Tag Archives: Education

What Hope’s Graduation Taught Me

Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. Watching my daughter walk across the stage and graduate surrounded by family and friends was such a wonderful experience that really, it’s almost hard to explain. Family, friends and even colleagues drove a long way to join us for this event, and it was more than I could have dreamed.

During the processional, I gasped and choked up because it was so real. Getting to this day was a long hard slog through not just regular teen years, but through a history of trauma, anxiety, depression, placement, adoption, just so much stuff. Sooooo much. I just started to cry because it was a culmination of so much love and effort and dreams and prayers.

One thing that was especially special about Hope’s graduation day was the presence of her biological family. This day represented the full on merging of Hope’s family. Hope knew that her aunt would be coming, but as she descended the stage with her diploma to return to her seat she caught sight of her aunt and the delight on her face…my heart smiled.

Now I’m not going to lie, there were moments leading up to the graduation that were emotional. There were members of my family who didn’t want to share Hope, who still super side eyed her family, who just had feelings about them attending this event. I’m glad that I made my own declaration early on that this was our, my and Hope’s family, and that there would be space and love for them. On yesterday, the merging was seamless, and the excitement turned to talk about all the parties there will be when Hope graduates from college.

It was so much more than I could ever of hoped for and that’s because we all centered what was best for Hope.

There is so much discussion in adoption about the triad—birth family, adoptees and adoptive parents. We rarely highlight the ripple effect that adoption has throughout whole families. The removal, placement, adoption, whatever terms we use, of a child from their family of birth reverberate across a family like a skipped rock on a body of water. The absence of that child is a hole, and the trauma of it is far more widespread that we care to acknowledge.

Hope’s relationship with her paternal family is complicated and losing her to foster care…well in these 5 years, I’ve learned that everyone in her family has a story and big feelings about that. There is a lot of emotion; there’s a lot of sadness, a lot of pain about how it all went down. I have my views and opinions of the story, but real talk, I wasn’t there, so I have to listen. Hope has her version of what went down too, and I listen.

There is so much hurt.

And the only way to heal it is to pitch that big tent and constantly try to cultivate an environment of inclusion. Graduation was a big tent event, and as a parent in general, you don’t always get to sit back and say, hey, I got it right, but I got yesterday right. Yesterday was a healing day for Hope and this family.

There were so many tears. There were tears of joy, of grief, of loss, of pride, of happiness. My daughter sobbed for a good 10 minutes as she was feted by family and friends. In the moment, noting concern by some guests, I just said my daughter was overwhelmed—and she was— but it was more. As much as my own family was there to support and celebrate, the presence of biological ties was just so powerful in this moment.

Having an open adoptive relationship with my daughter’s biological family is critical. I believed it before, but yesterday, the confirmation of that belief was so strong and so true that it makes whatever criticisms I might’ve endured on this journey possible. They are members of our village; full stop.

The second big thing that I learned yesterday was just how much this achievement meant to Hope. I remember early on that Hope thought I was nuts for wanting her to dream about going to college. She quickly got on board with at least humoring me. I know that Hope has humored my pushing and prodding for years now. I also know that my pushing and prodding was not always a healthy thing for her. Upon reflection, I know that there are times when my pushing and prodding were directly contributing to her low self-esteem and depression around not living up to standards I’d set. I know I was less than flexible sometimes. I also know that even here in this space, readers encouraged me to pull back, to remember that college wasn’t for everyone.

I’ve heard you, and I’ve reflected on that a lot this year.

And yet, yesterday, after Hope, Sister M and I had packed up her dorm and we were making one last stop on campus to pick up something from the band room, Hope sat in my car, heaved a big sigh and said, I did it. I graduated from high school!

It was a record scratch moment for me since of course, it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t finish high school. I was always focused on what would happen beyond high school. Never in a million years did I ever think Hope would not finish high school.

But there was a time when Hope didn’t think she’d finish high school. I did not know this before that moment.

It was an assumption for me, but not for Hope.

I pressed her for why she didn’t think she’d graduate from high school. Well, the response was easy for her—look at all she had been through, why would she think she would graduate from high school? Look at the trauma, the loss, the hardship, the rejection, the lack of permanence and instability for years, why would she think she would be able to finish high school?

High school graduation should be a momentous occasion, but when your life was such an unstable mess for so long, you stop dreaming about it.

I realized in this moment that graduation was even more pivotal for Hope. It was more than just a personal achievement, but it also represented that she was on track and that maybe she really could start dreaming. The uncertainty of the college search took a lot out of Hope this year; it marked another transition that made her questioned herself. It marked another thing she had to go through the motions on, but still tried for a while to remain somewhat detached from in order to protect her fragile emotions. Graduation is freeing; she did it! She can do it. If she did it once, she can do it again. That is real for Hope.

The revelation is real for me. She is now so excited about going to college. Graduation is the ultimate confidence booster!

And finally, the last lesson for me, the Holy Homeboy still has jokes for me. I have had lifelong issues with a lack of patience; I thought that it was the ultimate joke that he fated me to jump into parenting a 12-year-old as I stretched into middle age. He pushed and pulled me, stretched me in ways I didn’t know possible, especially challenging my own notions of morality, personal values, parenting, family, education and health. One of my biggest personal values struggles was how Hope didn’t fit into my ideals about academic performance.

