Tag Archives: african american adoptive parenting

What Hope’s Graduation Taught Me

Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. Watching my daughter walk across the stage and graduate surrounded by family and friends was such a wonderful experience that really, it’s almost hard to explain. Family, friends and even colleagues drove a long way to join us for this event, and it was more than I could have dreamed.

During the processional, I gasped and choked up because it was so real. Getting to this day was a long hard slog through not just regular teen years, but through a history of trauma, anxiety, depression, placement, adoption, just so much stuff. Sooooo much. I just started to cry because it was a culmination of so much love and effort and dreams and prayers.

One thing that was especially special about Hope’s graduation day was the presence of her biological family. This day represented the full on merging of Hope’s family. Hope knew that her aunt would be coming, but as she descended the stage with her diploma to return to her seat she caught sight of her aunt and the delight on her face…my heart smiled.

Now I’m not going to lie, there were moments leading up to the graduation that were emotional. There were members of my family who didn’t want to share Hope, who still super side eyed her family, who just had feelings about them attending this event. I’m glad that I made my own declaration early on that this was our, my and Hope’s family, and that there would be space and love for them. On yesterday, the merging was seamless, and the excitement turned to talk about all the parties there will be when Hope graduates from college.

It was so much more than I could ever of hoped for and that’s because we all centered what was best for Hope.

There is so much discussion in adoption about the triad—birth family, adoptees and adoptive parents. We rarely highlight the ripple effect that adoption has throughout whole families. The removal, placement, adoption, whatever terms we use, of a child from their family of birth reverberate across a family like a skipped rock on a body of water. The absence of that child is a hole, and the trauma of it is far more widespread that we care to acknowledge.

Hope’s relationship with her paternal family is complicated and losing her to foster care…well in these 5 years, I’ve learned that everyone in her family has a story and big feelings about that. There is a lot of emotion; there’s a lot of sadness, a lot of pain about how it all went down. I have my views and opinions of the story, but real talk, I wasn’t there, so I have to listen. Hope has her version of what went down too, and I listen.

There is so much hurt.

And the only way to heal it is to pitch that big tent and constantly try to cultivate an environment of inclusion. Graduation was a big tent event, and as a parent in general, you don’t always get to sit back and say, hey, I got it right, but I got yesterday right. Yesterday was a healing day for Hope and this family.

There were so many tears. There were tears of joy, of grief, of loss, of pride, of happiness. My daughter sobbed for a good 10 minutes as she was feted by family and friends. In the moment, noting concern by some guests, I just said my daughter was overwhelmed—and she was— but it was more. As much as my own family was there to support and celebrate, the presence of biological ties was just so powerful in this moment.

Having an open adoptive relationship with my daughter’s biological family is critical. I believed it before, but yesterday, the confirmation of that belief was so strong and so true that it makes whatever criticisms I might’ve endured on this journey possible. They are members of our village; full stop.

The second big thing that I learned yesterday was just how much this achievement meant to Hope. I remember early on that Hope thought I was nuts for wanting her to dream about going to college. She quickly got on board with at least humoring me. I know that Hope has humored my pushing and prodding for years now. I also know that my pushing and prodding was not always a healthy thing for her. Upon reflection, I know that there are times when my pushing and prodding were directly contributing to her low self-esteem and depression around not living up to standards I’d set. I know I was less than flexible sometimes. I also know that even here in this space, readers encouraged me to pull back, to remember that college wasn’t for everyone.

I’ve heard you, and I’ve reflected on that a lot this year.

And yet, yesterday, after Hope, Sister M and I had packed up her dorm and we were making one last stop on campus to pick up something from the band room, Hope sat in my car, heaved a big sigh and said, I did it. I graduated from high school!

It was a record scratch moment for me since of course, it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t finish high school. I was always focused on what would happen beyond high school. Never in a million years did I ever think Hope would not finish high school.

But there was a time when Hope didn’t think she’d finish high school. I did not know this before that moment.

It was an assumption for me, but not for Hope.

I pressed her for why she didn’t think she’d graduate from high school. Well, the response was easy for her—look at all she had been through, why would she think she would graduate from high school? Look at the trauma, the loss, the hardship, the rejection, the lack of permanence and instability for years, why would she think she would be able to finish high school?

High school graduation should be a momentous occasion, but when your life was such an unstable mess for so long, you stop dreaming about it.

I realized in this moment that graduation was even more pivotal for Hope. It was more than just a personal achievement, but it also represented that she was on track and that maybe she really could start dreaming. The uncertainty of the college search took a lot out of Hope this year; it marked another transition that made her questioned herself. It marked another thing she had to go through the motions on, but still tried for a while to remain somewhat detached from in order to protect her fragile emotions. Graduation is freeing; she did it! She can do it. If she did it once, she can do it again. That is real for Hope.

The revelation is real for me. She is now so excited about going to college. Graduation is the ultimate confidence booster!

