Tag Archives: Older Child Adoption

Family Unions

This weekend Hope and I will travel to my mother’s hometown to join up with other descendants of my great-great grandparents. I haven’t attended a family reunion since I was a girl in grade school, so I’m excited to go see cousins from all over at a huge gathering of my people.

As I registered me and my daughter for this event, I really wondered about how Hope felt about attending this event.

Hope often remarks how large my side of our family is compared to her side. She comments on how her paternal side seems large but she just doesn’t really know many of the people even though they seem to remember her from when she was a small child.

Behaviorally, it’s clear that my daughter has found her place on my side of the family. She adores her aunts and cousins. She has relationships with her grands. We’re still working past the big emotions related to reclaiming her place on her side of her family. The visits are less frequent because of distance and emotional stability. The conversation is stilted and awkward. The perceived demands that she remember, forgive and embrace them all are hard to overcome. It’s definitely a work in progress.

But family gatherings during the holidays and summer break with my family seems substantially different than going to a family reunion. Did other descendants choose to build their families through adoption? I know of some kinship adoptions in our extended family, but there are still some relations there that just are.

Will Hope feel overwhelmed by the event—beyond her “I don’t like crowds” complaints? Will her new roots in this family be enough to make her feel safe at this event? Will she choose to blend in not mentioning our type of family or will she feel like she needs to separate herself by disclosing our adoption? How best do I make her feel safe with any choice she chooses to make?

My parents and a sister did our Ancestry DNA tests several months ago and have been intrigued and amused at the results. It’s interesting to see how DNA trickles through the bloodlines. I bought a test for Hope who at one point was very, very interested in doing her test, and then she just dropped it and resisted talking about it anymore. I wondered if all that was revealed in watching my immediate family go through the process, uncovering family secrets and connecting with far flung relatives, was just too much to consider for my daughter.

And so, here we are again, at the precipice of another major family event. Will my daughter embrace it? Will she be a distant observer and not feel connected to any of it? Will she reconcile that paper and blood can coexist in families? Will she feel something for these people…these strangers?

I would be lying if I didn’t say I had a lot of emotions about this family reunion. I’m excited to see kinfolk, but I don’t know how my daughter will fit this into her lived experience. I’m not sure what being sensitive looks like here. I’m sure I’ll figure it out, and hopefully maybe it won’t matter at all. Maybe, she will just slide in, grab a hotdog, sit down next to a distant cousin who is cute and figure it out. Sometimes she can be a total boss like that.

Taking my daughter to my/our family reunion is expanding her union and that feels really, really significant. I try to think of our biological families as tied together by us—similar to how families are joined in marriage—ours is joined in adoption. I think a lot about how unbalanced it already feels sometimes, and I wonder if and how this will add to that?

I wouldn’t want to not take Hope as that sends a dangerous signal. Hope is my daughter. Hope is my sole beneficiary to everything that’s mine. She is my lovely, beautiful girl. She is my daughter. Of course, she goes to the family reunion.  Duh! That’s a non-starter.

But there’s always another side to things and that’s Hope’s feelings about it.

I’ve asked her about it. She hasn’t said much. So, I guess I’ll press forward, put on my family reunion t-shirt on Saturday morning, see if Hope puts on her family ‘union’ t-shirt and see what happens. Whatever happens I’ll be there for her as usual.


The Thing about Grief

It lingers. Grief it doesn’t ever really go away. It just lingers.

I’ve lost all of my grandparents, a few close friends and some colleagues in this life. They are all missed; I think of them often. I remember defining moments big and small in our relationships. I talk to my grandmothers all the time; I often feel their presence too. I’m even fortunate enough to hear them in my head sometimes.

During those moments when I feel them, I smile, and as soon as they pass, I am reminded that they aren’t on this plane and I can’t see them, hug them, smell them, nothing. They aren’t here physically with me. I still grieve that. But I cope; I have learned to cope.

