Tag Archives: Family

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.


Being Selfish is a Human Right

I just came across an article by Angela Tucker in which she responds to the question about whether adopted persons are selfish for searching for their birth family.

Such an absurd question, amirite?

Why on earth would it be considered selfish to wonder about your origins, your people, your place in the universe? I mean, entire industries have emerged to capitalize on the fundamental notion that we all want to know where we came from. You can seriously go to Target right now and pick up any number of tests for less than $100 to satiate your desire to find out more about your genetic information and its connection to others.

And that industry sprung up thanks to the increasing interest in genealogy by private hobbyists and professional searchers.

Most of us are just curious and, for fun, we can go out and satiate that curiosity.

A couple of years ago my sister bought my parents a couple of Ancestry DNA kits for their anniversary. It was a fun and interesting thing to do. My mom and a few extended family members have turned into genealogy hobbyists during their retirement years. Well, a few months later the DNA turned up some close relatives we suspected existed but never really knew about. We now have this amazing relationship with my cousins, who bore a striking resemblance to our family and shared interests that seemed unexplainable by anything other than genetics.

My mother, Grammy, is the only surviving member of her immediate, nuclear family, and finding these relatives has meant the world to her. It gave her a connection she never imagined she’d experience. For my cousins, it was a missing puzzle piece that was sought for more than 50 years.

That doesn’t mean that the revelation wasn’t without its complications. Not everyone in the concentric circles of our family was thrilled or accepting. Not everything has been easy. There’s a lot of emotion. There’s a lot of hurt. There’s a patient hope for future acceptance. There are times when it feels like time for full resolution is running out.

There are prayers.

There are occasional wails.

There are tears, both happy and sad.

It’s complicated.

But gosh knowing has been worth it.

I gave Hope the option last year of taking a test.  I thought she was old enough to understand the ramifications of sending your genetic information to a 3rd party that profits from having such sensitive information (something all of us should think more seriously about). We talked about the possibility of finding her surviving parent as well as connecting with half-siblings that I know exist and are in adoptive families as well. We talked about what that meant for her, how she felt about it.

My own curiosity led to my own search for her parent a few years ago. It was consuming for a while; then one day I found her. I told Hope about it since she had expressed an interest in searching. I have the information, and I update it regularly. Hope has never asked for the info or to reach out. I’ve promised to support her no matter her decision. I believe one day she will broach the issue again, with or without me. I could never deny her the information or my support in searching and wanting to see if a relationship was possible.

Yes, it might be complicated.

Yes, it might not go well.

Yes, it will be hella emotional.

Yes, it might be messy.

Yes, it could end horribly.

Yes, it could also be the beginning.

I’ve committed to be Hope’s ride or die. I’m good. I’m confident in my relationship with her. I believe there is plenty of good room for people who love Hope. I believe that she needs me to just hold her hand sometimes and listen.

I’m emotionally well enough to not think this has anything to do with me, but everything to do with Hope finding her missing pieces.  I am her ally, and allies have to know their place—supportive of promoting agency, recognition that it’s not about us, and advocating for full personhood for our peeps.

So, yeah, she can be selfish. In fact, I encourage Hope to be selfish—as if that’s inherently a bad thing, it’s not—in searching for her missing pieces. I shouldn’t be a consideration. I want her to bloom into pursuing her needs and dreams, and if that includes searching or choosing not to search—frankly that’s Hope’s business.

My business is working through my own ish so that she isn’t negatively affected by it. My business is supporting my girl.

I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with some aspects of selfishness. Selfishness can be healthy and self-preserving. I don’t believe that searching for the missing pieces of your identity is selfish. I think it is a human right to want to know. I think it’s a human right to pursue this knowledge. So if that’s selfish…that’s ok with me and I think it should be ok with you too.

So, yeah, be selfish. It’s all good.


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! 😉


Black in Europe

In 2001, my mom and I visited Europe for the first time. We went to Amsterdam, and it was awesome. We went on to visit numerous countries in Europe over the next decade. We met cool people, saw amazing things, ate great food and had a good time.

