Tag Archives: Parenting

Dating and Parenting

Shortly after Hope agreed to become my daughter, I made a wonderful man, E. E and I were together for about 3 years. When we parted, it was sad, but there were no burned bridges. We keep in touch.

I didn’t attempt to date anyone again for nearly 2 years.

When Hope went off to boarding school last year, I decided to get on an app and try to date. I met someone who I had great fun with but when it ended a few months ago, it did so in an absurd dumpster fire. It’s ok, I’m fine. I walked away easy peasy.

brush2

via Giphy

And so shortly before I dropped Hope off a month ago, I said, ok, let’s try this again. I signed up for 2 months on an app. I carefully curated my pictures; I wrote my profile, and I posted it all.

I’ve been on one pseudo-date. I say pseudo because we met up, went for a short walk and sat on a bench to talk.

I have received numerous inappropriate messages.

I’ve found that men generally think very highly of themselves and their manners.

I’ve found that some men take rejection horribly, resulting in lash out behavior.

I’ve found that some men want to school me on my standards being too high.

I’ve found that despite loving me some men, a lot of men are just really deeply troubled (this is me trying not to call them all trash). #toxicmasculinity

I just about tapped out last week after I rejected a man’s interest, he lashed out in really ugly mean ways that were just completely over the top when compared to my standard, “Hey I don’t think we are a match, good luck in your search” message. Really, I was like, “Dassit, I’m going to get me a few more auntie robes, maybe another small dog, a better bonnet and shut this dating situation down forever.”

But I’m still here.

Now what does this have to do with parenting? A lot actually.

Aside from this process clarifying what my own emotional wants and needs are in a potential partner; I center Hope in thinking about what is best for us. Now, I don’t know who Hope may bring home one day, but I can’t in good conscious make moves that don’t model a healthy dating life and hopefully a healthy relationship. My girl had too many years when she didn’t see these things, so I want to be sure that if she’s looking to me to show the way, I had better make good decisions.

I think even more critically about the types of people I want in my life. I think about what kinds of people, I definitely don’t want in my life. I think about how people talk to and with me; how they present themselves, how they talk about the children they have and the other parents of those children. I think about what they will say about Hope and our story if they ever get to hear it, and how much education on adoption I will have to do. I think about how they talk about women—not females which can be any species and is a term that annoys the heck out of me—but women. I think about how they talk about all kinds of women. I think about a lot of these things.

Most of the things I have considered show up in my profile as some non-negotiables.

And it’s amazing how pissy men who don’t meet any of the criteria are about me articulating my standards.

And I think about that as well. When I see a message, if I respond, I try to meet it with kindness. If I were to kick it and Hope opened my app and saw my responses, I would want her to know that I try to be kind and authentic. I want her to know that about me so that hopefully she will embrace that for herself.

Hope really wrestles with social anxiety; she can be delightfully awkward, but I know she is always looking for behavioral models. She’s trying. I want to always be that model for her.

So, even on a dating app that I hope she never has to deal with, I try to be authentic and think about What Hope Would Say or Do? #WWHSD

Centering her and the model I want to set for her, even with her away from college, has kept my terrible frog kissing to a minimum since I’m really trying to screen hard for the worthy prince.

the princess and the frog GIF

Via Giphy

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Beyond the Mug Cakes

So, this is where we are with me at home and Hope off at college:

Yeah, so, I do in fact miss Hope, but not like when she went away to boarding school last year. I really was so sad after she left for the year. I fell into a bit of a depression and felt a little rudderless during the first couple of weeks.

I do not feel rudderless this go ‘round. I feel…different. Not sure I have a word for it yet. I miss Hope. We text every other day or so and talk on Sundays. She sounds happy, if a little anxious. She seems to be thriving socially. I do miss her, but, no I’m not crying over her departure. When folks ask me how I’m doing with my empty nest, and I reply “FINE!” they seem to be disappointed that I’m not falling to pieces.

One thing is the same as when I experienced my first empty nest last year: the fatigue. Active daily parenting is frigging exhausting and when your regular parenting involves a lot of anxiety and a major life change on the immediate horizon, it’s a wonder you can get up in the morning.

