Tag Archives: african american families

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.

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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.

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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?

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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!!!!!


How the Decision Process is Going

It’s been a really interesting weekend. Hope is doing things I’ve never seen her do before.

She’s making pro and con lists.

She’s reaching out to classmates at both schools and parsing out the good advice from the not so good advice.

She’s asking me to check the blog comments and votes (she’s incredibly grateful for all of your contributions and comments!).

During her therapy appointment, she talked about her options with AbsurdlyHotTherapist.

She’s thinking about her future in ways I’ve never seen her do before.

She is researching. She’s making a question list to send to the boarding school for more information.

Whatever her decision, I’m seeing her do what I saw her do throughout the summer program: Rise to the occasion.

Talk about stepping up: She’s organized, thinking critically, asking questions and shouldering a huge decision.

Every few hours I make a point to remind her of a couple of key considerations:

  • I want her to prioritize her happiness.
  • This decision isn’t just about academics; it’s also about emotional needs and that one is not more important than the other.
  • There is a chance for a do-over. We could figure out how to make it work if it comes to that.
  • Don’t fret about the financial consideration—that’s a mom issue and I got it under control.
  • I and Yappy will miss her like crazy.
  • I will also make sure that if she chooses to go to the boarding school that she can still make it to a few of the football games at her home school if she wants to go.
  • I’m happy to also invest in a private online language courses in Korean if she goes to the boarding school since they don’t offer it there and I know she wants to keep up with her language development.
  • I will never, ever abandon her. I’m her ride or die, no matter what, where or why.

It has been a stressful weekend for Hope. This has been the biggest decision she’s been faced with since deciding about wanting to be adopted. It is weighing on her. So today, we’re going to do some fun things to take our minds off of the choice that has to be made.

In all though, it’s all good. I’m happy with how the process is shaking out; so much so, I’m really not focused on the decision. I’m really into just Hope’s immediate emotional needs.

Some of you posed some questions and comments in the comments of my last post that I’ll address below!

Do we have a school selected?
Yes, Hope attended a lovely military academy about 80 miles away from our home in Northern Virginia. It’s in the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, on a small but beautiful campus. The school is very small, just 350 students in the high school total with about a third or so in residence. I hadn’t even heard of the school 6 months ago, but I’ve been wowed by the support they offer, the responsiveness, the racial and ethnic diversity and their commitment to excellence. Of course, at that price, they should be, but it’s definitely a good school. They know what they’re doing there. I do wish it was close enough for day school, but 80 miles is just too far.

Can she switch mid-year?
Yes, but only in one direction. She can go from the boarding school back to the home school, but not the other way around. I’ve told Hope that if after the first quarter or semester it’s really not working out, she can come and finish up at her home school.

Decisions of the Head and Heart
Several readers have noted that this is a decision of both the head and the heart. That point has really resonated with us. Thank you for framing it that way! I’ve tried to impress upon Hope that it’s totally valid to want to just be home. Home is critical; home is especially important when it’s been elusive for periods of your life. A decision that is centered on home and everything that comes with it is a valid decision, and it even might be the best decision.

What about accountability and can it be replicated at home?
To some degree yes, but I simply can’t replicate what they do at the boarding school. I don’t think I could do it here with the best planning and execution, and I especially don’t think I can replicate it as a single parent. One, my work/management style is just not as rigid as what is offered there. At heart I’m a creative; I know that I don’t thrive in that kind of environment and my ability to construct that kind of home is just…nonexistent. The home school is a good school, but with a couple thousand students, they don’t have the time or resources to create the structure that Hope seems to crave and thrive in. What’s been interesting about this summer experience is that Hope has started considering a possible military career because the structure and direction just works for her. It makes me proud and scared shi%less.

Counseling by phone?
AbsurdlyHotTherapist is totally down with this. We would also schedule her appointments on the weekend when she can have in-person therapy as well. Of course, he has declined to offer an opinion, but is delighted that we’re considering options and how well Hope is doing self-managing through her decision-making process.

Small college in the future?
The plan was always to do community college for the first two years and transfer. This decision potentially changes the trajectory of the future. Actually, I think no matter what decision is made, the future path has evolved. I wanted Hope to do community college, so she would have more time at home before launching, but her transfer school would definitely have been a small, liberal arts style school. We’ve actually considered a few over the last year or so to visit.

Now of course, Hope is seeing a wider range of possibilities including going straight into the military, going to a small college first and going into the military as an officer, launching straight from boarding school, still sticking to the original plan. I’m delighted that she sees choices. One of our big values in our home is that choices equal freedom. You want to have choices, and you want to create scenarios where you have the best choices available to you. Hope sees what she needs to do where ever she chooses to go to get the widest array of choices. So, we’ll see!

We’ll make an announcement when a decision is made! Thanks to so many of you for weighing in. We both really appreciate it!


What to Do

Hope is only a little over a week away from completing her time in her summer program. I believe this has been a good experience for her. She seems to be a bit more independent and a little more confident. Her grades are good; though they’ve dipped a little bit with the last couple of tests. It’s likely she will finish with an A in both of her classes.

