, the White Gaze is the world as we know it through white eyes. White folks write the history. White folks teach the history; anything that is not directly connected to them and/or their production of history is easily discounted, dismissed and forgotten. The White Gaze prioritizes white identity and centers white experience in all things. It dictates the way we talk, the way we dress, how we think about presentation, how we engage, how we are paid or not, how we raise our kids, and how we engage socially. It impacts us in countless ways, all day, every day. And it’s not even malicious, it’s just unconscious White supremacy at work.

This notion that we can have a meaningful community debate about the quality of Black art privately…well, we can’t on a large scale. . The same way I consumed the tweets, insta-posts and FB feeds White folks do as well. The fair and meaningful critique, similar to that which they might produce for art created by other White folks, is viewed differently and used to dismiss all.

The White Gaze is crushing because it’s always present.

After our interaction in the DMs, I thought a lot about what it meant and in what ways the White Gaze has shaped my life and my parenting.

When I was younger, my business dress was very conservative. I wanted to be taken “seriously” by all of the White folks where I worked. I remember the first time I cut my hair short and how all of the mostly White men I was around commented that I was so exotic. I grew my hair out. I kept my color schemes muted; didn’t want to be accused of being too loud or looking unprofessional. I worked on my public speaking and disavowed as much of any lingering southern accent as possible. I wanted to fit in, and very specifically, I wanted to fit in with White folks.

I eventually aged, and I began shedding f*cks. I largely wear things that are comfortable, sometimes colorful and I relish speaking in my own authentic voice. I’m matured and feel more free now.

I also know that I have this freedom from the Gaze only because of the capital I amassed from decades of succumbing to it. I’ve earned my freedom, but I also know it has limits. The Gaze always creates limits.

So when Hope came along, I was committed to trying to raise a strong Black woman who was self-assured and confident (we’re still working on this). I think back to my emphasis on manners and certain kinds of interactions. I think about the little weekend classes I sent her to on Saturday afternoons, and how I leveraged every bit of privilege I have amassed to her benefit—usually in rooms where I was the only Black or brown person. When she acted out, it was always uncomfortable, but when she acted out in front of White folks, my cheeks burned hot with embarrassment. I know the tableau we presented could easily be extrapolated to pathologize more Black folks. Suddenly, we were a stereotype, live and in color (pun intended).

Fear of the Gaze lingers just outside my front door. Heck, it’s in the house, and sometimes this blog is influenced by it.

During my afternoon pondering, I considered all the ways I silently conditioned my daughter to survive this Gaze. I considered how she pipes down when we’re in front of White people and it’s always the best of the best manners. I considered how stressed she gets when she has to dress formally; it’s not just that the clothes aren’t always comfortable, but there is a fret about how she will be viewed in the ensembles. I think about some of the clothes I’ve bought her since she left for college. Some of the things that I (and many of us) would consider basics, I know she has no interest in and that I am trying to affect her presentation—when there’s nothing wrong with her presentation. I am hyper aware that my parents conditioned me that in formal situations (read White situations) I need to have on my best clothes, best manners, best diction…best everything, and the pressure was enormous. One wrong move didn’t just ice me out, but might others out as well. I thought about all the ways I have conditioned Hope…not even intentionally (I’ve done that too) but unconsciously conditioned and modeled certain behaviors that help me navigate the Gaze.

And then, because I totally go down rabbit holes, I wondered how transracially adopted kids learn about the White Gaze. I wondered who teaches them about it and how especially immersed they are in it? And if their parents eff with that colorblind foolishness that centers whiteness…what then?

The White Gaze is oppressive without even trying to be.

So while I won’t be checking out of Tyler Perry’s stuff I still want him to win. As much as I think his writing is mediocre, I think that equality means that all folks have successful yet mediocre artists producing successful yet mediocre art. His wins also mean that I am free enough to criticize him publicly without care for the White Gaze and its oppression. A world in which that works is a world where parents like me are also free from having to coach our kids how to survive the Gaze as well.

That’s a world where I want to be.


Eager Anticipation

I’m eagerly anticipating the return of the empty nest.

Don’t get me wrong. It has been wonderful having Hope home for the holidays.  We have had some nice moments of quality time during the last few weeks. It’s been cool.

That said, this is the longest that Hope has been home since the summer, and before that she was in boarding school and would only come home occasionally on the weekends.

She’s not returning for spring semester until next weekend…10 more days.

Now, I feel kind of guilty anticipating Hope going back to school, but the feelings are real.

Hope only came home twice during the semester, during fall and Thanksgiving breaks. Consequently, I got used to my alone time.

