Tag Archives: Lessons Learned

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.

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The Birth Certificate

Grammy recently came up to visit me for my birthday. During our mother-daughter bonding time, we somehow got to talking about adoption documentation. It occurred to me that I had never shown her Hope’s post-adoption birth certificate.

This document drives me batty.

It drives me batty because it is a lie.

Hope’s post-adoption birth certificate reads as though I gave birth to her and chose not to name her father.

I pulled out the document and showed it to Grammy. She was shocked! She had a ton of questions about why I had a legal document for something that she and I both know never happened.

Yeah, me too, Grammy. Me too.

Grammy just kept exclaiming that the document is a lie. I have never given birth to a child. Frankly to suggest that I did is a painful reminder of how my body has failed me. I have muscled my way to all kinds of life achievements, but that act of carrying a child in my body to term and producing a living, breathing baby…well that will go down as one of my personal failures.

(I don’t ruminate on that as much as I used to, but know that the sting of infertility will always be there.)

But I have a document that says my body did just that. In fact, this legal document that will for the rest of my and my daughter’s days and beyond says that my body did do it and that I did not name a father for the child that I did not birth in the first place. It is a seriously perplexing one-page document characterizing my daughter’s entry into the world.

Seriously there are layers to this thing. Hope had biological parents, both parents were named. That document shows information about both of those parents. There was a legal document that marked her entry into the world. In the document I received after our finalization, it’s like those people never existed. They are erased. Just vanished into the void. As one of my daughter’s biological parents is deceased, this erasure feels especially harsh. It’s like the Bureau of Vital Statistics simply decided to erase him from her story.

It’s crazy enough when this all happens with infant adoption, but when you adopt an older child, they remember their people. It’s not just a psychic or metaphysical thing, Hope lived with her parents. She remembers them; their names, what they looked like, how much she loved them, dinners they made, gifts they gave her, adventures they had, bikes they rode, books they read, places they went…she remembers the life she had with them.

We have a document that suggests that never happened.

It.

Is.

Bizarre.

Because.

It.

Is.

A.

Lie.

I listened patiently as Grammy worked through all of this in her head and outloud. We talked about whether the state thought that this approach to post-adoptive birth certificates was a holdover to the days when you weren’t supposed to talk about adoption or admit adoption. We talked about how it double downed on the shame that those of us who have experienced infertility feel by simply pretending we gave birth. We talked about how far things have come that single motherhood was generally less stigmatizing that admitting your family was created by adoption and how effed up that was. We also talked about how my characterization in the birth certificate made me seem like I *might* be a candidate for the Maury Povich show because I didn’t name my child’s father.

maury

via giphy

Years from now, without an addendum, will some future genealogist wonder if I knew my child’s father or if he was married or if paternity was in question or some other thing that just wasn’t true.

Grammy concluded her vocal processing by folding up the document, handing it back to me and declaring that it’s just wrong.

No kidding.

This is one of those things they don’t tell you about in the adoption process—whether or how the post-adoption birth certificate will characterize how you created your family. They don’t tell you that the document that comes in the mail after finalization may simply be a lie, a legal one, but a lie nonetheless. They don’t tell you that because of privacy laws, this may be the only document that shows up 50 years from now on Ancestry when someone is trying to figure out who Aunt ABM and Cousin Hope are and how do they fit into the family. They don’t tell you that those privacy laws, for some adoptees, mean they will never have access to the original document that accurately documents their birth.

Of course, I have my and Hope’s adoption decree, but as she approaches adulthood, there is hardly any need to refer to that document. But you need access to your birth certificate throughout your lifetime. It’s one of a few documents that proves American citizenship—it states where you were born. It’s just not the same.

As readers know, the fact that Hope will be 18 in about 4 months hade been weighing on me emotionally.. After her birthday, provided her surviving birth parent hasn’t blocked release of the original birth certificate, Hope will legally be able to get that document for the price of some paperwork and $20. At least she doesn’t have to pay more for the OBC than the adoptive birth certificate.

