Tag Archives: African American Parents

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties,

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile,
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

~~~Paul Laurence Dunbar

I used to have this poem hanging in my office as a reminder to visitors that sometimes we hide our feelings to just get through. As a diversity professional, I am constantly, intentionally exposing myself to emotional ish in order to help people move to the next level of inclusion. Consequently, I wear a mask.

A lot.

This poem kept me up really late one night this week. I couldn’t get it off my mind because of something Hope said to me. Essentially, my daughter wears a mask.

She wears a mask to get through every day, and it exhausts her.

Hope is an amazing young woman, and there are days when I simply marvel at her. There are other days when I see the turmoil on her face, but the reality is that on most days, she’s really, really good at hiding it.

Having been a long-time depression sufferer, my own mask is worn as much as to protect me as it is to motivate me. My own intrinsic motivation wills me to get through things and wills me to just fake it and it will get better.

I recognize that most people wear their masks for everyone else’s benefit. Who wants to be around a person who is wearing their suffering? The self-protection mechanism is such that if you desperately want to be around people, you just try to keep it together and conform so that they won’t be put off by you. You drag out your mask and hide all the ish behind it.

I feel like Hope and I are in a battle for her life right now. I see her; I see her working so hard to keep it together. I see her fighting so hard to get to a place that doesn’t hurt so much. She does take her mask off with me; sometimes not all the way, but enough for me to know what’s lurking underneath.

On the one hand, I’m so relieved that Hope trusts me enough to lower her defenses, her shields, but on the real…I feel helpless. I feel like I’m doing everything I can, everything I can think of to help shepherd her to a healthier place, but it isn’t helping the way we need it to.

That helplessness has got me feeling like I must wear a mask too. I mean, who goes around sharing that their kid is just struggling to keep it together, which means that you’re struggling to keep it together too. Who wants to see your eyes after you’ve sat in the bathroom sobbing and urgently praying for 10 minutes because you know the path this could all go down? Who do you trust, besides other parents walking in these shoes, with this kinda thing because most folks Just. Don’t. Get. It.

So, you both put on your oxygen masks in the morning and try to make it through another day.

I try to model authenticity for Hope. I try to use ‘good’ communication skills; I try to ask for what I need. I coach her to take care of herself. I encourage her to emote, to build solid friendships so that she has some peer support. I email the health professionals and the guidance counselors, even after Hope and I have decided on a course of action. I need allies to step into the gap to help her help herself.

This week has been a huge turning point for me. I have fought the good fight on trying to make sure that the homework has been done and that school stuff was a priority. School is such a core value for me; it’s social currency, especially for black folks. But, I’m done. It’s just not worth it. Hope doesn’t need the extra pressure, and neither do I. I’m fighting for my kid’s survival. School, while still important, can’t be central to that paradigm. Healing must be the sole focus. It has to be; our future depends on it.

And so, we’ll start this week differently. We’ll go back to basics. I’ll prioritize quality time. I’ll focus on more family care, not just self-care. I’ll ask about school, but not about the work. I’ll find another doctor who can help me chase down the right pharma-combo for her. I’ll lower my mask so I can always have a clear view of Hope and her mask.

Hopefully this will be the beginning of the end for Hope’s mask.

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Parenting Anxiety

When I started my doctoral work years ago, I freaked out. I had trouble sleeping. My stomach was in knots all the time. I was a bit of a mess. I had struggled with depression for years, but anxiety wasn’t something that I had directly dealt with even if it probably lurked in my background. The lifestyle change of working and going to school full time was hard; I was terrified of failing. I really had a hard time, but my doctor helped me get on top of it.

I thought once I ended my program, that the anxiety would subside, but of course, Hope came along and the roller coaster called parenting made sure that anxiety became a long-term companion in my life. Still I have managed.

Everyone’s issue with anxiety is different, so when Hope was formally diagnosed with anxiety a year ago, I realized just how different our experiences with this challenge were. Her diagnosis wasn’t really a shock, but it did give me some context to try to understand what she was experiencing.

My symptoms, which really had a major impact on my life initially, were not what I would call debilitating. Comparatively speaking, I can give myself a pep talk, hit up Pinterest and read some power memes, do some meditation and breathing exercises and a few other things and function.

Hope cannot. Those coping strategies do not work for her. She has more somatic symptoms, meaning she genuinely doesn’t feel physically well. There’s the extraordinary negative, depressive talk that the anxiety triggers that just drags her down. There’s the desire to practice an escapist form of self-care by diving into the K-dramas for hours or days. There’s the unwillingness and/or inability to get out of bed.

It’s just so heavy that it crushes her. It’s sad.

And it’s sometimes hard to parent, super hard.

