Tag Archives: life

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.

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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.

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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.


Beyond the Mug Cakes

So, this is where we are with me at home and Hope off at college:

Yeah, so, I do in fact miss Hope, but not like when she went away to boarding school last year. I really was so sad after she left for the year. I fell into a bit of a depression and felt a little rudderless during the first couple of weeks.

I do not feel rudderless this go ‘round. I feel…different. Not sure I have a word for it yet. I miss Hope. We text every other day or so and talk on Sundays. She sounds happy, if a little anxious. She seems to be thriving socially. I do miss her, but, no I’m not crying over her departure. When folks ask me how I’m doing with my empty nest, and I reply “FINE!” they seem to be disappointed that I’m not falling to pieces.

One thing is the same as when I experienced my first empty nest last year: the fatigue. Active daily parenting is frigging exhausting and when your regular parenting involves a lot of anxiety and a major life change on the immediate horizon, it’s a wonder you can get up in the morning.

This past weekend I enjoyed the ridiculous luxury of taking 2-3 hour naps Saturday and Sunday. It was decadent, and with the break in the weather serving the smallest whiff of fall, this was prime napping weather. I was couch-drunk most of the weekend.

So, yeah, there’s that.

Now what?

Well, I’m back in the dating hunt, which is….challenging. Dating when you’re older feels different. Your priorities are different. You are forced to even see yourself differently. The rose-colored glasses come off pretty quickly. Trying to be intentional about getting out, meeting people and dating raises my insecurities about all kinds of things.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I’m a catch. I know I am, but for whom? Some standards have gone way up like I really want to be with someone with same or similar educational attainment and a solid career. But as we slide into the late forties, how I think about myself and others is morphing. I still see myself through youthful glasses, and then I see the pool of men and I think, “Oh, we are aging. I mean, we still look good (some more than others), but that glossy veneer has worn away.” It’s a sobering gut check.

But I’m still out here trying to foster a healthy and robust social life.

And then there’s my role in the adoption community. I mean, it hasn’t changed, but it kind of feels like it has. I’m pondering what things I will write about, how will express the feelings of watching Hope navigate this next chapter. I’m taking on some volunteer consulting around diversity and adoption agencies. I’m looking forward to that and hoping it might turn into some other opportunities since how people of color show up and engage in and around the adoption community is important to me.

I’m diving into work and feeling like there are new challenges and opportunities ahead with my career. I see a shift in my work on the horizon. I’ll be getting a new colleague soon, launching new studies, debuting some new research. I’m passionate about my career, so I’m excited, but I’m also…already thinking about my exit strategy. I’m thinking about what my next chapter will be, when will I be able to retire and what will I need to do to make that happen. Even then, I’m eager to plan my retirement. I’m curious what and who I will be then. There have been a few evenings since Hope has been gone, when I just sat on the patio and dreamed about what that chapter might look like. With Hope in college, it seems like I can think about it for the first time in a long time.

And Hope…I do worry, maybe worry isn’t quite the right word. I’m concerned. It’s not eating at me yet, but it’s rambling around in the back of my head.

Is she overwhelmed?

Does she feel ready?

Is she ready?

A recent chat with AbsurdlyHotTherapist suggests that she’s really internalized the anxiety about being in college. She’s saying she’s fine to me, but being a bit of a pill in therapy.

How long is that sustainable?

And what plans should I put in place to guard against a meltdown or pick her up after one?

What would life be like if she isn’t successful on that path? As resilient as she is, would she recover from that?

Would I?

So, yeah, I’m concerned now that classes will officially start in 4 days. I’m going deep into the prayer closet this weekend.

I’m holding it all together and trying to map my next moves with and without Hope. I’m trying to be judicious with the mug cakes and get more exercise to compensate for this evening delight I’m currently digging.

But all in all, I’m good.


She Did It!

So, Hope is off at college. When I think about it, it’s pretty mind blowing. When I started this journey, of course I wanted my eventual son or daughter to go to college. Once Hope entered my life, I quickly realized that there were certainly way more realistic goals to have. College became a far away, almost abstract concept. I was hopeful, and I did whatever I could to still get her to college.