I intend to help her order a copy. Her social worker was kind enough to have a non-official copy included in Hope’s disclosure records. I didn’t appreciate back then what a gift that was, to see what the original looked like, what it said. I do now. So even though we have a copy, I will help Hope order an official copy. What she does with it is her business; I just think it’s important for her to have an accurate document that documents her entry into the world.

As for me, when we make the request, I’ll also be writing letters on simply having an OBC that has a adoption notation to increase the accuracy of this important legal document. I’ll include that my daughter having access to a document that describes her birth should not be withheld from her. She shouldn’t have to Hope anyone else thought to block access to a document about her. Yes, the document is about other people as well, but there should be some transparency there for everyone. It’s only right.

So, yeah, I have a document that reminds me of my body’s failures and advances a lie about my daughter’s birth. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to parent Hope, but some of the stuff that goes on within Adoptionland is just weird.


Five Years

It’s hard to believe that it has been 5 years since Hope moved in from her last foster home. In some ways it seems like couldn’t possibly be that long; in other ways it feels like a lifetime ago.

I’m about 15lbs heavier, and I have a LOT more gray hair than I did back then. I have grown a lot. I’ve learned so much…about everything.

I learned that parenting is a lot about fake finding your way through the universe with only a vague road map based on your personal upbringing, values and resources. So much of it is just…wandering in the wilderness trying to keep kids alive and as close to thriving as you can get them.

For me, Hope and I dropping into each other’s lives…yeah, we’ve wandered a lot. We’re still wandering.

The wilderness is dark and thick for parents with kids who have experienced trauma and who have special needs. So much of what we endured post placement was confusing and just felt crazy in a never-ending way. I had tried to prepare myself for parenthood, but really, can you?

In a word, no.

So, I talked, wrote, reflected, talked other parents, listened to a lot of folks, especially adoptees, got help wherever, however I could figure out how to cobble it together.

I also lashed out, withdrew, and apologized to a lot of people in my life, over and over again, including my daughter.

I eventually got the hang of things, as much as you can with parenting. I can’t say parenting has become any easier over these five years. There are always new challenges, new goals, new problems, new therapies, new stuff to find your way through. I figured out that the way I had powered through other things in my life, I would power though parenting too.

Hope and I have done so much in the time we’ve been together.

We’ve been to 5 kinds of therapy. We’ve both taken many meds for depression, anxiety, and mood stabilization. We have connected with birth family. We’ve tackled grief. We’ve resolved legal stuff from long before I came along. We’ve cried more tears than I ever dreamed. We’ve argued and screamed and cursed. We found tutors and tutoring programs; we quit those as well. Music classes came and went. Programs for teen girls, yep did that.

We also traveled to 10 states and 4 countries. We went to the theatre. We did a lot of sightseeing, a lot of edutainment. We read a lot of books, including going down the rabbit-hole romance sub-sub genre of interracial relationships featuring Black women and Asian men—because KPop. We went to a lot of concerts and movies. Our dining palates grew to try lots of new things. We raised a puppy after saying goodbye to my beloved Furry One. We have laughed and danced and stayed up late doing silly things together.

And now, somehow, some way, Hope and I have gotten to year five, and she will graduate in 116 days days. We are waiting for decisions on her college applications. There are decisions to be made about the future, driver’s licenses to still get and just so much to still do. It’s really amazing.

Another 5 years from now, I’ll be in my early 50s and Hope will be in her early 20s. No idea what life will look like then. I’m sure that my parenting will continue to evolve; hopefully it will continue to improve. I’m hoping Hope will launch smoothly. I’m hoping that I’ll continue to reflect on this day that I became a parent, while it fades from my daughter’s memory. I just want it to be some day that happened, but that she moved on from. There are so many moments that stick out for her, big and small, painful and joyous, I’m ok with this day fading away for her.