You want to acknowledge your kid’s limitations. You want to be sensitive and meet them where they are. But you also want to push them to develop some resilience. You want them to “get over it.” You want them to put things behind them and get on with their day.

I find myself sometimes just closing my eyes and taking a big breath to calm my frustration, sadness, anger, anxiety and other emotions so that I can focus. It’s tough because at Hope’s age, her run of the mill teen problems are legit and really issues for her—even if I think many of them are absurd at best. For a teen, these are real problems and real problems for Hope tax her capacity in ways that I have never experienced before. A lot of the times, I just don’t understand. Most of the time I just don’t understand.

I often approach Hope’s mental health challenges as I do like religious faith—either you believe they are real or you don’t. But as a natural contrarian, I have pushed back on my own religious beliefs and understanding of faith, so you can just imagine how I struggle to process things that stop Hope in her tracks. Even though I intellectually understand all of the trauma and drama; I understand the diagnoses, and I get the symptoms, I admit I find myself more often than not thinking, “Oh good grief, here we go again. Can’t you just get over it already?????”

She can’t, and she can’t help that.

I am good about not saying this out loud, but I have no poker face and I’m pretty transparent—Hope already knows I’m thinking it. Sometimes she’ll even say, “I know you don’t believe me.”

I say, “No, I believe you.” I know she isn’t lying; I just can’t wrap my head around why she can’t function anyway.

Yeah, I know, I know, but I’m keeping it real here. It’s tough. I’m tough. I know that my inability to just accept my daughter’s mental health issues is harmful to our relationship. But I also know that sometimes, Hope is shadier than an oak tree. I’m always suspicious. I’m quick to pounce, “Aha!!!!” It doesn’t help, but the reality is that over 3+ years, we’ve typically got a 50/50 ratio of truly affected behavior, and sometimes Hope really is just trying to get over on me, so I feel my suspicions are justified.

I’m on the road again this week. I left before dawn today. Hope was to see herself off to school this morning, but she didn’t. I know this because her school stalked me to tell me that she wasn’t in school. She texted that she didn’t feel good.

And then she ghosted me.

In the 7 hours of silence, while I was touring a facility and taking meetings, I have stewed over this development. I have called; I have texted. I have pondered various scenarios—none of which include Hope having a fever, vomiting, PMS, cramps, or the plague.

By early evening, I started replaying the weekend, searching for Hope’s triggers. I remembered some things that transpired. Would they trigger somatic symptoms such that she would beg off school for the second time in 3 weeks? Yep. Did my absence make it easier to blow it off? Absolutely. Is this an offense that requires a consequence? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

How do I feel about this?

I feel a lot of things…annoyed, frustrated, curious (since she wouldn’t call/text me back). I hate admitting that empathy, compassion, sadness are not at the top of the list of things that I initially feel in these moments. I hate that it takes me a while to get there.

I eventually talked to my daughter today. I could tell she was nervous; she knew I was going to ask some tough questions about skipping school. I did, and she stalled in answering. I shifted gears and asked her about how she was feeling emotionally. Tell me about your stomach ache. Tell me about what’s on your mind. And we got to the place we needed to get to. I got it. I just reminded her about some of our house rules (tell me before the school tells me!); reminded her that I love her.

Will tomorrow be better? I don’t know. Will it be just as hard? Very likely, yes.

Does that make me anxious?

Yeah.


The Elements

I grew up listening to Earth, Wind and Fire. My parents love music and exposed my siblings and me to some of the best disco, funk, and R&B out there as we grew up. Earth, Wind and Fire were special though with positive vibes, love songs and the sheer volume of hits they created. I loved them and continue to love them.

I went to my first EWF concert when I was a freshman in college. I took my mom. Maurice White was no longer touring with the group, though he occasionally would make a drop-in appearance. I remember rocking out with my mom and seeing the lights on her face from the show. I remember mom saying she hoped Maurice would drop into this show; it was like she was a young woman swooning over a famous crush. I remember it being such a fun time for us.

My daughter also loves EWF; her father loved the band and played their music often. Hearing an EWF song triggers happy memories of her time with her dad. When I heard the group was on tour with Nile Rodgers and Chic, and that they were coming to DC, I thought I’d invest in some floor seats and take Hope. It would be a good time for sure and also give us the good feel memories in the process.

So last night, my daughter and I met up for a yummy pre-concert dinner at a favorite restaurant of mine and headed out to boogie the night away.

If you are a fan of Earth, Wind and Fire and they are coming to your town on this tour—get your fanny to that arena and get your swerve on. Seriously, it was an amazing concert. The spectrum of people present was amazing. There was glitter, drunk folks, dandies, 70’s style headbands, whistles, ponchos—the people watching alone was worth the price of admission.

