Tag Archives: Life Transitions

A Change of Plans?

So, the latest in this parenting from afar saga is getting Hope to embrace a change of plans for post-high school.

I’ve been putzing around the house wondering what this year at boarding school would mean for Hope’s future. Sure, I really wanted to create a situation where Hope would be successful in high school, making decent grades, figuring out the social stuff, getting mentored, all that good stuff.  But, really, all of that is supposed to lead to a college launch.

Some time ago, Hope and I concluded that she might do best staying home and attending the local community college. Then she did well on the PSAT, and then she went away for the summer and shined. Now she’s at the school for her senior year. In my mind, this represented a trajectory change. It was huge directional step away from that original post-high school plan. I mean, why go to a community college when you’ve graduated from a college prep school, right? I bore no illusions that Hope would go to some big university. Given what we’ve learned in the last year, it’s clear the smaller school the better and the most structured environment the better. Hey, she might even consider the military. In all the change in the last few months, I saw the widening of options for Hope and a change in plans.

Hope did not see things this way at all. With me, she hemmed and hawed about what she wanted to do after graduation. When her mentor started asking questions about the SAT and the ACT, Hope said they really weren’t necessary since she didn’t plan to go to a university. We’d talked about whether and how Hope saw the move to boarding school as a change in her trajectory. She said she did and then she didn’t say much. I would ask about how “the plan” might change and what should that look like? She would say she didn’t know.

It all seems like a ploy to avoid inevitable confrontation since this weekend I learned that maybe she didn’t see a change in plans in play at all.

My response? Well why not???

Her response? Why should it change anything?

My next response? Are you kidding me? I think it changes everything!

And so, I went inside my head and heart to wrestle with my expectations of Hope all over again. When given chances to change course, usually Hope doesn’t. The decision to go to boarding school was shocking, and I thought maybe it marked a big change. Of course, it did. It just didn’t mean what I thought it meant. The truth is I have no idea what it means. I don’t think she really knows what it means either.

So, we’ve been talking about it. Have you looked at any schools? Yeah, sure. Do you want to share the schools? I get the list, and applications to those schools will be met with rejection. I don’t say this; I don’t want this conversation to shut down and well, there’s a college counselor who will convey this message. Then, she announces maybe she will go to school in Seoul, South Korea. Um, have you looked into going to school abroad and what you need to do in order to do that? Do you have any idea how much money they want you to have in the bank in order to do that? OMG…

This is such a tumultuous, transitional time for kid’s her age. It’s a crazy times for parents too who are hoping, praying that their kids explore their choices and then make good informed choices. This is what I hope for Hope, but I know this kid and decision making isn’t a strong suit with this one. She avoids them. She doesn’t like change. She may still really need some time before launching, but I also know that that being the default position is not the best thing for her. She always needs a push or pull to stretch a bit, to trust herself and to trust her ability to stand on her own. I’m trying to give her some space to figure it out, but yeah, I’m a bit vexed because it’s so unknown for both of us.

I have no idea if she even has a clue what she wants to study? Does she even really still want to be a linguist? Who knows.

All I know right now is that I need to finish SAT and ACT registration and start work on the FAFSA so that we can keep options open.


Years Later, What Now?

This weekend I’m in a much different place than I was with this whole empty nest thing.

This weekend, I’m not as gracious with it. I’m a bit more reflective. I’m still pretty emotional about it but in a different way. I’ve got to figure out what to do with myself now.

Twelve years ago, it was just me and the Furry One. Life was fairly simple. Then eleven years ago, I was in a relationship that I knew from the start wasn’t really going to be sustainable. I stayed for three years. Doing my doctorate was as much a life goal as it was an exit strategy for that relationship. I reasoned, if I went to chase that dream I wouldn’t have time to sit around in a dead end relationship *and* study while working full time.

So, I ended my relationship and started school. I replaced one with the other. I stayed super busy. I found a rhythm and made it work.

Halfway through my program, I hit a major health event that scared me. Actually, it terrified me. My presence here is a testimony to great medical care and not having finished my purpose here. The event changed my life though. After I recovered, I learned that I would never have a biological child, and I accelerated my adoption plan.

It was an insane time. I was still finishing my coursework. I began juggling the adoption process and school. The month I defended my dissertation proposal was also the same month I received Hope’s adoption profile. I was writing my chapters when I went to visit for the first time. When Hope was placed with me, I still had two chapters to write. I wrote those chapters while we endured several of the roughest weeks of my life (and probably some of hers as well), even worse than when I thought I might die.

Around the same time, Elihu came into my life. We were happy for a long time, but I was juggling work, a long distance relationship and raising an amazing child with a trauma background. Eventually, I just got exhausted. It was too much, and one thing had to go. E and I said our sad goodbyes and I focused all my energy on Hope.

