Tag Archives: Education

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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Empty Nesting

I just got home from the office and I’m posted up on the couch with Yappy. It’s just the two of us.

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Me, Yappy & his impressive side eye.

I’m trying to decide what I’m going to have for dinner, especially since it’s just me.

I’m a little anxious because it feels like I *should* be doing something.

Oh right, Hope is away at school, so…

There’s no one else to say hi to when I get home.

There’s no one to cook dinner for in the evenings.

There’s no homework for me to check in on.

There’s no monitoring of internet usage while studying to do.

There’s no planning for the football game and band parenting to do.

It’s just me and Yappy, and I have feelings that I’m still sorting through.

The first week Hope was away was similar to when she went away to school this summer. I was exhausted. I know parents are exhausted; the constant vigilance that parenting requires is kind of draining. This summer I could barely get off of the couch the first week she was away. This time I was recovering from our vacation and had a bit of jetlag so I was exhausted, but it wasn’t quite as bad as the first time she went away to school.

Last week, week two, I spent the extra time working. I worked late and brought a bit of work home to do in the evenings since I could and I needed to catch up on some things that languished while I was in Europe.

This week, I’m getting my bearings a bit. I am thinking about rallying and going to the gym this evening. I’ve got a happy hour night and a date night planned this week. I’m thinking about my plans for the weekend as well. And if those plans fall through, I will pivot in my freedom and do something spontaneous or nothing at all.

I like the freedom. It’s kind of nice.

But I really do miss Hope.

We’re getting into a rhythm where I text her in the morning, maybe sending a picture of Yappy or a goofy selfie. She responds when she gets out of class with an update about her day. We trade a few messages before she heads off to an activity. I’ll get an itemized receipt for something she bought at the bookstore. I’ll get a little annoyed about how she spent $4 on a pack of gum at the overpriced bookstore and I’ll go on Amazon to ship her a multipak for the same price.

I might spend some time on YouTube looking at funny videos to send her. I might find some hairdo on Pinterest that we might try on her when she comes home. I’ll make a list of the appointments that need to be crammed into her next visit home–therapist, dentist, hairdresser.

She came home this past weekend, and I ended up being pretty quiet for a good chunk of the weekend. Hope had so much to share. I didn’t want to interrupt her because I relished hearing her voice. I also found myself in awe of her.

She rattled off the homework that needed to get done over the weekend. I told her it sounded like a lot; she replied it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. She showed me her graphic arts assignments, and I quietly marveled at how creative she was. She told me about how one of her teachers was encouraged to achieve a certain rank in the next few weeks and what that meant for her. I smiled. She shared how she and her roommate were getting on, and how a momentary issue that might’ve resulted in her switching roommates was easily resolved because she and her roommate wanted to stay together. They were eager to continue practicing English and Chinese together. I chuckled to myself about her early fears that her roommate might ignore her because of the language barrier and culture concerns. She smiled and shook her head when I showed up on campus to sign her out for the weekend with my “Not Today Colonizer” t-shirt on, because I’m nothing if not an agitator. I happily watched all the “woke” videos about social justice that she watched and saved on FB  just to share with me when she had a chance. We talked about politics and the latest with the Kavanaugh SCOTUS nomination; she has thoughts, y’all.

She told me about her upcoming SAT and ACT tests that she was not eager to take a few short months ago. She told me how she learned how to do stage lighting as she works backstage on the school play and announces that she might audition for a part in the next one; I hold my breath because I seriously don’t know who this kid is. I still didn’t have a picture of Hope in her duty uniform, and I didn’t want to bother her with it for fear that she’d huff and puff and blow my house down. I just asked her to take a selfie in her uniform when she had a chance. I nearly cried when she insisted that I wait while she changed into her uniform so I could take all the pictures I wanted when I took her back to school; she was proud to show me what she looked like in uniform. I saw how neat her room was (thank you daily room inspection) and smiled that someone managed to bring order to her life.

Hope is happy. Nearly every moment of her day is dictated for her, and she’s just thriving. I’m so happy for her.

And then I turn a bit sad because I could not do this for her at home. I could not create or provide enough structure to help her be this kind of successful. I had to find a place to do that because I couldn’t. There’s a bit of all of this that feels like a failure. I know it’s not, but a tiny bit of it pinches my heart because I couldn’t do this at home.