But the music…oh the music was EVERYTHING.

Hope and I rocked out. We screamed! We sang along. We smiled! We shimmied. We had an amazing time.

Hope was fast asleep before we could get out of the parking garage and in the bed before I could get back from walking the dog after we got home.

We boogied until we couldn’t boogie anymore.

Towards the end of the show the band did a lovely tribute to the late Maurice White. familyreunion

And the light hit Hope’s face the way it did with my mom 20+ years ago.

familyreunion

And…I got to thinking about my parents and Hope and her dad.

I reveled in my memories with my parents, dancing in the family room, turning the volume up in the car, looking at my dad’s army pictures when he was clearly grooving to good music. I found myself just oozing gratitude about having had them my whole life, how we shared these memories together, how The Elements were one of many parts of the soundtrack of our lives together.

I looked over at Hope who was swaying and singing. She smiled at me. I smiled back and thought about how much I wished she had had a longer time to build memories with her biological parents, how a whole series of episodes separated them, how at least she has these good memories that clearly bring her joy. I thought about how it just isn’t fair that my sisters and I have enjoyed our biological family having never known anything else, having never known the kind of upheaval Hope has, having taken for granted how easily things could have been different.

Life isn’t fair, and yet somehow Hope and I have been put together with a thread of music that helps us find common ground. We both get a chance to create these important memories. It doesn’t make up for the losses that Hope has experienced, but it does allow us to build from where we find ourselves.

“Ohhhh, this is one of my dad’s favorite songs.”

I smile and tell her it’s one of my dad’s favorites too.

There are only 3 original members still touring these days; they are all pushing 70 so I don’t know how many more tours there will be. I’m glad I took my daughter to see this one. I know that she will tell her friends and she will create legends about last night. I’ll look forward to reminiscing about last night with her 20 years from now as she tells her kids about last night. I hope we’ll both talk about our parents and what they loved about the music too.

That’s the way of the world.

 


Look at Me!!!

So this weekend I decided that I was finally going to break my promise to myself to never ever visit another plantation in this lifetime.

I grew up in central Virginia, and while growing up I visited numerous plantations. They creep me out. I swear I feel the ancestors, hear their cries and feel their anger about folks traipsing around still profiting off of their backs. I don’t care that some of these places now have some memorial placed to the enslaved or whatever—a profit is often still made. I just want them all to go away, but since they won’t I choose not to visit anymore.

Then Hope came along, and I remembered how much I learned from actually visiting historic places. I started feeling like maybe I should break this promise just once so she had the historic (and awful) experience and so I could teach her about these places and the irony that they are preserved and revered so. I’ve struggled with this for more than three years.

So, this past weekend I resolved to rip the band-aid off and take her to visit Mt. Vernon. It’s not far and well, there’s the whole first president, founding father narrative. So, we were getting ready to head out when my dad called and asked if he could come visit from a few hours away.

I took that as a sign that the Holy Homeboy was not ready for me to go back to a plantation.

Image result for look at god meme

Anyhoo, my dad comes to spend the afternoon with us, and Hope…well, she acted like an attention-starved little kid.

Dad and I are having our routine “cell phone with unlimited data plan” conversation.

“Mom, mom, mom!!”

“Yes Hope.”

“I’ve saved a lot of money from my allowance. I think we should put it in the bank.”

“That’s a good idea, Hope. We can talk about that tomorrow.” She hands me a wad of money.

WTH?

Dad and I are talking politics.

“Mom, mom, mom!!”

“Please say excuse me because we are taking, but yes Hope.”

“I don’t think I want to go to that Korean immersion camp.”

“Um, OK.” I attempt to draw her into our conversation about politics since we talk about that kind of stuff often, but no dice.

Image result for thirsty meme

Dad asks her about her activities and she does the mime thing.

This back and forth goes on for hours. My dad was patient while I was visibly patient but ready to wring Hope’s neck on the inside. I took a break and had them chatting while I fixed a light dinner for us all. I thought about why it all was going down like this.

I don’t get to see my parents as much as I used to, and they are getting older so having them drive up for a day is a rare thing. I don’t know how many times this will happen in my lifetime or his. This visit was especially precious, and I’m a daddy’s girl.

Hope is so jealous of anyone who takes my attention away from her. Although my dad was eager to spend time with her, and she genuinely is fond of him, it was like she was threatened because he showed me attention. She’s like this with almost anyone who comes across our threshold to visit us. If the scope of the visit is not entirely devoted to her then she is hell on wheels. She’s full of non-sequiturs, rude interruptions, and just level 10 annoyances. It’s exhausting, and I often wonder if she behaves this way with her peers. Like if she manages to develop a friendship, is anyone else who comes around a threat that triggers this antisocial behavior?