Of course, at the time, I didn’t appreciate how she never saw herself making it this far. I do now, which makes my revelation all the more meaningful.

Hope’s academic performance, her struggles, were sadly an ongoing challenge for me. I value education so strongly, I found it personally offensive. I know it wasn’t right. I know that lengths I went to try to “help” Hope improve were not helpful to her mental and emotional health. I know that my dreams for her were a source of stress.

I have never not felt so strongly about education. I do believe it is key to social mobility and financial freedom. It is all I’ve ever known. The ongoing confrontation to that belief system has been difficult.

And then yesterday, I realized a couple of things. Hope spent two years in honors classes where she did reasonably well in before things went downhill. Those grades are weighted, which set a solid base for her overall GPA. She graduated with a reasonable GPA. She lettered in her freshman year thanks to band. I didn’t realize when she entered her senior year that she only needed a couple of credits, really like two required courses, all other requirements had been completed. She went to a college prep school, and yeah, she struggled, but the curriculum was rigorous. Her squadron earned honor status among all the school squadrons for their overall adherence to all the important things in JROTC.

In the end, Hope graduated from a tough college prep school with an advanced diploma because she had way more credits than necessary; she has a special ROTC designation, and is college bound. Things I figured were just beyond us, and yet it is right where we ended up. Better than fine.

And the Holy Homeboy laughs at me (again) for trying to muck up his plans for me and my family.

So, yeah, yesterday was a big, effing deal for me and Hope. It was also full of life lessons for me. Family, all family, is important. Our kids can dream and can achieve. I gotta trust the process and my faith that things will end up just they way they are supposed to.

Yesterday was a good day.

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It’s Almost Here

It’s hard to believe that Hope will graduate in less than 48 hours. I remember when I started this adoption thing that I could hardly imagine getting to this major life event. Then when Hope arrived at what is now our home, I knew it would happen, but I really didn’t, no couldn’t, focus on it. There were so many hurdles to get over that I wouldn’t really let myself think about it too much.

And then this year, Hope moved to the new school and we launched into this senior year. The events, the applications, the essays, the FAFSA, the college visits, the waiting, the anxiety, the drama, the joys, the sadness, the decision about what to do next. Each thing seemed to take so much out of us, separately and together.

As a parent, I fretted endlessly. I still worried about her grades and social interactions. I had to try to stay on top of the growing calendar of events. I had to check in about deadlines. I navigated figuring out how Hope dealt with money. I had to find the right balance of being a supportive yet firm parent. I decided a long time ago I wouldn’t exactly be a helicopter parent, but I definitely am not one of these new bulldozer parents. I like to think that I am a coaching parent. I want Hope to find her way, and I’ll clear a few things, but I will coach her through as much as I can.

This year, Hope and I have grown much closer, despite the miles between us. We don’t necessarily talk every day, but we do connect. Over breakfast this weekend, we chuckled at how much more alike we’ve become. Hope said something like we were destined to be, and it made me smile inside.

And here we are, at graduation with plans for college in the fall. It is really amazing how far we’ve come in these 5 years.

Saturday Hope’s family will come together to attend the ceremony. A small group of Hope’s extended biological family will be there too. I know there will be tears. There will be joy and celebration.

And I am beside myself with emotions.

My sweet girl came to me so hurt. Our plans consisted of getting through the day, the week, maybe the month. Now look her. #startedatthebottom #nowwehere

She has worked so hard. I know she doesn’t see herself the way I see her; I wish she could, and maybe one day she will. She is funny, charming, strong, capable and increasingly brave. I know she will set the world ablaze, and I’m so blessed to have had a chance to parent her.

Our journey is not over, stay tuned.


College Bound

I just paid the deposit to the college that Hope has decided to attend this fall.

And now I’m sitting here crying.

It’s amazing how going to a website, clicking few links that carried me to Paypal and a few more key strokes represent such a monumental thing for Hope. I feel so many emotions.

I am joyous. Anxious. Excited. Scared. Worried. Hopeful. Proud. Relief.

Hope made her decision before I left on my vacation to Italy last week. After a visit to the community college, she was clear that she felt like the college would be a better fit for her. I fretted that she might be comparing the schools in an unfair light, so I pointed out a few key things to consider. I offered to sit down with her and make a pro/con list.

She reiterated her decision, clearly, concisely.

As I left on my trip, I asked her to discuss it during last week’s therapy appointment. When I returned I asked her about her decision and whether she had talked about it with AbsurdlyHotTherapist.

Yep, and she was still going to college.

Hmmm, ok. I *still* kicked a little dirt for a few days, and then today, I did my part and ponied up the deposit.

I am relieved that this chapter is over. This college application thing is cray. It’s crazy if you have high achieving kids, regular kids and struggling kids. It’s just cray. I’m glad that Hope had options, and I’m glad that she feels good about her decision. I’m also glad that it wasn’t my decision. It shouldn’t have been and I’m glad it wasn’t.

Our trip to the college, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in VA (though not that town dear pal who shall remain nameless), was just lovely. The school is very small, less than 1,000 students and really seems committed to giving students like Hope the chance they need. It’s about 3.5 hours away from home, but connects are about 1.5 hours away if necessary. There’s also a direct train to DC, making it very accessible. I felt good about the place; it’s clear she felt good about it as well. Of all the schools we visited—they were all nice and Hope said she could see herself at each of them—this one seemed different. It featured elements of the other schools and also offered some educational offerings they others didn’t.

