Tag Archives: African American Parenting

Flat Envelopes

One of the most striking things I’ve discovered during my time as a parent is how deeply I feel things. I believe that I was really in touch with my emotions before parenting. I spent a lot of time in therapy wrestling with big emotions, feelings I had, things I believed about myself and the world. I thought I understood feelings before being a parent.

Yeah, I didn’t understand ish.

I did not, nay could not, anticipate how deeply I would feel things. How the very core of my being might be overwhelmed by joy or pride or how I could feel so crushed, sad and disappointed that there didn’t seem to be any sobbing that could even come close to helping make sense of what I was feeling.

I didn’t have a clue.

Over and over I’ve had moments while parenting Hope that the jumble of emotions I felt was so messy, so convoluted that I couldn’t really say what I was feeling. Even now, sometimes I think about Hope, something we are experiencing and it’s almost like I have a phantom feeling in my chest—love, joy, sadness, sometimes despair (no worries, my doc says my heart is fine). In these moments I often find that I need to shove my feelings into an emotional closet so that I can be what Hope needs in those moments. I am there to help her navigate her own emotions and figure things out, even when I really have no idea how I’m doing that for myself.

This week brought new emotional drama for both Hope and me. After weeks of waiting oh so anxiously, for decisions on Hope’s college application, two flat envelopes showed up. Flat envelopes in college admissions is rarely good news.

To be fair, one flat envelope indicated that consideration of her application had been put on hold to allow her the chance to strengthen her application. The other envelope was an admissions denial. Hope did not get into her (our) 1st choice school. They encouraged her to do a year somewhere and reapply. She’s sad, but it really helps that there’s one school in the bag and 3 others we are waiting on.

As someone who works in higher education, I know that the other 3 schools are iffy and become more iffy with each day that passes.

But yo, the parenting emotions are so damn real! I knew I was anxious, constantly offering up prayers, but when I got her message (& saw the first flat envelope), my heart broke. I wanted this for her so badly, even if I knew that she might finally meet her “natural consequences” match. Hey, you don’t do your work, you fail classes, you don’t get admitted to the 1st choice. Still I found myself hoping, praying that she would get the fat envelope.

Hope’s academic performance last semester was not even lackluster; at some point it looked like she was phoning it in. When the semester grades posted, I clucked to myself that this upped the risk of not be admitted anywhere. These were the grades that would go to the schools. I could feel the natural consequence reckoning coming. I know that at some point, Hope didn’t really believe me that all of this mattered in how colleges would look at her. I remember listening to her anxiety a month or so ago as the reality seemed to really hit her.

Oh…they have expectations of me academically. Wow!

There was a season in my parenting when I would have piled on with “I told you so!” or “See? Do you believe me now?” Then I got a clue that maybe that wasn’t helpful; in fact, it was only really to validate that I was right. Again, not helpful, but possibly harmful.

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So, I learned to keep that internal momologue monologue to myself.

When I learned about the flat envelopes, I needed a moment to gather myself. I’m an overachiever–ridiculously so. I’ve never received a flat envelope, so this is uncharted territory. I didn’t want to be right, and I desperately wished that her natural consequence comeuppance came at some other time, in some other form. I knew that the reject stung and probably undermined the little confidence that she had mustered during this process. I felt horrible that and guilty that maybe I pushed too hard, that maybe we should have not applied there, that maybe the college counselor who recommended the school was so wrong and this was partly her fault. The guilty feeling that I had set my daughter up for failure gnawed at me.

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As a parent though, I had to switch gears immediately, check in on Hope’s well-being. Of course, she is sad about the first choice and unclear how she feels about the admissions hold. I’ll have a better sense of her emotions when I see her this weekend, but I’ve been working my brain extra hard to pivot this into a pep talks about schools that are the right fit, that there are alternative pathways (transferring later), that there are still possible options out there since all decisions hadn’t been made yet. Also, hey, look, you do have a safe school, so there’s that. #brightside

I feel like I’ve made a good case, put on a genuine face for her, and I genuinely do believe all of those things. Absolutely. I also know that what she needs to hear right now, that reassurance that she’s going to be fine and that I believe she’s going to be fine, and I still believe in her. #teamHope It happens to lots of kids.