I am raising a child who has experienced grief on levels I didn’t know existed. Saying her grief lingers is an understatement. It’s woven into her like fabric, and now it’s also a part of my own daily life. But Hope’s coping muscle is still under construction. She was so very young when she experienced such profound loss. She barely understood what was happening to her, much less how to deal with it. Now, years later, she’s still figuring it out, and I do my best to help her. It’s hard on both of us.

It’s hard to watch your child hurt at all, and she hurts so deeply. Witnessing this kind of grief is hard; it takes its toll. I feel helpless, and sometimes hopeless. It’s like there is nothing I can do or say to make Hope feel better. I encourage Hope to emote, to cry, hoping that a good cry will be cleansing. She hates that suggestion because she loathes tears. And so…we sit, often quietly, together.

Sometimes I force a hug on her, and she buries her head in the crook of my neck, squeezes me and sighs. We both exhale and close our eyes. The grief just swirls around us. It’s just always there.

I email AburdlyHotTherapist about my observations, and encourage her to talk to him. I try to get her to practice talking to her therapist about her feelings.

I love on her. I love on her as hard as I can, hoping that I can will her strength enough to be able to wrestle with her grief and win.

Grief can take you to such dark, dark places. The desire to give up…the desire to be with folks you’ve lost…it can make you so very vulnerable to the unimaginable pain. I knew that before Hope, but I know it now on a deeper level. It’s one thing to read about it, to hear about it. It’s another thing entirely to live up close and personal with it.

I worry for my daughter. I fret for her. I wonder when her coping skills develop such that the pain that often feels unbearable becomes manageable and compartmentalized. I just want her to be ok.

I’m often afraid for my daughter. Fighting grief is one of the great fights of Hope’s life.

I just wish I knew how to help her; how to lead her to some kind of solace.

The thing about grief is…grief sucks.


Independence

Hope and I try to ride our bikes together once a week, on the weekends, when I have time to recover. #ImOld. She seems to relish the time together. We’ve ridden along the river and over to a nearby military cemetery on Memorial Day. Even though I desperately need a nap afterwards, I enjoy riding with her and switching up my exercise routine.

When I bought the bikes, I envisioned that Hope would use it to stretch a little. I thought she could use it to go places like to the movies or to the store, the Starbucks, to a friend’s house. I thought at nearly 16, she would use the bike to gain some independence. That seemed, kind of normal right?

I thought so.

Hope did not agree.

Recently, Hope and I were enjoying dinner together. She asked me if we could go to a nearby store to get something she likes. I said, sure, but that she could walk or ride her bike there if she wanted. It is a store in the neighborhood.

She slowly replied, yeah, she could but she’d prefer if I just took her.

I paused and then pressed.

“I know I keep saying this, but you really can use your bike to go to a lot of places. I know you like riding it and you’ve got some freedom and independence with it.”

She replied that she was kind of afraid of all this independence I talked about. She said, first it’ll be the bike and then something else with more independence and then something else with even more independence and then one day, I would just put her out so she could be independent.

I had to sit down; the realization that Hope saw my efforts to give her some freedom and independence was seen as a set up for abandonment! It never occurred to me that she would think that. Never in a million years did I ever make that connection.

I had to reassure her that abandoning her was not the plan at all. I had to explain to her that learning how to do things for herself was just a part of growing up and those things included transporting herself places. My encouraging her to use her bike as a mode of transportation was not my way of pushing her out; I was just trying to help her grow.

I’ve spent the last week kicking this conversation around. I’m still stunned, but I guess it makes sense. I often tell people that Hope is a homebody, that she seems content to be home, watching videos, munching on chips. She rarely asks me if I can take her somewhere—to the movies, to the mall. I always have to drag her places. She’s learned to trust that whatever I have planned will be entertaining, but the onus is always on me to be the social planner.

She really doesn’t have a lot of friends, and the few she has often fail to keep their plans with her. She brushes it off, but I know it hurts…heck, it hurts me. In the end, Hope always seems content to just be home.