This past weekend I enjoyed the ridiculous luxury of taking 2-3 hour naps Saturday and Sunday. It was decadent, and with the break in the weather serving the smallest whiff of fall, this was prime napping weather. I was couch-drunk most of the weekend.

So, yeah, there’s that.

Now what?

Well, I’m back in the dating hunt, which is….challenging. Dating when you’re older feels different. Your priorities are different. You are forced to even see yourself differently. The rose-colored glasses come off pretty quickly. Trying to be intentional about getting out, meeting people and dating raises my insecurities about all kinds of things.

Don’t get me wrong, I think I’m a catch. I know I am, but for whom? Some standards have gone way up like I really want to be with someone with same or similar educational attainment and a solid career. But as we slide into the late forties, how I think about myself and others is morphing. I still see myself through youthful glasses, and then I see the pool of men and I think, “Oh, we are aging. I mean, we still look good (some more than others), but that glossy veneer has worn away.” It’s a sobering gut check.

But I’m still out here trying to foster a healthy and robust social life.

And then there’s my role in the adoption community. I mean, it hasn’t changed, but it kind of feels like it has. I’m pondering what things I will write about, how will express the feelings of watching Hope navigate this next chapter. I’m taking on some volunteer consulting around diversity and adoption agencies. I’m looking forward to that and hoping it might turn into some other opportunities since how people of color show up and engage in and around the adoption community is important to me.

I’m diving into work and feeling like there are new challenges and opportunities ahead with my career. I see a shift in my work on the horizon. I’ll be getting a new colleague soon, launching new studies, debuting some new research. I’m passionate about my career, so I’m excited, but I’m also…already thinking about my exit strategy. I’m thinking about what my next chapter will be, when will I be able to retire and what will I need to do to make that happen. Even then, I’m eager to plan my retirement. I’m curious what and who I will be then. There have been a few evenings since Hope has been gone, when I just sat on the patio and dreamed about what that chapter might look like. With Hope in college, it seems like I can think about it for the first time in a long time.

And Hope…I do worry, maybe worry isn’t quite the right word. I’m concerned. It’s not eating at me yet, but it’s rambling around in the back of my head.

Is she overwhelmed?

Does she feel ready?

Is she ready?

A recent chat with AbsurdlyHotTherapist suggests that she’s really internalized the anxiety about being in college. She’s saying she’s fine to me, but being a bit of a pill in therapy.

How long is that sustainable?

And what plans should I put in place to guard against a meltdown or pick her up after one?

What would life be like if she isn’t successful on that path? As resilient as she is, would she recover from that?

Would I?

So, yeah, I’m concerned now that classes will officially start in 4 days. I’m going deep into the prayer closet this weekend.

I’m holding it all together and trying to map my next moves with and without Hope. I’m trying to be judicious with the mug cakes and get more exercise to compensate for this evening delight I’m currently digging.

But all in all, I’m good.


Kids Don’t Want to be A$$holes.

I was surfing around Facebook this past weekend and stumbled upon posts with parents venting about kids’ behavior. The “kids” may have had trauma backgrounds, may have neurocognitive challenges and some had both and more. I could practically hear the frustration through my phone and laptop screens. I empathized deeply.

I’ve certainly posted here about my frustrations around Hope’s more challenging behaviors, and how they were really, really difficult to cope with, so I get it. I have a love/hate relationship with online adoption support communities, but I do think that online support groups are important because we all need safe spaces to just release the big emotions we have in trying to cope with what inevitably feels like very personalized behavior designed to destroy us. It’s natural to feel that frustration. It’s natural to need to vent.

What struck me, though, is how easy it is to go down the rabbit hole of seriously thinking your kid is out to get you, to impose consequences that serve to push the kid further away and to really think there’s nothing going on but what you see on the surface.

Pro Tip: There’s always something going on below the surface.

