Tag Archives: Lessons Learned

4 Things

What are 4 things I’m grateful for in the context of adoptive parenting?

One of the questions people tend to ask folks on the cusp of becoming parents is, “Are you ready?” Usually the question is surrounded by a bit of levity, maybe even said in a joking matter with a wagging of eyebrows for effect.

I remember folks asking me and my response was always deadpan: Hell no, but I’m doing it anyway.

Of course, stepping into parenthood is beautiful and all, but it’s hard. It’s exhausting and expensive and discombobulating.

And largely wonderful, even if it is punctuated by many less wonderful experiences.

In the grand scheme of things, my parenting journey has been good. Some would even say that it has been relatively easy for a family coping with the long-term effects of trauma and grief. I don’t disagree with that, but yes, it has been challenging.

And there have been times when I felt like parenting broke me.

Since becoming a parent, I have had to have several increases in anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications—so I’m now taking two meds at true therapeutic doses. I’ve had to resume intensive therapy to help deal with my own mental health during these years. I’ve survived but it’s taught me a lot about myself, my limits and my coping mechanisms.

There has been a lot of growth during these years for me and Hope.

So, what are the things I’m most grateful for in the context of parenting?

  • My primary care physician. Dr. G has been my doctor for 21 years. He’s rocked with me through major health challenges, weight gains and losses, cancer screenings, preventive health you name it. I remember when I had to take the form to him to give me a clean bill of health to share with my adoption agency, he was so kind to me. He and the entire staff have always been so supportive. He’s been fantastic with Hope. He’s patient and considerate. He gives sage advice and counsel without judgment.

I realized recently just how much I adore him and how he has supported Hope and I through this journey when he went out of medical leave and I legit panicked that he might not come back. Dr. G has been there rocking with us since the beginning and I’m so grateful.

  • I’m grateful for the grace Hope’s family has shown me. Every holiday we get two cards in the same envelope sent by Hope’s biological grandmother. The big card is for Hope and the little card is for me. It’s so thoughtful.

These last few years, Hope has not had a lot of contact with her family. This has been her choice. I encourage her reaching out, but I don’t push it. I understand why it hard for Hope, and I know that her reticence to maintain contact has been painful for her family. I’ve often worried that they thought it was me blocking contact; they have kindly reassured me that they know that I’m not. I try to send letters, lots of pictures and updates on how she’s doing. I feel a real pain in my heart knowing and seeing this estrangement and not being able to smooth it over. I’m a fixer, so I want it to work out.

I don’t know what the future of the relationship will be, but I’m so grateful that they have been kind to me and have welcomed me into their homes and hearts. They are wonderful people, and I’m grateful for them and what they’ve brought to my life.

  • I’m grateful for this this goofball, Yappy, and his predecessor, The Furry One.

Yappy

Image may contain: dog

The Furry One

When Hope moved in, I was doggy mom The Furry One. I’d had him since he was 8 weeks old and he was closing in on 15. Most of my truly adult life I’d had this dog.

The expansion of our dynamic duo to a trippy trio was very hard for The Furry One. He was old, delightfully grouchy and still forever my sweet baby. He passed away about 7 months after Hope’s arrival, and I was devastated.

My grief was overwhelming. For months I couldn’t look at another fluffy white dog without bursting into tears. I know my grief was magnified because Hope and I were headlong into beginning to really cope with challenging behaviors, mental health issues and more. I was also still trying to integrate my new realities with my career. I was a mess.

It took me a long time to realize that The Furry One had a long life and his last gift was his affection during a really hard transition.

About 4 months later, we got Yappy through a Craigslist ad and I’ve been hopelessly in love ever since. Yappy is seriously the cheeriest dog I’ve come across in a long time.

He is super social and affectionate. He loves people so much that I rarely take him to the dog park because all he does after his business is lap surf all the other dog owners sitting on benches. He is my constant companion, snuggle buddy and wordless cheerleader. He looks at me like I hung the moon and the stars.

Sure he has severe separation anxiety, but hey, he ADORES me unconditionally.

I’m grateful.

  • I’m grateful for my sisters. I have amazing siblings. We are close, very close. We love hard, and we try to show our love constantly in our support for one another. We each have our own ways and love languages, but we are always there for each other. My sisters have been unwavering in their support of me and Hope. They’ve listened to me cry. They’ve been there to celebrate. They’ve sent gifts. They hosted overnights. They shopped with us and for us. They’ve been the best aunties ever. We’ve always rode hard for each other, but during this chapter of our lives, it’s been amazing. And I’m grateful beyond measure.

Of course there are many, many other things for which I’m grateful. There have been so many people along the way who have touched my life, helped me be a better parent and helped me get myself together. It is more grace than I deserve. It is humbling and beautiful. So I’m sending a big thank you to the universe for so much on this journey.


Unlearning Things

Fall used to be my busiest time of the year, but these days have me gallivanting all over the place all dang year.

And you know what?

It is exhausting!

I haven’t been on this kind of grind in nearly 10 years, and I definitively know that I did not miss this pace. And did I mention I’m 10 years older now? I mean, I’m still fly, but it’s still a whole arse decade!

