Tag Archives: african american families

When Racism Consumes Everything

I don’t overtly talk politics in this space. There are numerous reasons for that, but ultimately, my very existence is a political act. There are countless adoptive parents who author blogs; I follow and read a fair number. But there aren’t that many who are authored by people of color. I’ve seen blogs come and go since I started my blog years ago.

I wanted to focus on the day to day experiences of a Black woman who adopted a tween. There have certainly been times when I tackled politics head on in this space, and if you follow me on Twitter (@adoptiveblkmom) you already know where I stand.

Since the president’s offensive tweet last week, I’ve been ducking and dodging a lot of the news. I tend to watch the news as I get ready for work and for a short time on the weekend. I listen to an absurd number of podcasts, several politically oriented. This week the podcasts largely focused on 1) whether the tweets were racist, 2) should we use the term “racist” and 3) what does it all mean.

I avoided a lot of it. I avoided it because it was stupid and exhausting. It’s like living in that movie Groundhog Day; it just happens over and over and over…it just never ends.

This president is a racist, full stop, without any equivocation.

This is not debatable; he has a lengthy history of racist behavior…he’s a racist. #fact #theend

This president has followers who are also racist and/or have a high tolerance and comfort level with being racist adjacent.

This president has colleagues are also racist and/or have a high tolerance and comfort level with being racist adjacent.

These things are objectively true. #allofthem #facts #nodebate

And what does that mean for folks like me and Hope? I’m glad you asked.

It means that sometimes we worry if spaces we enter are going to be safe…are we the only ones? Is someone going to yell at us? Will we get decent service? Will the cops be called because we didn’t get into line quickly enough at Starbucks because Hope is notoriously slow at ordering the SAME DAMN THING EVERYTIME we go so I slip into the loo while waiting for her to once again conclude that she wants a grande caramel macchiato?

It means that I’ve had meetings with school administrators that start out assuming that I have no effing idea what’s going on, because really how could I, talking down to me despite my having a doctorate in education. It makes for a contentious meeting from the jump when I have to gather them right on up within the first 5 minutes of the meeting.

It means that some of Hope’s odd trauma-based behaviors are often attributed to my piss poor parenting because I’m a single Black mother. That’s got to be the reason, right? This also requires me to get folks together.

It means as I help prepare to send Hope to this predominantly White college in a small city in Virginia where the largest evangelical Christian university with a president that openly cosigns on the president’s foolishness coexists, I have to have conversations with her about what might happen when she leaves campus to go into town, what to do in worst case scenarios and how to just stay safe. I spend more time coaching around racial safety than I do sexual safety, as she heads off to college.

It means that we have a dashcam in the car.

It means that I as a single woman who used to “taste the rainbow” when it comes to dating have committed to swiping left on just about all White guys and every dude whose profile indicates they are conservative. I don’t have a problem with the politics (I might vehemently disagree but we can be cool), but I can’t risk that their version of conservatism includes White nationalism.

It means that Hope’s political identity is being shaped by all of this; she will vote in her first presidential election next year. I see the jaded cynicism already seeping in. Despite my deep love of politics and my lessons in civics that I’ve put her through these last 5 years, she’s the type of kiddo who is at great risk of just sitting out of the political system all together. If you don’t think the system is fair or you believe that you are marginalized in it, where’s the justification to participate?

It means when I point out what bullshyte this president is, people actually ask me “Why are you so angry?” Really? Why aren’t you angry? Gee why the eff would anyone be angry? #sarcasm

It means that Hope’s grandparents are talking about how they feel like they did in the 50s and 60s; it’s not good. I worry that that emotional toil of reliving the racial animus they grew up with is literally shaving days, months and even years from their lives. That’s less time with me and my sisters, but it’s less time with their grandchildren, the youngest being just a month old.

It means that even as I do my best to avoid all of this stuff, I’m hyper conscious that the rise and pervasiveness of racism, sexism, misogyny, homo/transphobia shapes my day, every day, all day. It influences what I choose to watch on TV, what I choose to listen to in the car, what books and magazines I choose to pick up, what people I share things with, what people I consciously avoid, how I view safety for myself and my daughter, how I plan my future, where I bank and invest my resources, how I use what privilege I have, what routes through certain neighborhoods I choose to take, how I use Yappy as a friendly opening, why I insist on being called ‘Dr.” in certain situations, where I choose to go to church and what I look for in those environments, why I choose to go to the grocery store in that neighborhood because the one in mine doesn’t have as nice product offerings, what concerns I have when visiting a new health care provider, will that person believe my complaints about ailments and offer appropriate treatment, how I’m expected to conform to certain beauty standards, that my skin color means I need to buy certain beauty products that aren’t always widely available, that natural or nudes in any product are not made for me and Hope, how our hair isn’t universally considered “professional” growing in its natural state from our scalp. And it goes on and on and on.

All of these things and so much more fly through my mind at least once a day on top of just daily living stuff like, should I cook those chicken thighs I took out this morning and I wonder if I Hope is willing to chop the veggies without a lot of pushback.

Every breath I take, every move I make, I am usually reminded that I am different and that my ability to be present in that space is viewed as a privilege and not as a right.

Even in adoption, I was and am aware that for some I’m viewed as unique. Every “best of list” I make, I’m conscious of the fact that there’s rarely more than one person of color who made the list. I am proud to be recognized, grateful even, but I also wonder why the few others out there aren’t also being recognized. Is there space for just one and am I non-threatening enough to make the list? Am I being tokenized? Yeah, pervasive racism will make you down your own achievements and recognitions.

