I don’t overtly talk politics in this space. There are numerous reasons for that, but ultimately, my very existence is a political act. There are countless adoptive parents who author blogs; I follow and read a fair number. But there aren’t that many who are authored by people of color. I’ve seen blogs come and go since I started my blog years ago.
I wanted to focus on the day to day experiences of a Black woman who adopted a tween. There have certainly been times when I tackled politics head on in this space, and if you follow me on Twitter (@adoptiveblkmom) you already know where I stand.
Since the president’s offensive tweet last week, I’ve been ducking and dodging a lot of the news. I tend to watch the news as I get ready for work and for a short time on the weekend. I listen to an absurd number of podcasts, several politically oriented. This week the podcasts largely focused on 1) whether the tweets were racist, 2) should we use the term “racist” and 3) what does it all mean.
I avoided a lot of it. I avoided it because it was stupid and exhausting. It’s like living in that movie Groundhog Day; it just happens over and over and over…it just never ends.
This president is a racist, full stop, without any equivocation.
This is not debatable; he has a lengthy history of racist behavior…he’s a racist. #fact #theend
This president has followers who are also racist and/or have a high tolerance and comfort level with being racist adjacent.
This president has colleagues are also racist and/or have a high tolerance and comfort level with being racist adjacent.
These things are objectively true. #allofthem #facts #nodebate
And what does that mean for folks like me and Hope? I’m glad you asked.
It means that sometimes we worry if spaces we enter are going to be safe…are we the only ones? Is someone going to yell at us? Will we get decent service? Will the cops be called because we didn’t get into line quickly enough at Starbucks because Hope is notoriously slow at ordering the SAME DAMN THING EVERYTIME we go so I slip into the loo while waiting for her to once again conclude that she wants a grande caramel macchiato?
It means that I’ve had meetings with school administrators that start out assuming that I have no effing idea what’s going on, because really how could I, talking down to me despite my having a doctorate in education. It makes for a contentious meeting from the jump when I have to gather them right on up within the first 5 minutes of the meeting.
It means that some of Hope’s odd trauma-based behaviors are often attributed to my piss poor parenting because I’m a single Black mother. That’s got to be the reason, right? This also requires me to get folks together.
It means as I help prepare to send Hope to this predominantly White college in a small city in Virginia where the largest evangelical Christian university with a president that openly cosigns on the president’s foolishness coexists, I have to have conversations with her about what might happen when she leaves campus to go into town, what to do in worst case scenarios and how to just stay safe. I spend more time coaching around racial safety than I do sexual safety, as she heads off to college.
It means that we have a dashcam in the car.
It means that I as a single woman who used to “taste the rainbow” when it comes to dating have committed to swiping left on just about all White guys and every dude whose profile indicates they are conservative. I don’t have a problem with the politics (I might vehemently disagree but we can be cool), but I can’t risk that their version of conservatism includes White nationalism.
It means that Hope’s political identity is being shaped by all of this; she will vote in her first presidential election next year. I see the jaded cynicism already seeping in. Despite my deep love of politics and my lessons in civics that I’ve put her through these last 5 years, she’s the type of kiddo who is at great risk of just sitting out of the political system all together. If you don’t think the system is fair or you believe that you are marginalized in it, where’s the justification to participate?
It means when I point out what bullshyte this president is, people actually ask me “Why are you so angry?” Really? Why aren’t you angry? Gee why the eff would anyone be angry? #sarcasm
It means that Hope’s grandparents are talking about how they feel like they did in the 50s and 60s; it’s not good. I worry that that emotional toil of reliving the racial animus they grew up with is literally shaving days, months and even years from their lives. That’s less time with me and my sisters, but it’s less time with their grandchildren, the youngest being just a month old.
It means that even as I do my best to avoid all of this stuff, I’m hyper conscious that the rise and pervasiveness of racism, sexism, misogyny, homo/transphobia shapes my day, every day, all day. It influences what I choose to watch on TV, what I choose to listen to in the car, what books and magazines I choose to pick up, what people I share things with, what people I consciously avoid, how I view safety for myself and my daughter, how I plan my future, where I bank and invest my resources, how I use what privilege I have, what routes through certain neighborhoods I choose to take, how I use Yappy as a friendly opening, why I insist on being called ‘Dr.” in certain situations, where I choose to go to church and what I look for in those environments, why I choose to go to the grocery store in that neighborhood because the one in mine doesn’t have as nice product offerings, what concerns I have when visiting a new health care provider, will that person believe my complaints about ailments and offer appropriate treatment, how I’m expected to conform to certain beauty standards, that my skin color means I need to buy certain beauty products that aren’t always widely available, that natural or nudes in any product are not made for me and Hope, how our hair isn’t universally considered “professional” growing in its natural state from our scalp. And it goes on and on and on.