Anyhoo, I’m launching into a month of travel with a legit vacation wedged in there around week 3. #costarica

Because of this grueling schedule, I’m suffering from some major writer’s block, aka “productivity exhaustion.”

So, all of that to say, I’m using some writer’s prompts to help me keep writing through the layovers.

This post is about the things I had to unlearn on my parenting journey with Hope.

There were a lot of things I had to “unlearn.”

Like a lot.

A lot a lot.

Ok, here are the top 3 things I had to unlearn.

I had to unlearn my existing identity when I became a parent.

When I began my adoption journey, I was single and not even dating, about to be 40, entering my dissertation year, and about 6 months past one of the most serious health crises in my life. Up until those few months prior, I had focused primarily on my career. I enjoyed brunching with friends. I didn’t particularly enjoy dating, but I did enjoy the notion of finding my person. I had been traveling for a number of years, but still not yet to the real adventures I wanted to take on.

Life was good, but of course, something was missing.

Once I was parenting Hope, I learned quickly just how hard the self-sacrifice that parenting required was on one’s identity. Initially, it was like my life shrunk instead of expanded and I had no idea how to handle that.

I’m a contrarian by nature, and seriously sometimes I say no just because. No reason,  no rationale, for no possible reason that could make sense. There are times when saying no is so clearly not in my interest and I cannot stop myself from declining. I’ve been this way since I can remember.

This made sharing my life so stinking hard at first. I wanted Hope here, but having someone in the house after living alone for so long was super hard.

I am an overachiever. I constantly felt like a failure while parenting Hope. Initially it was when I inadvertently triggered her. Or when I felt like I made the wrong decision for her wellbeing. I thought I would make life worse for her.

I had to get to a place of really letting the old me go and rising up as something new. It was hard, but I think I finally got the hang of it. Now I’m realizing that I’m struggling to reintegrate my old identity and elements of what’s on the horizon.

I’m back into work hardcore in ways I wasn’t in recent years. It feels different. I’m reassessing what it means to have a kid in college and what does the next chapter looks like.

I’ll be 50 in a few years, and that’s a big year. I’m not immediately sure what’s on or in that horizon. It’s like I don’t even have a 5-year plan right now. I know I’ll still be working, quite probably at the same organization. I’ll be wondering what’s up with Hope. I don’t know academically or professionally what she might be doing. No idea. I don’t have a plan, but I probably should.

So now I’m learning that I’ve got to recreate myself again, somehow. I thought evolution was more linear, clearly, it’s not.

I had to unlearn my preexisting ideas about parenting.

I have loving parents who worked very hard to raise me and my sisters. I definitely do not always agree with them on many things, but I thought that they were a good parenting model.

The problem was that my parents created 3 overachieving, highly intrinsically motivated, bright, curious, minimally rebellious during the teen years women.

This meant that our standards are absurdly, and as many therapists have told me, sometimes unachievably high. We’ve surrounded ourselves with similar folks. Our friend circles are populated by some super cool, wicked smart and highly successful folks.

Hope came to me performing well in school. She’s bright. I marveled at how she had managed to endure her past and still make such good grades. I thought, “awesome, she’s bright and will continue to slay at school!”

But then the neurocognitive issues really emerged, and depression, anxiety, and PTSD all pushed their way to the front and center stage in her life.

Grades plummeted. Self-esteem plummeted.

I was flummoxed. It took me a while to figure things out, get the proper diagnoses and advocate for her. And yet with each grade…each one, I realized that nothing I was doing was actually resulting in improved academic performance.

Hope felt awful. There were definitely times when I didn’t appreciate her depression around this like I do now.

As for me, I felt disappointed on multiple levels. Why couldn’t I get Hope to do her work and do it well? I felt shame because I run with a crew who shares my love of high standards, so *of course,* they routinely asked how Hope was doing in school. I felt frustrated and low key mad all the time. Why couldn’t I fix this? Why didn’t she try harder?  Doesn’t she know what’s on the line here?

I had to unlearn all the scripts about what achievement looks like in childrearing. More than not, the achievement is raising a child who feels safe and confident. Sure, I tried to provide that for my daughter, but what that looks nothing like what I thought it would.

I knew it would be hard, but I thought it would be easier. Not looking for any credit or criticism; I thought my logical outlook would get me through parenting. Ha!

As I’ve unlearned my preconceived notions of parenting; I’d learned that there is nothing logical about 90% of parenting.

It is all magic though.

I had to unlearn a bunch of stuff I thought I knew about loss.

I realized through parenting Hope, that I needed to recalibrate how I thought about loss. I don’t mean to suggest that there’s a loss Olympics—there isn’t. Folks feel what they feel.

I definitely have had my struggles over the course of these 47 years. But real talk; the losses I’ve endured and the hurts I’ve survived though deeply impactful to me are radically different than what my daughter has experienced.

I thought I new loss and grief. I thought I understood the emotional burden therein. I thought I got it.

I wasn’t even close to getting it.

I’m very privileged when it comes to loss in the grand scheme of things. Meanwhile, Hope can practically tell me dates of those moments in her pre-adoptive life where she felt small, out of control, grief-stricken and more. I didn’t save her from those moments. She lives with those moments daily still.

