Tag Archives: African American Single Adoptive Mom

Dolla Dolla Bills

A couple of years ago, Hope, Grammy and I were having dinner at a cute restaurant in Basel. It was the most expensive dinner we had on a two-week vacation to Paris and Basel. You’re thinking, “Really??? What did you have?”  

Two burgers, one steak, one dessert and two glasses of champagne. The damage was close to $200 US. It was outrageous. Burgers for $35!!! Which is why I just went ahead and got the steak—it was $38. On the walk back to our flat, I decided that this Swiss dinner was going to be my new currency benchmark.  

The mortgage is 6 Swiss dinners.  

Hope’s new sneakers were half of a Swiss dinner.  

Her college tuition was…well you get the point.  

This week, Hope finally understood the joke my mom and I thought was so funny about my currency reference.  

Yesterday Hope turned 19; sadly, I had to work all day. After I wrapped up, we went to get Korean takeout and hit up one of Hope’s favorite little Korean import store which carries all the latest KPop cds. Delighted to spend her own money, Hope purchased 3 new cds.  

This is where things got interesting, and Hope and I started really talking about money. 

Since Hope started working, she has put money into a savings account. She’s a bit overwhelmed by the influx of cash, and it’s a bit of a delight to see her contemplate purchases.  

Hope has largely been oblivious to the cost of things. To some degree I protected her a bit. She had some really difficult and impoverished years. I wanted her to know that we were stable and comfortable; actually, I didn’t want her to know, I wanted her to believe we were stable and comfortable.  

I ended up with a kid who at times came off as spoiled. She didn’t necessarily ask for a lot, but she didn’t take care of her things either. She would just ask for replacements, and it annoyed the hell out of me. I usually said no or delayed the replacement until such time as I thought she had earned a replacement.  I thought she would learn to appreciate her things; most of the times, it seemed she didn’t. 

Enter “Working Hope.”  

Working Hope counts her pennies. She actually has 2 separate savings accounts. She studies her pay stub. She estimates her take home. She’s money conscious.  

She’s treated herself to a few things, but really hasn’t spent much. The cds were the largest single purchase, and she fretted over the expenditure. I reminded her that she could afford the cds, it was her birthday, and that we all deserved the occasional treat. She grinned and said, “I’ll take these” to the cashier.  

On the drive home, I asked Hope, “So how many hours of work was your purchase?” 

“Huh?” 

“How many hours did you have to work to get your cds?” 

“Oh.” She started trying to calculate the hours in her head but offered up a guess. It wasn’t close.  I told her to pull out her calculator to figure it out. In the end, she determined that the cds represented two days worth of work. She was surprised.  

I discouraged her from regretting the purchase; instead I encouraged her to consider the value of her hard work and consider that as she makes purchases. I don’t want her to fret over money, but I do what her to respect it.  

Hope started asking me about the household bills and about what it takes to maintain our lives.  

I told her to clear her calculator and start over.  

Then I told her the rounded figures for the mortgage, the car, insurance, cell phones, internet and TV, condo fees, electric, monthly donations, grocery bill, personal care and maintenance expense, medical insurance and expenses, and a few other things.  

The amount was sizeable, and I hadn’t even included my student loans, credit card, savings and investment contributions and “play” money.  

She sighed and said, well, there are adults who work where I work. I wondered how do they afford these things? I told her that there are lots of people who can’t afford those things.  

We went on to have an interesting discussion about money, income and income inequality, and why I have been pushy about education. Education doesn’t solve all problems, but it certainly can position you to better deal with some of life’s problems.  

She had a mini meltdown and asked if she would ever afford to move out on her own. I told her that yes, eventually she would be able to afford to live independently. I don’t  think she believed me, but time will prove me right.  

This seems to be Hope’s coming of age year which is crazy because pandemic, social justice protests, murder hornets, Saharan sandstorms, cicadas, elections…etc, etc. *This* is the year that is when things are seemingly coming into focus for Hope.  

