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Unlearning Things

Fall used to be my busiest time of the year, but these days have me gallivanting all over the place all dang year.

And you know what?

It is exhausting!

I haven’t been on this kind of grind in nearly 10 years, and I definitively know that I did not miss this pace. And did I mention I’m 10 years older now? I mean, I’m still fly, but it’s still a whole arse decade!

Anyhoo, I’m launching into a month of travel with a legit vacation wedged in there around week 3. #costarica

Because of this grueling schedule, I’m suffering from some major writer’s block, aka “productivity exhaustion.”

So, all of that to say, I’m using some writer’s prompts to help me keep writing through the layovers.

This post is about the things I had to unlearn on my parenting journey with Hope.

There were a lot of things I had to “unlearn.”

Like a lot.

A lot a lot.

Ok, here are the top 3 things I had to unlearn.

I had to unlearn my existing identity when I became a parent.

When I began my adoption journey, I was single and not even dating, about to be 40, entering my dissertation year, and about 6 months past one of the most serious health crises in my life. Up until those few months prior, I had focused primarily on my career. I enjoyed brunching with friends. I didn’t particularly enjoy dating, but I did enjoy the notion of finding my person. I had been traveling for a number of years, but still not yet to the real adventures I wanted to take on.

Life was good, but of course, something was missing.

Once I was parenting Hope, I learned quickly just how hard the self-sacrifice that parenting required was on one’s identity. Initially, it was like my life shrunk instead of expanded and I had no idea how to handle that.

I’m a contrarian by nature, and seriously sometimes I say no just because. No reason,  no rationale, for no possible reason that could make sense. There are times when saying no is so clearly not in my interest and I cannot stop myself from declining. I’ve been this way since I can remember.

This made sharing my life so stinking hard at first. I wanted Hope here, but having someone in the house after living alone for so long was super hard.

I am an overachiever. I constantly felt like a failure while parenting Hope. Initially it was when I inadvertently triggered her. Or when I felt like I made the wrong decision for her wellbeing. I thought I would make life worse for her.

I had to get to a place of really letting the old me go and rising up as something new. It was hard, but I think I finally got the hang of it. Now I’m realizing that I’m struggling to reintegrate my old identity and elements of what’s on the horizon.

I’m back into work hardcore in ways I wasn’t in recent years. It feels different. I’m reassessing what it means to have a kid in college and what does the next chapter looks like.

I’ll be 50 in a few years, and that’s a big year. I’m not immediately sure what’s on or in that horizon. It’s like I don’t even have a 5-year plan right now. I know I’ll still be working, quite probably at the same organization. I’ll be wondering what’s up with Hope. I don’t know academically or professionally what she might be doing. No idea. I don’t have a plan, but I probably should.

So now I’m learning that I’ve got to recreate myself again, somehow. I thought evolution was more linear, clearly, it’s not.

I had to unlearn my preexisting ideas about parenting.

I have loving parents who worked very hard to raise me and my sisters. I definitely do not always agree with them on many things, but I thought that they were a good parenting model.

The problem was that my parents created 3 overachieving, highly intrinsically motivated, bright, curious, minimally rebellious during the teen years women.

This meant that our standards are absurdly, and as many therapists have told me, sometimes unachievably high. We’ve surrounded ourselves with similar folks. Our friend circles are populated by some super cool, wicked smart and highly successful folks.

Hope came to me performing well in school. She’s bright. I marveled at how she had managed to endure her past and still make such good grades. I thought, “awesome, she’s bright and will continue to slay at school!”

But then the neurocognitive issues really emerged, and depression, anxiety, and PTSD all pushed their way to the front and center stage in her life.

Grades plummeted. Self-esteem plummeted.

I was flummoxed. It took me a while to figure things out, get the proper diagnoses and advocate for her. And yet with each grade…each one, I realized that nothing I was doing was actually resulting in improved academic performance.

Hope felt awful. There were definitely times when I didn’t appreciate her depression around this like I do now.

As for me, I felt disappointed on multiple levels. Why couldn’t I get Hope to do her work and do it well? I felt shame because I run with a crew who shares my love of high standards, so *of course,* they routinely asked how Hope was doing in school. I felt frustrated and low key mad all the time. Why couldn’t I fix this? Why didn’t she try harder?  Doesn’t she know what’s on the line here?