As I thought about her decision, I also talked to AbsurdlyHotTherapist and my own therapist about how best to support her. Really, ultimately it was about letting her know that this decision isn’t permanent; she can change her mind, transfer or change course if necessary. It was about reminding her that I will be here to support her and what’s best for her. I hope that knowing that contributed to her ability to step out and try.

I’m looking forward to her being home this summer. I miss her. I’m not going to lie though, I’m excited that she will be attending the college in the fall. It was hard to get over the empty-nest thing. I wasn’t looking forward to going through it all over again, even though I know I will in some ways. I’ve gotten back into some of my old habits, lightening up the diet a bit and knowing that whatever I put down somewhere is going to be right where I left it.

All that said, I’m reflecting a lot on when I made my own college decision 28 years ago. The emotions I feel right now are eerily similar—excitement, fear, pride, anxiety, joy, worry! I remember wondering what my parents thought and how this was all going to work out. All these years later, I still wonder how it’s all going to work out.

I’m proud of Hope. I’m so in awe of this kid; she never fails to amaze me.


Oh to be Normal…

This week, I told a good friend and fellow AP, that I just longed to be normal. Merriam-Webster defines normal as “conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern.”

Hmmm, well, the truth is that Hope and I are a kind of normal. We are also below average and extraordinary. It all depends on the benchmark, right?

The reality is that there are days and sometimes weeks or months that I wish we were my kind of normal, the normal that I grew up with and as.

The normal that means maybe she was my biological child with a partner. The normal that didn’t include any sorts of the kinds of trauma that Hope has endured. The kind of normal that never considered Hope not having always been a part of this family. The kind of normal that included loving school and books and having a deep-seated, natural curiosity. The kind of normal that included different kinds of achievement, certificates, and recognitions. The kind of normal that looks and feels, upon reflection, easy.

Now that’s all true, but glosses over a kind of normal that had me running away more than a few times during my formative years. The kind of normal that made me often question whether I was “normal” at all. The kind of normal that made me shoulder a self-imposed burden of over-achievement. The kind of normal that had me wondering sometimes how I fit into my family. The kind of normal that made me so riddled with self-esteem issues that I wrestled with an eating disorder for years.

Yeah, that kind normal.

So, when I say that I long to be normal with Hope, what I really mean is that I wish this were easier, and doesn’t every parent want that?

This college application thing has given me a lot to ponder over the last few weeks. This process ain’t for punks, and I can see how easy it must be for parents to get so sucked into the possibility of bulldozing all the barriers out of the way. You just wish it was easier.

And then there’s the part that’s public in all this.

Your kid is a senior, so everyone asks what’s next? And *of course* you’re going to college, so where are you going? And certainly, it’s got to be a name brand school, right? ABM, is she going to your alma mater? What about this school or that school? There are so many questions, so many, and you just wish people would stop asking because 1) you don’t have answers and 2) you might not have the *right* answers for your social circle and the side eyes are forthcoming.

And yeah, I know I shouldn’t care, but I’m human.

I know that if Hope was my biological child, we would still be right where we are. That doesn’t give me comfort, because right here is uncomfortable.

The colleges are judging and evaluating Hope, and my contemporaries are judging and evaluating me and my parenting. And because adoptive parents are often put on these absurd pedestals and expected to save and rehab our kids, I fret that people are wondering why Hope isn’t applying to Princeton, which is simply absurd.

Yes, I know it’s absurd on multiple levels.

There is so much that the general public doesn’t get about adoption and trauma. People think that adoption fixes everything, when it’s just another starting over point in the journey. It resolves the issue of permanence and creates a potential environment for healing (hopefully) but that is a long, complicated process that doesn’t necessarily have an endpoint.

So, when some folks ask me where Hope is going to school, the inquiry feels as much about what’s next for her as it is about how successful am I in fixing her. And maybe all of that is just my insecurity—it’s possible. It’s possible I’m just centering myself (but hey the blog is about my journey, so…..). I just know I wish people would stop asking because this process is a trash heap and the May 1st deadline to decide cannot come fast enough.

And my feelings on all of this may change once a decision has been made. #idoubtit

The decision is something I fret about endlessly. I know what is in Hope’s best interest academically. I feel like I know what is best for her emotionally and psychologically. I feel like there are great options on the table that meet her where she is. That said, I feel like Hope is so overwhelmed by the options and just the whole idea of everything that it is somewhat paralyzing. I’m not sure what she wants, whether she knows what she wants, whether there’s even a clear sense to her thought process at all even though I can see her trying on different ideas and options.

Hell, she still thinks it’s possible for her to learn and possibly major in piano this summer. We’re not totally based in reality here.

It is exhausting for both of us. It is hard.

It’s probably both our version of normal and more generally normal in the grand scheme of things.

And I still just wish it was easier.

A decision about what will be next for Hope is coming, (technically she has made it but I’ve told her I want her to consult with AbsurdlyHotTherapist about her decision process), and then we will fret about the implementation of that decision. It feels like a black hole to me. I like to fix things and I can’t fix this.

I wish it was easy and a different version of normal.