I hope to keep talking to her about money. I’m hoping that in addition to the other lessons she seems to be learning that she will also learn the value of her time—it’s the most precious commodity we have. I hope she also learns to be discerning about her financial choices and continues to develop good financial habits.  

One thing that is coming clear to me in all this is that Hope is starting to really see her own future and what the possibilities look like. It’s kind of like watching an alien see and consider earth. She’s surprised, full of wonder and confusion, while also curious and dreaming.  

Thinking about Hope imagining living independently makes me smile. I’m proud of her. She’s come so very far in 6 years. I hardly know how to process what I’m seeing with her.  

I just know that I’m proud of her, more so every day.  


I’m Proud of Her

As I mentioned in a previous post, Hope is working two jobs this summer. Once it became clear that summer school wasn’t going to happen, I made it clear that Hope had to get a job. I remember that she sat right down on the couch that morning and filled out nearly 10 applications.

She had a job within 48 hours, and within two weeks she had a second job.

Honestly, I was surprised. In previous years, Hope had applied for jobs and never had any luck. I would repeatedly ask her if she needed help filling out applications. She didn’t. I asked her to call to follow up. I told her she might have to really put forth more effort, be eager, be hungry for the job.

It never worked out, and honestly, I doubted her. Worse, I made sure that she knew I didn’t quite believe she put in all the effort she did.

I have since apologized to my daughter because I was so absurdly wrong and I made things hard for her. Her penchant for laying around in her pjs in a messy room reeked of laziness to me. I felt like she had a lack of drive. I rode her about her schoolwork, her grades, her room and her inability to find a job.

And I sit around and wonder why she struggles so much with depression.

Now, I do want Hope to work hard; I want her to have a strong work ethic. I want her to understand what it takes to make it in this world and to be able to support yourself and have nice things. In the last 4 months, Hope has had a front row seat at watching me work. Why my work isn’t physical, the number of zoom meetings I have a day can be exhausting, and I don’t get a lot of work actually “done” on those days. Occasionally she pops out of her room to join me for tea and coffee, to ask how many meetings I have for the day or to ask when I get to stop working. One night last week I was working until 9pm.

What I’ve learned in these last few weeks of Hope’s employment is that Hope has a strong work ethic. She probably has always had a strong work ethic. She works differently from me; it doesn’t look the same and my own biases around what it should look like made me believe my daughter wasn’t trying.

Gosh, I have so many regrets.

Hope has taught me some valuable lessons about understanding her. I know she has always struggled with school, but I understand that she was working hard to keep up. I realize that despite her social anxiety she puts herself out there a lot to try to connect with people. I realize just how kind she is; her second week of working she was recognized for how many compliments from customers she received. I have begged her to use tools to help keep her ADHD in check; I see now that they didn’t click for her until she figured out the best tools for her.

Hope will be a sophomore in college in just 2 months, and I feel like I’m seeing her as a real young adult for the first time. I would like to think I taught her loads, but I am conscious of the ways in which I made things more difficult for her. That makes me incredibly sad and angry with myself.

I tell Hope I’m proud of her every day.

And every day she asks me why I keep telling her.

I tell her that I have always been proud of her, but she has shown me that she is so much more than I thought she was in this moment. She’s juggling jobs. She picks up groceries. She’s proud of her savings. She puts gas in the car, and she offers to run other errands. We talk about science and politics and history and trap music and she’s knows all the things. I’m actually starting to feel old around her.

She just needed this opportunity to prove herself to herself.  

These months at home, I see my daughter through new eyes. I know she will be ok.

Hope’s college is planning to resume in-person classes this fall. I never thought I’d say that I hope they change their mind so that she can stay a little longer. Of course, I’m worried about COVID-19; I worry that with such a tiny campus (700 students) that one case can easily create a major outbreak, especially with the dorms. Add to that the school is in a town with another university where the leadership believes that COVID-19 is a hoax, and you’ve got one worried mom.

But the real reason I wouldn’t mind a few more months with my daughter is because I know that I will miss her terribly when she goes back. When I think of her returning to school, I get those early empty nest feelings all over again. I also don’t want to lose watching her mature into this formidable young woman right before my eyes. I’m super conscious that when she returns to campus, the times I see her after that will make it seem like she’s really changing so much faster. I want to see it in real time and up close.

