Tag Archives: Child Trauma

The Bitter

With the decision now made now there’s all kinds of stuff to deal with. I need to get her enrolled in the new school, unenrolled from the new school, I need to reach in my purse and figure out the financial part of this investment and I need to help Hope figure out what she’s going to do with her hair while she’s away. More on that later because it’s a doozy.

As Hope was going through the motions of her decision last weekend, one of the conversations that we had centered around how there’s no perfect decision. Most decisions have an element of bitter that goes with the sweet. In this case, going to the new school meant that she would be leaving her marching band, not going to the band competitions with her bandmates, leaving the one or two friends she had behind. The trade off was being in a better academic environment with a band that does appearances in big parades that are sometimes on TV.

I thought that we would have a bit of time before the bitterness of her decision made itself known, but seeing as we adults can sometimes just be trash, the bitter taste was nearly immediate.

I decided that I would not take Hope out of her home school until the contract had been signed for the new school, because, you know I have some sense. Also, with Hope still enrolled in her home school she would be able to go to marching band camp this month. She would miss the last week of camp because we are going on vacation, but I looked at the vacation as a transitional time for her. In going to band camp, she would have a bit of time with her bandmates, she would be able to coach and mentor the new freshmen who were joining the band, and she would have some time with her favorite teacher (also her only black male teacher she’s had in 5 grades with me). I encouraged her to be mindful of her role in planning the marching since she would be a missing bass drum in a few weeks and the band needed to accommodate that.

Meanwhile, I was in communication with the guidance counselor and had made an appointment for the upcoming week to get the enrollment stuff taken care of.

Hope told her friends that she would be moving on to a new school and seemed to relish the attention around having made such a big decision. As she was finalizing her decision, she talked about it with her band teacher who flatly responded, “And?”

I know that Hope had really already made her decision by the time this conversation occurred, but I know that the response was hurtful and was probably that last little nudge for her to choose to move on.

By Friday morning I received an email from the band teacher asking if it was true that Hope would be attending a different school in September. After I told him yes, but I hadn’t started the enrollment process and no changes had been made, he responded by dismissing Hope from the marching band. He went so far as to ask me to stop what I was doing to come pick her up immediately because she couldn’t be on campus.

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I was stunned.

This teacher is Hope’s favorite teacher. He and his colleague teacher at the middle school have been the only stabilizing academic forces she’s had since she arrived here more than 4 years ago. He’s been one of few people of color and the only man of color teacher she’s had. He’s been kind to her, advocated for her and been genuine in his interest in helping her be successful.

Until this week.

This week he hurt her feelings and kicked her out of the one thing that has really motivated her during her high school years.

I refused to pick her up and told him that the humane and right thing to do would be to talk to her and give her a chance to say goodbye to her band friends. He reluctantly agreed.

By the time I picked her up she was In a bit of shock. As the hours passed and the grief set in, I saw her deny that he dismissed her, get angry because she felt like she was being punished, want to email to negotiate swinging by next week to help out with the freshmen without actually being “in band camp,” being really sad about how she was treated both when she mentioned it to him early in the week and after he knew she was leaving, reaching out to some newbies on snapchat to give advice for the drumline, and finally concluding that she made the right decision to go to a new school since it was clear that her teacher really didn’t give an ish about her anyway.

I’m grateful that she had therapy right after band practice, and I was shocked to see her go through the stages in mere hours. I was also proud that she never questioned her decision to go to the new school. I was so hurt to see her question the whole of her connection with her teacher due to this rejection. This weekend she’s wallowing. She might’ve moved through the grief stages, but she’s still grieving.

This is the bitter, and it kinda sucks.

I’m planning to have a “nice” (not really) chat with the band teacher, the counselor and the principal this week to talk about how this was handled. The reality is that it just didn’t have to be this way. I’ve looked up the regs and he was wrong since my daughter is still a student in the county, our intentions to withdraw, notwithstanding. Oh and in epic mixed messaging he told her she could attend camp for two more days—no doubt there’s some benefit to the band to having her there. I no longer trust that the invitation is for her benefit. The whole thing is just a mess with a lot of hurt feelings.

In the meantime, we’ve got a bunch of other lesser bitter stuff to wrestle with as we prepare for a rapid transition over the next couple of weeks.

Stay tuned.

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Thoughts on our Evolution

I’m presently relaxing after a long day of touring around Southern Greece reflecting on my travels with Hope of the last year. This trip has been our most ambitious trip yet. I have taken her on trips to multiple states and we also spent a spring break in Montreal, but this trip has changed the game.