And finally, the last lesson for me, the Holy Homeboy still has jokes for me. I have had lifelong issues with a lack of patience; I thought that it was the ultimate joke that he fated me to jump into parenting a 12-year-old as I stretched into middle age. He pushed and pulled me, stretched me in ways I didn’t know possible, especially challenging my own notions of morality, personal values, parenting, family, education and health. One of my biggest personal values struggles was how Hope didn’t fit into my ideals about academic performance.

Of course, at the time, I didn’t appreciate how she never saw herself making it this far. I do now, which makes my revelation all the more meaningful.

Hope’s academic performance, her struggles, were sadly an ongoing challenge for me. I value education so strongly, I found it personally offensive. I know it wasn’t right. I know that lengths I went to try to “help” Hope improve were not helpful to her mental and emotional health. I know that my dreams for her were a source of stress.

I have never not felt so strongly about education. I do believe it is key to social mobility and financial freedom. It is all I’ve ever known. The ongoing confrontation to that belief system has been difficult.

And then yesterday, I realized a couple of things. Hope spent two years in honors classes where she did reasonably well in before things went downhill. Those grades are weighted, which set a solid base for her overall GPA. She graduated with a reasonable GPA. She lettered in her freshman year thanks to band. I didn’t realize when she entered her senior year that she only needed a couple of credits, really like two required courses, all other requirements had been completed. She went to a college prep school, and yeah, she struggled, but the curriculum was rigorous. Her squadron earned honor status among all the school squadrons for their overall adherence to all the important things in JROTC.

In the end, Hope graduated from a tough college prep school with an advanced diploma because she had way more credits than necessary; she has a special ROTC designation, and is college bound. Things I figured were just beyond us, and yet it is right where we ended up. Better than fine.

And the Holy Homeboy laughs at me (again) for trying to muck up his plans for me and my family.

So, yeah, yesterday was a big, effing deal for me and Hope. It was also full of life lessons for me. Family, all family, is important. Our kids can dream and can achieve. I gotta trust the process and my faith that things will end up just they way they are supposed to.

Yesterday was a good day.

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It’s Almost Here

It’s hard to believe that Hope will graduate in less than 48 hours. I remember when I started this adoption thing that I could hardly imagine getting to this major life event. Then when Hope arrived at what is now our home, I knew it would happen, but I really didn’t, no couldn’t, focus on it. There were so many hurdles to get over that I wouldn’t really let myself think about it too much.

And then this year, Hope moved to the new school and we launched into this senior year. The events, the applications, the essays, the FAFSA, the college visits, the waiting, the anxiety, the drama, the joys, the sadness, the decision about what to do next. Each thing seemed to take so much out of us, separately and together.

As a parent, I fretted endlessly. I still worried about her grades and social interactions. I had to try to stay on top of the growing calendar of events. I had to check in about deadlines. I navigated figuring out how Hope dealt with money. I had to find the right balance of being a supportive yet firm parent. I decided a long time ago I wouldn’t exactly be a helicopter parent, but I definitely am not one of these new bulldozer parents. I like to think that I am a coaching parent. I want Hope to find her way, and I’ll clear a few things, but I will coach her through as much as I can.

This year, Hope and I have grown much closer, despite the miles between us. We don’t necessarily talk every day, but we do connect. Over breakfast this weekend, we chuckled at how much more alike we’ve become. Hope said something like we were destined to be, and it made me smile inside.

And here we are, at graduation with plans for college in the fall. It is really amazing how far we’ve come in these 5 years.

Saturday Hope’s family will come together to attend the ceremony. A small group of Hope’s extended biological family will be there too. I know there will be tears. There will be joy and celebration.

And I am beside myself with emotions.

My sweet girl came to me so hurt. Our plans consisted of getting through the day, the week, maybe the month. Now look her. #startedatthebottom #nowwehere

She has worked so hard. I know she doesn’t see herself the way I see her; I wish she could, and maybe one day she will. She is funny, charming, strong, capable and increasingly brave. I know she will set the world ablaze, and I’m so blessed to have had a chance to parent her.

Our journey is not over, stay tuned.


Being Selfish is a Human Right

I just came across an article by Angela Tucker in which she responds to the question about whether adopted persons are selfish for searching for their birth family.

Such an absurd question, amirite?

Why on earth would it be considered selfish to wonder about your origins, your people, your place in the universe? I mean, entire industries have emerged to capitalize on the fundamental notion that we all want to know where we came from. You can seriously go to Target right now and pick up any number of tests for less than $100 to satiate your desire to find out more about your genetic information and its connection to others.

And that industry sprung up thanks to the increasing interest in genealogy by private hobbyists and professional searchers.

Most of us are just curious and, for fun, we can go out and satiate that curiosity.

A couple of years ago my sister bought my parents a couple of Ancestry DNA kits for their anniversary. It was a fun and interesting thing to do. My mom and a few extended family members have turned into genealogy hobbyists during their retirement years. Well, a few months later the DNA turned up some close relatives we suspected existed but never really knew about. We now have this amazing relationship with my cousins, who bore a striking resemblance to our family and shared interests that seemed unexplainable by anything other than genetics.

