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Hopeful for Hope

Hope is extraordinary. Seriously, I don’t know how she does it.

Ok, so some days, are much (seriously, so much) better than others. I and everyone around her has noticed the good days versus the bad days more than usual in the last year.

These last four years for Hope have been stable. I’d like to say that they’ve been good, great even, but I know that that’s probably not true, and I’m guessing that the benchmark for good might be fuzzy. On the outside looking in, it’s been great, on the inside looking out, it’s been…more good than not; it’s also been super challenging for her and for me.

Hope’s life before was hard. There was a lot of upheaval and a lot of safety issues. There was also a lot of love in her previous life; I never doubted that. I might side eye a lot of stuff that I know about her past, but I never doubted that her family of origin loved her so very much. There were just a lot of problems and barriers to probably being the type of parents they wanted to be.  All that stuff made Hope scared, distrustful, headstrong, and survival focused. That stuff also left Hope with some real developmental challenges that linger and make life harder for her. That love shaped her, and it made Hope have hope about her future life. I cling to that probably as much as she does.

We seem to be at a bit of a fork in the road in this journey.

My daughter has to make some choices about the type of future she wants. I’m not talking about 5 or 10 years down the road; I’m talking about the next year. To me, the choice for her is obvious, but it’s not. It seems that those extraordinary survival qualities Hope developed in times of need make it hard for her to see the range of choices clearly. It makes what feels like should be an obvious choice not so obvious for my daughter. As a mom, it’s so hard to see the struggle she endures trying to find her way through this maze. The skills that served her so well for so long don’t work as well in this chapter of her life, and the time hasn’t been long enough yet for her new survival skills to evolve.

It’s like taking an Olympic swimmer and putting her on a stage with a concert violin and demanding that she play as though she’s been playing professionally her whole life. She hasn’t and so she won’t.

And yet, she muddles a rocky rendition of Chopsticks and calls it a day. Hope is extraordinary.

Sometimes I find it so incredibly hard to understand how Hope sees and maneuvers through her world. I see immense talent, tenacity, courage and street smarts in her. I have wondered how to help her leverage her skills to her benefit. I’ve tried all kinds of things, but neither of us have found the magic sauce yet. It takes time. With a major life event (finishing high school) looming, it feels like we’re behind schedule.

We’re not, but it feels like it.

As a mom, all this feels so weird, awkward even to guide her though this—it’s a bit of the blind leading the blind. I mean, I went through traditional life events, but with none of the history or life experiences that Hope has had. Sometimes my life experience feels irrelevant and ill-suited for any kind of possible comparison. I can only imagine how it feels to Hope to know how to live a life only to be thrust into another one where everything, EVERYTHING was different. I chose this life to mother and parent her; she didn’t choose anything about this life. I try to remember that as we muddle through together.

These next 4 months will have a major impact on my daughter’s life for the next year. I’m not sure what she will choose; I’m starting to question what the “right” choice is for her. I thought I knew, but I’m also realizing that she and I have different views and different sets of choices ahead of us over the next few months. Things aren’t as obvious as they appeared, I suppose.

As we talk about the choices, I try to assure her that I love her, accept her, still think she’s an extraordinary kid and I will support her no matter what. I hope that Hope believes me. I hope that she does what she thinks is best for herself and that it sets her up for success.

I’m hopeful, and prayerful, and anxious, and worried, and committed and still more hopeful.

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Over-Under Achievers

Hope is in serious danger of needing to repeat this school year. I’m not sure what set it all off, but this year has been an academic nightmare. And for me as an academic junkie who used to verbally spar with her teachers over whether they really should have deducted a half point for some academic infraction, Hope’s academic performance has caused more than a little heartburn.

Each week I receive a progress report summary on her academic standing. Those damn things are so upsetting this that I sometimes don’t open them. They make my stomach hurt; they give me headaches and stressed out neck pain. Education and achievement are a part of my core values system. It’s been hard to understand how Hope’s background shape her views on school. It’s been hard to accept that her version of trying doesn’t look anything like mine. It’s been incredibly maddening that I can’t seem to influence her choices at all.

Last week one of Hope’s teachers reached out really alarmed with all that’s going on with Hope and her class. Over the course of the next few days, I talked to the counselor, the social worker and the teacher. We all decided that we would meet next week to further discuss ways to support my daughter.

Realistically, I have zero faith that this team of amazing people can create something that will turn Hope’s intrinsic motivation “on.” It’s not on; I’m not sure if it’s been on at all for the last year. I think Hope would love to be a good student but being a bad student…well that just feels like what she’s worth.