So, stay tuned and hope for chunky envelopes.

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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!


Five Years

It’s hard to believe that it has been 5 years since Hope moved in from her last foster home. In some ways it seems like couldn’t possibly be that long; in other ways it feels like a lifetime ago.

I’m about 15lbs heavier, and I have a LOT more gray hair than I did back then. I have grown a lot. I’ve learned so much…about everything.

I learned that parenting is a lot about fake finding your way through the universe with only a vague road map based on your personal upbringing, values and resources. So much of it is just…wandering in the wilderness trying to keep kids alive and as close to thriving as you can get them.

For me, Hope and I dropping into each other’s lives…yeah, we’ve wandered a lot. We’re still wandering.

The wilderness is dark and thick for parents with kids who have experienced trauma and who have special needs. So much of what we endured post placement was confusing and just felt crazy in a never-ending way. I had tried to prepare myself for parenthood, but really, can you?

In a word, no.

So, I talked, wrote, reflected, talked other parents, listened to a lot of folks, especially adoptees, got help wherever, however I could figure out how to cobble it together.

I also lashed out, withdrew, and apologized to a lot of people in my life, over and over again, including my daughter.

I eventually got the hang of things, as much as you can with parenting. I can’t say parenting has become any easier over these five years. There are always new challenges, new goals, new problems, new therapies, new stuff to find your way through. I figured out that the way I had powered through other things in my life, I would power though parenting too.

Hope and I have done so much in the time we’ve been together.

We’ve been to 5 kinds of therapy. We’ve both taken many meds for depression, anxiety, and mood stabilization. We have connected with birth family. We’ve tackled grief. We’ve resolved legal stuff from long before I came along. We’ve cried more tears than I ever dreamed. We’ve argued and screamed and cursed. We found tutors and tutoring programs; we quit those as well. Music classes came and went. Programs for teen girls, yep did that.

We also traveled to 10 states and 4 countries. We went to the theatre. We did a lot of sightseeing, a lot of edutainment. We read a lot of books, including going down the rabbit-hole romance sub-sub genre of interracial relationships featuring Black women and Asian men—because KPop. We went to a lot of concerts and movies. Our dining palates grew to try lots of new things. We raised a puppy after saying goodbye to my beloved Furry One. We have laughed and danced and stayed up late doing silly things together.

And now, somehow, some way, Hope and I have gotten to year five, and she will graduate in 116 days days. We are waiting for decisions on her college applications. There are decisions to be made about the future, driver’s licenses to still get and just so much to still do. It’s really amazing.

Another 5 years from now, I’ll be in my early 50s and Hope will be in her early 20s. No idea what life will look like then. I’m sure that my parenting will continue to evolve; hopefully it will continue to improve. I’m hoping Hope will launch smoothly. I’m hoping that I’ll continue to reflect on this day that I became a parent, while it fades from my daughter’s memory. I just want it to be some day that happened, but that she moved on from. There are so many moments that stick out for her, big and small, painful and joyous, I’m ok with this day fading away for her.

I’ll remember though; I’ll always remember her emerging from security at the airport and stepping into my arms to give me a hug. It was a sweet and scary moment in time that has turned into such an amazing chapter in my life. I’ll always remember it.


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.


At a Distance

So, for all this empty nesting, I am finding that there is still a lot of parenting going on around these parts. If I’m not running back and forth to do visits, sending packages of necessities or checking in on performance, I’m offering love, guidance and occasional chastisement at a distance. It’s really a lot. Sure, there’s only my laundry to do, and I’m not actually peeping into her room to see if she’s working, so the day to day stuff is minimal. The emotional stuff? Yeah, that’s still happening.