I know that she would have revolted if I tried to do this at home. This military school has given her purpose. I know that my role was to get her to a place where she could go there and thrive. I know that it’s not failure; this is a raging success. All that I poured into this kid got her to this place, and I was fortunate enough to be able to give her a chance at conventional success at this school. That is a salve to my soul.

But it still stings a bit. There’s something that feels kind of wrong after 4 years to send her away for her final year of high school. I mean, I didn’t send her away, Hope made this choice and it really was her choice. Hope and I thought that she would be a late bloomer, maybe staying home for a few years. She may still home, but I also see and know that she will be fine going away to school next year, so…we’re starting to look at small schools that can give her what she needs. The landscape has totally changed.

I know I can take credit for this…that *we* can take credit for this, but I still miss her. I kinda miss the exhaustion of worrying about whether she’s studying or staying up sneaking the laptop while eating candy all night. I don’t miss the dysfunctional trust issues we still work through, but I miss the some of the absurd routine behaviors that accompanied them.

Sometimes I feel silly and will email the dorm counselor to check in and see if Hope is really thriving as she appears to be. I check on her grades, bracing myself for the disaster I had become used to seeing when I checked grades. Dorm counselor emails back with glorious things to say and pictures of Hope’s room at last inspection. Grades come back with A’s and not the kinds of grades I used to see that made both of us feel like shyt. Hope calmly texted me that about my reaching out to the counselor last week. I read it as though she were mad and lashed out. #truthtelling She just explained the situation as she saw it and provided some additional information and context that the dorm counselor didn’t share. #contextiseverything I felt silly, having spun out into some of the dysfunction we endure at home. I apologized, and I resolved to talk to my own therapist about avoiding that in the future.

It really is a new day at Casa d’ABM. I have no idea what’s next for me and Hope. I’m excited and emotional and…proud. I feel like we made it, or at least I have survived. I can’ speak for her.

I try to be very sensitive about listening to adoptee voices. I’m not sure how Hope would characterize our life together. I hope she shows me a little grace as she reflects on it. I don’t expect her to be a “happy” adoptee; I know there is so much that shapes this experience. I know and have walked the path of depression and anxiety with her these last few years. I know she isn’t fully healed. I know that she will have some kind of hurt and pain probably forever. I’m a realist. I just hope she knows that I adore her. That I accept her as she is, imperfectly at times but I do, and I will support her lifelong journey to healing. I hope she knows I believe in her, purely and wholly.

I’m an empty nester looking at the next chapter for me and Hope, and it’s so dang emotional.


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.


The School Decision

Wow, thank you to so many of you for weighing in on Hope’s big decision about where to attend high school this fall. This last week has just been amazing. In giving her complete autonomy over this major life decision, I witnessed my daughter’s transformation. I’m awestruck by her process.

Honestly, when she broached the subject of revisiting her decision a week ago, I’m also shocked at how easily I was able to just step back and give her the space to think about her options. I genuinely no longer was deeply vested in one school or the other. I was just committed to supporting Hope make a decision she would be confident in moving forward. As I begin to reflect on this last week, I will always, always be focused on the decision process rather than the decision. It’s the process that gave me such an amazing glimpse of who Hope has become and her big picture potential.

So, it’s like when Lebron was on ESPN announcing that he was moving to Miami, right?

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Image via YouTube

It certainly feels like it.

So, without further ado, I’m delighted to announce that Hope will be enrolling in boarding school in just a few short weeks.

By Sunday evening, it was starting to become clear that she was leaning in this direction, but by Monday she had fully committed. With the decision now made she is reveling in all the imminent changes. There’s minimal anxiety, more excitement than fear and so much pride in sharing her news with her friends and teachers.