But I know that’s not how these things work. She might be here, she might not. She may keep working; she might not. It’s really all a crap shoot right now and I don’t have control over any of it. I’m just going to have to ride the wave and see what happens.

What I do know is that Hope is really blossoming into this really cool person—she was already cool, but this is different. I’m starting to see glimpses of her future. It’s not perfect, but it is good. I think I can worry less. I think I my parenting can really switch to coaching. I know I can believe her and really believe in her.

I’m so very proud of her, and I’m glad and appreciative of the grace Hope has shown me over the years. I’m realizing that I got a lot more grace that I ever realized.


On the Fly

I’m struggling to find time to write these days. I’m still working like a madwoman. Today was a 12 hour day. Evenings and weekends, I’m totally vegging.

Hope has not one but TWO jobs. She’s tired and thriving. I’m really proud of her; her transformation from human sloth to working woman is kinda head spinning. She was recognized for her stellar performance after just two weeks at her first job. She was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of her first paycheck; fortunately she has created her own savings plan. She also has picked up a few groceries and filled the had tank–unasked!!! (I did reimburse her.) Hope has always been a good kid, but watching her these last few months has honestly been the most delightful.

Hope being out at work also means that I have some of the home alone time I crave. I have treasured my time with Hope during the pandemic, but we could stand some time apart. Of course, that’s complicated too. With the ongoing unrest and law enforcement continuing to use excessive force even with all of the heightened scrutiny, I worry about her getting to and from work safely. And well, there’s still a pandemic going on. 🙄🙄🙄

Unironically, I’m realizing that if she ever goes back to college, I might have to go through empty nest feelings again. Her college is planning on opening as usual; I’m not convinced that they will though. I guess we’ll see.

I’m crocheting another blanket. I’m currently watching The Great on Hulu (It’s just ok. I like my historical dramas to have a bit more accuracy.) I spend a lot of time on my patio in my zero gravity chair; it’s my favorite place from spring until fall (I have been known to put on my goose down and plop on the patio in the dead of winter). I’m trying to hold on a few weeks until my summer vacation. I’m kinda bitter that the pandemic means no beach this year.

I’m better this week, but I’m really tired. But I’m better. And Hope is doing so very well that it gives me hope that everything will be ok.


Checking In

Hope and I are just in a state of overwhelming grief, sadness, and rage. The events of the last week–the weaponization of White tears against the Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper and the murder of George Floyd by four police officers–are physically and emotionally heartwrenching.

I’m not able to pull together my thoughts in a truly coherent way and spellcheck is definitely of a mind that I should not try this right now. I desperately want to say something, to make meaning of it–not just for my readers, but for me and for Hope. The truth is I’m kind of lost at the moment.

For the first time in her time with me, Hope woke up in hysterics after a bad dream. The dream? She dreamed that she was being chased by police with batons in the air and their guns drawn. She dreamed that this happened on her wedding day. It took more than an hour to get her settled down.

I couldn’t say, “Oh honey, it’s just a dream. That will never happen!” I do not feel like I could say that because I don’t believe it to be true. I just gathered her in my arms and told her I knew what she was feeling, and that I’m so sorry that I can’t protect her from one of the “few bad apple” cops. That is not the message I want her to get, but I also can’t lie to her.

I know that her heart hurts and so does mine. I’m not sure when we will feel better. We fret over the violence at some protests, but then we see police acting badly *at the protests.* We know despite our grandest hopes that this will happen again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

I don’t know what to do with that or say about it right now, so I’ll say this:

As a reader of this blog, I challenge you to do what you can to end White Supremacy and police terrorism (it’s also brutal, but my daughter was terrified).

Don’t ask your BIPOC pals/family for a to-do list to affect change. That requires emotional labor. Google is effing free–seriously, look up:

How to not be racist?

How to be an antiracist?

I promise you tons of amazing things will pop up. You will find the answers to your questions with minimal collateral damage to the BIPOC around you. Don’t make them do the heavy lift of educating you–you can do that; the resources are legit at your fingertips.

