Tag Archives: Older Child Adoption

Early Adulting

Way, way, way back in the day, I told my parents that I wanted to go party at another university for the weekend. I didn’t ask; I informed them.

They said no, I couldn’t go.

Nonplussed, I hopped in someone’s car and off my friends and I went to a university two hours away where I had all the fun to be had.

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Back then “daisy dukes” (short shorts) were really in and I found a pair that “fit.” I was really proud of these shorts because I have some lovely thighs that usually made such shorts a no go for me. I recall sporting these shorts around my parents house one weekend when I was home from college. My dad, who is quite proper, commented on the shorts and asked me not to wear them anymore because he thought they were inappropriate.

I replied that I wouldn’t wear them in his home anymore.

He narrowed his eyes at me a bit, but said nothing.

I was in that gray area of life where I was still dependent, but I was also an adult and flexing about making some adult decisions like where I would party and what I would wear. I don’t recall asking for permission much during those days. I remember feeling so good about the increasing freedom I had to do what I wanted.

Fast forward many years and now I have a daughter of my own in college. I assumed that she would flex a bit.

For the most part, she hasn’t. In fact, she discloses WAY too much about what shenanigans she been up to. And before you say, oh she’s not telling you everything….even if that were true, she still has shared too much.

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She also asks for permission.

Recently her favorite band announced that there would be a concert in the area this summer. She rang me up to ask if she could go if she saved the money.

My internal monologue was like, “If you plan to save up for the ticket, why are you even asking????” Out loud, I simply said, “Sure, save up your dollars and have fun.”

It’s in these moments that I’m reminded of the challenges Hope has endured.

When Hope’s social worker flew with her to visit me the first time, she shared that Hope was emotionally only about 5, despite a chronological age of 12. She’s grown so much in the years since then, but as for maturity….well, Hope has certainly matured, but is she emotionally 18?

Probably not.

Definitely not.

Hope is able to mimic maturity for short bursts, but eventually it all comes out. If I had to guess, I would estimate an emotional age of 14 or so. This would explain why she gets along so well with my 11 year old nephew and also has a whole lot of difficulty navigating socially with her own peer group.

This is also why my beautiful daughter called me from her college dorm to ask me if she could spend her own money on a concert ticket and actually go to said concert.

At her age, if I did ask, I didn’t have any difficulty openly defying my folks because I reasoned that I…was…

GROWN.

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Hope is still very much my little girl. Which is kind of crazy to me. When I adopted a 12 year old, I never thought I would be tucking her in at night, reading her stories, buying her *white* tights to wear (she picked them while I screamed on the inside) or numerous other things that I thought were completely fixed to children much younger than 12. There were many moments that I treasure the connection forged in those moments while hating that Hope needed it because she was so deeply hurt.

It scares me, though. If Hope is really 14 and away at college…

*pauses to reflect more on my own collegiate shenanigans*

This could be a hot mess.

I know she is more vulnerable. She is so eager to make friends that she is at risk for manipulation. She’s often so lonely which only drives the risk and vulnerability up higher.

In the midst of my persistent amusement at Hope’s attempts to begin adulting, I’m saddened that once again her trauma puts her in such a predicament. I’m angry about it. I’m frustrated for her.

I’m hopeful that 2020 will bring advancements in her healing that will bring her closer to her chronological age and all the joys that come with it.