Hope and her roommate have been squabbling recently, and things escalated to the point where it was determined that Hope needed to change rooms. Who knows the real story, since I only have one side and I’m sure there are at least two more sides to hear, but how the move went down was incredibly upsetting and a bit triggering and damaging. Essentially, they made Hope move with very little notice and tossed her stuff in a bag to drag to another room. When she told me about it, all teary, all I could envision was all the times she moved during foster care in similar dramatic fashion. This was not good.

I’m sure it may take a little time to bounce back for Hope, who is strong and courageous, but she is also a big kid who needs reassurance, stability and soothing. The move triggered lots of anxiety, which triggered the bug thing, which just spun her out of control. It wasn’t pleasant.

One thing that was different during this last week was that Hope actively reached out to me for the emotional support that she needed.

I’ve listened to her cry and snot in my ear. I’ve listened to her be mad, then be sad, then feel rejected and hurt. I’ve listened to her fears. While my heart hurt to hear her so emotional, the fact that she reached out to me, to mom to have her emotional needs met was so reassuring to me. I worried whether we could really be ok with her away after only 4 years home. She actually seems more connected than ever. It made my heart sing because I know she’s still healing and that there’s a good foundation there.

I miss her. I’m not going to lie, there are things about this life that are easier. We are both less anxious overall. I am getting used to entertaining myself, and thanks to a robust travel schedule with work for the next several weeks, I’m pretty occupied. I’m still parenting though. I’m still really involved. I’m still sending lots of emails and making calls. I’m still coordinating care for her. I’m still her mom even if she is away at a distance.


A Change of Plans?

So, the latest in this parenting from afar saga is getting Hope to embrace a change of plans for post-high school.

I’ve been putzing around the house wondering what this year at boarding school would mean for Hope’s future. Sure, I really wanted to create a situation where Hope would be successful in high school, making decent grades, figuring out the social stuff, getting mentored, all that good stuff.  But, really, all of that is supposed to lead to a college launch.

Some time ago, Hope and I concluded that she might do best staying home and attending the local community college. Then she did well on the PSAT, and then she went away for the summer and shined. Now she’s at the school for her senior year. In my mind, this represented a trajectory change. It was huge directional step away from that original post-high school plan. I mean, why go to a community college when you’ve graduated from a college prep school, right? I bore no illusions that Hope would go to some big university. Given what we’ve learned in the last year, it’s clear the smaller school the better and the most structured environment the better. Hey, she might even consider the military. In all the change in the last few months, I saw the widening of options for Hope and a change in plans.

Hope did not see things this way at all. With me, she hemmed and hawed about what she wanted to do after graduation. When her mentor started asking questions about the SAT and the ACT, Hope said they really weren’t necessary since she didn’t plan to go to a university. We’d talked about whether and how Hope saw the move to boarding school as a change in her trajectory. She said she did and then she didn’t say much. I would ask about how “the plan” might change and what should that look like? She would say she didn’t know.

It all seems like a ploy to avoid inevitable confrontation since this weekend I learned that maybe she didn’t see a change in plans in play at all.

My response? Well why not???

Her response? Why should it change anything?

My next response? Are you kidding me? I think it changes everything!

And so, I went inside my head and heart to wrestle with my expectations of Hope all over again. When given chances to change course, usually Hope doesn’t. The decision to go to boarding school was shocking, and I thought maybe it marked a big change. Of course, it did. It just didn’t mean what I thought it meant. The truth is I have no idea what it means. I don’t think she really knows what it means either.