I have wanted to travel to Greece my whole life, no really, I can’t remember a time that Greece wasn’t a dream trip for me. I’ve loved Greek and Roman mythology since I was able to barely read. The idea that things from millennia ago still stand blows my mind.

I’ve been putting it off and putting it off, almost like, I didn’t deserve to go or worried that maybe I couldn’t afford the kind of experience I wanted to have and create.

Then one day last fall, I reasoned that the way politics were going with Twitter wars between unstable world “leaders,” a roll back on the US commitment to address climate change and a steady stream of just US constructed crazy, I figured we were all going to die anyway, climate change was going to ruin the ruins and that maybe I could afford to have the kind of trip that would just bring me joy. So I started looking for tickets and an Airbnb, and I just made it happen.

I worried and fretted during the last couple of months wondering if Hope would handle the trip well. She loves history, and I know that she especially loves opportunities to experience history. I prayed that she would enjoy this trip as much as I anticipated it. And if she didn’t, I was fully prepared to drug her and beg the Heavenly Homeboy for his grace and mercy in making sure she didn’t ruin this trip for me. #Greeceismyhappyplace #behappy #dontruinit

After climbing the steps into the Acropolis a few days ago, I sobbed when the Parthenon came into view; a high bucket list item was checked off. Hope is used to me being emotional. My tears didn’t phase her. What made me struggle to hold back tears later? Hearing Hope talking almost to herself that being here, in Athens is hard to believe, that she’s standing on and next to stuff so old and historically important, stuff she read about but never even thought about visiting because…well, why would she? Throughout this trip she has commented that being here is like a dream. Just thinking about it brings a tear to my eye.

It’s been a dream for me too—for me as an individual and distinctly, as a mom.

Hope and I have changed so much over the last four years. I could not have dreamed of taking this trip with her then. I have more patience now. But I am also ok making the decision to pharmaceutically deal with anxiety freak outs (like recent bug phobia related meltdowns) and limiting choices. I try to teach Hope that freedom is about having choices, but too many choices for her can also be overwhelming—so sometimes I have to just shrink them down to 2 choices in order to make things go smoothly. I’m also ok just saying no. I’m parenting way more confidently than I used to. I still don’t know what the hell I’m doing, but I know my kid and I get what makes her tick–that’s more than half the battle.

I’ve learned to meet my own needs. I made sure that our rental had individual rooms for everyone—I knew I would need alone time and space to just regroup. I bought myself nice things and splurged on things I wanted while shopping in the markets. I gave Hope her own money so I didn’t have to decide if what she wanted to buy was silly or not—it’s hers and she needed to learn how to treat herself as well. It she bought silly stuff, it’s not my concern; if she focused on easily consumed things rather than things like mementos, well that would just be the choice she made. It wasn’t my choice, since I got my mementos. I got up most mornings to just enjoy the quiet. #selfcare Last night, Hope even begged off dinner allowing my friend and I to go have a drink and a light dinner and have grown folk talk.

Four years ago I know I couldn’t have taken this trip with Hope and enjoyed it the way I have. I desperately wish it was longer since I’ve got so much stuff going on at work that I didn’t fully unwind, but I’m better than I was. I also have concluded that I need to get back to traveling and going ahead and just bringing Hope along. School is very stressful for her and as much as the structured days might be good for her, school life, for us, is just misery inducing. Travel might be the thing to help us soothe our souls. I might as well pull her out of school and just go.

Aside from being reminded to follow my passions, this trip has taught me how much Hope and I have evolved during our time together. There’s more growth to come, for sure, we aren’t where I’d love us to be, but gosh, it’s remarkable how much we’ve grown. I’m also so warmed by seeing how much my daughter has healed. The things she wrestles with are still there, but they haven’t dominated her this week. I think she’s really going to be ok; that means we’re going to be ok.

We head back to the states tomorrow with one of my biggest bucket list trips done. This is just the first trip; I need to return, there’s so much to see and so much to be completely overwhelmed by. It’s been an amazing experience with lots of happy tears and quality time with Hope.

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Hopeful for Hope

Hope is extraordinary. Seriously, I don’t know how she does it.

Ok, so some days, are much (seriously, so much) better than others. I and everyone around her has noticed the good days versus the bad days more than usual in the last year.