More Moments of Delight

  • During my bucket list trip to Athens Hope hugged me as I cried going up the steps into the Acropolis, when we got to Mycenae and when we walked around ancient Corinth.
  • Countless therapeutic breakthroughs.
  • Hope’s first crush on a boy at school. That crush lasted way longer than it should have but gosh at the beginning it was the cutest.
  • That time I took Hope to see Bruno Mars in concert. I would seriously set body parts to see the look on her face when he stepped out on stage the first time. It was a level of joy I had never experienced.
  • The first New Year’s Eve dinner at our preferred restaurant had a waiter who catered to Hope all night. She beamed and had such a great time trying different foods and sipping her “mocktail.”
  • The first time Hope and I had a serious discussion about sex. Everyone seems to fret about talking to their kids about this topic; I remember thinking this is challenging but *we* are doing great. I remain proud of the relationship I have with Hope; it’s led to a comfort level that allows her to ask me anything, anytime, anywhere. And yes, sometimes it *can* be a little awkward, but I wouldn’t trade it.
  • The time we rode rides at Busch Gardens on a band trip. She was sad at first because her classmates dumped her. I’d just had a beer with other parents (yep, we were drankin’!) when Hope asked me to go ride with her. I was green because I had chugged my beer, but I was delighted that hanging out with Mom was the default setting.
  • Seeing Hope in her band uniform for the first time.
  • Seeing Hope in her Air Force JROTC uniform, in her dress uniform and at graduation.
  • Seeing Hope the first time she tried on a formal dress for prom. She was breathtaking. And when she tried on THE dress…I had to pull out my hanky. So very beautiful.
  • Hearing Hope tell me how much fun she’d had at prom and how much her feet hurt from her high heels.
  • When Hope told me where she wanted to go to college.
  • At graduation the moment when Hope saw her birth aunt in the aisle snapping pictures as she descended the stairs to return to her seat. The tears that flowed that day…we were a mess of emotions with lot of chatter about all the events we had to celebrate together in the coming years.
  • Dropping Hope off at college. Packing up the car, driving down, moving her in, and then preparing to drive home. I was so filled with emotion I drove a little ways away and pulled over and cried.
  • The sweet relationship that Hope and my dad have forged over popsicles. He always makes sure there are some in the house for her; if we surprise them he immediately runs to the nearest store to get some.
  • The letters that Hope has written me over the years and how they track the growth in our relationship. I pull them out sometimes and just hold them to my heart.

And yes, there are so, so many more moments of delight in mothering my dear Hope. I hope you’ve enjoyed my recounting and that you will spend some time thinking about the delightful moments you’ve had with your own families.


Thoughts on Control

When I was growing up, my friends and family thought my parents were strict. Honestly, they weren’t. If my sisters and I wanted to do something, they mostly said yes. Certainly, there were some general things around the house like no phone calls after 10pm (which I still believe is a nice rule of thumb), early to bed, early to rise, minimal access to sugary stuff, go outside to play after homework was done…just what seemed normal to me. I had friends and family members whose parents were permissive, but honestly, I didn’t ask to do a lot of things because I didn’t have the interest to.

I wanted to do very well in school as a set up to college. I played some sports—not well, but I played. I was engaged in clubs and activities. As I got deep into high school, I had multiple jobs and internships. I was busy. I went to football and basketball games with friends, hung out a little late and enjoyed hitting the McDonalds on Parham Road or Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House on Rt. 1 until the wee hours –you know midnight!

Honestly, I didn’t feel deprived, and I didn’t feel like I was ever locked in a control battle with my parents. When I did something egregious, I was grounded. I knew it was coming, and frankly, calculated whether it was worth the inevitable punishment before doing it.

When I became a parent, I found myself expecting to roll into things much like my parents did. Boy was I shocked. Hope pushed all my buttons all the time. My reaction was to establish a bunch of arbitrary rules to try to create the structure that I had.

It took me a long time to understand that what I had growing up was structure, security, permanence, attachment, all basic needs consistently met, and relatively no threats to any of those things.

Hope had not had that, and back then, she didn’t trust me to provide it. The result was a huge mismatch of expectations resulting in awful behaviors that we both struggled with.

It took me months to realize that I couldn’t control my and Hope’s relationship or her reactions to being in what is now our home. That was hard because I am a control freak. I take pride in orchestrating a lot of my life, and Hope was having none of that.

The mistakes I made were countless.

Forcing her to say grace. Saying no to all her favorite (sugary, fatty, salty) foods. Extraordinary limits on screen time. Book reading time. Closed kitchen after 8pm. Eat this or nothing!

I have a number of regrets, though honestly, I am not sure I could’ve known better back then. I’d heard stuff, gone to the training, blah, blah, blah, but until I was in it and it wasn’t working? I wasn’t really trying to hear that swinging to the other end of the continuum was really the better option.

A few weeks into our journey together, Hope hit the skids and everything went topsy turvy. And while my girl was hella resilient, I was really the only one of us who had the capacity to really turn things around.

So, I had to stop trying to artificially create structure, security, permanence, attachment and meeting her needs through controlling behaviors. That’s when I started learning about connected parenting. Now, I still loathe all these crazy parenting theories and parenting books and coaching and all that stuff, but connected parenting helped me to understand that I needed to focus on Hope’s needs to help her feel safe and secure in our home.