So, we’ve been talking about it. Have you looked at any schools? Yeah, sure. Do you want to share the schools? I get the list, and applications to those schools will be met with rejection. I don’t say this; I don’t want this conversation to shut down and well, there’s a college counselor who will convey this message. Then, she announces maybe she will go to school in Seoul, South Korea. Um, have you looked into going to school abroad and what you need to do in order to do that? Do you have any idea how much money they want you to have in the bank in order to do that? OMG…

This is such a tumultuous, transitional time for kid’s her age. It’s a crazy times for parents too who are hoping, praying that their kids explore their choices and then make good informed choices. This is what I hope for Hope, but I know this kid and decision making isn’t a strong suit with this one. She avoids them. She doesn’t like change. She may still really need some time before launching, but I also know that that being the default position is not the best thing for her. She always needs a push or pull to stretch a bit, to trust herself and to trust her ability to stand on her own. I’m trying to give her some space to figure it out, but yeah, I’m a bit vexed because it’s so unknown for both of us.

I have no idea if she even has a clue what she wants to study? Does she even really still want to be a linguist? Who knows.

All I know right now is that I need to finish SAT and ACT registration and start work on the FAFSA so that we can keep options open.


Years Later, What Now?

This weekend I’m in a much different place than I was with this whole empty nest thing.

This weekend, I’m not as gracious with it. I’m a bit more reflective. I’m still pretty emotional about it but in a different way. I’ve got to figure out what to do with myself now.

Twelve years ago, it was just me and the Furry One. Life was fairly simple. Then eleven years ago, I was in a relationship that I knew from the start wasn’t really going to be sustainable. I stayed for three years. Doing my doctorate was as much a life goal as it was an exit strategy for that relationship. I reasoned, if I went to chase that dream I wouldn’t have time to sit around in a dead end relationship *and* study while working full time.

So, I ended my relationship and started school. I replaced one with the other. I stayed super busy. I found a rhythm and made it work.

Halfway through my program, I hit a major health event that scared me. Actually, it terrified me. My presence here is a testimony to great medical care and not having finished my purpose here. The event changed my life though. After I recovered, I learned that I would never have a biological child, and I accelerated my adoption plan.

It was an insane time. I was still finishing my coursework. I began juggling the adoption process and school. The month I defended my dissertation proposal was also the same month I received Hope’s adoption profile. I was writing my chapters when I went to visit for the first time. When Hope was placed with me, I still had two chapters to write. I wrote those chapters while we endured several of the roughest weeks of my life (and probably some of hers as well), even worse than when I thought I might die.

Around the same time, Elihu came into my life. We were happy for a long time, but I was juggling work, a long distance relationship and raising an amazing child with a trauma background. Eventually, I just got exhausted. It was too much, and one thing had to go. E and I said our sad goodbyes and I focused all my energy on Hope.

I feel like this last year of my life has been wholly devoted to Hope. There were days when I felt like I was dragging us to some imaginary line, probably graduation. I just wanted Hope to have the best opportunities I could give her. I was up at her school all the time. Emailing teachers, emailing counselors and therapists. I threw myself into parenting in a different way. As this spring rolled in I got it in my head that she needed a summer enrichment program to help her prep for her senior year. I started to research programs. I found a few; I presented them to Hope and we settled on this one. She applied, was accepted and thrived in the summer program.

As I prepped for those few weeks, I thought maybe I should think about doing something for myself during that month. A good friend suggested that I get back into the dating game.

Sigh, so I told myself that if Hope got into her program, I would, and I did. I went on a few dates, and I learned that if you are married, you had better make that ish work. These dating streets are rough; make it work. Anyway, I met someone; it didn’t seem serious at first, but then it might’ve been. I dunno. We had fun together, and the next thing you know a couple of months had passed. Hope was away at school, and I thought maybe…

And then it ended abruptly thanks to external circumstances.

The fact that it ended is sad, not full-on breakup sad, but just sad. It’s lovely when a courtship is new, and you’re getting to the point when you start trying to figure stuff out. It was lovely and sad and romantic and icky and then I realized something.

I was more emotional about the fact that I had to really, really, really sit with this empty nest thing. For the first time in 11 years, it’s just me and my dog, Yappy. There’s no school. There’s not a relationship to nurse or navigate. or buffer this emptiness. And Hope is 80 miles away finally stable and taking baby steps in the next chapter of her life. 