One thing that we noted whenever we traveled was our blackness. I mean, Europe is pretty white, like really white. In all of our years of traveling, we only had one bad experience. It was in Dublin; some dude rolled up to us speaking Gaelic. He said “Something, something, something ‘nigger’ something, something.” Oh we heard it. You don’t mishear that. It was a record scratch moment. We side stepped him and headed into a pub. An hour or so later, walking back to our hotel another Irishman strolled up to us to apologize on behalf of Dublin for his countryman’s behavior. He witnessed the verbal attack and was disgusted. Frankly his apology was more stunning than the original attack. Back home, apologies just don’t happen. #realtalk

Wait, there’s a place where white folks actually apologize for racist behavior? #wheretheydothatat? #shocked #howifellinlovewithIreland

Up until last year, we hadn’t traveled for a long while. I went back to graduate school. Then Hope came along, and there just wasn’t time or opportunity. About two years ago a colleague helped me put together an abstract for an international meeting and the next thing you know, I was giving a short talk at a meeting in Helsinki. I took my mom.

Of all of our travels, Finland was the WHITEST place I’d ever been. It was so white that folks openly stared at us; a child actually walked into a closed door staring at us. We went for a day or so without seeing any other people of color. I remember posting on Facebook about seeing two African immigrants on the public tram and they nodded at us. #universalblackacknowledgement We were nearly giddy to see skinfolk!

Despite being black in an uber-white space, I never felt hated. Oh, I felt kinda weird, like a curiosity, but I never felt like I was psychically or physically in danger. I never felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there, and I feel that at least a couple of times a week in America, my homeland. It didn’t feel bad. Odd, yes; bad, no. Socializing with folks from other countries naturally turned to the current state of political affairs and 45’s presence in the White House. Feelings around that ran from rampant curiosity to downright pity at the state of affairs.

Traveling as an American was different…it elicited different responses, sad responses. We simply aren’t the beacon of light on the hill anymore.

So, a year later, I got the idea to take both mom and Hope to Europe when I attended this year’s meeting. I arranged for us to spend some time in Paris before heading to Switzerland. I’ve already blogged about our vacation drama, but I want to share a few observations from my time abroad.

Paris feels radically different than it did when we first visited in the mid-2000s. The Champs Élysées feels a lot more lowbrow than it did years ago—I mean there’s a Five Guys burger place on the Champs! #ButWHY The city feels more crowded now, not necessarily in a bad way, just more populated. It’s a LOT more brown, like a lot. Like a lot a lot. The impact of immigration is very visible. It’s a different city, and it’s still beautiful.

One of the things I’ve always taken special note of when I was abroad is how easily recognizable black Americans are. My French is shaky, but thanks to many years of studying Latin, my reading and auditory comprehension is passable. People in shops and restaurants would murmur about us being Americans. We are easily distinguishable from African immigrants, our diasporic skinfolk. This identity put us in a special category—one that wasn’t necessarily good or bad, just different, certainly curious because most Americans in general don’t travel and frankly African Americans really don’t travel—if we do it’s often to the Caribbean. And yet, I still felt, safe, not unwelcome in Europe where folks find us curious.

And I kept thinking about how 45 (I really try not to utter his name) says don’t let happen to the US what happened to France. France, or least Paris, is a lot more brown. Things are really, really different there and the brown part seems to have a lot to do with the change. I’m guessing that 45 also sees that, and that’s what he’s signaling despite his love for fast food and no doubt delight at being able to go to Five Guys.

It’s not hard to make the leap in this language that brown equals bad. It’s certainly not hard to make the leap that our biggest immigration concerns in the US are centered around brown people, either to the south or east of us, but not the north or northeast of us. It’s not hard to see how other countries have adapted to increased brownness, no doubt with growing pains, but somehow grafting in these new dimensions of the country’s identity.

We also saw it in Switzerland. Certainly much more homogeneous than Paris, but still way more diverse than Finland. #lowbartho And you know what? It was fine. Folks of different hues going on about their daily lives.

We did hear about the waves of white nationalism that are moving across Europe, but interestingly the media doesn’t seem to feed the story. White nationalists are painted as fringe, illegitimate, a pall on society; they aren’t shown in “balanced” context that the US media has come to favor, offering hatred a platform for open promotion and even inviting social justice advocates the opportunity to debate purveyors of white supremacy. Of course, Europe, while still wildly imperfect and wrestling with many of its own demons, knows intimately the cost of legitimizing hatred.