I cooked but not nearly as often since I could eat cereal or make a quick cheese toast for an after work bite along with wine, you know for a balanced meal.

I did my laundry and left it in the basket for days.

I picked up groceries on the weekend, and they actually lasted all week!

If I wanted to walk around in my skivvies, I walked around in my skivvies.

The occasional overnight guest? Not a problem.

Yappy and I had a cool routine and I was getting him reacquainted with his crate due to his separation anxiety.

Since Hope has been home, we are constantly running out of food even though occasionally she will not eat a real meal for a day or two. Then she’ll eat *all the food*.

I have to cook nearly every day…like actual meals. #LOL

I feel like I have to finish my laundry so that she feels compelled to finish hers.

It’s impossible to keep orange juice in the house; she drinks it like water.

I can’t walk around half-naked, and there are no guests.

I have to remind her to take her meds.

I have to ask her to walk the dog.

I made her get back to volunteering this week so that she wasn’t watching Asian dramas all day, because the Holy Homeboy’s children have to work in this house. (Yappy’s job is being cute and providing emotional support in the form of too much attachment).

Dishes are everywhere.

Ack!

I adore my daughter; she really is amazing. This first semester of college was really rough academically (like OMG rough) even though she really seemed to do much better socially. She needed this time to recover a bit and just rest. I get it. I support it. But…after a few weeks, I’m kinda ready to get us back to our new normal.

Is this what my parents felt? Did they love when I visited, but also loved when I returned to school? Did they feel kinda guilty about that? Can you really have the three day guest rule when it’s your home?

I never, ever want Hope to feel like this isn’t her home. This. Is. Her. Home.

*Whispers*

But I’ve gotten used to her being at school! I have adjusted and like my life as a empty nester.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as Hope preps to go back to school. We’re deciding if I’m driving her back or if she will take the train. I’m wondering how this semester will go, will she find her academic groove, will she want to continue? And if she doesn’t, what will our life be like with her back full time? What can I do to prepare myself for that? How did I let myself get so comfortable? And what will my grocery bill look like with this young adult living back in the house?

So many questions swirling….

But in the meantime, I legit am excited about her going back to school and me walking around in my skivvies, eating cereal for dinner over the sink and feeling kinda guilty about how excited I am about it.

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Thoughts on “How to Deal” with Racists

I was cruising around social media on New Year’s Day and throughout all the lovely end of year tributes and proclamations for 2020. During my scroll-fest, I kept stumbling upon posts by white folks seeking counsel on how to deal with racist family members. Not all the posts were adoption related; some dealt with awkward family moments during the holiday dinner and others dealt with business folks who were dealing with racist clients or colleagues.

For some, the revelation that their friends/family/colleagues were racist AF was not new. They had long known that these individuals in their lives had trash ideas about folks who are not White. It had only recently become an issue that needed “dealing with” when they announced something monumental like an adoption, an engagement or a new client or job. In other words, these posters *knew* and either giggled along at the racist jokes/commentary or sat silently when the behaviors were occurring. In either case, the information was not shocking; it was only shocking that somehow the racism was directed at them as  proxy for their child/partner/client/colleague.

For other folks, these revelations were new; allegedly (heavy on the emphasis here) there was no previous evidence of being racist. For them, this new knowledge was shocking and triggered a spin into cognitive dissonance as they wondered whether Uncle Jim was always an arsehole (I guarantee you he was).

All of the posts sought counsel on how to navigate this new knowledge which I find to be just…sigh…sooooo privileged.  We really need a book, “How to be friends/family/colleagues with a racist without personal moral and emotional quagmires.”

Sigh. I swear this is exhausting.

Listen, racists are going to be racist. It’s what they do. Racists are as predictable as the sun rising and setting.

Grandma got racist during this administration? Nah, grandma got bold during this administration; trust, she was racist long before this administration came into power.

You are floored that your parents don’t want a black grandbaby…I’m guessing they have that one or two “acceptable black friends” that have never received an invitation to their home in 40+ years.

As a Black woman, I’m always more shocked by the folks who are shocked that they now “see racists.”

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I’ve never had that luxury. I had to learn to spot them early in order to just live. Honestly, spotting them is not hard; they typically are more than happy to reveal themselves. And if you miss the first hint, don’t worry, they will predictably show themselves again.

So, when White folks are *gasp* stunned to find that friends/family/colleagues are racist, I’m usually like really? You didn’t know? How did you not know? And now you want to know how to deal? What does that even mean?

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Does it mean that you are trying to deradicalize them?

Does it mean that you want to find a way of not banishing them out of your life?

Does it mean that you want your would-be Black/brown child to still be able to have a relationship with these folks because #friendsandfamilyareeverything?