I mean, yes, I’m still parenting Hope, but not in the same intense way. In fact, there’s a major void. I’m single, I am parenting her from afar, but I went from our version of an 8 in intensity to a 1, and I feel a little lost.

These are the first steps of my next life chapter, and I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing. It’s all so strange. I didn’t expect to be here. I’m not sure where I expected to be, but it’s not here. Here’s not bad, it’s just unknown. 

I feel like I have to figure out how to do this life again. What exactly was I doing 12 years ago, when I was single with minimal responsibilities on a day to day basis? And surely, I can’t just recreate that life; I’m 12 years older now. I’m a different person now.

What do I do now?  

I’m not sure, and I feel like I have way too much time on my hands to figure it out.


I Need to Talk about the US Open…

I grew up watching tennis in the hometown of the late, great Arthur Ashe (#RVArepresent!). I love tennis.

ASHE

Via Google

I loved Billy Jean, Chris Everett, Martina, Monica and so many others. I remember John McEnroe showing his entire arse every time he stepped onto the court. Calling refs and opponents out, tossing and smashing racquets, and just being *free* to be an complete arsehole with little to no consequence. I thought he was crazy, but I loved it.

When the Williams sisters came on the scene it was like one of the ultimate #BlackfacesinWhiteSpaces chapters of all time. And to that end, they were reminded that this wasn’t their space all of the damn time. They were ostracized on so many fronts–being from the ‘hood,’ being coached by their dad who gave zero effs about White folks, wearing braids with beads that swung and made noise when they played, ‘crip walking’ on the courts and clothing choices and so on. They were characterized as the antithesis of White girl tennis gentility.

As Serena went onto straight DOMINATE (this is not debatable, she’s #GOAT) we also saw how the officials and the media treated her. Extra drug testing and ridiculous media questions. Tomfoolery abounds when it comes to how she’s treated. Just last month, folks were asking if she felt some kinda way about Sharapova’s “beauty” and banned from wearing a body suit because it wasn’t respectful to the “space” (again, a presumably White space). Chile…

Kimmy2

Via Giphy

So, here we go during the final of the US Open. Yeah, she was losing anyway; we could all see where things were likely heading. Yeah, she went in on that referee after she was cited for receiving coaching (that she apparently didn’t even see). And now, here we are watching the world be purposefully obtuse about her overall treatment and seeing what it looks like when she got *sick and tired* of that ref’s shyt. Oh, sure, as an elite athlete she should keep her cool (#didMcEnroeevertho, and as much as I loved Ashe he was about some respectability shyt too), but that was a bogus initial call, one that has not even KINDA been applied equitably for other players, male or female. That call straight questioned her integrity, which frankly has been questioned her entire career. #thisaintnew And in her own words on the court, she knew she was losing, but she wanted to lose fairly. The referee’s calls regarding her “tantrum” were precipitated by the accusatory call concerning her integrity. #poisonoustreefruit

But all of that is beside the point, right? She lost to a lovely young upstart, Naomi Osaka, who has her own narrative of battling some media bull-shyt. How many times has she had to remind the media that she is in fact, biracial: both Japanese and black Haitian? #BecauseAsianisWhiteAdjacent

Peep this clip where she gets this reporter together right quick! I love her.

Oh and how does institutional “rules are rules” messiness (euphemism for misogynoir) work? Naomi Osaka’s legit win over Serena will forever be tainted, and that’s soooo not fair to her; she’s a badass in her own right.

And if you needed a bullcrap image that characterizes the whole mess, it’s this one.

Rage

Via Google

Eff you Mark Knight.

Let’s take a quickie inventory, shall we?

