Tag Archives: Lessons Learned

My Triggers, Pt. 2

Ok, I can’t let the school thing go. I just can’t. I wish I could, but on the full real: I cannot.

I know that Hope struggles in school. It breaks my heart. I see how it affects her. Her self esteem is awful because she can’t perform at her full capacity. I know she’s bright, but the barriers to success…let’s just say they are more real than Trump’s wall will ever be.

But between the actual performance and the protective attitudes that Hope displays to downplay her performance issues…I. Just. Can’t.

This combo is the thing that I struggle with every single day.

crying

I try to only look at her grades occasionally. I ask her about assignments and if she needs help. I encourage her to use a timer to help her manage time. I try desperately to leave it alone.

And it all drives me mad.

I have advocated for so many accommodations. I have spent a fortune on tutoring. I’ve tried new organizational tools. I’ve identified the incredible anxiety we both have about school.

I’ve tried to just let it be and try to work itself out along with Hope experiencing the consequences of not doing her part in the areas where she can.

And still I am filled with a mess of emotions about Hope and school.

I’m realizing that education is such a core value for me, something so important that 1) I can’t let it go and 2) I might not be able to fix this. And being a natural born fixer…this is a problem for me.

It’s not *just* that education is important; it’s been my gateway to upward mobility. I want that for Hope. I still have dreams of my daughter doing better than me in this life. I want her to have the cloak of protection that education kind of provides us. I want it so badly for her that the idea that school would be a struggle for her seriously never occurred to me during the adoption process. Her previous performance had been quite good. Now it’s the thing we struggle with the most.

Even after 3 years, I’m not prepared. I have exhausted all of my “I can fix this” pep talks. I have practiced laying this burden down, only to pick it up again a few hours later. I have pushed, coaxed, pleaded, bribed, and lovingly reassured with no change in results. I have watched my daughter sink deeper into depression and I assume a lot of blame for that because I don’t think anything I’ve done has made her feel better. I have developed no new coping skills.

I do not know how to deal with this.

I just don’t know how any more.

I looked at a special school, but the $50K tuition made me suddenly remember the padlock code to the liquor cabinet without having to look it up.

Weekly I get so frustrated even though I know it’s not all Hope’s fault. I go to meetings only to quietly seethe when Hope refuses to participate in a semi-adult conversation because her emotional IQ is about age 5.

The whole thing makes me angry with the world.

The whole thing makes me wonder why I chose this path.

The whole thing makes Hope feel like a failure.

The whole thing makes me also feel like a failure.

We both are mad and ridiculously sad, and I can’t see any light in the tunnel we’re in.

I’m back to looking at tutors and special programs in hopes of helping Hope be successful. I’m also back to just trying to let it go so that she doesn’t think I also believe she’s a failure. She’s not.

So, the educationally dilemma is my true Achilles heel. It brings out both the best and absolutely worst in me and I have no idea what to do about it.


Thoughts on Searching

My family has long been interested in genealogy searches. Several members, including my mother, enjoy trying to find members of the extended family tree, trying to trace our lineage as far back as they can. This can be challenging given that African Americans were counted as property for so long in the US. Despite this reality, it remains an enjoyable exercise in unearthing our history.

More recently, my immediate family has gotten into the DNA testing game. My parents took the test and found all kinds of connections. Most stunningly, the test revealed the existence of a close relative none of us knew about.

We are all in the process of learning about each other, bonding and attaching, figuring out how we feel about all this new found information. The discovery has prompted a rush of emotions that can hardly be articulated as anything but overwhelming.

I had the pleasure of meeting my relative this weekend; at one point in the conversation I asked him what he thought about all of *this,* this being the discovery, how it fit into his life, how he’s managing all of this new information.

He acknowledged that it was overwhelming, but that he’d been wondering and curious for so many years. He had kind of resolved to himself that some questions would never been answered, but to have them answered and to experience acceptance was more than he could have imagined. It was all still settling in.

This wasn’t an adoption story, but I thought a lot about adoptees as he was talking to me. I like to consider myself an advocate of the adoptee voice, but honestly at that moment, that voice and the needs that come with it resonated so deeply within me.

People want to know who they are and where they come from. There’s a desire to connect somewhere, biologically. There’s a need to understand their origin, their history. This is why they search. They have questions, more questions than I could ever dream of.

I listened as my new family talked about wondering who they looked like, who their people were, did they have mannerisms like anyone related to them.

I watched him and marveled at how much he looked like us; I cried when he spoke because it was like listening to another close family member—nearly tonally identical. The mannerisms were so similar too, and yet, he never knew any of us.

It’s more than nurture; it’s nature, and it’s undeniable.