And I got a lot of feedback along the way.
“Maybe college isn’t for her.”

“It’s not for everyone.”

“She can have a good life without going to college.”

All of the feedback was true, but it didn’t get to the central issues about why I, ABM, was committed to getting her as close to college as I could—even if it was delayed.

Education is very much a central part of my own identity. It is one pathway to more choices, and I believe that choices lead to greater freedom. I want more than anything for Hope to feel free. Education, college, is a pathway to that.

So, fast forward 4 years to the end of Hope’s junior year of high school. We had long talks and agreed that she would start out at the local community college and work towards transferring to a 4 year school at a later date.

Then came the summer program, which also saw Hope do really well academically. That was followed by a year at the boarding school, where she still struggled academically, but had a lot more support.

That school required applications to 3 colleges. Hope ended up applying to 5. By the time it was over, we visited 3, 4 including the community college, aced her placement exam and fell in love with a small liberal arts college in the mountains of VA.

I get a little emotional when I think about the changes she has gone through this year. Last week as we were talking about the big move, I asked her what she thought this next year would bring given how this year took us in a completely different direction that we planned. She shrugged and smiled.

I imagine that next summer, Hope could be on the other side of world, living her dream in an Asian country soaking up the culture, the food and the language.

In the meantime, I’m reveling in the fact that my beautiful brown girl is a campus coed, a new Wildcat and finding her way in the world.

Here are some highlights from our journey this week, just in case you don’t follow my FB page (which you totally should)!

 

Totally turns out that we “weren’t” that family. We ended up being modest, as best. Someone even called Hope’s stuff “streamlined.” Kids bring a helluva lot of stuff to college with them.

One of the most disturbing revelations of the trip. I’m still so horribly embarrassed.

The roommate had a beanbag chair, so Hope needed a beanbag chair.

A rare Hope sighting! BTW, she’s still taking questions for Ask Hope! <<—Click the link to drop us an email!

I’ve already had to send her a package since she managed to forget her wallet in the car and flip flops. I also sent a few of those ultrasonic pest repellent doodads.


Days to Go!

We are 3 days out from hitting the road to go to move Hope into her dorm. Here’s what’s been going down.

My house is a mess.

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Ok, it’s really just the dining room back wall where we have piled everything for her dorm room up. I know that this is temporary and that we’ll be loading up the car in a few short days. But there are honestly boxes from Amazon that I haven’t even opened yet because I just couldn’t deal with all of the stuff. Things are packed a lot more compactly than when I was going to college, but still it’s a lot of stuff.

I’m looking forward to an empty nest purge after Hope is gone to school to continue to just get rid of some things. I’m feeling overwhelmed by all of the “stuff” in my home. It’s got to go.

Anxiety has settled in.
Hope and I have been having some great conversations about how she feels about going to college. She’s excited, but she’s got all the nerves of any other first-time college freshman. We talk a lot about specific areas she needs to work on in terms of personal development and strategies to help her. A couple of weeks ago, she kept telling me that her alarm on her phone was clearly not working on waking her up. She insisted that it wasn’t going off. After a couple of days, I sat down with her, elbow to elbow and studied the phone alarms with her.

No, nothing was wrong with the alarm. It worked fine. She was sleeping through it. I suggested that she choose an alarm sound akin to an airhorn. We also had a nice chat about accepting responsibility for the alarm and problem solving.

We’ve had lengthy discussions about medication management and how important it is to take her meds at the same time daily.

And she is…making lists and constantly harassing me about them. It’s funny, when I asked her to make lists, she didn’t. Now that she has lists, she sends them to me; she reads them to me. She reminds me about her lists. I’m good, I don’t need a list at this point. I need to make one more purchase for her dorm and I’m done. Today she asked me if she could put her clothes in the car. We don’t leave for 4 more days.

No Hope, you won’t be putting the clothes in the Nissan today.

