Tag Archives: Parenting Teens

Parenting in the Era of #MeToo

As my fellow sisters continue to take to social media to share their experiences around sexual harassment, assault and other predatory behavior, I’ve been thinking about how all this affects Hope and kids like her.

Hope is 16. We watch the news, and I try to keep her abreast of current events. Last year, we sat and watched Bill Cosby’s legacy tumble down as numerous women came forward to say he sexually assaulted them. For me, it was painful to watch the Jello pitchman, Cliff Huxtable, lovable, funny guy I grew up watching shed all of that and be revealed as a sexual predator. He wasn’t a part of Hope’s youth, so it was more removed for her.

But the moment that we’re in now where the revelations are weekly or daily, where a senatorial candidate has been accused of trolling for girls close in age to Hope, where social media is flooded with stories of #metoo: it’s kind of triggering for both of us.

So many kids have a history of sexual abuse; nearly 1 kid in 10 among all kids, and over 1 in 4 of US kids 14 to 17 years old. When this latest moment launched, Hope and I had a really personal #metoo discussion. I shared my stories with her, and she shared a little bit of her story too. I thought it was important for me to talk about things that I felt were violating, so Hope could continue to develop her own benchmarks. We talked about limits, about how to defend ourselves against unwanted advances, and about who and how to tell when something unwanted happens. I wanted this conversation to help both of us feel empowered.

A few days later, on the way to school and while listening to a pop culture podcast, the topic came up again. This time I focused on being clear with Hope about my hope and expectation that she tell me if she’s ever hurt. We’ve already established that I have a tiny bit of Huck from Scandal in me, and I promise to try not to straight up murder anyone who hurts her (torture might be more fulfilling anyway). I wanted her to understand that I want her to be safe and that I am prepared to do whatever I need to do to make that happen.

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We’ve had talks about dating safety and what that looks like In practice. We talk about consent and slippery slopes that aren’t consent. I posted this summer a podcast series that I listened too, The Heart, that explore how many women are “gently” pressured into sex when they were clear they didn’t want to have sex. The show explored how insidious pressure can be and how easily a no can be converted to not a yes, but a “well, ok, but I’m not really into it.” We talked about always making sure you have bus fare and that maybe, just maybe I should let her in on my Lyft app so she can always get a ride if she finds herself in a not so safe situation. We talk about how you can hold your keys so they can be used as a weapon.

We talk a lot.

And still, it feels like we’re oversaturated with news of predatory behavior.

Earlier this week over breakfast as we watched coverage about Matt Laurer, Hope asked, “Is that the one who flashed himself from the bathroom?” No that was allegedly two other guys. “The one from that Netflix show?” No he seemed into assaulting men and being an a-hole to both genders. “Ok I know it’s not Bill Cosby because this guy is white.” I finally remind her that we used to watch Today until they did Tamron Hall wrong, and I switched to CNN. “Oh…oh yeah.”

There’s seriously so many stories tumbling around that it’s hard to keep up.

I try not to be alarmist with Hope. She has enough anxiety without my contributions, but I do want her to be aware of what’s happening and how relevant the discourse is to her life. More importantly, I want her to learn so she can be safe in ways that affirm her confidence and security. It’s hard though; it’s hard right now when we’re having conversations about high profile predators in positions of power making decisions about other people’s lives. This is some scary ish.

The bet I can do, is keep talking, keep affirming, and keep my inner Huck contained.

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Thoughts on a Bad Night

I’ve started my fall travel-palooza. I’m only on my second leg, and I am very, very anxious about the rest of the trips.

I’m already exhausted and feeling overextended. I’m stressed, dehydrated and high or sluggish on carbs. I thought I would treat myself to a manicure and a massage at the airport a couple of days ago before my red eye, but by the time I got to my connecting airport everything—EVERYTHING—in my terminal was shut up tight. Closed. I couldn’t even get a diet coke. I folded myself up in my seat and tried to sleep.