All of these things and so much more fly through my mind at least once a day on top of just daily living stuff like, should I cook those chicken thighs I took out this morning and I wonder if I Hope is willing to chop the veggies without a lot of pushback.
Every breath I take, every move I make, I am usually reminded that I am different and that my ability to be present in that space is viewed as a privilege and not as a right.
Even in adoption, I was and am aware that for some I’m viewed as unique. Every “best of list” I make, I’m conscious of the fact that there’s rarely more than one person of color who made the list. I am proud to be recognized, grateful even, but I also wonder why the few others out there aren’t also being recognized. Is there space for just one and am I non-threatening enough to make the list? Am I being tokenized? Yeah, pervasive racism will make you down your own achievements and recognitions.
And we’re seeing greater discourse around Black and brown children being separated from their parents. Separation is being used as a threat to reduce asylum seekers. We hear things about how “those” parents don’t deserve their children. We hear about the youngest of those children being placed in foster homes, and we’ll likely see these brown children adopted without consideration for reunification. All of this while the older children languish in cages or group homes. We see schools actually threatening child welfare agency engagement over unpaid school lunches. We see more Black and brown kids moving to White families prompting me to question whether this is a genocidal effort to kill our cultures, to “whiten up” our children, to just destroy our families. It is painful, extraordinarily painful and there are folks out there who actually believe that me putting this out there is radical, not helpful, not collaborative. And then in the end, the gaslighting will resume: “Why are you so angry?”
It is effing exhausting y’all. I’m tired. And this week I’m not angry, I’m enraged.
The thing about all this is whether all these emotions are sustainable? At what point does Stockholm Syndrome kick in, making many folks just give up and give in to the awful rhetoric that is permeating our lives? Do I have the present strength of my ancestors who toiled as enslaved laborers, to withstand this?
We’ve got at least another year of this, and quite possibly 4 more years beyond this, in the event there is a reelection. This racism isn’t new; none of it is. It’s just cool to be open with it now. The environment allows emboldened, overt racism now. It doesn’t feel good or even safe. It is taking an emotional toll.
It’s important that folks who call themselves allies to take up the mantle. I don’t care how you came to allyhood; be a good ally. Being a good ally means being an anti-racist. Being “not” racist ain’t good enough. We need to you go hard into anti-racism.
If you are a TRAP, whether you acknowledge that your kid will feel these things, know that they will. Accept that. This is learned, survivalist knowledge. It is the awful knowledge that we learn and accumulate in order to survive. Your privilege only extends so far over your children. Know that because it is the truth. You need to put your life on the line for them—not just them but for everyone who looks like them. If you’re down with colorblind ideology bs, you are a part of the problem. If you aren’t interested in learning the language of antiracism and the confrontations that are necessary to be actively anti-racist, your silent unwillingness is complicity. Full stop, no excuses, the end.
These are strange exhausting times. We all gotta do better at fighting back. You can believe in some conservative ideologies, but really, draw some lines, practice decency and acknowledge the dignity and human rights of others. I’m calling on folks to do effing better.
Your neighbor’s lives depend on it—whether in terms of the day to day or in terms of total life expectancy.
Let’s all do better, continue to fight and fight harder.
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.”
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.
What are best and hardest things about being adopted as an older kid?
Being in school, at some point talk of one’s parents comes up eventually and so for a while, I was constantly telling others that I was adopted and that I wasn’t from Virginia. Mostly this happened because I came halfway through the year.
One of the better things I guess is because I was older, I didn’t have to worry about losing any more friends that I made from moving around. I was able to keep friends from that time onward.
What are you most excited and nervous about as you enter (young) adulthood?
I don’t think that there is anything that I am particularly excited or nervous about. I’ve spent the past school year at a boarding school so I am ok with living away from home for a long period of time. Although I’m not worried about living without my mom, I am worried about how my procrastination will develop. I lose track of time very easily so I am definitely worried about how I am going to manage myself and keep myself in check and make sure that I keep my focus on what is important rather than getting caught in an endless loophole of distraction.