I learned some time ago that Hope’s behaviors typically weren’t about me at all, but they were a form of communication with me. Parenting Hope through trauma and ADHD was and is…hard. Of the over 2,000 days Hope and I have been a family, I experienced some level of emotional upheaval for at least more than a good third of it.

Way more than a third of it if I’m brutally honest.

This has not been a walk in the park, nor has it lived up to the parenting experience I thought it would be. It’s been, in many ways, better than that notion and way underachieving in other ways.

It took me a long, long time to understand and appreciate that Hope’s most challenging behaviors were really her trying to tell me that she was struggling, that I needed to meet her where she was, not where I thought she should be. She was, and sometimes still is, scared and unsure of the circumstances and her place in those circumstances. She didn’t always have words, so she acted out. She still doesn’t have many words, but she will apologize for not being able to tell me what she needs. Sometimes it’s like we play out charades as I run though a list of potential challenges trying to guess what it is she needs and whether I can do something that will relieve her stress.

Hope was never out to get me in those moments when she was acting all spawn of satan and ish. She was calling for me to save her.

As we spend some time venting, we’ve got to remember that kiddos need us. That they are, in fact, often telling us what they want and need. They don’t want to be acting out. They don’t feel good about any of it. They aren’t trying to stay in those dark places.

According to the US CDC, nearly 10% of kids have an ADHD diagnosis. And although only about 3% of kids have depression and 7.1% of kids have anxiety, there is a high likelihood that if you have a diagnosis for one, you will have a diagnosis for another with a side dish of high incidence of behavioral problems too. For those of us parenting adopted children and/or children with trauma or ADHD, it might seem like these stats are low. They are relatively low; it’s just that we all hang out together, plugging into communities with other parents who are living the same experience. It ends up feeling like it’s a lot more people because we are plugged in.

There was a conversation I had with Hope one time when she was trying to explain what ADHD felt like without meds and what her depression feels like. It was heartbreaking for her to vocalize what it actually felt like, but it helped me understand that as frustrating it is, as much as I feel so personally attacked with some behaviors, as disrespectful as it feels, what Hope feels in those moments is so much worse. I pondered it for weeks.

Our kids don’t want to have behavioral problems. Our kids would love nothing more to be “normal.” Our kids want to blend in. They don’t always have the capacity to keep it together. They don’t always have the skills to even perform normalcy. We have to support them and create space that will allow them to get as close to it as they are able.

It’s ok to vent. Really, it is absolutely ok to vent, just remember that they aren’t trying to be assholes. They aren’t.


Great Expectations

I am struggling this summer. I mean, I’ve come to the realization that I am emotionally exhausted.

By day, I’m doing research, doing diversity workshops, managing conflict and whatever else counts as “other duties as assigned.” For the record, doing diversity work in the current socio-political environment is…draining. Seriously, I’m not a newcomer to this work, but the environment is often hostile. When I get home in the evening, I need to cocoon in some kind of emotional safe space. I don’t watch much news at home, the bare minimum. I am logging on to stream comedies, snuggle with the dog and escape.

But, that escape isn’t really an escape. Hope, despite my best efforts to force her out of the house to do some volunteering, is rooted in her own safe space.

Our version of safe spaces isn’t the same.

Intellectually, I know that Hope turning into a human slug is a normal, age-appropriate behavior. Emotionally, that isht is the most triggering thing I’m enduring this summer. There’s a reason sloth is one of the seven deadly sins!

Live Feed from Casa d’ABM

The ability to marinate in the same clothes, step over the same trash on the floor, not do laundry for a couple of weeks and subsist on ramen and hot dogs unless I specifically prepare something else…I know that a lot of this is “normal.”

Triggering AF

It’s just not my version of normal. And I’m really struggling with it. Honestly, I have a quiet rage around it.

It is only in the last couple of years with Hope that I have learned to “sit.” My close friends will tell you that I don’t really just “sit” much. Even with my learning to “sit” I don’t sit long or without purpose. Sitting is an activity that feeds my need for some self-care, but honestly, I’m happiest when I’m being productive. So, the fact that Hope can sit without any purpose for days on end…whoooooosaw.