Getting over and around loss and grief is enormously challenging. Of course, folks do it all the time, but it’s hard work for many of us. I had to realize that I had a lot of impractical mythology around loss. I had to set about to unlearning that stuff and replacing it with knowledge and strategies to help Hope and me work through huge emotional stuff on this journey.

I’m grateful for the notion of “unlearning.” I’m still learning and unlearning stuff. It’s a routine with no end in sight.


A Role Model for Hope

Hope has had a bit of the blues this week. She’s texted me just about everyday and this morning “made an appointment” to talk to me this afternoon.

She’s kind of keeping up with schoolwork and she seems to be settling into a nice routine. Medication management continues to be an issue for her, and it looks like I’m going to have to go back to holding the scripts, getting them filled and mailing them to her.

She finally came clean and told me she had been off of one of her meds for nearly a month. We had to revisit an important confab about taking meds daily and the academic and emotional consequences of not taking them.

“Ohh, yeah, that makes sense. You’re right. “

I’m really getting better at keeping my screaming and yelling on the inside and keeping my nice, supportive Mom voice together when talking to Hope. I gotta admit that it’s hard when you have to revisit the same issues over and over and over and over again.

I’m like, how did you forget that when I have left notes, emails, snail mail, texts phone calls and various other kinds of reminders. Do I really need to hire a skywriter to remind you to pop those 3 pills every morning and the other one in the afternoon?

Apparently.

Knowing she needed a bit of a pick me up, I told her the story of a student who called me earlier this week and shared a huge recent accomplishment with me.

I med A nearly 5 years ago when I launched a podcast at work. He was one of my production interns. He was such a great person to work with and had great ideas for the show that I still sometimes look at for inspiration years later.

After about a year and a half, A stepped down from the position. I never found anyone to replace him, but we kept in touch, even managing having lunch one day when I was in town.

Much like Hope, A’s journey was a bit rocky (don’t worry A, I’m not going to tell all your business!). I quietly fretted that he might give up or that he would change course away from a long held career dream.

I have worked with literally thousands of students over the years. I call the one’s I really develop personal relationships with my Pocket students. I keep them on speed dial or check in on them on social media. They all have my cell number and call to talk about all kinds of things. I’ve been to weddings, funerals, baby showers and other celebratory events.

There are those times when they call me to tell me the best news; A did that this week. As he told me about his latest achievement; I sat in my office basking in a rush of emotions.

I was so incredibly happy and proud of him and how far he has come. I reflected on previous chats and email exchanges and those times I peeped around to anonymously see how he was doing (yes A, I know all!). The last few months I’ve been distracted and hadn’t check in on him so when he reached out to chat, I was delighted.

I had two thoughts.

First, this young fellow is going to do great things because he stayed on the grind, didn’t give up and reached this particular goal.

Second, this is the kind of person I want Hope to look up to. It’s people like A that give others hope and serve as an inspiration and role model.

So, during our downtrodden call today, I told Hope about this guy I have known for a few years who has experienced some similar struggles and how he persevered.

She “uh huh’d” me politely, and then asked some questions. After a couple of back and forths she said, “That’s cool” which every parent knows is high praise.

I tell Hope about a lot of my pocket students, and it’s cool know that she’s getting close to the age when I usually meet them for the first time. I’m starting to see her through that lens as she figures out what she wants to study, what kind of work she wants to do and how she will define herself as a young adult.

It’s such a different view of her than being my daughter; it’s envisioning her as an adult, completely separate from me but still connected. It’s cool and weird and exciting and hopeful.

I know that Hope finds A’s story as a good model. I think it will sooth some anxieties she has about what can happen even if she continues to struggle at school. With support and hard work, she can still achieve the goals she sets for herself.

So this post is dedicated to A, the goal he has achieved and how he is role model for my precious kiddo and no doubt many others..

A, I am so ridiculously proud of you and all that you’ve gone through and done to get to the fantastic news you shared with me this week. It will be one of my career highlights. Sometimes you don’t get to see how things turn out for someone or you see it at a distance. Thank you for personally sharing this with me and thank you for being the awesome person you are! Know that your impact extends way, way beyond your immediate circle! You are making waves, and I’m honored to watch on the sidelines!

Hope and I are so very proud of you!


Eager Anticipation

I’m eagerly anticipating the return of the empty nest.

Don’t get me wrong. It has been wonderful having Hope home for the holidays.  We have had some nice moments of quality time during the last few weeks. It’s been cool.

That said, this is the longest that Hope has been home since the summer, and before that she was in boarding school and would only come home occasionally on the weekends.

She’s not returning for spring semester until next weekend…10 more days.

Now, I feel kind of guilty anticipating Hope going back to school, but the feelings are real.

Hope only came home twice during the semester, during fall and Thanksgiving breaks. Consequently, I got used to my alone time.

I cooked but not nearly as often since I could eat cereal or make a quick cheese toast for an after work bite along with wine, you know for a balanced meal.

I did my laundry and left it in the basket for days.

I picked up groceries on the weekend, and they actually lasted all week!