These last four years for Hope have been stable. I’d like to say that they’ve been good, great even, but I know that that’s probably not true, and I’m guessing that the benchmark for good might be fuzzy. On the outside looking in, it’s been great, on the inside looking out, it’s been…more good than not; it’s also been super challenging for her and for me.

Hope’s life before was hard. There was a lot of upheaval and a lot of safety issues. There was also a lot of love in her previous life; I never doubted that. I might side eye a lot of stuff that I know about her past, but I never doubted that her family of origin loved her so very much. There were just a lot of problems and barriers to probably being the type of parents they wanted to be.  All that stuff made Hope scared, distrustful, headstrong, and survival focused. That stuff also left Hope with some real developmental challenges that linger and make life harder for her. That love shaped her, and it made Hope have hope about her future life. I cling to that probably as much as she does.

We seem to be at a bit of a fork in the road in this journey.

My daughter has to make some choices about the type of future she wants. I’m not talking about 5 or 10 years down the road; I’m talking about the next year. To me, the choice for her is obvious, but it’s not. It seems that those extraordinary survival qualities Hope developed in times of need make it hard for her to see the range of choices clearly. It makes what feels like should be an obvious choice not so obvious for my daughter. As a mom, it’s so hard to see the struggle she endures trying to find her way through this maze. The skills that served her so well for so long don’t work as well in this chapter of her life, and the time hasn’t been long enough yet for her new survival skills to evolve.

It’s like taking an Olympic swimmer and putting her on a stage with a concert violin and demanding that she play as though she’s been playing professionally her whole life. She hasn’t and so she won’t.

And yet, she muddles a rocky rendition of Chopsticks and calls it a day. Hope is extraordinary.

Sometimes I find it so incredibly hard to understand how Hope sees and maneuvers through her world. I see immense talent, tenacity, courage and street smarts in her. I have wondered how to help her leverage her skills to her benefit. I’ve tried all kinds of things, but neither of us have found the magic sauce yet. It takes time. With a major life event (finishing high school) looming, it feels like we’re behind schedule.

We’re not, but it feels like it.

As a mom, all this feels so weird, awkward even to guide her though this—it’s a bit of the blind leading the blind. I mean, I went through traditional life events, but with none of the history or life experiences that Hope has had. Sometimes my life experience feels irrelevant and ill-suited for any kind of possible comparison. I can only imagine how it feels to Hope to know how to live a life only to be thrust into another one where everything, EVERYTHING was different. I chose this life to mother and parent her; she didn’t choose anything about this life. I try to remember that as we muddle through together.

These next 4 months will have a major impact on my daughter’s life for the next year. I’m not sure what she will choose; I’m starting to question what the “right” choice is for her. I thought I knew, but I’m also realizing that she and I have different views and different sets of choices ahead of us over the next few months. Things aren’t as obvious as they appeared, I suppose.

As we talk about the choices, I try to assure her that I love her, accept her, still think she’s an extraordinary kid and I will support her no matter what. I hope that Hope believes me. I hope that she does what she thinks is best for herself and that it sets her up for success.

I’m hopeful, and prayerful, and anxious, and worried, and committed and still more hopeful.


Thoughts on Guns in School

In short, no. Just no.

I am a former gun owner. Yep, for friends and family, this will likely come as a bit of a surprise.

When I was in my 20s, I purchased a firearm. I took classes on how to properly fire it. I got it to help me feel safe after I very briefly dated a guy who turned out to be a stinking nut job.

After going out with him twice, he proceeded to stalk me. He sent letters, followed me, watched me. He called me nonstop. He sent flowers to my office every day for weeks at a time; I had to tell security repeatedly to refuse the deliveries.

After a couple of months, I called the police. They were dismissive, said he was probably a nice guy who was just clearly taken with me. I requested a temporary restraining order. He started back up shortly after it expired. More months went by and I took the police the letters, an affidavit from the office security, recordings from my answering machine. They finally pressed charges. He eventually did 30 days in jail. Got out, stalked me again. 30 more days.

I eventually purchased a 9mm because I didn’t think the cops were doing enough to keep me safe. I wanted to be prepared if things escalated. After more than a year, I moved when my lease expired and changed my phone number; he moved on and probably started stalking someone else. A year or two later, I legally sold my gun. I didn’t believe it was still a necessary part of my safety routine. I no longer needed it, and I divested myself of it.

I never really intended to own a gun and do not have any plans to buy another.

