In honor of November's National Adoption Awareness Month, I have decided to post a piece written by Catherine Anderson, a 43-year-old anti-racist ally, single parent, poet, freelance writer, literary salon hostess, and public school language arts humanities teacher in Portland, Maine. She has been published in numerous print and online publications. Her transracial family came together through open domestic adoption and donor assisted conception, and she explores issues related to adoption, race, parenting, and many others through her writing and photography at Mama C and the Boys.
Although I am of the mind set that every waking moment has adoption awareness potential out there in the big world, in this particular post I am going to share with you my little attempt at reaching a new audience: a classroom of seven and eight year olds.
With the help of Adoptive Family Magazines guide to talking about adoption in the classroom, I took the plunge recently and went into Sam’s 2nd grade classroom to do a mini lesson. It took about twenty minutes, and according to Sam (the only opinion that matters in this case of course) I did a good job. With both teachers’ permission I was able to invite Marcel to watch too. Now he has twenty new best friends in 2nd grade–a total bonus as far as he’s concerned. Each age group is going to demand a different approach–but the one I took worked well for 2nd grade–and I would imagine for 1st grade too. The resource cited above, has tips and suggestions for whatever age you are presenting to.
When I asked Sam if he’d like me to come in and give a little talk on the topic he was all over it. It came up because the teacher sent home a letter asking for volunteers to come in and talk about rituals of importance in their family. I feel rather lame in the ritual department overall, and the ones we do, like jumping off docks together, don’t translate well into full class activities. So, I suggested adoption, since it is such an important part of our family story. I outlined the way the talk would go to the teacher, and what food I would bring to share at the end (pumpkin mini muffins). She thought the program looked very well suited for the class, and a morning slot was agreed upon.
With little “Baby Dexter” wrapped in a blanket on deck as my prop, I took the chair by the white board in front of twenty-one eager little faces on the rug in front of me.
“Hi everyone-I’m Catherine–Sam’s mom. Like your teacher, I’m a teacher too. But my most important job, is being Sam and Marcel’s mommy. I didn’t become a mommy until I met Sammy. How people become a family is why I am am here to talk to you today, and share something that we think is very, very important in our family: adoption”
A few eager hands went up volunteering their understanding of the word. It was sweet to see how many kids knew someone who was adopted, or had an adopted sibling, or cousin, or or adult extended family member. “Wow, this certainly is a room full of experts!” is a great line if you are not sure how to handle all the knowledge out there. “So you’ll really be able to help me and the friend I brought along to help me share our story..” This is where I reached down and got baby Dexter. He is a brown skin baby doll (that I got for Sammy before Marcel was born). Wrapped in a blanket I held like he was alive, and asked if the class thought they would be able to pass him gently and quietly from friend to friend as we came up with some very important answers to a few questions Dexter had for the class.
Question one: What do babies need? I held up a sign with those words which they read out loud, and then we took turns adding things to the list. Admittedly a little hard to engage, and write while sitting on a chair that is only eight inches from the ground–but I managed. “Milk, food, toys, warmth, clothing, love, hugs, a home, visits to the doctor, medicine…” and of course parents. After praising the kids for their continued expertise on being great older brothers or sisters or cousins or friends, we went on to “What parents do.” The kids easily volunteered all the right answers; “Feed the baby, love it, change it’s poopy diapers!! Ewwwww!” If they got stuck, I just went back to the baby list to prompt them. At the end I made sure to add: “Parents to bring them into the world”.
So when Baby Dexter’s parents had him, and they were able to look at both these lists, they realized that they would not be able to give him everything a baby needs. They realized they were not in a place in their lives where they could manage to do all the things a parent needs to do. This was the hardest choice they could ever make, but they did. They got helping finding a mommy who could be his everyday mommy in my case. Some families have two mommies, some have a mommy and a daddy, some have a grampy and a mommy, and an uncle…
At this point I went on about how lucky Baby Dexter is, because he has a mommy and a daddy who loved him so much to bring him into the world, and who still love him very much, and will always be part of his life who are his real parents. He also has an everyday mommy who gets to do all the things a parent does everyday too, and that means I am his real mommy too! (Sam specifically asked me to address the–Are you his real mommy-language. He said that kids asked him that a lot.) With Baby Dexter safely back in the satchel, and my eager learners transitioned back to their desks, I ended the talk with a read of “Tell Me Again About the Night I was Born” using a document reader and a smart board! (OK, so just holding the book would have worked for me, but the kids needed to move to a new setting after fifteen minutes on the floor. ) They loved the book. It is one of Sam’s all time faves too.
I left handing the teacher a box of muffins for their snack time in a few minutes, and a pile of handouts for the kids take home folders also from Adoptive Families Magazine called; “Talking to classmates about adoption” with a little note on the top from me saying; “Hi this is from Sammy’s mom, to help you if your kiddos have any questions about the talk I gave today.” It’s a great two sided sheet with lots of tips and positive adoption language. I left feeling tremendous that a few new allies were in the making, and Sam felt just a little easier within his beautiful brown adopted skin in school today.