If I wanted to walk around in my skivvies, I walked around in my skivvies.

The occasional overnight guest? Not a problem.

Yappy and I had a cool routine and I was getting him reacquainted with his crate due to his separation anxiety.

Since Hope has been home, we are constantly running out of food even though occasionally she will not eat a real meal for a day or two. Then she’ll eat *all the food*.

I have to cook nearly every day…like actual meals. #LOL

I feel like I have to finish my laundry so that she feels compelled to finish hers.

It’s impossible to keep orange juice in the house; she drinks it like water.

I can’t walk around half-naked, and there are no guests.

I have to remind her to take her meds.

I have to ask her to walk the dog.

I made her get back to volunteering this week so that she wasn’t watching Asian dramas all day, because the Holy Homeboy’s children have to work in this house. (Yappy’s job is being cute and providing emotional support in the form of too much attachment).

Dishes are everywhere.

Ack!

I adore my daughter; she really is amazing. This first semester of college was really rough academically (like OMG rough) even though she really seemed to do much better socially. She needed this time to recover a bit and just rest. I get it. I support it. But…after a few weeks, I’m kinda ready to get us back to our new normal.

Is this what my parents felt? Did they love when I visited, but also loved when I returned to school? Did they feel kinda guilty about that? Can you really have the three day guest rule when it’s your home?

I never, ever want Hope to feel like this isn’t her home. This. Is. Her. Home.

*Whispers*

But I’ve gotten used to her being at school! I have adjusted and like my life as a empty nester.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as Hope preps to go back to school. We’re deciding if I’m driving her back or if she will take the train. I’m wondering how this semester will go, will she find her academic groove, will she want to continue? And if she doesn’t, what will our life be like with her back full time? What can I do to prepare myself for that? How did I let myself get so comfortable? And what will my grocery bill look like with this young adult living back in the house?

So many questions swirling….

But in the meantime, I legit am excited about her going back to school and me walking around in my skivvies, eating cereal for dinner over the sink and feeling kinda guilty about how excited I am about it.

via Giphy


Find the Thing that Keeps You Going

I don’t talk a lot about religion and faith in this space. I’m transparent about being a woman of faith, but I am not one for proselytizing, and I cringe when I think about how religious narratives run through adoption in ways that are not ok.

I was raised Christian, Baptist specifically. I grew up very active in church. My faith was always strong but my views on Christianity and organized religion in general have always been a bit rebellious. I don’t like the perversions of faith, I loathe how religion is often weaponized, how it is used to marginalize and oppress, the intolerance that usually comes along for the ride.

I’ve always, and I mean always since in elementary school, been curious about other religions, other ways of knowing, other faith orientations and how people come to explain the world around them. Consequently, though I identify as Christian, my beliefs are quite a bit more expansive than that. When Hope and I left the church that declined to have public adoption blessings of older adoptees, landing with the Unitarian Church made a lot of sense.

Even with that, I tend to find it confining sometimes so I’m more of a drop in kind of congregant.

Some things that have never budged: my love of gospel and my ability and willingness to pray without ceasing.

As an adult, there have been about 5 episodes when life kept me on my knees either literally or emotionally. The last big episodes were when I found out I would never have biological children and the first year of my and Hope’s life together.

The grief I felt after being plunged into infertility still gnaws at me. It still stings even as I have entered peri-menopause. It was a betrayal of body and of what I thought was faith promise. I did everything I was supposed to do and my body *still* wasn’t worth ish. My prayers were so angry, furious, accusatory and grief stricken. And then I got back to focusing on the moment that really should have overshadowed the loss of my fertility—the fact that the health issue *only* left me infertile. The original prognosis for my health issue was terrifying; the surgeon told my parents he had not seen anything like what he had found and told them to get ready for the worst. A couple of days later a second surgeon, heavily pregnant, burst into my room, my mom sitting by my bed and shouted that the pathology reports were clear and I was going to be ok. The tears that flowed…I still am reduced to tears thinking about that moment. It took me a long time to shift my focus to that moment because I focused so much on my loss.

I focused on the loss and not the life extension.

The reminder grounds me, even as I still wrestle with my grief years later. There’s a song that takes me there and was so instrumental in me getting to that shift, Byron Cage’s I Will Bless the Lord. That part when he sings, “You don’t know cause you weren’t there when God snatched me out of the enemy’s hand…”

That part.

My life was spared; the price was infertility and while it still feels like a high price, this song reminds me of how much I want to live. I play it anytime I need to get right, especially in those moments of deep depression when it’s hard to pray.

The other recent period was the first year of placement/adoption for me and Hope. I knew it would be difficult, but I really, really had no idea how difficult. When I tell you I prayed all the time and for everything and to any deity…whew.

I was parenting a kid who had more issues than Newsweek. I was alone. No one in my life really understood what home life was like. I was judged a lot. I didn’t have a lot of support in large part because people have such warped perceptions of older child adoption. I exacerbated the isolation by writing about the lack of support, which seemed to make people in my life take sides—they didn’t take my side because I was being mean. So few people asked whether I was ok, why I was writing the things I wrote, what support that I needed that I low key still hold some resentments about it, but that’s another story for another day.