She seems to thrive in the highly structured environment. She has places to be, things to do. She seems to have embraced the structure and the opportunities to be active and engaged. She seems…healthier, emotionally and physically.

Yeah, I think it’s been a good experience. I look forward to hearing her true thoughts on her experiences when she gets home next week.

Up until this week I was really, seriously thinking about whether it might be best to enroll Hope at this school for the full school year. I see the possibilities for her to be really successful there. Sure, I think academically it would be good for her, but I really think that highly structured, small classes with low student to teacher ratios really works well for her. Her confidence is just higher, and I know its related to being in an environment that helps her be successful. I joked to some colleagues that I would embrace paying the equivalent of a year of private college to send her.

And then I really, really got to thinking: Did I really want to send my daughter away to school?

Well, no. I don’t. I worry about that; I want her to do well and feel good about doing well. I also want stability for her. Being home with me has been the most stability she’s had in years. She’s been able to go to the same school with the same kids for years now, a few of whom she met her first weeks after placement. She’s got her own room, a routine, a mom and a dog who adore her. She has a home, after not having had one for a good chunk of her childhood. She has permanence and that’s got to have a lot of weight in this decision.

This week Hope confided in me that she was torn about her academic future. She sees the opportunities this school offers and what that means for her life. She feels how much people care there and how she doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. She is seeing glimpses of her bright future with this kind of experience under her belt and the kinds of skills she develops while she’s there. That’s just what I wanted for her.

But Hope also sees being somewhere that resembles an institution, that doesn’t intentionally fix her favorite foods or makes a special trip to get Korean ramen at the international grocery. She sees starting over again at a new place which is really triggering for a kid who moved around a lot. She misses getting a hug from mom and seeing my family text stream that includes funny family vignettes and pictures of her and her cousins doing funny things that my sisters and I often trade about our kids. She misses her own bathroom and sometimes just having unstructured time.

She misses home, and I miss her.

And so, here we are, weighing all this stuff against the decision to be made. Oh, and never mind that I’ll probably have to dip into my retirement to send her to school and order a case or two of cat food for my future dinner options.

A couple of weeks ago, I think I would be moving heaven and earth to give her this educational opportunity. Now, I’m thinking that the stability of home utterly blasts the structure of the boarding school. I want her to have this year to continue attaching, emotionally snuggling with me. I know this is so important to both of us.

I would love to recreate the experience for her locally; heck I even wish having her go to this school for the day program was a viable option, but it’s not. It’s just too far at 80 miles one way. So, we’re really in a go or stay quandary.

And so, we’ll talk about it; I want to know what Hope really thinks. I want her to be a part of the decision. I want us to really decide what’s best together.

 


Summer School

Yesterday I dropped Hope off at summer school.

It was kind of surreal. I got a taste of what my parents must’ve felt when they took me to my first summer program years ago. I went to a two-week writing program at Hampton University. I remember packing up the car with my things, arriving and watching my mom look around my dorm room with a bit of disdain about my living conditions. She and Daddy were at least happy that we had air conditioning.

I remember my parents looking around at how far the boys’ dorm was from the girls’ dorm. I recall them asking about the course schedule and fretting about whether I would be ok.

I’m now convinced that they were worried about whether they would be ok.

As I helped Hope lug her stuff to her dorm room and unpack I was really struggling to keep my emotions in check. In the week before move in, I realized just how much I’m going to miss my beautiful girl. I spent time indulging her with favorite foods, sweets, cuddles with Yappy and me on the couch. I hugged her, kissed her cheek and just loved on her.  By the time Hope used her key card to open her dorm door I was sporadically holding my breath. I was excited to give her this opportunity at something more. I felt worried about whether she’d like the food and if she’d make friends. I had mixed emotions about her not having a roommate but thought having her own space might be nice sometimes. I was happy she had her weighted blanket. I was miffed that she forgot her pillow and a few other things, even though I knew we would need to make a Walmart run because…don’t you always need to make a Wallyworld run when you move into a dorm?

I knew I would miss her so much. I knew Yappy would also look for her like he did this morning.

In the couple of days before move in, Hope just…sank. I knew she wasn’t excited about going, that there was a lot of anxiety about it and that my daughter was just resigned to go since I didn’t give her any other options once she was admitted. To see her withdraw broke my heart and I began to question my decision.

Oh, she was still going, but I wondered if sending her to an academic boarding program would hurt us. I wondered if the return on investment would give Hope a leg up this year, increase her confidence, help her with her social skills…I don’t expect a miracle, but I definitely hope to see Hope grow some this summer, but I pray that any growth doesn’t at the expense of our relationship.

It’s funny, I sold this experience to Hope as a chance to try on a bit of what it might feel like to go away to college. What I didn’t really appreciate is that it would be a chance for me to try on an empty nest. It feels strange that she didn’t walk through the door a little after 3pm or that she wasn’t here to ask me how I slept last night, something genuine and endearing she does every single day. It was strange to buy groceries for one after all this time.

