Tag Archives: Parenting

Parenting Dilemma

Sometimes parenting decisions are real rocks in hard places. You want to give your kid a chance. You want to give them some freedoms and some rewards. But you also want, nay need, to hold the line on your principles and standards. In the midst, you want to be reasonable and flexible.

And sometimes all of that is a bunch of hooey because you still have to make a decision.

Hope was invited to prom by a friend. She doesn’t have many friends, very, very few. I also know that this friendship teeters on more than friendship.

So here’s the deal: I have long had this lovely fantasy of my daughter going to a formal. She went to one in 8th grade and it was so much fun helping her get ready. My daughter is not girly; I manage to wrangle her into a dress once or twice a year. So, the selfish stage mom wannabe in me is like:

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The more realistic part of me is like um, she’s in 10th grade, I know she’s feeling this kid, I said no dating until she’s 16 and she ain’t 16 yet, and she doesn’t even LIKE the girly rituals involved in prom.

Then I think about how hard it seems for Hope to make friends, how many Friday and Saturdays she just sits around watching K-dramas because there were no invitations to go anyway or do anything. I think about my hopes and dreams for her to be socially integrated and to be happy.

And I soften and try to imagine the scenarios that would allow me to still say yes. Get all the schoolwork done. Stick to the chore list. Stretch and go to the weekly Korean language meetups I found for her.

I start to wonder if she can legit do the things I ask. She doesn’t do them on a regular basis on a good day, so am I knowingly setting her up to fail? Her failure would make my life easier, but make her feel horrible.

So…I’m back to just saying no when I’m fighting so hard to say yes. Prom is a special occasion. It is meant for seniors; juniors get to go because they raise money to host the event. It is a rite of passage that marks the end of high school. Going with an upperclassman is a privilege, it’s not a right. Hope’s time will come, but that time is not now.

So, I need to put my fantasies about dress and shoe shopping and hair and makeup back in my emotional shoebox and put it back up in the closet. It is too early to allow those thoughts to bloom.

And even with a decision, my heart hurts. I know this will hurt; that it will enrage Hope and then I’ll have to deal with that. I know the rage will underscore the fact that she isn’t ready for such an event.

I’ll try to find something interesting for us to do that day; something fun and something distracting.

Sometimes parenting really sucks.


Here We Go

Sigh.

Sometimes I really don’t know how to respond to Hope’s “stuff.” I often wish I could just ignore it all, but I can’t.

Hope slipped into a funk earlier this week, probably because of school because school is *always* funk triggering. I seemed to pull her out of it one night when I forced her to sit with me and just talk. What I thought would be a painful 10 minutes turned into 90 minutes of good conversation and quality time.

This morning’s routine was smooth, but I could tell just by the way she put her key in the door that we were going to struggle this evening.

“Here we go,” I mumbled to myself.

And go we did.

Complaints about me at the hair salon.

Complaints about her stylist.

Complaints about the hairdryer.

Complaints about the hairstyle.

Heavy sighing about getting something to eat which was always the plan.

Mumble-whisper about the restaurant selection.

Momentary feigned contentment about the selected restaurant.

Cold shoulder over dinner.

Doesn’t eat dinner…at all. It just sits there.

I’m thinking, “ I could have just taken us home, but I’m trying to be a mom of my word. #fail”

Mumble-whisper about something in her random pseudo-language.

“Here we go. Here we are.”

Somedays I just want to grab my keys and run to the car and just keep driving. I know I’ll come back, but oy, she had best be in a better mood when I return.

This trauma-teen thing feels just impossible. And I’m annoyed by the way we present to others. It’s not so much that I care what people think; but it would be so nice to just be…inconspicuous, to blend in, to be everybody-normal and not just our version of normal.

I was incredibly naïve; I thought that being a same race adoptive family would allow us to blend in. It does in many ways; but when we have “here we go’ moments in public we become conspicuous. People notice. They don’t understand, and we stand out in ways that I just don’t want us to. It’s not even like these episodes can be passed off as just surly teen moments; no, it’s pretty obvious that they are different. They are special because Hope is special; because we are special.

Here we go…again.

These moments happen far less frequently than they used to and for that I’m grateful. We’ve worked hard to get better at this family and trauma thing, and so the stretches between the episodes are longer now. And while that’s great, the stretches sometimes give me a false sense of normalcy. It feels like we fell off the wagon when they happen now. We’ve fallen backward into the muck of trauma, and it takes a little bit to get that muck off me. She moves on more quickly, but I still struggle. I don’t anticipate these moments the same way I used to. My guard is down, and in some ways, I am more vulnerable to their emergence. After we recover from each episode I hope desperately that it is the last time.