I joke about it now, but there were legit times when it was so difficult to navigate the emotional landmines inherent in adoption that I found myself sitting on a stool in my tub in my bathroom with the curtain drawn, the door closed, sobbing, eating chocolate cake and feeling like I could not possibly do this another day. It wasn’t unusual for me to lay in bed in the wee hours of the morning, looking at the ceiling fan praying for relief and strength to carry on.

I feel like I was a shadow of myself. Alone, with a daughter who needed me in ways that I could barely wrap my head around. I was just trying to get it together, constantly. Songs like this one got me through. #letgoandletgod

My point in this post isn’t to try to convert anyone to anything other than figuring out what you need to give you the umph to get through another day. For me, music, prayer and meditation did it in the worst of times. I’ve certainly added coping mechanisms along the way (a good therapist, anti-depressants among other things). But something about a good gospel song gets me together.

This life thing isn’t easy sometimes and finding emotional energy to build you up can be so hard at times. Figure out what works for you, what fits with your faith orientation (shout out to the atheists and agnostics as well, much love to you). Sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s a prayer, a book and glass of wine. Find what recharges you, even if it’s just a quick spark and lean into it. This isn’t just about infertility or adoption; this is about life. And for many, this time of year life feels…even more difficult. Figure out what lifts you and do that.

I tell HAPs all the time to get a therapist, some drugs and some serious coping skills before they bring a child home. I’m serious about that too. Folks have sent me messages about whether that’s really necessary…yeah, it is. Do it, it will help you be the best parent you can be and kids need that. Recognizing and reckoning with your own stuff better situates you to deal with someone else’s.

So that’s it. That’s the post, lean into what keeps you going, what reminds you of the joy of living, what gives you the energy to go another day.


Parenting a College Student

Hope and I have settled into a nice routine of semi-daily texts and 1 phone call a week to catch up and talk shop.

The “catch up” part is really what’s going on in our lives. The “talk shop” part is derivative of the first—it’s how we talk about the things we need to do as a result of the “catch up” part.

If I’m lucky, I get a 2nd call a week because Hope misses me and just wants to chat for a few minutes.

The texts are pictures of Yappy (which as decreased because she can see every pic on our google folder for Yappy), memes, quick check ins and good nites.

I’m really loving this rhythm and what it represents: Good attachment!

I feel good about that. I’m also thrilled that I’ve managed to train Hope to tell me the important stuff by phone and let’s keep texting fun and not the place for good chats. I’m hoping that she is able to transfer that concept to her general texting interactions. #stillparenting

She doesn’t ask me to send her random stuff anymore. I nipped that in the bud after the first month. She proudly told me that she gets her groceries delivered to campus each week. Good for her, but “groceries?” I reminded her about that ‘generous’ meal plan I’m on the hook for…use it. I’m thrilled she figured out how to get what she needed.

Each conversation I see Hope growing a little. I hear her struggles but also how she is trying to problem solve things. I don’t hear too many excuses anymore. The biggest realization is that my opinion means a lot to her and that she trusts me as a knowledgeable human.

May every parent have this moment because like Jesus, I wept. Of course my tears were from joy.

This is the period of life, those adolescent years, when you just think that you are the schitts. You know EVERYTHING. And if you didn’t know it, someone in your peer circle probably knew it just like you probably knew that one rando thing that they didn’t know. And you think that anyone over the age of maybe 25 was pushing off to the nursing home any day and couldn’t possibly know more than you because they have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel and had no doubt lost so many brain cells that they should be on a mush diet.

Yeah, you know the age.

Y’all we are past it.

giphy

via Giphy

Hope doesn’t just want my opinion, she actually thinks I’m smart, like really smart. She knows I don’t know everything, but she knows that I know a lot, certainly way more than her. So Hope will text me questions; she will have deeper philosophical conversations with me. And in the moments when our chats are delving into “advice” territory, she actually pushes through the conversation, prompting, asking me for my thoughts and insights.

It’s really startling.

Of course then she will send me a video of someone trying to light farts. #disturbing #cantunsee

We have a ways to go yet.

Our chat a few days ago covered this knee injury she has, her recent cold, her grades, realizations about her ADHD and her upcoming trip home for the weekend that slid into us talking shop.

The student health clinic wanted to refer Hope to a specialist about her knee. We discussed and decided that she would see our GP when she came home this week and go from there. She’s happily over her cold, which I think developed from sinusitis and allergies. She said I might be on to something there. I told her she needed to get some Tylenol or scope out a kid on the hall whose parents remembered to pack Tylenol (I sent her with the gigantic jar of Advil. Whatever she can trade).

She confessed to not turning everything in on time and why and how she’s struggling to control her ADHD symptoms in the afternoon. I told her she should talk to our GP about that as well since he’s handling medication management these days. I told her I didn’t want him to hear it second hand (from me) and that she could just call the office to talk to him about her symptoms since we’re in a practice that allows that. She paused, toying with just asking me to do it or with the idea of dropping it. She said, send me his number. Since I’m coming home to see the doc can I talk to him about this too with him?

Me grinning on the other end of the call; “Yep.”