I caught 90 minutes of shut eye at home that next morning, and then what feels like my never ending day got back on the road. I ran errands, bought food, filled prescriptions, bathed the dog, did the laundry, herded Hope to her band competition and back to fetch her at 11pm at night, tidied Hope’s room and prepped my room for the nanny. I grabbed a few—and I mean a few—winks of sleep before it was time to get up, finish packing, walk Yappy, and catch my Lyft to the airport.

But, I went left around that 11pm pick up. Actually, I didn’t go left, I went crazy.

My beautiful teen daughter is rather…messy. I was not allowed to be too messy; my room as a teen was tiny. There wasn’t much space to be messy. Hope has a decent sized room, and well, I hear that general messiness has come to be accepted as a typical teen quality.

I reject this, but apparently that doesn’t matter because at the level of my house, the data show that it is true.

Hope is a bit of a mess. I try really, really, really hard to be understanding. I swear to the Holy Homeboy that I do try to understand. I honestly believe that our messiness can be indicative of our emotional state—heck I call my front hall closet the magic closet. I swear, the lion, the witch, the wardrobe and all of Disney could possibly be in there, but I digress.

Hope’s room…Lawd.

When I’m home and can stay on top of her, she can stay on top of the room. I don’t expect it to be eat off the floor clean, but some level that hangs around “kind of tidy” is what I’d like to shoot for. That’s achievable when I’m home. Even still, I find that I have to roll through once a week with a trash bag and thin things out. I throwaway obvious trash and put personal care products away. I make her bed, pick up her laundry and put it in the hamper (literally INCHES away). I try not to go through “her” stuff too much, just align the corners of the piles. Then I hit everything with some sprays of Febreze and run the oil diffuser. I rarely comment on what I find, and she doesn’t get in trouble unless I find something really, really, really serious.

Well yesterday I had to do the trashcan routine, and Er Mah GAWD! For a kid who has a bug phobia, she has no problem creating environments where bugs would simply love to take up residence. I did what I normally do, but with the schedule and my lack of sleep, I ruminated on all the crap I had to clean up. I didn’t take into consideration that she might be stressed when I’m away and that it might contribute to the mess. I went straight tunnel vision with righteous fury that had hours to build.

And by the time I fetched her I was trying to keep a lid on my fury. I knew it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t want to spend our few minutes together bickering. I knew both of us were tired.

But I just couldn’t let it go, and not letting it go was like lighting a match to dynamite. I totally blew and I totally blew it.

Before I knew it, I was yelling and saying horrible things, things I knew hurt. I was a crazy mess, and embarrassingly, I admit that Hope was more mature than I was. And even as I saw her face, I could feel my heart cracking because I was conscious enough to know I was being a total and complete asshole.

This was not mothering. This was not who I wanted to be. I was a total mess.

And so I apologized.

Yeah, after I got in one more verbal lick. Seriously, I was so stupid. But I genuinely regret those moments. I worry about how they affected her. I worry that I’ve pushed her away. I worry that I’ve irrevocably damaged us. I worry that she won’t forgive me. I worry that I’ve dredged up old emotions that we’ve worked so hard to reconcile.

I feel like I failed in the most epic way. I know we’ll survive, but I worry that this will be a big setback. I worry that I have broken so much trust.

I wish I had been able to keep it together.

I worry that this is only the beginning of my travel season and that the challenges will only escalate as will my fatigue.

I flew to my next destination this morning. Before I left I hand-wrote my daughter a letter of apology. I gave no excuses. I didn’t dig in about cleaning her room. I didn’t ask for forgiveness. I just said I’m so sorry that I said the awful things I said, that I made her feel bad, that I let my anger, frustration and fatigue get the better of me. I asked for grace as we press through my travel season.

I asked the nanny to take care and to check in to make sure she was ok. I let them go do a little retail therapy, and I gave her some space.