I’ve got to make a lot of magic happen in a very short period of time since we will be going on an extended vacation in less than two weeks, and she will almost immediately report to school when we return stateside. I’m just basking in her excitement at the moment, but thoughts about what does the extended empty nest really mean for me are tinging the edges of my consciousness. Not in a bad way, but my gut tells me that this move is really a game changer. My gut tells me that when Hope returns after graduation she will have really found her sea legs and will be launching a little sooner rather than later. So random thoughts about what this next phase of parenting will look like and how will I document it float gingerly through my mind. There are other happy developments happening in my life that will no doubt fill some of the time Hope’s departure will create, but it won’t be parenting her, cooking for her, harassing her about laundry or cleaning her bathroom. The daily rigors of parenting have become such a part of my life and I haven’t really had much time to think about what it would look like if her departure was extended. I think I might be in a bit of shock.

I’m so excited for this next chapter, even not having any friggin idea what shape it will take.

So, yeah, Hope is morphing from an Eagle (home school) to a Yellow Jacket (new school, with an insect that she’s terrified of) in just a couple of short weeks, and we are ecstatic!!!!!


How the Decision Process is Going

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

She’s making pro and con lists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What to Do

Hope is only a little over a week away from completing her time in her summer program. I believe this has been a good experience for her. She seems to be a bit more independent and a little more confident. Her grades are good; though they’ve dipped a little bit with the last couple of tests. It’s likely she will finish with an A in both of her classes.

She seems to thrive in the highly structured environment. She has places to be, things to do. She seems to have embraced the structure and the opportunities to be active and engaged. She seems…healthier, emotionally and physically.

Yeah, I think it’s been a good experience. I look forward to hearing her true thoughts on her experiences when she gets home next week.

Up until this week I was really, seriously thinking about whether it might be best to enroll Hope at this school for the full school year. I see the possibilities for her to be really successful there. Sure, I think academically it would be good for her, but I really think that highly structured, small classes with low student to teacher ratios really works well for her. Her confidence is just higher, and I know its related to being in an environment that helps her be successful. I joked to some colleagues that I would embrace paying the equivalent of a year of private college to send her.

And then I really, really got to thinking: Did I really want to send my daughter away to school?

Well, no. I don’t. I worry about that; I want her to do well and feel good about doing well. I also want stability for her. Being home with me has been the most stability she’s had in years. She’s been able to go to the same school with the same kids for years now, a few of whom she met her first weeks after placement. She’s got her own room, a routine, a mom and a dog who adore her. She has a home, after not having had one for a good chunk of her childhood. She has permanence and that’s got to have a lot of weight in this decision.

This week Hope confided in me that she was torn about her academic future. She sees the opportunities this school offers and what that means for her life. She feels how much people care there and how she doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. She is seeing glimpses of her bright future with this kind of experience under her belt and the kinds of skills she develops while she’s there. That’s just what I wanted for her.

But Hope also sees being somewhere that resembles an institution, that doesn’t intentionally fix her favorite foods or makes a special trip to get Korean ramen at the international grocery. She sees starting over again at a new place which is really triggering for a kid who moved around a lot. She misses getting a hug from mom and seeing my family text stream that includes funny family vignettes and pictures of her and her cousins doing funny things that my sisters and I often trade about our kids. She misses her own bathroom and sometimes just having unstructured time.

She misses home, and I miss her.

And so, here we are, weighing all this stuff against the decision to be made. Oh, and never mind that I’ll probably have to dip into my retirement to send her to school and order a case or two of cat food for my future dinner options.

A couple of weeks ago, I think I would be moving heaven and earth to give her this educational opportunity. Now, I’m thinking that the stability of home utterly blasts the structure of the boarding school. I want her to have this year to continue attaching, emotionally snuggling with me. I know this is so important to both of us.

I would love to recreate the experience for her locally; heck I even wish having her go to this school for the day program was a viable option, but it’s not. It’s just too far at 80 miles one way. So, we’re really in a go or stay quandary.

And so, we’ll talk about it; I want to know what Hope really thinks. I want her to be a part of the decision. I want us to really decide what’s best together.

 


Summer School

Yesterday I dropped Hope off at summer school.

It was kind of surreal. I got a taste of what my parents must’ve felt when they took me to my first summer program years ago. I went to a two-week writing program at Hampton University. I remember packing up the car with my things, arriving and watching my mom look around my dorm room with a bit of disdain about my living conditions. She and Daddy were at least happy that we had air conditioning.