And that’s the point, but I didn’t make the connection. Hope needs to be safe. She doesn’t want independence yet. She needs me; she needs our home; she needs to feel safe. For her, the bike is only entertainment, not a way to be independent. She’s not ready for that. Even though I intellectually get it; it still a revelation to me.

A few days after our conversation about the bike, Hope told me that she was ready to retake the test for her learner’s permit. I chuckled that she didn’t want to ride her bike, but she still wanted to learn to drive.

Learning to drive is more time with me, teaching her, spending time with her. I was planning on taking her driving, but largely outsourcing the hardcore driving lessons because the way my nerves are set up…#scared I’m guessing I might have to rethink that plan.

Thinking back to our conversation about her independence, I have come to believe that her desire to get her permit is about fitting in. It’s a way for her to keep up with her peers, but she doesn’t really want to be independent at this point.

My Hope is still very much a little girl in a young woman’s body, and she’s still afraid of being abandoned. I just didn’t know, and it makes me so very sad for her.

For now, I’ll stop recommending that she go forth and be free. Instead, I’ll continue to focus on just making sure she still feels supported, loved and safe.


Emotional Confessions

Author’s Note:

I wrote this post at the start of the week after an emotionally taxing weekend. I wasn’t showing myself much grace; I wasn’t giving myself space to just breathe.

I’m on the upswing now with a lot of support and love from my village.

I sat on this post, changing the post schedule repeatedly. It was too raw; it was just too much.  I felt ashamed about my meltdown. I felt embarrassed about whining about how hard this journey is…a journey I chose. As I begin to feel better, I realized that I needed to just go ahead and put it out there, hoping that giving it air and light would validate the raw feelings of other folks who are struggling.

So…here it is. I hope my transparency makes someone who also feels these feelings know they aren’t alone.


As a parent, I would like to think that my good characteristics outweigh the bad. I hope so. I hope that one day, when I’m really and truly called to account for my many, many flaws, that the good stuff will get me through the pearly gates.

I have a terrible temper, seriously it’s awful. It makes me shake it’s so awful. I sometimes have a hard time controlling it. My preferred weapon is words. I will grind you right down; my anger makes me want to make you small with words.

I have the capacity to be really, really mean. I know this; I’m not proud of it, but I know this.

I’m passive aggressive, though through the years I’m managed to abandon a lot of those behaviors, but please know that they are still there.

I’m selfish, incredibly selfish. I like what I like and I don’t want to compromise or give it up or whatever. I often think about what I had to give up to be a parent, and I feel some kind of way about all of it.

My natural state is to be super blunt without care for feelings. I am a good Southern woman, though, appropriately brought up to mind my tongue most of the time. I try to mind my manners and demonstrate tactfulness, so the bluntness often appears dulled.

I am very comfortable with conflict. I don’t necessarily like it, but I am very comfortable with it and sometimes will trigger it just so I can use my word weapons and “win.” Why? Because winning makes me feel better about myself and sometimes I really just want to feel better about myself and sadly, winning a conflict, no matter how ridiculous, is the quickest way to achieve that.

At 44 as much as I try to continue to evolve, especially as I parent, I know that my personality is locked in. I am who I am. My dissertation was all about resistance to change; yeah, I am. I’m totally resistant to change. I hate change. I hate thinking about it. I hate the need to be flexible even though I promote it and have to practice it for everyone’s well-being. I don’t want to.

I liked the old me and I’m not so sure that I like the parenting me. Actually, I’m sure I don’t, which just makes me feel awful. I love my daughter, but I’m not a huge fan of this parenting thing.

As I think about these flaws, I wonder what the hell made me want to be a parent. Seriously, talk about the most-long term triggering activity one could sign up for. I mean…seriously, parenting…while it brings out the best in me; it also brings out the absolute worst in me. I spend countless hours biting my cheeks trying to hold my own dragons in check.