I bought ramen, Fruit Loops, and bags of chips to go with the broccoli, clementines and orange juice. I let her listen to music all night long, even after her phone locked down at 9:30pm. I said the prayers at dinner. I gave her 24 hour access to certain foods to ease her fears about going hungry. I read bedtime stories to her like she was 5, followed by breathing exercises and tucking her in every night. I wrote out affirmations for her every day.

She still snuck food and left wrappers everywhere. Her room still looked like it had been ransacked. She still pushed boundaries, sneaking the laptop after I had fallen asleep so she could stay up all night watching videos. She still did inappropriate things on her phone that scared me to death.

And then one day, I noticed that she was far less likely to do any of those things. I realized that she didn’t need me to tuck her in because she came to me to say goodnight, get a kiss and retire on her own. She would go in the pantry and happily make herself some ramen and drink a tumbler of orange juice on the side. She might still break a rule or two, but she would remark how rude other kids were to their parents or how they were breaking rules and how she thought it was terrible.

Sure, I’ve had to mete out consequences, but had I kept on my control freak pathway, we would never have evolved to where we are now.

Hope and I talk about these moments these days, and we tease each other. I’m grateful that she practices grace with me and gets that I was figuring things out in the beginning.

My advice to newbies who are parenting older kids—give them what they need, which may be different than what you need or think is initially best. Our kids need lots of love, and they need to feel like they are seen, valued and worthy of being safe. Meet them exactly in that place. Get those favorite foods, be ok when they gain a little weight, make sure they know that they will not go hungry with you, avoid emotional tugs of war, side step controlling behavior. Recognize their agency and work on being persuasive instead of controlling. Build trust and watch it flourish. It all takes time and patience—something I am not full of—but it’s worth it.

I haven’t broken myself of being a control freak; I just know to limit it in my parenting now. Trust though, I continue to fail from time to time.


At a Distance

So, for all this empty nesting, I am finding that there is still a lot of parenting going on around these parts. If I’m not running back and forth to do visits, sending packages of necessities or checking in on performance, I’m offering love, guidance and occasional chastisement at a distance. It’s really a lot. Sure, there’s only my laundry to do, and I’m not actually peeping into her room to see if she’s working, so the day to day stuff is minimal. The emotional stuff? Yeah, that’s still happening.

Hope and her roommate have been squabbling recently, and things escalated to the point where it was determined that Hope needed to change rooms. Who knows the real story, since I only have one side and I’m sure there are at least two more sides to hear, but how the move went down was incredibly upsetting and a bit triggering and damaging. Essentially, they made Hope move with very little notice and tossed her stuff in a bag to drag to another room. When she told me about it, all teary, all I could envision was all the times she moved during foster care in similar dramatic fashion. This was not good.

I’m sure it may take a little time to bounce back for Hope, who is strong and courageous, but she is also a big kid who needs reassurance, stability and soothing. The move triggered lots of anxiety, which triggered the bug thing, which just spun her out of control. It wasn’t pleasant.

One thing that was different during this last week was that Hope actively reached out to me for the emotional support that she needed.

I’ve listened to her cry and snot in my ear. I’ve listened to her be mad, then be sad, then feel rejected and hurt. I’ve listened to her fears. While my heart hurt to hear her so emotional, the fact that she reached out to me, to mom to have her emotional needs met was so reassuring to me. I worried whether we could really be ok with her away after only 4 years home. She actually seems more connected than ever. It made my heart sing because I know she’s still healing and that there’s a good foundation there.

I miss her. I’m not going to lie, there are things about this life that are easier. We are both less anxious overall. I am getting used to entertaining myself, and thanks to a robust travel schedule with work for the next several weeks, I’m pretty occupied. I’m still parenting though. I’m still really involved. I’m still sending lots of emails and making calls. I’m still coordinating care for her. I’m still her mom even if she is away at a distance.


That Time Before & During My Search

I recently got a couple of follower inquiries about the emotions I felt about my agency during the adoption process as well as how I “knew” to say yes to Hope. I thought that in addition to trying to answer those inquiries personally, I’d share more broadly.

So, how did/do I feel about my agency? Did I ever get frustrated with the agency and the process?

I have had a great, fantastic relationship with my agency. There were times that I made choices that the agency was pretty adamant were not great, but I went with my gut and things worked out. The agency I worked with offers a lot of post adoption support that I’ve definitely utilized during the last four years. Did I ever become frustrated about my agency during the adoption process?

In short, no.