I’m hoping that we’ll be able to right our ship when I get home in a few days. Unfortunately, I’ll be off again to another city by week’s end. But I’m hopeful that my resilient daughter will bounce back. I hope that we won’t be too damaged by this event. I hope that I can learn how to keep my mouth shut and how to let the dumb stuff go.

I didn’t ask for forgiveness, but I hope to God that she does indeed forgive me.

My current worst fear is that she won’t.


Parenting Anxiety

When I started my doctoral work years ago, I freaked out. I had trouble sleeping. My stomach was in knots all the time. I was a bit of a mess. I had struggled with depression for years, but anxiety wasn’t something that I had directly dealt with even if it probably lurked in my background. The lifestyle change of working and going to school full time was hard; I was terrified of failing. I really had a hard time, but my doctor helped me get on top of it.

I thought once I ended my program, that the anxiety would subside, but of course, Hope came along and the roller coaster called parenting made sure that anxiety became a long-term companion in my life. Still I have managed.

Everyone’s issue with anxiety is different, so when Hope was formally diagnosed with anxiety a year ago, I realized just how different our experiences with this challenge were. Her diagnosis wasn’t really a shock, but it did give me some context to try to understand what she was experiencing.

My symptoms, which really had a major impact on my life initially, were not what I would call debilitating. Comparatively speaking, I can give myself a pep talk, hit up Pinterest and read some power memes, do some meditation and breathing exercises and a few other things and function.

Hope cannot. Those coping strategies do not work for her. She has more somatic symptoms, meaning she genuinely doesn’t feel physically well. There’s the extraordinary negative, depressive talk that the anxiety triggers that just drags her down. There’s the desire to practice an escapist form of self-care by diving into the K-dramas for hours or days. There’s the unwillingness and/or inability to get out of bed.

It’s just so heavy that it crushes her. It’s sad.

And it’s sometimes hard to parent, super hard.

You want to acknowledge your kid’s limitations. You want to be sensitive and meet them where they are. But you also want to push them to develop some resilience. You want them to “get over it.” You want them to put things behind them and get on with their day.

I find myself sometimes just closing my eyes and taking a big breath to calm my frustration, sadness, anger, anxiety and other emotions so that I can focus. It’s tough because at Hope’s age, her run of the mill teen problems are legit and really issues for her—even if I think many of them are absurd at best. For a teen, these are real problems and real problems for Hope tax her capacity in ways that I have never experienced before. A lot of the times, I just don’t understand. Most of the time I just don’t understand.

I often approach Hope’s mental health challenges as I do like religious faith—either you believe they are real or you don’t. But as a natural contrarian, I have pushed back on my own religious beliefs and understanding of faith, so you can just imagine how I struggle to process things that stop Hope in her tracks. Even though I intellectually understand all of the trauma and drama; I understand the diagnoses, and I get the symptoms, I admit I find myself more often than not thinking, “Oh good grief, here we go again. Can’t you just get over it already?????”

She can’t, and she can’t help that.

I am good about not saying this out loud, but I have no poker face and I’m pretty transparent—Hope already knows I’m thinking it. Sometimes she’ll even say, “I know you don’t believe me.”

I say, “No, I believe you.” I know she isn’t lying; I just can’t wrap my head around why she can’t function anyway.

Yeah, I know, I know, but I’m keeping it real here. It’s tough. I’m tough. I know that my inability to just accept my daughter’s mental health issues is harmful to our relationship. But I also know that sometimes, Hope is shadier than an oak tree. I’m always suspicious. I’m quick to pounce, “Aha!!!!” It doesn’t help, but the reality is that over 3+ years, we’ve typically got a 50/50 ratio of truly affected behavior, and sometimes Hope really is just trying to get over on me, so I feel my suspicions are justified.

I’m on the road again this week. I left before dawn today. Hope was to see herself off to school this morning, but she didn’t. I know this because her school stalked me to tell me that she wasn’t in school. She texted that she didn’t feel good.

And then she ghosted me.