Now I know that some of that is depression and anxiety. They are paralyzing for my girl. I know that. I know that there is a lack of inertia that is rooted in fear. I also know that more than 90% of the time if I can just threaten coax Hope to do something it is a positive experience, often building her resilience and capacity for more. But left to her own devices, it’s just not going to happen at all.

Early in the spring, I started talking about my expectations for and from Hope for the summer. Little has turned out the way I hoped. First there was no paying job. Second, getting Hope to find volunteer opportunities on her own was basically like talking to a wall. I had to do that too. Then I’m having to just take deep breaths when she spends every dime on uber because “I don’t like the bus, it takes for ever” to go 1.5 miles to one of the volunteer sites, when she decides to blew off a volunteer shift because she can’t find her metro card (that is now essential since she’s too broke to uber) or when she says I didn’t tell her to do a chore on the whiteboard when I’ve had to start taking pictures of said whiteboard after I make her daily to do list before leaving for the office.

My emotional workout starts as I head into the office in the morning, wondering what kind of racist, sexist, homophobic, mess I might have to deal with there, only to pray for the end of the day when I can stress out on the drive home about whether Hope’s trash heap will meet me at the front door.

I’m sooooooo tired.

And I’m really ready to drop Hope off at her dorm 4 hours away in 4 weeks.

And then I feel guilty about wanting my kid to go off to college so that I have some time and space to get my stress levels down…you know while I fret long distance about how she’s doing at college.

It effing never ends. I’m wound up and exhausted.

I had these expectations that after this last year away at school and getting into college would light a bit of a fire under Hope. But she’s still the same kid she’s always been and that’s ok. This expectation this in my issue.

I shouldn’t be disappointed, but I am.

This last week has been especially challenging because she was just making bad decisions and the consequences were just spilling all over the place. It’s been hard. And I’m tired.

And thus a bit cranky.

I’ve largely bit my tongue, until today, when I told Hope, “I’m disappointed in you.” I limited it to how she’s handled this summer based on what the original plan was. I said I didn’t know if there would be a correlation between the summer and what would happen this fall, but I am worried that this is what this fall will look like—long term marinating. I said, I hope that you feel confident about working hard this fall. I said, I know you needed an academic break. I also said, I am disappointed and I just don’t know what to make of all of this.

I looked at my daughter’s face, and I knew that what I said upset her. I also knew that it would not result in any of the behaviors I actually want to see. I just knew that I was a bit tired of chewing on my tongue. It has many, many teeth marks.

I just need some down time. We’re 4 weeks out from departure. I’m hopeful that something, something might improve for me and my emotional well-being during this time, but I also know that I will continue to grind it out.

I’m headed to the patio with a glass of something that has aged; it’s been a long day in a long week and it’s only Tuesday.


Life Skills

Hope will be 18 in a few weeks and in 12 short weeks, she will be off to college. It’s all very exciting, and in some ways, I am a little surprised that she’s not pulling away from me a little.

But, no. She’s not pulling away at all. In fact, my lovely daughter is more attached to me than a barnacle. She wants to watch TV with me. She wants to go to the gym with me and use the machine right beside me. She has taken up residence in my spot on the couch—which low key annoys me because, like Sheldon Cooper on Big Bang Theory, that spot is MY spot. There’s just a desire to have me nearby.

A lot of this is explainable of course. Hope has been away at boarding school for a year, and even though I saw her a couple of times a month, we were separated by many miles. So, I can see why she would be drawn to me after all this time.

And yet, it’s interesting to acknowledge how emotionally young Hope really is. I see a mix of maturity levels with Hope. There are some times where she rises to the occasion and nails it; and then there are other times and circumstances where I’m like, I might need to go back to laying out her clothes, socks sand shoes in the morning. I legit worry.

Hope has been home a couple  of weeks now, and given the looming birthday and the impending life change that coming in a couple of months, I’ve been setting up my own hidden curriculum of life skills building activities.

I made Hope start using public transit a couple of years ago, so she can figure out how to get to places if she really wants to go somewhere. I’ve been manipulating creating opportunities to go on more complex outings and showing her resources for how to navigate it.