My adoption process went very, very fast. My daughter moved in 380 (1 year and 15) days after I dropped off my agency application to start the process. We finalized 135 days later, at my urging, because lingering around finalization did not provide my daughter with the stability she craved. It worked, and I’d like to think I was right.

Because my time was short, I didn’t have time to get super frustrated and I was green as grass naïve about this whole thing.

I wish I had known more, but if I had I would have been crazy. There never would’ve been enough information; I would’ve been backstroking in it. I don’t recommend going into the process as green as I was, but I do credit my ride or die willingness to commitment to my daughter in the face of some pretty incredible disclosures and striking mental health issues during out initial few weeks together all to be naivete! It never occurred to me to disrupt; I figured, it just wasn’t done.

So, I never even entertained that was never an option.

And that’s probably for the best; this is one of the few times in my life when I think being naïve and riding the wave worked in my favor. If I pursued adoption now, knowing what I know, I would do things very differently. I was fortunate to deal with an agency that prides itself in its ethical approach with a team of folks who genuinely seemed to want the best for my daughter and for me.

In a couple of words, I was lucky-blessed.

I know families who have had different experiences at my agency and others. I would say my feelings are probably a bit of an outlier because my process went quickly and I rolled right on with it. I would not characterize my experience as typical.

How did I know Hope was a good fit and other kids were not a good fit for me as a single mom?

I only received two profiles; my agency search was very brief. Hope’s profile the very first profile I received from my agency to consider.

I was at my office; I had just arrived. I still have the email from July 30, 2013 at 9:03am. My response was eager yet short; technically more search hadn’t even started. I asked about behaviors; I tied my question to something I’d recently read and asked to get my information about Hope. My daughter had been featured on one of those Wednesday Child spots on the local news, so I was able to see more than just a profile. I saw her moving around, trying her best to be charming and have fun and be on TV all the while having a shadow of sadness that all of this was *really* about her needing a family. I know now that she kind of hated that video.

There are hundreds of emails between me and Alex (the coordinator) about my now daughter, the process, the match meeting, the first visit.

The truth is that I just thought it was a fit when I saw that video. I was so done after I saw that video. Her challenges seemed manageable to me as a single mom and they have been. It’s been hard, but it’s been manageable.

My agency coached me well. When there were gaps in my questions, they helped me fill them. Alex was supportive and encouraging.

My saying yes to Hope was easy.

Saying no was not easy. I only had one opportunity and I’m glad. I’m glad that my search was so brief that I didn’t have to get numerous profiles only to say no they aren’t a good fit. Looking back I’m not sure I could’ve endured a process that required me to say no numerous times. The idea of that rejection is just too much for me.

I did say no to one child, and you can read about it here: The First No.

My heart still hurts that I had to say no.

I was open to kids who identify as LGBT+. Apparently that’s rare, or at least it was then. So many folks are quick to say that adolescents don’t understand their sexuality and they just are mistaken. Um, no. I knew in elementary school that I loved boys; I liked their energy, I thought they were cute, I was curious about them in ways I was not curious about girls. Straight folks take that for granted. #heteronormativity Kids who have same sex attractions know early and are often forced to make decisions about conforming to heteronormative behavior to keep the peace and stay safe. That conformity can last a few years or may years. As a part of my adoption process I knew that this wasn’t an issue for me and I was open to giving a kid who identified differently a chance at a stable, loving home.

I got a profile. The only part of it that matched my list of possibilities was that fact that she was LGBT. Everything else was so beyond what I thought I could handle behaviorally that I had to say no I knew I was not able to parent her.

I don’t regret the decision now that more time has passed, but I do think of that young woman ever so often. I hope that she was able to be matched with a loving family.

The need for loving, supporting parents for LGBT kids in the system is so great that her advocate reached out to us despite my obviously not being a good fit. That tells me that there is desperation in getting that kid a family and that breaks my heart.

What does a good match mean to me?

I was very specific about my desire to adopt an older child. Of course, I got all the icky commentary from a few people about how I should try to get a kid as young as possible since they wouldn’t be as “messed up” or I could train them (like a puppy) to not be messed up. #eyeroll

I knew that I wanted a child of color—though I labored over the race and ethnicity questions on the match form for about a week. I wanted to feel like it didn’t matter, but ultimately, I wanted us to be able to choose if/when we disclosed our adoption—we tend to be open about it. I wanted the ability to disappear as a same race family. I knew how our kids are overrepresented in the foster care system. I wanted to mother a black kid. #theend

I had dreamed about mothering a son; a daughter was my future.