I did my best to be patient with her, gently correcting and redirecting her, but I was frustrated. I was trying to enjoy my dad’s visit, trying to portray solid parenting in front of my dad, not get rattled by this wacky behavior, get dinner on the table and search for some kind of understanding that would trigger some empathy for my daughter.

The long and short of is that Hope and I still have a long way to go on this journey. I hope one day she feels safe enough with me to not have to compete for my attention. It’s a reminder for me that she still feels like I might abandon her, even in the smallest way. It’s painful to think about that, and it’s tough to find away to address it without meeting full on resistance and denial.

I got so much more than I wanted this weekend, having time with my dad, but I was also reminded that my daughter is still a fragile little girl screaming “Look at me, mommy! Look at me!”

I see you, Hope.


Silence in Adoptionland

When you are a part of a marginalized group, you learn early on that the norm is white unless otherwise stated. You learn a language that includes sign posts that hip you that the space is not white owned or dominated.

Take for instance the American Medical Association and the National Medical Association. The AMA is race-neutral, which is a super kind way of saying white, while the NMA is a group that represents docs of African descent. The latter is going to include conversations very specifically about people like me—both professionally and medically. Those conversations will happen in the AMA, but not at the level of detail they will within the safe confines of NMA.

“National” is often a sign post for those of us who are not white, and we need those spaces. You want to know why?

Well, because sometimes being in spaces where white is the default norm is hazardous to our mental and emotional wellbeing. The micro and macro-agressions. The casual racism. The casual over-familiarity. The defensiveness. The “not all white people…” statements. The folks who take our information, repackage it and profit from it as though it was original content. The “why is it always about race with you people” or “I’m just a part of the human race” or my personal favorite, “I don’t see race at all.” #Iaintclear

And if I or people like me try to engage, the resulting triggered fragility can simply spin out of control, leaving those of us who are “other” to feel abandoned, hurt, lonely, and demonized as the mean, angry person who attacked some nice well-meaning white person. Oh, we mad, we are mad.

When I started my journey, silly and naïve, I sought support in various places, both on-ground and online. I often found that in both places I was the lonely,only or one of very few.

I am constantly self-assessing and checking my need for self-care with respect to race because I work in the diversity and inclusion space professionally. I thought I would do that and handle whatever came my way in the adoption space.

What I found was one of the least diverse spaces I have ever voluntarily joined. I felt like there were so many ways I didn’t fit—I was black, single, increasingly non-religious, adopting an older kid and living in a super urban area. I know I’m not alone, but boy there are times when I click into or walk into a space looking for support and the first thing I have to do emotionally is put my shield up.

How am I supposed to get support when I feel like I have to arm myself against the supporters? It often just doesn’t work and is an exercise in wasted time and emotional energy.

Yesterday, I wrote about being invisible in Adoptionland, but other times, my presence is seen but only as a source of information, not as an equal in receiving support. I’ve found myself just withdrawing at times because I felt I was being asked to contribute to well-meaning folks who want to be good parents, but who didn’t see me as someone struggling with similar issues in adoption.

Marginalization is so pervasive in our lives.

So, I lurk. I go to support groups and don’t say much as much as I used to.  I try to hit the like button sometimes in online spaces. I get really picky about where I want to use my voice and how to use it strategically. I’m not just posting or commenting all willy-nilly. I have to tailor my response so that it’s palatable, non-threatening, and/or not too angry. I make sure I put the word “some” in front of “white folks” so that I don’t trigger someone into going into an “All Lives” rant.  I have to brace myself for the comment that challenges the factual recounting of my lived experience. I have to go take a short walk before responding so that I can keep people at the keyboards and tables when I do respond. I have to keep my wits about me because one wrong comment and my view point is just discarded like this morning’s gum that was chewed for over two hours.

Speaking in white spaces is exhausting. It’s just requires physical and emotional capital that is sometimes too much, and it doesn’t always payoff.

I often read things online or hear things in person and wonder, is it worth the cost to respond? Nah, I could be teaching Hope to improve her checkers game instead. Or just picking my toenails, you know, Hey, I could get in my car and drive around hoping not to get pulled over by cops!

I could just be doing something else productive.

There are so few signposts in Adoptionland to let me know I am welcome and that my voice is valued. I watch the reactions to the comments made by other people of color,  and I try to support them, but I also really, really monitor the reactions to their posts.

I wonder if things will get heated because feelings get hurt. Will someone get chastised or worse, banned?

I wonder would I have more fun and get more out of watching dumb pet videos. #probably

So, I silently lurk in the back of the room or behind my avatar, no doubt with others. I’ve already got enough on my plate as a single mom to an older adoptee struggling to live beyond her history of trauma.