And we’re seeing greater discourse around Black and brown children being separated from their parents. Separation is being used as a threat to reduce asylum seekers. We hear things about how “those” parents don’t deserve their children. We hear about the youngest of those children being placed in foster homes, and we’ll likely see these brown children adopted without consideration for reunification. All of this while the older children languish in cages or group homes. We see schools actually threatening child welfare agency engagement over unpaid school lunches. We see more Black and brown kids moving to White families prompting me to question whether this is a genocidal effort to kill our cultures, to “whiten up” our children, to just destroy our families. It is painful, extraordinarily painful and there are folks out there who actually believe that me putting this out there is radical, not helpful, not collaborative. And then in the end, the gaslighting will resume: “Why are you so angry?”

It is effing exhausting y’all. I’m tired. And this week I’m not angry, I’m enraged.

The thing about all this is whether all these emotions are sustainable? At what point does Stockholm Syndrome kick in, making many folks just give up and give in to the awful rhetoric that is permeating our lives? Do I have the present strength of my ancestors who toiled as enslaved laborers, to withstand this?

We’ve got at least another year of this, and quite possibly 4 more years beyond this, in the event there is a reelection. This racism isn’t new; none of it is. It’s just cool to be open with it now. The environment allows emboldened, overt racism now. It doesn’t feel good or even safe. It is taking an emotional toll.

It’s important that folks who call themselves allies to take up the mantle. I don’t care how you came to allyhood; be a good ally. Being a good ally means being an anti-racist. Being “not” racist ain’t good enough. We need to you go hard into anti-racism.

If you are a TRAP, whether you acknowledge that your kid will feel these things, know that they will. Accept that. This is learned, survivalist knowledge. It is the awful knowledge that we learn and accumulate in order to survive. Your privilege only extends so far over your children. Know that because it is the truth. You need to put your life on the line for them—not just them but for everyone who looks like them. If you’re down with colorblind ideology bs, you are a part of the problem. If you aren’t interested in learning the language of antiracism and the confrontations that are necessary to be actively anti-racist, your silent unwillingness is complicity. Full stop, no excuses, the end.

These are strange exhausting times. We all gotta do better at fighting back. You can believe in some conservative ideologies, but really, draw some lines, practice decency and acknowledge the dignity and human rights of others. I’m calling on folks to do effing better.

Your neighbor’s lives depend on it—whether in terms of the day to day or in terms of total life expectancy.

Let’s all do better, continue to fight and fight harder.

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A Reflective Birthday

Hope is officially a baby adult, and we have feelings…big feelings.

I can’t believe that so much time has passed since she emerged from the secured part of the airport with her small suitcase (the bulk of her personal items arrived later). She’s so different now. She was a scared little girl in a teenager’s body. She was overwhelmed by the trajectory of her life; she was moving into a completely unknown chapter…with me.

I remember being so green that night, watching a petite 12-year-old emerge from security. I already had so many hopes and dreams for her and her future. I knew we would have challenges, and that Hope would have specific challenges, but I didn’t really grasp what those would look like. I didn’t really understand that we would end up with a hospitalization, frequent anxiety related visits to the urgent care (they knew us by name), multiple therapy appointments per week and different kinds of therapy. I didn’t understand at the time that my hopes and dreams needed a serious reframing. I really had no idea what this journey would look like, and it still doesn’t look like anything I could have imagined.

And now Hope is 18 and college bound, and another chapter is starting.

All day, Hope was sullen on her birthday. She shrugged when I tried to hype this big birthday. She nearly recoiled at the idea of being an adult of any kind. At one point, she actually booed. We went out for an early Korean dinner (of course) and bubble tea. She had no activity desires or a list of preferred birthday presents. In a word, my daughter seemed depressed about turning.

And I was sad. I wanted to be excited about this life marker. I wanted to make a big deal about it. But I got the impression early on that Hope was not all that keen on a big celebration.  A recent conversation revealed that she was thinking about her alternative lives—the one that might have manifested with her parents and the one that might’ve been had she stayed in the foster care system. Those lives would have been drastically different, and in the foster care scenario turning 18 would have had serious implications. She seems stuck in that hypothetical place even though this life with me is the one that she’s living. There’s some reconciliation that seems to need to happen around all that.

When I think about my own life and those forks in the road leading to a completely different outcome, I find my own reconciliation resulting in gratitude, not for any person, but rather for the fact that my life is different. I don’t expect gratitude for Hope, and I recognize that this birthday dredges up a lot for her. I’m not sure how to help her reconcile the different scenarios with where she is now. I’m at a loss other than just continuing to be supportive.

There’s also the resistance to being pushed out of the nest, which I’m not actually doing with Hope. The prospect of being an adult is not embraced by Hope at all. To be clear, I am committed to supporting Hope in every way indefinitely. That said, I am also committed to teaching her life skills that will allow her to function as an adult, to one day live independently, and to embrace that independence. I want to foster a confidence in her that lets her know, she can stand on her own, but I’m still right here, beside her, behind her.

It’s hard though. A recent chat with AbsurdlyHotTherapist let me know how angry Hope is about not having the life she was entitled to. Grief is still very much with us; it still very much has Hope in its grips. I’m at a loss on how best to pry those cold hands from around her to set her free. I also know that ultimately, I can’t do that; Hope will have to get there on her own. It makes me sad on multiple levels to know that she is and likely will be so controlled by her grief for a while yet. It’s not that I don’t understand it; it’s just…I can’t fix it.