As I tried desperately to stop staring and focus on listening to my new extended family, I thought of all of the adoptees whom I have listened to, including my beautiful daughter Hope. We’ll be traveling to see her side of our family in a few weeks. I was reminded how important those connections were. I imagined how she must have felt when it seemed that she would never have contact with them again. I smiled when I think about how I look at her face and see her birth family. I watch her grow and how her body shape is morphing to look like her aunts. I see her genes coursing through her.

The search for birth families must be difficult. The call to search, the decision to heed the call, the desire and wonder to know what you’ll find at the end of the search and how it will make you feel. It must be so powerful, scary, joyous, heartbreaking and all consuming.

I know that sometimes it’s something feared by adoptive parents, but it shouldn’t be feared at all. We have puzzle pieces that we need to gather. This experience, which is still developing, has provided me with a greater sensitivity to understanding an adoptee’s compelling need to know and to seek out their families of origin.

I feel better about my own search for Hope’s birth mother last year. I told Hope I’d found her; she said she didn’t want the information. She might one day and I’ll be ready to give it to her. Supporting her desire to know is important, and it’s no threat to me and my relationship with my daughter. I knew it was important before, but now sitting in the midst of a different, yet similar situation has me doubling down on the importance of supporting adoptee searches for birth families.

Certainly, adoptees don’t need me wandering in their space and co-signing on their voice, but I hope that other adoptive parents understand and are more supportive of their sons and daughters who choose to seek out their people.

The siren of biology does matter, and our hearts must be big enough to help our families answer if we can.

*Featured Image: giphy.com

Hope and Worry

I’ve been parenting for about 1,140 days. I am a babe in the woods. I have triumphed, and I have fallen down repeatedly.

Lately, I question everything I’ve learned these couple of years, and I’m scared.

I love my daughter, Hope. I have done my very best to help her heal, to help her grow, to help her catch up. I have tried to protect her from the world that has been brutal towards her. I’ve tried to protect her from herself when she has been unkind. I have prayed for and with her; I’ve wished for her. I’ve poured myself into her healing.

And for all the improvement we’ve made together, it’s still only 1,140 days, and I feel like we are in a bit of a free fall right now. It feels like I can never do enough. As a natural fixer, I am feeling woefully inadequate right now.

Something is wrong, very wrong. I know that Hope is struggling more than usual. I started paying close attention to moods, to behavioral patterns, to details that I had let go of a while ago. There are so many clues that something is wrong. I’ve seen them; I’ve started ramping all the support systems up again. I reached out to the therapists. I’ve scheduled appointments. I’ve been steeling myself to get back to the state of hypervigilance I used to maintain. But, I’m feeling my age now, remembering how exhausting the constant need for awareness can be. I’m wondering can I really maintain that level of being for an extended period of time, now. I’m also wondering what happens if I can’t.

I’m also wrestling with my own guilt. How and why did I get lax? Was I really lax? How come I didn’t know we had started spiraling? Why didn’t I just maintain everything? How did I let it get like this? Is this even something I can fix? How hard will this get before it gets better?

Is this free fall my fault?

I know intellectually that it’s not my fault but that fact really doesn’t matter, does it?

I see my daughter struggling. It seems she’s struggling with everything right now. School is hard. Social stuff is hard. Home is probably hard too. Emotions are thick; memories are vivid and on some kind of repeating loop. There are constant stomach aches and nausea and headaches and stress induced rashes. There are binges. There are hard core study times that swing to complete immersion into escapist fantasies. There is exhaustion, that’s really depression that swings from days of insomnia to sleeping for 18 hours.

I see it, but I can’t fix it. I gather those long arms and legs up and occasionally cradle Hope. I try to cook her yummy food. I try to be home as much as I can. I try to give her space, but I also try to smother her with attention. I try to give her lots of opportunities to thrive and to experience as much or as little as possible. I am strict but not inflexible. I’m compassionate. I try to meet her where she is, but I also walk away sometimes wondering if I did the right thing.

I want to heal her. I want her to be able to shrug off the effects of her trauma so that we can deal with the social challenges of blackness and womanhood. The reality is that we rarely get to wrestle with those because we are stuck in the quicksand of trauma. Her trauma suffocates us both. I fight with myself trying to just be ok with her life performance and trying not to worry that every bad grade will prevent her from a bright future.

I’m constantly forcing myself to abandon everything I conceptualized and believed about success. Our success is different. I know that, but it’s hard to believe that conventionalism is completely inappropriate in helping Hope navigate. So many of my firmly held, deeply etched values about life are constantly challenged and it is discomforting, disorienting, and dismaying. My prayers lately have been distilled to, “Lord just let us get through this day with no drama.”

And I still feel like we’re failing.

So, right now, Hope is struggling, and I’m worried. I’m not panicked by I’m really worried about the future, and by future, I mean next week and the week after.