I tried to focus less on diagnoses and more on presenting behaviors and whether I could handle them as a new single parent. I had some limitations on some mental health concerns.

I tried to ask questions about what behaviors looked like. It’s one thing to read descriptions; it’s entirely another thing to see video, hear descriptions, and ask pointed questions. And I asked lots of questions, there are seriously 270 emails from this period in my adoption. I did lots of Googling during this period.

My day job has honed my “read between the lines” skill—I leaned into that a lot during my match with Hope.

Weeks went by before Hope learned I existed. When she learned about me, my questions started all over again. I wanted Hope to feel like she was a part of the process and not just the subject of it. How did she feel about it? What felt good? How did she process a potential cross country move? With a previous placement that didn’t go all that great, what’s her confidence in this process like?

When you’re adopting an older child; you got to remember that they are more that just the subject of all this discussion. I was keen on Hope having a big say in our match. I wanted to learn how to make a transition better for her. I wanted her to feel like she had some agency.

A good match is one where all parties think this can work out. A good negotiation means everyone at the table has to stretch a little. There’s no perfect fit; there’s a “I can give this kid what they need” fit. There’s a “I can manage these behaviors and hopefully create an environment that promotes healing” fit. There’s a “I will respect this kid and their birth family (even one’s that screwed up royally) and commit to working this thing out” fit.

In the wise words of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, “Make it work.”

make it work pop tv GIF by Nightcap-downsized

More Questions?

If you have questions like this drop me an email, reach me through the blog’s FB page or on Twitter. I’ll see what I can do! I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my experience and consider what I might do differently. This is a journey, not a destination. My and Hope’s adoption was a chapter, an event. This life we are creating as mother and daughter is the destination.


New Visions

2017 both flew and dragged by. At times it seemed like it would never end and other times it seemed I could barely keep up with all the goings on. The fall was particularly challenging as Hope struggled with everything and I was on business travel 5 days a week for several weeks on end. By the time the holidays rolled around I was finishing up a huge project for work, trying to get a jump on some 2018 projects, and jump through all of the requisite holiday hoops.

I barely got the Christmas cookies baked. I never got our holiday video done (Grammy commented that she was looking forward to seeing it. Yeah, well, so was I).

I did manage to overhaul my eating habits in the middle of the holidays and up my exercise which resulted in some much needed pound shedding before the new year.

Mostly, as the year wound down, I focused on me and Hope. It was clear after the rough fall months that my steady presence was critical for Hope’s emotional health. My daughter was under my left butt cheek for a solid two weeks. She was affectionate. She was communicative. She was less anxious, less depressed and as close to stable as I’d seen her in months.

And we leaned into all of that. It was one of the best holiday seasons we’ve had since the creation of our little family.

We capped off 2017 with a decadent dinner downtown. We dressed up. Hope fretted about how fancy everything was. Our server was amazing at just helping Hope to soak up all the special of the night. It was magical right on through dessert!

On New Year’s Day, I began working on my vision board. I failed to create one for 2017, which might be why sometimes I seemed goal-less in some areas of my life. I decided to get back to this particular tradition in 2018, so I fired up Powerpoint and thought about what I wanted for 2017.

Thinking about what you want for a year of your life is cool but challenging. I try to really zero in on me–this is my vision board. I am cautious not put things I want for Hope on it, this is really about me and me alone.

After a few hours of pondering I came up with several major areas: adventure, freedom, creativity, health and companionship. All of this rests on a year of possibilities. I found images conveying all of this and put them on my slide. Then, I saved it as a picture.

Since I’d decided that this year’s theme would be the year of possibilities, I set about to get Hope to join me in doing her first vision board. I sent her mine as a model. She thought it was cool, but just didn’t know where to start.

Admittedly, I nagged her and told her how I came up with mine and how she could just do the same.

Will I ever learn that Hope and I are *not* wired the same?

Bless her heart, she sent me a bulleted list of some goals for the year rather than a vision board.

I sat down to read it and nearly cried.

My Hope is maturing in ways that weren’t clear to me. I knew she had recently confided that she was a bit overwhelmed by the future–prepping for college and adulthood. I wasn’t prepared to see a list that tackled all of that head on. Hope’s list was the most cogent, mature thing I’d ever seen her produce; it was specific, it was optimistic, it was forward thinking. It was everything that every parent wants to see their kid lay out for themselves for the year ahead.