I wish America did. I’m praying that we don’t stay on the path of learning the hard way.

Every trip I’m reminded just how privileged I am as an individual, but also as a black woman.  I know that the desire and the ability to travel is special. I’m trying to teach Hope that as well. It’s hard though since she hasn’t situated how these experiences really reconcile with life before our family existed. Layer on issues around race and privilege and it’s just a lot. It’s a lot for me and given how my mom was one of 4 kids to integrate her school in the 60s, well over a decade after the Brown v. Board integration decision, it’s a lot for her too. For all of us, despite the new technicolor Europe we discovered on this trip, Europe is still hella white, and we still are hyper aware of it. And it still makes you feel…some kinda way.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this year; here we are in the fourth quarter already. I realized that one of the things I’ve been unconsciously doing has been turning into the skids, the skids being those things that make me uncomfortable. Given how incredibly unsafe white spaces have felt in the US in recent years, I’ve found myself figuring out ways of leveraging the discomfort or the space to my benefit. I was a little more conscious of it this time, but after pondering our time in Paris and especially at the Louvre, I realized just how hard I worked to create a specific Black Faces in White Spaces experience for me, Hope and Grammy.

I made Hope and Grammy watch Beyonce’s and Jay-Z’s Apesh*t video, and then we deliberately went to see all the things in the video. We marveled at the beauty, but we also marveled at how crowded the exhibits were, how much access the Carter’s actually had in filming the video and how blackity-black that video is in such a crazy white pace. Then we thought about being there ourselves and how blackity black that felt in those spaces. That was some awesomely wild ish. I’m not a Beyhive member, but I am a fan and that video dropped at the right time for me and mine. Pulling that artistic thread gave us a little bit of an anchor during our trip. I don’t know if we needed it, but upon reflection it was really nice to have. It’s really nice to ruminate on it now as well.

Despite all the other drama around our trip, this part, the part about being both back and Black in Europe gave me a lot to ponder about politics, about identity (they are wrestling with what it means to be European all over the continent), race and color, and about privilege. Now that I’ve got some distance from the family drama and the fall of out the bug phobia, I can really appreciate the experience. I’m grateful  and I’m grateful that I got to share it with my family.


Things I wish Hope Knew

Today…Oy vey, why bother rehashing other than I managed to walk 7.5 miles today, so I feel no guilt about the chocolate I plan to consume tomorrow.

I am determined to get this trip back on track tomorrow if it kills me and/or everyone else. As I walked to the convention center earlier today after getting a text from Hope that really, really let me know just how self centered she is, I started thinking about all the things I wished she knew about me, my life and my life with her.

Then I started thinking that I’m sure my mom wishes I knew all the same things about her.

There’s so much about this life that is unknown. There’s so much that you have to live to just know–people can tell you but you can’t really know unless you have the life experience. Lots of adulting is like that. It feels like all of parenting is like that. And parenting a child from a tough place? Forget about it. You can explain it with formulas, diagrams and powerpoint presentations and you won’t even get close to understanding.

Not. Even. Close.

I really started thinking about the things I wish I knew from my mom and things I wish Hope knew about me. I wondered if any of the knowledge would really change anything or if it would just make me feel better–not that those two things have to be mutually exclusive.

Here are just a few things I wish Hope understood about me.

I am not Google. I’m not, really. I am wicked smart but I do not know everything. I am inquisitive by nature. I often will watch a show and look up something mentioned that interested me and then pause the show and spend the next two hours down an information rabbit hole gobbling up information about that tidbit. I know a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff, but I also do not know a lot about everything. The reality is very few of Hope’s questions really, genuinely interest me. Very few of them trigger my need to look up something, and with her being 17, I am uninspired to look it up for her. I am not Google. There is an app for that.

I have real grown arse problems. No she doesn’t need to know that work can be challenging or that I wonder whether a new relationship has real potential. But I need her to know I’m human. I screw up; I make problems for myself that could be avoided sometimes. I have steamer trunk baggage that shapes how I view myself, how I view the world, how I navigate through it and how I struggle to parent. I wonder if I’ll have enough to retire or if my parents have taken care of their affairs so that it won’t burden my sisters and me when the time comes. I worry about my weight and whether I’ll breeze through menopause like my mother did or if I’ll be hell on wheels like apparently my grandmother was. Will my health continue to be ok despite a host of hereditary and genetics disasters that seem to loom over my head? I wonder when I”ll be able to afford getting a new fridge with private school tuition and who I’ll get to install the two new AC units I’ve ordered for the house. Will I die with student loans and oh yeah, how will this private school tuition thing really work out? Will I ever manage to train/treat Yappy out of his anxiety before he chews up all of my good shoes and purse straps?