We talked about a hair appointment; she said she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her hair. I didn’t press but said, well, I found some salons in your neck of the woods that do Black natural hair. When you’re ready just make an appointment and check in with me to see if you need extra money to get it done. We verbally shook on it.

I swear boards of directors could take a page on the efficiency of our “talk shop” conversations. They’ve evolved and it’s really cool. It means we’re on the same page—What has to get done? What needs a step towards a solution?

And even more cool, Hope has real, cogent ideas about solutions. She may have even tried an idea or two before telling me. We’re beyond the, “maybe Beyonce’s foundation will pick us…” days. #girlwhat?

Oh there are many days when she has ridiculous ideas mixed in (all the time), but she’s more confident about all of her ideas and sharing them with me.

I don’t want to make it seem that all of the drama we have endured isn’t still there. I think that Hope and I have a bit more clarity about it and how it affects her and us. Hope is still well below her peers in overall maturity. She still is a vulnerable girl prone to being overwhelmed and succumbing to some specific kinds of peer pressure. She is not nearly as fragile as she once was, but she’s still somewhat fragile.

The patina of trauma that once was sooooo thick it just masked her is much thinner, but still very much a part of her. It covers her. I hear it in some of the pauses in our conversations about certain things. I feel it when she says she misses me. I see it when she is sad. I see it even in moments of joy. I see her conquering it slowly, but it is there.

There are many, many things we still talk about that my friends have already discussed with their 10-year-olds. Hope was in the system when she was 10. She moved a few times that year. She managed to progress to the next grade, but the lack of permanence was still there and would still be there for many months to come. And there were countless moments preceding her 10 years that led to predicament Hope found herself in at that tender age.

I hear all of that when I talk to Hope too. It’s still there. And I’m amazed to she her still pressing forward in spite of all of it. But, it’s still there, and it’s still hard for her and for me.

I’m so excited that she will be here for a few days next week. She hasn’t been home since she left in mid-August. I’m looking forward to fun chats, a happy dog, all around goofiness and to learn more about Hope in this new chapter of her life.

The more I learn about her, the more I learn about me.


Radical Self Care

I just returned from Puerto Rico, and I’m realizing I don’t do this kind of radical self-care often enough.

Every morning, I got up to walk. I love my daily walks with Yappy. It’s usually dark, and I’ve got to stop a half million times to allow him to sniff, try to reach the errant, tossed away chicken bone or pop a squat. I often go back out for a quick walk without him. These last few days I’ve walked close to 5 miles every morning, coming back to the hotel drenched in sweat, feeling alive and a little more tan.

I picked up some yogurt from the market, got cleaned up and headed to the beach. I enjoyed the sounds of the ocean, lulling me into a morning nap facilitated by early drinking and an edible or two. I read a trashy book, hit the ice cream shop for lunch and relocated to the pool in the afternoon.

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I discovered a little carry out shop across the street from the hotel; they make the best calzone crust I’ve ever had. I also purchased a bottle of rum and have practically had Cuba Libres on tap the last several days.

beach

I lounged in my king sized bed, channel surfing in the evenings, briefly considering going out, or at least going down to the cigar bar to smoke and drink in the luxe lobby.

Lounging stayed winning during this brief reprieve.

I’ve experienced so few moments of irritation over the last few days that they seem almost a distant memory. Oh, I remember them though and Holy Homeboy, white folks are at the heart of each moment. Now, just remember that part of what precipitated my quick vacation scheduling is having been pushed to the brink by white folks during a meeting on diversity and inclusion, so this is a sensitive thing right now.

Practically empty beach, no please come stand in front my chair to take your selfies for 15 minutes.

Whiny group of 10 traveling together who asked if I would move chairs so they could also sit together at the pool. This chair? The one I’ve been sitting in for 90 minutes? No. I’m good. Cue their melodrama of moving to another row to sit together. #theaudacity

I had time to do a lot of thinking and reflecting on this trip, but honestly…I didn’t. I thought I might take some time to think about my next career moves, maybe spend some time thinking about some of the volunteering I’ve been doing. I thought I might think about finding my way around this dating thing. I thought I might think about a lot of things.

Instead, I gave my brain a much needed rest. I thought about very little. I rested.

beach

Why is it that I had to hit a wall to embrace just doing nothing for a few days? I mean, I know that the daily routine isn’t designed for just being without expectation, but wow, not doing anything for 3 days should not feel so radical or costly. And yet it does.

I’m glad to be home, waiting for the boarder to bring Yappy home. I’m looking forward to getting back into my routine for a few weeks. I’ve got a trip to Hawaii in a few weeks for work. I’m looking forward to freshening my tan and enjoying time with colleagues.

In the meantime, I’m going to find a few minutes every day to just be, to just breathe and to just rest.

Challenging all of you to do the same.


Kids Don’t Want to be A$$holes.

I was surfing around Facebook this past weekend and stumbled upon posts with parents venting about kids’ behavior. The “kids” may have had trauma backgrounds, may have neurocognitive challenges and some had both and more. I could practically hear the frustration through my phone and laptop screens. I empathized deeply.