If you are a blue lives matter person, I believe in good community policing (with some caveats), but real talk, there is a problem with policing in this country. In fact #throwthewholecriminaljusticesystemout and start anew. Besides, blue life, revered and respected is a career choice; black life, maligned and marginalized is not a career choice, it is a happenstance of birth. These things are not responses to the other. Stop it.

My Christian peeps, if your church wasn’t talking about preserving Black life with a heavy dash of liberation theology this morning or over the last week–Why? The Holy Homeboy missed given y’all a message about how justice oriented Jesus was? He was about liberation before it was cool. Ponder that along with whether your church’s adoption messaging is louder and larger than its family preservation ministry.

Finally, if you work with Black folks, this might be a good time to tiptoe through the emotional tulips. Don’t get tight when the video on Zoom is set to the avatar picture. Keep meetings short; minimal small talk. Yes, it’s ok to check on them, but see above if this is your follow up, “Juanita this is so sad, do you know where I can learn more about the inherent racism in the US criminal justice system?” Sir, ma’am, them, stop, pull out your phone and ask Google Assist or Siri to find you something to read. Be patient with us.

Finally, to my fellow BIPOC, I’m holding you in my heart. This is a sad time, but all of our ancestors have experienced more and worse. We can continue to fight for equality. EArlier in the week, Hope told me a quote she found online.

They better be glad we just want equality and not revenge.

Take care of yourselves; I’ll be back with more in a few days.


Gainfully Employed

Hope is experiencing another first! She got her first job this week! 

I had hoped that she would work and maybe take a class or two at the local community college, Well, the bureaucracy at the community college made taking a class unable to happen, so we pivoted. Hope buckled down and put in applications at numerous places in our local area. She got a couple of quick ‘no’s’ and then poof, she had a few interviews lined up. 

I launched ABM’s Interview Boot Camp, where we practiced interviewing a dozen or so times. I’m always amazed at how poised she can be when she really sets her mind to it. It’s always so reassuring to me that she will be ok. 

Within 24 hours of filling out a bunch of applications, she had a job at a local fast food restaurant. In the current economic environment, I really didn’t think she would find a job, much less so quickly. I’ve chalked this up to the universe wanting Hope to really have this experience for now.

I helped her fill out the tax forms and other paperwork. I measured her for her uniform so she could get something that fit. I soothed her anxiety about another new experience. 

And then, she went off to start her first 8 hour shift.

I’m so proud of her. 

New experiences still cause a lot of anxiety for Hope. She catastrophizes a lot; not quite as much as she used to, but still quite a lot. She is improving though, and I see evidence of her developing coping skills. 

During the interview boot camp, I found myself laying out her options–go to the interview, do well, get the job. Go to the interview, do well, but don’t get the job. Go to the interview, don’t do well, but somehow still get the job. Go to the interview, don’t do well, and don’t get the job. In none of the scenarios will you get hurt or your future fall apart. It’s just an interview. Just do your best. 

When she got ready for her first day, it was another pep talk. Go, learn a lot, embrace the training, you can do this. Watch and learn and remember that there’s a team of people, none of you want to fail, so you’ll work together. 

I find myself often making her stop and consider the “bad” first time experiences since we’ve been a family. Oh, there have absolutely been missteps and some failures, but they weren’t the end of the world. I remind her that if she has to think hard to come up with a list because the number is relatively low, then you’ve probably got a good ratio and that somehow things will be ok, even if they aren’t perfect. 

Today is day three of being gainfully employed, and she says she likes it. I think she also likes the idea of having a job and knowing that that will lead to greater independence. I’ve asked her what she thinks she’ll spend her income on; she said she will put most of it in savings. She still has 2 more interviews for jobs that pay more, but I think she will be content if those don’t work out.

I’m super proud of her. It’s really such a privilege to watch her come into adulthood and stretch. With each new thing, she faces her fears and realizes that she will be OK. She remembers that I’ll be there to support her. 

Hope is a really a cool human; I love being her mom.