I’ll remember though; I’ll always remember her emerging from security at the airport and stepping into my arms to give me a hug. It was a sweet and scary moment in time that has turned into such an amazing chapter in my life. I’ll always remember it.


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! 😉


Thoughts on our Attachment Journey

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about attachment. I’ve read a lot. I’ve listened to a lot of experts—including adoptees, the ultimate experts. I’ve talked to our family therapist, AbsurdlyHotTherapist, and my personal therapist about attachment too.

There have been big questions and little questions. I’ve fretted about those moments when our conflict was especially hard whether I had damaged us, whether I had fractured the glue I was working so hard to make us stick together. More recently, I’ve worried about my and Hope’s attachment status and journey as she is away at school. I find myself wondering if I did the right thing by her with the school thing even though I left the decision to go away to her; every evening I come home to just Yappy, I wonder if she’s ok and if we’re ok. After 4 years together, is this distance thing ok?

I’ve felt times of distinct struggle in parenting Hope. Single parenting is hard. Single parenting a teen is hard. Single parenting a teen from a hard place is hard. This isn’t a complaint; it’s just my truth. I’ve shed a lot of tears. I’ve worried a lot about the present and the future. I’ve worked hard to be a good advocate for Hope, but I also know that I’ve worked hard to push her, and probably not always in the best or most healthy ways. Parenting in general is hard, and “knowing what you’re doing” is a myth even in the best of circumstances.

And yet, I have sat in on adoptive parenting support groups and heard my peers also shed tears for the kids they love going through far more challenging events than I have experienced with Hope. I’ve left some of those group meetings feeling like even though these people are my people and we have some shared experiences, that my experience in parenting Hope is less challenging than I may have thought. I don’t take credit for that; I think we’re lucky and Hope has a well of resilience that I still don’t quite fully appreciate the way I should.

The last few years, I’ve really tried to give Hope the quality time, love, care, and security she’s needed. She did go to band camp for a week or so for a couple of years. I saw that she loved that experience, maybe because she loves band more than anything. In pushing her to go to an academic program this summer, I wanted her to have a different kind of experience. I wanted her to have a different opportunity. I didn’t think it would turn into anything because surely, she needed to be home. We still needed to work on attachment. She still needed my security close by.

The changes we have experienced these last 5 months or so have been dramatic. I didn’t expect that we would be here, or rather that she would be there, much less that she would choose to be there. I also would not have anticipated how it affected our relationship. It has really given me a lot of peacefulness around how I think about our attachment journey.

During a recent visit home, I noticed how relaxed Hope seemed. I asked her how she was doing, she said she was good. I asked about the depression and anxiety that riddled her academic experience. Sure, she said, school was stressful, but she didn’t feel bad about it or about herself, she felt better than before. I asked her if she felt like she made the right decision going to this school. She looked at me like I’d grown goat horns; yeah, she said yeah, shrugged, put in her headphones signaling that this was the endpoint in this discussion.

Um, ok, so, yeah.

Here’s what our relationship looks like now. We text…a lot. We send pictures, jokes. She sends me funny videos; she sends me political videos, which I especially enjoy. Sometimes we just text to say we love each other. Her goodnight texts warm my heart almost as much as when she would come into my room to say good night at home when we would invariably chat about silly things and maybe watch some silly animal videos on YouTube. When things get rough, Hope calls me—which as any parent of an adolescent kid knows is huge. Hope went through some roommate challenges recently, she texted me first and then called me. My heart both broke and soared because she was sad, and because she called me. She didn’t want me to fix anything, she just wanted mom’s comfort. She just wanted me to comfort her, that’s it. Of course, I did make some moves to lessen her pain points, but she just wanted mom’s comfort. There was a time when she would not have sought that out, much less my intervention.

I’ve learned that Hope trusts me, and that feels…amazing. I’m learning to trust Hope more on this part of our journey too.