I wish she knew I was human with tender feelings–parenting makes those feelings more tender, not less. I wish she knew that even though I’ve gone to therapy monthly and sometimes much more frequently since I was in college that I’m far from “ok.” I struggle;  I have depression and anxiety too, and BOTH have gotten worse since I became a parent, and sometimes as much as I love her and as much as I want her to heal, I just want her to hush so I can have a moment to breathe. The highs are high, as we’ve seen recently, but the lows are also hella low.

That I have impostor syndrome like a mug. I wish she knew that I have way more confidence dealing with school folks, counselors, administrators, doctors than I do parenting her. Parenting her is by far the hardest job I have, and it is mostly thankless. I remember when she was first placed with me, during the rough transition period a doctor suggested that she had RAD. I didn’t accept that, refused to in fact. She’s definitely not RAD, but there’s no question that we have attachment issues that I struggle to acknowledge. All is certainly not golden around these parts. We’ve had a good stretch of late, but the reality is that it’s a struggle.

So I fake/wing it. I think lots of parents of all kinds of kids do this. We just wing it and pray that we don’t eff up our kids up at all or worse than they came to us. I wish she could have a peep behind my parenting veil to get an idea of what I see and experience. It’s funny, as I write that, I know it wouldn’t make a difference for us. Hope has greater empathy for dogs whose collars she believes are too tight than for other humans. I wish seeing me in all my messy realness would make a difference, but this isn’t a neurotypical, normal household with regular run of the mill drama. That expectation is just not even realistic at this point. Still, I wish she could see and I wish she could grasp it.

I heard you, but I’m just ignoring you in hopes that this problem will go away or that you will solve it on your own. Yeah, I said it. I remember asking my parents some ridiculous things. I also remember them not answering me sometimes. I don’t answer Hope sometimes. Yes, it’s purposeful. Yes, I want you to stop. Why? Because it’s annoying; I’m tired, and I’m really in search of quiet. Also, I can’t or don’t want to solve your problem. I’m tapped out, done, finito. Go try to solve it yourself. Sometimes parents are petty and annoyed with dumb kid ish. #facts

I love you, but I don’t like you very much sometimes. This doesn’t affect my commitment to you. It’s just a recognition that sometimes kids (little, middle and grown) can be jerks. When you’re jerky I don’t like it. I don’t really want to be around it. There’s a difference between the trauma and anxiety stuff and jerkiness. Sure sometimes it can overlap, but generally they are distinct. When you use the jerkiness to manipulate based on the trauma and anxiety, it is infuriating and I feel stuck. I’m a contrarian by nature, so I also just rebel against the jerkiness. It makes it hard for me work through these behaviors. I hate them, but I don’t hate you. But I really wish you would stop being a jerk; it’s getting in the way of a lot of your healing and my parenting. Don’t be a jerk.

I’m sure there are countless other things I wish Hope knew and that she will learn about me. Right now, I’m just trying to make it through. I’m committed to getting some rest tonight and to continue working to get us back on track tomorrow.


Four Years a Family

Hope and I marked our fourth year as a “legal” family this week.

We didn’t do much. I took her to school, which is a rarity these days. I did her hair for her. We shared a hug and said that we were happy to be a family.

That’s it. No big todoo.

We’ve come a long way since that date four years ago when we both peered into the screen of my iPad looking at the judge and social worker 3,000 miles away. My daughter has the permanence that she desperately needed. I could say that adoption plays a huge role in our life, but really, it’s all the stuff that led to the adoption that shapes and contours our life.

Hope was 12 when we met and when we finalized. She’d lived 12 years. She had 12 years of life experiences. Those experiences taught her a lot.

She learned a lot about love and family. She learned a lot about hurt and pain. She learned a lot about trust and how not to have it. She learned to be scared. She learned to also be a fierce advocate for herself. She learned how to survive some of the things that she experienced. She learned to survive the foster care system. She learned that bad things happen to good people.