This is not at all what I thought this birthday would be like. I have become good about moderating my expectations when it comes to Hope. I still seem not to have made the appropriate adjustments this go around. I know that there are seasons when happy life markers trigger dark thoughts, memories and just sadness. This birthday seems to be one for my new baby adult. I’m treating her tenderly with it.

I guess I should probably do the same for myself.

I’m still driving her towards learning some life skills this summer. I’m finding that each time she does something new, usually successfully, she gains a little confidence. These little wins will add up over time, and she will learn to do more things for herself. Yeah, I’m still here, but I want to change positions where I’m behind her, rooting her own instead of in front of or beside her, leading her.

Only time will tell if she moves forward as I move backward. For now, we just will press on.


Life Skills

Hope will be 18 in a few weeks and in 12 short weeks, she will be off to college. It’s all very exciting, and in some ways, I am a little surprised that she’s not pulling away from me a little.

But, no. She’s not pulling away at all. In fact, my lovely daughter is more attached to me than a barnacle. She wants to watch TV with me. She wants to go to the gym with me and use the machine right beside me. She has taken up residence in my spot on the couch—which low key annoys me because, like Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory, that spot is MY spot. There’s just a desire to have me nearby.

A lot of this is explainable of course. Hope has been away at boarding school for a year, and even though I saw her a couple of times a month, we were separated by many miles. So, I can see why she would be drawn to me after all this time.

And yet, it’s interesting to acknowledge how emotionally young Hope really is. I see a mix of maturity levels with Hope. There are some times where she rises to the occasion and nails it; and then there are other times and circumstances where I’m like, I might need to go back to laying out her clothes, socks sand shoes in the morning. I legit worry.

Hope has been home a couple  of weeks now, and given the looming birthday and the impending life change that coming in a couple of months, I’ve been setting up my own hidden curriculum of life skills building activities.

I made Hope start using public transit a couple of years ago, so she can figure out how to get to places if she really wants to go somewhere. I’ve been manipulating creating opportunities to go on more complex outings and showing her resources for how to navigate it.

Her college is nearly 4 hours away, but Amtrak runs right through the town and we have a stop 2 miles from our house. Once I discovered that, I announced that Hope would take the train for weekends home; she balked. So, last week, I bought her a train ticket to go see the Grands midway through my business trip. I did spring for a Lyft to take her to the train station. She realized that it was not scary, but comfy and something she can feel comfortable doing on her own.

Tomorrow, we’re going to DMV so she can take her road test for her license. She’s had her permit for nearly 18 months, and she’s still pestering me about how will she get 15 more hours of driving at night before taking the road test. Bless her heart. Um, yeah, that’s not going to happen, you can drive and I’m taking you to go take the test. You will pass, and you will do what we all do—do your best not to hit people and stuff. She is a competent driver who, like everyone else, will get better with time. It’s time she do that…without me in the car. #Igotstufftodo #canyouruntothestoreforme?

She is having a difficult time finding a summer job. The rejection has been difficult for her. I’m not sure why she’s not getting any callbacks, but she’s not. So, I announced that “we” will start looking at volunteer opportunities, for which I will pay her a salary. I explained that the volunteerism will be good for her emotionally and help build her resume a bit. I sent her 10 listings today with the directive that she needed to sign up for more info for all of them before I got home today. She wasn’t thrilled, but I’ve told her I love her but the human adults (baby adult included) need to have meaningful work—paid or unpaid—to do because Casa d’ABM does not run on watching K-Dramas all day. #getajob I hope to have her out of this house by late next week going to somebody’s volunteer orientation.

We’ve also been role playing asking for help. Hope’s room has returned to its pre-military boarding school state—mid-century apocalyptic. I have her pulling together a 1 bag of trash, goodwill or storage item a day this week after role playing questions about deciphering being overwhelmed, needing direction and asking for help. By the time Hope figured out the conversation I had backed us into, she was sheepish about her role and responses. I didn’t shame her, we were role playing, remember. I let it go and resolved to revisit it after this weekend’s business trip.

I’m trying to help Hope understand her banking. I’ve set up a number of accounts for her: checking, savings, investments. I’m dreaming up ways of helping her understand budgets better—money in money out. She gets that better, she’s just not grasping that after ‘money out’ it’s ‘money stop.’ I’m hoping that she will get the hang of it, pay attention to the details of her checking account. I know that there will come a day when she overdrafts or gets a credit card she shouldn’t have. I’m trying to teach her about natural consequences with respect to money. Like driving, sometimes you just have to do it and ride it out. I’m hopeful.

After Hope’s visit to the Grands, Grammy shared with me that Hope said she would be content to live with me forever. My mom said she wanted to talk to me about buying a larger house with a basement for Hope.

Oh how I laughed from the living room of my 2 bedroom condo. #condolifeforever #nextstopaseniorcentercondo

I’m not buying a bigger house for Hope to have a basement to move it. Is you crazy? No, no, no, no, no, ma’am. Not happening.

After wiping hysterical tears from my eyes, I told her that I know Hope will launch and it may be a little late, but I do not believe at this time that I need to make a life change to accommodate Hope living with me in until my dying days. Uhhhh, no, I do not believe that is necessary at this time.

Hope will gain the life skills she needs. She will gain the confidence she also needs. I will always be around to be guardrails and guideposts, but I firmly believe that she will launch and have a life of her own not living in her current bedroom. I do not need a basement.