Her college is nearly 4 hours away, but Amtrak runs right through the town and we have a stop 2 miles from our house. Once I discovered that, I announced that Hope would take the train for weekends home; she balked. So, last week, I bought her a train ticket to go see the Grands midway through my business trip. I did spring for a Lyft to take her to the train station. She realized that it was not scary, but comfy and something she can feel comfortable doing on her own.

Tomorrow, we’re going to DMV so she can take her road test for her license. She’s had her permit for nearly 18 months, and she’s still pestering me about how will she get 15 more hours of driving at night before taking the road test. Bless her heart. Um, yeah, that’s not going to happen, you can drive and I’m taking you to go take the test. You will pass, and you will do what we all do—do your best not to hit people and stuff. She is a competent driver who, like everyone else, will get better with time. It’s time she do that…without me in the car. #Igotstufftodo #canyouruntothestoreforme?

She is having a difficult time finding a summer job. The rejection has been difficult for her. I’m not sure why she’s not getting any callbacks, but she’s not. So, I announced that “we” will start looking at volunteer opportunities, for which I will pay her a salary. I explained that the volunteerism will be good for her emotionally and help build her resume a bit. I sent her 10 listings today with the directive that she needed to sign up for more info for all of them before I got home today. She wasn’t thrilled, but I’ve told her I love her but the human adults (baby adult included) need to have meaningful work—paid or unpaid—to do because Casa d’ABM does not run on watching K-Dramas all day. #getajob I hope to have her out of this house by late next week going to somebody’s volunteer orientation.

We’ve also been role playing asking for help. Hope’s room has returned to its pre-military boarding school state—mid-century apocalyptic. I have her pulling together a 1 bag of trash, goodwill or storage item a day this week after role playing questions about deciphering being overwhelmed, needing direction and asking for help. By the time Hope figured out the conversation I had backed us into, she was sheepish about her role and responses. I didn’t shame her, we were role playing, remember. I let it go and resolved to revisit it after this weekend’s business trip.

I’m trying to help Hope understand her banking. I’ve set up a number of accounts for her: checking, savings, investments. I’m dreaming up ways of helping her understand budgets better—money in money out. She gets that better, she’s just not grasping that after ‘money out’ it’s ‘money stop.’ I’m hoping that she will get the hang of it, pay attention to the details of her checking account. I know that there will come a day when she overdrafts or gets a credit card she shouldn’t have. I’m trying to teach her about natural consequences with respect to money. Like driving, sometimes you just have to do it and ride it out. I’m hopeful.

After Hope’s visit to the Grands, Grammy shared with me that Hope said she would be content to live with me forever. My mom said she wanted to talk to me about buying a larger house with a basement for Hope.

Oh how I laughed from the living room of my 2 bedroom condo. #condolifeforever #nextstopaseniorcentercondo

I’m not buying a bigger house for Hope to have a basement to move it. Is you crazy? No, no, no, no, no, ma’am. Not happening.

After wiping hysterical tears from my eyes, I told her that I know Hope will launch and it may be a little late, but I do not believe at this time that I need to make a life change to accommodate Hope living with me in until my dying days. Uhhhh, no, I do not believe that is necessary at this time.

Hope will gain the life skills she needs. She will gain the confidence she also needs. I will always be around to be guardrails and guideposts, but I firmly believe that she will launch and have a life of her own not living in her current bedroom. I do not need a basement.

I have not been obvious in my nudges and pushes; I don’t want to be the helicopter or bulldozer parent. I do need for Hope to gain some practical life skills and to learn them while I’m around. Each lesson boosts her confidence a little; she needs that.

I need that.

So, stay tuned for all the stuff Hope will do and felt good about by the end of summer.


Sometimes It’s So, So Sweet

This past weekend I was dragging. I mean, the weather was perfect, and I would have been just fine if I never moved farther than the bed, the kitchen and the couch. Note the only reason the kitchen made the list was because I had to eat, otherwise, I probably could’ve relied on my fat stores. I just wanted to be lazy.