It hasn’t been the last time yet.

I know one day that it will be.

Until then..here we go…again.


Eat the Cake

I like cake.

Scratch that.

I love cake.

The first few weeks after Hope was placed with me, I made what I called my weekly stress cake. It resulted in what I now like to call my “adoption weight” that I’m still carrying around.

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via Giphy

Making a simple white cake with chocolate buttercream frosting is something that happens with some level of regularity around these parts. I get it from my mom. She also loves to cook and bake. I can go to her house on any given day, having driven 100 miles, and find cake. It might be leftover cake, typically, I’m going to find cake.

I love cake.

Cake isn’t one of Hope’s favorite things. I can probably count on one hand how many times she has expressed any interest in having some cake I baked. Even when we get to my mom’s house, she’s uninterested in the baked goods, typically bonding with my dad over Popsicles. Cakes aren’t Hope’s thing.

But cake is totally my thing.

So, during our great family visit of #springbreak17, Hope’s grandmother started asking me about cooking and baking. My cake fetish came up. She laughed heartily as Hope and I described my love of cake and particularly homemade white cake with buttercream frosting. She chuckled and began to describe her baking process.

Now, no disrespect, but my granny, my momma and me…we don’t do cake mixes. I bought a cake cookbook one time and found when I got home that it was a cookbook dedicated to fixing up cake mixes. Um. No. The book was returned.

Not only is cake my thing, but I am an unapologetic cake snob.

As a part of her baking process, Grandma Hope talked about how she jazzed up her cake mix, and I smiled broadly and politely, delighted in the story. I’m sure it’s good; it may even be great….but um…cake mix? #thatscute #cakesnob

So, the next day when we went over for our last visit, Grandma Hope presented us with a heart shaped chocolate cake. It was the sweetest thing. So very sweet. She even put it on a real plate that we were to take with us back home.

So, we make our way to our next major travel stop, cake in tow. Despite my snobbery, I looked forward to having a nice piece of cake as we settled into our hotel that evening. I even had my wine in a can. It was fittin’ to be a good night.

Having cake is soothing to me; it’s not just my sweet tooth, it’s one of my favorite comfort foods. So, a cake, including cake mix cakes, made with love is going to hit my emo spot every time. This cake was going to allow me to get lit after several days of maintaining my emotions in a vice grip.

That is until Hope started making rumblings about *her* cake and how preemptively annoyed she was that I intended on taking a *big* piece of cake.

Wha? Hmmmm. Interesting. Ok.

Sister K ran an errand to get some things including some paper plates and plastic forks because I was getting some cake that night and needed something to put the cake on. Hope accompanied her and encouraged the purchase of small plates so as to limit the size of my anticipated cake debauchery. Sister K got an earful about the cake situation.

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via Giphy

By the time Hope and I checked into our room and settled in, my taste for cake had been soured by Hope’s anxiety about me cutting into the cake her grandma made for “her.” Never mind that she doesn’t even LIKE cake.

I called my mother and explained the situation. We marveled at how a proper Southern granny didn’t make scratch cakes! Yes, we were petty and judgy. I really wanted cake but SWORE that I would not touch Grandma Hope’s cake. I reasoned that I ain’t want her old box cake anyway.

After the family lovefest of the previous view days and the grace and southern charm required of me, I was saltier than a salt lick about not having cake–even a box cake! It brought out my petty and I confided in my Add Water co-host and good pal Mimi–who enjoyed a good chuckle at my cake related emotional shenanigans.

Despite my pettiness, I understood that Hope saw this as a very special gift from Grandma Hope. I intellectually understood that she had to play out this possessiveness, especially after how welcoming her family had become of me. This was an opportunity for her to have something from this visit all to herself. Oh, I get it, but I also knew that Grandma Hope made that cake largely for me because HOPE DOESN’T EVEN LIKE CAKE and she told her grandma so.

But whatevs. <Cue more laughs from Mimi.>

So I’m talking to my mom about this cake situation, and I ask her to make me a cake. Oh, yeah, I did. Dueling cakes. I had held my petty in check for 4 days…that might be a record. Ha! She said of course she would make me a cake because my momma loves her big petty, cake-loving kid. We debated the finer points of cakes made from scratch, milk vs. dark chocolate powder and marble cakes, because I come by my pettiness honestly.

I licked my lips in anticipation.