We also delight in the time we get to spend together. The moment we see one another it’s just joy (and a huge stack of laundry). She indulges me as I take dozens of pictures of her in her ROTC uniforms and then texts them to our extended family. She can’t wait to tell me about what she’s reading or how drama club is going. We have these great conversations, and we bicker about the college applications that need to be done. Before you know it, the visits are over, and we hug it out, and she skips off back to her dorm. I don’t know what happens for her after that. I wish I could be a fly on the wall. As for me, I leave campus, pull over and cry every time. I cry because I miss her. I cry because I’m grateful for the time we’ve had together during the visit. I’m grateful that I gave her a choice on the school thing and that she seems to be doing well there. I’m grateful that we seem rock solid as a family. I’m grateful that I have a date on the calendar for the next visit.

I’ve learned that we’re ok during this chapter of our journey. I’ve learned that I’ll always wonder if we’re solid, if our attachment is strong enough or sustainable. I’ll always wonder if I’ll screw it up. I’ll always wonder about it all. But I do know that it feels like we’re ok right now. I’m holding on to that and to Hope.


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.


FML: Travel Version

Today I struggled. And by struggle I mean…wanted to strangle Grammy and Hope at different times and for different reasons.

I love traveling with my mom. It’s easy. She’s easy going, we love on each other and it’s just epic. We sometimes even cry together because the time together is so special. This trip has had all that but Hope is with us and that’s changed our dynamic. Hope is an attention hog, and I tend to dote on my mom when we travel. I’ve tried to mete out the doting, but I rarely get dedicated time with Grammy so I’m sure she’s winning the doting war.

Then, despite showing epic growth this summer and in the last few weeks, in the matter of a few short days Hope has regressed into some of her worst behaviors. She’s annoying with a bit of a smart mouth.

Emotionally demanding, and then, as we arrived in Switzerland, again had to go through the absurd routine of being *shocked* that the country has insects. Why didn’t I warn her?

Yeah, she has a phobia. Yes, I know that there’s components of phobias that are completely unrelated to reason, but Hope has turned the ancillary showmanship around her bug phobia into a high artform.
In the last couple of days her behavior has been quietly grating on my nerves…and I’m not the only one.

So by the time we arrived at the airport today, I’d survived Grammy’s worry that the car service wouldn’t pick us up at the hotel and Hope’s lollygagging in getting ready because she was up until the wee hours watching Kdramas in the dark. By the time we got through security and got Hope something to eat and made her do some of her required school reading, my shoulders were finally starting to relax. Grammy starts talking about how different Hope is from my sisters and me, and I get defensive. This is really the first time she’s seen Hope’s true colors up close and personal. Stuff that I understand now, stuff that I let go, stuff that I think is a parking lot problem when I only die on mountain style problems, just baffles Grammy. I get it, but I also know how to parent this kid (even when I want to strangle her), and I can’t parent her the way I was parented. It’s not better or worse, just radically different.

I briefly raised my voice, and then I lost my four day fight to hold back tears. I didn’t sob, but I did cry. Grammy pulled back and said she got it. I know she doesn’t totally get it, but I appreciated that she does on an intellectual level at least.

Then I felt like a failure for not managing to keep it together and disrupting our trip with this exchange. I ended up apologizing and trying to make it right later.

I get us to our AirBnB. It’s a charming apartment. It’s huge, everyone has their own space (precisely why I chose it). I find us food nearby. I manage Hope’s latest bug phobia drama and hand her a couple of Ativan. I video chat my dad and my sister. During my call with my sister, Hope declares that she’s not having a good time, and she wants to go home. Stunned, I abruptly end the call and began sobbing.

I’m exhausted, the airport meltdown took something out of me and then I was wedged into a seat with a dude who wafted funk with every move. (Bless the French and their apparent hatred for quality deodorants.) Just yesterday we went and saw all the stuff in the Apesh&t video at the Louvre, and it was epic. Today, in typical 13 year old in a 17 year old chronological body, Hope declared her teen angst misery, and I, completely depleted and fed up, skidded into the spin and claimed the dramatic southern woman wailing part in the tableau.