She learned countless other things too.

Some of those lessons were hard for me to wrestle with in thinking about how to create a family with Hope. Hope also had to learn that some of what she experienced in her short life didn’t have to be her whole life. I had to learn patience (something I still am working on) and deeper levels of compassion and empathy than I ever knew.

We both had to change quite a bit to make this work, and we did. We’ve evolved a lot in a relatively short period of time.

As a parent, I often feel like I could always be doing so much more. The metrics along the way can be really challenging and I like metrics—but they aren’t easy in day to day parenting. On the one hand, I have managed to keep her alive, clothed, fed and a few extras–#winning. On the other hand, I’m not sure how to measure my parenting performance when it comes to some of the landmines that we’ve endured during these years: am I doing the right thing for her with school? Could I do more in helping her navigate her extended birth family relationship? What about her social interactions? Am I supporting her enough there?

Who knows.

What I do know is I’m committed to doing my best for Hope. I’m gaga for her. I look at her sometimes, like recently at the boarding school interview, and I’m like, damn, this kid is really going to be ok. I’m honored to be a part of that.

I don’t know what future observations of our finalization anniversary will bring. This was low key. I’ll never forget the day; I just know that I won’t. It’s significant for me. I probably won’t bring it up again for Hope though, even though she seems to enjoy the acknowledgement. Who knows.

I’m just grateful for the opportunity to parent her and to reflect on our journey.


The Gap

Let me start off by saying that I deeply believe in family preservation and open adoption whenever and however possible. I think there would be far less of a need for adoption and foster care if we really believed in family preservation and providing families with the support they needed to parent successfully. I also think that fears about whether and how we process our emotions and relative standing around family status is a huge barrier to successful open adoption. It’s so much easier to see families as a threat and inconvenience than it is to see families of origin as having meaningful standing in the lives of adoptees. Yes, yes, #notall situations can be preserved or open, but smart folks can easily distinguish those situations from the mass.

Hope’s adoption opened weeks after finalization. I didn’t want to be that judgy adoptive parent, but in many ways I was. I desperately wanted to protect Hope, who at the time was still easily overwhelmed by just about everything. Her family wanted to reconnect, but in their excitement they just kind of breezed past several years of Hope’s chaos. There was a huge gap, and I had to get right into the middle of it to sort things out.

That was four years ago, and we’ve all grown in our understanding of how this big family thing works. Family can be really messy, and my daughter’s emotions about how she fits are messy too. And there’s still a huge gap and I’m still right in the middle of it, and sometimes, like lately, it’s really, really sucky.

Hope is now an older teen. She’s matured some; she’s developed some more coping skills. She has unpacked some of her trauma and her emotions around the need to be adopted by a non-family member. She’s really doing great even as she has a long way to go.

She’s happy to be in contact with her extended family, but she still hasn’t unpacked a lot of her feelings about all that happened or figured out what kind of consistent contact, if any, she wants or how to manage the increasing expectations of family that she be more participatory in big family events.

There’s a gap. I reside in the translational gap.

I’m there to encourage some interaction, to manage expectations, to make some desired connection happen, to decline some invitations, to offer some explanations, to try to facilitate and guide negotiated connection.

My daughter is increasingly clear about what she doesn’t want—even if she isn’t clear about what she does want. Her family is increasingly clear about what they want and hope for—even if they don’t get why that vision isn’t shared by Hope.

In the last year I’ve found myself the bearer of really difficult messages to share.

“I’m sorry, she doesn’t want to come.”

“Is so & so going to be there? If so, that’s a non-negotiable no for Hope.”

“I’m not sure when we will get to visit next. Hope doesn’t want it to feel like a huge family reunion; she wants it to be like this….”

At every point of connection, I check in with Hope, see how she’s feeling, what she needs, how does she want this thing to go, what will make her feel good about this, figure out what success looks like for her. It’s actually getting harder on her end. As she gets older, her desires are crystalizing around what kind of interaction she wants but the latent desire to please and to capitulate makes her shut the whole thing down. Her choices are different than what most of us want; I do my best to honor them. I often find myself in that gap, feeling like I’m delivering news that just hurts.

