Tag Archives: Parenting Teens

The Big Night

Well I survived the big night. The day of Hope’s military ball, I went into the office for a few hours, left to pick up the corsage I ordered for her and then hit the road to drive the 75 miles to her school. I’d packed a “glam” bag full of beauty products, hair products undergarments, and any emergency thing I could think of that might be needed. I, of course, had the dress, Hope’s dress coat, and her 3.5 inch heels.

When I arrived my daughter was painting the mini-claws she had adhered to her fingers. She asked for my opinion, and I’m sure she didn’t want the super honest one, so I gave her what she needed. I plucked her eyebrows, while her roommate used the curling iron I packed. I slicked edges back to place the sparkly headband, all the while trying to play it cool even though I was over the moon with delight that I was finally getting to have this experience with my daughter. I made suggestions on her make-up, but not too many so that I wasn’t annoying. I zipped up the side zipper on her ornate gown and just breathed taking her beauty in. I snapped pictures of her, selfies of us, body shots and head shots, shots with the hall monitor…Hope was serving goddess vibes with her perfectly fitted black and gold detailed gown. She was breathtaking. I was and am so proud. I’ve already ordered a dozen prints of my snapshots to send to her family and some of mine.

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And then it was time for her to leave.

All the girls on the hall were fluttering around, applying last minute glosses and trying to walk confidently in stilettos. We stepped outside and there were a few limos, even though most of the students were taking the school bus to the country club. Hope turned to say good bye, and I gave her air kisses, a hug and told her to have a great night. As she walked away I snapped one last picture of her heading off for her prom. I smiled because it was so sweet, and I’d managed to not ruin the evening by being an overbearing, opinionated mom.

In the three hours since my arrival, the temperature dropped and I was blocked in by one of the limos, so I grabbed my coat and sidled up to another parent, a mom, who was watching the kids head out for the evening.

We engaged in some filler banter, giggling a little when one of the young woman clearly was having issues walking in her super, super high heels. Another young woman stepped out in a full length rose gold sequined gown. The other mom and I watched for a while as she stepped into the evening sunlight and started snapping selfies. The gown was stunning; she looked great, glamorous even.

The other mom and I continued to banter a bit, and then our banter took a weird turn.

“It’s amazing, you know, how much things have changed over the years,” she said.

Me: “Uhhhh, yeah, sure.” I have no idea what she is alluding to.

“Kids are all together these days.”

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Me: Still not sure where this is going…

“In my day, things were segregated. Blacks lived on one side, and we lived on the other. Separate schools and everything.”

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Me: Huh, ok, I see what this conversation is about, still not sure where this conversation is going or what is happening. I’m just here to watch my kid go to prom with her classmates. WTH…

“I was ok with them (black folks). One time I invited this little black girl over to my house to play. My dad had a fit and forbade her from coming over. He announced that no black people can ever be in our house.”

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Me: “Huh, ooooookay.” So, what am I supposed to do with this information that is soooooooo not what I want to deal with. Can’t I just look at the pretty girl in the rose gold dress in peace?

“I was so upset; I mean I was mad! I told my dad, ‘You know, God could have made you black!’” She looked at me pointedly; I’m guessing for some response.

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Me: Oh, is this White woman is looking for some kind of validation or something? Lady, are you serious? Can we just look at the dresses and shoes, make small talk and leave? Why am I being subjected to this non-sequitur need for racial reconciliation/validation? Really, what the entire hell.

So, I responded in a way that would quickly bring this weird confessional to an abrupt end.

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Me: “So you’re telling me your dad was or is a racist, but you’re not?”

Her: Color seeps into her cheeks. “I’m just saying things have changed.”

Me: “Indeed they have. Well, it’s chilly. I’m going to go ahead and head out. You have a nice evening.”

Weird right?

I mean, Hope’s school is very diverse—about 20% African American, and close to 50% students of color and international students combined. I have been very happy with Hope’s environment at the school, which is saying something because the school is located in a town where Confederate flags wave openly and proudly. We’ve had a few issues related to some international culture clashes, but generally, I feel like she’s had good exposure with racial mirrors among both the students and the faculty.