How the Decision Process is Going

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

She’s making pro and con lists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Doing Right by Hope

I listen to a podcast called, Terrible, Thanks for Asking. A recent episode explored the feelings of a father and daughter who lost their wife and mother to cancer when the daughter was just a toddler. The father remarried and never really discussed his late wife, so his daughter was never sure whether it was ok to talk about her.

As I was listening to the show, I started wondering am I doing enough to make Hope feel comfortable talking about her birth family. We have a relationship with a portion of her birth family, and that has been a little hit or miss just based on Hope’s desire. I made sure that I got numerous pictures of one of her parents and they are hung prominently in our home. I have made it clear that whenever she is ready to visit her family, I’m down to make it happen. She expressed an interest in her birth mother, I looked for her and found her. When she said she was satisfied just knowing where she was but didn’t want contact, I put the info away and told her she can have it whenever she wants.

I’ve told her numerous times that if she wants to talk, I’m here. Anytime, anywhere.

And yet, I do wonder if I’ve created the right environment for Hope to feel like she can tell me what she needs around accessing her birth family.

I have learned that my daughter’s feelings about her family are complicated. There is a lot of loss, feelings of rejection, anger, but also love and affection. I know that my daughter can sign a birthday card and say that she hopes to see them soon, but when I ask to schedule a visit she says no, what she wrote was really just a pleasantry.

Early on, I fretted that her birth family would be upset that I was keeping her away from them. We are a four hours’ drive away but are connected by phone, email and social media. We’ve visited several times; of course, they would like us to visit more often. I don’t want to put up roadblocks to reunion if that’s what everyone wants. The reality is that my daughter’s idea of reunion and theirs don’t jive at this point. I’ve learned to be really honest with them about what she’s going through and how much contact she wants. Those are hard conversations to have with a family that also feels like Hope is the prodigal kid, who was lost and now found. I try to make sure that cards get sent, pictures and band concert programs are mailed so that they can see she’s doing well, but truth be told, there’s not much contact between Hope and her family.

On the daily, we don’t talk about her family of origin much either. Occasionally something will remind her of an episode from before my time and she’ll share it with me, usually something funny, sometimes something dark. The dark stuff is always very sad, and honestly, those are the stories that more often get repeated…verbatim. Therapy has helped her write some new scripts, but old habits and trauma die hard. Occasionally, I’ll ask about a parent and she’ll share a little story or shut down the conversation, depending on her mood. This is how we roll; I don’t have much to compare it to, so I guess this is normal. I listen to adult adoptees and know that it can be super complicated. I know that Hope will come into her own and decide if, how and when she wants more of a connection to her birth family. I just don’t ever want her to feel like she doesn’t have my support or that she can’t bring it up in our home. I try to follow her lead on creating and sustaining chosen connections.

On the whole, I feel like I’ve tried to create a space that supports her, values her family yet consistently prioritizes her emotional needs. It’s hard though; it’s complicated. I find myself wondering if I’m doing enough or too much sometimes. Hope is getting older; emotionally she’s still pretty young despite her gains over the last few years. I see her turning into a young adult; I see her questioning a lot of things about the world and about herself and about her personal history as she lived it and interprets it. I know in the coming years I’ll be transitioning from active parenting to a parent-guide of sorts as she comes into herself and launches into the world. I have no idea whether what I’m doing on the birth family stuff will bear fruit—or even what that means, honestly. I just know I want her to be happy and healthy, and I want her to know I’ll always ride hard for her.

I hope I’m doing right by Hope.


There is No Magic

A few days ago Hope and I were in the car listening to a podcast. We were chuckling about the show, and then it ended and we listened to some of the commercials before the next podcast started. One of the commercials was about a new podcast on the magic of childhood.

I was only halfheartedly listening to the commercials. I caught the thought and let it slip through my mind.

But Hope was listening.

“There is no magic in childhood. None.”

She immediately had my attention. I didn’t know what to say.  All I could manage to say was, “Huh?”

“Magic? What’s magical about childhood? Nothing,”

We sat quietly at a light.