I have not been obvious in my nudges and pushes; I don’t want to be the helicopter or bulldozer parent. I do need for Hope to gain some practical life skills and to learn them while I’m around. Each lesson boosts her confidence a little; she needs that.

I need that.

So, stay tuned for all the stuff Hope will do and felt good about by the end of summer.


My Conundrum

Hope will graduate in 55 days, and it’s still unclear what will happen after that, other than coming home.

In total, my daughter applied to 5 schools. Her school required 3 applications. She initially applied to 3, accidentally applied to one and purposefully added the last school. To date, she has only been accepted to one school—the one she accidentally applied to. We are waiting to hear from two schools, but I’m not optimistic this late in the application season.

This process has been…somewhat grueling. There’s a lot of hurry up and wait in college admissions. There’s also a lot of big emotions. You are asking people to judge you on past performance and potential and to make a determination about whether you can be successful there. There’s a lot of vulnerability there.

It feels even more vulnerable when you aren’t the best student, test taker and have spent the last 5 years in a family of overachievers.

AbsurdlyHotTherapist reached out recently to tell me how things were going with Hope. I knew things were rough; I also knew that this admissions process was weighing on her self-esteem and that the fear of what’s next was also weighing heavily. I asked if we really should just change course and go back to the community college plan; he said yes. So, I reached out to the guidance counselor and suggested that maybe all this college stuff was making things really difficult for Hope. She replied that essentially Hope is not ready for college.

So, we’re back where we started, and that’s ok. Except that now we’ve coached Hope to have hope about going to a 4 year school, made her go through the process and basically watched her fail. So now the original plan feels like plan b because of failure rather than plan a because of appropriateness.

As a mom who had high hopes and expectations for Hope and insisted that she throw herself into this process, I feel like a lot of this is my fault. Hope made a big decision to go to this school (which she sometimes seems to regret now) and that decision triggered my own instincts to aim much higher than what might’ve been appropriate for my daughter academically and emotionally. I feel horrible about contributing to all this. I feel awful that I contributed to Hope’s stress.

And yet, I also feel like some of this pressure was necessary. Hope’s struggles with school are both extrinsic and intrinsic; some aspects of this part of our journey is a major reckoning of natural consequences. She and I’ve discussed this, and she sees her own role in the struggle that is school. But we both see and acknowledge that there are definitely things beyond her control.

I’ve worked really hard to set Hope up for success, conventional success and other forms as well. I haven’t been perfect, hardly, but I love my daughter. If I could change everything for her, I would. Heck, the recent college admissions scandal had one family paying $15,000 to facilitate admission; I joked with friends that I could scrape that together on behalf of Hope. My circle of pals always talk about this kind of thing; how unfair it is, and how so few have access to those kinds of resources, access and privilege. We talk about it, but we also largely have access to all three because we are incredibly hardworking and fortunate.

A recent brunch outing with a friend revealed a link to a contact at the first-choice school where Hope was not admitted; my friend offered to inquire on our behalf, maybe her application could be “re-reviewed.”

Gosh, I wanted to say yes. It was on the tip of my tongue. This is the kind of privilege that we all want right? You want to have those well-placed contacts at your fingertips to assist you, to help you garner the access that you want, even if you don’t deserve it. It didn’t shock me that someone in my circle probably had a connect, but throughout the process, I never once considered reaching out.

I paused a moment, wishing I could smooth this path for Hope. I declined the intervention. That school fairly quickly denied Hope. It felt like a swift and painful rebuke. But the reality is that even if I could get her in; then what? She goes and finds that she legit wasn’t ready to go there. She struggles academically, emotionally, socially and then what? Possibly flunk out because she should not have been there, and her application indicated such.

I imagined a fix on my end that just set Hope up for devastation. I could never do that to her.

So, now I’m back to figuring out our current plan. Do we go visit the school where Hope was admitted and figure out whether it might actually be a blessing in disguise? Or do we concede that maybe this 4 year college thing really is a bit premature? Or something else?

I don’t know.

I also am afraid. What if Hope doesn’t launch? What if her room becomes akin to her living in my non-existent basement? How long will it take for her to mature and figure things out? Will she find her calling, and not just some career that *sounds* cool? Can I continue to be patient while she figures this out? And how will this affect us financially?

It feels selfish to say these things, but I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge these thoughts and more were swirling around in my head.

I adore Hope. I believe in her; I do. I know she is afraid and worried about the future.

And so am I.


The Mystery of Turning 18

Hope will be 18 in a few months.

I don’t even remember looking forward to 18; sure, I remember 21, but I don’t remember looking forward to 18. I mean, I was still in high school, getting ready for college. I was already illegally boozing at a local bar where one of my friends’ boyfriend’s older sister tended bar. I had a car and a after school job. I actually had a fair amount of freedom, earned by good grades and decent character.

Beyond that, I don’t remember looking forward to turning 18.

I might’ve been more into being a high school senior and all the traditions that go with that, final year of sports, the awards, homecoming and prom, banquets and convocations. I have quite a few snapshots from that time. I looked happy, content, like I was having fun. But I just don’t remember being all eager to be 18. I don’t even remember what I did that birthday; Google says it fell on a Saturday and knowing my besties from back in the day we were out and about doing something, even though I was the first of my closest friends to become a “legal adult.”

I knew that nothing would change at home. I chuckle at the thought of somehow asserting my newfound adulthood while still living at home and being in high school. The notion is straight up laughable. That said, I knew that things were stable, not much was going to change after my birthday and that I certainly was not going to be a real adult. I was ok with that.