My Failure

Before I became Hope’s mom, I had a pretty firm idea of what kind of parent I would be. I thought about all the good things I learned from my parents and how I would build on that. Having always planned to pursue older child adoption, I thought, yeah, sure I would learn about trauma and how that impacted things but on the front end, that naively translated into me doing a few more “there, there” sayings and going to therapy.

Over these last 5 years, I’ve experienced a lot of cognitive dissonance between what I thought parenting would be and what it is. My life has been consumed by figuring out my way through the fun house that is parenting and the haunted house that is parenting through trauma. It’s nothing like what I thought it would be, which is something I’m sure everyone says, but for me, being overwhelmed and sometimes consumed by my daughter’s trauma has been a struggle. It’s been a struggle to parent, and honestly, it’s been a struggle to keep my wits about me to function personally.

I think I’ve been a good parent to Hope; I hope that one day she will reflect on our relationship and see more good than bad. That said, there are definitely times where I reflect and think to myself, “Well, you really effed that up.”

I think in my last post many readers thought I was saying that Hope failed by not being a better student or gaining entrance to her preferred school or that she needed to settle for community college. Alas, no, I was really pondering my own failures around this chapter of our lives together.

Yes, education is important to me, critical even, for reasons I’ve written about and largely have to do with race and class. For me, education is very much a part of my identity. As a parent, education is one of those non-negotiable value things. It’s just that important. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be a 4 year school, followed by a masters degree, but well, yeah, I’d love it to.

When Hope first moved here, I considered holding her back a grade to give her time to mature and to find some “ease” in the school work that she would have had previous exposure to. I ended up not making that move so as not to devastate our new mother-daughter relationship. At the time, I fretted that she might never forgive me or attach if I took such a drastic move, even though the educator in me thought it might be the best decision for her academically. In retrospect, I still believe it would have been the right decision for her academically; I know that the extra year for her might have also given us more time to bond. Of course, I’ll never know, and it doesn’t really matter now.

Over the years, I made sure that Hope had access to tutors when necessary. I let her take the SAT really early just so she would have exposure to it early and regularly. I sent her to a learning center for tutoring and coaching for nearly a year. I insisted that she go to summer school last summer to help pull her grades up a little and maybe build some confidence since I know that school is challenging for her on numerous levels. Then the big decisions came; Hope decided she wanted to spend her senior year at this school. I supported it and ponied up.

Throughout these years, I wondered if she would be ready for a 4-year school when the time came, ie immediately following graduation. I wasn’t sure, especially since she is on the younger side of her class, her academic profile wasn’t particularly strong and maybe she needed more time. More than a year ago, Hope and I discussed her future; we agreed that it probably would be best if she planned to go to the local community college and eventually transfer. At the time she was heavy into her independent language study and one of the local campuses offered a course of study that would be a good fit for her interest in linguistics. The decision gave us a clear path and something realistic to focus on.

And then Hope went to the new school. I love the structure that it gives her; it’s a highly regimented military school. She didn’t have to worry about clothes since it’s all uniforms. She didn’t have to worry about bedtimes or food or some things she fretted about at her old school. As we slid into the fall, we found that the prep school had a 3-college application requirement.

This is where my current failure began.

Me: Required college applications? Huh, that makes sense…prep school and all. Wait, this means we actually should look at 4-year schools????

That was like giving me a hit of something ridiculously addictive and expecting me not to chase that damn high.

I was off and running. The guidance counselor and I kibitzed about size and school type, colleges were recommended, and we visited the first one. I. WAS. ALL. IN.

Hope was not all in, and I remember her initiating a conversation with me about this change in plan.

Me: Yeah, I know but look, you have to apply anyway? It’s a formality! Dream and who knows, maybe the plan is supposed to change!

And Hope, who despite her having found her voice and a bit of agency and autonomy, caved like a wobbly tent in a hurricane. I was the hurricane. Hope applied to three schools. Added a fourth, realized it was the wrong school and instead of withdrawing her application, simply added the correct school.

[Don’t even talk to me about application fees.]

After the applications were submitted, I completed the FAFSA and started to come off of my high. And when you come down, reality starts to smack you around.

Me: Oh ishtay! What if us [me] getting all into this was a really bad move? What if she doesn’t get in anywhere? What if she doesn’t want to do this? What have I done?

Yeah, but we’re in it now, and Hope has gotten invested.

And then things really went left. My conundrum really began.

Hope’s therapist and guidance counselors agree that it probably is best for Hope to come home and go to community college. This of course was what our intention was 8 months ago; then things changed. But now, we are betwix and between her being so invested in the remaining applications and having embraced the idea of going to a 4 year school like her peers at this school and my believing in my heart and with the professionals that she probably should be home for at least a year.

I broached it with her, reminding her that it wasn’t that long ago that community college was our plan.

Her: Yeah, I know but I got into that school. You said the goal is always to have more than one option—there are still two more options out there.

Me: Huh, so you listened to that message…. #shocked #parentingwin

We have to ride this out.

The thing is, there are countless times I have fought to the mat for her and what’s best for her. My failure this time was not fighting for her and for her wellbeing. In my daze to maybe get Hope’s path back into congruence with my idea of what it should be, I forgot about her as a person who needed me to get the school to see her needs and make some adjustments suited for her.

I failed. Not her, me.