My mother, Grammy, is the only surviving member of her immediate, nuclear family, and finding these relatives has meant the world to her. It gave her a connection she never imagined she’d experience. For my cousins, it was a missing puzzle piece that was sought for more than 50 years.

That doesn’t mean that the revelation wasn’t without its complications. Not everyone in the concentric circles of our family was thrilled or accepting. Not everything has been easy. There’s a lot of emotion. There’s a lot of hurt. There’s a patient hope for future acceptance. There are times when it feels like time for full resolution is running out.

There are prayers.

There are occasional wails.

There are tears, both happy and sad.

It’s complicated.

But gosh knowing has been worth it.

I gave Hope the option last year of taking a test.  I thought she was old enough to understand the ramifications of sending your genetic information to a 3rd party that profits from having such sensitive information (something all of us should think more seriously about). We talked about the possibility of finding her surviving parent as well as connecting with half-siblings that I know exist and are in adoptive families as well. We talked about what that meant for her, how she felt about it.

My own curiosity led to my own search for her parent a few years ago. It was consuming for a while; then one day I found her. I told Hope about it since she had expressed an interest in searching. I have the information, and I update it regularly. Hope has never asked for the info or to reach out. I’ve promised to support her no matter her decision. I believe one day she will broach the issue again, with or without me. I could never deny her the information or my support in searching and wanting to see if a relationship was possible.

Yes, it might be complicated.

Yes, it might not go well.

Yes, it will be hella emotional.

Yes, it might be messy.

Yes, it could end horribly.

Yes, it could also be the beginning.

I’ve committed to be Hope’s ride or die. I’m good. I’m confident in my relationship with her. I believe there is plenty of good room for people who love Hope. I believe that she needs me to just hold her hand sometimes and listen.

I’m emotionally well enough to not think this has anything to do with me, but everything to do with Hope finding her missing pieces.  I am her ally, and allies have to know their place—supportive of promoting agency, recognition that it’s not about us, and advocating for full personhood for our peeps.

So, yeah, she can be selfish. In fact, I encourage Hope to be selfish—as if that’s inherently a bad thing, it’s not—in searching for her missing pieces. I shouldn’t be a consideration. I want her to bloom into pursuing her needs and dreams, and if that includes searching or choosing not to search—frankly that’s Hope’s business.

My business is working through my own ish so that she isn’t negatively affected by it. My business is supporting my girl.

I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with some aspects of selfishness. Selfishness can be healthy and self-preserving. I don’t believe that searching for the missing pieces of your identity is selfish. I think it is a human right to want to know. I think it’s a human right to pursue this knowledge. So if that’s selfish…that’s ok with me and I think it should be ok with you too.

So, yeah, be selfish. It’s all good.


Sometimes It’s So, So Sweet

This past weekend I was dragging. I mean, the weather was perfect, and I would have been just fine if I never moved farther than the bed, the kitchen and the couch. Note the only reason the kitchen made the list was because I had to eat, otherwise, I probably could’ve relied on my fat stores. I just wanted to be lazy.

Instead, I rang up Sister M and enjoyed a late lunch and a few glasses of vino. Sunday, I planned to ride out to Hope’s school and see my daughter. By that morning, I was feeling funky, attitudinal and just meh. I wanted to stay home. I texted Hope, trolling for a reason to stay home and just video chat her.

Me: So, um, I know the arts showcase is today. Is the band playing too?

Her: You know the band sucks. Yeah.

Me: Yeah, I know you think the band sucks. IS that a yeah the showcase today or that the band is playing.

Her: Yeah.

Me: UGH! Yeah to both?

Her: Yeah.

I swear how teens have managed to be monosyllabic via text is nearly an art form.

Me: You want me to come (silently praying she gives me an out even though I want to see her, feel guilty about looking for an out, and am wondering if I should venture to the bakery for a piece of depression day cake.)

Her: Um, yeah. That would be cool.

Me: K.

I could only muster the K. Seriously, I look at that text thread and feel a bit guilty. I did and I do, but I also was like, “Dang it. I gotta get myself together, drive 80 miles when I really, really, really just want to change pjs and figure out if I can get UberEats to fetch me that cake.”

Two hours later I pulled into campus, walked into the gym, scanned all the Air Force band blues and landed on the back of Hope’s head.

It’s so amazing how you can actually recognize the back of your kid’s head. The first time I picked her out of a crowd I thought, “I might actually be able to do this mom thing.”

Anyhoo, Hope hadn’t spotted me, and I took a moment to watch her. She was joking around with some kids. She looked good, maybe a little thinner than when I last saw her a few weeks ago. She’s been really going through a rough patch, which is why I wanted to lay eyes on her. I watched her for another minute or two, before she turned and saw me.

That smile.