I am proud of Hope, though. She is talking about her feelings. She’s articulating her needs. She’s trying to get herself together. I try to compliment her on these things every day because I know this she’s stressed, but she’s actually shouldering it quite well.

I’m prepping the nest.
I am trying to get myself ready for the feels I felt last year when Hope went off to boarding school. I remember feeling just exhausted for the couple of weeks after Hope moved into her dorm. I remember having to get used to the silence in the house, and all the things being exactly where I left them! I remember being able to eat cake for breakfast if I wanted. I mean, I know I can do it now with Hope being so much older, but I don’t I remember slipping into some freedom.

I met someone and dated him throughout this last year. It ended recently, so I’m out looking again.

If you are in a reasonably healthy relationship, make that ish work. These streets are rough. It’s just like the wild, wild west. It’s worst than dating in high school. Maddening. I could go on, but ugh.

I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to update Hope’s room. I’m not taking it over or making an office or anything. I’m looking to paint, purge and make the room look a bit more mature for when Hope comes home in the future. It *might* be time to take down the Bruno Mars and Justin Bieber posters. (Can’t say I’m not THRILLED about this!) Hope picked out a really lux paint color (like an eggplant), so hopefully I’ll be able to get the room updated over the next year. I’m hoping to take this time to also update the rest of the house. I feel like there are just piles of stuff here and there, not everything has a place, the new living room TV needs to be hung on the wall, there’s just lots of purging that needs to happen (If anyone has used one of those handyman apps, let me know about your experiences!). I just feel like I need to make some changes to mark this new chapter in my life.

I’m thinking about the long game.
This weekend Hope and I will also try to schedule which weekends this semester she might want to come home. I travel a lot in the fall so we need to figure out the schedule so I can reserve some train tickets. I’ve also put in my calendar things like, reminding Hope in October to start looking for/thinking about a seasonal job during the holiday break. Before you know it, we’ll be talking about spring break—we usually take an international trip then, and then Summer 2020.

One of the things about this chapter is realizing that at any point, Hope could totally launch. It could be slow, it could be fast, it could happen years from now. I’m just really conscious of the fact that the time we’ve had this summer could possibly be the last bit of time like this. She could be studying abroad next year. She could stay an do summer school. She could do all kinds of things. I suspect that she might be home, but just that possibility that things could change is front of mind for me. A year ago I did not believe we would be spending a weekend in August 2019 prepping for her to go away to college. Things can change so quickly.

It’s exciting to think about the possibilities.

All of that excitement is tempered by Hope’s history. I know her challenges and potential limitations. I’m committed to supporting her through it all. I’m hoping that these things don’t limit her long term, but I know that she’s still finding her way in navigating this life and that’s going to really take some time.

In any case, I am hyper aware of the fact that my kiddo *could* totally launch sooner than what I thought and that is just a marvel. I’m excited for her.

So today, 3 days out, I’m hosting a family lunch at one of her favorite Korean buffets to fete her as she steps into this next chapter. It’s a big deal. Grandpa is going to the Korean buffet—this dude does not do many foods outside of BBQ, crab cakes, burgers and chicken. Hope is so tickled that he’s stepping out of his comfort zone to come be with her.

This is a really, really special time around these parts.


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.

 

 


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.


Times are Hard

My holiday break has ended, and I’m dutifully back in the office. I could have telecommuted today, but if I had one more solid day with Hope I might snap.

These last couple of weeks with her have been great, but we learned quite some time ago that having breaks is a good thing for us.  My travel schedule has historically given us both the reprieves we’ve needed to maintain a health-ish mother/daughter relationship.  Since going to boarding school, we really seem to relish the time we spend together on the weekends.

During this break, we have had some good time to talk about 2019, about how graduation looms, about the college applications she’s sent off and how some decisions will soon have to be made about her future. When I initiated these chats, Hope talked about how fast it is all going and how anxiety provoking it is. I agreed; these last few years have flown by and knowing that graduation is only 130is days away has me reaching for the brown liquor bottle and a couple of cubes of ice. We are both really starting to get anxious.