Hope also does not accept that any of this is her fault. Nothing is ever her fault. She was late to school and missed the announcement of an assignment? That’s the teacher’s fault because she should have pulled her aside and made sure that she got it. Chased her down the hall if necessary.  She didn’t do her homework because the teachers skills are awful, and she didn’t understand the material.  Tutoring? She doesn’t need. Homework? Eh.

This approach to school triggers every bit of my anxiety. Part of it is just how I feel about education, but part of it is just how I can’t wrap my head around this kind of self-sabotage. I don’t get it. I see it happening. I get the pathology from a scientific and academic perspective, but lived experience?

This ish is cray.

Hope has the intellectual capacity to do well, in the traditional, classical sense. Even thought I feel some kinda way about testing, Hope’s PSAT score felt validating in a “see, I knew she had more capacity than she demonstrates in class” way. Hope is smart and where she has deficiencies, she’s balanced by a high curiosity and inquisitiveness.

I have no idea what’s going to happen next. I’ve harnessed so many resources for Hope only to be met with a blank stare. I have no idea how to handle that. We are incredibly fortunate that our school district is just leaning in to providing more support, all kinds of support. Every fight I thought I’d have with them proved unnecessary—they have been more than happy to help.

And then they get met with blank stares too.

I asked AbsurdlyHotTherapist for recommendations. He sent me articles about ‘underachievers’ and told me to keep making Hope accountable for her choices and her mental health. The art therapist said the same.

My sense is that there’s a huge, dramatic decision that has to be made and will be followed by hell breaking loose. People will tell me that it will be ok in the long run; yeah, maybe, but this sucks so hard that that response brings no comfort. I’m not excited about any of this. I hate it all. I just wish Hope had the capacity and was willing to work with me and with the school to create something positive for herself and her life.


Making Life Safe

Hope is in the second semester of her junior year of high school.  Soon enough, she’ll be a senior and we’ll be doing all those ‘senior’ things that families do–senior nights, college visits, planning, spending, more planning.

As Hope and I face this future the other thing that has emerged as a major issue is anxiety.

My “normal” parent friends chuckle and joke about this time as they begin to plan what to do with their impending empty nest time. Their kids get teased a bit about moving out, launching and being dropped off at college while parents RUN to the car and into their less intensive period of parenting.

This seemed so natural and Hope wants and plans to go to college, so I joked a bit with her about how she was going to grow up, move away and live her life. Occasionally she would respond that she just got here, did she have to go so soon?

It’s taken me some time to realize that was a real question for Hope, that maybe she felt like I didn’t want her around and that I was eager for her to graduate and move on and move out.

Oy. Sigh.

Parenting is intense and while I look forward to that period of life that is a little empty nested; I went into this gig knowing that Hope was probably not going to fly the coop, so to speak, when other kids did. I figured that she would need more time. I figured that she would need more time academically and emotionally.

What I didn’t understand was that my joking about this next big rite of passage would scare the ish out of her. I didn’t get it.

I’m not beating myself up about it; I’m sad though that Hope is not able to enjoy this season of her life. I’m sad that she was robbed of so much and that what she’s endured haunts her such that she is still so deeply affected by it. I’m sad that my baby girl wonders if I would really just kick her out of our home after she graduates.

It breaks my heart.

During one of our car chats recently, I found myself in a parking lot, asking Hope to look me in the eye, as I told her that she was safe, that she was home, that I wasn’t abandoning her, that I would always support her and that I hoped one day she would feel safe and secure enough to flirt with having some independence but that I wasn’t pushing her out.

She only nodded, and I hoped that I would only have to say this speech 10,000 more times instead of a million.

Just when I think I’ve dealt with my own emotional baggage about Hope and school, this realization that Hope isn’t all that jazzed about

Will next year just be one anxiety ladened episode after another? Will every ‘senior’ event be a trigger about independence and attachment? Will graduation be a celebratory event at all or will it just represent an independence that is not being asked of my daughter?

It all sound misery inducing. It also makes me wonder how much self-sabotaging is going on with Hope’s school performance. I swear the last two years it has often felt like she was gunning to fail.

It’s also makes me second guess my long ago decision not to hold her back a year academically. Four years ago, when Hope was placed with me, I seriously entertained demanding that the school system place her in one lower year grade. I thought it would suit her emotional needs and given that the schools in her home state weren’t that great, she could gain some academic confidence by repeating some content. When I mentioned this possibility to the social workers and with Hope everyone rained hell-fired down on me. I backed off and hoped that at least Hope and I would have a better start without that type of conflict.

While I’ll never know what our relationship would be like now if I had held her back, and I know that we experienced a really rough transition anyway, I think I regret the decision to give her another year to just feel safe.