I’ve certainly posted here about my frustrations around Hope’s more challenging behaviors, and how they were really, really difficult to cope with, so I get it. I have a love/hate relationship with online adoption support communities, but I do think that online support groups are important because we all need safe spaces to just release the big emotions we have in trying to cope with what inevitably feels like very personalized behavior designed to destroy us. It’s natural to feel that frustration. It’s natural to need to vent.

What struck me, though, is how easy it is to go down the rabbit hole of seriously thinking your kid is out to get you, to impose consequences that serve to push the kid further away and to really think there’s nothing going on but what you see on the surface.

Pro Tip: There’s always something going on below the surface.

I learned some time ago that Hope’s behaviors typically weren’t about me at all, but they were a form of communication with me. Parenting Hope through trauma and ADHD was and is…hard. Of the over 2,000 days Hope and I have been a family, I experienced some level of emotional upheaval for at least more than a good third of it.

Way more than a third of it if I’m brutally honest.

This has not been a walk in the park, nor has it lived up to the parenting experience I thought it would be. It’s been, in many ways, better than that notion and way underachieving in other ways.

It took me a long, long time to understand and appreciate that Hope’s most challenging behaviors were really her trying to tell me that she was struggling, that I needed to meet her where she was, not where I thought she should be. She was, and sometimes still is, scared and unsure of the circumstances and her place in those circumstances. She didn’t always have words, so she acted out. She still doesn’t have many words, but she will apologize for not being able to tell me what she needs. Sometimes it’s like we play out charades as I run though a list of potential challenges trying to guess what it is she needs and whether I can do something that will relieve her stress.

Hope was never out to get me in those moments when she was acting all spawn of satan and ish. She was calling for me to save her.

As we spend some time venting, we’ve got to remember that kiddos need us. That they are, in fact, often telling us what they want and need. They don’t want to be acting out. They don’t feel good about any of it. They aren’t trying to stay in those dark places.

According to the US CDC, nearly 10% of kids have an ADHD diagnosis. And although only about 3% of kids have depression and 7.1% of kids have anxiety, there is a high likelihood that if you have a diagnosis for one, you will have a diagnosis for another with a side dish of high incidence of behavioral problems too. For those of us parenting adopted children and/or children with trauma or ADHD, it might seem like these stats are low. They are relatively low; it’s just that we all hang out together, plugging into communities with other parents who are living the same experience. It ends up feeling like it’s a lot more people because we are plugged in.

There was a conversation I had with Hope one time when she was trying to explain what ADHD felt like without meds and what her depression feels like. It was heartbreaking for her to vocalize what it actually felt like, but it helped me understand that as frustrating it is, as much as I feel so personally attacked with some behaviors, as disrespectful as it feels, what Hope feels in those moments is so much worse. I pondered it for weeks.

Our kids don’t want to have behavioral problems. Our kids would love nothing more to be “normal.” Our kids want to blend in. They don’t always have the capacity to keep it together. They don’t always have the skills to even perform normalcy. We have to support them and create space that will allow them to get as close to it as they are able.

It’s ok to vent. Really, it is absolutely ok to vent, just remember that they aren’t trying to be assholes. They aren’t.


Ask Hope, vol.2

What are best and hardest things about being adopted as an older kid?

Being in school, at some point talk of one’s parents comes up eventually and so for a while, I was constantly telling others that I was adopted and that I wasn’t from Virginia. Mostly this happened because I came halfway through the year.

One of the better things I guess is because I was older, I didn’t have to worry about losing any more friends that I made from moving around. I was able to keep friends from that time onward.

What are you most excited and nervous about as you enter (young) adulthood?

I don’t think that there is anything that I am particularly excited or nervous about. I’ve spent the past school year at a boarding school so I am ok with living away from home for a long period of time. Although I’m not worried about living without my mom, I am worried about how my procrastination will develop. I lose track of time very easily so I am definitely worried about how I am going to manage myself and keep myself in check and make sure that I keep my focus on what is important rather than getting caught in an endless loophole of distraction.

[ABM adds: We’re looking at some cool productivity apps that set timers and block sites for periods of time. If you have apps you like that help reduce distraction and increase productivity, please share them!]

What’s your current fav song??

I really love Kpop. Right now currently my fav song(s) are Wave/Illusion – ATEEZ and Twilight – ONEUS

What’s the best dirt on ABM?

Dirt? Hm, I don’t really know what I could possibly tell you. What do you already know?

[ABM responds: WHEW! Grateful I grew up without social media!]

Do you have any advice for younger kids who may feel out of place sometimes (for whatever reason they may feel that way)?

I’m not quite sure in which situation you are asking about but if it is in the foster care system then I don’t really have much advice for them because there isn’t much that they can really do but to try and wiggle their way into a group of people that they can talk to. It’s pretty likely that a kid in a foster home with other kids will feel slightly out of place. Although they may all be in the same place or situation doesn’t mean that they will be kind or will work with the other kids.

If I would give any one piece of advice it would be to not just let yourself be outcast, it’ll give the other kids a reason to come after you. Try wherever, whether at home or school, to make friends or at least find someone who you can talk to and someone who actually acknowledges you and treats you in a friendly manner.