Hope has made such great strides these last few months. I feel like she, and me by virtue of proximity, have backed away from the edge of the crazy cliff we were gripping to the last 18 months or so. During weekends home, Hope gives off a slightly more confident air. She’s not as anxious and doesn’t seem as depressed. I know it’s all still there, but it doesn’t feel as consuming as it used to. There was a time that I swear I feel like it was all I could do to just keep us…going, living, breathing.

The growth and stability has been encouraging to me as a parent. I began to allow myself to daydream about her life in college and beyond college. Of course, I have ridiculous hopes and dreams for my daughter, but honestly, I’d be thrilled if she was just ok, functional, independent, roaming out in the world as a regular Jane. Still the sprigs of growth gave me hope and allowed me to fantasize about Hope’s future. We visited a couple of colleges, and she submitted her college applications. We high fived even as all the activities were a little nerve provoking around the edges.

These two weeks are the longest that Hope has been home since before our vacation to Europe in August. The first few days were such a rush for both of us; it was Christmas after all. We traipsed around Virginia visiting family, doing some shopping and finally settling in back home for the second week of vacation. And…then I began to really see my beautiful Hope.

The trauma triggered behaviors began to peek out. The somatic anxiety ailments descended like a black, plague-filled cloud. The excuses for inability to function much became amplified. The failure to listen to full questions because she was more concerned about getting a chance to respond to questions that *weren’t* being asked increased exponentially. The attention seeking behavior—we just got back from our obligatory doctor’s visit which was wholly unnecessary and merely attention seeking, moving through unrelated phantom symptoms designed to elicit a surely deadly diagnosis, sympathy and a hopeful pass on all the homework she failed to do because she was watching K-dramas.

As Hope’s usual struggles reemerged, I have battled my own demons. This is a challenging time of year for me. I don’t mind the cold, but darkness feels…emotionally dark. I struggle the most with my depression during the winter months. My motivation shrinks; I feel exhausted all the time. I am continent to just cozy under a blanket and do…the least. It feels so hard to propel myself to function. I just feel like sleeping all the time. But, well being functional and high achieving doesn’t leave much time for that, so I power through with some sarcastic self-talk. I try to date despite feeling like the whole dating ordeal is just trash. I go to therapy to talk about my fears more than my hopes, and I pop that blue and white pill every morning praying that it keeps me firmly on the ledge, while contemplating the need to get back on the prescription that features a little white pill when I need more pharmacological help.

And because I’m always looking forward, I’m thinking about what happens after the next 130-some odd days. Will we be planning for college or a job? Will she make it to graduation? Will I have a better idea of what her new needs might be and the ability to come up with a plan to meet them. What will success look like for Hope? Right now, it’s all a bit of a black hole, and honestly, my personality type does *not* do well with black holes. I’m working on my patience. I’m working on taking it as it comes. I’m working on meeting Hope where she is, but I’m feeling like I have no idea where that will be.

I am a good mother. I know that. I have worked, really, really hard at mothering Hope. I’m far from perfect. I’m failed and dusted myself off countless times. I try to be reflective and course correcting, but I am feeling lost as we fast approach the next chapter. I don’t know what’s next.

I imagine that this is overwhelming for Hope as well. It’s scary not knowing what’s next. Hope and I are facing the next chapter independently and together—we both have our stories on what we think comes next and how we’ll handle it. We both have hopes and dreams, some of which are not based on reality at all. We are both afraid of failure even though what that looks like is probably widely varied. And then there’s reality and decisions and things we’re experiencing together for the first time. It’s exciting and overwhelming and it’s own dream come true to get to the senior year. But we both are looking into the void to figure out what’s next.

It’s awful and awesome in its own way.

I just know that I’m probably a bit overwhelmed and depressed at the moment, and I need to get on top of that. I can’t lead in the darkness when my own reality is too dark. Sigh…

This. Is. Hard.

 


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.


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