Seriously, the trip of a lifetime and misery abounds. Can’t I just get 10 days drama free? Please?

I adore Hope. There is little I won’t do for her, but don’t get it twisted, parenting her is hard. It’s exhausting. Sometimes it’s downright withering.

And sometimes on days like today, after having given Grammy a lecture on the need to have different kinds of expectations for my daughter, I heap on a serving of hypocrite to my parenting dish because for the life of me, I have no idea why I would think that Hope would really love/appreciate a trip to France and Switzerland. She barely appreciates when I pick up a nail polish that I think she will like or make sure that her special Korean ramen is in the house.

It’s not that she’s not thankful for some stuff, it’s just like…some of the things are so far beyond that she’s not sure how to handle them, so she doesn’t handle them well. It’s like she can’t process it in her operating system She’s not handling this trip well, which means we’re not handling this trip well. And I wish she would step up, because I know she can but just won’t, so I blame myself because I know what her default setting is: chaos. When in doubt, cause chaos, because for her, that’s something she understands.

After I got myself together, I told her that I am sorry that she is not having a good time. I do not regret bringing her, but I got the message that this isn’t her thing so I will be sure to extend an invite, but not assume she’s interested in going on these kinds of trips in the future.

I had hoped that after our Grecian adventure earlier this year that she would have got the travel bug, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. That’s ok. It’s not for everyone. I know that she will have these memories–however she frames them–and I’m glad for it.

As for me, I’m heading to my conference tomorrow and I’m looking forward to interacting with non-relatives for a few hours. I’m looking forward to just getting into a zone where I know I do good work, where I can learn, where I can just feel like I am seen and perceived as successful.

Quiet as kept, I’m looking forward to seeing the city, but I will also look forward to going home, seeing and cuddling Yappy, settling into my empty nest routine and going out with my new bae.

I’ve got 5 days though to get through without killing anyone. Prayers, if you’re into that kind of thing.


More Thoughts for Newbies

Recently I stumbled over a new show Mahogany Momology, a podcast about Black motherhood!

Awww Yeah. I’m down for that.

AND these sistas had already dedicated an episode to adoption.

Super yay! New fan for sure!

MObama

via Giphy

I settled onto my elliptical this morning and listened. The show has a cool vibe. This episode on adoption left me with a lot of feels. Like, a lot of feels about all kinds of adoption stuff.

MObama

Via Giphy

I’m totally looking forward to hearing more from the show, but I found myself thinking that maybe there’s some more I could add to my own post from May, Thoughts on Being a Newbie  based on the narrative I heard and didn’t hear on the show.  Now of course, one show can’t be everything to everyone, so I respect that the episode focused on one family’s adoption story. So…yeah.

MObama

Via Giphy

Again, I’m hardly a sage, so take all of this for what it’s worth! Here’s my latest two cents to add to your considerations on the newbie experience.

  • When choosing an agency, be sure that they engage in ethical adoption practices—this is for all kinds of adoption. Research them, feel good about how they treat you, how they view the child and how they view and treat that child’s family of origin. If this feels more transactional than family building, run, don’t walk to the next agency to check them out.

Another thing to consider is whether that agency is religiously affiliated and how that shapes they way they treat members of the adoption triad. Does the agency only work with couples? Do the couples have to be straight? Do the folks like me, single parenting by choice, also have to be straight? Is there a religious litmus test as a part of the process? How do they advocate for LGBT+ older kids who need homes who are invariably harder to place (because folks don’t want to be bothered with “other”)?

What about how much time do they give birth families to make their decisions about placement? Do they apply any pressure to birth families to decide early? How are birth families treated immediately following the birth? Is there different pricing fees for children of color? Why and how do you feel about that? How are families of color treated? How are children of color treated? Do they respect the dignity of children in need of homes?

Also, does the agency offer pre/post-adoption support? Are there opportunities for counseling referrals? Support groups? Help hotlines?

Choosing an agency is one of the most important decisions that you will make in this process. Ask lots of questions and try to get as close to right as you can.