What do you wish people understood about being adopted from the foster care system? What could adults (teachers, parents, doctors) do to be more helpful?

I’m not quite sure.

I do think that many who are adopted from the foster care system might have an issue with trusting the people around them, especially adults. Another thing that people should try to understand might be that the child could have a very hard time adjusting and that they might have some other issues from earlier on in life, or just during their time in the system.

I’m not really sure, but giving them space, listening to them, and just working with them. One thing that helped me was that I had some time to adjust to my surroundings before I started school so that everything wasn’t completely foreign to me. I got to see and do lots of things and had many experiences which helped me become comfortable and assisted in the progression of our relationship.

 

 


Letting Go, Trusting the Process

I’m experiencing all kinds of cognitive dissonance over here. So, this is the summer of life skills, right?

Right. I’m all in on making sure I foster competent independence in Hope.

And then, I’m constantly wondering if she ready. I’m constantly doubting whether she’s as competent as I hope she is. I’m overwhelmed when she is unable to do something; I try not to say it out loud, but it just lingers.

And then sometimes I just think, what the WTEntireF?

Last year, when Hope interviewed for a spot at her boarding school’s summer program, I remember sitting watching the interview and how my girl was charming, smart, poised, and confident. Even if I know she doesn’t usually feel like any of those (#depression), she rose to the occasion and really hit it out of the park.

I’ve found that sometimes Hope really can perform like a 17 year old who is college bound and ready for the world.

And then, there are times like when I was away on the business trip recently and Hope texted me that the remote control to the main TV stopped working.

I sent her this.

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via Giphy

 

She actually texted me back to ask what should she do?

Really?

I am nearly 2,000 miles away. I dunno, maybe watch TV in your room with your TV?

She texted me about the remote control, y’all.

And you know what, 2 weeks before that, she texted me, from her phone, a Google-able question.

My response.

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via Giphy

 

These are the moments, ironically usually by text, that keep me up at night. She’s not going to be interviewing every day….no, no, she’s going to be watching TV while asking me questions she can ask her phone. It’s the daily tasks, the ordinary stuff, yeah, that, that’s the stuff she can’t do.

Or won’t do.

I found Hope a volunteer opportunity that would allow her to work every day, though I’m voluntelling her that she needs to put in about 20 hours a week.

Me in the AM: Hope, call the store to set up your schedule.

Me in the PM: So, what’s your schedule?

Hope: Oh, right. Yeah, I looked on the website.

Me: Huh? I told you to call.

Hope: Yeah, but I looked at the site.

#IDONTGETITATALL

Are we even involved in the same conversation? I’m not even sure anymore.

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via Giphy

 

We went around like this for 2 days, until I announced that tomorrow I would just have to physically sit next to her to bear witness to her calling to set up her schedule. #unbelievable

Contrast this with her performance during her college orientation this weekend. *That* version of Hope was anxious, but made conversation, asked questions, and charmed a few other parents along the way.

I know that a lot of this is normal, but it is dizzying.

I am reminded that Hope is a bit behind the curve. She’s still immature; her emotional age still lags behind her peers. She’s catching up; I can really see the gap closing, so deep down, I know that she will be ok, but that gap tho…

I think about the emotional age gap and the depression and the anxiety, and the trauma and the and the and the, and sometimes I feel like we’ll never catch up. And then I spend time wondering what “never catching up looks like?” I wonder what it will look like for me. I wonder what it will look like for Hope.

This transition is certainly less scary than when Hope and I transitioned to be a family. The stakes are really so much lower, but I’m still feeling like…is she ready? Do I believe she’s ready? Does my angst mean I’m possibly not ready?

I dunno…I also feel like Hope’s ability to survive or thrive in college this fall is a reflection on me and my parenting. Did I do everything I could to help to Hope? Did I provide her enough safety? Did I support her enough emotionally? Did I invest enough in her education? Did I try enough different kinds of therapy? Was I the best mom I could be to her and for her?

I feel like I’m about to be graded, and I never worry about grades, so why am I freaking out about whether Hope is going to get to college and text me that she has a hole in her sock, wanting to know what to do?

As I spiral this post out of control topically, I’m realizing that I’m wondering if I’ll be judged on what is probably dumb ish that all kids do because ours is an adoptive family?

I mean, in adoption, you get the halo because you “saved” a child (I hate this) or the horns because you “saved” a kid but didn’t “really” save them because they are still a dysfunctional hellion.

It’s absurd.

And I thought I’d stopped caring a long time ago about being judged for my parenting activities and choices.

Looks like I care after all.

I also know that when Hope needs to be great, she’s more than steps into that. All the other times she is what’s probably a normal slug of a kid.

I know I did my best for Hope. There’s always room for improvement, but I would like to think I’ve done a good job mothering Hope these last few years.

I also know that I am spending a fair amount of time every day thinking about how it will all feel if Hope doesn’t have the best experience there.

So, while I continue to press on with Hope’s life skills curriculum this summer, I’m going to try to trust this process and where it will take things with Hope. She’s going to be ok. She’s going to learn how to do the things she needs to do.

She will be fine, and so will I.


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