In the meantime, I hit the grocery store for a bit of commercially made cake to tide me over. I ate it alone and disposed of the container so Hope didn’t know. I might be petty, but I do have some semblance of couth that was still hanging on for dear life.

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I soon lost it though, and my petty was on full display by the time we arrived at my parent’s house a day or so later. I kissed my daddy hello, chatted about the lawn for a minute; walked into a house, grabbed a saucer and a knife and proceeded to cut myself a nice slice of homemade, lemon buttercream frosted white cake.

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It was delicious. And it was like a big emotionally satisfying sigh: Ahhhhhh.

Hope watched, and said, “You’re just going to eat that cake?”

Me, mouth full: “Yup. My mom’s cake.” #becausepetty

My mom commented that she could still make me a chocolate cake if I wanted. I declined. Got a plate of mac and cheese, a turkey wing and another piece of lemon cake. And all was well with my soul.

Hope got a Popsicle with her grandpa.

We are home now. Grandma Hope’s cake has traveled about 600 miles in a warm car and is 5 days old and counting. It is still wrapped in plastic and still uncut. I’m guessing it’s not going to get cut either, because cake isn’t Hope’s thing; it’s just not. I know there is going to be hell to pay when I have to dispose of the cake; it’s unfortunate. I really did look forward to having a piece of love on a plate.

I really do intellectually get why there was cake drama, but I also know that there was something about shaming me into not eating it that doesn’t make Hope happy. She wanted to protect the cake, but she is shocked that I haven’t touched it. I’m not sure she knows what’s behind the cake thing. I know that she doesn’t understand my own emotional connection to the cake. It will probably be many moons and a lot of therapy before she gets that connection.

I wish we had been able to enjoy the cake together. When Hope finally cut into her cake, she did offer me some. I wish I could’ve said yes, but I really wanted no part of the cake. My feelings, sadly, just were too much for me to even take one gracious bite. I’m tired and have been on my relative best behavior for a week. I did not want any of that cake.

Of course she dropped the first piece on the floor, which the deeply petty part of me took as a sign that sometimes the universe is petty and reactive.

I made myself some brownies instead.

Another time and another cake.


My Triggers, Pt. 2

Ok, I can’t let the school thing go. I just can’t. I wish I could, but on the full real: I cannot.

I know that Hope struggles in school. It breaks my heart. I see how it affects her. Her self esteem is awful because she can’t perform at her full capacity. I know she’s bright, but the barriers to success…let’s just say they are more real than Trump’s wall will ever be.

But between the actual performance and the protective attitudes that Hope displays to downplay her performance issues…I. Just. Can’t.

This combo is the thing that I struggle with every single day.

crying

I try to only look at her grades occasionally. I ask her about assignments and if she needs help. I encourage her to use a timer to help her manage time. I try desperately to leave it alone.

And it all drives me mad.

I have advocated for so many accommodations. I have spent a fortune on tutoring. I’ve tried new organizational tools. I’ve identified the incredible anxiety we both have about school.

I’ve tried to just let it be and try to work itself out along with Hope experiencing the consequences of not doing her part in the areas where she can.

And still I am filled with a mess of emotions about Hope and school.

I’m realizing that education is such a core value for me, something so important that 1) I can’t let it go and 2) I might not be able to fix this. And being a natural born fixer…this is a problem for me.

It’s not *just* that education is important; it’s been my gateway to upward mobility. I want that for Hope. I still have dreams of my daughter doing better than me in this life. I want her to have the cloak of protection that education kind of provides us. I want it so badly for her that the idea that school would be a struggle for her seriously never occurred to me during the adoption process. Her previous performance had been quite good. Now it’s the thing we struggle with the most.

Even after 3 years, I’m not prepared. I have exhausted all of my “I can fix this” pep talks. I have practiced laying this burden down, only to pick it up again a few hours later. I have pushed, coaxed, pleaded, bribed, and lovingly reassured with no change in results. I have watched my daughter sink deeper into depression and I assume a lot of blame for that because I don’t think anything I’ve done has made her feel better. I have developed no new coping skills.

I do not know how to deal with this.

I just don’t know how any more.

I looked at a special school, but the $50K tuition made me suddenly remember the padlock code to the liquor cabinet without having to look it up.

Weekly I get so frustrated even though I know it’s not all Hope’s fault. I go to meetings only to quietly seethe when Hope refuses to participate in a semi-adult conversation because her emotional IQ is about age 5.

The whole thing makes me angry with the world.

The whole thing makes me wonder why I chose this path.

The whole thing makes Hope feel like a failure.

The whole thing makes me also feel like a failure.