I feel like this last year of my life has been wholly devoted to Hope. There were days when I felt like I was dragging us to some imaginary line, probably graduation. I just wanted Hope to have the best opportunities I could give her. I was up at her school all the time. Emailing teachers, emailing counselors and therapists. I threw myself into parenting in a different way. As this spring rolled in I got it in my head that she needed a summer enrichment program to help her prep for her senior year. I started to research programs. I found a few; I presented them to Hope and we settled on this one. She applied, was accepted and thrived in the summer program.

As I prepped for those few weeks, I thought maybe I should think about doing something for myself during that month. A good friend suggested that I get back into the dating game.

Sigh, so I told myself that if Hope got into her program, I would, and I did. I went on a few dates, and I learned that if you are married, you had better make that ish work. These dating streets are rough; make it work. Anyway, I met someone; it didn’t seem serious at first, but then it might’ve been. I dunno. We had fun together, and the next thing you know a couple of months had passed. Hope was away at school, and I thought maybe…

And then it ended abruptly thanks to external circumstances.

The fact that it ended is sad, not full-on breakup sad, but just sad. It’s lovely when a courtship is new, and you’re getting to the point when you start trying to figure stuff out. It was lovely and sad and romantic and icky and then I realized something.

I was more emotional about the fact that I had to really, really, really sit with this empty nest thing. For the first time in 11 years, it’s just me and my dog, Yappy. There’s no school. There’s not a relationship to nurse or navigate. or buffer this emptiness. And Hope is 80 miles away finally stable and taking baby steps in the next chapter of her life. 

I mean, yes, I’m still parenting Hope, but not in the same intense way. In fact, there’s a major void. I’m single, I am parenting her from afar, but I went from our version of an 8 in intensity to a 1, and I feel a little lost.

These are the first steps of my next life chapter, and I have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing. It’s all so strange. I didn’t expect to be here. I’m not sure where I expected to be, but it’s not here. Here’s not bad, it’s just unknown. 

I feel like I have to figure out how to do this life again. What exactly was I doing 12 years ago, when I was single with minimal responsibilities on a day to day basis? And surely, I can’t just recreate that life; I’m 12 years older now. I’m a different person now.

What do I do now?  

I’m not sure, and I feel like I have way too much time on my hands to figure it out.

Summer School

Yesterday I dropped Hope off at summer school.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why this Life is also Miserable

After the pithy night of paper rain dances at the hookah night club on Saturday, I was moved to think about my life up to this point and how glad I am that it’s changing.  In Why this Life is Awesome, I found myself looking back at versions of my former self, appreciating her and happily running toward the new me.

The reality is that my existence as ABM is really, very new; heck, I am practically an infant!  I can’t even claim the 1:7 dog year conversion, here.  I’m wet behind the ears and have milk on my new mom breath.  So that brings me to a contrasting post on why life is also really miserable at the moment.

The adoption process is an odd thing.  It’s exciting and joyous and reflective and forward looking and deeply personal and really exposing.  It’s a growth phase that is transformational.  It’s emotionally draining and exhausting and devastating and it makes you question your capacity and your heart’s true desires.

It can make you doubt yourself in ways that can be almost self-loathing.

It can make you as sensitive as a snake having just shed its skin or as terrified as a chipmunk knowingly being eyeballed by the snake that just shed its skin.  It can be so isolating and so lonely because you can’t bear to tell anyone how rough the transition really is because you don’t really believe they will understand or relate or even believe that what you are experiencing is even close to reality.

It’s just a constant exercise in enduring emotional upheaval.  Some days in the midst of such rainbow sparkly super-awesomeness you find yourself in a really dark place, pondering whether the adoption boogey-man is around the corner.

(I have no idea what or who the boogey-man is, but I’m convinced that he’s out there somewhere wreaking adoption havoc.   I know because I see it in other bloggers’ posts as well as my own.  Eff you, adoption boogie-man…)

Meltdown triggers are all over the place, sometimes you know where they are, and sometimes it’s a surprise for EVERYONE experiencing the moment.

And so learning to apologize becomes a bigger part of life.  You need a dump truck to carry the loads humility that you actually need, but often you’re so wired and hurt and angry and frustrated and BLAH that you can only manage a teaspoon of humility and grace and you just dig your heels in and refuse to apologize or play fair.

The need to learn who is safe to confide in and who isn’t and whether folks are switching up those roles is a hard fought lesson to learn but one that’s critical to your very survival.  Some people around you are struggling to figure out their new roles and how that role fits in with all you’ve got going on; your heart breaks because sometimes these folks catch the worst of your messiness even though everyone is fair game for your misery-induced exploits.