  • Serena portrayed with exaggerated Black features.
  • Serena portrayed as ‘heavy,’ or you know “thick, big boned” as we Black women are presumed to be.
  • The tightly pulled back hair that has ALL curl patterns (otherwise and often characterized as nappy), but appears literally snatched on her head giving the appearance of being nearly bald, cause you know “bald-headed b’s” are a thing we get called.
  • Nod to the tutu that she deliberately sported as a poke in the eye of the recently banned French Open “disrespectful to the White space” Wakandan cat suit.
  • The random pacifier rounds out this angry Black woman tableau.
  • Meanwhile, the ref is shown asking Naomi to throw the game to end the presumably unwarranted “tantrum.”
  • Naomi is absurdly shown as a diminutive, lithe, blonde, White woman, #damsel, which she is most certainly not.

Again, this is the lovely, US Open champ, Naomi Osaka:

Rage.jpg

Via Google

Now I could continue on with the venting but I want to talk about what this kinda stuff means for parents of Black and Brown children, and specifically Black and Brown girls.

I posted on my personal social media streams this weekend that women, and women of color in particular, are long accustomed to having our very existence policed. (Wanna debate this? Fight me).

We can’t be too emotional, but we can’t be stoic either. Are we right for this kind of work? Where is your husband and how does he feel about your education/work/housekeeping/sexual activity/reproductive and medical choices/parenting approach/religious observations? We need to have our bathrooms monitored and legislated. Our hair has to be socially acceptable. Our skin has to be socially desirable, but really primarily for sexual proclivities because, we are loose and wanton by nature. Our clothing and shoe choices may make us responsible for male dominance behaviors. Staying out late gives us a bad reputation. Having personal and professional goals may make us men haters and *that* is really damaging to egos. Infertility is almost always our fault, but you know there’s limited access to adequate and appropriate health care has to be pre-approved by men because…see wantonness above. We don’t get to be sexually liberated unless we’re ok with being called sluts or whores. We are blamed for our singleness, but men’s desire is wholly based on our behaviors and presentation. Do we really have the temperament to be in positions of decision and power? Our outrage always has to be muted, especially if it’s emanating from Black and Brown bodies, because it’s often too detrimental and dangerous for it to be fully on display. We are downright disrespectful and scary.

For my Black daughter…my Black daughter with a trauma background who has trouble navigating this life socially, all of this is a crushing reality. I’m teaching her to be strong, to speak her mind, to be free. But for her safety, I also have to teach her how to display that strength in non-threatening ways, how to bite her tongue damn near off because she might be characterized as too sassy and how to choose her places to demonstrate her freedom, which is to say, not be free at all. In fact, I’m teaching her to put her authentic self in packaging that is palatable for folks who don’t look like us and that really does make me simmer all the time. #itsnotright

She already sees that while she can be at the top of her game, she will still just be seen as an uppity, angry Black woman, throwing a tantrum if she deigns to be a vocal self-advocate. And she will be punished for it. And other women of color close by would do well to learn the lesson to not display similar behaviors. As a reward, they will be awarded White proximity, even if it means erasing visual characteristics that otherwise differentiate them. Their Browness and their Blackness will be erased, and we’ll all walk around acting like that’s a good thing! #effthat

My daughter struggles with confrontation. She has a strong sense of integrity (as long as it doesn’t pertain to keeping the laptop too long or eating candy in the middle of the night). Hope simmers for a long time but trust when she blows, she blows! I’ve had to go down to the school many times after she has finally blown a gasket. I’ve had to explain what happens behind the scenes and bring copies of previous emails regarding situations that were never addressed that led to this very moment. I’ve had to reasonably discuss, cajole, sweet talk and finally legally threaten folks to both meet her where she is *and* provide appropriate consequences for behavior. I also know that if it weren’t for the DR that I insist on using in front of my name and the resources available at my fingertips, that my efforts to be her advocate and protector would not be as successful as they have been as a woman of color without the DR juice. I tell people often that I thought I went to get a doctorate to be an educational researcher; now I know that the true reason is to have enough gravitas to roll into the school making demands I otherwise would not have been even allowed to make on behalf of a daughter whose special needs demand that I do just that on the regular.