We both are mad and ridiculously sad, and I can’t see any light in the tunnel we’re in.

I’m back to looking at tutors and special programs in hopes of helping Hope be successful. I’m also back to just trying to let it go so that she doesn’t think I also believe she’s a failure. She’s not.

So, the educationally dilemma is my true Achilles heel. It brings out both the best and absolutely worst in me and I have no idea what to do about it.


An Anxious Life

I have learned a lot about living with anxiety since Hope came into my life.

I have always been a bit high-strung. I am incredibly self-motivated and will run myself ragged in the quest for achievement. I set goals. I achieve them. I have problems. I solve them. And while I have experienced depression and eating issues, I didn’t really think I had a problem with anxiety. That is, I didn’t until I started my doctoral program. During the first course, I started experiencing some physical symptoms of anxiety (chronic insomnia, IBS, etc) that I just did not understand. My doctor had to explain that I was really anxious about school.

Oh. Ok.

Now what?

He prescribed me something for my anxiety that reminded me of how my grandmother used to carry valium in foil in her purse. I used the medication judiciously, stepped up my exercise and clean eating and tried to get more sleep. I coped and got on top of it.

And then Hope came along and everything I understood about anxiety was completely blown up. I had no real frame of reference for a life with generalized anxiety dominated by somatic symptoms. While I could relate to her insomnia, I was mystified by the constant stomach aches, headaches, chest pains, constipation, diarrhea, the lack of hunger, the ravenous moods, the fear, the drama. We are regulars at the local Patient First clinic since I made a personal commitment to just take her in and let her have the attention she needs. It’s worth the co-pay.

Sometimes I’ll offer her some Tylenol or Advil. Sometimes I’ll make Hope tea or cocoa and we’ll sit together. Sometimes I sit and do some breathing exercises with Hope. I’ve even bought placebo pills to just give her something.

And still, she struggles. And when Hope struggles, I struggle. We all struggle.

During the last few weeks Hope’s anxiety has escalated to levels I saw when she first transitioned to our home. She complains about being ill daily. She swore she had food poisoning a couple of nights ago. She didn’t. She works herself into a frenzy resulting in no sleep, save an hour or so when her body just shuts down in the wee hours of the morning.

I look at her grades; I can practically map the days her anxiety is heightened. It tracks so closely with her performance.

I’ve alerted the team of professionals. We’re trying some strategies; I’m hoping we can help her find better ways of coping and letting some things just go. It’s easier said than done.

And like trauma, anxiety is contagious. There are times when I can’t sleep either, when my worry consumes me; when I can’t figure out my next power move designed to save Hope from herself.

I find myself daily trying to remember to release the stress in my shoulders and let them just hang. I have to remind myself to do some breathing exercises. Throughout the day I use timers to remind myself to do short 5-minute bursts of exercise (youtube videos!) to relieve stress. I try to stick to relaxing an hour before bed to help me wind down. And yet, my shoulders creep up, and my mind races trying to figure the way out of this trauma induced maze that we are stuck in, and I’m often consumed with all the things that need to be done to try to set Hope up for her version of success.

The truth is, that I’m almost always exhausted as a result. Her anxiety is our anxiety. I know that how I feel is only a glimpse of what she feels. I’m certain she’s exhausted too.

Each year for the last 7 years my doctor has re-upped my prescription for my anxiety meds. I usually fill it one time during the course of the year. I save the small white pills. I rarely take them, choosing instead to find other ways of practicing self-care to cope with my anxiety.

This week, I reached into the back of my side table drawer and retrieved the bottle of meds. I took two before bed. And the next day I took two more. I may take them a little more regularly for a while.

Hope left for her 4-day band trip two days ago. I’ve been looking forward to it. I’m so tired. The idea that I’m only available to Yappy for a few days is a weight off of my shoulders. Not that I won’t miss Hope. I know I’ll be eager to see her on Sunday, but not having to remember to make sure she’s up and functional is a nice thing. I hope that her time away will also be meaningful and relaxing.

As for me, I’m focusing on self-care: yummy food, the love of my couch, time at the dog park and maybe, just maybe, I’ll stay awake long enough to get a manicure.

Maybe.


My Triggers

This morning, Hope and I snapped.

LGFacts

Ok, that’s not true. I snapped.

The morning routine is driving me up the wall. Hope is always running late. She’s rarely ready on time. She misses the bus often. I pack breakfast to- go in order to make sure that she has a solid breakfast. She’s always frazzled before she gets out of the door.

This means that I’m quietly frazzled before she gets out of the door.