Instead, I rang up Sister M and enjoyed a late lunch and a few glasses of vino. Sunday, I planned to ride out to Hope’s school and see my daughter. By that morning, I was feeling funky, attitudinal and just meh. I wanted to stay home. I texted Hope, trolling for a reason to stay home and just video chat her.

Me: So, um, I know the arts showcase is today. Is the band playing too?

Her: You know the band sucks. Yeah.

Me: Yeah, I know you think the band sucks. IS that a yeah the showcase today or that the band is playing.

Her: Yeah.

Me: UGH! Yeah to both?

Her: Yeah.

I swear how teens have managed to be monosyllabic via text is nearly an art form.

Me: You want me to come (silently praying she gives me an out even though I want to see her, feel guilty about looking for an out, and am wondering if I should venture to the bakery for a piece of depression day cake.)

Her: Um, yeah. That would be cool.

Me: K.

I could only muster the K. Seriously, I look at that text thread and feel a bit guilty. I did and I do, but I also was like, “Dang it. I gotta get myself together, drive 80 miles when I really, really, really just want to change pjs and figure out if I can get UberEats to fetch me that cake.”

Two hours later I pulled into campus, walked into the gym, scanned all the Air Force band blues and landed on the back of Hope’s head.

It’s so amazing how you can actually recognize the back of your kid’s head. The first time I picked her out of a crowd I thought, “I might actually be able to do this mom thing.”

Anyhoo, Hope hadn’t spotted me, and I took a moment to watch her. She was joking around with some kids. She looked good, maybe a little thinner than when I last saw her a few weeks ago. She’s been really going through a rough patch, which is why I wanted to lay eyes on her. I watched her for another minute or two, before she turned and saw me.

That smile.

The beeline into my arms.

The hug that was tight and long and…perfect.

Hope missed me, and the depth of my own emptiness from missing her hit me. I held back a little tear while she began to tumble out words about all kinds of stuff. I’m still not sure what all she said.

She grabbed my hand like the little girl she is inside and took me to see her graphic artwork.

Keep in mind that at no point did my kid tell me she had artwork in the showcase…because #teenager.

I looked at the exhibits and then I found a replica of the  Christmas card she had given me a few months ago. I was shocked because what she had written to me was so emotional that the original card is tucked away with my most important papers in my fire box.

Hope is typically rather private. She is very open about being adopted and how much she loves her family—all of her family, birth and glued. But she doesn’t like to wear her emotions on her sleeve. She tends to keep a lot bottled up.

And yet, there was the short paragraph that she had written me in the inscription, on the table for everyone to read.

This card…well, my daughter wrote of her love for me and for giving her normalcy. I’m not much on the whole adoptee gratitude thing. Too many people expect adoptees to be thankful, grateful for having been adopted, not really thinking about the circumstances that led to the necessity of that outcome. As much as I want to give my daughter the world, the most important thing I could gift her was something akin to normal.

In some ways, of course, there’s nothing normal about our life. In other ways and perspectives, it’s delightfully normal. We get up, go to work and school. We had breakfasts and dinners together. I harassed her about chores and homework. I reminded her to turn out the lights when she left a room. We spent fall Friday nights at the football field, sitting with other band families, assessing the band’s field performance. We video chatted when I was away on business travel. I dragged her to mentoring and coaching programs for tweens and teens. We took vacations or really trips where we bickered on bed choice, food choice, destination choice, and whether I would let her have another dessert. I balked at paying $70 for jeans with holes and redirected us to that awesome Old Navy jeans for $15 sale. I wrestled my dress hating daughter into an Easter/Christmas/Band Banquet dress over several years and watched her go through phases trying on makeup, press on nails and every Korean skin care product her allowance could burn through.

Yeah, we are normal. That’s what I wanted for her.

And she let me know that we achieved that in spite of everything.

My heart hugged itself in my chest, as I looked over at her and she just nodded.

Me: You good with putting this all out there like this?

Her: Redirecting me as she sometimes does, “Hey I did a good job designing the fox on the front.”