I’ll never know if it would have made a difference, so I guess I’ll just have to keep pressing forward, but I definitely wonder what impact that decision had on her.

And even though she has seemed hellbent on failing important classes, I’m not sure she’s conscious of it. I’m not sure how much of this is ADHD or trauma/attachment related. I know that she feels awful in failing and that she knows it’s makes her appear to be something she’s not: dumb. Even knowing that, I’m not sure she knows what her psyche is really doing to protect her.

She’s scared, and I have got to spend the next year trying to make her feel safe about this next chapter.

All while trying to make her feels safe for another dozen issues we have.

I wonder how I’m supposed to do that. How do I make life feel safe for Hope?

Sigh.


Me, the Struggle, the Couch & Yappy

I have resisted tears all week long. Just willed them back up into my tear ducts and dared them to come out again.

My anxiety is high. I can feel cortisol secreting in my body.

I have fought to just exist this week, which is funny because last week I was doing my own personal systems check and wondering if I might be able to come off my anti-depressants.

This week though…ugh.

I have been having a rough time at work with some things, and home? In the words of Donald Trump, home feels like a DISASTER.

It’s not, but it feels like it.

Hope and school…is just an torturous experience.

There is a lot of work. There are higher expectations. There is are a lot of challenges, but there are also a lot of resources and support. There is a huge amount of pride.

I now understand why pride is one of the seven deadly sins. I totally get it now. And that proverb, “pride cometh before the fall?” Yeah, it should read, “Pride straight up triggereth the fall.”

We are two weeks before the end of the first quarter, and I weep because as to be expected we are not in a good place academically. And as usual, there’s all this anxiety to *finally* do the work that should’ve been done weeks ago.  Looking at grades might as well be looking at binary code—grade, zero, grade, zero, grade, zero.

Hope is stressed. I’m stressed. Yappy has now joined the rest of us with his Prozac prescription for his separation anxiety, so he’s also stressed.

It’s all so predictable, and yet, here we are. This is our 11th quarter together and it’s always the same.

I must be nuts to believe that my best attempts at putting up academic guard rails will change anything.

I’m so tired and dejected. And I’m feeling like a failure. Not just because some part of me takes it all so personally, but because I’m doing everything I can, everything I can think of  and the progress just isn’t happening.

I know that I have to get back to looking at the long game, but It’s hard to pull back up to the 30K level and assess the situation.

I can’t do that when Hope ate 32 yogurts in a secret 3 day binge, and left the empty box in the fridge, adding insult to injury. She’s currently trying to hide a granola bar binge; I’ll be surprised if the remaining box of 60 will last the weekend at this rate. Oh, and I finally had to search her room to find all the wrappers because you know…#secrecy.

This is sucks a$$.

And it’s really, really getting to me. While I have threatened my tear ducts not to betray me, my ability to pull myself off of the couch is almost non-existent. I mean, my brain is tired. My stomach is in roiling knots. I can barely keep it together. My face even feels tired.

I have another business trip on Sunday and I’m eager to go do something I’m good at and get some positive feedback from people who like or at least respect me. I’m not getting that at home with Hope.

So, I’m on the couch, clicking through Amazon TV, Hulu, Netflix. I’m drinking cheap wine from a can, and trying to decide if I can start the gigantic bottle of sangria that’s on the counter tonight. And woman’s best friend, Yappy is tucked beside me.

I’m sure this is not good for his separation anxiety, but I presently do not give one damn. His presence calms me. His unconditional adoration of me as his lord and master human is just what my soul needs…along with cake. I could really use some cake, the kind with the stiff butter cream/sugar frosting like on birthday cakes. (Gotta be specific since cake is my favorite food group, closely followed by all things carb.)

And this is what anxiety and depression look anf feel like. I just need this evening to practice emotional escapism, in an effort to gather my marbles together tomorrow and do it all again.

Next week we have an educational meeting and I’ve asked the counselor and social worker to invite Hope. She needs to hear what we are saying, what decisions must be made and be given an opportunity to say want she wants and what she can and will do to get it.

Last night we tried to have this conversation over dinner and I lost my ish because she seems defiant in her refusal to acknowledge that the options on the table for her next quarter do not include her desired option.  We didn’t have our food yet and I asked for the check and pushed us out to eat at home in angry silence.

It just feels like there is no way to get through this without emotionally feeling skinned just about every couple of weeks.

WHY??? Why do people do this?  It’s got me questioning why I became a parent; do I really feel fulfilled, if I made a mistake of sorts. Then the overwhelming guilt crushes me when I’m already sinking into my couch.