It also means that we have zero meaningful conversation in the mornings. Usually I see her for about 90 seconds while she’s shoving her lunch bag in her backpack, grabbing breakfast and a filled water bottle that I’ve prepped. I screech to remind her to take her meds because despite them being *right there* in front of her she manages not to see them. *RIGHT THERE*

My mornings don’t start off being so frazzled. I rise around 5am to exercise and walk Yappy. This morning we walked for 2 miles. I feed him and start prepping breakfasts, coffee, making lunches. I shower and dress, do hair and make-up and resume my work in the kitchen. My own anxiety doesn’t kick in until about 7am, when I start mentally wondering if Hope will make the bus or not for another day.

Over the course of 30 minutes I get more anxious and probably a bit irritable.

By the time Hope comes out, I’m in my own quiet, anxiety spiral.

And today it came out, but what I really wanted to say was left unsaid as we exchanged barbs that continued via text message after she left for the bus.

This morning routine is not what I want. It’s not what it used to be, which is what I grew up with and what I had tenderly fostered for the last couple of years with Hope.

I grew up having breakfast with my family. We watched the news together. We prayed together. We talked about our agendas for the day and what time we would be home. We talked about our after school activities and about upcoming games. We also gossiped about my classmates.

We spent time together.

Since I forced Hope to use her alarm clock and get herself together in the morning, she doesn’t sit down for breakfast with me.

I want her to sit down for breakfast with me. I actually kinda need it. But it’s still new to her, and it’s not something motivating enough for her to hustle to make time for in the busy morning routine.

For the last couple of months, my subconscious has read that as, “She does not find you important enough to spend 10 minutes having breakfast with you.”

That gets extrapolated to: “She does not appreciate how hard you work to make it all happen everyday.”

That gets blown up to: “She is selfish and lazy.”

That goes next level with: “She clearly doesn’t love me, and we might have attachment issues.”

Which climaxes with: “Fine!!!! I don’t like you either! You spoiled, ingrate!!”

LGAngry

And the anti-climax? “Why doesn’t she love me and want to have breakfast with me?”

Meanwhile Hope is like, “I can sleep until 6:30am and be ready 60-65% of the time, and I have a back up bus pass to catch the public bus. I’m good.”

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I now see that. I see the difference in our thinking. I now see that not having breakfast and having those moments to check in with Hope is a trigger for me. It’s not a trigger for her because she gets to prove that she is independent—something I’ve been encouraging for a long time.

Could it actually be that I miss her in the morning? Sigh.

I’m not sure why it’s hard for me to say, “Hey, having breakfast together is important to me. I want to have this time to check in with you in the morning. I’m feeling a little attention starved without a few quality minutes in the morning. I’m willing to limit my expectations to 2-3 days a week. Do you think you could do that for me?” But I know that I haven’t been able to do that. That is a new stretch goal.

Asking someone who seems to have little capacity for themselves to expend some capacity for you is hard. It’s so hard. But I know if I’m not honest with her then I’ll keep feeling this resentment that isn’t fair to my daughter or to me.

I have my own triggers, and those triggers have to do with wanting to spend time with my daughter.  Who knew, especially since she can be a special pill at the moment?

I just want us to have smooth, anxiety free mornings having breakfast with my daughter. Is that so hard to ask for?

Kind of.


Stargazing

Hope has been having body issues lately. As if we needed more drama…but at least teen girl body issues is ‘normal’ right?

Right.

I’ve been cooking more. I pack Hope’s lunch daily. Hope supplements everything with junk food. This is also apparently normal for a lot of teens, but we cross over into snack binging when Hope is stressed, which is like, all the time.

After a long chat with AbsurdlyHotTherapist, I decided to phase out most of the snacks in the house and replace them with healthier options. Happily, this means I’m getting closer to my pre-Hope dietary regimen. I never used to have this crap in the house. I grew up thinking Crispix was a sugar cereal! #IDigress The house will soon be stocked with more fruits and veggies. Sure we’ll keep the granola bars, the hummus and pretzels, but the fruit snacks that she binges on are out of here as are the chips.

Hope put on a few pounds last year. She’s tall and the extra pounds fill her out; she looks good. She more or less agrees that she likes her body, but she is concerned about gaining more weight.

The relationship between weight gain, food and exercise are all lost on her.

I exercise regularly, nearly daily. I often invite Hope to join me. It always seems like a good idea to her at first, until she actually has to physically get up to join me.

A couple of weeks ago, I dragged her on a 3 mile walk with me. She dragged her feet, but eventually stopped complaining. It was clear that she enjoyed spending time with me. That night she fell asleep early; she was knocked out.

