Yesterday was the first day of school in Tulsa, and we had one of the easiest back to school weeks ever. I’m knocking on wood as I type this. I’m a fan of school. I miss going back to school myself. I might head back to grad school soon for no other reason than I just want to learn new stuff. Having said that, there are a few things about school that are issues for us each year. We put tremendous pressure on teachers in our country, and in my state we pay them abysmally, so I don’t want to make it harder, but that’s exactly, sadly, what I’m about to do.
Seemingly sweet “get to know you” assignments that involve baby photos or explaining why your parents named you what they named you (two actual assignments I’ve seen in my Facebook feed since school started) are really uncomfortable for foster/adoptive kiddos/families. So are genealogy projects. And, family “heritage” projects. And, Mother’s Day gifts made by your kiddo when you’re the foster mom, and their bio mom hasn’t made it to a visitation for 6 months. Or Father’s Day gifts made by your kiddo when they have no father (I adopted as a single person. My kids don’t have an adoptive father).
For example, I have zero baby photos of my kids. I’ve tried to get some from the bio family, but it’s never happened. And, as far as why they were named what they were named, all the reasons I actually know of are really sad, and I wouldn’t even want my kids to know them much less their new classmates. I have one kiddo who was named after his bio father, right before the bio father promptly abandoned him forever, for example. I literally know of children whose first names had to be changed when they were adopted, even though they were older, because their names were Marijuana and Chlamydia. As far as genealogy or family heritage, about the only thing I have to go on is the Department of Corrections website where I can find all the vital statistics and full legal name of my kids’ bio parents. There is no way to explain that in any kind of feasible way to 4th graders. In the words of my super smart fellow adoptive parent friend, Sundra, there is no adoption story, whatever the situation, that doesn’t have a lot of pain and abandonment attached to it.
So, again, I don’t want to make things harder. Teachers cannot possibly allow for everything that might be painful for a kiddo. But offering some options might help. For Mother’s Day, help the kids make a gift for the person who nurtures them, whether that’s a grandparent, guardian, father, or someone else. As an option to baby photos, kids can bring a photo of themselves at a proud moment or a photo they just really like. A kiddo can look up the meaning of his name or discuss someone in his world he respects who also has his name, or some such other option that doesn’t further traumatize/marginalize kiddos. Discussions about genealogy or heritage are tougher. As soon as my black children stand up and say their (adoptive) family is Irish and German, that’s just going to create lots of questions they likely won’t be excited to answer. And, I frankly don’t know their biological family’s heritage, so I’d just have to make stuff up, which I’m not going to do. Sorry I can’t be more helpful here. If you have ideas, please post them below.
And, when you get right down to it, there are lots of families for whom these kinds of assignments, though well-meaning, could be sensitive. Bad stuff happens in life (divorce, death, incarceration, drug addiction, abandonment, to name a few) that kiddos don’t want to announce in front of the class or even write about to their teacher. One of my kiddos landed in psychiatric care after some serious bullying that was the result of her opening up about her background to a 6th grade friend who did not have the maturity or context to understand what she was hearing. So, again these assignments are well-meaning but have the potential to marginalize and traumatize kids.
So, on that note, again, I really appreciate great teachers! And, in Oklahoma, my home state, we pay them virtually nothing and expect them to hurl their bodies on top of our kids during tornadoes. They’re heroes until they ask to be paid a living wage, and then they’re just parasites living off the government teat, but that’s another post. Happy back to school, everyone!
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