I’m leaning back into my strengths: looking for possible solutions, marshalling resources and leveraging connections. I have no idea what happens next—long term is now just next month. I do think my daughter knows I’m trying; I don’t know what she really thinks about my efforts, but I know she thinks I’m trying to help her. I’m hopeful that she will continue to see me as helpful, reliable and safe. I’m hopeful I can continue to be that for her.

Hope and worry are sitting side by side for me these days.


My Triggers

This morning, Hope and I snapped.

LGFacts

Ok, that’s not true. I snapped.

The morning routine is driving me up the wall. Hope is always running late. She’s rarely ready on time. She misses the bus often. I pack breakfast to- go in order to make sure that she has a solid breakfast. She’s always frazzled before she gets out of the door.

This means that I’m quietly frazzled before she gets out of the door.

It also means that we have zero meaningful conversation in the mornings. Usually I see her for about 90 seconds while she’s shoving her lunch bag in her backpack, grabbing breakfast and a filled water bottle that I’ve prepped. I screech to remind her to take her meds because despite them being *right there* in front of her she manages not to see them. *RIGHT THERE*

My mornings don’t start off being so frazzled. I rise around 5am to exercise and walk Yappy. This morning we walked for 2 miles. I feed him and start prepping breakfasts, coffee, making lunches. I shower and dress, do hair and make-up and resume my work in the kitchen. My own anxiety doesn’t kick in until about 7am, when I start mentally wondering if Hope will make the bus or not for another day.

Over the course of 30 minutes I get more anxious and probably a bit irritable.

By the time Hope comes out, I’m in my own quiet, anxiety spiral.

And today it came out, but what I really wanted to say was left unsaid as we exchanged barbs that continued via text message after she left for the bus.

This morning routine is not what I want. It’s not what it used to be, which is what I grew up with and what I had tenderly fostered for the last couple of years with Hope.

I grew up having breakfast with my family. We watched the news together. We prayed together. We talked about our agendas for the day and what time we would be home. We talked about our after school activities and about upcoming games. We also gossiped about my classmates.

We spent time together.

Since I forced Hope to use her alarm clock and get herself together in the morning, she doesn’t sit down for breakfast with me.

I want her to sit down for breakfast with me. I actually kinda need it. But it’s still new to her, and it’s not something motivating enough for her to hustle to make time for in the busy morning routine.

For the last couple of months, my subconscious has read that as, “She does not find you important enough to spend 10 minutes having breakfast with you.”

That gets extrapolated to: “She does not appreciate how hard you work to make it all happen everyday.”

That gets blown up to: “She is selfish and lazy.”

That goes next level with: “She clearly doesn’t love me, and we might have attachment issues.”

Which climaxes with: “Fine!!!! I don’t like you either! You spoiled, ingrate!!”

LGAngry

And the anti-climax? “Why doesn’t she love me and want to have breakfast with me?”

Meanwhile Hope is like, “I can sleep until 6:30am and be ready 60-65% of the time, and I have a back up bus pass to catch the public bus. I’m good.”

giphy (4)

I now see that. I see the difference in our thinking. I now see that not having breakfast and having those moments to check in with Hope is a trigger for me. It’s not a trigger for her because she gets to prove that she is independent—something I’ve been encouraging for a long time.

Could it actually be that I miss her in the morning? Sigh.

I’m not sure why it’s hard for me to say, “Hey, having breakfast together is important to me. I want to have this time to check in with you in the morning. I’m feeling a little attention starved without a few quality minutes in the morning. I’m willing to limit my expectations to 2-3 days a week. Do you think you could do that for me?” But I know that I haven’t been able to do that. That is a new stretch goal.

Asking someone who seems to have little capacity for themselves to expend some capacity for you is hard. It’s so hard. But I know if I’m not honest with her then I’ll keep feeling this resentment that isn’t fair to my daughter or to me.

I have my own triggers, and those triggers have to do with wanting to spend time with my daughter.  Who knew, especially since she can be a special pill at the moment?

I just want us to have smooth, anxiety free mornings having breakfast with my daughter. Is that so hard to ask for?

Kind of.


Thoughts on Being Average

I hang out in a number of online spaces looking, listening and learning. I’ve tried to capture so much of what I’ve learned on my parenting journey in this space. I’ve tried to be transparent about the things I’ve done well and the things I’ve failed at miserably. Sometimes, I really sit and think about how naïve I was when I first started. I had read a few books and read a few blogs, but boy was I green.

I also remember people asking me was I ready to be a parent, as though choosing to adopt assumed greater preparation than having a biological child. I often responded, “Hell no, of course I have no idea what I’m getting into.” I mean, I took the PRIDE classes. I went to pre-adoptive support groups and listened to parents talk about their journeys. But, let’s be serious…are you ever really ready to be a parent?