Does it mean that you need an exit strategy before you straight up ghost them?

What does “deal with” mean?

Let me tell you something: I don’t deal with racists.

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I do diversity work professionally. Once I peep the racist, I’m cordial but frozen tundra frigid, not just chilly. If they are in my workshop, I’ll include them, I’ll make sure they don’t derail the program for everyone else, and I’ll also ice them with a quickness if necessary. And I get paid to deal with this stuff, and I just refuse to give them more than a passing professional thought once I’ve peeped them.

But let me run up on a racist outside of work….

I have zero time or tolerance. If I address them at all it will be with enough smoke to hide a major metropolitan city.

Here’s what I’m not going to do: I’m not going to spend any time with them. I’m not bring my kid around them. I’m going to let my friends/family/colleagues know that that person is not safe to be around. I treat them like a biblical leper. #canceled #mymoodforever

So all of this handwringing over racists…why?

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Because exacto-blading racist friends/family/colleagues is hard? Yeah, so is being Black living in a world committed to racism and white supremacy. So, yeah, I’m sure it is hard for folks to cancel these people, but the alternative is what…subjecting yourself and your kids to a bunch of rancid foolery?

How Sway, how????

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That’s going to be a hard no from me, and I ain’t posting a response to your ridiculous inquiry. #IsaidwhatIsaid

Every day, I read comments made by foster and adoptive parents raging about the deficiencies of biological parents. While some hope these parents get it together to be able to parent or have an open adoption, more than a few advocate zero contact at all. None. And while in some specific instances this might be warranted for safety reasons, folks are out here trying to rationalize hanging out with racists?

Really?

This is what we are doing in the year of our good Beyonce 2020?

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Come on, people. #dobetter

If grandma was a pedophile this wouldn’t even be an issue. Trust that exposure to racism is damaging, and it’s not just damaging to kids, it’s damaging to everyone. I can’t even believe this needs to be said.

Kick these folks to the curb, full stop. Protect your kids and protect yourself.  Stop making excuses and space for this kinda radical behavior. Let them know why you are cancelling them; let them know that it is a consequence of bad behavior. Let them know that reinstatement will only be considered after a presentation of sufficient evidence of changed hearts and minds over a sustained period of time, and that they could still be cancelled at any time.

And then walk away.

Dassit. Walk. Stroll. Strut. Roll out.

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Stop trying to make a way for racists. Stop it.

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Stop trying to rationalize; stop trying to be nice; stop trying to be understanding. Have some principles and be out.

Friends/family/colleagues don’t let friends/family/colleagues hang out with racists.

Just stop it, and go pick up a copy of Ibram X. Kendi’s book, How to be an Antiracist.

 

 

 


Reflecting on a Decade

Ten years ago, I was in a serious relationship that I thought was going to lead to marriage. We were going through a really difficult time because my partner was battling addiction. I can’t remember exactly how we spent that NYE, but I kind of remember the fall out. I remember going to brunch with a friend on New Year’s day. I also remember making a decision that would really change my life that day.

I knew that the relationship was not sustainable, but for reasons I still don’t understand, I didn’t leave then. It would take me another 7 months.

I knew I wanted to go back to school and that 2010 seemed like a good time to do it. As I got closer to making that a reality, I knew that pursuing my EdD, and the heavy lift it represented was my exit strategy for my relationship.

I remember laying in bed and looking at the ceiling and thinking I need a plan.

I made one.

A year later I was in school working hard and I was single.

Four years later I walked with my degree as a new mom; Hope had moved in 4 months prior and we were about a month out from finalization.

Now six years later, Hope is a college freshman.

A lot happened over the last decade. I edited a book. I published some papers. I did a LOT of writing personally and professionally. I saw my career move to another level. I lost weight and gained weight. I went natural. I joined Twitter. I lost a dog; I got a new dog. I traveled to places I dreamed about as a kid. I read many books and listened to countless podcasts. I fell in love and out of love. I fell in lust and refrained from hitting a particular dude with my car (repeatedly). I survived serious health issues. I became an aunty—one who gives great gifts, but also brings her own booze to family gatherings. I started being called Dr. I started being called mom.

And so much more, though so many minor details seem just lost to me.

It was a challenging decade, but change is always hard.

But it’s been so sweet. So many of my dreams came true during this last decade. It’s stunning when I really sit down and consider it.

As I look to the 2020s I think about what I have to look forward too.