We talk about girl power. We talk about #BlackGirlMagic. We talk about feminism. We talk about womanism. We talk about equality, equity, fairness. We talk about the future for girls and women. We talk about what we want for them.

And then we see this shyt and get the clear reminder that our behavior and our identities (especially those in relation to Whiteness) continue to be policed in a manner as to remind us of our place.

Be genteel.

Be polite.

Be nice.

Be happy you’re here.

Be not whatever else it is you are.

I’m so over this ish. My heart breaks for both Serena and Naomi. Parents, especially White parents of children of color, check this shyt. This is why that colorblind stuff is some bullshyt. This is what we mean about persistent misogynoir. This what we mean when it’s so institutionalized that shyt is casually at play in front of our faces.

Not doing comments on this post…it’s just…nah, I just can’t. If you’re not feeling it, go not feel it somewhere else. I can’t today.

 


Black in Europe

In 2001, my mom and I visited Europe for the first time. We went to Amsterdam, and it was awesome. We went on to visit numerous countries in Europe over the next decade. We met cool people, saw amazing things, ate great food and had a good time.

One thing that we noted whenever we traveled was our blackness. I mean, Europe is pretty white, like really white. In all of our years of traveling, we only had one bad experience. It was in Dublin; some dude rolled up to us speaking Gaelic. He said “Something, something, something ‘nigger’ something, something.” Oh we heard it. You don’t mishear that. It was a record scratch moment. We side stepped him and headed into a pub. An hour or so later, walking back to our hotel another Irishman strolled up to us to apologize on behalf of Dublin for his countryman’s behavior. He witnessed the verbal attack and was disgusted. Frankly his apology was more stunning than the original attack. Back home, apologies just don’t happen. #realtalk

Wait, there’s a place where white folks actually apologize for racist behavior? #wheretheydothatat? #shocked #howifellinlovewithIreland

Up until last year, we hadn’t traveled for a long while. I went back to graduate school. Then Hope came along, and there just wasn’t time or opportunity. About two years ago a colleague helped me put together an abstract for an international meeting and the next thing you know, I was giving a short talk at a meeting in Helsinki. I took my mom.

Of all of our travels, Finland was the WHITEST place I’d ever been. It was so white that folks openly stared at us; a child actually walked into a closed door staring at us. We went for a day or so without seeing any other people of color. I remember posting on Facebook about seeing two African immigrants on the public tram and they nodded at us. #universalblackacknowledgement We were nearly giddy to see skinfolk!

Despite being black in an uber-white space, I never felt hated. Oh, I felt kinda weird, like a curiosity, but I never felt like I was psychically or physically in danger. I never felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there, and I feel that at least a couple of times a week in America, my homeland. It didn’t feel bad. Odd, yes; bad, no. Socializing with folks from other countries naturally turned to the current state of political affairs and 45’s presence in the White House. Feelings around that ran from rampant curiosity to downright pity at the state of affairs.

Traveling as an American was different…it elicited different responses, sad responses. We simply aren’t the beacon of light on the hill anymore.

So, a year later, I got the idea to take both mom and Hope to Europe when I attended this year’s meeting. I arranged for us to spend some time in Paris before heading to Switzerland. I’ve already blogged about our vacation drama, but I want to share a few observations from my time abroad.

Paris feels radically different than it did when we first visited in the mid-2000s. The Champs Élysées feels a lot more lowbrow than it did years ago—I mean there’s a Five Guys burger place on the Champs! #ButWHY The city feels more crowded now, not necessarily in a bad way, just more populated. It’s a LOT more brown, like a lot. Like a lot a lot. The impact of immigration is very visible. It’s a different city, and it’s still beautiful.