I don’t have an animus towards people who do. For the life of me, I can’t imagine why a sane someone outside of a war zone would want an assault rifle. Even in my What Would ABM Do in a Zombie Apocalypse dreams an AR probably would not make my list. I just don’t think we should have them.

But that’s me, and for whatever reason apparently, they figure prominently in other people’s lives beyond the zombie apocalypse.

Hearing about the Parkland shooting two weeks ago made my heart sink. I spilled tears thinking about all the death and trauma. I also spilled some tears for the shooter; knowing he was an adopted kid who had lost both parents and seemed to be lost made me think about how close my own daughter could come to disaster—either as a victim or a perpetrator. Trauma is a beotch.

Now, a couple of weeks later, the post-traumatic discourse about guns is in full swing. Do we get rid of all the guns? Do we get more guns and arm everyone? Do we just keep troubled, sick people from having guns? Shouldn’t the teachers have guns?

Sigh.

I’m an educator. My sister is an educator. My uncle was an educator. I know educators.

Education is amazing, inspiring work. Teaching kids and adults stuff is life-affirming. You get to watch minds grow. You get to see minds opening, skills developing and opportunities created.

I’m lucky. I exist outside of the actual ivory tower; I live in an organization where I’m well compensated. I don’t have to deal with the daily rigors of classroom life. I don’t need to personally buy supplies or call parents. I am a different kind of educator, and I’m routinely grateful for that since I still get the joys of seeing all the cool stuff with minimal exposure to the icky stuff.

I can’t imagine carrying a gun into a classroom. I just can’t. Clearly, I understand that there are people who would, but no. I can’t.

I also do not want Hope to be in a school where teachers are armed. No. Hard no.

I don’t think that armed faculty mitigates the risk of an armed gunmen entering the school, and if it does, show me the data because to date, I haven’t seen anything but hypothetical conjecture.

I don’t want Hope around guns, gunmen or teachers with guns. Just no.

I don’t want an arms race in education. Haven’t we seen what happens with nuclear weaponry and proliferation at the global level? You get a weapon, then your neighbor feels like they need to get a weapon to protect themselves from you. Then everyone gets more weapons. It only escalates and then we’re all more afraid that one leader who isn’t wrapped too tight gets pissy on Twitter, and the whole neighborhood is all dead.

Do we want that for our kids?

We are fortunate to live in a decent area with good schools. Hope doesn’t have any metal detectors; there’s no ‘wanding’ to go to school events. Kids get to be kids. Yes, there are worries, there are fears. The day after the Parkland shooting, there was a shooting threat at her school. It scared me. It scared her. My work with people convinces me that having armed teachers wouldn’t have prevented the fake threat, much less a real one.

I am locked in some ongoing drama with a couple of Hope’s teachers and counselors at the moment. They are passionate about their work. They care about my daughter and her classmates. I think they would do what they could to keep them safe if necessary. I still don’t think they should be armed.

I do not expect Hope’s teacher to die saving her. I also do not expect them to shoot someone to save her. I expect them to teach her.

English.

History.

Physics.

Anatomy

Algebra.

Band.

That’s it. That what they are paid to do.

If they need tissues and hand sanitizer, I’ll buy tissues and hand sanitizer. If they need some extra notebooks, pens, and markers for kids whose families don’t have the ability to provide them, I am eager to help out. I advocate for higher pay; I know they are woefully underpaid and hardly get bathroom breaks to boot.

I will not lobby for them to have guns in the classroom. I won’t do that. I don’t believe that is the appropriate response to trauma. I don’t meet Hope’s trauma with more of it. I won’t do it at home and I will not advocate for it at her school.

No.

I will advocate for schools to embrace and infuse their teaching with trauma responsive techniques and tools for student management. I will advocate for more student service resources to help identify struggling kids who may be at greater risk for violence. I will advocate for more programs and resources for people who find themselves young, but of legal age, without family or resources, but with lots of emotional trouble and turmoil and at greater risk for violence because the pain is unbearable.

Hurt people, hurt people.

We don’t give hurt people guns—before or after they are hurt.

So no, I don’t want to see guns in Hope’s school.

Nope.


Making Life Safe

Hope is in the second semester of her junior year of high school.  Soon enough, she’ll be a senior and we’ll be doing all those ‘senior’ things that families do–senior nights, college visits, planning, spending, more planning.

As Hope and I face this future the other thing that has emerged as a major issue is anxiety.