So, yesterday, on my way home from the office, I called Hope to inform her we were going for a walk when I got home.

She groaned. I told her it was not a request; she was going to walk with me.

I got home, changed and told her, “Let’s go.”

She groaned and put on her jacket. We hit the street and asked about each other’s day.

She told me about a sick friend. We talked about how I was phasing out some of the household snacks. She asked about nutrition. We talked about her problems in geometry and chemistry. She told me that she actually does a lot of reading about Korean culture besides the K-pop scene. I learned her hands really don’t warm up with exercise like mine do. We talked about the weather and pondered why it was so chilly when it was so warm at the beginning of the week. We talked about our hair and nails, and how I keep buying nail polish with the hopes of having time to sit down and paint my nails but never getting around to it.

We talked about her band assessment this week. Her reed cracked during class this week, and she needed to make sure her new reeds were ready before the next performance. We talked about test anxiety and what that looks like and how we might have a little problem with it. We discussed going to the St. Patrick’s day parade this weekend and the need to pick up her glasses at Costco. I asked her if she had any special requests for dinner next week so that I could make the weekend shopping list.

As we were walking back, we talked about how the skyline looked. She pointed out what appeared to be the North Star. She asked about Halley’s Comet, and I told her about how I saw it when I was a young girl so she should see it in her lifetime, when she’s about 60. If I’m lucky, I might get to be around for it a second time too. We stopped walking to look at the sky so we could confirm if it was really the North Star.

It was dark, but just before 7pm. Rush hour was happening in the sky; planes were coming in for landing at the airport a few miles away. We perched on the side of the bridge we were on to count all the planes. I explained why some were low but flying in circles; they were waiting their turn to land. A few planes were taking off. A military helicopter flew by in the direction of the nearby base. We looked up and saw the planes that were maintaining their elevation; they were clearly headed north of the DC area.  We picked out the big and little dippers and a few other constellations. Hope clapped excitedly that she was able to pick out the constellations.  We noticed a few stars that appeared to be more yellow and a few that appeared more red.

Hope’s hands were very cold, her only complaint, so we started walking again. She asked if we could have cocoa, I said of course.

We walked and talked.

As we got close to the door of our building, I told her that I really enjoyed catching up and looking at the stars with her.

Hope replied, “Me too.”

We’ll be walking in the evenings more often.


Thoughts on Being Average

I hang out in a number of online spaces looking, listening and learning. I’ve tried to capture so much of what I’ve learned on my parenting journey in this space. I’ve tried to be transparent about the things I’ve done well and the things I’ve failed at miserably. Sometimes, I really sit and think about how naïve I was when I first started. I had read a few books and read a few blogs, but boy was I green.

I also remember people asking me was I ready to be a parent, as though choosing to adopt assumed greater preparation than having a biological child. I often responded, “Hell no, of course I have no idea what I’m getting into.” I mean, I took the PRIDE classes. I went to pre-adoptive support groups and listened to parents talk about their journeys. But, let’s be serious…are you ever really ready to be a parent?

I’ve learned a lot about therapeutic parenting and connected parenting and racially conscious parenting (the only one of which seemed intuitive to me). I’ve learned about adoptee voices. I’ve learned about other adoptive parents. I’ve sucked up a lot of info, and I’ve constructed a weird calculus to value each of the voices and info dependent on the situation.

And you know what? I’m still just an average bumbling parent. No better and no worse than any other average bumbling parent.

But it seems that the glare of observation and expectation seems so much brighter on adoptive parents. I don’t mean to pull out a mini-violin and whine or anything, but the parenting pedestals seem so much higher and the ravines we get dragged through seem so much lower. On one end of the spectrum, folks tell me I’m so awesome for *saving* Hope, insinuating that Hope should be grateful for our adoption. On the other end of the spectrum, the few vocal adoptees who mistake rudeness and toxicity with “reality” see and point out every parenting flaw I make and drive me into silence for fear of revealing just how average, or below average my parenting might be. There is no grace on either end.

There hardly ever seems to be a middle ground, despite the reality that Hope and I are getting closer to whatever normal is every day.

I work very hard to be a good parent to Hope, and most days I feel like I am doing just ok. My end game has been if I am able to do more than simply keep her alive and as functional as she was when she came to me then that would be a version of success. Of course, I hope for so much more than that, but parenting is absurdly hard. If it would make parenting easier, I would probably do a few more dissertations, and that was no walk in the park either.