I desperately wanted to post it as is everywhere, since that who “sharenting” thing is real, but I only shared the list with a few close relatives who would really appreciate how awesome Hope’s goals for herself really were.

I gotta say that I also felt like…I must’ve done some stuff right on this journey for her to get here. We have so much farther to go, but man, that list was like a winning lotto ticket.

I took Hope’s list and reinterpreted it in pictures for a vision board. I sent her a couple of drafts to see if the images I chose were in line with what she had on her list. I made a couple of gentle recommendations on a few additions which she greatly appreciated. Within a day or so her board was finished and I saved her board as a picture just like mine.

Vision boards are useless if you’re not going to post them as a reminder to yourself throughout the year. I typically post mine in several places–my bedroom, bathroom and maybe a small version in my office. Sometimes as my screensaver.

I sent Hope her vision board picture and then I sent both of our boards to Costco for printing in multiple sizes. I framed one for each of us to put in our rooms. Hope really seemed to dig having this visualization of her goals for the year. So did I.

Visionboards

Fuzzy to protect our privacy!

I’m hopeful that this is a practice that I can instill in her to do every year. I know for me, even if I don’t do everything that’s on it, I make progress towards getting it done. Redoing my bedroom was on my 2016 board; it didn’t get done until the end of 2017 but gosh do I LOVE my new bedroom. I got there…eventually.

I am excited about the possibilities and adventures that are in store for me and Hope this year. I’m also glad that we have some guideposts in place for us to measure our individual progress.

It’s going to be a great year.


More Than Love?

An interesting article was posted yesterday to the Today show’s website: Life After Adoption: Is Love Enough?

The essay is an autobiographical account of an adoptive mom who struggled to raise her son who was deeply affected by a traumatic past. Her essay posited that love simply is not enough when you are trying to help a child heal from their past.

Micah Johnson, host of the radio show, Unscripted, tweeted me, and others, this morning to ask if “is love enough” in adoption?

I started to tweet back and realized that I would be responding in like 100 tweets, so I figured I’d just turn it into a post on my own blog.

Is love enough in adoption?

Well, it depends on how we’re talking about love and how it’s expressed.

My short answer is no, it’s not enough. Managing my life with Hope at times is a second job filling the role of caseworker. There are appointments to be made, emails to write and follow up with, doctors to consult with, therapists to consult with, new therapeutic approaches to research, school social workers to touch base with and teachers to get together because they don’t understand what’s going on with my daughter.

It’s another job, and not an easy one. Right now, I’m finally breaking down and considering horse therapy for Hope—forget about the expense—I’m trying to figure out therapeutic goals, timing, and logistics to just get my daughter to an appointment once or twice a week at a facility that’s 40 miles away. But I think it will make a difference, so I gotta figure it out.

I think of it all like a project management situation. At times I have to be very clinical about the whole thing because if I let myself feel too much of the emotion of why Hope needs whatever it is that she needs or the secondary trauma that sometimes I catch because of the drama, I can’t make it all happen. I have to compartmentalize the ugly, heavy emotional stuff so I can get her therapeutic needs met.

It’s easy to compartmentalize all of the project/case management as separate from love for my daughter, but I make it happen because I love her.

It’s not more than love, it’s part of the way I express my love for her. Is it different than me packing her lunch, which I do every day? Well, not really. Is it different that typical parenting stuff like picking her up from band practice? Meh. The truth is: all this stuff is the kind of parenting my daughter needs and I do it because I love her and want her to have the opportunity to grow into her best self.

It’s extra, and it looks like more than just the hug and kiss that I get from her before school in the morning, but this is our version of a ‘normal’ loving home.

My love requires some extra stuff, and my love has required me to learn about stuff I never anticipated needing to know. This love has demanded different kinds of activities of me in supporting her. The needs were different, so the responses were different. This love can break my heart repeatedly as I try to help Hope. The love hurts sometimes. It sometimes even appears counterproductive. But in the end, it’s all love.

No, it doesn’t mean I love her more than other people love their kids or that I get extra heaven points (they would be nice tho!); it just means that loving Hope looks and feels different than loving a kid who wasn’t exposed to trauma and loss, among other things.

So, the answer to the question for me is, yes, love is enough but it just looks different, its demands are different and sometimes how it even makes me feel is very different.

And that’s ok.


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.


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