So to the rando mom lady who wanted to have both an acknowledgement that things have changed and that she’s not what she grew up with…well, I just wanted to enjoy my evening. I wanted to bask in having the joy of girlie time with my very tomboyish daughter. I just wanted to watch the kids get all dressed up and go out for a night many of them will think about for years to come and will hopefully tell their kids about. I just wanted to be a mom in this moment, and not a Black ambassador hanging around to validate a hopeful woman who wants to believe we’re all post-racial.

Ugh.

Anyway, Hope was off. She said the filet mignon was delicious if a bit rare and the potatoes were yummy. She danced and wore her heels all night. She had a good time and texted me when she was on the way back to campus. She was clearly still on a prom high when I went back to campus to pick up for the weekend, chattering with her friend about the music, the couples and the food.

It was a big night, and I’m so glad I got to share a part of it with her.

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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.


The Mystery of Turning 18

Hope will be 18 in a few months.

I don’t even remember looking forward to 18; sure, I remember 21, but I don’t remember looking forward to 18. I mean, I was still in high school, getting ready for college. I was already illegally boozing at a local bar where one of my friends’ boyfriend’s older sister tended bar. I had a car and a after school job. I actually had a fair amount of freedom, earned by good grades and decent character.

Beyond that, I don’t remember looking forward to turning 18.

I might’ve been more into being a high school senior and all the traditions that go with that, final year of sports, the awards, homecoming and prom, banquets and convocations. I have quite a few snapshots from that time. I looked happy, content, like I was having fun. But I just don’t remember being all eager to be 18. I don’t even remember what I did that birthday; Google says it fell on a Saturday and knowing my besties from back in the day we were out and about doing something, even though I was the first of my closest friends to become a “legal adult.”

I knew that nothing would change at home. I chuckle at the thought of somehow asserting my newfound adulthood while still living at home and being in high school. The notion is straight up laughable. That said, I knew that things were stable, not much was going to change after my birthday and that I certainly was not going to be a real adult. I was ok with that.

At best, for me, 18 was like…being an adult preemie.

I don’t actually know that Hope is looking forward to her next birthday, but I know it’s one of those birthdays that is somehow significant.

Maybe depending on the circumstances it’s more significant for parents. Maybe that’s why it’s on my mind these days.

A friend’s son recently turned 18, and it was clear from my friend’s post that they were having some conversations about what it meant to be an “adult” still living at home with the parents. The comments on the post were funny and smart, and I got the sense that this father and son had some negotiating that would soon be taking place about all kinds of things. It was also clear that by negotiating, I mean that dad was going to tell him that many of the same rules still applied today as they did last week.

I’m mindful that my experience and the experience of my friend and his son are ones that folks take for granted. We grew up with our biological families. Stability was never an issue. The threat of separation never even brushed our lives. We knew that being 18 was a formality; we were still members of our families, still dependent on them, still loved by them and loving on them, and that nothing was going to really change. We were still firmly ensconced in the family nest.

Hope and I haven’t talked about her upcoming birthday at all. We’ve been so focused on the college application thing and the layers of anxiety around the process and what it meant to her and me that it didn’t even occur to me that there might be feelings about her 18th birthday. During out long drives to visit schools, I know that my daughter seems to feel a mix of excitement and anxiety. For the most part that is normal, but I know it’s not totally normal because she’s worried about being abandoned. Will I cut her loose when she goes to college? How will she manage? Can she function in a college environment on her own? What are the other options and how do you make decisions? There’s a lot of big feelings for both of us.

So, we’ve been consumed by the big life, landscape issues and not some of the more down to earth, daily drama that the late adolescence/early adulthood period brings with it.

That is until earlier this week, when I discovered that she had signed up for something that I *know* had a 18+ requirement. I promptly sent her a quick message to shut it down since she was underage. I reminded her that there are age limits for a reason and that I would not be relenting just because she was close to 18. She didn’t respond; she just shut it own.