In the 7 hours of silence, while I was touring a facility and taking meetings, I have stewed over this development. I have called; I have texted. I have pondered various scenarios—none of which include Hope having a fever, vomiting, PMS, cramps, or the plague.

By early evening, I started replaying the weekend, searching for Hope’s triggers. I remembered some things that transpired. Would they trigger somatic symptoms such that she would beg off school for the second time in 3 weeks? Yep. Did my absence make it easier to blow it off? Absolutely. Is this an offense that requires a consequence? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

How do I feel about this?

I feel a lot of things…annoyed, frustrated, curious (since she wouldn’t call/text me back). I hate admitting that empathy, compassion, sadness are not at the top of the list of things that I initially feel in these moments. I hate that it takes me a while to get there.

I eventually talked to my daughter today. I could tell she was nervous; she knew I was going to ask some tough questions about skipping school. I did, and she stalled in answering. I shifted gears and asked her about how she was feeling emotionally. Tell me about your stomach ache. Tell me about what’s on your mind. And we got to the place we needed to get to. I got it. I just reminded her about some of our house rules (tell me before the school tells me!); reminded her that I love her.

Will tomorrow be better? I don’t know. Will it be just as hard? Very likely, yes.

Does that make me anxious?

Yeah.


Keeping it Real

We are in the mid-teen stretch. Band season has started, and school starts in another week. Hope and I are, as always, trying to find our way in the world.

Recently we were out doing some school shopping. We needed to pick up all kinds of things, and the next thing I know Hope wants to talk about really personal stuff.

She wants to have the conversation at Target on a busy afternoon and not with an inside voice. It’s always Target. Seriously that damn bullseye.

Seriously

I really started talking to Hope about sex about two years ago. I decided early that I wanted to be the mom that she could talk to about anything. We have our own little code for initiating these conversations—our code tells the other that this is a time for grace, no super emotional drama, no attacks, no drama. We focus on facts, but I do get to share my opinion as long as it is presented respectfully and focuses on helping her with her decision making and not imposing my will. My daughter has survived a lot of things; I want to be her ally. I want her to make good, informed decisions. I want to teach her values, and help her understand how values play out in your life. I also wanted to deliberate about promoting body and sex positivity.

All of this isn’t just laying groundwork; it’s about rewiring. My daughter is still young, but there are some really icky things that are in her original wiring that need some work. So, I work hard to be positive.

I also think it’s been important to talk about agency, choices, emotions, and control. Often during these conversations, I find myself recounting my observations about some of her decisions—not critical, not saying they were wrong, just how I read them and how other people might read them. I also share what I think the motivation might have been. It also makes me reflect on my own life and choices; I find myself reframing my own life lessons and distilling them for her.

I love that Hope feels like she can talk to me about this stuff. I didn’t have these kinds of chats with my parents. That’s no shade on them; Hope and I have a bit of a different situation because of her history. Every now and then she will mention that she had these confabs with her friends and she will say that the kids wished their parents were able to talk to them. #winning

So, how did our conversations start? Well, I came up with some logical statements that I thought would meet my daughter where she is at any given time. They are also so simplistic that sometimes they make us giggle—not just because of the subject matter but because the statements should be obvious on their face.