I will turn 50 during this decade. Hopefully Hope will finish undergrad and began making moves on her own. I hope to find my person and begin building the next chapter with him.  I hope to love myself unconditionally. I hope to accept myself—the good, bad and ugly. I hope to forgive myself of things I’ve been dragging around since before the last decade. I hope to discover the next things I want to do professionally (which may require some moves). I hope to finally really commit to some getting some of the things on my vision board done—one thing has been on the last 3 and I haven’t done anything towards it. I hope to get answers to some of the biggest mysteries of my life. Most of all, I want to be happy and content.

As of today, the end of the 2010s, I am generally happy…more happy than not happy for sure. I feel like I was able to make the most of the 2010s in ways that count. I am hopeful that I can do that for the 2020s as well.

Happy New Year friends.


In Need of Grace

I always love the ideas of holidays, but holidays are…complicated. They always are even if we all only post the happy versions of the highlight reels on social media.

In my pre-Hope life, things were complicated for all kinds of reasons.

Most of the time I’ve been single during the holidays.

Still not skinny and all my food issues and body issues hop into overdrive and are usually kept there by someone commenting in passing on my body.

The need to drive around creation to “see” everyone.

The desire for simplicity and routine during a time that legit represents neither.

The grief I hold in my heart for family and friends who are no longer here.

The complicated personal theology that keeps me going, but doesn’t quite fit with the holiday themes surrounding this time of year.

And sometimes wondering if I even belong anywhere.

Yep, complicated.

And then Hope came and all of that still existed but new stuff emerged as I tried to graft this new family together with new traditions. The reality is things became more complicated in many ways.

Hope has her own grief, profound grief.

She wonders if she belongs anywhere.

There’s so many people and they want/demand hugs.

There’s “holiday” routines and traditions, but can we get back to our regularly scheduled programming?

How much alone time can be had without folks asking if she’s “ok?”

There’s the introvert’s exhaustion from having to exist around 30 people for hours.

There’s thoughts of what should have been her life with her family of origin.

This year was no different, in fact it might have been more challenging. What can I say, schnitt happens.

Hope and I open gifts on Christmas Eve. Every year Hope writes me a letter (she’s also usually broke so she leans into the much more personalized gift). I heard her sobbing in her room. I asked if she was ok, she kept saying yes. I finally dropped it. We gather to do our Christmas and she hands me her letter.

This year’s letter is different from all the others, which I keep with all my important papers. There’s always a lot of love and gratitude in the letters; they are sweet…precious. I can see her maturity over the years in them and what she talks about. They are a big window into Hope’s emotions, which I don’t get too often.

This year’s letter thanked me for adopting her and went on to talk about repaying me. This letter was beautiful and heartbreaking. Hope does not owe me anything. I’m high key horrified that she thinks she does in any sense. I wanted to be a mom, and she needed a parent. We were a match and we’ve worked hard to make this match work. I adore Hope. I read the letter, sobbed and hugged her an uncomfortably long time while repeating over and over that she owes me nothing.

Yappy doesn’t do well with big emotions—he’s a happy boy who just wants everyone to be happy. So during these moments of sobbing, Yappy is uncomfortably trying to get into our hug, pawing, sad faced, bringing toys to cheer us. We eventually had to do our “sit on the couch close enough for him to snuggle between us” to calm him; it’s his favorite thing. #packanimal

And that’s how Christmas started. We moved from that to an unfortunate incident in which Grammy only claimed her two bio grandkids despite having 5 grandkids—3 by adoption and guardianship. This happened in front of Hope who just pretended it didn’t happen. There were apologies later, but there were hours and hours of discomfort, anger, sadness, rejection, and the rest.

There were challenging moments with 30 people in a house, some of whom demanded “hugs” from everyone, especially the kids. Folks stop doing this and stop your family from doing this. You can’t teach bodily autonomy and safety when some rando woman you only see once a year is insisting on manhandling your kid. Hope only does hugs with folks she’s close to; the hugging demands are really triggering.

Then there were the quiet conversations between me and Hope about family gatherings, biological family, belonging, and sadness that took place in the space between our two beds in the hotel. The moments when I want to cry for her, but am not sure if such expressions of grief and sadness on her behalf are helpful or not, so I wait until the early morning when she’s sleeping to work through it.

And of course there is other emotional drama that I’m not sure will ever fully make it to this space—I’ll say this: getting to know folks romantically is hard. There is a part of me that is like, yo, Hope and I made this match work; those should be transferable skills right? Yeah, no. Years of awful dating experiences have taken their toll and every hiccup makes me want to just call it a day and get a hypoallergenic cat to go with my cute dog. It’s hard to heal, to trust, and to believe after what feels like countless failures. #butIdigress

I’m trying, and I’m trying to just muster sufficient grace to plow through this holiday season and all of the emotional schnitt it brings.