I’ve learned a lot about therapeutic parenting and connected parenting and racially conscious parenting (the only one of which seemed intuitive to me). I’ve learned about adoptee voices. I’ve learned about other adoptive parents. I’ve sucked up a lot of info, and I’ve constructed a weird calculus to value each of the voices and info dependent on the situation.

And you know what? I’m still just an average bumbling parent. No better and no worse than any other average bumbling parent.

But it seems that the glare of observation and expectation seems so much brighter on adoptive parents. I don’t mean to pull out a mini-violin and whine or anything, but the parenting pedestals seem so much higher and the ravines we get dragged through seem so much lower. On one end of the spectrum, folks tell me I’m so awesome for *saving* Hope, insinuating that Hope should be grateful for our adoption. On the other end of the spectrum, the few vocal adoptees who mistake rudeness and toxicity with “reality” see and point out every parenting flaw I make and drive me into silence for fear of revealing just how average, or below average my parenting might be. There is no grace on either end.

There hardly ever seems to be a middle ground, despite the reality that Hope and I are getting closer to whatever normal is every day.

I work very hard to be a good parent to Hope, and most days I feel like I am doing just ok. My end game has been if I am able to do more than simply keep her alive and as functional as she was when she came to me then that would be a version of success. Of course, I hope for so much more than that, but parenting is absurdly hard. If it would make parenting easier, I would probably do a few more dissertations, and that was no walk in the park either.

I recently read a blog by an adoptee who wrote a pretty extensive list of things she wished her adoptive parents had done before choosing adoption. I felt really convicted because there seemed to be so little on that list that I had done; I just didn’t know. I was ignorant. And while I often don’t cut folks slack for their ignorance, I’m not sure how I could’ve ever known then what I know now. Even if I did know all that I know now back then, I’m not sure I would have applied it in the way my daughter would have appreciated.

Parenting is an evolutionary activity. We grow through it. We learn; we try to get it right. We often fall short. But my God, we try.

I remember in my early 20s rambling off a lengthy list of my parents flaws and foibles. Oh, they were true, and they probably served as barriers to their parenting perfection, a perfection that was and is elusive on a good day. I know better now. I see them as not just my parents but as people who, remarkably, had lives outside of me and my siblings. They did their best, and that was more than ok. They were and are amazing parents. I know that without any doubt; I see it so clearly.

I try to emulate them with a therapeutic spin. I try my best, and I hope that it is more than ok.

On the outside, adoption is rainbows and sparkles. On the inside, it can be very dark and tumultuous. Folks rarely gets to see what happens behind closed doors where everyone is fighting for survival. I do my best to fight with my daughter instead of against her. I fight for her. I try to apply every lesson I learn. I replay every family squabble to assess how I could handle it better. I try to provide every possible resource that I can access and afford. I problem solve as much as I can. I try my very best to be a good parent to Hope.

And if I’m lucky, I’m average. That’s real, and that’s ok.

So, whatever kind of parents we are, I hope that we can practice more grace with one another. I hope that Hope sees me as I am one day. I imagine that she will find that my parenting fell far short of what was needed or desired, but I also hope that as she continues to grow and evolve that she will know that I did my best not make things harder than they already were for her. I hope that as she lists the things I missed or failed that she will also see the things that I manage to get some kinda close to right. I hope that she will see me through lenses blessed with a bit of rosy grace. That would be nice.

If she doesn’t see me that way, it’s ok. It really is.

Average isn’t so bad.


Things I Have Learned During the K-Pop Phase

We are heading into roughly the sixth month of Hope’s K-pop phase. This phase was preceded by the EDM phase. I thought that phase was challenging. It was electronic music all the time.

That phase didn’t feel that much removed from my interests though. I am a house music fan, so there was some overlap in our musical tastes. We occasionally shared songs; we rocked out at a EDM music festival.

I learned just how music affected Hope. I learned that she heard notes that I just couldn’t hear. I learned how she could thread beat influences through artists and songs like a seamstress. I really did marvel at how she interpreted the songs and how she put her playlists together.

In retrospect, the EDM phase was a good phase.

And then 10th grade started and kicked off the K-pop phase.

Hope fell hard for the boy bands. She didn’t particularly care for the girl groups.

I wasn’t as attuned to ADHD behaviors during the EDM phase, but now I see how easily she can go down a rabbit hole chasing new songs, information about the groups, e-stalking the group members. Some of this is typical teen behavior, but with Hope and the ADHD it’s always on overdrive. And because the K-pop scene has a whole culture thing to it—the group members live together, work together, get storylines on soap operas, spin off into solo careers—Hope’s propensity to get caught up in the minutia of it all is incredibly powerful.

Hope knows that I found this K-pop phase interesting for the first month. I was intrigued by the obvious American and Afro-Caribbean influences in the music. I thought her desire to learn Koren was really cool. Ok, we’re going to watch a K-drama? Cool.