ABM’s Logical Relationship & Sex Chat Mottos

  • Relationship status (monogamous and committed) should be clear before considering physical activity that goes beyond a hug and a peck on the cheek. Know where you stand.
  • Potential partners should care about your physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, and you should be able to tell they care in their word and deed.
  • If you are too afraid to ask where you stand, then things might be moving too fast and/or there is evidence that you’re not moving in the same direction towards a monogamous and committed relationship.
  • Take your time, you are not a Monarch butterfly with the life cycle of 2-6 weeks. You have a lifetime to live; there is no need to rush into any decisions or *make* anything happen (especially by the homecoming dance).
  • It’s good to be courted; yes, it makes you feel vulnerable and not in control. The upside is you deserve to be treated well and cherished.
  • Know how physical expression fits into what you believe spiritually; does your partner know that about you? Do they share your values? Is there a disconnect and if so is that a deal breaker?
  • It’s good to know where your boundaries are before you bump up against them and are in a situation that is too much for you. Figure out where your “bases” are before you are on the “field.”
  • Consent is essential for both parties. If you don’t discuss it, you can’t definitively say you have given it or received it. If it’s not talked about directly then you have a slippery slope in the moment that may result in activity that isn’t what you really you want.
  • Your body is yours; own your agency. If your partner doesn’t get that, take a pass; they aren’t worth it. Also, your mom is crazy, so…there’s that.
  • If you are embarrassed to say the words vagina and penis in a sentence, you are probably not mature enough to get together with someone and use yours for expression and entertainment.
  • If you can’t have a chat about previous history and hook ups, then you aren’t close enough to the person to bump uglies.
  • If buying condoms or any other kind of protection is mortifying consider how mortifying it might be to see the family doctor to discuss your new friends “itchy, scratch and oozy.” Pregnancy might be the least of your worries.
  • Physical attraction can be really intense; so much so that it can make you do dumb ish that you think is ok until the morning or moment after. That time can be really crazy—you and your partner’s connection make the difference between it being a walk of shame or basking in some dumb romantic novel scene.
  • Focus on the bigger picture. Sex is a physical activity that is as much expression as exercise. It should fit into something else; not be free standing. It shouldn’t stand alone; it was never intended to be and  we know that from our spiritual references and because of our emotional reaction to sex. Keep focusing on the big picture and understanding what a healthy relationship will look like for you. Thinking about sex first is backwards in the decision making process.

So that’s where we are these days. I’d love to hear how other families are navigating their chats about sex and relationships. I think Hope and I have a good thing going. I smiled when she said recently that she had reflected on something I said at a critical moment. I just want her to feel confident about herself and her choices.

So, what strategies have worked well with your family?


I Used to be an ESTJ

Since I’ve been home recovering from my head injury, Hope and I have had a chance to spend some time together. Oddly, we haven’t gotten on each other’s nerves too much. We’ve enjoyed resting and lounging; of course, this is what Hope has been doing all summer, but I digress. I have a great kid.

Last week we threw on some sweats and hit the neighborhood IHOP while the housekeepers got the house together (how is it that I feel like I’m intruding in my own house when they are there???). Over pancakes and bacon, Hope and I got to talking about personality types. Hope mentioned that they did a Myers-Briggs test in school last year. Intrigued, I inquired what letters she got. Of course, my daughter and her short attention span and poor memory couldn’t remember.

Curious I did a quick Google search on my phone and pulled up a test for her to take over breakfast. She read the questions, occasionally asking me to clarify the questions for her. I mused over her answers, thinking for at least half of them that I wouldn’t answer the way she did based on how I observed how she moved through the world. She turned out to be an I/ESTP. She presents differently to me.

Um, way, way, way, way, way, way differently to me, but um, ok…if that’s how she sees herself.

I definitely pegged the Introvert/Extrovert borderline, but the rest of it was like no, these descriptions don’t describe my kid at all. I am intrigued by the way Hope sees herself. While I’m not totally going to change my parenting style based on a free version of the Myers-Briggs I found on the internet over breakfast, it does make me think about trying to see Hope as she sees herself.

Artistic, independent, adaptable, practical, self-directed and energetic. This sounds like a great kid too. I hope that one day everyone can see her this way, including and especially me.

After reading her results and chatting about them, I reset the test and started taking it myself. I know that we can change over time. I have been an ESTJ (Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging) for as long as I can remember, and none of these indicators were even close to the borderlines all the previous times I’ve taken the test—both formally and informally. I hadn’t taken one of these tests since I became a mom, so, since we were chatting about our personalities, I jumped on the test train.

Low and behold, I have changed. The only thing that stayed the say was my tendency for extroversion. Every other indicator was firmly hugging the borderline. Apparently, I have become more Intuitive, more Feeling, and more Perceiving since I became a mom. Who is *this* chick???