I don’t need the drama of being shouted down in spaces when I’m seeking support.

So often, this space is my only safe space in Adoptionland, and I had to create it for myself. That’s saying something.

So, it’s just too much and it’s so much easier to stay silent.


Thoughts on Being 16-3

Hope turned 16 this weekend. It was a fun filled weekend with lots of quality time, shopping, family and good eats. I went a little overboard on the gifts, but it was fun and 16 is a significant birthday. She seemed to enjoy herself; she relished under the nearly non-stop glare of my attention. I catered to most of her whims—including agreeing to vacuum the walls and ceiling of her room in order to eliminate possible bugs in her room. She was a delight to be around; seemed genuinely happy to be the center of attention. #nosurprisethere

During the course of the weekend, I asked Hope how she felt about turning 16 and did she feel like she was 16? She replied that she felt like she was 3.

I thought at first she was joking, and while she might have been a little tongue in cheek, it was about the truest thing she’s said.  I talk to AbsurdlyHotTherapist regularly, and Hope’s emotional age is much younger than her chronological age. It isn’t 3, but it is in the single digits. Grammy was with us when she responded; she was speechless.

I thought the response was interesting for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we just celebrated our 3rd family-versary. Could she have been born again when she was adopted? Maybe, I guess.

I know there are times when she is very much like a big threenager. She’s taking a break from her ADHD meds at the moment. We made it through one store reasonably well, but then we went to Target. She expended all of my reserve energy with one sprint around the store. Target = #overstimulation. So many things to see, notice, comment on, show me, touch, sniff. I swear to God that Yappy does not sniff at the dog park as much as she was distracted at Target. After a 15 minute visit, I told her I needed to rest for a bit. I asked her how she felt—anxious, excitable, jumbled, having a hard time remembering all the things she saw, swearing she didn’t say things she did. It was maddening, and a challenge for both of us.

I told her that sometimes I think she acts like a 5 year old, and she laughed.

I totally meant it.

Sure she has come so far; she has matured emotionally a lot, especially in the last few months. Her ability to vocalize her feelings has really come a long way. All told though, Hope is still emotionally very much behind her peers.

As she enters her 16th year, I wonder what that means for her. She spent her birthday with me and a family friend. There were no friends to invite. There was no party. There were no dates. And while that might be true for many teens; I wonder how long Hope will be in this space. I will always be here for her, but I wonder when she will be able to develop healthy friendships with peers who will provide her a kind of support that I can’t. I wonder when she will desire some level of independence. I wonder whether she will have any healthy romantic relationships.

My curiosity and worry about Hope’s future isn’t new though. The fact that my daughter sees herself feeling much younger than she is chronologically is new. The self-awareness is growing, and as it continues to develop I’m hopeful that it will help her catch up somehow. I know it won’t be overnight, but I hope it speeds up.  I Hope that she will get closer before she graduates in a couple of years so that she has the joy of experiencing some meaningful high school rites of passage. I want my daughter to suck in all the life she can. I recognize that she probably just wants to suck in all the normal she can, and her normal has double backed to a time when she didn’t have what she has now.

For now, I have a sweet 16, 3 year old who at least knows she’s a 16-3 year old.

I guess that’s something.


Independence

Hope and I try to ride our bikes together once a week, on the weekends, when I have time to recover. #ImOld. She seems to relish the time together. We’ve ridden along the river and over to a nearby military cemetery on Memorial Day. Even though I desperately need a nap afterwards, I enjoy riding with her and switching up my exercise routine.

When I bought the bikes, I envisioned that Hope would use it to stretch a little. I thought she could use it to go places like to the movies or to the store, the Starbucks, to a friend’s house. I thought at nearly 16, she would use the bike to gain some independence. That seemed, kind of normal right?

I thought so.

Hope did not agree.

Recently, Hope and I were enjoying dinner together. She asked me if we could go to a nearby store to get something she likes. I said, sure, but that she could walk or ride her bike there if she wanted. It is a store in the neighborhood.

She slowly replied, yeah, she could but she’d prefer if I just took her.

I paused and then pressed.

“I know I keep saying this, but you really can use your bike to go to a lot of places. I know you like riding it and you’ve got some freedom and independence with it.”

She replied that she was kind of afraid of all this independence I talked about. She said, first it’ll be the bike and then something else with more independence and then something else with even more independence and then one day, I would just put her out so she could be independent.

I had to sit down; the realization that Hope saw my efforts to give her some freedom and independence was seen as a set up for abandonment! It never occurred to me that she would think that. Never in a million years did I ever make that connection.