At best, for me, 18 was like…being an adult preemie.

I don’t actually know that Hope is looking forward to her next birthday, but I know it’s one of those birthdays that is somehow significant.

Maybe depending on the circumstances it’s more significant for parents. Maybe that’s why it’s on my mind these days.

A friend’s son recently turned 18, and it was clear from my friend’s post that they were having some conversations about what it meant to be an “adult” still living at home with the parents. The comments on the post were funny and smart, and I got the sense that this father and son had some negotiating that would soon be taking place about all kinds of things. It was also clear that by negotiating, I mean that dad was going to tell him that many of the same rules still applied today as they did last week.

I’m mindful that my experience and the experience of my friend and his son are ones that folks take for granted. We grew up with our biological families. Stability was never an issue. The threat of separation never even brushed our lives. We knew that being 18 was a formality; we were still members of our families, still dependent on them, still loved by them and loving on them, and that nothing was going to really change. We were still firmly ensconced in the family nest.

Hope and I haven’t talked about her upcoming birthday at all. We’ve been so focused on the college application thing and the layers of anxiety around the process and what it meant to her and me that it didn’t even occur to me that there might be feelings about her 18th birthday. During out long drives to visit schools, I know that my daughter seems to feel a mix of excitement and anxiety. For the most part that is normal, but I know it’s not totally normal because she’s worried about being abandoned. Will I cut her loose when she goes to college? How will she manage? Can she function in a college environment on her own? What are the other options and how do you make decisions? There’s a lot of big feelings for both of us.

So, we’ve been consumed by the big life, landscape issues and not some of the more down to earth, daily drama that the late adolescence/early adulthood period brings with it.

That is until earlier this week, when I discovered that she had signed up for something that I *know* had a 18+ requirement. I promptly sent her a quick message to shut it down since she was underage. I reminded her that there are age limits for a reason and that I would not be relenting just because she was close to 18. She didn’t respond; she just shut it own.

Now that’s all great and everything, but the reality is that Hope will be 18 in just a few months, and I’m realizing that it opens up a whole new set of opportunities for bad decisions. Hope will be 18 chronologically, but emotionally? Not even…

I believe she feels attached and reasonably secure in this moment, but will she feel that in a few months? Have I done enough to nurture the confidence in our relationship, in my reliability as her mom? Does she trust me enough?  Does she trust me enough to still be a bit of a kid? I don’t think she wants to grow up, and I know she needs more time, so I’m hoping that we don’t get hung up on the imaginary trappings of adulthood that come with being 18.

Of course there are also things that I will need to evaluate in terms of my parenting. Will I still monitor online activity? I don’t heavy monitor anymore, but I have the ability to. Usually I just rely on my “mom’s spidey sense” to let me know that I need to check something out. Since Hope is away at school I know that the school blocks somethings on campus and I also think she’s just earned a higher degree of privacy than she did 5 years ago. Are there things that I will change in my parenting when Hope turns 18? Hmmmm…honesty, I just don’t know.

I’m hoping that in the grand scheme of things, 18 won’t be a big deal for us. I am looking forward to celebrating it with our family, but beyond that?

Well, that’s a mystery!


Times are Hard

My holiday break has ended, and I’m dutifully back in the office. I could have telecommuted today, but if I had one more solid day with Hope I might snap.

These last couple of weeks with her have been great, but we learned quite some time ago that having breaks is a good thing for us.  My travel schedule has historically given us both the reprieves we’ve needed to maintain a health-ish mother/daughter relationship.  Since going to boarding school, we really seem to relish the time we spend together on the weekends.

During this break, we have had some good time to talk about 2019, about how graduation looms, about the college applications she’s sent off and how some decisions will soon have to be made about her future. When I initiated these chats, Hope talked about how fast it is all going and how anxiety provoking it is. I agreed; these last few years have flown by and knowing that graduation is only 130is days away has me reaching for the brown liquor bottle and a couple of cubes of ice. We are both really starting to get anxious.

Hope has made such great strides these last few months. I feel like she, and me by virtue of proximity, have backed away from the edge of the crazy cliff we were gripping to the last 18 months or so. During weekends home, Hope gives off a slightly more confident air. She’s not as anxious and doesn’t seem as depressed. I know it’s all still there, but it doesn’t feel as consuming as it used to. There was a time that I swear I feel like it was all I could do to just keep us…going, living, breathing.

The growth and stability has been encouraging to me as a parent. I began to allow myself to daydream about her life in college and beyond college. Of course, I have ridiculous hopes and dreams for my daughter, but honestly, I’d be thrilled if she was just ok, functional, independent, roaming out in the world as a regular Jane. Still the sprigs of growth gave me hope and allowed me to fantasize about Hope’s future. We visited a couple of colleges, and she submitted her college applications. We high fived even as all the activities were a little nerve provoking around the edges.

These two weeks are the longest that Hope has been home since before our vacation to Europe in August. The first few days were such a rush for both of us; it was Christmas after all. We traipsed around Virginia visiting family, doing some shopping and finally settling in back home for the second week of vacation. And…then I began to really see my beautiful Hope.

The trauma triggered behaviors began to peek out. The somatic anxiety ailments descended like a black, plague-filled cloud. The excuses for inability to function much became amplified. The failure to listen to full questions because she was more concerned about getting a chance to respond to questions that *weren’t* being asked increased exponentially. The attention seeking behavior—we just got back from our obligatory doctor’s visit which was wholly unnecessary and merely attention seeking, moving through unrelated phantom symptoms designed to elicit a surely deadly diagnosis, sympathy and a hopeful pass on all the homework she failed to do because she was watching K-dramas.