I had to unlearn all the scripts about what achievement looks like in childrearing. More than not, the achievement is raising a child who feels safe and confident. Sure, I tried to provide that for my daughter, but what that looks nothing like what I thought it would.

I knew it would be hard, but I thought it would be easier. Not looking for any credit or criticism; I thought my logical outlook would get me through parenting. Ha!

As I’ve unlearned my preconceived notions of parenting; I’d learned that there is nothing logical about 90% of parenting.

It is all magic though.

I had to unlearn a bunch of stuff I thought I knew about loss.

I realized through parenting Hope, that I needed to recalibrate how I thought about loss. I don’t mean to suggest that there’s a loss Olympics—there isn’t. Folks feel what they feel.

I definitely have had my struggles over the course of these 47 years. But real talk; the losses I’ve endured and the hurts I’ve survived though deeply impactful to me are radically different than what my daughter has experienced.

I thought I new loss and grief. I thought I understood the emotional burden therein. I thought I got it.

I wasn’t even close to getting it.

I’m very privileged when it comes to loss in the grand scheme of things. Meanwhile, Hope can practically tell me dates of those moments in her pre-adoptive life where she felt small, out of control, grief-stricken and more. I didn’t save her from those moments. She lives with those moments daily still.

Getting over and around loss and grief is enormously challenging. Of course, folks do it all the time, but it’s hard work for many of us. I had to realize that I had a lot of impractical mythology around loss. I had to set about to unlearning that stuff and replacing it with knowledge and strategies to help Hope and me work through huge emotional stuff on this journey.

I’m grateful for the notion of “unlearning.” I’m still learning and unlearning stuff. It’s a routine with no end in sight.


When a Week Seems Like a Year

I fly out to see Hope in 5 days.  Seems like forever.

This week I’m traveling for work and cramming in dissertation interviews so that I can keep this project moving.  It has been exhausting.  I’ve conducted 4 interviews this week and I’ve got another 6 before I leave to see Hope.  Lots of prep work, note taking and synopsis writing…late nights writing and early morning writing.  Actually, this dissertation thing sucks.  It really is a means to an end.  I enjoyed most of the coursework, as much as anyone enjoys the rigid discipline that is required to slug two-plus years of course work while working full time.  I made lifelong friends and colleagues and learned a lot both about my area of focus and myself.  I love my dissertation topic, but honestly, I cannot be more over this stupid exercise of demonstrating my capacity to do research.  I just need to get it done.  Onward and upward.

Meanwhile, Hope got the photo book that I sent her and apparently loved it.  She is so excited about her new life with me, that she showed the book to her friends at school.  Wow!  I am blown away and delighted that she is so excited!  I have no idea how a kid goes to school and says, “Look at the book some chick who wants to be my mom sent me about what my life might be like if I go to live with her.”  Is that even how the conversation goes?  How does a pre-teen even go about telling her schoolmates that she’s waiting for a forever home?  I have a hard time trying to figure out how I might have shared that with my friends back in the day.  My Hope is a brave girl.

She did raise the issue of timing…”So, my friend asked if I was going to go back with you after next week?”  It wasn’t an anxious inquiry, more like how long do I have to wait and what kind of timeline do I have to say goodbye.  We all need time to get our lives in order right?  I know I do.

She continues to give me peeks into her life and just when I think my heart can’t melt more, I find yet another smushy spot.  So, she likes two different boys in her class, just a little puppy love crush.  I love that she told me and actually didn’t seem to freak out when I asked questions about her crush.  I hope that she will continue to share those things with me.  I hope I can continue to earn her trust.

I’m still working on ideas for her room and pulling things together for her look book.  A dear colleague I had some quality time with during this week’s travels inspired me to include a pet fish in the book. Hope has asked if maybe one day she could have a dog of her own, but I can only have one furry beast at a time, so a fish has emerged as a new option. Dr. Beach has the coolest fish!!  She’s taught him to do tricks!!!!   I had no idea that fish could be taught to do tricks!  I’m starting to build a registry for Hope’s arrival and the R2 Fish School Fish Training Kit is so going on that registry!

So, it’s just a matter of days before I come face to face with my beautiful Hope.  I have so much to do to get ready, but I know the minute I see her that first time, nothing else will matter.


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