Tag Archives: African American Parenting

A Reflective Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess I should probably do the same for myself.

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

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

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Life Skills

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I need that.

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


My Failure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is where my current failure began.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have to ride this out.

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

I failed. Not her, me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned!


My Conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know.

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

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

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

And so am I.


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.


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.


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