Now that’s all great and everything, but the reality is that Hope will be 18 in just a few months, and I’m realizing that it opens up a whole new set of opportunities for bad decisions. Hope will be 18 chronologically, but emotionally? Not even…

I believe she feels attached and reasonably secure in this moment, but will she feel that in a few months? Have I done enough to nurture the confidence in our relationship, in my reliability as her mom? Does she trust me enough?  Does she trust me enough to still be a bit of a kid? I don’t think she wants to grow up, and I know she needs more time, so I’m hoping that we don’t get hung up on the imaginary trappings of adulthood that come with being 18.

Of course there are also things that I will need to evaluate in terms of my parenting. Will I still monitor online activity? I don’t heavy monitor anymore, but I have the ability to. Usually I just rely on my “mom’s spidey sense” to let me know that I need to check something out. Since Hope is away at school I know that the school blocks somethings on campus and I also think she’s just earned a higher degree of privacy than she did 5 years ago. Are there things that I will change in my parenting when Hope turns 18? Hmmmm…honesty, I just don’t know.

I’m hoping that in the grand scheme of things, 18 won’t be a big deal for us. I am looking forward to celebrating it with our family, but beyond that?

Well, that’s a mystery!


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.


The Year of Transition

I finished my vision board earlier this week. I started it on New Year’s Day and got stuck, so it sat on my screen for a week.

I usually choose a word that drives me for the year. Originally, I thought 2019 would be about liberation. I would be even more liberated in m travel. I would try to make some moves to make this writing thing, well, a thing. I would continue to make and achieve my financial goals which would bring me closer to financial liberation. I would pursue companionship, hopefully shedding some of my hang ups that have shaped my love life for so long. I would continue to wrestle with the emotional part of empty nesting with Hope soon off to college, possibly reframing it as a way to think about some adult freedoms to do things I haven’t done in years.

In all things, I would do, I would pursue personal freedom, my own little forms of liberation.

And most of those things are still on my vision board; they are very much a part of my plan.

But I realized over the last couple of weeks with Hope home, that I don’t think I’ll really have much of an empty nest. I’m not sure where Hope will be after graduation. To be honest, I worry a bit that we won’t make it to graduation. It’s made me think a lot about what that means for Hope, but with respect to my vision board, it made me also spend a lot of time pondering what it means for me.

Mothering Hope is not quite all consuming. Some days are less intense than others. This is not complaining but just a description of my experience with my daughter. Even the great days can be consuming. Like most parents, I am able to do a bit of revisionist history when I reflect on these few years. I am able at times to gloss over the many times that had me laying awake at night quietly praying for us to get through an especially challenging trauma-shaped period.

These few months with her away at school taught me just how much my own life had been shaped by secondary trauma. The anxiety, the depression, the fear, I had become so used to this especially heightened state of being that I didn’t realize how much trauma had just rubbed off on me.

And while I spent some time coming down from that state, I also transitioned to something new distance parenting. I case manage from 75 miles away. Finding new health care providers, therapists, hypnotists, pharmacies…building relationships with new teachers, guidance counselors, resident advisors. I beat the highway twice a month to see her, manage the bank accounts, buy way more ramen than I ever thought I would. I definitely still parent, but with Hope in such a structured school, I am not consumed in the same ways I was before. My day to day exposure to her trauma was limited, and I think I was able to heal a little.

As I look forward, I am unsure what will happen this summer and this fall.  Hope and I are waiting for the colleges to make their decisions and then we will figure out our options and make ours. It’s a weird time for her, for me and for us. I hope she gets admitted somewhere—she needs the emotional boost. That’s the first hurdle. Then I wonder whether she’s ready to go anywhere; these last few weeks at home and her first semester grades suggest maybe college isn’t really for her at least right now. And if it’s not, then what will being at home look like for us. She has done minimal volunteering and hasn’t had a job yet. She still doesn’t have her driver’s license. What will I expect of her if she is home for a long period of time; how will our relationship change?