The K-drama has 16 episodes and I just realized 10 minutes into the first episode that this is a Korean interpretation of Cyrano?

Record scratch—I’m out.

February is 7th month of this phase for Hope and I am trying to be supportive, but I was over this phase about 5 months ago. But this phase has shown me some things about myself.

I’ve learned that I have a reservoir of patience that I didn’t use to have.  I knew that I was more patient because: parenting. But I really had no idea how patient I have become. After 7 months the only good things I can say here is that Hope is learning a new language on her own and thinks that a career as an interpreter could be on the horizon—in Korea.  For a kid that thought she had limited options 3 years ago, I’m down with this line of thinking.  I loathe K-pop, K-dramas.

I’ve learned that living by the adage, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” is one way of coasting through conversations about ish I can’t stand.  93% of our conversations are about K-something. It really is just about all she can talk about. When the conversation starts, I take a deep breath, a slow blink and just keep my mouth shut. You want to know why?

Because I don’t want to do anything to make her stop talking to me.

I might loathe K-pop, but I love Hope, so I just keep quiet, let her talk. I typically zone out a bit and drop back into the conversation every 30 seconds or so. She will regale me with the entire synopsis of a K-drama; she knows I hate it, but she wants to talk to me and she knows I’ll listen (kinda).

I’ve learned that Hope still has a lot to learn about money and responsibility. It’s February 6th and all the Christmas money is gone. She’s $20 in the hole to me and she hasn’t paid her phone bill which means she’s really $40 in the hole to me. Why? Because she had to buy K-stuff. This is also normal behavior for a kid her age, but something she definitely needs more time to learn about.

I’ve learned that K-pop may have made her more isolated. Hope can spend hours watching music videos and soap operas online. HOURS. She has access to the Chromebook to do homework and then after homework is done she can spend an hour or two as she likes. She has dove into this world, and while she has a couple of friends who also enjoy it, her obsession has actually resulted in less external communication than more. I believe that she dives into these phases initially allying herself with the people in her real life, but she just takes it so far that they get left behind. I blocked her online access for two days this weekend and made her emerge from the depths. I’m going to have to do this more often.

I’ve learned that as much as I can stretch and learn new things, I’m getting to the stage in life where I want my own box. I’m good and grown. I know who I am. I’ve accomplished some stuff, done some stuff, been some stuff. Hope has brought something amazing to my life: new stuff. I like a lot of the new stuff, but if I’m honest and keeping it all the way real, I like my stuff better. I just want my stuff. I want to curl up on my couch with my stuff and just be. Like if I could get one cable channel that just played Law and Order episodes (from all of the different kinds of L&O) all day, life would be 15 steps closer to my version of perfect. That’s my kind of stuff.  K-pop is not my kind of stuff. All that dancing and bopping around and reading subtitles on a soap opera? Not my stuff.  I mean if it was a Korean movie where I was making a 90-minute commitment, I’m in but a 16 episode show at this time in my life is just the most. I am a middle-aged woman and the cement around being set in my ways is quickly hardening. In short: I don’t wanna do new teenagy stuff; I need her to get some friends so I can get back to my Law and Order with my blankie and my dog.

I’ve learned that I’m super curious what Hope was like as a little girl. Seeing her now, as she develops these hopes and dreams about her future, I find myself pondering what did she dream about when she was little. Were the dreams temporally focused? Did she dream about life changing for her and her family right then? Did she dream about a future and what did that look like? I see how different things are from just three years ago; I wonder if there was ever a kernel of big dreams like being an interpreter in there long ago. There’s so much that I don’t know. I haven’t yet mustered the courage to ask Hope what she dreamed about when she was little; I don’t know what such a question might trigger.

I’m trying to see the stages as opportunities to learn about myself. Why do I react the way that I do? How do my reactions change from phase to phase? I’m hopeful that my stamina and patience continues to grow. Despite the annoyances, I am hopeful that it’s helping me be a better mom.

 


New Skin

After spending all of 2016 trying to orchestrate Hope’s success, I slid into December exhausted and frustrated. My daughter was frustrated and exhausted. Our relationship felt no better than it did at the beginning of the year.

I feel like I threw out everything I knew and just said, “Eff it. How bad would it be if I just stopped?”

I wrote about that transition.

Here we are nearly 8 weeks later and a calm has fallen over our home. With the exception of the ongoing chatter about all things Kpop, Hope and I seem content, actually happy.

She’s a delight to be around most of the time.

I’m not angry much, so I’m guessing I’m easier to be around too.

We spend time together in the evenings and chat about all kinds of things including politics.

We started planning a grand trip abroad for spring break, and then she asked me if we could go visit family instead.