I guess that’s a good thing, right? As I told Hope, none of these letters are particularly good or bad; they just are.

Still, I am fascinated by the changes. I suppose motherhood required me to develop and flex these aspects of my personality. I’d like to think that I’m more forward thinking as I dream about Hope’s future, and I certainly have added consideration of feelings along with my data in decision-making. I’ve had to let some of my judginess go and be more flexible and adaptable in this phase of my life.

So, I guess it all makes sense, but much like I thought I saw differently than she sees herself, what I thought I knew about myself turns out to be different than the possible reality.

It’s odd because there was some pride I’d long taken in being an ESTJ. I don’t know why; maybe it was how definitive the scoring suggested these letters represented me. As I mentioned earlier, I know that personalities can change over time, but um, that was *other* people…not me. Is it odd that my initial reaction was feeling a little grief and loss—I mean, here was another indicator of how motherhood has changed me and even though I traded in my cute Mini Cooper 18 months ago in favor of a “family” car, I’m still not-so-secretly mad about that. Did I really have to “lose” my STJ too?

I’m mildly comforted by the fact that my scores at least hug the borderline; maybe I’m still an ESTJ at work and just different at home.

Of course, I am glad that my personality has shifted to meet the need I have in my life now. Hope certainly benefits from me being less rules-oriented (Oh, we have rules though) and more emotionally in tune with things.

So here we are; Hope sees herself as radically different than I see her, and I have changed from the me I used to know.

This isn’t bad, but I can’t help pondering these pieces of information well past the bacon and pancakes. It’s interesting and I wonder what new surprises about our personalities will reveal in time.

Has your personality changed since becoming a parent?


Look at Me!!!

So this weekend I decided that I was finally going to break my promise to myself to never ever visit another plantation in this lifetime.

I grew up in central Virginia, and while growing up I visited numerous plantations. They creep me out. I swear I feel the ancestors, hear their cries and feel their anger about folks traipsing around still profiting off of their backs. I don’t care that some of these places now have some memorial placed to the enslaved or whatever—a profit is often still made. I just want them all to go away, but since they won’t I choose not to visit anymore.

Then Hope came along, and I remembered how much I learned from actually visiting historic places. I started feeling like maybe I should break this promise just once so she had the historic (and awful) experience and so I could teach her about these places and the irony that they are preserved and revered so. I’ve struggled with this for more than three years.

So, this past weekend I resolved to rip the band-aid off and take her to visit Mt. Vernon. It’s not far and well, there’s the whole first president, founding father narrative. So, we were getting ready to head out when my dad called and asked if he could come visit from a few hours away.

I took that as a sign that the Holy Homeboy was not ready for me to go back to a plantation.

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Anyhoo, my dad comes to spend the afternoon with us, and Hope…well, she acted like an attention-starved little kid.

Dad and I are having our routine “cell phone with unlimited data plan” conversation.

“Mom, mom, mom!!”

“Yes Hope.”

“I’ve saved a lot of money from my allowance. I think we should put it in the bank.”

“That’s a good idea, Hope. We can talk about that tomorrow.” She hands me a wad of money.

WTH?

Dad and I are talking politics.

“Mom, mom, mom!!”

“Please say excuse me because we are taking, but yes Hope.”

“I don’t think I want to go to that Korean immersion camp.”

“Um, OK.” I attempt to draw her into our conversation about politics since we talk about that kind of stuff often, but no dice.

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Dad asks her about her activities and she does the mime thing.

This back and forth goes on for hours. My dad was patient while I was visibly patient but ready to wring Hope’s neck on the inside. I took a break and had them chatting while I fixed a light dinner for us all. I thought about why it all was going down like this.

I don’t get to see my parents as much as I used to, and they are getting older so having them drive up for a day is a rare thing. I don’t know how many times this will happen in my lifetime or his. This visit was especially precious, and I’m a daddy’s girl.