No, it’s not a failure that will destroy everything as we know it

And sure *fail* may sound harsh, but given how many parenting fails there are….jeeesch. Failing is ubiquitous to parenting. They go together like PB & J. So, no worries, I’m good, just reflective and wishing I’d taken a different path.#thistooshallpass

So, now it’s about riding it out, studying Hope’s options and figuring out what is in her best interests. And this whole experience isn’t a waste; it just could be…different. I could and probably should have handled it all differently.

I don’t regret Hope having ambition; I want her to want big things for herself. I’m kind of glad that she became invested; what I regret is that I didn’t listen to her early on, that I didn’t ask for some accommodations and that I didn’t look at the big picture that centered her well-being.

Now, I do think that once we get through this and make some decisions that things will be fine. I also think that while I worry about my daughter’s emotional well-being always right now, that this will turn into a good learning experience about trying, stretching, success and choices. I know it will be ok; I just wish I had handled it differently during the thick of things.

It isn’t the end of the world. We will be visiting the school in a few days and visiting the community college next week.

Stay tuned!


My Conundrum

Hope will graduate in 55 days, and it’s still unclear what will happen after that, other than coming home.

In total, my daughter applied to 5 schools. Her school required 3 applications. She initially applied to 3, accidentally applied to one and purposefully added the last school. To date, she has only been accepted to one school—the one she accidentally applied to. We are waiting to hear from two schools, but I’m not optimistic this late in the application season.

This process has been…somewhat grueling. There’s a lot of hurry up and wait in college admissions. There’s also a lot of big emotions. You are asking people to judge you on past performance and potential and to make a determination about whether you can be successful there. There’s a lot of vulnerability there.

It feels even more vulnerable when you aren’t the best student, test taker and have spent the last 5 years in a family of overachievers.

AbsurdlyHotTherapist reached out recently to tell me how things were going with Hope. I knew things were rough; I also knew that this admissions process was weighing on her self-esteem and that the fear of what’s next was also weighing heavily. I asked if we really should just change course and go back to the community college plan; he said yes. So, I reached out to the guidance counselor and suggested that maybe all this college stuff was making things really difficult for Hope. She replied that essentially Hope is not ready for college.

So, we’re back where we started, and that’s ok. Except that now we’ve coached Hope to have hope about going to a 4 year school, made her go through the process and basically watched her fail. So now the original plan feels like plan b because of failure rather than plan a because of appropriateness.

As a mom who had high hopes and expectations for Hope and insisted that she throw herself into this process, I feel like a lot of this is my fault. Hope made a big decision to go to this school (which she sometimes seems to regret now) and that decision triggered my own instincts to aim much higher than what might’ve been appropriate for my daughter academically and emotionally. I feel horrible about contributing to all this. I feel awful that I contributed to Hope’s stress.

And yet, I also feel like some of this pressure was necessary. Hope’s struggles with school are both extrinsic and intrinsic; some aspects of this part of our journey is a major reckoning of natural consequences. She and I’ve discussed this, and she sees her own role in the struggle that is school. But we both see and acknowledge that there are definitely things beyond her control.

I’ve worked really hard to set Hope up for success, conventional success and other forms as well. I haven’t been perfect, hardly, but I love my daughter. If I could change everything for her, I would. Heck, the recent college admissions scandal had one family paying $15,000 to facilitate admission; I joked with friends that I could scrape that together on behalf of Hope. My circle of pals always talk about this kind of thing; how unfair it is, and how so few have access to those kinds of resources, access and privilege. We talk about it, but we also largely have access to all three because we are incredibly hardworking and fortunate.

A recent brunch outing with a friend revealed a link to a contact at the first-choice school where Hope was not admitted; my friend offered to inquire on our behalf, maybe her application could be “re-reviewed.”

Gosh, I wanted to say yes. It was on the tip of my tongue. This is the kind of privilege that we all want right? You want to have those well-placed contacts at your fingertips to assist you, to help you garner the access that you want, even if you don’t deserve it. It didn’t shock me that someone in my circle probably had a connect, but throughout the process, I never once considered reaching out.

I paused a moment, wishing I could smooth this path for Hope. I declined the intervention. That school fairly quickly denied Hope. It felt like a swift and painful rebuke. But the reality is that even if I could get her in; then what? She goes and finds that she legit wasn’t ready to go there. She struggles academically, emotionally, socially and then what? Possibly flunk out because she should not have been there, and her application indicated such.

I imagined a fix on my end that just set Hope up for devastation. I could never do that to her.

So, now I’m back to figuring out our current plan. Do we go visit the school where Hope was admitted and figure out whether it might actually be a blessing in disguise? Or do we concede that maybe this 4 year college thing really is a bit premature? Or something else?

I don’t know.

I also am afraid. What if Hope doesn’t launch? What if her room becomes akin to her living in my non-existent basement? How long will it take for her to mature and figure things out? Will she find her calling, and not just some career that *sounds* cool? Can I continue to be patient while she figures this out? And how will this affect us financially?

It feels selfish to say these things, but I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge these thoughts and more were swirling around in my head.

I adore Hope. I believe in her; I do. I know she is afraid and worried about the future.

And so am I.


Baseboards and Tears

A lovely chat with someone recently reminded me of what it was like going through my home study in the summer of 2013.