[ABM adds: We’re looking at some cool productivity apps that set timers and block sites for periods of time. If you have apps you like that help reduce distraction and increase productivity, please share them!]
What’s your current fav song??
I really love Kpop. Right now currently my fav song(s) are Wave/Illusion – ATEEZ and Twilight – ONEUS
What’s the best dirt on ABM?
Dirt? Hm, I don’t really know what I could possibly tell you. What do you already know?
[ABM responds: WHEW! Grateful I grew up without social media!]
Do you have any advice for younger kids who may feel out of place sometimes (for whatever reason they may feel that way)?
I’m not quite sure in which situation you are asking about but if it is in the foster care system then I don’t really have much advice for them because there isn’t much that they can really do but to try and wiggle their way into a group of people that they can talk to. It’s pretty likely that a kid in a foster home with other kids will feel slightly out of place. Although they may all be in the same place or situation doesn’t mean that they will be kind or will work with the other kids.
If I would give any one piece of advice it would be to not just let yourself be outcast, it’ll give the other kids a reason to come after you. Try wherever, whether at home or school, to make friends or at least find someone who you can talk to and someone who actually acknowledges you and treats you in a friendly manner.
What do you wish people understood about being adopted from the foster care system? What could adults (teachers, parents, doctors) do to be more helpful?
I’m not quite sure.
I do think that many who are adopted from the foster care system might have an issue with trusting the people around them, especially adults. Another thing that people should try to understand might be that the child could have a very hard time adjusting and that they might have some other issues from earlier on in life, or just during their time in the system.
I’m not really sure, but giving them space, listening to them, and just working with them. One thing that helped me was that I had some time to adjust to my surroundings before I started school so that everything wasn’t completely foreign to me. I got to see and do lots of things and had many experiences which helped me become comfortable and assisted in the progression of our relationship.
Hope is officially a baby adult, and we have feelings…big feelings.
I can’t believe that so much time has passed since she emerged from the secured part of the airport with her small suitcase (the bulk of her personal items arrived later). She’s so different now. She was a scared little girl in a teenager’s body. She was overwhelmed by the trajectory of her life; she was moving into a completely unknown chapter…with me.
I remember being so green that night, watching a petite 12-year-old emerge from security. I already had so many hopes and dreams for her and her future. I knew we would have challenges, and that Hope would have specific challenges, but I didn’t really grasp what those would look like. I didn’t really understand that we would end up with a hospitalization, frequent anxiety related visits to the urgent care (they knew us by name), multiple therapy appointments per week and different kinds of therapy. I didn’t understand at the time that my hopes and dreams needed a serious reframing. I really had no idea what this journey would look like, and it still doesn’t look like anything I could have imagined.
And now Hope is 18 and college bound, and another chapter is starting.
All day, Hope was sullen on her birthday. She shrugged when I tried to hype this big birthday. She nearly recoiled at the idea of being an adult of any kind. At one point, she actually booed. We went out for an early Korean dinner (of course) and bubble tea. She had no activity desires or a list of preferred birthday presents. In a word, my daughter seemed depressed about turning.
And I was sad. I wanted to be excited about this life marker. I wanted to make a big deal about it. But I got the impression early on that Hope was not all that keen on a big celebration. A recent conversation revealed that she was thinking about her alternative lives—the one that might have manifested with her parents and the one that might’ve been had she stayed in the foster care system. Those lives would have been drastically different, and in the foster care scenario turning 18 would have had serious implications. She seems stuck in that hypothetical place even though this life with me is the one that she’s living. There’s some reconciliation that seems to need to happen around all that.
When I think about my own life and those forks in the road leading to a completely different outcome, I find my own reconciliation resulting in gratitude, not for any person, but rather for the fact that my life is different. I don’t expect gratitude for Hope, and I recognize that this birthday dredges up a lot for her. I’m not sure how to help her reconcile the different scenarios with where she is now. I’m at a loss other than just continuing to be supportive.