I recently read a blog by an adoptee who wrote a pretty extensive list of things she wished her adoptive parents had done before choosing adoption. I felt really convicted because there seemed to be so little on that list that I had done; I just didn’t know. I was ignorant. And while I often don’t cut folks slack for their ignorance, I’m not sure how I could’ve ever known then what I know now. Even if I did know all that I know now back then, I’m not sure I would have applied it in the way my daughter would have appreciated.

Parenting is an evolutionary activity. We grow through it. We learn; we try to get it right. We often fall short. But my God, we try.

I remember in my early 20s rambling off a lengthy list of my parents flaws and foibles. Oh, they were true, and they probably served as barriers to their parenting perfection, a perfection that was and is elusive on a good day. I know better now. I see them as not just my parents but as people who, remarkably, had lives outside of me and my siblings. They did their best, and that was more than ok. They were and are amazing parents. I know that without any doubt; I see it so clearly.

I try to emulate them with a therapeutic spin. I try my best, and I hope that it is more than ok.

On the outside, adoption is rainbows and sparkles. On the inside, it can be very dark and tumultuous. Folks rarely gets to see what happens behind closed doors where everyone is fighting for survival. I do my best to fight with my daughter instead of against her. I fight for her. I try to apply every lesson I learn. I replay every family squabble to assess how I could handle it better. I try to provide every possible resource that I can access and afford. I problem solve as much as I can. I try my very best to be a good parent to Hope.

And if I’m lucky, I’m average. That’s real, and that’s ok.

So, whatever kind of parents we are, I hope that we can practice more grace with one another. I hope that Hope sees me as I am one day. I imagine that she will find that my parenting fell far short of what was needed or desired, but I also hope that as she continues to grow and evolve that she will know that I did my best not make things harder than they already were for her. I hope that as she lists the things I missed or failed that she will also see the things that I manage to get some kinda close to right. I hope that she will see me through lenses blessed with a bit of rosy grace. That would be nice.

If she doesn’t see me that way, it’s ok. It really is.

Average isn’t so bad.


We’re Not Typical

I’ve written about my learning disability a few times in this space. As I get older, I am actually struggling with my ability to read and to tolerate a lot of stimulation. There is a strong correlation between my stress level and my ability to process information and tolerate stimulation. How I’ve made it through the last few years is a mystery to me.

I’ve been trying to spend a bit more time resting and practicing self-care. I mean it’s the healthy thing to do right? But I’m finding that as much as I tell Hope that sometimes her brain needs to rest due to her issues, my brain also needs downtime.

I have a list of books that I’d like to read that’s several miles long. Yes, I could subscribe to Audible, but the way my pride is set up…Also, I listen to so many podcasts to uptake information that adding books to that list will not make the list shorter.

[Don’t ask how I manage to write so much for work and in this space. I don’t know. I don’t understand. It does take a lot out of me, but it seems I’m better at output than input. #shrug]

Sometimes I talk to Hope about my own issues with dyslexia and stimulation processing. I try to explain to her that my issues are kind of the “opposite” of hers. I didn’t get diagnosed until I was in college, and never asked for accommodations after undergrad. She has wrestled with her challenges for years, while when I was her age, this wasn’t even a passing thought. I try to explain that I have a sense of what she’s going through. Neither of our brains are typical. We’re not neurotypical. We’re atypical.

In other words, we’re special.

I try to encourage her to take breaks, to get some exercise, and to do things to help her brain run optimally.  I try to model these behaviors since they help me. One day she might start listening to me.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately. I usually sleep on planes. They close the doors, and I nod right off. I try to pretend that I’m not, that I’ll be somewhat productive. I will download magazines and maybe a book on my Kindle app with the intention to try to at least flip through a little bit. But I almost always fall asleep. The best we can hope for is playing solitaire before landing…until last week.

I actually read a book. It was a 31-page book, called, Runaway: How a Slave Defied America’s First President. It was about a woman named Ona who was enslaved by George Washington; Ona escaped her enslavement. Apparently she was the only slave who successfully escaped from Washington, and he desperately tried to retrieve her.

Thirty-one pages may not seem like a lot for most adults, or even middle schoolers, but for me, in one sitting, these days? Well, I might as well had read half of War and Peace.

When I got home from my trip the next day, I took Hope out for our Friday night dinner.  Over wings and nachos, I told my daughter that I’d read a book.

“A whole book?”

“Well, it was a short book, but yeah,” I demurred.

Hope held her hand up over the middle of the table. I put my hand up, and she high-fived me.

sigh

Sometimes, I wonder whether she really listens to me, and then she does something like this. I delight sometimes when there’s clear evidence that she hears me, that something I’ve said means something to her. It meant a lot to me that I could share that small accomplishment with her. It meant even more that she understood what it means for folks with brains who work differently.