I know the news hurts her family. I hear it in their voices. I see it in the texts and emails. I try to be open and transparent, and I often wonder if they think it’s me keeping her away. I often wonder if they think I’m really an ally.  I’m trying to be, but I also know that Hope will always come first. #teamHope #alldayeveryday

And then something will be said that feels like there’s still an obliviousness around the history of the situation.

“I really wish I knew all that happened to her.”

“So and so just said it was XX, which doesn’t seem so bad.”

“If I knew what happened, I definitely would have responded differently.”

And I get emotional, and I’m reminded why it is so complicated for Hope. I get that she wants and needs a very specific type of acknowledgement about certain events in her life. I also get that we aren’t specifically dealing with her birth parents but extended family who may not be privy to the story as I know it or the story as Hope lived it. And Hope isn’t ready to share her full story with them, so…

There’s a gap. It may be there forever. I hope not, but it might be there for a long, long time.

I am sensitive to the fact that I sometimes see Hope mentally comparing “us” versus “them.” My family and the family she’s been grafted into is different. Not better, not worse, just different. My family has long joked about our dysfunction—every family has some—but what and whether that looks like dysfunction to someone new(ish) is different for every family. That seems to be the case for Hope; it’s normal.

When I was little I couldn’t understand why my two sets of grandparents seemed so very different. It was something I had to reconcile in my mind. They weren’t better or worse, just different. I see Hope doing that processing at nearly 17. I probably did it at 5.

There’s a gap.

I’m prepared to stand in it for a long time. It’s really uncomfortable though, can’t lie about that. I know it’s uncomfortable on some level for everyone involved and that that discomfort is probably way worse for Hope than for me. There are no regrets about trying to figure out this family thing. I know it’s in Hope’s best interest to have access and relationships with her extended birth family. More is more. But it isn’t easy. It requires constant scanning, checking in and assessment that her needs are being met, whether it’s to visit or to decline to visit. I pray it gets easier for Hope, that she’ll find her way and heal from the hurt. I also pray that the family gains a better understanding of the hurt and what it has been like for her.

I think that will be the thing that narrows the gap, maybe even eliminate it.

I hope so.


Thoughts on Teaching Driving

I am a control freak. I like control.

I am teaching Hope how to drive, and it’s everything I can do to not freak the hell out every time I let her behind the wheel of my car. She’s not an awful driver; she’s just learning and learning is…challenging. And I feel like some of her daily challenges around self-esteem, impulsiveness, wide swings between detail orientation and oblivion make driving even more challenging. Knowing this on top of my already heightened need for complete and utter control over as much as my life as I can muster sends me into a frenetic emotional tizzy. But I have to hide it because of how I know my freak outs will affect Hope.

I’m committed to supporting her though and to helping her move toward successful achievement of this goal.

But I can’t say I’m thrilled about the process. But her development is more important that my internal freak outs.

That said here’s a quick run down of my internal monologue while Hope is driving.

Please Holy Homeboy, let us get out of this parking space without hitting any of the cars near us.

That speed bump probably busted my muffler.

[Waiting to turn left across traffic from property] Wait, wait, wait, wait. Go, go, go, go.

I mean, I guess the white lines on the road are suggestive. Wait, the YELLOW LINES ARE NOT SUGGESTIVE.

The speed limit is 35mph, we are going 19mph.

Wait, when did we start going 47mph? SLOW DOWN!

I truly believe in the sanctity of life but if she brakes like that again for an already dead squirrel….

I think I briefly fainted from fright.

My hand kind of has a cramp from holding on to the door.

Hope breathes a sigh or relief after every turn she makes. So do I.

Go, go, go, go, go!

Stop, stop, stop, stop.

YOU CAN’T CHANGE YOUR MIND IN THE MIDDLE OF A TURN.

I’m going to die in the passenger seat of my car.

Did I pay the life insurance? I’m pretty sure I paid the insurance last month.

Do not grab the door; keep your hands in your lap. It freaks her out if you look too scared.

We are on the highway for one mile and I might die from lack of oxygen. I can’t breathe.

Thank heavens there’s the exit.

Is she legit asking for directions to our house? She doesn’t know where we live? Sweet Hey-Zeus in a manger.

Is that a Bentley in our parking lot? #dafaq? Which of my neighbors is rolling like that????