As Hope’s usual struggles reemerged, I have battled my own demons. This is a challenging time of year for me. I don’t mind the cold, but darkness feels…emotionally dark. I struggle the most with my depression during the winter months. My motivation shrinks; I feel exhausted all the time. I am continent to just cozy under a blanket and do…the least. It feels so hard to propel myself to function. I just feel like sleeping all the time. But, well being functional and high achieving doesn’t leave much time for that, so I power through with some sarcastic self-talk. I try to date despite feeling like the whole dating ordeal is just trash. I go to therapy to talk about my fears more than my hopes, and I pop that blue and white pill every morning praying that it keeps me firmly on the ledge, while contemplating the need to get back on the prescription that features a little white pill when I need more pharmacological help.

And because I’m always looking forward, I’m thinking about what happens after the next 130-some odd days. Will we be planning for college or a job? Will she make it to graduation? Will I have a better idea of what her new needs might be and the ability to come up with a plan to meet them. What will success look like for Hope? Right now, it’s all a bit of a black hole, and honestly, my personality type does *not* do well with black holes. I’m working on my patience. I’m working on taking it as it comes. I’m working on meeting Hope where she is, but I’m feeling like I have no idea where that will be.

I am a good mother. I know that. I have worked, really, really hard at mothering Hope. I’m far from perfect. I’m failed and dusted myself off countless times. I try to be reflective and course correcting, but I am feeling lost as we fast approach the next chapter. I don’t know what’s next.

I imagine that this is overwhelming for Hope as well. It’s scary not knowing what’s next. Hope and I are facing the next chapter independently and together—we both have our stories on what we think comes next and how we’ll handle it. We both have hopes and dreams, some of which are not based on reality at all. We are both afraid of failure even though what that looks like is probably widely varied. And then there’s reality and decisions and things we’re experiencing together for the first time. It’s exciting and overwhelming and it’s own dream come true to get to the senior year. But we both are looking into the void to figure out what’s next.

It’s awful and awesome in its own way.

I just know that I’m probably a bit overwhelmed and depressed at the moment, and I need to get on top of that. I can’t lead in the darkness when my own reality is too dark. Sigh…

This. Is. Hard.

 


Black Beauty

Hope was home for the recent holiday, and while she was here, she decided to cut her hair. Hope had decided some time ago that she regretted relaxing her hair and wanted to “go natural” again. After about 7 months of growing it out, we snipped off the relaxed ends and basked in the glory that is now her little Afro.

Ok, so maybe I basked; Hope seemed beside herself with shock, anxiety and the ever present teen worries about how others would see her.

When Hope came to home nearly 5 years ago, she had a lot of hair that I lovingly nurtured right on down to her shoulders. It was not chemically treated. I twisted it, coiled it, braided it, did all kinds of things with it. Hope was really proud of her hair; she got a lot of compliments. She learned to really embrace how her naturally curly, coily hair looked.

Hope has thick hair. It’s not just that each strand is thick; there are also a lot of strands. I swear when I first started doing her hair, I thought I was wrestling a carpet!

As she got older, and I shifted more of the burden of doing her hair to her, things got…difficult. My daughter’s care-taking abilities didn’t produce the same results, and eventually she decided that she wanted to relax it.

I hated the idea. I wanted her to love her hair and to learn to properly care for it. It had been years since I’d given up relaxing my own hair, and there was a part of me that took it really personally that my daughter wanted to relax her hair.

I had failed to promote the beauty of our hair.

I had failed to foster a sense of pride in our hair in its natural state.

I had failed to cultivate a sense of beauty that didn’t adhere to Euro-centric beauty norms.

I had failed to get her to love herself.

In spite of these failures, I also support one’s ability to wear their hair however they please. So, I asked her hair dresser to relax her hair.

Oh there was lots of hair swinging. There were smiles. There was hair flipping. Hope’s hair grew and then…all the things that happened before the relaxer happened. Poor maintenance; lazy care, heat damage, split ends and breakage. There were a couple of heavy “trims” that took inches off.

And I was spending a small fortune getting her hair done.

We ended up in the same place as before, which made me feel as though my prior failures had been confirmed in this hair relaxing exercise.

Then one night I was watching hair videos on YouTube when Hope said she regretted relaxing her hair. She thought it would be easier, but it wasn’t.

I still have teeth marks on my tongue from where I nearly bit it off so as not to say, “I told you so!”

So she begin the journey to grow her hair out with the first major development happening during her fall break.

I’m delighted that she grew her hair out and that she wants to embrace the fullness and textures of her natural hair. That said, I know that rocking a teeny weeny Afro (TWA) is a shock at first. You see all your other features and you can feel weird about them.

Is my forehead really that big?

Were my ears so noticeable when my hair was longer?

I swear my acne was not this noticeable with bangs.

My nose is big.

My skin is so dark.

My teeth are big.

I need earrings to distract from this.

I don’t like the way I look.

People will make fun of me.

I’m never going to look like Becky (No, you’re right and you’re not supposed to.)

It’s all so loaded. Helping her reframe her thoughts about beauty is hard. Helping her think about the fact that six months from now she will have a lot more hair is hard. Helping her believe that she doesn’t need to “fix” anything is hard.

Self-acceptance is hard at almost any age; it’s especially hard at 17.