There’s also the resistance to being pushed out of the nest, which I’m not actually doing with Hope. The prospect of being an adult is not embraced by Hope at all. To be clear, I am committed to supporting Hope in every way indefinitely. That said, I am also committed to teaching her life skills that will allow her to function as an adult, to one day live independently, and to embrace that independence. I want to foster a confidence in her that lets her know, she can stand on her own, but I’m still right here, beside her, behind her.
It’s hard though. A recent chat with AbsurdlyHotTherapist let me know how angry Hope is about not having the life she was entitled to. Grief is still very much with us; it still very much has Hope in its grips. I’m at a loss on how best to pry those cold hands from around her to set her free. I also know that ultimately, I can’t do that; Hope will have to get there on her own. It makes me sad on multiple levels to know that she is and likely will be so controlled by her grief for a while yet. It’s not that I don’t understand it; it’s just…I can’t fix it.
This is not at all what I thought this birthday would be like. I have become good about moderating my expectations when it comes to Hope. I still seem not to have made the appropriate adjustments this go around. I know that there are seasons when happy life markers trigger dark thoughts, memories and just sadness. This birthday seems to be one for my new baby adult. I’m treating her tenderly with it.
I guess I should probably do the same for myself.
I’m still driving her towards learning some life skills this summer. I’m finding that each time she does something new, usually successfully, she gains a little confidence. These little wins will add up over time, and she will learn to do more things for herself. Yeah, I’m still here, but I want to change positions where I’m behind her, rooting her own instead of in front of or beside her, leading her.
Only time will tell if she moves forward as I move backward. For now, we just will press on.
It’s been in the works for a while and it’s finally here! Hope is answer questions from APs interested in adopting tweens and teens! If you have a question, feel free to forward it by email at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Ask Hope” in the subject line or send a message through the blog’s social media channels! These are Hope’s answers, not mine, though I will sometimes weigh in with contextual info or perspective!
Without further ado, here’s Hope’s first set of Q&As!
If Hope had just one important piece of information to share with those interested in adopting a teen, what would it be? I think that although it may be difficult and very frustrating, just be patient with them but don’t be too lax with them. It’s never going to be a smooth ride from the jump, but I think that giving space and then trying to talk about everyone’s feelings on everyday things will probably help a lot. One last thing is to, maybe if they are comfortable with it, listen to their story to see how they have experienced life so far.
What made you feel safe during the transition? I don’t think that there was any one thing that made me feel safe during the transition. I didn’t feel unsafe during the transition though I did at a point for a moment feel like it wasn’t going to happen or like it might not have worked out. As my time here lengthened I began to feel at home though it took lots of adjustments, but all of the good and bad experiences throughout helped me feel comfortable and like I belonged in this home.
How would you have felt about getting adopted by a family that has really strained relationships with extended family? I didn’t really think about that kind of stuff when I was trying to get adopted, but during visitation that’s when she started thinking about it since we spent time around mom’s family. I would probably be curious, but as long as I didn’t have to deal with any drama. I had an idea of the kind of family I wanted to be in, not extended, but just the core. I didn’t think about the others. For me, I would make sure that family and friends you do connect with/to treat the adoptee the same as the bio kids in the family.
We want to start the process, but will probably be moving sometime in the next two years. How would you have felt about moving right after being adopted? I would not have been happy about it; I would not have said much about it, since I wouldn’t want that to be the reason someone didn’t want me, but how would I expected to trust anyone after another move when I’m going into the adoption thinking I don’t have to move anymore. I guess it would be different if it came up later, but going into adopting me with a plan to move right away? Nah. But I probably wouldn’t actually say nah if it meant I didn’t get adopted.
[ABM: Hope had to move cross country with our placement; she was constantly trying to negotiate when the move would happen. It was very stressful for her. VERY stressful; so much so I think it made adjustment more difficult. It took time. When I was offered a job about a year or so later in another state, I didn’t take it because I wanted her to have the chance at being in one location for a long period of time. She’s already moved around a lot; I didn’t want to contribute to the feelings of not being tethered to a homebase. The side benefit is that our current location meant that we were only about 4 hours from biological family; so for us, it worked out.]
How would you have felt about having a choice between home school or regular school outside of the home? I would be ok as long as I had a choice. If the home school situation was secular maybe I might do that, but I would probably just go to public school because that’s what I know.
[ABM: Religion has been a sticky issue around these parts. Sometimes it’s hard for kids to reconcile religious beliefs with why so things have happened to them. I would imagine this might be common among older adoptees, but that would be a guess. I eventually just looked to raising a religiously knowledgeable kid without all the trappings and expectations of religious adherence.]