Displaying the card was bold of her. It was also the sweetest, precious thing she’s done for me.

Hope continued her efforts to redirect me to her other artwork before I made a emo puddle in the middle of the gym.

Putting half her life story out in the showcase was cool. Me getting super emotional about it was too much.

So, I continued on in feigned interest looking the rest of the school’s art displays, glad that I roused my ambivalent arse out to campus.

Of course, then I endured more than an hour of a choral and band “concert.” Why do schools call these things concerts????  Hope’s school is very small and while a lovely little school, let’s just graciously say that the talent pool is…shallow. The “concert” of high school students served middle school concert realness.

Hope and I had a nice chuckle reminiscing about a 7th grade pops concert during which the school orchestra attempted to play the theme to Star Wars.

It.

Was.

Horrid.

A auditory assault. #butidigress

Our chuckle? Also normal.

I headed back right after the concert, but not before Hope gave me another long, loving hug and I called her my big baby, which she hate-loves.

I was still exhausted and out of sorts when I got home, but there was a part of me that had clicked back into place.

Gosh I love this kid. And, even though I know she loves me, there are times like this one, when her openly showing it just fills me with joy.

17 days before she graduates.


Working on Me

I’ve been thinking a lot about what my and Hope’s next transition will look like. I’ve had a taste of what it will be like when Hope leaves for college this fall. She will be farther away with a lot more freedom. I’m sure I will fret a little, but I’m excited for her.

As for me, I’m starting to ponder what’s next for me. I’ll never be finished parenting; I already tele-parent, so this parenting thing will of course continue. But I’m struggling with the big “next.” Looking into the next few years there’s a bit of a void.

These days I work, I come home. I take Yappy for long walks. I spend a little time with someone I met last summer. If you follow me on FB, you know I’m working on my first knitting project. I do some writing, try to get some exercise. Sadly, I don’t go out much anymore. When Hope came along my loving, long term relationship with happy hour ended. It’s so rare that I ring someone up to say, hey, let’s grab a drink and be social. And given the rigors of single parenting, most folks stopped asking me to meet up years ago.

I’m thinking about starting language classes; something I haven’t done in nearly 10 years. I’m back to doing yoga almost daily as well; that feels really good.

But I’m spending a lot of time alone. Probably too much time alone, actually definitely too much time alone. I still don’t spend as much time with my old friends as I used to or as I’d like. I go to bed early, quality sleep has become really important to me. I even bought myself a couple of really, really nice new sheet sets for my birthday a few months ago. Yeah, super exciting, I know (that was supposed to be in sarcasm font, but frfr, I love those damn sheets!).

I’m tired, and I know depression looms around the edges and well, I’m feeling a bit frayed, and a little…stuck.

My heart has grown more than I ever thought possible parenting Hope. I have learned more about life…hell about everything. I am a radically different person than I was 5 years ago. I know that even if I hadn’t embarked on this journey that I would have changed; but I never anticipated being who I am now. I am still trying to figure her out, trying to figure out what she wants.

I knew pre-ABM me really well. I’d worked hard to become her, to slay my dragons and to post up as I slid into what is probably the second half of my life. I liked her. I’m proud of her.

Now…I like me and I’m proud of me, but I’m still figuring the new me out.

I spend a lot of time thinking about my own little and large traumas over the many years. Motherhood has taught me where my tender spots are, that some of those dragons I thought I slayed were really just hibernating in a dark cave somewhere. Things that I thought I’d worked through and resolved over the years have bubbled to the surface during the last 5 years. I spend so much time dealing with current “stuff” in therapy that I haven’t begun to rehash the stuff that I feel like I rehashed years ago. So some of this chapter feels like a backslide rather than steps forward.

I bristle sometimes when folks say, “resolve all your stuff before you become a parent” or “before you adopt.” Yeah, I thought I did, but parenting—any kind of parenting—has a way of rustling up a lot of stuff that you thought you’d resolved.