Hope knows that biting my cheek is my anger/anxiety tell. She learned that early on. She also knows I have a wicked temper. She’s been subjected to the brunt of it a couple of times. She knows that I have the capacity to destroy her. It’s the truth, and it’s a truth that shames me. emotionally.

Our mutual knowledge of this fact terrifies me. I try so hard to build her up knowing that a horrible bout of anger and frustration could bring it all crumbling down. Knowing that kills me; the guilt…is…crushing.

Daily, especially bad days like one I had recently, I wonder if I was the best home for Hope. I think she could have done better. I wonder was this route right for me? Could I have led a child-free, but happy and fulfilled life? There are days when I wonder if I’m just making things worse for her, in spite of the permanence she desperately needed—is this really what was best for her?. I wonder a lot of things.

It’s taken me years and a lot of therapy to face my own deep seated flaws and I had a “conventional, normal” upbringing. Will the glare of adoption ever dull and allow me to just be a regular old parent? My flaws, while still bad, don’t seem so drastically horrid, under the softer lighting of parenting with no adjectives.

I’m struggling with my own identity as me and not ABM or Hope’s mom. I’ve been so consumed with trying desperately for Hope to be successful that my own personal goals and successes have fallen by the wayside. I’ve had two major work publications come out in the last two months. I barely acknowledged them even though they are the culmination of years of work. I have withdrawn from friends because I’m “busy” making sure geometry homework is done, chemistry quizzes are taken and A Brave New World gets read. I spend an absurd amount of time monitoring the general comings and goings of online behavior because…distractions are bad and ADHD teen life is stupid.

I’m going through the motions just trying to keep my own dragons at bay while I tend to Hope’s dragons.

I’m tired, so very tired, and I suspect falling back into my old chilly friend, depression. I’m sure that my self-care game is weak right now, which allows the time and space for my flaws to step to the forefront.

Hope and I remain hopeful, but right now it doesn’t feel like hope bears out. She insists that the world is against her and finds the tiniest evidence that fits her world view and magnifies it into a universal conspiracy against her. I keep hoping that overnight her limitations will disappear leaving me with expectations that are routinely unmet making me frustrated, angry and disappointed in me, her and the world in general.

We are doing everything we are supposed to be doing. I am marshaling every external resource I can. On the outside, we are doing it, but behind these doors, we struggle. We struggle day in and day out. We struggle with our individual flaws, our individual limitations, our shared problems, and ranges of emotions that are just…overwhelming and exhausting. Some days, we struggle just to stay alive. And it’s rarely seen under the carefully worded and curated social media posts. It’s rarely shared because the glare of judgment is likely to just sear a hole through me.

And I’m afraid. As much as my own self-criticism and loathing bring me down and the fear of external judgment paralyzes me; I’m most afraid of Hope’s view of me. I am terrified of what she must think of me. I know she loves me, and I’m sure there’s a healthy amount of “I hate you!” because she’s a teen girl, but critically, I fear her perception of me as her adoptive mother.

I’m afraid as I listen to adoptees talk about what works and what doesn’t that Hope will one day tell the world about all of my shortcomings as her mother. Will Hope be hypercritical of me? Will she spend these latter years of adolescence thinking that I was a failure as her mother? Will she be on social media talking about me badly? Will she write lists enumerating all the things I should’ve, would’ve, could’ve done despite what feels like the sacrifice of the very core of my being and the need and desire to suppress everything I ever thought or thought I knew about parenting to parent her the best I could?

I’m mindful of the pain I caused my own mother as I often wrote about her in the beginning of this journey and my disappointment and anger towards her for how she “treated me” in the early months of my journey with Hope. It wasn’t pretty, and it should’ve been private, but it wasn’t.  Will Hope look back on these years with righteous anger about all I did wrong when I was trying desperately to hold on and do right by her? How will she see me? How will she see us? I already know that I live in the shadows and shoes of those who came before me and that there are romantic notions that I will never be who they were or could have been. I acknowledge that but I do wonder, five, ten years from now, will Hope know how hard I tried to give her the love and life that she deserved?