I quickly thought about all of her young years and the things she endured. I felt her trauma in my soul.

She didn’t say anything else, and I wasn’t sure what to say next. So, I didn’t say anything at all. It was one of the few times during our time together when I was completely stunned to silence. Usually, I can come up with something, but I had nothing. And I was just overwhelmed by the absence of magic in my daughter’s childhood.

I understand how she concluded that the magic of childhood was nothing but a farce. It breaks my heart. I have these fond memories of growing up. I remember my parents love. I remember birthday cakes and playing in the street with neighborhood kids. I remember when they took me and my sisters to Disney World and numerous other family trips. I remember feeling safe and loved. I remember so many little details that are clear to me know but seemed magical then.

I know that there are some memories that Hope has with her first family that are happy memories, but the number of those moment to moment memories are dwarfed by memories of instability, fear, and profound grief. The latter so crushing that she can barely see the good stuff in her mind. And she can’t separate those memories and just erase the bad ones. She has figured out how to reconcile the bad stuff; she can’t partition it to try to create some magic.

The magic of childhood is lost to her.

I wish I could change it all for her. I can’t, but I wish to hell like I could.

I have spent a lot of time and resources on helping Hope heal. I didn’t realize that I was also trying to create some magic in the waning years of Hope’s adolescence. I try to give her big and small experiences that will stick with her. I’m hoping they are special, magical, but knowing that she doesn’t think there’s any magic in childhood just makes me feel so sad.

I wonder will she still feel this way years from now when she has her own child? Did my silence, my failure to offer some wisdom about childhood magic, just reaffirm her grief? What can I do to make magic for her? Can I still create some magic for her?

I honestly don’t know what was I supposed to say in that moment that would validate her but offer a different narrative. I still don’t know what I was supposed to say to that declaration. I just don’t know what to say about there being no magic in childhood.


ABM & DAI

A few months ago, a good pal named Tao from The Adopted Ones, reached out to me with news that The Donaldson Adoption Institute was accepting blog pitches. I enjoy writing, and I feel strongly that voices of people of color in the adoption community are woefully underrepresented.

So, I decided to submit some ideas.

I’m delighted that the organization thought my voice was important and valuable. I’m also totally jazzed that the good folks there have decided to feature my story in honor of Black History Month.

Gosh, I feel special.

I’m happy to post a link to the first of a two-part series from me over on the Donaldson Adoption Institute blog.  Be sure to stop by their Facebook page and hit them up on Twitter too!

HOW I GOT HERE

dai

And yes, I am using my IRL name in addition to my pen name. 🙂

 


By Any Other Name

I had chosen names for the children I would never give birth to. I only chose what would be first or middle names so that they could be adapted to names desired by my would be husband/life partner.

Those names were so important to me; each had special meaning. Each were strong names on which my children could scaffold their identities.

And then, one day, the realization set in that I would not get to use any of those names for biological children.

Even now, writing this, the sting of quiet tears fill my eyes.

And then Hope came along.

Hope got her pseudonym from being my “Hope Kid.” When I started the blog, I had just received her profile. I remember sitting in my office, opening the email, reading the little bit of information attached and then opening the attachment to see her picture.

I immediately fell in love with her.

In my heart I felt like she was my daughter. I just knew, which was ridiculous because she was the first profile I received having just started the national search with my agency the week before.

I also knew that there were many steps to be made before she and I might be matched. I dubbed her my “Hope Kid.”

After we were matched, I started just calling her Hope in this space.

It’s turned out to be a good strong pseudonym for her. She and I are both so hopeful.

At 12, I never once thought about changing her name. Her in real life (IRL) name is unusual and lovely.

A few folks asked if I considered changing her first name.

dancing

No. I mean, she was 12 and It. Is. Her. Name. And well, Hope had lost everything else, everything, why on earth would I take her name from her too?

And she’s feisty, why on earth would I want to start our life with a fight about changing her name?

As we neared the date of our finalization, I did have to make a decision about her last name.

Sounds like a no brainer, right?

I mean, she would just drop her given name and take my name.

No.