I feel like this is some common ground that we’ve found.

I also get a chance to see how kind my kid is: whether she truly gets how hard reading is becoming for me, she was kind to acknowledge that it was significant to me. Hope has a big heart. I see it often. I’m so fortunate to have seen it in this moment.

So, I celebrate our moments of being a non-neurotypical family.


New Skin

After spending all of 2016 trying to orchestrate Hope’s success, I slid into December exhausted and frustrated. My daughter was frustrated and exhausted. Our relationship felt no better than it did at the beginning of the year.

I feel like I threw out everything I knew and just said, “Eff it. How bad would it be if I just stopped?”

I wrote about that transition.

Here we are nearly 8 weeks later and a calm has fallen over our home. With the exception of the ongoing chatter about all things Kpop, Hope and I seem content, actually happy.

She’s a delight to be around most of the time.

I’m not angry much, so I’m guessing I’m easier to be around too.

We spend time together in the evenings and chat about all kinds of things including politics.

We started planning a grand trip abroad for spring break, and then she asked me if we could go visit family instead.

For three years, I have been trying to help her to build her confidence to ask for what she wants and needs—she’s doing that now.

Some of her trauma-related behaviors are well controlled. We have slid into a period of just regular 1st world teen problems. And you know what? That’s awesome! We’re both closer to normal, delightfully normal.

One day last week, she loaded the dishwasher and tidied the kitchen completely on her own. I was initially suspicious about this, but she said she knew I was tired and it wasn’t a big deal.

I give her a list of a few things to do, and for the most part they get done.

I was chatting with a neighbor this weekend and I just said so proudly, Hope is such a good kid.

I mean, I knew that she was of course, but it’s like she’s sloughed off some of that hurt and that anger.  She still hurts; she’s still angry, she’s still fearful, and sometimes she’s still stuck in the past. But it’s so much less than it was even 3 months ago.

It’s not just that she’s healing. It’s like when you’ve had that big injury and the scab falls off and you know that you’re on the other side of the mountain of healing. You’ve got a ways to go, but you know it’s going to be ok. I can see Hope’s new skin after some of the scabs I’ve nursed for 3 years have finally fallen off. That new “skin” is bright, soft and supple. It’s regaining its color too. She’s going to be ok.

As a parent to a kid who’s experienced so much trauma, I feel like I can breathe again.

It’s like a big inhale, and a lovely 8 count exhale.

I think she’s breathing easier too.

When your kid reaches that turning point in healing, it’s like a bit of freedom for both of you. I feel like maybe I can trust her more now not to freak out over innocuous things. Even her severe fear of bugs is easily managed now (which is great since I no longer fear being pushed out of the car).

I feel like she can trust me more too. She finally is comfortable enough to ask me to order her something or ask to go hang out with friends. She didn’t use to do that. Those are tangible things happening that tell me the trust is real.

The most amazing thing about where we are right now is that since the ongoing crises are over, we have time to really look to the future. Hope is beginning to seriously think about her future now. We’re exploring how she will define what success looks and feels like for her. We’re looking at her post high school options. These are such extraordinary things. It’s not that I didn’t think they would ever happen; it’s that I had no idea when they would.

Last week, she announced that maybe she might want to be a translator one day. She said she might want to move and live in a foreign country at some point to immerse herself in the language. She thought I might be sad.

I was thrilled. My daughter has gone from no dreams to big dreams.

I told her that I will make sure I keep my vacation savings account flush so that I can afford to see visit her and have her show me around.

Saying that it would be a dream come true for her to step into that kind of reality is an understatement.

It’s great when other people tell me that I’m a good mom. It feels weird though when people assume I’m a good mom because I “saved” Hope or that I get a pair of angel wings just because I adopted an adolescent. I politely rebuff those kind sentiments because I know that I just wanted to be a mom, and Hope just needed one and somehow the universe smushed us together.

But sitting down and taking a moment to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are now, well, that makes me feel like I’m getting it mostly right. It builds my own confidence in my parenting. I’m hardly an expert, and I’m certain I’ve probably gotten more wrong than right on many, many, many days. But I love my daughter, and I’ve done everything I can to help her heal, tried to use whatever privilege I have to shield her from harm in any way necessary, and loved her with my whole heart.

Who knew? That recipe seems to work! So, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. I look forward to continuing this path and helping Hope blossom into whomever and whatever it is that she will become.

 


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