Parenting is so very hard and it magnifies all of your flaws. Parenting a kid from a hard place with a ton of her own baggage…it’s another level of crazy.

Ultimately, my confession is that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing and I’m desperate not to screw up. I feel like every personal flaw is on front street and out of control right now. I feel like I can’t get anything right and that I can’t motivate, coax, drag, pull, prod, cheer, nudge or pray Hope into the success she deserves. I’m back to wanting more for her than she wants for herself, and worse, I love her so much that I now own that failure, and I know somewhere, somehow that she and others probably think I own that self-hate too.

It’s just too much.


Lessons on a Saturday

When I was growing up, I never really thought about new experiences being learning opportunities. I mean, as a teenager, you think you know everything. What could you possibly have to learn? #sarcasm

This weekend was a BFD (big effing deal). Hope went to take her learner’s permit test. We had plans to go first thing in the morning because DMV on a Saturday is a certifiable zoo. Hope wanted to get her hair washed so that her DMV photo would be nice. We had a plan, but the way ADHD-time blindness is set up…we arrived an hour later than planned.

I gently lectured Hope on time management (again). I tried to explain that she needed to find a coping skill that works for her because this kind of thing would eventually affect her outside relationships and jobs that she would eventually have. #blankstare

And then we arrived…
Throatpunch

See that figure in the gray sweater and jeans? Yeah, that’s Hope…at the END of the line!

It took 45 minutes to get into the building. It took me 20 minutes to get a parking space. We get in and up to the first counter and she looks to me to manage the interaction.

Internal monologue: “Um, I have my driver’s license; why are you looking at me?”

I remind her of our house rule—you don’t ask (in a voice that can be heard by other humans), you don’t get.

She whispers to the DMV worker that she’s there to take her learner’s permit test. He squawks for her to speak up, so she does. He looks at her documents, gives her a number and a form to fill out. We find seats and she looks to me to complete the form.

Internal monologue: “Um, I have my driver’s license; why do you keep looking at me?”

I encourage her to get a clipboard and a pen. I help her complete the form.

And then we wait and wait and wait. The web page says we have an hour and 7 minutes of wait time just to get to the counter since there are 20+ people ahead of us. When I checked earlier, you know, when we were supposed to have been there, the wait time was 7 minutes. #bitter

I seethe.  Honestly I’m throwing a holy fit inside because spending the entire morning at the DMV was not my plan.

I look over at Hope; she sees the ramifications of not keeping to her schedule. It’s clear what happens when you don’t do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.

I pop an Ativan since I am losing my ish on the inside.

By the time we get to the counter to process the paperwork nearly 2 hours have passed, and technically the DMV is closed. It’s takes 15 minutes to get through the paperwork, take the picture and get another number for Hope to take the test.

Remember that Ativan? Yeah, I’m feeling a bit better now, though I could use a nap.

Throatpunch
She takes the test. She fails the test.

YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.

That was like a total of 3 hours of my life I can’t get back and don’t try to repackage that mess as quality time…not when I had to take an Ativan to survive it.

Throatpunch
Surprisingly, Hope takes the failure well. She knows the question that was the problem. She knows the right answer and she will pass the next time.

Great. I have complete faith that she will prevail. Me on the other hand…I don’t know. I wish I could outsource this task.

She commented on the way home from the DMV that she will make sure she gets an earlier start next time so that she doesn’t have to wait so long.

Yeah, I’ll believe that when I see it actually happen because honest, hand to God, I cannot believe that my beloved Hope can get herself together to get to the DMV at a time that will not be hazardous to my health if her life depended on it. #realtalk

So stay tuned…Hope might be driving by 2018…maybe.


Revelations, Chapter 472

I snapped at Hope this morning and immediately regretted it.