I think she’s stunning. Her chocolate skin is dark and creamy. Her almond shaped eyes sparkle. With the hair away from her face, her acne quickly faded. I finally was able to coax a pair of small, classy earrings on her. With her militaristic posture and figure I’d kill for, I think she’s an 18 out of 10.

But to hear her tell it, I’m mom so none that counts.

Understanding how oppression shapes even the way we see our beauty is exhausting; really, it is. Teaching that…it’s not only exhausting but also infuriating. I silently rage thinking about the fact that my daughter questions her beauty because kinky coily hair isn’t universally seen as gorgeous. I cut my eyes at the folks at her school who looked perplexed like they weren’t sure to compliment Hope when she returned rocking her afro. I nearly cried when she cast her eyes down when she saw folks see her hair for the first time.

Hope is gloriously gorgeous. She already doesn’t know how lovely she is; the short hair is a radical change that makes her glow. She doesn’t believe that though.

That’s not my fault even though I feel like I failed in instilling that.

It’s all of our faults. That nearly exclusive white standard of beauty is so embedded in our psyche that our brown and black kids hardly know and appreciate African diasporic beauty when they see it. And that makes me sad and mad, really mad.

I look forward to the day when my daughter looks in the mirror, smiles at her reflection and turns on her heels to go knowingly, purposefully slay us all.


Thoughts on Living with a Phobia

Here are my thoughts: I loathe phobias.

I hate them with the hate of a thousand needles in a cheating ex-boyfriend’s eye. I hate them so viciously that I wish I could stab phobias with my phobic killing sword.

Hope has a bug phobia. It is horrible.

I fucking hate it. Yes, I do not like to use all out curse words in this space, but the reality is that this phobia thing warrants a full on f-bomb.

Everywhere we go, everything we do, somewhere, there is the possibility of there being a bug.

When we got to Paris, Hope acted shocked that there were bugs. But when we got to Switzerland it was like she was furious that I did not warn her that, yes, in fact, the country has bugs.

There seems to be a noticeable amount of ladybugs and bees here. They are not particularly noticeable to me and Grammy. They have largely shaped Hope’s miserable Swiss experience, and thus, they have shaped all of our miserable Swiss experiences.

I must admit that I try desperately to be kind, understanding and sympathetic to my daughter’s phobia but seriously, it has become a major trigger for me because her fear routinely creates dangerous situations for everyone around her.

Wanna know how I discovered she had a phobia?

A couple of years ago, a gnat got in the car and she literally came across the front seat and pushed me out of the drivers side door while the car was moving. Fortunately we were in a parking lot and the car came to rest on a parking block. I wasn’t sure what was happening; I just knew that I had to get away from her and whatever it was she was freaked out about. I’m glad we were in a parking lot; I shudder to think what would have happened had we been on the freeway.

We have tried hypnosis to modest success, but the reality is that this phobia is debilitating.If I don’t kill everything around us, the only legitimate response apparently, I’m a horrible person. Today, I had to keep her from falling in the Rhine River and pull her from the path of an oncoming bus as she spun out of control *running* from a bee minding its own business buzzing by. This evening I nearly dropped my laptop when she pushed me off of the couch from a bug that was across the room under a chair. I just sent her to her sealed off room in tears because she seemed insistent to stay on bug watch and as my grandma would say, you keep looking and you will find what you’re looking for. Magically, a spider appeared on the wall and she freaked the hell out, yelling, screaming and crying. I’m praying the neighbors don’t call the our host to snitch on us.

We could close the windows, but air conditioning is not really a thing here and it’s currently about 71 degrees outside. Screens aren’t a thing either.

I’m sure I handled it all wrong, but I’m like, it’s late, no one is up, stop looking for bugs, go the eff to sleep. #samueljackson I spent the afternoon saving you and trying not to get accidentally killed in the process because a bee flew by minding its own frigging business. I’ve done breathing exercises with her. I encouraged meditation and mindfulness. I’ve sat with her to try to get on top of the anxiety. I’ve drugged her.

Seriously. I. Don’t. Know. What. Else. To. Do.

And I am tapped out. I’m exhausted. This leg of the trip has felt like one miserable disaster after another and I can’t wait to get home. I know she feels the same. Grammy feels the same. We all feel the same. I just want to rest because this trip has been anything but restful.

So, I’m girding myself for one last day in Switzerland and one last day in Paris. I’m hoping for a mini-reset. We need it. Hope needs it. Grammy and I need it.

Phobias suck and they suck for everyone.

In an effort to put some good energy out there, here are some snaps from our time in Switzerland!


The Bitter

With the decision now made now there’s all kinds of stuff to deal with. I need to get her enrolled in the new school, unenrolled from the new school, I need to reach in my purse and figure out the financial part of this investment and I need to help Hope figure out what she’s going to do with her hair while she’s away. More on that later because it’s a doozy.

As Hope was going through the motions of her decision last weekend, one of the conversations that we had centered around how there’s no perfect decision. Most decisions have an element of bitter that goes with the sweet. In this case, going to the new school meant that she would be leaving her marching band, not going to the band competitions with her bandmates, leaving the one or two friends she had behind. The trade off was being in a better academic environment with a band that does appearances in big parades that are sometimes on TV.

I thought that we would have a bit of time before the bitterness of her decision made itself known, but seeing as we adults can sometimes just be trash, the bitter taste was nearly immediate.

