I recently read all the articles in the back-to-school issue of Adoptive Families magazine. I was overwhelmed with the number of issues that school raises for adoptive kids. Some of it I had thought of before, but some was completely new to me. (I especially enjoyed the part about whether or not to tell the child’s teacher that your child is adopted…ummm…not really an issue for us.) I did realize that Sam has been working on a timeline project of his life, and I felt bad that I hadn’t even considered how that will be a problem for Ayub and Lucy some day. But there were some issues that made me stop and think. How much of Ayub’s story should his teacher know? Should I talk to the class about adoption and why Ayub doesn’t look like me? Should I prepare him for comments he may hear?
Then the perfect opportunity presented itself. This is the first week that the class has had a Star of the Week. You know, your pictures are on the bulletin board and you get to tell the class all about your family, your pets, your likes/dislikes. And guess who’s name got drawn to be the FIRST Star? You guessed it…the kid who is least able to articulate any of this. Still, we tried. I asked him what he wanted to show his class. He didn’t understand the concept and was just excited that his teacher had given him a special piece of paper with stars on it. (Funny aside…he kept saying, “No touch this…it mine. Teacher give it to me.”) I sat him down at the computer and went through some possible photos and asked him if he wanted to show his class. Still, he was not getting the concept. I finally emailed his teacher and asked if it might be possible for me to come in and read a story to the class about adoption, show them some pictures of Ethiopia, and help Ayub explain his pictures. She was totally on board and invited me to class yesterday.
Thanks to one of the articles in the magazine, I had a pretty good start at how to talk about adoption. I started by asking the kids what does a mommy do? After the first kid answered, “DISHES!” I thought we might be in trouble, but pretty quickly they were back on track and named things like take care of you, feed you good food, give you hugs and kisses. Then we read the story A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza. It’s a great book about a little bird looking for a mother who looks like him, until he realizes that mothering is about what you do, not what you look like. As if scripted, one of the kids mentioned the word adoption when she took Choco home to meet her other kids.
When the book was over I said that I’d heard someone say the word adoption and asked if anyone knew what that meant. The kid who raised his hand said, “It’s when you take a kid, ummm….like from somewhere, and keep it.” While that may actually be the definition of kidnapping, we went with it and talked about how some kids needed a mom to do all those things that we talked about earlier. Then I told them that I do all those things for Ayub now. They all seemed pretty OK with that. I was pretty grateful that no one asked why his first mom couldn’t do those things, but after all, they are only five, so they took it at face value.(I skipped over my soapbox speech about Ethiopian adoption and ethical adoption practices…)
Next we moved on to talking about Ethiopia. I showed them Ethiopia on a map after one kid correctly stated that Ethiopia was in Africa. Impressive. Then I showed them pictures on my iPad of our trips to Ethiopia. I showed them the huts that people live in, showed them the animals we saw in Afar, and showed them pictures of Ayub on the day we met. They were pretty interested and asked some entertaining questions.
Finally, Ayub showed the class his pictures and told what he could about them. I filled in the details for him. He told them Ethiopian food was yucky. But he did enjoy telling them all about the camels, how to ride one, and where they walked. Note that I don’t know if any of this was true.
Overall, I would say it was a successful introduction to quite a few topics: adoption, Ethiopia, and, more subtly, race. At least now the other kids know that it’s okay to talk about these issues and ask questions. I would rather they find out good information than just wonder.