We were talking about hair care and whether she was doing her part to care for her hair with her nightly routine. My inquiry was met with, “Well, it needs to be washed anyway.”

It was an easy jump for me to reply, “That wasn’t my question. It’s also not a good excuse for skipping the routine.”

She replied sharply, “I didn’t say it was.”

“But that was implied.”

“But I didn’t actually say that.”

We glared at each other because the tones of our voices had changed. This was no longer a simple inquiry, it was on the brink of a fight.

And then I remembered.

I remembered that this isn’t just a cut and dry surly teen giving me a roundabout excuse. I remembered that Hope doesn’t pick up on conversational nuance very easily. I remembered that sometimes context is lost on her. I remembered that sometimes Hope’s responses are like bringing hedge clippers to a manicure when a nail file will do.

I might read her response as a PR pivot—answering the question that she wishes I’d asked, but that really isn’t what she was saying. She prefers a world with clearly defined edges of black and white. Unfortunately for Hope the world is mostly gray.

I recently found an online support group for parents of kids with ADHD/ODD/ADD. A few days in the “room” and I told a friend, wow, these are my people. These posts resonate with me. It was like when I finally joined some child trauma rooms; there are a lot of similarities between these two groups by the way.

I was also talking to some colleagues recently about diagnoses for autism now being on a spectrum and the high rates of comorbidity for conditions that we use to think were just free-standing conditions. The truth is a lot of stuff, brain and hormonal stuff, cluster in packs, making treating and/or learning to work with the pack of conditions and not against it, really, really hard.

I remembered all of this as we sat there glaring at each other this morning. It made me think of several things.

  • One, this is not how I want our day to start.
  • Two, the hair thing was not that important in the scheme of things.
  • Three, conversational nuance is often lost on Hope.
  • Four, she genuinely thought she was providing a reasonable answer to my question.
  • Five, she has no idea what she did or said that triggered me to accuse her of giving me an excuse.
  • Finally Six, my deeper reading of the exchange has pushed her away which both is not good for us and doesn’t result in the behavior I was originally seeking to promote.

And all of this went down before 8am. Joy! #notreally

It’s hard to remember these things in the moment. It’s hard to remember it’s only been three years and that with all of the progress, there is still so much healing necessary. It’s just hard to remember everything all the time.

I course corrected our conversation. I tried to explain how I came to my conclusion, but that now I understood what she meant. I asked her yes or no questions and explained that it wasn’t to ‘catch her in something’ but rather because I realized that they were easier for her to answer. She eyed me warily, but she answered my questions and we made a plan for dealing with her hair this evening.

I’d like to think before becoming a parent I was a good person. I was smart, capable, worldly, even. I grasped deep, complex concepts and was able to offer solutions to many difficult and intricate problems. And then Hope came along, and every complex thing I’d bumped up against in my lifetime seemed like I had really just solved the great dilemma of getting off the couch to get an ice pop from the freezer. I was in the land of real complex isht now. Sometimes I feel utterly stupid trying to figure out why we hit a wall. I felt stupid this morning because I know better; or at least I thought I did.

Tomorrow, I will try again. I will likely have another revelation about how to relate something I read somewhere to a situation we are experiencing in the moment. I’ll hopefully have another chance to not just know better but to do better. Hopefully, Hope will be patient with me as I am expected to be patient with her.  Kids expect us to know stuff, and parenting her has revealed that I don’t know nearly as much as I thought. #bigreveal


A Beautiful Day

I went into Mother’s Day with some complicated feelings. I find that it helps to simply acknowledge them, make a plan and keep it moving. I’m glad I did; it made for a nice low bar that set us up for a really lovely, lovely day.

I took Yappy on a three mile walk; he was super worn out afterwards and slept most of the day as a result.