I decided that I would not take Hope out of her home school until the contract had been signed for the new school, because, you know I have some sense. Also, with Hope still enrolled in her home school she would be able to go to marching band camp this month. She would miss the last week of camp because we are going on vacation, but I looked at the vacation as a transitional time for her. In going to band camp, she would have a bit of time with her bandmates, she would be able to coach and mentor the new freshmen who were joining the band, and she would have some time with her favorite teacher (also her only black male teacher she’s had in 5 grades with me). I encouraged her to be mindful of her role in planning the marching since she would be a missing bass drum in a few weeks and the band needed to accommodate that.

Meanwhile, I was in communication with the guidance counselor and had made an appointment for the upcoming week to get the enrollment stuff taken care of.

Hope told her friends that she would be moving on to a new school and seemed to relish the attention around having made such a big decision. As she was finalizing her decision, she talked about it with her band teacher who flatly responded, “And?”

I know that Hope had really already made her decision by the time this conversation occurred, but I know that the response was hurtful and was probably that last little nudge for her to choose to move on.

By Friday morning I received an email from the band teacher asking if it was true that Hope would be attending a different school in September. After I told him yes, but I hadn’t started the enrollment process and no changes had been made, he responded by dismissing Hope from the marching band. He went so far as to ask me to stop what I was doing to come pick her up immediately because she couldn’t be on campus.

Capture

I was stunned.

This teacher is Hope’s favorite teacher. He and his colleague teacher at the middle school have been the only stabilizing academic forces she’s had since she arrived here more than 4 years ago. He’s been one of few people of color and the only man of color teacher she’s had. He’s been kind to her, advocated for her and been genuine in his interest in helping her be successful.

Until this week.

This week he hurt her feelings and kicked her out of the one thing that has really motivated her during her high school years.

I refused to pick her up and told him that the humane and right thing to do would be to talk to her and give her a chance to say goodbye to her band friends. He reluctantly agreed.

By the time I picked her up she was In a bit of shock. As the hours passed and the grief set in, I saw her deny that he dismissed her, get angry because she felt like she was being punished, want to email to negotiate swinging by next week to help out with the freshmen without actually being “in band camp,” being really sad about how she was treated both when she mentioned it to him early in the week and after he knew she was leaving, reaching out to some newbies on snapchat to give advice for the drumline, and finally concluding that she made the right decision to go to a new school since it was clear that her teacher really didn’t give an ish about her anyway.

I’m grateful that she had therapy right after band practice, and I was shocked to see her go through the stages in mere hours. I was also proud that she never questioned her decision to go to the new school. I was so hurt to see her question the whole of her connection with her teacher due to this rejection. This weekend she’s wallowing. She might’ve moved through the grief stages, but she’s still grieving.

This is the bitter, and it kinda sucks.

I’m planning to have a “nice” (not really) chat with the band teacher, the counselor and the principal this week to talk about how this was handled. The reality is that it just didn’t have to be this way. I’ve looked up the regs and he was wrong since my daughter is still a student in the county, our intentions to withdraw, notwithstanding. Oh and in epic mixed messaging he told her she could attend camp for two more days—no doubt there’s some benefit to the band to having her there. I no longer trust that the invitation is for her benefit. The whole thing is just a mess with a lot of hurt feelings.

In the meantime, we’ve got a bunch of other lesser bitter stuff to wrestle with as we prepare for a rapid transition over the next couple of weeks.

Stay tuned.


The School Decision

Wow, thank you to so many of you for weighing in on Hope’s big decision about where to attend high school this fall. This last week has just been amazing. In giving her complete autonomy over this major life decision, I witnessed my daughter’s transformation. I’m awestruck by her process.

Honestly, when she broached the subject of revisiting her decision a week ago, I’m also shocked at how easily I was able to just step back and give her the space to think about her options. I genuinely no longer was deeply vested in one school or the other. I was just committed to supporting Hope make a decision she would be confident in moving forward. As I begin to reflect on this last week, I will always, always be focused on the decision process rather than the decision. It’s the process that gave me such an amazing glimpse of who Hope has become and her big picture potential.

So, it’s like when Lebron was on ESPN announcing that he was moving to Miami, right?

Capture

Image via YouTube

It certainly feels like it.

So, without further ado, I’m delighted to announce that Hope will be enrolling in boarding school in just a few short weeks.

By Sunday evening, it was starting to become clear that she was leaning in this direction, but by Monday she had fully committed. With the decision now made she is reveling in all the imminent changes. There’s minimal anxiety, more excitement than fear and so much pride in sharing her news with her friends and teachers.

I’ve got to make a lot of magic happen in a very short period of time since we will be going on an extended vacation in less than two weeks, and she will almost immediately report to school when we return stateside. I’m just basking in her excitement at the moment, but thoughts about what does the extended empty nest really mean for me are tinging the edges of my consciousness. Not in a bad way, but my gut tells me that this move is really a game changer. My gut tells me that when Hope returns after graduation she will have really found her sea legs and will be launching a little sooner rather than later. So random thoughts about what this next phase of parenting will look like and how will I document it float gingerly through my mind. There are other happy developments happening in my life that will no doubt fill some of the time Hope’s departure will create, but it won’t be parenting her, cooking for her, harassing her about laundry or cleaning her bathroom. The daily rigors of parenting have become such a part of my life and I haven’t really had much time to think about what it would look like if her departure was extended. I think I might be in a bit of shock.

I’m so excited for this next chapter, even not having any friggin idea what shape it will take.

So, yeah, Hope is morphing from an Eagle (home school) to a Yellow Jacket (new school, with an insect that she’s terrified of) in just a couple of short weeks, and we are ecstatic!!!!!


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