I had started the adoption process about 5 months before; I had finished my PRIDE training. I had done my finger printing and turned in what seemed like dozens of forms. I had been assigned to a lovely Black social worker, who has a big heart and a kind face.

At the time, I was finishing my dissertation proposal, the first 3 chapters of what would eventually be a 6 chapter tome, and my first defense date was just a couple of weeks away. I was prepping for a major conference during which I had several presentations I would be making. I was finishing up a paper on my internship and had finished my last residency for my academic program. Did I mention I was also working full time?

I was wound up pretty tightly, really stressed and perpetually exhausted.

I started reading up on how people prepped for the home study. Folks were out here scrubbing baseboards and practically sterilizing their home. It all sounded insane and stressful. I remember just having mini-panic attacks thinking there was no friggin way I could manage any of that.

By nature, I’m a bit of a clutter bug. I’m not messy, but I’m not the neatest person either. I’m ok with a home that looks and feels lived in. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve intentionally cleaned my baseboards in the 18 years I’ve lived in my home. Yeah, that kind of thing isn’t *my* thing.

Besides, I was in the middle of my dissertation; there were literally piles of paper on my living room floor related to my literature review. And I really mean piles, reams of paper, reams, people!

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I even studied on the floor back then; I was a mess.

So, I made the piles as need as I could, and scheduled the first visit of my home study with my social worker for a few days after my bi-monthly housekeeper visit.

What I forgot to do? Deal with my anxiety.

How about I cried through a good portion of my first home study visit.

I felt like I was unhinged. I could not keep it together. I was a nervous wreck. I wasn’t worried about an unkempt house; I was worried about coming across as somehow unfit.

The stress of it all—the dissertation, the schedule, being assessed for being an adoptive parent—it broke me that day.

I remember barely being able to keep it together and thinking that this would surely mean that I would never get a kid.

During my mini-cryfest, my social worker was kind. She saw past the tears and saw me. She comforted me and emphasized that she was there to help me get to motherhood and not to be a barrier, but to be an ally. She was empathic and compassionate.

And still I cried. I was a frigging disaster, and my dog, The Furry One, was all over the place trying to meet our guest on top of everything else. As he skittered around, jumping all over the furniture and skidding on my stacks of paper related to my research, the room became increasingly disheveled. So did I. I was nervous and anxious, and it spilled out all over the place.

In a word, day one of my home study visits was a mess.

A whole mess.

I was convinced that I had failed. That there is no way they would give this overextended and clearly a bit unstable woman a child who might’ve already survived a trip to hell and back. I was surely unsuitable. So, naturally, I was in a state of distraught after the social worker left.

Talk about undone.

We did our visits over a weekend due to both of our jam-packed schedules. So guess what? She came back the next day for a couple of hours to do it all over again.

Because who doesn’t want a repeat of that disaster, amirite?

Day two, I managed to pull myself together. I worked out, did some meditation, drank some tea and took a couple of Ativan for my anxiety.

I was much more confident and gathered this go ‘round. The house? Well, again, I’d straightened up my piles of paper and hid my dirty laundry in the closet.

By the time it was all over, and by over, I meant more than a year later having our last visit with the social worker, I had come to see her as the ally she really was. I’m grateful to her and thankful that she didn’t hold my anxiety about this process against me. I’m glad she saw my piles of paper as a visual indication of my grit and perseverance. I’m glad she listened to my story and saw the real me. I’m glad that she was such a comfort to me from beginning to end.

A few weeks after our visits, a draft of her narrative came to me for review. Thankfully, she didn’t mention my breakdown. All the things she mentioned though…well, it was so lovely. I was and am grateful for her. She remains in my and Hope’s universe.

So, newbies and hopefuls, you don’t have to clean your baseboards if you don’t want to, but you might want to take something to settle your nerves if you’re a crier like me.

 


Flat Envelopes

One of the most striking things I’ve discovered during my time as a parent is how deeply I feel things. I believe that I was really in touch with my emotions before parenting. I spent a lot of time in therapy wrestling with big emotions, feelings I had, things I believed about myself and the world. I thought I understood feelings before being a parent.

Yeah, I didn’t understand ish.

I did not, nay could not, anticipate how deeply I would feel things. How the very core of my being might be overwhelmed by joy or pride or how I could feel so crushed, sad and disappointed that there didn’t seem to be any sobbing that could even come close to helping make sense of what I was feeling.

I didn’t have a clue.

Over and over I’ve had moments while parenting Hope that the jumble of emotions I felt was so messy, so convoluted that I couldn’t really say what I was feeling. Even now, sometimes I think about Hope, something we are experiencing and it’s almost like I have a phantom feeling in my chest—love, joy, sadness, sometimes despair (no worries, my doc says my heart is fine). In these moments I often find that I need to shove my feelings into an emotional closet so that I can be what Hope needs in those moments. I am there to help her navigate her own emotions and figure things out, even when I really have no idea how I’m doing that for myself.

This week brought new emotional drama for both Hope and me. After weeks of waiting oh so anxiously, for decisions on Hope’s college application, two flat envelopes showed up. Flat envelopes in college admissions is rarely good news.

To be fair, one flat envelope indicated that consideration of her application had been put on hold to allow her the chance to strengthen her application. The other envelope was an admissions denial. Hope did not get into her (our) 1st choice school. They encouraged her to do a year somewhere and reapply. She’s sad, but it really helps that there’s one school in the bag and 3 others we are waiting on.