Hope and I started our day at the local UU church we’ve been attending. Rather than go hang out with the other teens, my daughter chose to sit by my side. She even wore a dress—gasp! It was flower communion, and after some gentle coaxing, she even came with me to get a blossom. I lit a candle and said a prayer for Hope’s first mother. I prayed that she was as happy and healthy and that hopefully she knows that Hope found a permanent home as is no longer without permanence. I prayed that one day a healthy reunion would be in their future.

We headed to brunch at one of our favorite restaurants. We have celebrated all major family events here—my successful dissertation defense, our finalization, and her completion of middle school, just to name a few. We both love the food choices, and I especially love the wide range of beverage offerings. She suggested we order the usual—I reminded her that it was mom’s choice and I wanted to shake things up. I have a particular fancy for fries; I ordered up truffle-Parmesan fries to start, with a yummy coffee laced, chocolaty stout for me.

I think I opened Hope’s eyes to a whole new world related to quality French fries. She raved, danced in her seat and marveled at how yummy they were. I still smile to myself about how fries made her so happy. I actually have video of her; it was awesome.

We ordered our entrees, and bickered to the enjoyment of our waitress.

I told her that I was proud to be her mother; that even in the rough times I loved her so very much. I told her that being her mom has hopefully made me a better person all together. She smiled. She thanked me for giving her a permanent home that allowed her to call a place home, allowed her to not have to start over and over, that allowed her to just have a chance. I smiled and we went back to grubbing.

Yep, I used her account to pay, because…Mother’s Day. #noshame

We headed to the bakery across the street to find something for dessert. We selected individual key lime pies with beautiful meringues to go.

We took a few hours apart. I did some shopping and hit the hookah bar for a while.

Once home, we ate our desserts, and watched TV on the couch with Yappy, who incidentally, loves when his people are together on the couch. We have a huge couch, but he loves when we are huddled up so that he can sit between us and snuggle. I love that our dog wants his family close.

She gave me her homemade Mother’s Day gifts; a beautiful friendship bracelet that I immediately put on, and a beautifully decorated sheet that required me to pull off some cotton clouds to reveal the message underneath.

It was a far more detailed expression of gratitude for adopting her, for loving her unconditionally and for giving her a good life even when she’s a pain in the butt. She apologized for not getting me something fancy, but her message reduced me to a puddle of loving tears. She complained and eventually wriggled out of the vice grip hug I enveloped her in after reading her message.

It was perfect.

I have never wanted Hope to be grateful about her adoption; I hate thinking of the things that necessitated her adoption. That said, I got her meaning—it was about us being a family, about stability, about permanence, about unconditional love, about parenting, or in our case mothering, and about normalcy.

And I am grateful for those things too.

She didn’t say thanks for being her mom; instead she thanked me for meeting her needs.  I know that meeting her needs is what I do as her mother. The language is different, but the meeting of the minds is there, and to hear that from her—I’m so proud and blessed to have been chosen for this gig.

Those moments were a beautiful capstone for the day. I could not have planned it. I could not have anticipated it.

It was a beautiful day, and I will treasure it forever.

I love you, Hope.


There is No Magic

A few days ago Hope and I were in the car listening to a podcast. We were chuckling about the show, and then it ended and we listened to some of the commercials before the next podcast started. One of the commercials was about a new podcast on the magic of childhood.

I was only halfheartedly listening to the commercials. I caught the thought and let it slip through my mind.

But Hope was listening.

“There is no magic in childhood. None.”

She immediately had my attention. I didn’t know what to say.  All I could manage to say was, “Huh?”

“Magic? What’s magical about childhood? Nothing,”

We sat quietly at a light.

I quickly thought about all of her young years and the things she endured. I felt her trauma in my soul.

She didn’t say anything else, and I wasn’t sure what to say next. So, I didn’t say anything at all. It was one of the few times during our time together when I was completely stunned to silence. Usually, I can come up with something, but I had nothing. And I was just overwhelmed by the absence of magic in my daughter’s childhood.