Is she really about to park next to….OHMYHEAVENLYHOMEBOY NO!

We are parking….Please get it right, please get it right, please get it right. I’m not trying to spend my retirement on repairing that dang Bentley. Again, which of my neighbors hangs with folks who have a Bentley?

Did she just try to turn the car off while it was still in gear?

Sigh.

Ok, we made it.

Tomorrow she will take me grocery shopping and I will pray…a lot.

Hope is actually not a bad driver. She’s just learning and it’s a process and I’m a control freak and not being in control is really, really spazzing me out. Soon enough I will be able to just enjoy the ride.


The Single Life

I rarely mention my dating life in this space. Elihu and I split last year after over three years together.

It was, and is, sad. E is an amazing man; our time together will be a highlight of my life.

That said, the end of a nice relationship is never a happy occasion. Sometimes it feels worse than an awful end to a relationship; saying goodbye just hurts.

Since our split, I’ve taken some time to mourn and reflect on being a mom, being a woman, and being a partner. It’s all kind of hard. There’s the stuff you envision about all of those roles, and then there’s reality and never do those all those things ever match up. There’s always a level of dissonance; sometimes it works in your favor, but most of the time it doesn’t.

So here I am, right around what would’ve been our fourth year together, single again.

When E and I got together, I had just become a mom. How I fell into a relationship at the same time I became a mom, I’ll never know. In retrospect, it was lovely, but I look back at myself through the multiple lenses of my life, and I hardly know who that frantic, overstressed, exhausted woman was. I was trying to figure this mom thing out with a traumatized tween who was nearly emotionally a toddler. My partner grounded me in ways that I desperately needed. As steady as a compass, E helped me get to a point where I really understood that I had to make arrangements for self-care. I had someone coming in twice a week for a few hours, so I could just go breathe. Some of those days I never left the condo property. I sat in my car and cried. Sometimes I slept. A few times I managed to pick up takeout and go eat in the park. I remember being excited to go out, exhilarated by a new relationship and the need to flee from the stresses of ‘connected mothering.’

And then I got the hang of parenting—as much as one can get the hang of parenting. Things eased. I got better at managing Hope’s challenges. I got better at helping her heal. I got myself together. I just seemed to get my footing.

I continued to evolve. Oh, I still think my mothering is a hot mess, but I’m confident about my mess. I don’t fret so much about whether I’m messing Hope up. I have space to think about me and my life before and what things I want to get back to.

Maybe I’ll finally get back to taking Portuguese language lessons. Maybe I’ll start back with hot yoga or at least studio yoga classes again. I feel like I’ve aged a lot, but I am finally getting back hitting the gym at 5am.

I stretched, reaching forward to the new me and reaching back to pull bits and pieces of the old me back into the fold. Sadly with all this stretching, reaching and pulling, it made the work of my partnership a lower priority and consequently, my season with E ended. I’m still trying to figure out where all that relationship stuff is supposed to fit, so sadly, for the time being, it doesn’t.  (I don’t know how you partnered people balance it all!)

Hope probably won’t be out of the house right after graduation, but really, she’s finished high school in less than two years. Time is marching on, and I can see a different kind of future for both of us with these experiences in my back pocket. I’m but a lot wiser now. I understand myself a lot more than I use to. I get whatever my version of “it” is now.

If it’s one thing I know I’ve learned in these four years, it’s what I want and what I don’t.

For now, I want to be single. Not because I don’t want to be partnered, not really. I love being partnered. Rather my current embrace of singleness is really because I just want to have time to focus on me. I miss the luxury of just worrying about myself. I miss having fewer responsibilities. I actually miss being completely and utterly untethered. I miss the ability and luxury of seriously epic levels of selfishness.

I’m up to date (maybe, possibly, I dunno), but I don’t think I could handle much of a major emotional connection and all that demands.

Actually, that’s not true; I could handle it, I just don’t want to. #true #realtalk

But I’m so incredibly smitten by the idea of having some level of freedom to focus on me as an individual that I just want to relish these moments, compartmentalize them and protect them so they stay just mine.

I am committed to giving Hope everything she needs to be whomever and whatever it is she will be, but I’m so fortunate to be carving out some time just for me again. I know we both will ultimately benefit from a healthier, happier me.

What are you doing to find yourself again?


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