I had to reassure her that abandoning her was not the plan at all. I had to explain to her that learning how to do things for herself was just a part of growing up and those things included transporting herself places. My encouraging her to use her bike as a mode of transportation was not my way of pushing her out; I was just trying to help her grow.

I’ve spent the last week kicking this conversation around. I’m still stunned, but I guess it makes sense. I often tell people that Hope is a homebody, that she seems content to be home, watching videos, munching on chips. She rarely asks me if I can take her somewhere—to the movies, to the mall. I always have to drag her places. She’s learned to trust that whatever I have planned will be entertaining, but the onus is always on me to be the social planner.

She really doesn’t have a lot of friends, and the few she has often fail to keep their plans with her. She brushes it off, but I know it hurts…heck, it hurts me. In the end, Hope always seems content to just be home.

And that’s the point, but I didn’t make the connection. Hope needs to be safe. She doesn’t want independence yet. She needs me; she needs our home; she needs to feel safe. For her, the bike is only entertainment, not a way to be independent. She’s not ready for that. Even though I intellectually get it; it still a revelation to me.

A few days after our conversation about the bike, Hope told me that she was ready to retake the test for her learner’s permit. I chuckled that she didn’t want to ride her bike, but she still wanted to learn to drive.

Learning to drive is more time with me, teaching her, spending time with her. I was planning on taking her driving, but largely outsourcing the hardcore driving lessons because the way my nerves are set up…#scared I’m guessing I might have to rethink that plan.

Thinking back to our conversation about her independence, I have come to believe that her desire to get her permit is about fitting in. It’s a way for her to keep up with her peers, but she doesn’t really want to be independent at this point.

My Hope is still very much a little girl in a young woman’s body, and she’s still afraid of being abandoned. I just didn’t know, and it makes me so very sad for her.

For now, I’ll stop recommending that she go forth and be free. Instead, I’ll continue to focus on just making sure she still feels supported, loved and safe.


Blank Stares & Nods

Hope doesn’t like confrontation. I’m guessing she comes by that quite honestly. Unfortunately, life has a lot of opportunities for confrontation.

I am pretty comfortable with confrontation, but during these three years, I’ve had to learn how to manage my ease with confrontation in order to meet Hope’s needs and to not scare her off from conversations that must be had.

I have greatly improved how I initiate these chats, how to tell when I need to abort the mission and navigate how to keep it going long enough to have something close to the desired impact. And what is the desired impact?

Well…who knows. It’s complicated, and to be honest, sometimes I get so flipping frustrated.

I often chat with Grammy to better understand how she parented me when I was Hope’s age. Oh, I know that it’s entirely different, but I just want a baseline—I’m also checking to see if I’m just crazy.

I also chat with Sister K, who has a son close in age to Hope. We often talk about how our children practice the “Blank Stare.”

The Blank Stare is apparently some sort of protective mechanism that teens use when parents are providing correctional confrontation. Kids actually seem to go mute and just stare blankly as you discuss the issue, ask questions and await responses.

My mom assures me that my sisters and I did not practice the Blank Stare; we immediately started talking, apologizing and doing/saying whatever was necessary to reduce anticipated consequences (my peeps were firm believers that a hard head makes for a sore bottom). But Hope and her modern-day colleagues seem to prefer to hold their tongues and just retreat into a Stare mode.

Hope does have a whole set of behaviors that surround the Blank Stare; it’s not the only thing in her unresponsive bag of tricks.

Initially, she’s defensive; Hope is likely to try to offer some rationale to explain her position; when that proves unsuccessful she descends into what I call Mime phase.

The Mime phase is when Hope’s voice volume lowers with each word until she’s just mouthing inaudible words. At first, I thought that she was trying to make me crazy by thinking my hearing was going out.

 

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Nah, she seriously just turns the volume down on herself.

That’s when we hit the Blank Stare. It’s epic really, much respect. It’s as though Hope is encased in some imaginary, sound proof box that apparently requires no resistance. It’s almost as though she is focused on sending me soundwave messages to join her in the box. She’s nearly doll-like. I know she can hear me and see me, but there is zero response. She blinks, she *might* cock her head to the side, but really, she just stares, making direct eye contact.

 

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As a resistance mechanism, it drives me batty. I have to fight back all the rage. I cannot stand the Blank Stare.

But it doesn’t stop there, from the Stare we fall into the Nod.

 

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She pulled this avoidance technique during a meeting with her counselor, teachers, tutor and me last fall–a whole room of folks discussing her 504 and her school performance. I’m sure it was overwhelming, but OMG. 

The Nod is Hope’s peak avoidance schtick; it’s all downhill from this point on. It was so impressive that the guidance counselor asked if she could be doing drugs. I was horrified, and apparently so was Hope since she snapped out after the inquiry.