My “normal” parent friends chuckle and joke about this time as they begin to plan what to do with their impending empty nest time. Their kids get teased a bit about moving out, launching and being dropped off at college while parents RUN to the car and into their less intensive period of parenting.

This seemed so natural and Hope wants and plans to go to college, so I joked a bit with her about how she was going to grow up, move away and live her life. Occasionally she would respond that she just got here, did she have to go so soon?

It’s taken me some time to realize that was a real question for Hope, that maybe she felt like I didn’t want her around and that I was eager for her to graduate and move on and move out.

Oy. Sigh.

Parenting is intense and while I look forward to that period of life that is a little empty nested; I went into this gig knowing that Hope was probably not going to fly the coop, so to speak, when other kids did. I figured that she would need more time. I figured that she would need more time academically and emotionally.

What I didn’t understand was that my joking about this next big rite of passage would scare the ish out of her. I didn’t get it.

I’m not beating myself up about it; I’m sad though that Hope is not able to enjoy this season of her life. I’m sad that she was robbed of so much and that what she’s endured haunts her such that she is still so deeply affected by it. I’m sad that my baby girl wonders if I would really just kick her out of our home after she graduates.

It breaks my heart.

During one of our car chats recently, I found myself in a parking lot, asking Hope to look me in the eye, as I told her that she was safe, that she was home, that I wasn’t abandoning her, that I would always support her and that I hoped one day she would feel safe and secure enough to flirt with having some independence but that I wasn’t pushing her out.

She only nodded, and I hoped that I would only have to say this speech 10,000 more times instead of a million.

Just when I think I’ve dealt with my own emotional baggage about Hope and school, this realization that Hope isn’t all that jazzed about

Will next year just be one anxiety ladened episode after another? Will every ‘senior’ event be a trigger about independence and attachment? Will graduation be a celebratory event at all or will it just represent an independence that is not being asked of my daughter?

It all sound misery inducing. It also makes me wonder how much self-sabotaging is going on with Hope’s school performance. I swear the last two years it has often felt like she was gunning to fail.

It’s also makes me second guess my long ago decision not to hold her back a year academically. Four years ago, when Hope was placed with me, I seriously entertained demanding that the school system place her in one lower year grade. I thought it would suit her emotional needs and given that the schools in her home state weren’t that great, she could gain some academic confidence by repeating some content. When I mentioned this possibility to the social workers and with Hope everyone rained hell-fired down on me. I backed off and hoped that at least Hope and I would have a better start without that type of conflict.

While I’ll never know what our relationship would be like now if I had held her back, and I know that we experienced a really rough transition anyway, I think I regret the decision to give her another year to just feel safe.

I’ll never know if it would have made a difference, so I guess I’ll just have to keep pressing forward, but I definitely wonder what impact that decision had on her.

And even though she has seemed hellbent on failing important classes, I’m not sure she’s conscious of it. I’m not sure how much of this is ADHD or trauma/attachment related. I know that she feels awful in failing and that she knows it’s makes her appear to be something she’s not: dumb. Even knowing that, I’m not sure she knows what her psyche is really doing to protect her.

She’s scared, and I have got to spend the next year trying to make her feel safe about this next chapter.

All while trying to make her feels safe for another dozen issues we have.

I wonder how I’m supposed to do that. How do I make life feel safe for Hope?

Sigh.


Connected and Ish…

We’re a little over a week into the year, and I already feel like I have hell in a hand-basket in my home. Trying to get routines back in place is hella hard when there was a two week break, followed by two days of school, followed by three snow/cold days. The bull-ish has set in for real around here, and Hope has fallen back into her typical routine of whatever it is that she does.

I understand. I get it. There’s the trauma stuff. There’s the anxiety and depression stuff. There’s the ADHD stuff. There’s so much stuff. Tons of stuff, binders of stuff, lots of stuff.

And then there’s me on repeat about rules, expectations and routine. All of that ish is busted. It just seems to go into the ether and float away, and I’m peeved as hell.

I mean, if you live an illogical life, and there’s someone there to simply tell you what to do to carry on, then well, just follow the dang directions. It ain’t hard.

But alas, that would be logical and our greatest attribute is being illogical, so it’s not just hard, it’s like mythologically hard. Like Sisyphus hard.

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Via Giphy

And I’m supposed to practice “connected parenting.”