I remember my parents looking around at how far the boys’ dorm was from the girls’ dorm. I recall them asking about the course schedule and fretting about whether I would be ok.

I’m now convinced that they were worried about whether they would be ok.

As I helped Hope lug her stuff to her dorm room and unpack I was really struggling to keep my emotions in check. In the week before move in, I realized just how much I’m going to miss my beautiful girl. I spent time indulging her with favorite foods, sweets, cuddles with Yappy and me on the couch. I hugged her, kissed her cheek and just loved on her.  By the time Hope used her key card to open her dorm door I was sporadically holding my breath. I was excited to give her this opportunity at something more. I felt worried about whether she’d like the food and if she’d make friends. I had mixed emotions about her not having a roommate but thought having her own space might be nice sometimes. I was happy she had her weighted blanket. I was miffed that she forgot her pillow and a few other things, even though I knew we would need to make a Walmart run because…don’t you always need to make a Wallyworld run when you move into a dorm?

I knew I would miss her so much. I knew Yappy would also look for her like he did this morning.

In the couple of days before move in, Hope just…sank. I knew she wasn’t excited about going, that there was a lot of anxiety about it and that my daughter was just resigned to go since I didn’t give her any other options once she was admitted. To see her withdraw broke my heart and I began to question my decision.

Oh, she was still going, but I wondered if sending her to an academic boarding program would hurt us. I wondered if the return on investment would give Hope a leg up this year, increase her confidence, help her with her social skills…I don’t expect a miracle, but I definitely hope to see Hope grow some this summer, but I pray that any growth doesn’t at the expense of our relationship.

It’s funny, I sold this experience to Hope as a chance to try on a bit of what it might feel like to go away to college. What I didn’t really appreciate is that it would be a chance for me to try on an empty nest. It feels strange that she didn’t walk through the door a little after 3pm or that she wasn’t here to ask me how I slept last night, something genuine and endearing she does every single day. It was strange to buy groceries for one after all this time.

I’m eager to hear from her tonight. I want to know how the first day was, how the food is, does she get along with her suitemate. I’m also hopeful that she’s having such a great evening, that she doesn’t get around to calling or texting me before lights out.

It’s all awesome and sucky all at the same time.


Ending Eleventh

Another school year is over. Hallelujah.

This has been an incredibly challenging year; seriously frustrating. Hope is really bright. There are some serious issues with executive function; there is an unwillingness to ask for help or even checking in for guidance. This is the trauma stuff and the ADHD stuff.

Then there’s the teen stuff where you’d just rather do other stuff that was far more entertaining.

Our county shows its schools to be very competitive nationally; I was always so proud to live in this county and was proud that the schools here are quite good, even the ones on the less affluent side of the county where we live. Well, there’s an unfortunate underbelly to our school system. When students who’ve done poorly all year even *modestly* trend upward in the final quarter the final grade will show as the lowest possible passing grade. This keeps the completion stats high and the course passage rates solid.

And this is how my daughter will pass two core classes without actually being proficient in the skills taught in those classes. I’m furious since we will go through yet another set of classes next year for which Hope is unprepared. Additionally, Hope has now 3 years of conditioning that her proficiency is better than it actually is. We are set up for the same frustrations for a 4th and final year.

I’m tired.

I’m tired of school.

I’m sure Hope is tired of school too. I know she is. She hates school.

I’m starting to hate her school too.

I’m hopeful that sending her to a summer academic program will help her develop some skills, but my expectations are low. I am more hopeful that she will learn how to engage with her teachers and classmates in positive ways. I am hopeful that she will learn how to try out a little independence in a safe environment.

She is a rising senior now. I’m looking forward to some of the milestones that come with this year. I’m wondering how many I should insist on so that memories and traditions are created and, in places, continued. I want her to enjoy finally being on top—being a senior has been important to her since 9th grade.

I want so much for Hope. I’m hoping that the gap between the amount of hopes and dreams Hope and I have is narrowed this year. I want her to dream big. My wish for Hope is that she will dream big, work hard and find her version of success. I don’t know what that will look like, not really for me to say or determine. That’s her journey.

For now, we’ve come through another year of school. It was hard fought, but we did it.

On to the senior year.