I’m eager to hear from her tonight. I want to know how the first day was, how the food is, does she get along with her suitemate. I’m also hopeful that she’s having such a great evening, that she doesn’t get around to calling or texting me before lights out.

It’s all awesome and sucky all at the same time.


The Gap

Let me start off by saying that I deeply believe in family preservation and open adoption whenever and however possible. I think there would be far less of a need for adoption and foster care if we really believed in family preservation and providing families with the support they needed to parent successfully. I also think that fears about whether and how we process our emotions and relative standing around family status is a huge barrier to successful open adoption. It’s so much easier to see families as a threat and inconvenience than it is to see families of origin as having meaningful standing in the lives of adoptees. Yes, yes, #notall situations can be preserved or open, but smart folks can easily distinguish those situations from the mass.

Hope’s adoption opened weeks after finalization. I didn’t want to be that judgy adoptive parent, but in many ways I was. I desperately wanted to protect Hope, who at the time was still easily overwhelmed by just about everything. Her family wanted to reconnect, but in their excitement they just kind of breezed past several years of Hope’s chaos. There was a huge gap, and I had to get right into the middle of it to sort things out.

That was four years ago, and we’ve all grown in our understanding of how this big family thing works. Family can be really messy, and my daughter’s emotions about how she fits is messy too. And there’s still a huge gap and I’m still right in the middle of it, and sometimes, like lately, it’s really, really sucky.

Hope is now an older teen. She’s matured some; she’s developed some more coping skills. She has unpacked some of her trauma and her emotions around the need to be adopted by a non-family member. She’s really doing great even as she has a long way to go.

She’s happy to be in contact with her extended family, but she still hasn’t unpacked a lot of her feelings about all that happened or figure out what kind of consistent contact, if any, she wants or how to manage the increasing expectations of family that she be more participatory in big family events.

There’s a gap. I reside in the translational gap.

I’m there to encourage some interaction, to manage expectations, to make some desired connection happen, to decline some invitations, to offer some explanations, to try to facilitate and guide negotiated connection.

My daughter is increasingly clear about what she doesn’t want—even if she isn’t clear about what she does want. Her family is increasingly clear about what they want and hope for—even if they don’t get why that vision isn’t shared by Hope.

In the last year I’ve found myself the bearer of really difficult messages to share.

“I’m sorry, she doesn’t want to come.”

“Is so & so going to be there? If so, that’s a non-negotiable no for Hope.”

“I’m not sure when we will get to visit next. Hope doesn’t want it to feel like a huge family reunion; she wants it to be like this….”

At every point of connection, I check in with Hope, see how she’s feeling, what she needs, how does she want this thing to go, what will make her feel good about this, figure out what success looks like for her. It’s actually getting harder on her end. As she gets older, her desires are crystalizing around what kind of interaction she wants but the latent desire to please and to capitulate makes her shut the whole thing down. Her choices are different than what most of us want; I do my best to honor them. I often find myself in that gap, feeling like I’m delivering news that just hurts.

I know the news hurts her family. I hear it in their voices. I see it in the texts and emails. I try to be open and transparent, and I often wonder if they think it’s me keeping her away. I often wonder if they think I’m really an ally.  I’m trying to be, but I also know that Hope will always come first. #teamHope #alldayeveryday

And then something will be said that feels like there’s still an obliviousness around the history of the situation.

“I really wish I knew all that happened to her.”

“So and so just said it was XX, which doesn’t seem so bad.”

“If I knew what happened, I definitely would have responded differently.”

And I get emotional, and I’m reminded why it is so complicated for Hope. I get that she wants and needs a very specific type of acknowledgement about certain events in her life. I also get that we aren’t specifically dealing with her birth parents but extended family who may not be privy to the story as I know it or the story as Hope lived it. And Hope isn’t ready to share her full story with them, so…

There’s a gap. It may be there forever. I hope not, but it might be there for a long, long time.

I am sensitive to the fact that I sometimes see Hope mentally comparing “us” versus “them.” My family and the family she’s been grafted into is different. Not better, not worse, just different. My family has long joked about our dysfunction—every family has some—but what and whether that looks like dysfunction to someone new(ish) is different for every family. That seems to be the case for Hope; it’s normal.

When I was little I couldn’t understand why my two sets of grandparents seemed so very different. It was something I had to reconcile in my mind. They weren’t better or worse, just different. I see Hope doing that processing at nearly 17. I probably did it at 5.

There’s a gap.

I’m prepared to stand in it for a long time. It’s really uncomfortable though, can’t lie about that. I know it’s uncomfortable on some level for everyone involved and that that discomfort is probably way worse for Hope than for me. There are no regrets about trying to figure out this family thing. I know it’s in Hope’s best interest to have access and relationships with her extended birth family. More is more. But it isn’t easy. It requires constant scanning, checking in and assessment that her needs are being met, whether it’s to visit or to decline to visit. I pray it gets easier for Hope, that she’ll find her way and heal from the hurt. I also pray that the family gains a better understanding of the hurt and what it has been like for her.

I think that will be the thing that narrows the gap, maybe even eliminate it.

I hope so.


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