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This parenting style requires that I move beyond and over the illogical parts to reframe and try again to connect to my daughter, building new healthier neuropathways…blah, blah, blah.Yeah, ok. I am all in on the connecting and moving forward, but errrr…uh….I find that what they don’t address in those books, on those videos and in those workshops is that parents have feelings too. We’re people, living and breathing imperfect creatures who also do dumb ish. They don’t mention that our hearts hurt from also feeling rejected and stepped on by our kids and isolated by families and friends who don’t have a clue what we’re going through. That even as we *know* intellectually what’s going on with our kids and develop/have the skill set to deal with it, this trauma parenting mess is some epic, next level bull-ish, and it makes ERRBODY feel some kind of way almost all the damn time. #webothmiserable #alot

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In all that soft spoken, “the child’s reptilian brain, blah, blah, blah” there is a failure to acknowledge we have our own primitive brains too, no matter how well adjusted or how much work we’ve done on ourselves. (I know that there are many folks out there who think that adoptive parents should go through more intense screenings and training, but trust: We are still emotional creatures, you can’t screen/train that out of us unless we are just going to have Sheldon Cooper as the archetype AP).

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Via Google

There is never a discussion about how there are parenting moments—some trauma, some SPED, some just regular old run of the mill day-to-day stuff—that is just real bull-ish. Yeah, parenting is effing hard.

This week I have been on slow burn. Hope did some dumb stuff; some of it emotionally driven and some executive function influenced. Oh, I get how it happened. I get how the levers and buttons of her brain got us here. I get it. But I’m still simmering because it’s so ridiculously stupid. It just shouldn’t happen.

I’ve fought the desire to be confrontational. I’ve fought the desire to drop hammers. I’ve wrestled with natural consequences vs what I really want to do (rage if that wasn’t clear). I’ve just sat with it. I’ve emailed and texted my daughter when I knew that physically allowing audible words to come out of my mouth anywhere near her would be a really, really, bad idea. I have resisted doing everything that is in my naturally occurring combative nature to do this week. #winning

This week has been about restraint.

I am a wild Chincoteague pony pawing to get out and trample everything in my path. There is a bit in my mouth, and a saddle and reigns on me to just try to keep control of myself. Inside I’m an effing hot mess.

Yeah, they don’t tell you this ish in PRIDE, or those other parenting classes or any of those stupid parenting books for any kind of kid. Well, I’m here to tell you parenting ish ain’t academic.

I’m just trying to get through each day with some kind of peace of mind that I will not throttle my kid because she did some dumb ish that sometimes she literally can’t help doing. I exercise, eat right, have a cocktail, and try to get in bed early to just get some rest. I sing spirituals…because yeah, just because.

Most of all I try to keep my pie hole closed.

I’m not not speaking to my daughter. I just can’t handle but so much interaction right now; it just ain’t safe. Breakfasts are made, dinners are had and some workouts are done together. But I’m chasing solitude and peace to calm my frazzled emotions.

Someone asked me just today if I ever imagine what my life would be like if Hope hadn’t become my daughter. I can’t even imagine that; I have no idea. It was such a fit. I adore her, more than I ever thought I was capable of loving anything, I love her. It’s an expansive thing. Life has taught me that the thing that brings you that kind of love will try you to extreme.

Yeah, we’re there. Right now. Right here. We are so there, and I’m trying my best to parent the hell outta Hope.

All connected and ish.


Dreams of My Daughter

In spite of our recent struggles Hope and I persist. #nevertheless

This weekend I decided to redo my bedroom. I painted and moved the furniture. I hadn’t done this is more than 15 years; it was more than time for me to make this change. Freaked Yappy out, but I’m delighted by the change.

Hope helped me paint my room. I got up early and got started by myself. She joined me a few hours later. It was such a fun experience teaching her how to paint the walls. I’ve been working on getting her to abandon her perfectionist ways, but on this occasion, they came in handy as once she got the hang of things, she insisted on doing the detail work.

We painted. We took breaks and had veggie omelets. We painted and stopped for lunch. We painted and watched a movie. We moved heavy furniture around (#girlpower) and took Advil before bed.

Hope tapped out before everything was totally done; she retreated to her room to catch up on K-dramas. I finished painting some trim and got started on cleaning up. We’d had such a lovely day working together. Hope said she really enjoyed the painting and wondered if this was something she might do in the future…professionally. I told her how much it would’ve been for someone to come in and paint my room professionally and how people make a good living doing painting professionally. She still trying to figure out what she wants to be one day, but the fact that she’s actively trying on ideas is a lovely thing.