Sneakers and Blue Hair

So, if you follow me on FB or Twitter, you know that Hope had an interview for a summer program this week. For a lot of reasons, I looked at programs that would offer Hope the opportunity to academically reset in a really structured environment. We chose a program together, I submitted the application and was delighted when she got an interview.

So, then I had to coach my daughter on presentation. I was a bit fussy about what she would wear and her hair. I ended up doing her hair in an updo and she chose to wear a pair of black slacks, blazer and white shirt. She tried to ditch the blazer, but I insisted that it be worn—it ended up raining buckets, so she easily bought into wearing it in the end.

Where we ended up having some drama?

Shoes?

Hope wears sneakers all the time. That’s her thing. She likes her sneakers, and she’s a creature of comfort. 99% of the time she will be spotted in jeans, a t-shirt and sneakers. I manage to get her into a dress a couple of times a year, namely Easter.

So, as she was walking around the house, I told her to put her shoes on because we needed to get on the road to drive the 75 miles to the school. She huffed and puffed.

“You don’t want to wear your flats?” She replied no, but that she didn’t feel like any of her other shoes went with her outfit.

I paused and then said, “Well…you could wear your black high tops.”

She just stared at me.

“You can, and you can wear some of your funky socks.”

“But they will see them when I sit down.”

“Yeah, so. Those socks are you, totally you. And you should be comfortable and authentic. Just be you. The black sneakers will go with your suit and the socks will be your pop of color.” I reminded her that I have this amazing colleague who collects Jordans and wears them with her business attire and how cool that is.

“I can do that?”

“Sweetie, your mom has blue hair….Yeah, you can do that.”

Yes, my hair is currently a pale blue. Last fall, I realized that my hair, which is mostly gray and resistant to being colored means that I could play with color! I can dye my hair lovely colors with no commitment. It’s been pink, purple, teal, and most recently blue—which has been my favorite, so it’s likely to stay around.

In the last 6 months or so, it’s been a big statement and has been received actually quite well in my professional life. I love it and it’s just the non-conformist thing that makes me happy.

So, yeah, if I can roll to the hoity-toity boarding school with my blue hair, my kid can sure as hell roll in with her uber cute socks and her black sneakers.

She looked great; more importantly, she looked comfortable and so she was more comfortable.

And later, on the drive home, after her stellar interview performance (that resulted in being offered admission before we left campus because she’s friggin awesome!), I asked her if she knew what it mean to be authentic. We had a nice chat about always being yourself. I took some time to remind her that she has NOTHING to be ashamed or worried about regarding her past in terms of how other people felt about it. She can and should always be herself.

I hope with my blue hair (today) that I’m modeling that for her. I know it’s been more and more important to me as I grow older and give fewer effs about what other people think about me and my life.

I’m so stinking proud of her. She’s really an amazing kid.


The Deal with Me & School

How do I explain this so the masses understand my fixation on school…ok here goes.

I love school; even when it was hard I loved school. I like learning. I’m curious. I watch historical shows, google subtopics and gobble up Wikipedia pages right down to the footnotes. I appreciated the challenge that school brought. When it came to my doctoral work, I actually liked the rhythm and pace of things even though it was grueling. The writing and rewriting…I was creating something, and it was and remains awesome.

I love school.

I’ve benefited greatly from my academic pursuits. Good job, buying a house, got a car, planning for retirement. Definitely enjoying the material trappings of hard work and earned accolades. I’m proud of my accomplishments. I had big aspirations when I was a little girl. I thought I would be an attorney someday. I realized early in college that I didn’t want to do that, but I also believed that I would earn a doctorate in something. I would one day be Dr. ABM. I have always been ambitious as hell. #heymomImadeit

Walking across that stage being hooded was an amazing feeling.

Graduation

Best Day Ever!

And then there’s there the reality of what it means to me to be educated.

One of the things I value most about all this schooling is that I feel like it gives me a little social privilege which can counterbalance the reality of living in black skin. I’m a little more welcome in white spaces. The education does not make me better than anyone, but it makes a lot of white people see me differently. And if white folks think I’m safe because I’m educated, well then, I might actually be a little safer while walking around in this skin. I move in circles that are sometimes uncomfortable, but I have the right letters, the right credentials, I “belong,” and so I’m safe.