Hope is so jealous of anyone who takes my attention away from her. Although my dad was eager to spend time with her, and she genuinely is fond of him, it was like she was threatened because he showed me attention. She’s like this with almost anyone who comes across our threshold to visit us. If the scope of the visit is not entirely devoted to her then she is hell on wheels. She’s full of non-sequiturs, rude interruptions, and just level 10 annoyances. It’s exhausting, and I often wonder if she behaves this way with her peers. Like if she manages to develop a friendship, is anyone else who comes around a threat that triggers this antisocial behavior?

I did my best to be patient with her, gently correcting and redirecting her, but I was frustrated. I was trying to enjoy my dad’s visit, trying to portray solid parenting in front of my dad, not get rattled by this wacky behavior, get dinner on the table and search for some kind of understanding that would trigger some empathy for my daughter.

The long and short of is that Hope and I still have a long way to go on this journey. I hope one day she feels safe enough with me to not have to compete for my attention. It’s a reminder for me that she still feels like I might abandon her, even in the smallest way. It’s painful to think about that, and it’s tough to find away to address it without meeting full on resistance and denial.

I got so much more than I wanted this weekend, having time with my dad, but I was also reminded that my daughter is still a fragile little girl screaming “Look at me, mommy! Look at me!”

I see you, Hope.


Thoughts on Being 16-3

Hope turned 16 this weekend. It was a fun filled weekend with lots of quality time, shopping, family and good eats. I went a little overboard on the gifts, but it was fun and 16 is a significant birthday. She seemed to enjoy herself; she relished under the nearly non-stop glare of my attention. I catered to most of her whims—including agreeing to vacuum the walls and ceiling of her room in order to eliminate possible bugs in her room. She was a delight to be around; seemed genuinely happy to be the center of attention. #nosurprisethere

During the course of the weekend, I asked Hope how she felt about turning 16 and did she feel like she was 16? She replied that she felt like she was 3.

I thought at first she was joking, and while she might have been a little tongue in cheek, it was about the truest thing she’s said.  I talk to AbsurdlyHotTherapist regularly, and Hope’s emotional age is much younger than her chronological age. It isn’t 3, but it is in the single digits. Grammy was with us when she responded; she was speechless.

I thought the response was interesting for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we just celebrated our 3rd family-versary. Could she have been born again when she was adopted? Maybe, I guess.

I know there are times when she is very much like a big threenager. She’s taking a break from her ADHD meds at the moment. We made it through one store reasonably well, but then we went to Target. She expended all of my reserve energy with one sprint around the store. Target = #overstimulation. So many things to see, notice, comment on, show me, touch, sniff. I swear to God that Yappy does not sniff at the dog park as much as she was distracted at Target. After a 15 minute visit, I told her I needed to rest for a bit. I asked her how she felt—anxious, excitable, jumbled, having a hard time remembering all the things she saw, swearing she didn’t say things she did. It was maddening, and a challenge for both of us.

I told her that sometimes I think she acts like a 5 year old, and she laughed.

I totally meant it.

Sure she has come so far; she has matured emotionally a lot, especially in the last few months. Her ability to vocalize her feelings has really come a long way. All told though, Hope is still emotionally very much behind her peers.

As she enters her 16th year, I wonder what that means for her. She spent her birthday with me and a family friend. There were no friends to invite. There was no party. There were no dates. And while that might be true for many teens; I wonder how long Hope will be in this space. I will always be here for her, but I wonder when she will be able to develop healthy friendships with peers who will provide her a kind of support that I can’t. I wonder when she will desire some level of independence. I wonder whether she will have any healthy romantic relationships.