Of course, some of this dreaming about her future makes her anxious; actually, a most of it does. Turns out getting hooked up with a nerd mom who loves school, studied school and works with schools puts a lot of pressure out there even if I try not to. I want Hope to find her own way and to take her time doing so. She says she wants to be a linguist, but I also know that she has some natural interest and ability in physics. If she were willing to practice music more, she’s talented, gifted even, there could be a future there. Who knows what she will end up doing; I’m not worried. I know she will find her way.

What’s wonderful to me, even in the midst of her struggle, is that she is dreaming of a future. She’s envisioning herself doing different kinds of things. That’s so cool.

What’s more is Hope also dreams about how she will live. This weekend she regaled me with details about the kind of home she wants and how it would be decorated. She has good tastes.

On more than one occasion this weekend I found myself suppressing a smile of pride as she went on about the kind of life she would live.

It’s taken a long time for Hope to start dreaming about her future…or at least vocalizing the dreams she has for herself. I hold onto these moments tightly since I know we’re still roughing it. It’s reassuring to know that she is thinking about her future. Some days it’s so hard to think about the future; the past crushes us. It hangs around like a bad penny. So whenever Hope mentions the future, a part of me summersaults.

I continue to be optimistic about her healing and her ability to become this amazing woman.


More Than Love?

An interesting article was posted yesterday to the Today show’s website: Life After Adoption: Is Love Enough?

The essay is an autobiographical account of an adoptive mom who struggled to raise her son who was deeply affected by a traumatic past. Her essay posited that love simply is not enough when you are trying to help a child heal from their past.

Micah Johnson, host of the radio show, Unscripted, tweeted me, and others, this morning to ask if “is love enough” in adoption?

I started to tweet back and realized that I would be responding in like 100 tweets, so I figured I’d just turn it into a post on my own blog.

Is love enough in adoption?

Well, it depends on how we’re talking about love and how it’s expressed.

My short answer is no, it’s not enough. Managing my life with Hope at times is a second job filling the role of caseworker. There are appointments to be made, emails to write and follow up with, doctors to consult with, therapists to consult with, new therapeutic approaches to research, school social workers to touch base with and teachers to get together because they don’t understand what’s going on with my daughter.

It’s another job, and not an easy one. Right now, I’m finally breaking down and considering horse therapy for Hope—forget about the expense—I’m trying to figure out therapeutic goals, timing, and logistics to just get my daughter to an appointment once or twice a week at a facility that’s 40 miles away. But I think it will make a difference, so I gotta figure it out.

I think of it all like a project management situation. At times I have to be very clinical about the whole thing because if I let myself feel too much of the emotion of why Hope needs whatever it is that she needs or the secondary trauma that sometimes I catch because of the drama, I can’t make it all happen. I have to compartmentalize the ugly, heavy emotional stuff so I can get her therapeutic needs met.

It’s easy to compartmentalize all of the project/case management as separate from love for my daughter, but I make it happen because I love her.

It’s not more than love, it’s part of the way I express my love for her. Is it different than me packing her lunch, which I do every day? Well, not really. Is it different that typical parenting stuff like picking her up from band practice? Meh. The truth is: all this stuff is the kind of parenting my daughter needs and I do it because I love her and want her to have the opportunity to grow into her best self.

It’s extra, and it looks like more than just the hug and kiss that I get from her before school in the morning, but this is our version of a ‘normal’ loving home.

My love requires some extra stuff, and my love has required me to learn about stuff I never anticipated needing to know. This love has demanded different kinds of activities of me in supporting her. The needs were different, so the responses were different. This love can break my heart repeatedly as I try to help Hope. The love hurts sometimes. It sometimes even appears counterproductive. But in the end, it’s all love.

No, it doesn’t mean I love her more than other people love their kids or that I get extra heaven points (they would be nice tho!); it just means that loving Hope looks and feels different than loving a kid who wasn’t exposed to trauma and loss, among other things.

So, the answer to the question for me is, yes, love is enough but it just looks different, its demands are different and sometimes how it even makes me feel is very different.

And that’s ok.


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.


Fear and Thirst

Last week I suffered a serious car accident. My car will be fine, but I sustained a concussion and the standard body blows that come with being rear ended. A trip to the ER suggested really nothing too serious since I wasn’t knocked out, but as the days waned on and I left for a business, my concussion symptoms began to emerge.