I’m experiencing all kinds of cognitive dissonance over here. So, this is the summer of life skills, right?
Right. I’m all in on making sure I foster competent independence in Hope.
And then, I’m constantly wondering if she ready. I’m constantly doubting whether she’s as competent as I hope she is. I’m overwhelmed when she is unable to do something; I try not to say it out loud, but it just lingers.
And then sometimes I just think, what the WTEntireF?
Last year, when Hope interviewed for a spot at her boarding school’s summer program, I remember sitting watching the interview and how my girl was charming, smart, poised, and confident. Even if I know she doesn’t usually feel like any of those (#depression), she rose to the occasion and really hit it out of the park.
I’ve found that sometimes Hope really can perform like a 17 year old who is college bound and ready for the world.
And then, there are times like when I was away on the business trip recently and Hope texted me that the remote control to the main TV stopped working.
I sent her this.
She actually texted me back to ask what should she do?
I am nearly 2,000 miles away. I dunno, maybe watch TV in your room with your TV?
She texted me about the remote control, y’all.
And you know what, 2 weeks before that, she texted me, from her phone, a Google-able question.
These are the moments, ironically usually by text, that keep me up at night. She’s not going to be interviewing every day….no, no, she’s going to be watching TV while asking me questions she can ask her phone. It’s the daily tasks, the ordinary stuff, yeah, that, that’s the stuff she can’t do.
Or won’t do.
I found Hope a volunteer opportunity that would allow her to work every day, though I’m voluntelling her that she needs to put in about 20 hours a week.
Me in the AM: Hope, call the store to set up your schedule.
Me in the PM: So, what’s your schedule?
Hope: Oh, right. Yeah, I looked on the website.
Me: Huh? I told you to call.
Hope: Yeah, but I looked at the site.
Are we even involved in the same conversation? I’m not even sure anymore.
We went around like this for 2 days, until I announced that tomorrow I would just have to physically sit next to her to bear witness to her calling to set up her schedule. #unbelievable
Contrast this with her performance during her college orientation this weekend. *That* version of Hope was anxious, but made conversation, asked questions, and charmed a few other parents along the way.
I know that a lot of this is normal, but it is dizzying.
I am reminded that Hope is a bit behind the curve. She’s still immature; her emotional age still lags behind her peers. She’s catching up; I can really see the gap closing, so deep down, I know that she will be ok, but that gap tho…
I think about the emotional age gap and the depression and the anxiety, and the trauma and the and the and the, and sometimes I feel like we’ll never catch up. And then I spend time wondering what “never catching up looks like?” I wonder what it will look like for me. I wonder what it will look like for Hope.
This transition is certainly less scary than when Hope and I transitioned to be a family. The stakes are really so much lower, but I’m still feeling like…is she ready? Do I believe she’s ready? Does my angst mean I’m possibly not ready?
I dunno…I also feel like Hope’s ability to survive or thrive in college this fall is a reflection on me and my parenting. Did I do everything I could to help to Hope? Did I provide her enough safety? Did I support her enough emotionally? Did I invest enough in her education? Did I try enough different kinds of therapy? Was I the best mom I could be to her and for her?
I feel like I’m about to be graded, and I never worry about grades, so why am I freaking out about whether Hope is going to get to college and text me that she has a hole in her sock, wanting to know what to do?
As I spiral this post out of control topically, I’m realizing that I’m wondering if I’ll be judged on what is probably dumb ish that all kids do because ours is an adoptive family?
I mean, in adoption, you get the halo because you “saved” a child (I hate this) or the horns because you “saved” a kid but didn’t “really” save them because they are still a dysfunctional hellion.
And I thought I’d stopped caring a long time ago about being judged for my parenting activities and choices.
Looks like I care after all.
I also know that when Hope needs to be great, she’s more than steps into that. All the other times she is what’s probably a normal slug of a kid.
I know I did my best for Hope. There’s always room for improvement, but I would like to think I’ve done a good job mothering Hope these last few years.
I also know that I am spending a fair amount of time every day thinking about how it will all feel if Hope doesn’t have the best experience there.
