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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.


Birthday Wishes

Today is my birthday.  I thought I would be happy, but I’ve awakened to a bit of the blues today.  They started sometime yesterday and have just gotten worse every few hours.  I’m struggling with me issues today.  I’m sure it’s all normal, and I’m hoping we blow through today so I can get on with it.

I don’t feel like I’m going to get to do what I want to do for my birthday and it doesn’t feel very good having to nurture the new center of my universe today.  I hate that that sounds so selfish and narcissistic.  I hate that it sounds like I don’t really want to share the day with my daughter.  I hate that I have anxiety about how this day will turn out because things feel so ridiculously unpredictable.  I wish I didn’t feel this way, and I’m terribly sad that I do.  #kickingmyselfwhileimdown

And I got email spam from a faux funeral home this morning.  Yeah, no kidding #41isthenew21

Hope has already given me two drama free days.   That’s right—no meltdowns since the epic, “No, The Furry One is not Kujo” confrontation.  There’s been no back talk.  There’s been no foot dragging on chores.  There’s been compliance.  There’s been giggling.   There’s been sweetness and goodness, and on a trip to the library where we sat for an hour while we read magazines, I looked over at her and thought, “This is so nice.”  Later she read me two books by Shel Silverstein.  I hate Shel Silvertein, by the way, but I loved that she wanted to bond by reading aloud to me.  We were happy.

And as much as I lived in the moments of the last two days; I can’t help feeling like I know I’m just borrowing time from six months from now.  Tomorrow school for Hope starts in earnest.  We’ve got in-take with the new therapist on Wednesday.  Thursday a school orientation program and Friday we head south for one of my best friends’ wedding.   It’s a bit closer to what a “real” week might look like for us in terms of scheduling.  And I’m anxious scared.

And I’m scared that things will fall apart today.  All I want is to go to church, go to a nice brunch, maybe sneak off to the gym for an hour and cook for a few hours with my girl.  But after years of seeing mom’s slug through birthdays, Mother’s Day, and other holidays as the low priority, I know that my expectations of being seen and heard today by Hope are pretty low.  Hope is not yet able to devote capacity to other things besides surviving and adjusting, and I can see how much energy that’s taking.  And I really don’t expect anything more from her right now.  She’s struggling; several friends back home have stopped taking her calls, and one has apparently blocked our phone number.  Although she didn’t meltdown, I can tell she’s having a very hard time with how her friends back in WA are handling her move.

So, I’m scared that the pins and needles reprieve that I’ve enjoyed for the last two days will end today.  I’m fearful of the feelings of isolation that come with a meltdown; those feelings are the worst.  It’s bad enough that you are dealing in the moment with something rotten, then it’s almost like you feel shame for the whole mess and you can’t, shouldn’t, wouldn’t couldn’t dare breathe a word about how really rotten it all is to anyone.  I’m sad because the anxiety about the inevitable reminds me of the pieces of my identity that I’ve had to set down, while I’ll build my family and try to shore it up into something strong and amazing.  I’ve seen glimpses of that reality, but it also feels a bit like a mirage at the moment.

So today we will go to church and a nice brunch might turn into strawberry poptarts.  I will go workout, because I absolutely emotionally and physically need to, and we will cook.  But I won’t expect another smooth day.  I’ll let the universe surprise me.  I’ll try not to cry both happy and sad tears because they upset Hope so; she hates it when I cry.  I typically start crying the moment we walk into church because the emotional release is so great.   I’ll probably need to take something to keep that from happening today.

So this is my version of adoptive motherhood on my 41st birthday, my first birthday with Hope.  Wishing, hoping, praying for a drama-free day with absolutely no effing expectation that it’s going to happen.  Just trying to be thankful for the two early birthday freebies I’ve enjoyed, and secretly praying it’s the beginning of a pattern.

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