The Nod is reserved for Hope’s most uncomfortable moments.  I don’t see it too often anymore, thank goodness, but it’s there.

Sometimes, there’s so much drama with Hope.

I do find some comfort in knowing that some of this foolishness is completely normal. I am aware that some of it isn’t normal, and I just have to deal and wait her out. I really spend a lot of time breathing through my own emotional responses and thinking about ways that I can offer confrontation, correction, and consequences in ways that don’t make Hope feel bad about herself and in ways that avoid this continuum of, ahem, artistic avoidant responses.

I’m hoping for a day when more engaging interactions tip the scales, but from the looks of the Blank Stare and the Nods lately, it’s going to be a while.


Parenting Dilemma

Sometimes parenting decisions are real rocks in hard places. You want to give your kid a chance. You want to give them some freedoms and some rewards. But you also want, nay need, to hold the line on your principles and standards. In the midst, you want to be reasonable and flexible.

And sometimes all of that is a bunch of hooey because you still have to make a decision.

Hope was invited to prom by a friend. She doesn’t have many friends, very, very few. I also know that this friendship teeters on more than friendship.

So here’s the deal: I have long had this lovely fantasy of my daughter going to a formal. She went to one in 8th grade and it was so much fun helping her get ready. My daughter is not girly; I manage to wrangle her into a dress once or twice a year. So, the selfish stage mom wannabe in me is like:

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The more realistic part of me is like um, she’s in 10th grade, I know she’s feeling this kid, I said no dating until she’s 16 and she ain’t 16 yet, and she doesn’t even LIKE the girly rituals involved in prom.

Then I think about how hard it seems for Hope to make friends, how many Friday and Saturdays she just sits around watching K-dramas because there were no invitations to go anyway or do anything. I think about my hopes and dreams for her to be socially integrated and to be happy.

And I soften and try to imagine the scenarios that would allow me to still say yes. Get all the schoolwork done. Stick to the chore list. Stretch and go to the weekly Korean language meetups I found for her.

I start to wonder if she can legit do the things I ask. She doesn’t do them on a regular basis on a good day, so am I knowingly setting her up to fail? Her failure would make my life easier, but make her feel horrible.

So…I’m back to just saying no when I’m fighting so hard to say yes. Prom is a special occasion. It is meant for seniors; juniors get to go because they raise money to host the event. It is a rite of passage that marks the end of high school. Going with an upperclassman is a privilege, it’s not a right. Hope’s time will come, but that time is not now.

So, I need to put my fantasies about dress and shoe shopping and hair and makeup back in my emotional shoebox and put it back up in the closet. It is too early to allow those thoughts to bloom.

And even with a decision, my heart hurts. I know this will hurt; that it will enrage Hope and then I’ll have to deal with that. I know the rage will underscore the fact that she isn’t ready for such an event.

I’ll try to find something interesting for us to do that day; something fun and something distracting.

Sometimes parenting really sucks.


Eat the Cake

I like cake.

Scratch that.

I love cake.

The first few weeks after Hope was placed with me, I made what I called my weekly stress cake. It resulted in what I now like to call my “adoption weight” that I’m still carrying around.

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Making a simple white cake with chocolate buttercream frosting is something that happens with some level of regularity around these parts. I get it from my mom. She also loves to cook and bake. I can go to her house on any given day, having driven 100 miles, and find cake. It might be leftover cake, typically, I’m going to find cake.

I love cake.

Cake isn’t one of Hope’s favorite things. I can probably count on one hand how many times she has expressed any interest in having some cake I baked. Even when we get to my mom’s house, she’s uninterested in the baked goods, typically bonding with my dad over Popsicles. Cakes aren’t Hope’s thing.

But cake is totally my thing.

So, during our great family visit of #springbreak17, Hope’s grandmother started asking me about cooking and baking. My cake fetish came up. She laughed heartily as Hope and I described my love of cake and particularly homemade white cake with buttercream frosting. She chuckled and began to describe her baking process.

Now, no disrespect, but my granny, my momma and me…we don’t do cake mixes. I bought a cake cookbook one time and found when I got home that it was a cookbook dedicated to fixing up cake mixes. Um. No. The book was returned.

Not only is cake my thing, but I am an unapologetic cake snob.

As a part of her baking process, Grandma Hope talked about how she jazzed up her cake mix, and I smiled broadly and politely, delighted in the story. I’m sure it’s good; it may even be great….but um…cake mix? #thatscute #cakesnob

So, the next day when we went over for our last visit, Grandma Hope presented us with a heart shaped chocolate cake. It was the sweetest thing. So very sweet. She even put it on a real plate that we were to take with us back home.