There’s just a lot that is up in the air, and I’m thinking about all of it all the time. And thinking about something all the time is not liberation.

So, we’re in transition.

I’m in transition.

I’m moving into another life chapter. A lot of my personal goals remain the same, but Hope is and always will be a game changer. My master goal, to somehow usher Hope into functional adulthood, remains, but the incremental goals feel a little iffy at the moment. I need more information. I need to figure out young adult resources. I need Hope to play a bigger role in her own life in terms of figuring how what the next steps will look like.

So, my word for 2019 isn’t liberation. I might have some goals that will lead to my personal liberation, some that are designed to make me be and feel free. But really, this year will be about transitions for me and Hope.

I’m not sure how to feel all about that, I just know that transition will drive the year.

Here’s to 2019.


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.


The School Decision

Wow, thank you to so many of you for weighing in on Hope’s big decision about where to attend high school this fall. This last week has just been amazing. In giving her complete autonomy over this major life decision, I witnessed my daughter’s transformation. I’m awestruck by her process.

Honestly, when she broached the subject of revisiting her decision a week ago, I’m also shocked at how easily I was able to just step back and give her the space to think about her options. I genuinely no longer was deeply vested in one school or the other. I was just committed to supporting Hope make a decision she would be confident in moving forward. As I begin to reflect on this last week, I will always, always be focused on the decision process rather than the decision. It’s the process that gave me such an amazing glimpse of who Hope has become and her big picture potential.

So, it’s like when Lebron was on ESPN announcing that he was moving to Miami, right?

Capture

Image via YouTube

It certainly feels like it.

So, without further ado, I’m delighted to announce that Hope will be enrolling in boarding school in just a few short weeks.

By Sunday evening, it was starting to become clear that she was leaning in this direction, but by Monday she had fully committed. With the decision now made she is reveling in all the imminent changes. There’s minimal anxiety, more excitement than fear and so much pride in sharing her news with her friends and teachers.

I’ve got to make a lot of magic happen in a very short period of time since we will be going on an extended vacation in less than two weeks, and she will almost immediately report to school when we return stateside. I’m just basking in her excitement at the moment, but thoughts about what does the extended empty nest really mean for me are tinging the edges of my consciousness. Not in a bad way, but my gut tells me that this move is really a game changer. My gut tells me that when Hope returns after graduation she will have really found her sea legs and will be launching a little sooner rather than later. So random thoughts about what this next phase of parenting will look like and how will I document it float gingerly through my mind. There are other happy developments happening in my life that will no doubt fill some of the time Hope’s departure will create, but it won’t be parenting her, cooking for her, harassing her about laundry or cleaning her bathroom. The daily rigors of parenting have become such a part of my life and I haven’t really had much time to think about what it would look like if her departure was extended. I think I might be in a bit of shock.

I’m so excited for this next chapter, even not having any friggin idea what shape it will take.

So, yeah, Hope is morphing from an Eagle (home school) to a Yellow Jacket (new school, with an insect that she’s terrified of) in just a couple of short weeks, and we are ecstatic!!!!!


How the Decision Process is Going

It’s been a really interesting weekend. Hope is doing things I’ve never seen her do before.

She’s making pro and con lists.

She’s reaching out to classmates at both schools and parsing out the good advice from the not so good advice.

She’s asking me to check the blog comments and votes (she’s incredibly grateful for all of your contributions and comments!).

During her therapy appointment, she talked about her options with AbsurdlyHotTherapist.

She’s thinking about her future in ways I’ve never seen her do before.

She is researching. She’s making a question list to send to the boarding school for more information.

Whatever her decision, I’m seeing her do what I saw her do throughout the summer program: Rise to the occasion.

Talk about stepping up: She’s organized, thinking critically, asking questions and shouldering a huge decision.