I understand how she concluded that the magic of childhood was nothing but a farce. It breaks my heart. I have these fond memories of growing up. I remember my parents love. I remember birthday cakes and playing in the street with neighborhood kids. I remember when they took me and my sisters to Disney World and numerous other family trips. I remember feeling safe and loved. I remember so many little details that are clear to me know but seemed magical then.

I know that there are some memories that Hope has with her first family that are happy memories, but the number of those moment to moment memories are dwarfed by memories of instability, fear, and profound grief. The latter so crushing that she can barely see the good stuff in her mind. And she can’t separate those memories and just erase the bad ones. She has figured out how to reconcile the bad stuff; she can’t partition it to try to create some magic.

The magic of childhood is lost to her.

I wish I could change it all for her. I can’t, but I wish to hell like I could.

I have spent a lot of time and resources on helping Hope heal. I didn’t realize that I was also trying to create some magic in the waning years of Hope’s adolescence. I try to give her big and small experiences that will stick with her. I’m hoping they are special, magical, but knowing that she doesn’t think there’s any magic in childhood just makes me feel so sad.

I wonder will she still feel this way years from now when she has her own child? Did my silence, my failure to offer some wisdom about childhood magic, just reaffirm her grief? What can I do to make magic for her? Can I still create some magic for her?

I honestly don’t know what was I supposed to say in that moment that would validate her but offer a different narrative. I still don’t know what I was supposed to say to that declaration. I just don’t know what to say about there being no magic in childhood.


Things I Have Learned During the K-Pop Phase

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

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

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

In retrospect, the EDM phase was a good phase.

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

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

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

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

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

Record scratch—I’m out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Three Years Ago

Three years ago today, Hope arrived at DCA with her social worker. She was originally scheduled to arrive the day before, but the weather on the east coast was so bad that her flight was canceled.

I remember heading to the airport that cold January night and waiting for her to emerge from security.

I was alone.

I was alone because I worried that a big group of folks would be overwhelming to a child who, for the previous few weeks, had resisted moving. Hope was afraid. She’s already experienced so much change in her life. She wanted to have some normalcy where she was for just a few more months.

Alas, all the adults thought that it was time to make the move. And so, she did.

I arrived at the airport early, snarfed down a couple of doughnuts from Dunkin’ Donuts while I waited for Hope to arrive and deplane.

This would be her second trip to see me and her final destination this go ‘round.

I remember she emerged from security looking tired, a bit overwhelmed and a bit afraid.

I hugged her. I was so happy she was here.

She hugged me back, but I don’t know if the hug really made her feel better.

We got her luggage, and dropped her social worker off at the hotel.

And then it was just the two of us.

It has been that way ever since.

In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago, and others, it seems like just yesterday.

Hope has grown into an amazing young woman. She is creative, feisty, and musical. She is loving and kind. She is polite.

We have built an amazing life together.

We are growing and stretching. Sometimes it’s painful, and sometimes, it’s just the best thing ever.

I love Hope so very much.

This family is everything. It’s beyond whatever I could’ve imagined.

I’ve learned so much about myself during this time. I would not have ever anticipated what this life as a mom to Hope would have been like. It’s beyond my comprehension.

It hasn’t been easy. In fact, often, it has been devastatingly difficult at times.

It’s been difficult for both of us.

Transitioning to motherhood was swift. Understanding the true impacts of trauma and how to parent through it is a work in progress. Checking my anger is a learned process; I’m improving.

Ugh, and the weight gain. I’ve put on about 20lbs of teen adoption weight.

I’m older and wiser though.

Hope struggled with the transition to permanence. She got there with time. We still struggle with horrible memories and persistent grief. As she approaches normalcy we see latent issues emerge, and we tackle them.

She’s a little older and possibly a little wiser too.

We continue to observe these moments in our history; we may stop one day. I don’t know. But we still do count these milestones. We think about how far we have come. We think about how bonded we are now; we think about our futures.

We have a little something sweet.

And then we get on with the life we’ve created together.

I love Hope, and Hope loves me.


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