My curiosity and worry about Hope’s future isn’t new though. The fact that my daughter sees herself feeling much younger than she is chronologically is new. The self-awareness is growing, and as it continues to develop I’m hopeful that it will help her catch up somehow. I know it won’t be overnight, but I hope it speeds up.  I Hope that she will get closer before she graduates in a couple of years so that she has the joy of experiencing some meaningful high school rites of passage. I want my daughter to suck in all the life she can. I recognize that she probably just wants to suck in all the normal she can, and her normal has double backed to a time when she didn’t have what she has now.

For now, I have a sweet 16, 3 year old who at least knows she’s a 16-3 year old.

I guess that’s something.


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.


In What World

In my 44 years of circling the sun, I have always been subjected to some sort of bias. It hasn’t always been racism, sometimes it’s sexism and misogyny. Sometimes it’s been ageism.

I’ve been hurt. I’ve been angered. I’ve risen up, fallen down and risen again to fight my own oppression. Somehow, along the way, I tripped into a career devoted largely to advancing social justice in graduate education.

I just returned from a conference devoted to social justice in education. I met lots of people, shared lots of things, commiserated, learned, talked and pondered. I consider this meeting my annual professional development meeting, and I always come back with some new ideas and contacts.

For the last few years, I have felt a ratcheting up of racist (and other “ism” oriented) language in the atmosphere. I look forward to this conference in late May to hear the latest, to verify and validate that what I’m hearing, seeing and feeling is in fact what I’m hearing, seeing and feeling.

On the real…it’s getting hot in here.

For me the ominous foreshadowing has been brewing almost since Obama was first elected and birtherism emerged. During this last 18 months, and the last 6 in particular, the season has opened to say all the racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, horrible things that are on one’s mind under the guise of free speech and with little expectation of consequences.

We already saw that it was increasingly dangerous for black folk to, well, breathe, and now it’s just getting progressively worse. Just days after the 2016, election I allowed Hope to come home early because she had been subjected to horribly racist language by some of her classmates. She just crumbled.

Grammy, my mom, integrated her high school many years ago. It pains me to hear her say that the current national discourse is increasingly reminiscent of her youth in rural central Virginia.

And if she’s having flashbacks; I’m having flash-forwards.

I believe I can take care of myself, but Hope…

My daughter is on the precipice of adulthood. In a few short years, she will finish high school. She will likely go to college locally as she continues to take time to emotionally and academically catch up. She is among a cohort of kids who know a different kind of world than the one even I grew up in.

Born after 9/11, she may have recognized Bush II, but really, more than half of her life, Obama was president, and while that did not prevent “isms” from touching her…it gave her a different outlook.

And now…I can say that it’s radically different.

It’s hard to teach a child to show respect when there are major demonstrations that respect is a passé construct. The conflated notions of “tell it like it is” and free speech make it difficult to help her navigate how to engage socially. It’s also hard to teach her to turn the other cheek when she comes from a background that has already taught her that such grace just means she’ll get that one hurt too.

Hope desperately wants to be a “good” girl—her words not mine—but she already struggles with impulsiveness and many present public models are just fresh examples that impulsiveness rules the day.

Parenting is extraordinarily difficult. In what world are the current circumstances supposed to make us great (again) or even just a little easier?  And are these the circumstances that are supposed to create an environment and culture that helps me and my daughter feel safer, provide a good education, not feel pushed out due to our cocoa colored skin? Is this behavior supposed to make us, me and Hope, great or even just feel great??

Does this make you feel great??

pope

BLEND IN WITH WHITE PEOPLE?

Or this?

whitenational

Recent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA

How about this?

Portand

Because speech shouldn’t have consequences.

Yeah, me neither. I could really, really go hard into the political, but really, I’m more worried about the crass culture war and what its long-term prognosis will be.  How long will it be before we’re all great? How long before some leadership says hey, this is not how we should treat each other? How long before we acknowledge our individual and collective humanities? Is it in my lifetime? Is it in Hope’s?

In what world can I believe that my daughter and her brown and black friends and families will be consistently treated as though they are great? In what world will I be assured that their humanity will be seen and acknowledged?

In what world?


Emotional Confessions

Author’s Note:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s just too much.


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