So, while I continue to press on with Hope’s life skills curriculum this summer, I’m going to try to trust this process and where it will take things with Hope. She’s going to be ok. She’s going to learn how to do the things she needs to do.
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, sock and 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 should 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 be 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.
If you follow me on Facebook you already know that I was at a professional conference this week when I found a session on the experiences of transracial adoptees in college. The session featured a panel of three scholars, all of whom are also transracial adoptees.
Now, the conference I attended is one of my favorites to attend each year as it gets at the intersections of higher education and race, which is where my own IRL career is situated. In the 13 years I’ve attended, it was only the second session I know of that explored the experiences of adoptees in higher education.
I was super jazzed! I am so glad I attended.
I wanted to be sure to share a few of the hot takes I posted in real time on my FB page here, and add a few of my own thoughts at the end.
Ok, it was a wonderful session attended by a pretty significant number of transracial adoptees and others in the adoption constellation. I don’t want to share too much of other people’s stories, but I sat next two a TRA who no longer speaks to her white parents and another adoptee shared some heartbreaking identity issues dealing with colorism and culture.
I thought a lot about me and Hope during this session and ever since. It has been fun, though sometime challenging to expand Hope’s conceptualization of blackness. When our journey started, she had such a narrow, negative view of us racially; it became a life goal to broaden and elasticize her view of us. Of course, being a same race adoptive family and still having a good foundation of similar cultural experience, well, there’s a lot of privilege there. I just being with me and engaging with me daily, Hope picks up many of those racial and cultural markers. TRA families, well, that takes more effort.
But that effort should be considered essential. I saw adoptees be really emotional during this session. I heard how some felt they existed in the middle–not quite fitting anywhere, not black or brown enough, obviously different in family photos because they will never be white. Folks weren’t learning about being adopted or how to even do their own hair until they were in their 20s because their parents, who were probably otherwise super well intended and all that other stuff we love, didn’t put for that effort.
I know from hanging out in numerous adoption spaces on social media how little so many folks want to believe that these adoptees are or should be impacted by the absence of racial and cultural touchstones. I know that there are countless folks peddling that sorry arse colorblind ideology because white folks want to save the world by erasing the identities of black and brown folks–for some even the children they are raising–rather than getting their white supremacist kinfolk together and taking them ‘out back.’ #yeah #Isaidit #cleanyourownhouse
It’s criminal that foster care and adoption agencies do not provide adequate baseline education on transracial adoption. How can things be child-centered if all that’s generally covered is the skin and abysmal hair care. I’m convinced that the absence of appropriate content is not included signals just how marginalizing the child welfare system is to families of color and especially the children born to those families. You can’t have a disproportionate number of families of color having contact with these offices, having their children removed, having black and brown children languish in a system and all we tell placement families about raising them is to make sure you buy cocoa butter and some conditioner with decent slip…well, that ish pretty much does its part to uphold white supremancy. #yeahIsaidthattoo
So, here’s the other thing, and why that session at the conference was important to educators. There’s a lot of racial identity development that happens during those first 20 years of life. And you know when things are really crystalizing? Yeah, the college years. So these young folks are off to college and then some are wandering around campus wondering if it’s ok to join the black student organization because they aren’t always following the vernacular and sound so or should they join the international student organization because it was an international adoption but they share zero experiences with those students. Should they pledge a Greek organization and should it be one of the Divine Nine or one in the National Panhellenic Council? College is a time when you are already trying to figure out where you fit in, questioning what you’re going to do with your life and now you gotta navigate the absence of some homeschooling on race, ethnicity and culture too.
It ain’t right.
So, my lovely white folks who want to parent kids of color, work a little harder and do better. Learn about racial identity development: Here’s a resource. Do some of your own work, understand privilege and how real and impactful it is. Consider what world you will contribute to–one that recognizes difference, embrace it, and celebrate it or one that pretends that difference doesn’t exist, but still centers your racial make up as the default setting–ie, no one is different from *you*.
I hope to connect with these scholars at some point. They were all amazing; I’m glad they shared their stories and how they ground their research. I’m excited that there is increasing scholarly literature on TRAdoptees and adoption more broadly. Thank you adoptees, all adoptees, for your voice and contributions to improving adoption.
Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. Watching my daughter walk across the stage and graduate surrounded by family and friends was such a wonderful experience that really, it’s almost hard to explain. Family, friends and even colleagues drove a long way to join us for this event, and it was more than I could have dreamed.