The beeline into my arms.

The hug that was tight and long and…perfect.

Hope missed me, and the depth of my own emptiness from missing her hit me. I held back a little tear while she began to tumble out words about all kinds of stuff. I’m still not sure what all she said.

She grabbed my hand like the little girl she is inside and took me to see her graphic artwork.

Keep in mind that at no point did my kid tell me she had artwork in the showcase…because #teenager.

I looked at the exhibits and then I found a replica of the  Christmas card she had given me a few months ago. I was shocked because what she had written to me was so emotional that the original card is tucked away with my most important papers in my fire box.

Hope is typically rather private. She is very open about being adopted and how much she loves her family—all of her family, birth and glued. But she doesn’t like to wear her emotions on her sleeve. She tends to keep a lot bottled up.

And yet, there was the short paragraph that she had written me in the inscription, on the table for everyone to read.

This card…well, my daughter wrote of her love for me and for giving her normalcy. I’m not much on the whole adoptee gratitude thing. Too many people expect adoptees to be thankful, grateful for having been adopted, not really thinking about the circumstances that led to the necessity of that outcome. As much as I want to give my daughter the world, the most important thing I could gift her was something akin to normal.

In some ways, of course, there’s nothing normal about our life. In other ways and perspectives, it’s delightfully normal. We get up, go to work and school. We had breakfasts and dinners together. I harassed her about chores and homework. I reminded her to turn out the lights when she left a room. We spent fall Friday nights at the football field, sitting with other band families, assessing the band’s field performance. We video chatted when I was away on business travel. I dragged her to mentoring and coaching programs for tweens and teens. We took vacations or really trips where we bickered on bed choice, food choice, destination choice, and whether I would let her have another dessert. I balked at paying $70 for jeans with holes and redirected us to that awesome Old Navy jeans for $15 sale. I wrestled my dress hating daughter into an Easter/Christmas/Band Banquet dress over several years and watched her go through phases trying on makeup, press on nails and every Korean skin care product her allowance could burn through.

Yeah, we are normal. That’s what I wanted for her.

And she let me know that we achieved that in spite of everything.

My heart hugged itself in my chest, as I looked over at her and she just nodded.

Me: You good with putting this all out there like this?

Her: Redirecting me as she sometimes does, “Hey I did a good job designing the fox on the front.”

Displaying the card was bold of her. It was also the sweetest, precious thing she’s done for me.

Hope continued her efforts to redirect me to her other artwork before I made a emo puddle in the middle of the gym.

Putting half her life story out in the showcase was cool. Me getting super emotional about it was too much.

So, I continued on in feigned interest looking the rest of the school’s art displays, glad that I roused my ambivalent arse out to campus.

Of course, then I endured more than an hour of a choral and band “concert.” Why do schools call these things concerts????  Hope’s school is very small and while a lovely little school, let’s just graciously say that the talent pool is…shallow. The “concert” of high school students served middle school concert realness.

Hope and I had a nice chuckle reminiscing about a 7th grade pops concert during which the school orchestra attempted to play the theme to Star Wars.

It.

Was.

Horrid.

A auditory assault. #butidigress

Our chuckle? Also normal.

I headed back right after the concert, but not before Hope gave me another long, loving hug and I called her my big baby, which she hate-loves.

I was still exhausted and out of sorts when I got home, but there was a part of me that had clicked back into place.

Gosh I love this kid. And, even though I know she loves me, there are times like this one, when her openly showing it just fills me with joy.

17 days before she graduates.


College Bound

I just paid the deposit to the college that Hope has decided to attend this fall.

And now I’m sitting here crying.

It’s amazing how going to a website, clicking few links that carried me to Paypal and a few more key strokes represent such a monumental thing for Hope. I feel so many emotions.

I am joyous. Anxious. Excited. Scared. Worried. Hopeful. Proud. Relief.

Hope made her decision before I left on my vacation to Italy last week. After a visit to the community college, she was clear that she felt like the college would be a better fit for her. I fretted that she might be comparing the schools in an unfair light, so I pointed out a few key things to consider. I offered to sit down with her and make a pro/con list.

She reiterated her decision, clearly, concisely.

As I left on my trip, I asked her to discuss it during last week’s therapy appointment. When I returned I asked her about her decision and whether she had talked about it with AbsurdlyHotTherapist.

Yep, and she was still going to college.

Hmmm, ok. I *still* kicked a little dirt for a few days, and then today, I did my part and ponied up the deposit.

I am relieved that this chapter is over. This college application thing is cray. It’s crazy if you have high achieving kids, regular kids and struggling kids. It’s just cray. I’m glad that Hope had options, and I’m glad that she feels good about her decision. I’m also glad that it wasn’t my decision. It shouldn’t have been and I’m glad it wasn’t.