For three years, I have been trying to help her to build her confidence to ask for what she wants and needs—she’s doing that now.

Some of her trauma-related behaviors are well controlled. We have slid into a period of just regular 1st world teen problems. And you know what? That’s awesome! We’re both closer to normal, delightfully normal.

One day last week, she loaded the dishwasher and tidied the kitchen completely on her own. I was initially suspicious about this, but she said she knew I was tired and it wasn’t a big deal.

I give her a list of a few things to do, and for the most part they get done.

I was chatting with a neighbor this weekend and I just said so proudly, Hope is such a good kid.

I mean, I knew that she was of course, but it’s like she’s sloughed off some of that hurt and that anger.  She still hurts; she’s still angry, she’s still fearful, and sometimes she’s still stuck in the past. But it’s so much less than it was even 3 months ago.

It’s not just that she’s healing. It’s like when you’ve had that big injury and the scab falls off and you know that you’re on the other side of the mountain of healing. You’ve got a ways to go, but you know it’s going to be ok. I can see Hope’s new skin after some of the scabs I’ve nursed for 3 years have finally fallen off. That new “skin” is bright, soft and supple. It’s regaining its color too. She’s going to be ok.

As a parent to a kid who’s experienced so much trauma, I feel like I can breathe again.

It’s like a big inhale, and a lovely 8 count exhale.

I think she’s breathing easier too.

When your kid reaches that turning point in healing, it’s like a bit of freedom for both of you. I feel like maybe I can trust her more now not to freak out over innocuous things. Even her severe fear of bugs is easily managed now (which is great since I no longer fear being pushed out of the car).

I feel like she can trust me more too. She finally is comfortable enough to ask me to order her something or ask to go hang out with friends. She didn’t use to do that. Those are tangible things happening that tell me the trust is real.

The most amazing thing about where we are right now is that since the ongoing crises are over, we have time to really look to the future. Hope is beginning to seriously think about her future now. We’re exploring how she will define what success looks and feels like for her. We’re looking at her post high school options. These are such extraordinary things. It’s not that I didn’t think they would ever happen; it’s that I had no idea when they would.

Last week, she announced that maybe she might want to be a translator one day. She said she might want to move and live in a foreign country at some point to immerse herself in the language. She thought I might be sad.

I was thrilled. My daughter has gone from no dreams to big dreams.

I told her that I will make sure I keep my vacation savings account flush so that I can afford to see visit her and have her show me around.

Saying that it would be a dream come true for her to step into that kind of reality is an understatement.

It’s great when other people tell me that I’m a good mom. It feels weird though when people assume I’m a good mom because I “saved” Hope or that I get a pair of angel wings just because I adopted an adolescent. I politely rebuff those kind sentiments because I know that I just wanted to be a mom, and Hope just needed one and somehow the universe smushed us together.

But sitting down and taking a moment to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are now, well, that makes me feel like I’m getting it mostly right. It builds my own confidence in my parenting. I’m hardly an expert, and I’m certain I’ve probably gotten more wrong than right on many, many, many days. But I love my daughter, and I’ve done everything I can to help her heal, tried to use whatever privilege I have to shield her from harm in any way necessary, and loved her with my whole heart.

Who knew? That recipe seems to work! So, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. I look forward to continuing this path and helping Hope blossom into whomever and whatever it is that she will become.

 


Sport Parenting

As a parent, I’ve learned a lot, but one of the many things with which I still struggle is the parent vs. parent struggle.

It’s the comparison game.

It’s funny because I thought I had a hard time responding to stuff like, “How’s your daughter doing in school?  “Joe” was honor roll last quarter!”

I did, I mean, I do still have a hard time responding to this kind of inquiry.

But that’s not it. I feel like what I’m struggling with is at the other end of the continuum.

I feel like I’m competing against other parents who are parenting children who have experienced trauma.

The good news is that I’m losing, or winning, depending on how you measure things.

I checked in with a number of adoptive parent friends recently and other parents online who are parenting children like Hope.

They’re struggles seem so much worse than mine.

Hope doesn’t have the same kind of tantrums.

She doesn’t really rage.

She doesn’t really lie much.

She doesn’t sneak out.

She doesn’t act out physically.

She’s got emotional issues, but they don’t trigger some of the dramatic behaviors I’ve heard about.

Comparatively speaking, I come away from some of these interactions thinking, what exactly is it that’s hard about raising Hope? I mean, why do I get upset? Hope is not doing any of those things.

Maybe I’m making mountains out of molehills.

I find myself minimizing the things Hope and I do struggle with.

So many kids have ADHD!

All teenagers pushback and go through phases where they don’t do what they are told.

Some kids are just so immature for their ages.