During the processional, I gasped and choked up because it was so real. Getting to this day was a long hard slog through not just regular teen years, but through a history of trauma, anxiety, depression, placement, adoption, just so much stuff. Sooooo much. I just started to cry because it was a culmination of so much love and effort and dreams and prayers.
One thing that was especially special about Hope’s graduation day was the presence of her biological family. This day represented the full on merging of Hope’s family. Hope knew that her aunt would be coming, but as she descended the stage with her diploma to return to her seat she caught sight of her aunt and the delight on her face…my heart smiled.
Now I’m not going to lie, there were moments leading up to the graduation that were emotional. There were members of my family who didn’t want to share Hope, who still super side eyed her family, who just had feelings about them attending this event. I’m glad that I made my own declaration early on that this was our, my and Hope’s family, and that there would be space and love for them. On yesterday, the merging was seamless, and the excitement turned to talk about all the parties there will be when Hope graduates from college.
It was so much more than I could ever of hoped for and that’s because we all centered what was best for Hope.
There is so much discussion in adoption about the triad—birth family, adoptees and adoptive parents. We rarely highlight the ripple effect that adoption has throughout families. The removal, placement, adoption, whatever terms we use, of a child from their family of birth reverberate across a family like a skipped rock on a body of water. The absence of that child is a hole, and the trauma of it is far more widespread that we care to acknowledge.
Hope’s relationship with her paternal family is complicated and losing her to foster care…well in these 5 years, I’ve learned that everyone in her family has a story and big feelings about that. There is a lot of emotion; there’s a lot of sadness, a lot of pain about how it all went down. I have my views and opinions of the story, but real talk, I wasn’t there, so I have to listen. Hope has her version of what went down too, and I listen.
There is so much hurt.
And the only way to heal it is to pitch that big tent and constantly try to cultivate an environment of inclusion. Graduation was a big tent event, and as a parent in general, you don’t always get to sit back and say, hey, I got it right, but I got yesterday right. Yesterday was a healing day for Hope and this family.
There were so many tears. There was tears of joy, of grief, of loss, of pride, of happiness. My daughter sobbed for a good 10 minutes as she was feted by family and friends. In the moment, noting concern by some guests, I just said my daughter was overwhelmed—and she was— but it was more. As much as my own family was there to support and celebrate, the presence of biological ties was just so powerful to this moment.
Having an open adoptive relationship with my daughter’s biological family is critical. I believed it before, but yesterday, the confirmation of that belief was so strong and so true that it makes whatever criticisms I might’ve endured on this journey possible. They are members of our village; full stop.
The second big thing that I learned yesterday was just how much this achievement meant to Hope. I remember early on that Hope thought I was nuts for wanting her to dream about going to college. She quickly got on board with at least humoring me. I know that Hope has humored my pushing and prodding for years now. I also know that my pushing and prodding was not always a healthy thing for her. Upon reflection, I know that there are times when my pushing and prodding were directly contributing to her low self-esteem and depression around not living up to standards I’d set. I know I was less than flexible sometimes. I also know that even here in this space, readers encouraged me to pull back, to remember that college wasn’t for everyone.
I’ve heard you, and I’ve reflected on that a lot this year.
And yet, yesterday, after Hope, Sister M and I had packed up her dorm and we were making one last stop on campus to pick up something from the band room, Hope sat in my car, heaved a big sight and said, I did it. I graduated from high school!
It was a record scratch moment for me since of course, it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t finish high school. I was always focused on what would happen beyond high school. Never in a million years did I ever think Hope would not finish high school.
But there was a time when Hope didn’t think she’d finish high school. I did not know this before that moment.
It was an assumption for me, but not for Hope.
I pressed her for why she didn’t think she’d graduate from high school. Well, the response was easy for her—look at all she had been through, why would she think she was graduate from high school? Look at the trauma, the loss, the hardship, the rejection, the lack of permanence and instability for years, why would she think she would be able to finish high school.
High school graduation should be a momentous occasion, but when your life was such an unstable mess for so long, you stop dreaming.
I realized in this moment that graduation was even more pivotal for Hope. It was more than just a personal achievement, but it also represented that she was on track and that maybe she really could start dreaming. The uncertainty of the college search took a lot out of Hope this year; it marked another transition that she questioned herself about. It marked another thing she had to go through the motions on, but still tried for a while to remain somewhat detached from in order to protect her fragile emotions. Graduation is freeing; she did it! She can dot it. If she did it once, she can do it again. That is real for Hope.