A constant sense of defensiveness looms because you just don’t know when the next comment that feels like judgment about your decision-making or just your experience in general is going to emerge.  Some slights are entirely imagined, and yet you just go off the deep end anyway only to have to bob back to shore and find a humble pie to nosh on.

There is a prickly annoyance on some days when someone just says just add prayer and stir when what you feel like you really need/want is a serious, “Hey God, we need to have a sit-down, holla at you moment,” like the one in the book of Job or you need a burning bush experience like Moses, all lit up brighter than a Christmas tree.   Prayer while awesome seems so woefully inadequate even when it might be the only thing you’re capable of doing with some degree of sanity.  Oh Lord, hear my cries.

God help you if you are naturally a high achieving, control freak like me.  I have so little control over anything; some of the control I voluntarily laid down, other aspects of my autonomy seem to be wrested from me by a WWE primetime wrestler who cracked a chair over my back.  Failing is supposed to be a healthy complement to achieving, but the truth is it feels like crap.  I should add that one’s definition of failure can also become so skewed that it’s probably meaningless.

You thirst for encouragement and support just like you were stranded in the desert without food or water for days.   “A good job,” “atta girl/guy,” or “you’re doing great” can be enough to cling to for a week because you just needed some affirmation that you aren’t screwing up.  Sometimes you just need someone to say, I hear you and I affirm what you’re saying without any additional commentary.   That’s all you need to help dry the tears in that moment.

You create scenarios in your mind practicing how to react more appropriately when someone says something shady so that you don’t go all Dexter on them.  Never mind that your kid may be practicing the same scenarios.

You grimace in actual physical pain every time someone say something about how lucky your trauma surviving, grief consumed, loss-experiencing kid is to have you.  It’s a complement but folks don’t understand that you are really the lucky one, even on the days when luck seemed to have taken a hard left somewhere in the Artic on the way to your house.

You create coping mechanisms like my sorting strategy, “Am I going to die charging up a mountain on this issue or am I’m going to die walking in a parking lot on this issue?  I refuse to die in a parking lot so I’ve got to let that issue go.”

You engage in controlled cries.  You engage in out-of-control cries.  My own love of handkerchiefs has only deepened during this year.

Hear me well, this is hands down the best time in my life.  I’ve grown more than I knew was possible, but it was fast and painful.  I’m a frigging basket case.  I’m so ridiculously happy about Hope.  I try to focus on what life is going to be like when she arrives here for her extended visit.  I live for discovering what life will be like when she moves in for good.  She and I are becoming peas in a pod.  We click.  I get her.  It’s all this other crap in the roux that I don’t get, that I struggle and wrestle with.  It’s hard.  And I don’t even know yet if or how hard it might be when she is permanently placed.  Haven’t really a clue.

And every moment isn’t consumed by darkness, but the darkness is present, sometimes in the background like an operating system.  It’s just there, intermingled with unspeakable joy and happiness.  I see other bloggers and sometimes the darkness lifts and fades far away as time passes and everything and everyone gets settled.  For others it lingers as families deal with things like oppositional-defiance or reactive attachment disorders.

Adoption is a wonderful, magical choice and I am so glad I’m on this journey.  It is both sweet and bitter.  I’m still running towards this next chapter and all that is unknown about it.  But some days it’s a dark, rocky, lonely place.

So, in honor of National Adoption Month, go out, hug an adoptive parent, affirm their choices, build-them up, listen when they need to cry or vent or just cry some more.  Listen to their amazing stories of their amazing kids.  If they look like something the cat coughed up, offer to take their beloved little one(s) to the Baskin Robbins for 45 minutes so they have a little bit of time to just get themselves together.  You might do that for your friends with bio kids, think about offering for your adoptive friends and family too.  Give them a call to just check in on them because they may not be asking for the support they need to hold it together.  Learn about support structures and how you can be an adoption ally.  Trust them to make good choices for the kids they chose to love, and recognize that you don’t know all the deets for their situation that led to their seemingly draconian decisions, and no matter how close you are, it isn’t really your business to know anyway.  Don’t say any of this stuff; really, just don’t go there.  Forgive us when we are inelegant and sharp in response to well-intended feedback, advice or commentary because we may have just been bombarded with 12 other opinions.  Know that we are so happy you are walking this journey with us; we need you more than you know.  We longed for this path to parenthood, but we might never have imagined all the emotional space junk that comes along with it.

So there you have it.  My adoption public service announcement.

I feel compelled to again say, in spite of all of this, this is the best time in my life.  I would immediately do it all again for nights like last night when Hope said I was her mom.  There are still many Best. Days. Ever.

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