As someone who works in higher education, I know that the other 3 schools are iffy and become more iffy with each day that passes.

But yo, the parenting emotions are so damn real! I knew I was anxious, constantly offering up prayers, but when I got her message (& saw the first flat envelope), my heart broke. I wanted this for her so badly, even if I knew that she might finally meet her “natural consequences” match. Hey, you don’t do your work, you fail classes, you don’t get admitted to the 1st choice. Still I found myself hoping, praying that she would get the fat envelope.

Hope’s academic performance last semester was not even lackluster; at some point it looked like she was phoning it in. When the semester grades posted, I clucked to myself that this upped the risk of not be admitted anywhere. These were the grades that would go to the schools. I could feel the natural consequence reckoning coming. I know that at some point, Hope didn’t really believe me that all of this mattered in how colleges would look at her. I remember listening to her anxiety a month or so ago as the reality seemed to really hit her.

Oh…they have expectations of me academically. Wow!

There was a season in my parenting when I would have piled on with “I told you so!” or “See? Do you believe me now?” Then I got a clue that maybe that wasn’t helpful; in fact, it was only really to validate that I was right. Again, not helpful, but possibly harmful.

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So, I learned to keep that internal momologue monologue to myself.

When I learned about the flat envelopes, I needed a moment to gather myself. I’m an overachiever–ridiculously so. I’ve never received a flat envelope, so this is uncharted territory. I didn’t want to be right, and I desperately wished that her natural consequence comeuppance came at some other time, in some other form. I knew that the reject stung and probably undermined the little confidence that she had mustered during this process. I felt horrible that and guilty that maybe I pushed too hard, that maybe we should have not applied there, that maybe the college counselor who recommended the school was so wrong and this was partly her fault. The guilty feeling that I had set my daughter up for failure gnawed at me.

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As a parent though, I had to switch gears immediately, check in on Hope’s well-being. Of course, she is sad about the first choice and unclear how she feels about the admissions hold. I’ll have a better sense of her emotions when I see her this weekend, but I’ve been working my brain extra hard to pivot this into a pep talks about schools that are the right fit, that there are alternative pathways (transferring later), that there are still possible options out there since all decisions hadn’t been made yet. Also, hey, look, you do have a safe school, so there’s that. #brightside

I feel like I’ve made a good case, put on a genuine face for her, and I genuinely do believe all of those things. Absolutely. I also know that what she needs to hear right now, that reassurance that she’s going to be fine and that I believe she’s going to be fine, and I still believe in her. #teamHope It happens to lots of kids.

So, stay tuned and hope for chunky envelopes.


A Window into Hope

Last weekend I took Hope to see a second college she’s applying to this year. We were supposed to visit a few schools, but weather on the east coast cut our plans short and we had to skedaddle back to school and home.

Leading up to the visit, Hope’s mentor, counselor and I all traded a series of emails about how she was progressing through the application process tactically and emotionally. It was clear things were starting to kind of click and that some motivation was starting to take hold. I was encouraged since applying to 4 year schools was a major pivot in expectation of and for her.

In the last couple of months, I have watched Hope grow a bit more comfortable thinking about the future in more realistic and concrete terms. The first big challenge was answering the question what will Hope major in?

For the last couple of years, she told everyone that she wanted to be a linguist. She has a knack for languages and when she’s motivated, she will self-teach, but she hadn’t been motivated for more than a year making the set up for undergrad a little challenging. Couple that with the fact that most of the schools under consideration don’t offer linguistics as a major or minor and don’t offer enough languages to cobble an independent study program together, oh and the fact that Hope really didn’t fully grasp what a linguist really does on a day to day to basis and it became clear that she might need give some more consideration about what she wanted to study and how.

Helping Hope be ok with being undecided as a first-year student was the first barrier. She still worries about what that sounds like and what it means, but she’s grateful that there’s space to figure it out.

The next big barrier was getting her to ask for help and follow directions. This is where the counselor and mentor have been godsends. I talk to Hope and occasionally back channel the others. I don’t want to be a helicopter parent; I want to be a guardrail parent—there to prevent disasters and provide guidance but not intervening so much that I prevent empowerment or natural consequences. So far, so good. Hope is figuring out how to use her resources and how good it feels when she does it successfully on her own.

Last month I was ‘suggest-telling’ Hope what to wear on the first college visit. This month she put together her outfit and upped her game. She looked smart, a little sassy and super chic with her new hair cut! Some college girls on their way to the dining hall during our tour stopped to compliment her on her outfit. My girl, who lives for Korean graphic t-shirts and ripped jeans, was embracing a side of her that exuded confidence. I beamed. Honestly, I could not stop telling her own fabulous she looked. She cleans up well!

I liked the school, but I was largely unimpressed by the facilities. The school is nearly 200 years old, and well, it shows, and I’m thinking for all this money, does she *really* need to be at a school where she will need a damn box fan in the spring and summer?????? The school we visited previously seemed to invest a lot more into the facilities, well, things were very nice there. Hope and I were chatting throughout the tour, sharing our opinions. I smiled when she focused on the offered programming over facilities as she tried to influence my thinking about the school. I eventually said nothing about the facilities (or that very sad dining hall situation #tragic); Hope was all about the academic offerings and how she might major in this, minor in that and maybe get involved in this thing over there.