I began to think that in the game of therapeutic parenting I’m totally disqualified because we haven’t got the same problems as other parents. How dare I think our problems are comparable to other parents who are struggling to parent kids with profound grief and trauma!

Gosh this is silly, right?

Of course, sometimes I torture myself by thinking I’m lucky that Hope doesn’t act out the way other kids do. How great is it that we haven’t had to go through some of that stuff! Then I feel guilty because it minimizes what I know goes on in Hope’s head and heart, and how that affects us each and every day of our lives together.

In sport parenting, I don’t win or lose, and frankly, I’m not sure which one is which. The other things I often find myself wondering is: Why the devil am I trying to compare our experiences to that of other families anyway?

We’ve all got our own drama, and we all tend to have a lot of it.  Why would it all look the same?

And apparently, how I feel about what Hope and I endure seems to be similar to that of other parents…people tell me so. There’s an emotional similarity there. Even if the drama appears different the emotional upheaval is the same.

So, why do I still pull out a yard stick to assess how we’re doing compared to other families? Is this even natural behavior? Is sport parenting really a thing?

Are we always assessing how we measure up in our own parenting fantasy?

I don’t know.

I do know that I’m going to try to quit sport parenting in 2017.


We are Successful

When Hope’s English grade bottomed out a few weeks ago, I found myself having to really make some hard decisions about what my next chess move would be.

For the last year, I’ve been just focused on giving everything I could to help Hope with her school struggles.

Testing.

Tutoring.

Accommodations.

Constant contact with teachers.

Meetings with social workers and counselors.

Observing classes.

Medication management.

If I could think of it and afford it I threw it at the wall and assessed whether it could and would stick. I tried just about everything.

The day I got her progress report I nearly cried because none of it seemed to help. I felt like I failed; she felt like she failed. We both felt like isht.

So, here’s what I chose to do:

I laid down my king on this chess board.

I dumped the tutor for the rest of this semester. I backed off talking about it. I vowed to myself to stop emailing the teachers and counselors for the next few weeks.

I chilled out, and focused on just loving Hope.

And, she loved me back.

It’s funny, whenever I focus on attachment above everything else, Hope thrives. You’d think I’d simply maintain that focus. The reality is that with so many issues to juggle, sometimes I end up just going through the motions with the attachment thing.

I feed her, tidy up, make sure the laundry is done, make sure all basic needs are met. I go to the multiple band events, the multiple medical and dental appointments. I’m meeting with the teachers and the music coaches. And that’s just Hope’s stuff.

Sure we are affectionate. I tell her I love her every day. I try to hug her every day.

But it just is hard to focus on attachment in the middle of the whirlwind that never seems to end..

But the last two or three weeks, I did. I focused on doing things that mommies do: I fixed her hot breakfasts (that were portable); I packed her yummy lunches. I meal planned and made sure we ate dinner together every night. I asked about life. I hugged her. I teased her with my secret pet name for her that she loves but pretends to hate. I watched Korean dramas and music videos. I listened to her teen girl problems. I offered no criticism; just positive direction and reinforcement.

Did it work?

Well, yesterday, we went shopping, and it was everything I thought it would be. We were a mother-daughter duo who had fun, giggled, went way over budget and went for a diet busting bite before the long drive home. She randomly hugged me. When a booth vendor accused Hope of scratching a patent leather purse I mama-bear growled at him ferociously to my daughter’s quiet delight.

We felt loved, both of us. Yesterday will be one of my great mommy memories.

We talked about school. I learned to keep my pie-hole shut. I know she wants to be successful, and that she wants do see if she can do it her way. I want to give her the space to try.

And if backing off means I might get more days like yesterday, well, heck, I might never call the school again.

Hahahahah.

Of course, I’m going to call the school again, but more judiciously. I want her to be successful, and if her way works, then how wonderful would that be.

That English grade hasn’t gone up one point yet. But all the other grades have gone up; so there’s that.

I love this kid so madly, sometimes my heart hurts.

I will continue to focus on attachment. I will also focus on redefining success…and acknowledging that most days, we actually are successful.


By Any Other Name

I had chosen names for the children I would never give birth to. I only chose what would be first or middle names so that they could be adapted to names desired by my would be husband/life partner.

Those names were so important to me; each had special meaning. Each were strong names on which my children could scaffold their identities.

And then, one day, the realization set in that I would not get to use any of those names for biological children.

Even now, writing this, the sting of quiet tears fill my eyes.

And then Hope came along.

Hope got her pseudonym from being my “Hope Kid.” When I started the blog, I had just received her profile. I remember sitting in my office, opening the email, reading the little bit of information attached and then opening the attachment to see her picture.

I immediately fell in love with her.

In my heart I felt like she was my daughter. I just knew, which was ridiculous because she was the first profile I received having just started the national search with my agency the week before.