It’s true what we tell our kids about working two or three times as hard to get half as far. I busted my ass, and loved it, to get *here* and one of the fruits of my labor is moving a little easier in white spaces.

Hope came along right as I was finishing my doctorate, and as helpful as being Dr. ABM at work has been these last few years, the real benefit of having $70K in educational debt comes when I step across the threshold off Hope’s school.  Hope’s first summer here, she got into trouble at her summer camp and they were planning to kick her out. I met with the camp director who immediately started berating me. I held my hand up, insisted that we start over with proper introductions because I’m not going out like that—“Let’s start over. Hi, I’m Dr. ABM and you are?” By the time it was over he was apologizing profusely, Hope was allowed to stay in camp and got a promotion to junior camp counselor and I didn’t have to pay for the rest of the summer. Maybe it was the Dr, maybe not, but I know everything changed when I introduced myself as Dr. ABM. That was a moment when my privilege was extended to Hope.

I’ve found that my educational privilege has played out in numerous ways shielding Hope and I from a lot of drama. It was a lot easier for me to be *that* parent with the Dr in front of my name. The conversations always change when meeting participants who initially see me as some kind of stereotype black mother progress to seeing me as an educated professional mom. It’s always clear when some kind of back story for me and Hope is challenged and somehow the acceptable version of us is welcomed …my education somehow makes us safe, different and sadly, respectable.

This is the reality of racism, and it’s so utterly apparent to me since I finished my degree. It’s nearly stunning. In my 45 years, 8 with a president who looks like me, I’ve never been as afraid for myself or my kid’s future. I dreamed of what having kids would be like. I worried a lot about countless things, but these last few years, my fear of racially motivated harm has escalated sharply. I feel like there’s a part of me that’s always unsettled and looking to avoid the inevitable hurt that racism brings.

So, when I wrestle with my emotions around Hope’s academic experiences it’s largely motivated by fear, not by any expectations of Hope in particular.  I am terrified that she won’t have this little buffer of safety that I feel like education can provide (even when it doesn’t, really). What happens when Hope isn’t covered by what little privilege I have amassed to buffer us from some of racism’s ugliness? I already worry about her various vulnerabilities. It’s not just that I want her to do well for the sake of doing well, I just worry myself sick that someone will read her wrong and she will end up in trouble or worse…dead. I don’t know if doing well on her SAT will protect her from being harmed, but my sense is that not trying will certainly not offer any protection.

I’ve started to see school as an avenue for self-protection.

So, when well-meaning, kind of shared experience having white parents urge me to let it go, to not worry about school, to let Hope handle it all and fail on her own…it’s not that I disagree, but I feel like there’s a huge part of the story of my worry that is completely unheard or not even considered.

Their stories are considered universal—everyone can and should relate because well, I’ll be frank, white is normative. Their kids fail and it’s heartbreaking. It is, but it’s not failing in a system that already doesn’t give two shits about you.

My worries about school are very different; this is about Hope’s survival in a racist world. This is about amassing elements of protection that can provide small buffers of the worst of a life routinely disrupted by racism. This is about being considered safe enough to be granted entrée into white spaces where more opportunities and resources await. This is about liberation and freedom.

The stakes feel so much higher and not just because I’m an absurd high achiever, but because I’m scared shitless. So, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely let the school thing go.

And Hope is starting to understand this. It isn’t really just about her performance; it’s about the long game. I know she struggles with her interpretation of my academic push; I also know that somewhere in there she wants to do well. I’m also keenly aware that there’s an additional layer of pressure on her because of what I’ve achieved. People see me and wonder why Hope isn’t doing better; they often assume she’s rebelling.

My desires for Hope are expansive, but honestly I just want to keep her safe. Education is one avenue to help do that. I don’t know how it will all work out. I have no idea.

I do know that being educated and working in academia doesn’t always offer the protection I wish it did. Even in my job, I feel it. I had hate mail too; I’ve had students say nasty things about me and to me. I’ve had professors say I was a “troublemaker.”

And yet, I still think it’s one of the best options we’ve got.

So, this is why I fixate on Hope and school. This is why it’s so important to me. This is why I can’t just let it go.


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