Again, I beamed as I watched her see herself on this campus.

I noted when I asked about the cadet corps that she was willing to listen to the admissions counselor’s spiel. I know she’s said she didn’t want to be in a corps in undergrad, but I also know that it’s provided her with such an amazing structure that I’m glad one of her chosen schools has that option. There was a time when she would have shut that whole line of conversation down out of hand. She humored me and even asked follow-up questions as she side-eyed me. She demonstrated patience and it was just so lovely.

This 24 hour trip gave me a window into the young woman Hope is becoming. It’s so exciting to watch. I’m so proud of her, and amazed that I got the chance to help her get to this point. She’s like this flower that I’ve been watering, had a heat light on, fertilizing, covering due to frost, repositioning to get enough life, talking to because aren’t you supposed to talk to plants, spraying with pesticides so bugs and a-holes didn’t distract too much, bought new pots as she grew and just prayed that she would get to a place of thriving.

Every now and then I get to see the fruits of that, or at least a little glimpse of what’s to come, and it is amazing. It’s this part of parenting that makes it all so worth it. Seeing the bud of the bloom appear on the plant and knowing that it still needs all that nurturing but it’s happening, it’s really happening. It’s so…rewarding seems like an understatement. It’s so very cool (also an understatement).

I’m rescheduling our visits to the other schools to early January, and I can’t wait to see what I will learn about Hope during that journey. It’s really just the best thing ever, and I can’t wait.

In other news, when I completed the parents’ portion of the FAFSA I was devastated to find that technically because Hope was still 12 when we finalized, she might not be eligible for additional grants/scholarships having been a former foster child. I spent several days just trying to remember that her permanence was more important than the 19 days that kept her from being adopted when she was 13. Adoptees adopted at 13 or older are deemed independent for the purposes of financial aid. Well, we completed the completed the FAFSA during our trip, and I guess there’s a grace period in there. Hope is considered an independent, which positions me to be way more helpful in bridging the gaps in college costs. I am still wary; I don’t trust the system not to screw this up, but her student aid report confirms it. Definitely an important development on this journey.

Oh yeah, #RVA in the house! 😉


A Change of Plans?

So, the latest in this parenting from afar saga is getting Hope to embrace a change of plans for post-high school.

I’ve been putzing around the house wondering what this year at boarding school would mean for Hope’s future. Sure, I really wanted to create a situation where Hope would be successful in high school, making decent grades, figuring out the social stuff, getting mentored, all that good stuff.  But, really, all of that is supposed to lead to a college launch.

Some time ago, Hope and I concluded that she might do best staying home and attending the local community college. Then she did well on the PSAT, and then she went away for the summer and shined. Now she’s at the school for her senior year. In my mind, this represented a trajectory change. It was huge directional step away from that original post-high school plan. I mean, why go to a community college when you’ve graduated from a college prep school, right? I bore no illusions that Hope would go to some big university. Given what we’ve learned in the last year, it’s clear the smaller school the better and the most structured environment the better. Hey, she might even consider the military. In all the change in the last few months, I saw the widening of options for Hope and a change in plans.

Hope did not see things this way at all. With me, she hemmed and hawed about what she wanted to do after graduation. When her mentor started asking questions about the SAT and the ACT, Hope said they really weren’t necessary since she didn’t plan to go to a university. We’d talked about whether and how Hope saw the move to boarding school as a change in her trajectory. She said she did and then she didn’t say much. I would ask about how “the plan” might change and what should that look like? She would say she didn’t know.

It all seems like a ploy to avoid inevitable confrontation since this weekend I learned that maybe she didn’t see a change in plans in play at all.

My response? Well why not???

Her response? Why should it change anything?

My next response? Are you kidding me? I think it changes everything!

And so, I went inside my head and heart to wrestle with my expectations of Hope all over again. When given chances to change course, usually Hope doesn’t. The decision to go to boarding school was shocking, and I thought maybe it marked a big change. Of course, it did. It just didn’t mean what I thought it meant. The truth is I have no idea what it means. I don’t think she really knows what it means either.

So, we’ve been talking about it. Have you looked at any schools? Yeah, sure. Do you want to share the schools? I get the list, and applications to those schools will be met with rejection. I don’t say this; I don’t want this conversation to shut down and well, there’s a college counselor who will convey this message. Then, she announces maybe she will go to school in Seoul, South Korea. Um, have you looked into going to school abroad and what you need to do in order to do that? Do you have any idea how much money they want you to have in the bank in order to do that? OMG…

This is such a tumultuous, transitional time for kid’s her age. It’s a crazy times for parents too who are hoping, praying that their kids explore their choices and then make good informed choices. This is what I hope for Hope, but I know this kid and decision making isn’t a strong suit with this one. She avoids them. She doesn’t like change. She may still really need some time before launching, but I also know that that being the default position is not the best thing for her. She always needs a push or pull to stretch a bit, to trust herself and to trust her ability to stand on her own. I’m trying to give her some space to figure it out, but yeah, I’m a bit vexed because it’s so unknown for both of us.

I have no idea if she even has a clue what she wants to study? Does she even really still want to be a linguist? Who knows.

All I know right now is that I need to finish SAT and ACT registration and start work on the FAFSA so that we can keep options open.


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