I’ve been dizzy, fatigued, headachey, having language and memory problems. For example, I hid my Tito’s vodka before leaving on my work trip (#becauseteenagers) and for the life of me I cannot remember where I put the damn bottle. It’s seriously like a black hole. I work with a lot of data, and so part of my job is crunching numbers. Normally my brain is like a mini computer; I can see data patterns sometimes just looking at a spreadsheet and can predict what SPSS is going to spit out. Presently, I’m not certain I could count to 50 without stopping. This is frustrating and humbling.

This may last a week. It could also last much longer. After ruling out anything more serious, my doc has said it’s just a game of wait and see.

Of course, Hope knows about the accident and was relieved that I was ok. So was I. But as more serious symptoms have emerged and I’ve needed to stop, rest, and take naps, I can see my daughter’s anxiety levels rising. I’ve tried to be low key about the whole thing.

“I’m fine really. I just need to take a little time out.”

I had to have an MRI, which made being low key kind of impossible. We were due to head out to the beach for our summer vacation (um, trip because a kid is involved), but we had to delay departure because of the MRI scheduling.

Soooo, the night before I figured we’d pack the car, assume that all will be fine and just depart directly from the testing center. Hey, I’m thinking positive here! Fortunately, everything turned out as planned but ugh, poor Hope.

Hope asked, “So, what happens if your brain is bleeding?”

Me: “Um, well…I’ll have to go to the hospital and stay for a day or two.”

“What about our trip?”

“Well, we wouldn’t be able to go, but I’m ok if you want to go be with your cousins that we’ll make sure you get there. Either way, I’m going to be ok.”

My daughter put on a brave face, told me she utterly refused to talk about it anymore and proceeded to spiral into thirsting for attention behavior.

“My leg hurts.”

“Do your stretches, and take some ibuprofen,” I reply.

“I think I need to go to that doctor for my leg…” Sure you do, the specialist that was $250 a visit because he didn’t take our insurance. He managed to get her together in two visits (he better had at that price) and he looked great in his khaki pants, so there’s that.

“No, you just need to get a little exercise, stretch and take some Motrin.”

I had a few girlfriends over for a girls’ night to catch up and have a little fun. #grownwomen Hope crashes the gathering and it becomes a replay of Look at Me! I finally send her off to watch TV and to get out of grown folks’ business. As she leaves I take note of the exaggerated limp and audible groans, which of course prompts inquiries and the requisite levels of sympathy from my friends.

Vent alert!

This parenting a kid of trauma is so…ugh! I seriously can’t even have a damn possible brain bleed by my damn self. I can’t just have a moment of respite in a sickbed without Hope practically laying on top of me so that the doctor can see her first.

I mean, I get that this health scare is scary; especially for a kid who isn’t living with her biological family. The feelings of fear of going through that kind of loss must be consuming. I know she is scared. But she is also jealous of any attention I may get as a result of being injured. That is really effed up, even with an explanation, it’s understandable, but effed up. The need to compete for attention and her lack of empathy just drives me up the wall. It’s all complicated, and even worse, I know that she’s not even really conscious of why her behavior is the way it is. And that lack of consciousness just makes my righteous indignation worthless because there is a huge awareness gap between us.

So I’m just left to either stew in my own juices or just find a way to let it go like I always do.

I want to call my own mama to take care of me, but I know that Hope will shoehorn in and make it about her. Sigh. Can I live?

No, really, can I live?

It’s in moments like these that I am forced to remember that my daughter still has so much emotional catching up to do. It’s also moments like these when my patience is a little thinner than normal.

I’ve tried to be upbeat and encouraging of my worried family and friends. The truth is…I’m increasingly hyper aware of my physical limitations. I’m still recovering from the blows my body sustained in the accident. I hurt and I effing can’t count to 50 without stopping. I don’t know how long that’s going to last. There are moments from the last two weeks that are just gone; it’s like a black hole. I’m scared, and I need some time to sit with that, just to figure out my way through it and ponder what I need to do and wrestle with if this takes a long time to resolve or if some parts of me just don’t come all the way back. I’ve got my own bucket of sadness and gief I’m picking through right now.

To balance that and soothe Hope’s fears…ironically, it’s almost more than my brain can handle right now.

So…I’ll just do what I can and figure out how to draw some boundaries with Hope as I recover. I love this kid, I do, but I just wish our collective emotional capacity was a bit bigger so getting through this was a wee bit easier.

 

 

 


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