Tag Archives: Birthdays

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.


The Hugs and Kisses Bet

It’s Hope’s birthday, and I’m practically doing the pee pee dance I’m so excited! I’ve been waiting for this day with almost as much anticipation as all of our other milestones. Hope is excited, but a bit anxious because whenever she’s asked what we were doing for her birthday, I’ve just said it was a surprise. I asked her numerous times what would she like…did she want anything special. She said she didn’t really know. So I set about, like the overzealous new parent that I am, to Blow. Her. Mind.

Lately I’ve been chatting with her about buying less “stuff” and focusing on more experiences so we can build some happy memories together. This has led to some reflective conversations about her father and her memories of him. She takes a lot of pride in telling me about her memories; sometimes I have to grit my teeth because some of the places she went or things she saw, she really shouldn’t have been taken there or seen those things. But, I try to not sully what are happy memories for her; I also try to give her the freedom to talk about how much she misses her dad. She told me last night that when she’s home, she thinks about him a lot. Grief is a beotch.

Hope also likes to talk about her experiences with me over the last few months and how much things have changed. I love these chats; even if it means that we muddle through tough memories. These chats usually involve me giving lots of hugs and kisses. She loves it; I love it; the Furry One loves it. She also knows that withholding hugs and kisses is one of my Achilles heels, and she routinely threatens after the love fest to cut me off, usually in a joking manner. In the last week, the hugs and kiss strikes have served as my punishment for various infractions. The threats and strikes are hollow—at most they last a few hours– and we typically settle into a puddle of laughter.

So, on the way to her first voice lesson last night, she decided that I should be punished because I was going to the Jay-Z/Bey concert in a few weeks and I wasn’t taking her. No hugs or kisses until after the concert. I said ok, well, just how mad are you? Interested in raising the stakes? I bet her that she wouldn’t make it that long without a hug from her mom. She egged me on and bet me $20 she could (#OhImtakinghermoney). I upped it to $30 and she upped it to $50 that she could withhold hugs and kisses until July 8th.

I knew I had this bet won before we even pinky-swore…which we indeed did! #shedontevenknow

She immediately started trying to renegotiate terms and finding end runs around the bet.

“Air kisses don’t count right?”

“Well, what if I get sick or I’m crying?”

“You can still try to kiss me right?

And on and on we went. Seems she really wants the contact as much as I do.

Miss thing was trying to weasel out of her bet, and our pinkies were barely disentangled. I told her she could do whatever she wanted because I knew I would get hugs and kisses, and I predicted that she wouldn’t hold out long.

“Do you know how long I’ve gone for periods without hugging a parent?” said Hope.

Oy, you just never know when or how the moments of trauma will resurface. I didn’t joke about that; just asked a few questions and reiterated that she could get a hug from me anytime she wanted one, morning, noon and night. She briefly talked about how many fosters she refused to hug during placements. She’s not kidding, if she really wants too, she could strike for long periods of time. I am comforted in knowing how much she wants hugs from me. I’m sad about how many hugs and kisses strikes there have probably been in her 13 years. It put her little strike threats into perspective for me.

So we enjoy the rest of our evening hi-fiving, thumb hugging and blowing air kisses, in accordance with the terms of our bet. After she went to bed, I began executing Plan “Blow Hope’s Mind.”

I wrapped the Katy Perry CD and gently placed it atop of her alarm clock. I hung the concert t-shirt on her bathroom mirror with a note, “You might want to build an outfit around this shirt.” I placed a birthday card with her concert ticket for TONIGHT’S Katy Perry show in her bathroom under her favorite lotion.

True to her word, she didn’t hug me on her way out this morning for the last day of school (yeah, we’re still in school around these parts). But she is excited about the concert tonight. Over breakfast, she told me a story of how a foster parent promised to take her to a concert but didn’t; how the house she was staying in was right behind the concert venue, how she could hear the girls screaming all evening at a concert she was missing.

Joy is often still tinged with sadness around these parts. It’s like she just can’t let herself really enjoy the moment because the blessings remind her of all the bad times.

I’m hopeful that I’ll still get a hug and kiss today. We’ve got lunch and cake and maybe pedicures later before the concert tonight.

Then there’s the second card…the one with the ticket to the Bruno Mars concert in a few weeks.   She loves Bruno Mars, loves him probably more than Bieber.

I’m glad we get to do things together, to create new memories together. I hope one day the happy times don’t get overshadowed by the sad history.

In the meantime, I’m looking for hugs and kisses tonight and the settling of this silly bet. #inittowinit

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