I also knew that there were many steps to be made before she and I might be matched. I dubbed her my “Hope Kid.”

After we were matched, I started just calling her Hope in this space.

It’s turned out to be a good strong pseudonym for her. She and I are both so hopeful.

At 12, I never once thought about changing her name. Her in real life (IRL) name is unusual and lovely.

A few folks asked if I considered changing her first name.

dancing

No. I mean, she was 12 and It. Is. Her. Name. And well, Hope had lost everything else, everything, why on earth would I take her name from her too?

And she’s feisty, why on earth would I want to start our life with a fight about changing her name?

As we neared the date of our finalization, I did have to make a decision about her last name.

Sounds like a no brainer, right?

I mean, she would just drop her given name and take my name.

No.

It was her given name. It was hers. It was given to her by her parents, who loved her even if they didn’t always love themselves.

I thought about all those adoptees who talked about their birth names and the surnames of their birth family.  How hard it was to find people when names changed. How challenging taking on a new identity could be.

Because Hope is an older adoptee, I had the luxury of having a real conversation with her about her name. I’d like to think that even if she had been younger, I might have come to the same conclusion because it works for us.

Hope had just assumed that I would make her change her name. She understood why I might do that. She has resolved that it was just the way of the world, or rather the way of her world. In Hope’s world, she rarely got to make decisions, she lost lots of things and well, she supposed she was just happy to be getting a forever family.

I asked her what she thought about a third option.

I asked her what she thought about just adding my last name to her existing name.

The first thing she did was write it all out and count the letters.

There were a total of 29 letters in this proposed name. Four names, two of them last names, no hyphens and 29 letters.

She asked if the name would fit on forms.

So, I cruised the internet and found a few forms that we would have to eventually fill out and printed them and let her practice filling them out.

It worked.

I asked her if taking my name would be hard for her; she said maybe. I told her that she could drop it she wanted, and just sign things with her birth name. The four-name thing would just be her “government name.” I explained the times when she would need to use it.

I asked her to think about it.

When I told folks that this third option was on the table…well, there were so many questions. So many.

Why couldn’t I just change it? Why didn’t I want her to be fully a part of the family? Wouldn’t this be confusing for her? How would this help her move on?

There was a lot of criticism.

I stayed focused on me and Hope during the whirlwind.

In the end, extending her name was our choice.

During our Facetime finalization, Hope exclaimed to the judge that her new name was 29 letters.

She continued to use her birth name for a while, and then one day, she didn’t.

I’m not sure exactly when she started using both last names, but I know that now she wouldn’t dare sign her name without both.

When her birth family found us, they were surprised that I didn’t drop their name. I think it brokered some trust with them; I had no intention of erasing her identity.

Again, I have the luxury of having an older child who is capable of telling me her feelings. I know that even during the worst of times she endured, she would leave me in a flash if she had the chance to be parented by her birth parents again.

I’m hardly a saint and I’m judgmental as hell, but I’ve also had the luxury of having my birth family my whole life. I get it and I don’t blame her at all. If I had known them before, and known what I know now, I would’ve been rooting for them.

But our paths were different, and all I can do now is honor her family by supporting her in keeping the names she was given.

Our family is stronger for it.

And what have I really learned from this part of our journey?

I learned that I’m glad that we didn’t have to make a choice based on her safety and a desire not to be found. I think this would have been so much more difficult for her if that was necessary. For her to have to change her name, her identity, to remain safe, is a whole other level of trauma. We are fortunate that we were not faced with that situation.

I learned that even though I have replaced Hope’s birth parents in parenting her, I am additive in her life. For Hope, I didn’t just replace them. I am her mother, without question, but I am her second mother. I can never replace Hope’s birth parents; I can’t erase them. Even with a name change, that history, however brief, is still a real part of her life.

I learned that Hope’s name is her name. I am honored that my name has become a part of her name and a part of her story, but her story didn’t start with me. It won’t end with me either.

I imagine that her name will change again sometime in this lifetime.

And again, it will be Hope’s choice to shape her identity.

I learned that there are various ways to integrate a child into your family.

I learned that a last name can be more than enough of a connection to a new family.

I realized just how much power adoptive parents have…to change a child’s whole name…or just to get to name a child…it is a privilege that should be acknowledged as such.

I learned that the sting of not being able to have biological children rears its head more often than I care to admit. A discussion about changing a child’s name precipitates asking what might you change it to? And then your list of dream names springs to mind…and it drags that little bee sting with it.

I learned to treasure my own name even more. I love thinking about the origins of my name and the story my parents tell me about naming me.

I don’t know that at this point in my life I will change my name even if I get married. I’ve been with this name a mighty long time.

I do know that I’ll still be ABM whatever name I chose, and that Hope will always be my Hope and joy, no matter what her name evolves into during the course of her life.

 


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