I love time with my family and with my beautiful Hope. I love the downtime from work—seriously my resting heart rate has dropped more than 5 bpm so I’m guessing work is stressful, eh? I love being able to nap in the afternoon. I’m officially addicted to knitting because it’s relaxing and I’m delighted to have all this time to work on projects.

But I’m a calendar based kinda of chick. You know how you wake up in the middle of the night, look at the clock and fret about how much time you have left to sleep? And then you can’t sleep all that great during the remaining time? Yeah, I do that with days, sometimes weeks. I’m already stressed about going back to work. I’m already stressed about taking Hope back to school.

I’m kind of a mess in need of a lot of grace as well.

And I left my fitbit at home, which begs the question, am I even really moving? How am I supposed to make sure my eating and exercise levels are at least kinda in sync?

Yeah, I’m a mess, and this time of year seems to bring a lot of it to the surface. I would love nothing more to buy a winning lottery ticket and disappear, just vanish to some far-flung place. Sigh, I don’t even play the lottery.

So, folks, I’m just trying to focus on being gracious today. Grace is a gift. It is centering. It can lead me to forgiveness when necessary. It gives me strength. It allows me to fret less. In putting grace out into the universe, I’m hopeful that the universe will give some back to me.

I need it.


Holiday Blues

This is a difficult time of year for me. I struggle. I struggle a lot.

The lack of long days of sunlight zaps my energy. The cold slows me down. I fall into a nasty cycle of eating yummies and then feeling awful about the eating and my body, remnants of a long ago raging eating disorder. I love shopping, but having to shop annoys me and stresses me out.

I like holiday decorations in other people’s homes; I would just prefer to not.

There’s a lot of grief, and there is a lot of loss this time of year as well. I think a lot about the loss. There were family, friends, parents of friends…Last year one of my exes passed away; we split nearly a decade ago. It was a sad, sad breakup. I am still stunned by how the grief associated with his death lingers.

It’s been…difficult.

But I’m trying.

I’m going to those therapy appointments.

I’m doing some meal planning.

I’m doing a few exercise videos a day to get some movement in.

I bought one of those therapy lights.

I’m knitting a lot.

I did most of my shopping online and sprung for gift wrap and just sent the stuff to folks so I didn’t have to carry it.

I’m binging funny shows on Netflix.

Hope is home, and I’m enjoying having her home. She’s glad to be home, but like me, this is a difficult time of year.

So, we’re going through some motions around these parts.

It’s ok. It really is. This will pass, and we will triumph again.

Take care of yourselves out there, and happy holidays.


Not Sharing It

So, I haven’t shared the story of the little boy whose kindergarten class came to witness his adoption finalization, and I will not be sharing it. I think it’s worth unpacking briefly why in hopes that we can all practice some discretion and reflection on adoptee narratives.

Hope and I finalized our adoption by Facetime since the court with jurisdiction was across country. We invited my parents, sisters and a local cousin and his family. We had a little BBQ afterward and shared the time with family. There are some pictures, and although Hope looks happy, I now remember tinges of sadness around the day. I felt it then, but I couldn’t understand why. Now, years later, I appreciate the gravity of the occasion so much more; Hope was leaving a life behind in many ways. While many adults might not have looked at that life fondly, she was with a parent she adored and that’s what mattered to her. She has told me on more than one occasion that she would give anything to have that again. Our finalization day represented that option being completely closed off to her in her mind.

We do acknowledge our family day these days, but in a very, very low-key fashion. It’s hard to know what that young boy will feel in the future with so much public attention on this moment in his life, but I don’t want to be a part of publicizing something that  might result in some really, really complicated feelings as he ages.

I also recognize, now even more than ever as Hope is 18, that at only 5, he can’t consent to having his story publicized. Yes, it’s warm and fuzzy, but it is his story—yes, it is a shared story, one that would have been just as warm and fuzzy if kept private. Take the all the pictures, the videos, make a scrapbook for him to have an remember, but keep the kid off the internet and let him create his narrative.

I’m hardly perfect in what I’ve shared about my and Hope’s life in this space, but there are many, many details that I really try to keep private. Those are the times when I have more vague references or just gloss over information. It’s just not my stuff, and I shouldn’t take stuff that isn’t mine and share it with you. I just shouldn’t. So as much as the story is heartwarming, I just wish it was kept private or even just keep his name private..

And because of this…clipped from the CNN article on the adoption.