It just feels so no win; it feels hopeless.

I know it probably feels that way for Hope too, but dammit.

I’m over this.

And I’m back to willing the tears to stay in their place. My face is tired and my eyelids are heavy. I just want to curl up with Yappy on this couch and forget for a little while how hard it is.

The struggle is so real.


When They Don’t Believe Us

Earlier this month, I sent Hope for private comprehensive testing. I hoped to document a diagnosis that appeared in her disclosure documents, as well as to determine if there were any other conditions that needed to be addressed medically and behaviorally. This week, I met with the psychologist for the preliminary report.

I’d prefer not to specifically disclose her diagnoses, but I would say they are very common findings for foster kids and adoptees.

So, yeah, fun times.

Honestly it explained a lot of what we experience. I definitely intellectually understand why somethings I do work great and some things send us screeching towards disasters. I think I get it now.

I’m finding that most of the folks I talk to regularly are also adoptive or foster parents. At this time in my life, it’s just easier. I never have concerns about being judged. I don’t have fear about my daughter being judged. These relationships are invaluable to me; that said, they don’t completely fill the holes left by my pre-Hope life.

I do still have some friends whom I confide in and of course my family, but sometimes, I find myself being so cagey. My fear, defensiveness and over-sensitivity around feeling judged and being unable to articulate the depth of our issues holds me back from deeply confiding in folks. I am always worried about being able to fully overcome the syrupy sweet adoption narrative that bounces in the echo chamber, “You’ve been a family for two years, what could possibly be wrong?” Or, “Oh that’s not a *real* issue, my kid does that all the time (you just don’t know any better).”

My daughter’s issues are real.

My issues with my daughter’s issues are real.

It takes real effort and strategy to be my daughter’s mom and full-time case manager. It’s real. It’s not that I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s that some folks don’t believe our issues are real.

We hear a lot in the media about the need to destigmatize mental health disorders; I’ve concluded that they don’t mean all disorders. They don’t mean the stuff that actually leads to suicidal or homicidal ideation. They really mean, “let’s wait until you’re actually learning how to tie the noose before we scream, ‘See something, say something!!!”

Those efforts to destigmatize mental health disorders don’t talk about how we need to manage severe disorders in children. Those efforts certainly don’t speak of the challenges of managing neurocognitive disorders that are often along for the ride, making treatments difficult to tease into meaningful chunks for parents.

Those efforts don’t consider the reactions that parents get from friends, colleagues and family members who offer comforting bullshit like, “Oh I think that diagnosis is just an excuse for a kid to act up!” or “Gosh, they are just diagnosing everyone with *that* now; it’s trendy.”

It’s hard to maintain relationships when folks don’t believe science, aren’t willing to listen and insist on unwittingly shutting down conversations with folks who just need to talk about their ish.

As I was sitting talking with the psychologist, I was wondering beyond the “team” of professionals that keep me and Hope duct taped together, who would I share this information with. Not that I would tell a bunch of people, but I found that number of individuals within our closest circle with whom I would confide in hopes of getting support for ME was pretty small. Really, really small.

I’ve been burned too many times. My trust bank is low, and in real life, I often feel really alone when walking/talking/living outside of the foster/adoption community. I’m so blessed to have cultivated some great friendships within the community, but the revelation that sharing my struggles with some people with whom I have a long history and genuine affection isn’t worth my time because I already know it’s not going to end well…well that hurts.

And it just reminds me of loss. Just more loss.

I have been spending a lot more time in recent months working on diversity stuff, and I’m increasingly sensitized to the way that this journey has affected me in ways that make me other myself or make me feel othered. Being Hope’s mom is a beautiful, amazing thing. But it’s definitely not an easy thing, not at all. No parenting is easy, and for me, this journey isn’t either.

I’m the same person as before, but I’m not, I guess.

And folks who expected this journey to turn out differently are also the same people. I’m just seeing them differently, and sometimes it’s really disappointing. Sometimes, it just really hurts.

It would be nice to feel like I could share with people actually believing that my daughter’s mental health issues are a real thing that requires real attention in order to get her healthy and happy in a sustainable way. I don’t ever want to find myself in a situation side-eyeing folks because tragedy befell us and then folks wondered why I never shared.

I won’t be responsible for my response in that scenario.

So if you know someone with a kid who has mental health issues, please don’t be dismissive. There are so few safe outlets for support. Recognize that destigmatizing mental health disorders means supporting folks long before the drama becomes tragic. Listen, learn and believe that this stuff is real and that it is some hard ish to wrestle with and really, really hard to wrestle with in a meaningful way alone.

Please believe us and support us.


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