I’ve still got mommy issues. I’ve still got self-esteem issues. I’m still demanding and self-criticizing. I’ve still got relationship issues. I still struggle with food and disordered eating. I still get lonely. I still wonder should I have done this and did I mess up Hope’s life more than if I hadn’t done this. I replay so many early era pre-ABM movies in my head that I could keep a movie studio in business for years.

And so, with Hope preparing for a kind of launch this fall, I’m seriously thinking about me, what’s next, what makes me happy, and how do I fight my own dragons that this mom experience has awakened.

It’s hard to force myself to think of all of this even though it occupies a huge space my heart and mind. I have some work to do. The depression tells me to think about it tomorrow. The anxiety frets because I didn’t think about it a couple of years ago. It’s just icky.

Me and Hope are going to be alright, though. We made it through high school and 5 years of family. We will muddle and stumble through the next chapter. I know I’ve got some work to do on the current iteration of ABM. She needs help, some care and feeding, some self-love and some compassion. She needs that and more. So, yeah, I’m going to get to work on that.


College Bound

I just paid the deposit to the college that Hope has decided to attend this fall.

And now I’m sitting here crying.

It’s amazing how going to a website, clicking few links that carried me to Paypal and a few more key strokes represent such a monumental thing for Hope. I feel so many emotions.

I am joyous. Anxious. Excited. Scared. Worried. Hopeful. Proud. Relief.

Hope made her decision before I left on my vacation to Italy last week. After a visit to the community college, she was clear that she felt like the college would be a better fit for her. I fretted that she might be comparing the schools in an unfair light, so I pointed out a few key things to consider. I offered to sit down with her and make a pro/con list.

She reiterated her decision, clearly, concisely.

As I left on my trip, I asked her to discuss it during last week’s therapy appointment. When I returned I asked her about her decision and whether she had talked about it with AbsurdlyHotTherapist.

Yep, and she was still going to college.

Hmmm, ok. I *still* kicked a little dirt for a few days, and then today, I did my part and ponied up the deposit.

I am relieved that this chapter is over. This college application thing is cray. It’s crazy if you have high achieving kids, regular kids and struggling kids. It’s just cray. I’m glad that Hope had options, and I’m glad that she feels good about her decision. I’m also glad that it wasn’t my decision. It shouldn’t have been and I’m glad it wasn’t.

Our trip to the college, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains in VA (though not that town dear pal who shall remain nameless), was just lovely. The school is very small, less than 1,000 students and really seems committed to giving students like Hope the chance they need. It’s about 3.5 hours away from home, but connects are about 1.5 hours away if necessary. There’s also a direct train to DC, making it very accessible. I felt good about the place; it’s clear she felt good about it as well. Of all the schools we visited—they were all nice and Hope said she could see herself at each of them—this one seemed different. It featured elements of the other schools and also offered some educational offerings they others didn’t.

As I thought about her decision, I also talked to AbsurdlyHotTherapist and my own therapist about how best to support her. Really, ultimately it was about letting her know that this decision isn’t permanent; she can change her mind, transfer or change course if necessary. It was about reminding her that I will be here to support her and what’s best for her. I hope that knowing that contributed to her ability to step out and try.

I’m looking forward to her being home this summer. I miss her. I’m not going to lie though, I’m excited that she will be attending the college in the fall. It was hard to get over the empty-nest thing. I wasn’t looking forward to going through it all over again, even though I know I will in some ways. I’ve gotten back into some of my old habits, lightening up the diet a bit and knowing that whatever I put down somewhere is going to be right where I left it.

All that said, I’m reflecting a lot on when I made my own college decision 28 years ago. The emotions I feel right now are eerily similar—excitement, fear, pride, anxiety, joy, worry! I remember wondering what my parents thought and how this was all going to work out. All these years later, I still wonder how it’s all going to work out.

I’m proud of Hope. I’m so in awe of this kid; she never fails to amaze me.


The Big Night

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

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

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And then it was time for her to leave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kids are all together these days.”

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Me: Still not sure where this is going…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weird right?

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

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

Ugh.

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

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


Thoughts on Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mistakes I made were countless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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