So, we make our way to our next major travel stop, cake in tow. Despite my snobbery, I looked forward to having a nice piece of cake as we settled into our hotel that evening. I even had my wine in a can. It was fittin’ to be a good night.

Having cake is soothing to me; it’s not just my sweet tooth, it’s one of my favorite comfort foods. So, a cake, including cake mix cakes, made with love is going to hit my emo spot every time. This cake was going to allow me to get lit after several days of maintaining my emotions in a vice grip.

That is until Hope started making rumblings about *her* cake and how preemptively annoyed she was that I intended on taking a *big* piece of cake.

Wha? Hmmmm. Interesting. Ok.

Sister K ran an errand to get some things including some paper plates and plastic forks because I was getting some cake that night and needed something to put the cake on. Hope accompanied her and encouraged the purchase of small plates so as to limit the size of my anticipated cake debauchery. Sister K got an earful about the cake situation.

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By the time Hope and I checked into our room and settled in, my taste for cake had been soured by Hope’s anxiety about me cutting into the cake her grandma made for “her.” Never mind that she doesn’t even LIKE cake.

I called my mother and explained the situation. We marveled at how a proper Southern granny didn’t make scratch cakes! Yes, we were petty and judgy. I really wanted cake but SWORE that I would not touch Grandma Hope’s cake. I reasoned that I ain’t want her old box cake anyway.

After the family lovefest of the previous view days and the grace and southern charm required of me, I was saltier than a salt lick about not having cake–even a box cake! It brought out my petty and I confided in my Add Water co-host and good pal Mimi–who enjoyed a good chuckle at my cake related emotional shenanigans.

Despite my pettiness, I understood that Hope saw this as a very special gift from Grandma Hope. I intellectually understood that she had to play out this possessiveness, especially after how welcoming her family had become of me. This was an opportunity for her to have something from this visit all to herself. Oh, I get it, but I also knew that Grandma Hope made that cake largely for me because HOPE DOESN’T EVEN LIKE CAKE and she told her grandma so.

But whatevs. <Cue more laughs from Mimi.>

So I’m talking to my mom about this cake situation, and I ask her to make me a cake. Oh, yeah, I did. Dueling cakes. I had held my petty in check for 4 days…that might be a record. Ha! She said of course she would make me a cake because my momma loves her big petty, cake-loving kid. We debated the finer points of cakes made from scratch, milk vs. dark chocolate powder and marble cakes, because I come by my pettiness honestly.

I licked my lips in anticipation.

In the meantime, I hit the grocery store for a bit of commercially made cake to tide me over. I ate it alone and disposed of the container so Hope didn’t know. I might be petty, but I do have some semblance of couth that was still hanging on for dear life.

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I soon lost it though, and my petty was on full display by the time we arrived at my parent’s house a day or so later. I kissed my daddy hello, chatted about the lawn for a minute; walked into a house, grabbed a saucer and a knife and proceeded to cut myself a nice slice of homemade, lemon buttercream frosted white cake.

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It was delicious. And it was like a big emotionally satisfying sigh: Ahhhhhh.

Hope watched, and said, “You’re just going to eat that cake?”

Me, mouth full: “Yup. My mom’s cake.” #becausepetty

My mom commented that she could still make me a chocolate cake if I wanted. I declined. Got a plate of mac and cheese, a turkey wing and another piece of lemon cake. And all was well with my soul.

Hope got a Popsicle with her grandpa.

We are home now. Grandma Hope’s cake has traveled about 600 miles in a warm car and is 5 days old and counting. It is still wrapped in plastic and still uncut. I’m guessing it’s not going to get cut either, because cake isn’t Hope’s thing; it’s just not. I know there is going to be hell to pay when I have to dispose of the cake; it’s unfortunate. I really did look forward to having a piece of love on a plate.

I really do intellectually get why there was cake drama, but I also know that there was something about shaming me into not eating it that doesn’t make Hope happy. She wanted to protect the cake, but she is shocked that I haven’t touched it. I’m not sure she knows what’s behind the cake thing. I know that she doesn’t understand my own emotional connection to the cake. It will probably be many moons and a lot of therapy before she gets that connection.

I wish we had been able to enjoy the cake together. When Hope finally cut into her cake, she did offer me some. I wish I could’ve said yes, but I really wanted no part of the cake. My feelings, sadly, just were too much for me to even take one gracious bite. I’m tired and have been on my relative best behavior for a week. I did not want any of that cake.

Of course she dropped the first piece on the floor, which the deeply petty part of me took as a sign that sometimes the universe is petty and reactive.

I made myself some brownies instead.

Another time and another cake.


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