The revelation is real for me. She is now so excited about going to college. Graduation is the ultimate confidence booster!
And finally, the last lesson for me, the Holy Homeboy still has jokes for me. I have had lifelong issues with a lack of patience; I thought that it was the ultimate joke that he fated me to jump into parenting a 12-year-old as I stretched into middle age. He pushed and pulled me, stretched me in ways I didn’t know possible, especially challenging my own notions of morality, personal values, parenting, family, education and health. One of my biggest personal values struggles was how Hope didn’t fit into my ideals about academic performance.
Of course, at the time, I didn’t appreciate how she never saw herself making it this far. I do now, which makes my revelation all the more meaningful.
Hope’s academic performance, her struggles, were sadly an ongoing challenge for me. I value education so strongly, I found it personally offensive. I know it wasn’t right. I know that lengths I went to try to “help” Hope improve were not helpful to her mental and emotional health. I know that my dreams for her were a source of stress.
I have never not felt so strongly about education. I do believe it is key to social mobility and financial freedom. It is all I’ve ever known. The ongoing confrontation to that belief system has been difficult.
And then yesterday, I realized a couple of things. Hope spent two years in honors classes that she did reasonably well in before things went downhill. Those grades are weighted, which set a solid base for her overall GPA. She graduated with a reasonable GPA. She lettered in her freshman year thanks to band. I didn’t realize when she entered her senior year that she only needed a couple of credits, really like two required courses, all other requirements had been completed. She went to a college prep school, and yeah, she struggled, but the curriculum was rigorous. Her squadron earned honor status among all the school squadron for their overall adherence to all the important things in JROTC.
In the end, Hope graduated from a tough college prep school with an advanced diploma because she had way more credits than necessary; she has a special ROTC designation, and is college bound. Things I figured were just beyond us, and yet it is right where we ended up. Better than fine.
And the Holy Homeboy laughs at me (again) for trying to muck up his plans for me and my family.
So, yeah, yesterday was a big, effing deal for me and Hope. It was also full of life lessons for me. Family, all family, is important. Our kids can dream and can achieve. I gotta trust the process and my faith that things will end up just they way they are supposed to.
It’s hard to believe that Hope will graduate in less than 48 hours. I remember when I started this adoption thing that I could hardly imagine getting to this major life event. Then when Hope arrived at what is now our home, I knew it would happen, but I really didn’t, no couldn’t, focus on it. There were so many hurdles to get over that I wouldn’t really let myself think about it too much.
And then this year, Hope moved to the new school and we launched into this senior year. The events, the applications, the essays, the FAFSA, the college visits, the waiting, the anxiety, the drama, the joys, the sadness, the decision about what to do next. Each thing seemed to take so much out of us, separately and together.
As a parent, I fretted endlessly. I still worried about her grades and social interactions. I had to try to stay on top of the growing calendar of events. I had to check in about deadlines. I navigated figuring out how Hope dealt with money. I had to find the right balance of being a supportive yet firm parent. I decided a long time ago I wouldn’t exactly be a helicopter parent, but I definitely am not one of these new bulldozer parents. I like to think that I am a coaching parent. I want Hope to find her way, and I’ll clear a few things, but I will coach her through as much as I can.
This year, Hope and I have grown much closer, despite the miles between us. We don’t necessarily talk every day, but we do connect. Over breakfast this weekend, we chuckled at how much more alike we’ve become. Hope said something like we were destined to be, and it made me smile inside.
And here we are, at graduation with plans for college in the fall. It is really amazing how far we’ve come in these 5 years.
Saturday Hope’s family will come together to attend the ceremony. A small group of Hope’s extended biological family will be there too. I know there will be tears. There will be joy and celebration.
And I am beside myself with emotions.
My sweet girl came to me so hurt. Our plans consisted of getting through the day, the week, maybe the month. Now look her. #startedatthebottom #nowwehere
She has worked so hard. I know she doesn’t see herself the way I see her; I wish she could, and maybe one day she will. She is funny, charming, strong, capable and increasingly brave. I know she will set the world ablaze, and I’m so blessed to have had a chance to parent her.