Our trip to the college, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in VA (though not that town dear pal who shall remain nameless), was just lovely. The school is very small, less than 1,000 students and really seems committed to giving students like Hope the chance they need. It’s about 3.5 hours away from home, but connects are about 1.5 hours away if necessary. There’s also a direct train to DC, making it very accessible. I felt good about the place; it’s clear she felt good about it as well. Of all the schools we visited—they were all nice and Hope said she could see herself at each of them—this one seemed different. It featured elements of the other schools and also offered some educational offerings they others didn’t.

As I thought about her decision, I also talked to AbsurdlyHotTherapist and my own therapist about how best to support her. Really, ultimately it was about letting her know that this decision isn’t permanent; she can change her mind, transfer or change course if necessary. It was about reminding her that I will be here to support her and what’s best for her. I hope that knowing that contributed to her ability to step out and try.

I’m looking forward to her being home this summer. I miss her. I’m not going to lie though, I’m excited that she will be attending the college in the fall. It was hard to get over the empty-nest thing. I wasn’t looking forward to going through it all over again, even though I know I will in some ways. I’ve gotten back into some of my old habits, lightening up the diet a bit and knowing that whatever I put down somewhere is going to be right where I left it.

All that said, I’m reflecting a lot on when I made my own college decision 28 years ago. The emotions I feel right now are eerily similar—excitement, fear, pride, anxiety, joy, worry! I remember wondering what my parents thought and how this was all going to work out. All these years later, I still wonder how it’s all going to work out.

I’m proud of Hope. I’m so in awe of this kid; she never fails to amaze me.


Oh to be Normal…

This week, I told a good friend and fellow AP, that I just longed to be normal. Merriam-Webster defines normal as “conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern.”

Hmmm, well, the truth is that Hope and I are a kind of normal. We are also below average and extraordinary. It all depends on the benchmark, right?

The reality is that there are days and sometimes weeks or months that I wish we were my kind of normal, the normal that I grew up with and as.

The normal that means maybe she was my biological child with a partner. The normal that didn’t include any sorts of the kinds of trauma that Hope has endured. The kind of normal that never considered Hope not having always been a part of this family. The kind of normal that included loving school and books and having a deep-seated, natural curiosity. The kind of normal that included different kinds of achievement, certificates, and recognitions. The kind of normal that looks and feels, upon reflection, easy.

Now that’s all true, but glosses over a kind of normal that had me running away more than a few times during my formative years. The kind of normal that made me often question whether I was “normal” at all. The kind of normal that made me shoulder a self-imposed burden of over-achievement. The kind of normal that had me wondering sometimes how I fit into my family. The kind of normal that made me so riddled with self-esteem issues that I wrestled with an eating disorder for years.

Yeah, that kind normal.

So, when I say that I long to be normal with Hope, what I really mean is that I wish this were easier, and doesn’t every parent want that?

This college application thing has given me a lot to ponder over the last few weeks. This process ain’t for punks, and I can see how easy it must be for parents to get so sucked into the possibility of bulldozing all the barriers out of the way. You just wish it was easier.

And then there’s the part that’s public in all this.

Your kid is a senior, so everyone asks what’s next? And *of course* you’re going to college, so where are you going? And certainly, it’s got to be a name brand school, right? ABM, is she going to your alma mater? What about this school or that school? There are so many questions, so many, and you just wish people would stop asking because 1) you don’t have answers and 2) you might not have the *right* answers for your social circle and the side eyes are forthcoming.

And yeah, I know I shouldn’t care, but I’m human.

I know that if Hope was my biological child, we would still be right where we are. That doesn’t give me comfort, because right here is uncomfortable.

The colleges are judging and evaluating Hope, and my contemporaries are judging and evaluating me and my parenting. And because adoptive parents are often put on these absurd pedestals and expected to save and rehab our kids, I fret that people are wondering why Hope isn’t applying to Princeton, which is simply absurd.

Yes, I know it’s absurd on multiple levels.

There is so much that the general public doesn’t get about adoption and trauma. People think that adoption fixes everything, when it’s just another starting over point in the journey. It resolves the issue of permanence and creates a potential environment for healing (hopefully) but that is a long, complicated process that doesn’t necessarily have an endpoint.

So, when some folks ask me where Hope is going to school, the inquiry feels as much about what’s next for her as it is about how successful am I in fixing her. And maybe all of that is just my insecurity—it’s possible. It’s possible I’m just centering myself (but hey the blog is about my journey, so…..). I just know I wish people would stop asking because this process is a trash heap and the May 1st deadline to decide cannot come fast enough.

And my feelings on all of this may change once a decision has been made. #idoubtit

The decision is something I fret about endlessly. I know what is in Hope’s best interest academically. I feel like I know what is best for her emotionally and psychologically. I feel like there are great options on the table that meet her where she is. That said, I feel like Hope is so overwhelmed by the options and just the whole idea of everything that it is somewhat paralyzing. I’m not sure what she wants, whether she knows what she wants, whether there’s even a clear sense to her thought process at all even though I can see her trying on different ideas and options.