It was her given name. It was hers. It was given to her by her parents, who loved her even if they didn’t always love themselves.

I thought about all those adoptees who talked about their birth names and the surnames of their birth family.  How hard it was to find people when names changed. How challenging taking on a new identity could be.

Because Hope is an older adoptee, I had the luxury of having a real conversation with her about her name. I’d like to think that even if she had been younger, I might have come to the same conclusion because it works for us.

Hope had just assumed that I would make her change her name. She understood why I might do that. She has resolved that it was just the way of the world, or rather the way of her world. In Hope’s world, she rarely got to make decisions, she lost lots of things and well, she supposed she was just happy to be getting a forever family.

I asked her what she thought about a third option.

I asked her what she thought about just adding my last name to her existing name.

The first thing she did was write it all out and count the letters.

There were a total of 29 letters in this proposed name. Four names, two of them last names, no hyphens and 29 letters.

She asked if the name would fit on forms.

So, I cruised the internet and found a few forms that we would have to eventually fill out and printed them and let her practice filling them out.

It worked.

I asked her if taking my name would be hard for her; she said maybe. I told her that she could drop it she wanted, and just sign things with her birth name. The four-name thing would just be her “government name.” I explained the times when she would need to use it.

I asked her to think about it.

When I told folks that this third option was on the table…well, there were so many questions. So many.

Why couldn’t I just change it? Why didn’t I want her to be fully a part of the family? Wouldn’t this be confusing for her? How would this help her move on?

There was a lot of criticism.

I stayed focused on me and Hope during the whirlwind.

In the end, extending her name was our choice.

During our Facetime finalization, Hope exclaimed to the judge that her new name was 29 letters.

She continued to use her birth name for a while, and then one day, she didn’t.

I’m not sure exactly when she started using both last names, but I know that now she wouldn’t dare sign her name without both.

When her birth family found us, they were surprised that I didn’t drop their name. I think it brokered some trust with them; I had no intention of erasing her identity.

Again, I have the luxury of having an older child who is capable of telling me her feelings. I know that even during the worst of times she endured, she would leave me in a flash if she had the chance to be parented by her birth parents again.

I’m hardly a saint and I’m judgmental as hell, but I’ve also had the luxury of having my birth family my whole life. I get it and I don’t blame her at all. If I had known them before, and known what I know now, I would’ve been rooting for them.

But our paths were different, and all I can do now is honor her family by supporting her in keeping the names she was given.

Our family is stronger for it.

And what have I really learned from this part of our journey?

I learned that I’m glad that we didn’t have to make a choice based on her safety and a desire not to be found. I think this would have been so much more difficult for her if that was necessary. For her to have to change her name, her identity, to remain safe, is a whole other level of trauma. We are fortunate that we were not faced with that situation.

I learned that even though I have replaced Hope’s birth parents in parenting her, I am additive in her life. For Hope, I didn’t just replace them. I am her mother, without question, but I am her second mother. I can never replace Hope’s birth parents; I can’t erase them. Even with a name change, that history, however brief, is still a real part of her life.

I learned that Hope’s name is her name. I am honored that my name has become a part of her name and a part of her story, but her story didn’t start with me. It won’t end with me either.

I imagine that her name will change again sometime in this lifetime.

And again, it will be Hope’s choice to shape her identity.

I learned that there are various ways to integrate a child into your family.

I learned that a last name can be more than enough of a connection to a new family.

I realized just how much power adoptive parents have…to change a child’s whole name…or just to get to name a child…it is a privilege that should be acknowledged as such.

I learned that the sting of not being able to have biological children rears its head more often than I care to admit. A discussion about changing a child’s name precipitates asking what might you change it to? And then your list of dream names springs to mind…and it drags that little bee sting with it.

I learned to treasure my own name even more. I love thinking about the origins of my name and the story my parents tell me about naming me.

I don’t know that at this point in my life I will change my name even if I get married. I’ve been with this name a mighty long time.

I do know that I’ll still be ABM whatever name I chose, and that Hope will always be my Hope and joy, no matter what her name evolves into during the course of her life.

 


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