  • Learn about interstate adoption before you get deep in the process. The rules are different state by state. The delays in placement and ability to travel with a child immediately after placement are governed by these rules, or Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). These compacts also dictate the relationships between states when you adopt from foster care. For example, my daughter’s home state reimburses our state for her Medicaid coverage. We never saw a break in coverage, and it’s a financial negotiation between the states. She could not move from her state to mine until that and other things were all ironed out. Our paperwork was submitted right before Christmas, so things were delayed a few weeks; right after the new year, our ICPC went through and we could begin to plan for her permanent transition to my home. This step is really important so take some time to learn about it before you are waiting on it to happen.
  • Think long and hard about an open versus closed adoption and put the child at the center of that decision. You and your feelings really shouldn’t be the priority. There I said it. You will have big feelings, super big feelings. HUGE feelings about this. Take some time to work through that and figure out what’s best for your child. Same advice goes for the birth family. Everyone needs to be on the same page here! Open adoption can look a million different ways, but please know that it is not simply a legal thing pertaining to original birth records, names, etc. I consider that a separate issue actually and actually mention it in my original newbies post.

The open vs. close question is about whether you are open to and willing to facilitate a relationship between your child and their biological family. There’s a lot of research on this (most of it pro-open), go Google it. Do your due diligence, not just for your comfort but for your child’s well-being.

Sure, it can be messy sometimes, negotiating boundaries, who gets called what, the various stages your child will experience as they grow in these relationships. I wrote about my own experience parenting Hope through an open adoption recently in The Gap. It has been challenging for numerous reasons, but I know having an open adoption is the right thing for us. We have access to medical history, which this year became exceptionally helpful, there has been reconnections that were important. Even in the challenging part, it has been an important way of Hope to have agency over how she wants to be in reunion.

I worry when the default decision is a closed adoption. There are numerous reasons for that choice, though, including safety and security of the child. But if you’ve chosen this path, be sure to center the decision on the child, not just what will be “easier” for you. It’s not about you.

  • Spend some time really learning about trauma and attachment. A lot of domestic infant adoptive parents don’t think this is an issue for their kiddos. It may not always be, but I listen to a LOT of adoptees who often talk about that missing piece. They know things even when we think they (infants) don’t. Learn about trauma, learn about attachment. Learn what kinds of things you should be doing to facilitate attachment, learn that it might not look like what you think it ought to. There are lots of great resources out there on these topics. Check out The Primal Wound and Kathryn Purvis’ work on attachment and connected parentin Don’t assume that because your baby was placed with you a few days after birth that their mother’s essence isn’t imprinted in their senses. Come one, we learn about imprinting in nature in grade school; this shouldn’t be a foreign concept. Learn about this stuff and marinate on it. You may find down the road that it explains a lot that you just couldn’t figure out.

Hope wants me to add that that the wound can heal or at least find some resolution. It doesn’t have to remain painful and that every case is unique. She also notes that if you’re honest every step of the way with your kids that it makes it easier for everyone. #sheswise #thatsmykiddo

  • Think about how you will talk about adoption (and foster care) with your child. I’ve made it a point to have an open policy on all topics in our home (which has led to some stunningly embarrassing moments, but seriously impactful moments). I want Hope to feel comfortable talking about her parents, her life experience before me, her feelings about her current relationship with her biological family, everything. If she had been an infant, I hope that I would have wanted to talk about her origin story, that adoption wouldn’t be a secret, that we would still have the open policy. I struggle when I hear about parents whose kids are beyond infant age, and they haven’t told them they were adopted. Um, what are you waiting for? #tryingnottojudge #effit #imjudging #sorrynotsorry Think about how you will share your child’s story with them and when (as early as possible).

So, I enjoyed the new podcast and I’m looking forward to checking out the previous episodes while Hope and I are on vacation this week! In the meantime, what other kinds of things do *you* think newbies should consider, know, learn? Share below and keep the discussion going!


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.


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