Hell, she still thinks it’s possible for her to learn and possibly major in piano this summer. We’re not totally based in reality here.

It is exhausting for both of us. It is hard.

It’s probably both our version of normal and more generally normal in the grand scheme of things.

And I still just wish it was easier.

A decision about what will be next for Hope is coming, (technically she has made it but I’ve told her I want her to consult with AbsurdlyHotTherapist about her decision process), and then we will fret about the implementation of that decision. It feels like a black hole to me. I like to fix things and I can’t fix this.

I wish it was easy and a different version of normal.


My Failure

Before I became Hope’s mom, I had a pretty firm idea of what kind of parent I would be. I thought about all the good things I learned from my parents and how I would build on that. Having always planned to pursue older child adoption, I thought, yeah, sure I would learn about trauma and how that impacted things but on the front end, that naively translated into me doing a few more “there, there” sayings and going to therapy.

Over these last 5 years, I’ve experienced a lot of cognitive dissonance between what I thought parenting would be and what it is. My life has been consumed by figuring out my way through the fun house that is parenting and the haunted house that is parenting through trauma. It’s nothing like what I thought it would be, which is something I’m sure everyone says, but for me, being overwhelmed and sometimes consumed by my daughter’s trauma has been a struggle. It’s been a struggle to parent, and honestly, it’s been a struggle to keep my wits about me to function personally.

I think I’ve been a good parent to Hope; I hope that one day she will reflect on our relationship and see more good than bad. That said, there are definitely times where I reflect and think to myself, “Well, you really effed that up.”

I think in my last post many readers thought I was saying that Hope failed by not being a better student or gaining entrance to her preferred school or that she needed to settle for community college. Alas, no, I was really pondering my own failures around this chapter of our lives together.

Yes, education is important to me, critical even, for reasons I’ve written about and largely have to do with race and class. For me, education is very much a part of my identity. As a parent, education is one of those non-negotiable value things. It’s just that important. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be a 4 year school, followed by a masters degree, but well, yeah, I’d love it to.

When Hope first moved here, I considered holding her back a grade to give her time to mature and to find some “ease” in the school work that she would have had previous exposure to. I ended up not making that move so as not to devastate our new mother-daughter relationship. At the time, I fretted that she might never forgive me or attach if I took such a drastic move, even though the educator in me thought it might be the best decision for her academically. In retrospect, I still believe it would have been the right decision for her academically; I know that the extra year for her might have also given us more time to bond. Of course, I’ll never know, and it doesn’t really matter now.

Over the years, I made sure that Hope had access to tutors when necessary. I let her take the SAT really early just so she would have exposure to it early and regularly. I sent her to a learning center for tutoring and coaching for nearly a year. I insisted that she go to summer school last summer to help pull her grades up a little and maybe build some confidence since I know that school is challenging for her on numerous levels. Then the big decisions came; Hope decided she wanted to spend her senior year at this school. I supported it and ponied up.

Throughout these years, I wondered if she would be ready for a 4-year school when the time came, ie immediately following graduation. I wasn’t sure, especially since she is on the younger side of her class, her academic profile wasn’t particularly strong and maybe she needed more time. More than a year ago, Hope and I discussed her future; we agreed that it probably would be best if she planned to go to the local community college and eventually transfer. At the time she was heavy into her independent language study and one of the local campuses offered a course of study that would be a good fit for her interest in linguistics. The decision gave us a clear path and something realistic to focus on.

And then Hope went to the new school. I love the structure that it gives her; it’s a highly regimented military school. She didn’t have to worry about clothes since it’s all uniforms. She didn’t have to worry about bedtimes or food or some things she fretted about at her old school. As we slid into the fall, we found that the prep school had a 3-college application requirement.

This is where my current failure began.

Me: Required college applications? Huh, that makes sense…prep school and all. Wait, this means we actually should look at 4-year schools????

That was like giving me a hit of something ridiculously addictive and expecting me not to chase that damn high.

I was off and running. The guidance counselor and I kibitzed about size and school type, colleges were recommended, and we visited the first one. I. WAS. ALL. IN.

Hope was not all in, and I remember her initiating a conversation with me about this change in plan.

Me: Yeah, I know but look, you have to apply anyway? It’s a formality! Dream and who knows, maybe the plan is supposed to change!

And Hope, who despite her having found her voice and a bit of agency and autonomy, caved like a wobbly tent in a hurricane. I was the hurricane. Hope applied to three schools. Added a fourth, realized it was the wrong school and instead of withdrawing her application, simply added the correct school.

[Don’t even talk to me about application fees.]

After the applications were submitted, I completed the FAFSA and started to come off of my high. And when you come down, reality starts to smack you around.

Me: Oh ishtay! What if us [me] getting all into this was a really bad move? What if she doesn’t get in anywhere? What if she doesn’t want to do this? What have I done?

Yeah, but we’re in it now, and Hope has gotten invested.

And then things really went left. My conundrum really began.