Capture

This child didn’t orchestrate this, the adults in his life did. And, again, adorbs that the kiddies showed up and out for their classmate, but be clear that this wasn’t something he initiated. If you watch the interviews, you’ll see him (cute as a button) talk about it, but be clear that it was orchestrated. Sometimes, in this overly socialized world we live in, we just share, share, and share when maybe we should be more judicious. This was the ultimate social media post; I’ve seen it at least a dozen times this week. I just couldn’t share it.

And last, but certainly not least, is he really the only little black boy for miles in Grand Rapids, MI or what? He *is* the racial diversity in his class. He is in an environment that is nice but really homogenous looking. It makes me hope that his parents are taking pains to create extensive and meaningful connections to folks who look like him. His support system is adorable, but there’s no one in it who looks like him. That shook me a bit. I also didn’t want to put that out in the universe either.

So, do I think his adoption day story is lovely?

Sure, but I also appreciate that it’s probably complicated. Even if it’s not complicated, I wish his story wasn’t so public. Yes, it’s feel good, and yes, it may even promote the adoption of children in foster care who need permanent homes. But is that all worth the loss of this child’s private narrative?

I don’t think it is.

I wish the family well. I wish that beautiful child well.


Find the Thing that Keeps You Going

I don’t talk a lot about religion and faith in this space. I’m transparent about being a woman of faith, but I am not one for proselytizing, and I cringe when I think about how religious narratives run through adoption in ways that are not ok.

I was raised Christian, Baptist specifically. I grew up very active in church. My faith was always strong but my views on Christianity and organized religion in general have always been a bit rebellious. I don’t like the perversions of faith, I loathe how religion is often weaponized, how it is used to marginalize and oppress, the intolerance that usually comes along for the ride.

I’ve always, and I mean always since in elementary school, been curious about other religions, other ways of knowing, other faith orientations and how people come to explain the world around them. Consequently, though I identify as Christian, my beliefs are quite a bit more expansive than that. When Hope and I left the church that declined to have public adoption blessings of older adoptees, landing with the Unitarian Church made a lot of sense.

Even with that, I tend to find it confining sometimes so I’m more of a drop in kind of congregant.

Some things that have never budged: my love of gospel and my ability and willingness to pray without ceasing.

As an adult, there have been about 5 episodes when life kept me on my knees either literally or emotionally. The last big episodes were when I found out I would never have biological children and the first year of my and Hope’s life together.

The grief I felt after being plunged into infertility still gnaws at me. It still stings even as I have entered peri-menopause. It was a betrayal of body and of what I thought was faith promise. I did everything I was supposed to do and my body *still* wasn’t worth ish. My prayers were so angry, furious, accusatory and grief stricken. And then I got back to focusing on the moment that really should have overshadowed the loss of my fertility—the fact that the health issue *only* left me infertile. The original prognosis for my health issue was terrifying; the surgeon told my parents he had not seen anything like what he had found and told them to get ready for the worst. A couple of days later a second surgeon, heavily pregnant, burst into my room, my mom sitting by my bed and shouted that the pathology reports were clear and I was going to be ok. The tears that flowed…I still am reduced to tears thinking about that moment. It took me a long time to shift my focus to that moment because I focused so much on my loss.

I focused on the loss and not the life extension.

The reminder grounds me, even as I still wrestle with my grief years later. There’s a song that takes me there and was so instrumental in me getting to that shift, Byron Cage’s I Will Bless the Lord. That part when he sings, “You don’t know cause you weren’t there when God snatched me out of the enemy’s hand…”

That part.

My life was spared; the price was infertility and while it still feels like a high price, this song reminds me of how much I want to live. I play it anytime I need to get right, especially in those moments of deep depression when it’s hard to pray.

The other recent period was the first year of placement/adoption for me and Hope. I knew it would be difficult, but I really, really had no idea how difficult. When I tell you I prayed all the time and for everything and to any deity…whew.

I was parenting a kid who had more issues than Newsweek. I was alone. No one in my life really understood what home life was like. I was judged a lot. I didn’t have a lot of support in large part because people have such warped perceptions of older child adoption. I exacerbated the isolation by writing about the lack of support, which seemed to make people in my life take sides—they didn’t take my side because I was being mean. So few people asked whether I was ok, why I was writing the things I wrote, what support that I needed that I low key still hold some resentments about it, but that’s another story for another day.

I joke about it now, but there were legit times when it was so difficult to navigate the emotional landmines inherent in adoption that I found myself sitting on a stool in my tub in my bathroom with the curtain drawn, the door closed, sobbing, eating chocolate cake and feeling like I could not possibly do this another day. It wasn’t unusual for me to lay in bed in the wee hours of the morning, looking at the ceiling fan praying for relief and strength to carry on.