Every few hours I make a point to remind her of a couple of key considerations:

  • I want her to prioritize her happiness.
  • This decision isn’t just about academics; it’s also about emotional needs and that one is not more important than the other.
  • There is a chance for a do-over. We could figure out how to make it work if it comes to that.
  • Don’t fret about the financial consideration—that’s a mom issue and I got it under control.
  • I and Yappy will miss her like crazy.
  • I will also make sure that if she chooses to go to the boarding school that she can still make it to a few of the football games at her home school if she wants to go.
  • I’m happy to also invest in a private online language courses in Korean if she goes to the boarding school since they don’t offer it there and I know she wants to keep up with her language development.
  • I will never, ever abandon her. I’m her ride or die, no matter what, where or why.

It has been a stressful weekend for Hope. This has been the biggest decision she’s been faced with since deciding about wanting to be adopted. It is weighing on her. So today, we’re going to do some fun things to take our minds off of the choice that has to be made.

In all though, it’s all good. I’m happy with how the process is shaking out; so much so, I’m really not focused on the decision. I’m really into just Hope’s immediate emotional needs.

Some of you posed some questions and comments in the comments of my last post that I’ll address below!

Do we have a school selected?
Yes, Hope attended a lovely military academy about 80 miles away from our home in Northern Virginia. It’s in the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, on a small but beautiful campus. The school is very small, just 350 students in the high school total with about a third or so in residence. I hadn’t even heard of the school 6 months ago, but I’ve been wowed by the support they offer, the responsiveness, the racial and ethnic diversity and their commitment to excellence. Of course, at that price, they should be, but it’s definitely a good school. They know what they’re doing there. I do wish it was close enough for day school, but 80 miles is just too far.

Can she switch mid-year?
Yes, but only in one direction. She can go from the boarding school back to the home school, but not the other way around. I’ve told Hope that if after the first quarter or semester it’s really not working out, she can come and finish up at her home school.

Decisions of the Head and Heart
Several readers have noted that this is a decision of both the head and the heart. That point has really resonated with us. Thank you for framing it that way! I’ve tried to impress upon Hope that it’s totally valid to want to just be home. Home is critical; home is especially important when it’s been elusive for periods of your life. A decision that is centered on home and everything that comes with it is a valid decision, and it even might be the best decision.

What about accountability and can it be replicated at home?
To some degree yes, but I simply can’t replicate what they do at the boarding school. I don’t think I could do it here with the best planning and execution, and I especially don’t think I can replicate it as a single parent. One, my work/management style is just not as rigid as what is offered there. At heart I’m a creative; I know that I don’t thrive in that kind of environment and my ability to construct that kind of home is just…nonexistent. The home school is a good school, but with a couple thousand students, they don’t have the time or resources to create the structure that Hope seems to crave and thrive in. What’s been interesting about this summer experience is that Hope has started considering a possible military career because the structure and direction just works for her. It makes me proud and scared shi%less.

Counseling by phone?
AbsurdlyHotTherapist is totally down with this. We would also schedule her appointments on the weekend when she can have in-person therapy as well. Of course, he has declined to offer an opinion, but is delighted that we’re considering options and how well Hope is doing self-managing through her decision-making process.

Small college in the future?
The plan was always to do community college for the first two years and transfer. This decision potentially changes the trajectory of the future. Actually, I think no matter what decision is made, the future path has evolved. I wanted Hope to do community college, so she would have more time at home before launching, but her transfer school would definitely have been a small, liberal arts style school. We’ve actually considered a few over the last year or so to visit.

Now of course, Hope is seeing a wider range of possibilities including going straight into the military, going to a small college first and going into the military as an officer, launching straight from boarding school, still sticking to the original plan. I’m delighted that she sees choices. One of our big values in our home is that choices equal freedom. You want to have choices, and you want to create scenarios where you have the best choices available to you. Hope sees what she needs to do where ever she chooses to go to get the widest array of choices. So, we’ll see!

We’ll make an announcement when a decision is made! Thanks to so many of you for weighing in. We both really appreciate it!


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