Hope’s therapist and guidance counselors agree that it probably is best for Hope to come home and go to community college. This of course was what our intention was 8 months ago; then things changed. But now, we are betwix and between her being so invested in the remaining applications and having embraced the idea of going to a 4 year school like her peers at this school and my believing in my heart and with the professionals that she probably should be home for at least a year.

I broached it with her, reminding her that it wasn’t that long ago that community college was our plan.

Her: Yeah, I know but I got into that school. You said the goal is always to have more than one option—there are still two more options out there.

Me: Huh, so you listened to that message…. #shocked #parentingwin

We have to ride this out.

The thing is, there are countless times I have fought to the mat for her and what’s best for her. My failure this time was not fighting for her and for her wellbeing. In my daze to maybe get Hope’s path back into congruence with my idea of what it should be, I forgot about her as a person who needed me to get the school to see her needs and make some adjustments suited for her.

I failed. Not her, me.

No, it’s not a failure that will destroy everything as we know it

And sure *fail* may sound harsh, but given how many parenting fails there are….jeeesch. Failing is ubiquitous to parenting. They go together like PB & J. So, no worries, I’m good, just reflective and wishing I’d taken a different path.#thistooshallpass

So, now it’s about riding it out, studying Hope’s options and figuring out what is in her best interests. And this whole experience isn’t a waste; it just could be…different. I could and probably should have handled it all differently.

I don’t regret Hope having ambition; I want her to want big things for herself. I’m kind of glad that she became invested; what I regret is that I didn’t listen to her early on, that I didn’t ask for some accommodations and that I didn’t look at the big picture that centered her well-being.

Now, I do think that once we get through this and make some decisions that things will be fine. I also think that while I worry about my daughter’s emotional well-being always right now, that this will turn into a good learning experience about trying, stretching, success and choices. I know it will be ok; I just wish I had handled it differently during the thick of things.

It isn’t the end of the world. We will be visiting the school in a few days and visiting the community college next week.

Stay tuned!


Damsel in Distress

I’m in a hotel room in New York. I didn’t go to the parade Hope was marching in today. It was chilly, crowded and Grammy desperately wanted to see the Fearless Girl down in the Financial District. I have bronchitis, and it’s gotten worse in the last 24 hours. So, I took mom to Wall Street to get her picture of Fearless Girl, and then we came back to the hotel where I watched the parade on tv and on YouTube. Then I slept most of the afternoon.

Hope is on her way back to campus. Her band marched, and then practically marched right back to the bus and rolled out. But not before Hope could attempt to set off a bit of drama.

It’s become clear that school trips are triggering for my daughter.

Kids get excited about school trips. They pick hotel roommates, seatmates for the bus, who to eat with and all the things that kids do on trips. Hope has a hard time navigating social relationships, and there’s a lot of socializing on school trips. Hope also is always desperate for attention, and if kids won’t give it to her, she will go to her old standby, illness, which brings the sympathetic adults running.

There is always a stomach ache, and thanks to raging anxiety, there is no doubt that it really hurts. Sometimes there’s headaches, other times there maybe other various ailments. But trust, it’s always something. One time I was traveling and I had to dispatch that Grands to go fetch her from a trip to spend a recovery day with them and then rejoin the trip the next day.

Hope texted me last night to tell me she didn’t feel well. Then today she nearly demanded that I come gather her up and take her home (our home). Um, ma’am? I reminded her that I wasn’t leaving New York for another day, and that I didn’t drive here and would need to buy a ticket to take her back to the DC area. Soooo, no love, she was going to need to get on the bus to go back to school.

Her response?

Why did I even bother coming to New York?

Sigh…

Then she just was mad.

I get it. I am supposed to rescue her. She is a damsel in nearly perpetual distress, and I’m the damsel’s mom—the prince stand-in.

Sometimes it is so hard to remember that she is still very much a scared little girl inside a young woman’s body. Sometimes she stuns me with how well she can hold it all together, while other times I swear it feels like parenting a bunch of scattered marbles.

It’s also sometimes hard to reconcile just how little progress has been made in the face of progress that is like moving light years. It’s like always feeling like, “Oh, I thought we were past this.” No, we may never be past this.

And sometimes Hope and I lament how we may never be past it. There are moments when she is self-aware enough to recognize the behaviors and wish she could be/do different. Those moments are almost as hard because I can see her own internal struggle to heal rise to the surface, recognizing that she is engaging in behaviors that aren’t great but essentially enslaved to them for basic survival.

I try to comfort her, but sometimes I have to say no or to force her to finish what started or to face her fears. All in love, but sometimes also for my own self-preservation.

I know that my damsel has the potential to suck us both into a dark place. One of us has to keep it together and well, that has to be me.

So, tomorrow I’ll head home for more rest after what’s turned out to be a lazy trip to New York.  Hope will be back on campus soon, and I’ll make plans to see Hope this week and try to meet her need for attention.

Parenting just doesn’t get easier.