I feel like I was a shadow of myself. Alone, with a daughter who needed me in ways that I could barely wrap my head around. I was just trying to get it together, constantly. Songs like this one got me through. #letgoandletgod

My point in this post isn’t to try to convert anyone to anything other than figuring out what you need to give you the umph to get through another day. For me, music, prayer and meditation did it in the worst of times. I’ve certainly added coping mechanisms along the way (a good therapist, anti-depressants among other things). But something about a good gospel song gets me together.

This life thing isn’t easy sometimes and finding emotional energy to build you up can be so hard at times. Figure out what works for you, what fits with your faith orientation (shout out to the atheists and agnostics as well, much love to you). Sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s a prayer, a book and glass of wine. Find what recharges you, even if it’s just a quick spark and lean into it. This isn’t just about infertility or adoption; this is about life. And for many, this time of year life feels…even more difficult. Figure out what lifts you and do that.

I tell HAPs all the time to get a therapist, some drugs and some serious coping skills before they bring a child home. I’m serious about that too. Folks have sent me messages about whether that’s really necessary…yeah, it is. Do it, it will help you be the best parent you can be and kids need that. Recognizing and reckoning with your own stuff better situates you to deal with someone else’s.

So that’s it. That’s the post, lean into what keeps you going, what reminds you of the joy of living, what gives you the energy to go another day.


Morning Coffee

Hope and I only talk once a week or so via phone or video, usually on the weekends. All other times, we text. It works for us. I feel like it’s reasonable; I don’t want or need to talk to her daily. I don’t assume something is wrong if we don’t talk every day; instead I assume we are both off living our independent lives.

But the two times I’ve seen my daughter this semester, we get that quality time that really connects us and highlights our attachment.

And now Hope is home for Thanksgiving.

Earlier this week Hope texted me asking for some money to take an Uber to catch her bus home. Having just given Hope her allowance 10 days prior I blew a gasket that she had spent it all with no consideration that she needed to get to the bus station. We’ve been dealing with her spending for a few weeks now and I *lost* it. Texting furiously I reamed my daughter for her irresponsibility that she didn’t even have $10 to take an Uber. I sent her an email after checking in with the bank spending analysis. And then I said we would discuss once she got home.

And then she nearly missed the bus, and I lost my ish again.

Seriously, this kid ran my pressure way up this week.

And then she was home, and I tried to still be a bit pissy. Yeah, I did, because I’m so damn petty sometimes. But I picked her up from the station, brought her home, fed her, inspected her skin, assessed her demeanor and just hugged her. My anger melted away.

We still needed to talk, but I told her we would table things until the weekend so we could enjoy our holiday. Over dinner, Hope said grace and prayed that I didn’t rip her a new one when we talked. I tried not to laugh.

And the truce lasted about 12 hours. Over coffee we started our chat about school, money, health, friends, and life.

A_small_cup_of_coffee

via Google Images

We talked about her classes, challenges, depression, anxiety, and money. And we talked about medication compliance and things clicked into place. No meds for a few days, things slip, no meds for a week or more and things slide downhill fast. Not thinking you need your meds creates situations where it’s obvious that you need your meds.

I pointed this out to her, and she nodded her understanding.

I swear I can’t stay mad at her; annoyed and a little pissy, yeah, but all out mad? No. I just can’t. She needs me too much for me to stay mad and withhold love and affection from her.

We have more to discuss this weekend, but we made a lot of progress over coffee this morning.

I also learned my daughter takes her coffee black with a little sweetener and that her anxiety is probably driving her misconception that the dining hall food “makes her sick.”

We picked out some hair cuts for her to consider and I took her for a massive haircut this afternoon. I teased her as she sat in the chair having inches shaved off. I gushed as she rose from the chair; the new look becomes her.

Tomorrow we will call our family—her birth family—down south to catch up, and we will travel to visit our family in VA. She will see her grands, her cousins, and aunties. She will eat, laugh, play and eat some more, and I will watch her and marvel.

But first, we will have a cup of coffee together.

 


Freshman Year Challenges

I low key like a challenge. I like crushing goals and projects. I like pushing myself to do more and different. I don’t think I’m flashy about liking a challenge; I want to focus on the task and not all the stuff around it.

Hope focuses on everything around the task, except sometimes, the task itself. While I look at things at a systems level to figure out how to get from beginning to end, my daughter focuses on every possible step from beginning to end, but not necessarily the beginning or the end.

Challenges sometimes overwhelm Hope. She gets consumed by the individual steps down the line while she’s stuck on step one. She has trouble conceptualizing the system of big pictures that connect A and B. She is skeptical of the process in a challenge. For Hope, a lot of this leads to stagnation and imposter syndrome.