One of the things I’ve always taken special note of when I was abroad is how easily recognizable black Americans are. My French is shaky, but thanks to many years of studying Latin, my reading and auditory comprehension is passable. People in shops and restaurants would murmur about us being Americans. We are easily distinguishable from African immigrants, our diasporic skinfolk. This identity put us in a special category—one that wasn’t necessarily good or bad, just different, certainly curious because most Americans in general don’t travel and frankly African Americans really don’t travel—if we do it’s often to the Caribbean. And yet, I still felt, safe, not unwelcome in Europe where folks find us curious.

And I kept thinking about how 45 (I really try not to utter his name) says don’t let happen to the US what happened to France. France, or least Paris, is a lot more brown. Things are really, really different there and the brown part seems to have a lot to do with the change. I’m guessing that 45 also sees that, and that’s what he’s signaling despite his love for fast food and no doubt delight at being able to go to Five Guys.

It’s not hard to make the leap in this language that brown equals bad. It’s certainly not hard to make the leap that our biggest immigration concerns in the US are centered around brown people, either to the south or east of us, but not the north or northeast of us. It’s not hard to see how other countries have adapted to increased brownness, no doubt with growing pains, but somehow grafting in these new dimensions of the country’s identity.

We also saw it in Switzerland. Certainly much more homogeneous than Paris, but still way more diverse than Finland. #lowbartho And you know what? It was fine. Folks of different hues going on about their daily lives.

We did hear about the waves of white nationalism that are moving across Europe, but interestingly the media doesn’t seem to feed the story. White nationalists are painted as fringe, illegitimate, a pall on society; they aren’t shown in “balanced” context that the US media has come to favor, offering hatred a platform for open promotion and even inviting social justice advocates the opportunity to debate purveyors of white supremacy. Of course, Europe, while still wildly imperfect and wrestling with many of its own demons, knows intimately the cost of legitimizing hatred.

I wish America did. I’m praying that we don’t stay on the path of learning the hard way.

Every trip I’m reminded just how privileged I am as an individual, but also as a black woman.  I know that the desire and the ability to travel is special. I’m trying to teach Hope that as well. It’s hard though since she hasn’t situated how these experiences really reconcile with life before our family existed. Layer on issues around race and privilege and it’s just a lot. It’s a lot for me and given how my mom was one of 4 kids to integrate her school in the 60s, well over a decade after the Brown v. Board integration decision, it’s a lot for her too. For all of us, despite the new technicolor Europe we discovered on this trip, Europe is still hella white, and we still are hyper aware of it. And it still makes you feel…some kinda way.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this year; here we are in the fourth quarter already. I realized that one of the things I’ve been unconsciously doing has been turning into the skids, the skids being those things that make me uncomfortable. Given how incredibly unsafe white spaces have felt in the US in recent years, I’ve found myself figuring out ways of leveraging the discomfort or the space to my benefit. I was a little more conscious of it this time, but after pondering our time in Paris and especially at the Louvre, I realized just how hard I worked to create a specific Black Faces in White Spaces experience for me, Hope and Grammy.

I made Hope and Grammy watch Beyonce’s and Jay-Z’s Apesh*t video, and then we deliberately went to see all the things in the video. We marveled at the beauty, but we also marveled at how crowded the exhibits were, how much access the Carter’s actually had in filming the video and how blackity-black that video is in such a crazy white pace. Then we thought about being there ourselves and how blackity black that felt in those spaces. That was some awesomely wild ish. I’m not a Beyhive member, but I am a fan and that video dropped at the right time for me and mine. Pulling that artistic thread gave us a little bit of an anchor during our trip. I don’t know if we needed it, but upon reflection it was really nice to have. It’s really nice to ruminate on it now as well.

Despite all the other drama around our trip, this part, the part about being both back and Black in Europe gave me a lot to ponder about politics, about identity (they are wrestling with what it means to be European all over the continent), race and color, and about privilege. Now that I’ve got some distance from the family drama and the fall of out the bug phobia, I can really appreciate the experience. I’m grateful  and I’m grateful that I got to share it with my family.


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