The Big Night

Well I survived the big night. The day of Hope’s military ball, I went into the office for a few hours, left to pick up the corsage I ordered for her and then hit the road to drive the 75 miles to her school. I’d packed a “glam” bag full of beauty products, hair products undergarments, and any emergency thing I could think of that might be needed. I, of course, had the dress, Hope’s dress coat, and her 3.5 inch heels.

When I arrived my daughter was painting the mini-claws she had adhered to her fingers. She asked for my opinion, and I’m sure she didn’t want the super honest one, so I gave her what she needed. I plucked her eyebrows, while her roommate used the curling iron I packed. I slicked edges back to place the sparkly headband, all the while trying to play it cool even though I was over the moon with delight that I was finally getting to have this experience with my daughter. I made suggestions on her make-up, but not too many so that I wasn’t annoying. I zipped up the side zipper on her ornate gown and just breathed taking her beauty in. I snapped pictures of her, selfies of us, body shots and head shots, shots with the hall monitor…Hope was serving goddess vibes with her perfectly fitted black and gold detailed gown. She was breathtaking. I was and am so proud. I’ve already ordered a dozen prints of my snapshots to send to her family and some of mine.

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And then it was time for her to leave.

All the girls on the hall were fluttering around, applying last minute glosses and trying to walk confidently in stilettos. We stepped outside and there were a few limos, even though most of the students were taking the school bus to the country club. Hope turned to say good bye, and I gave her air kisses, a hug and told her to have a great night. As she walked away I snapped one last picture of her heading off for her prom. I smiled because it was so sweet, and I’d managed to not ruin the evening by being an overbearing, opinionated mom.

In the three hours since my arrival, the temperature dropped and I was blocked in by one of the limos, so I grabbed my coat and sidled up to another parent, a mom, who was watching the kids head out for the evening.

We engaged in some filler banter, giggling a little when one of the young woman clearly was having issues walking in her super, super high heels. Another young woman stepped out in a full length rose gold sequined gown. The other mom and I watched for a while as she stepped into the evening sunlight and started snapping selfies. The gown was stunning; she looked great, glamorous even.

The other mom and I continued to banter a bit, and then our banter took a weird turn.

“It’s amazing, you know, how much things have changed over the years,” she said.

Me: “Uhhhh, yeah, sure.” I have no idea what she is alluding to.

“Kids are all together these days.”

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Me: Still not sure where this is going…

“In my day, things were segregated. Blacks lived on one side, and we lived on the other. Separate schools and everything.”

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Me: Huh, ok, I see what this conversation is about, still not sure where this conversation is going or what is happening. I’m just here to watch my kid go to prom with her classmates. WTH…

“I was ok with them (black folks). One time I invited this little black girl over to my house to play. My dad had a fit and forbade her from coming over. He announced that no black people can ever be in our house.”

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Me: “Huh, ooooookay.” So, what am I supposed to do with this information that is soooooooo not what I want to deal with. Can’t I just look at the pretty girl in the rose gold dress in peace?

“I was so upset; I mean I was mad! I told my dad, ‘You know, God could have made you black!’” She looked at me pointedly; I’m guessing for some response.

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Me: Oh, is this White woman is looking for some kind of validation or something? Lady, are you serious? Can we just look at the dresses and shoes, make small talk and leave? Why am I being subjected to this non-sequitur need for racial reconciliation/validation? Really, what the entire hell.

So, I responded in a way that would quickly bring this weird confessional to an abrupt end.

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Me: “So you’re telling me your dad was or is a racist, but you’re not?”

Her: Color seeps into her cheeks. “I’m just saying things have changed.”

Me: “Indeed they have. Well, it’s chilly. I’m going to go ahead and head out. You have a nice evening.”

Weird right?

I mean, Hope’s school is very diverse—about 20% African American, and close to 50% students of color and international students combined. I have been very happy with Hope’s environment at the school, which is saying something because the school is located in a town where Confederate flags wave openly and proudly. We’ve had a few issues related to some international culture clashes, but generally, I feel like she’s had good exposure with racial mirrors among both the students and the faculty.

So to the rando mom lady who wanted to have both an acknowledgement that things have changed and that she’s not what she grew up with…well, I just wanted to enjoy my evening. I wanted to bask in having the joy of girlie time with my very tomboyish daughter. I just wanted to watch the kids get all dressed up and go out for a night many of them will think about for years to come and will hopefully tell their kids about. I just wanted to be a mom in this moment, and not a Black ambassador hanging around to validate a hopeful woman who wants to believe we’re all post-racial.

Ugh.

Anyway, Hope was off. She said the filet mignon was delicious if a bit rare and the potatoes were yummy. She danced and wore her heels all night. She had a good time and texted me when she was on the way back to campus. She was clearly still on a prom high when I went back to campus to pick up for the weekend, chattering with her friend about the music, the couples and the food.

It was a big night, and I’m so glad I got to share a part of it with her.


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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