Observing Hope in this first semester of college has been remarkable. When she was at the military school last year, there were so many limits there that, in retrospect, I’m wondering how much I learned about Hope overall during that time. Don’t get me wrong, I saw my daughter grow a lot, but as an individual being, I’m just realizing I’m not sure I learned a lot about her.

These last few months have been totally different. I see my daughter positively thriving socially for the first time since becoming her mom. She has friends on her hall and in her classes. Hope tried out for and made the step team; she got involved in the Black Student Association. The social anxiety that plagued her for years seems to have faded away. When I went to visit for parent’s weekend, she confidently strode down her dorm hall while her core homies congregated to say to hello and be introduced to me. She has only been home once this semester because, even though she is homesick, she isn’t homesick enough to assuage her “FOMO” (fear of missing out) around hanging with the homies over the weekend.

During a lengthy, serious discussion a month or two ago, I asked Hope if she was happy.

She finally said yes.

Sure, she’s not totally happy about every single little thing, but she is overall happy with her social and extracurricular life.

I am thrilled. She’s actually seemed in a much better emotional space than I’ve seen her during much of her time with me.

Hope’s academic performance have been a bit of a different story. I’ve always worried about Hope’s academic performance. It took me a long while to really appreciate the struggles of folks with ADHD. I tried to get her to lean into what she was good at—music. I got tutors and regularly met with counselors and teachers. I expressed grave concerns about some classroom practices and whether the approaches were really teaching kids about how to improve or increase capacity for executive function. Hope is a really smart young woman, but challenges with executive function make it hard for her best to shine through.

Midterms revealed a lot.

College is different. Less grades, more autonomy and more responsibility, greater need for self-direction.

Getting her midterm grades was a bit of a reckoning for Hope. Whatever fears she had about going to college and what the next few years would look like, step by deliberate step, quickly rose to the surface. Despite my certainty that the grades would eventually come, Hope’s realization that she was really struggling was always top of mind. Panic began to set in, and I began fielding texts and calls saying she made a huge mistake in coming to college, she should be home working or going to community college.

My heart breaks a bit when I hear her self-doubt. I also feel guilty: you can’t keep telling your kid how important school/academics are and expect them to believe your more laid back attitude when they really begin to struggle.  I have no track record of not stepping into Hope when she brought home struggle grades.

I’ve listened to Hope work through her feelings. I’ve told her that I believe long term it will all work out and that the grades will come; this is a part of the transition. I’ve told her that she probably wouldn’t have the same wrap around support at the local community college. I’ve reminded her that we originally agreed to one full academic year. I’ve told her that I believe she’s working hard and things just haven’t clicked yet.

It feels like she’s having none of it. She’s practically dragging herself, her intelligence, her worthiness, her ability.

It breaks my heart. We go through a pep talk, I help her develop a to do list of folks to talk to and where to get support. I follow up a few days later. I make it ok to pontificate about what life back home might look like and what my expectations of her might be. I try to channel to the conversation about steps that can help her feel like she’s moving forward, using campus resources and chasing her version of success.

It is very difficult confronting reality sometimes. Hope’s reality is requiring her to step up; my reality is supporting her from the sidelines. As a parent, I am trying to support and encourage, but it feels a bit helpless seeing her be sad about her performance and question her abilities. Hope’s self-esteem about school has always been low, so I’m really sensitive about how hard this must be for her. I believe that largely, these are some of the first big adulting challenges, that she will experience, and adulting, well, it kinda sucks sometimes.

My biggest concerns are about whether she can stick it out past the rough transition, whether she can muster enough belief in herself to right her ship and figure out strategies that work for her and whether her resilience is strong enough to help her not internalize her grades.

Ironically, this is the first time I haven not fretted about Hope’s grades. I knew the transition would be challenging, so I was prepared for not the best grades. My hope was that she passed everything and could continue on into the spring semester where she would feel a bit more experienced and have a few more coping skills.

As we come to the end of this semester, things are really up in the air for next semester. I am not sure how I feel about that; it’s disconcerting. I am eager to hear more of her thoughts and ideas as we spend time over the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m hopeful that we can put together a good pro/con list. I’m hopeful that her grades will allow her to have a full range of options from which to decide. But for now, I don’t know what will happen.

We are going through the motions of preparing for her return to school in the spring. We are completing the dreaded FAFSA. We are looking at her course schedule for next year. We’re planning, so I guess we aren’t completely rudderless.

It sure does feel like it though.

Whatever the decision, I know it will be fine because I know Hope is researching, thinking and being deliberate. She’s communicating about her feelings and about the concrete stuff. We’ve always managed to be fine. We’ll be fine with this too.


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