Dear Kindergarten Teacher-
I am so not ready for back to school. So, so not ready. I wonder if you feel the same. As I scramble to get my kids ready for the first day of school, I imagine you’re doing the same thing. You’re probably setting up your classroom, wondering what the school year will hold, prepping lots of lessons and probably making room in your cabinets for the 2,458 glue sticks that your little army of 5-year-olds will schlep into your classroom in their brand new backpacks.
When my kids went to Pre-K last year, it didn’t occur to me to talk to their teacher about adoption. My kids have been with my family long enough for me to think of them as simply my kids. I don’t think of them as my adopted kids but sometimes I forget how our family appears to people who don’t know us. My boys are Asian. I am a pasty white redhead with blue eyes.
My children are close in age and often get mistaken for twins. Understandable, but I’m quick to correct anyone who asks. I teach my kids to be honest and to be proud of who they are…and they are not twins.
Last year, I heard a teacher refer to my boys as “the twins.” I smiled and said: “A lot of people mistake them for twins but they’re actually four months apart.”
This teacher made an “I’m so confused” face and said: “I don’t get it. How does that even happen?”
I’m afraid my reaction was pretty immature. I gave her a look that clearly said “you’re so clueless” and walked away. My relationship with that teacher was strained for the rest of the year.
I don’t want that for us.
This year, I want to start off on the right foot. Since you are going to be spending more hours of the day with my kids than I am, I want you to know them and I want you to know what makes our family special.
My children were adopted as toddlers. Although they don’t remember a time when they weren’t part of our family, there are some lingering issues that stem from living their early lives in an institutional setting. They have medical problems that went untreated and there were far too many nights they went to bed hungry, without a mother to tuck them in. For the most part, they are happy, healthy and well-adjusted now, although their anxious attachment to me is probably rooted in their not-so-great beginnings. If they seem worried that I won’t be there at the end of the day to get them at first, please realize that in some part of their minds, they might remember a time when no one was there for them.
I don’t expect you to be an expert in “adoption speak.” I really try not to be overly touchy but I ask that you please be sensitive to the use of the word “real” especially as the other kids in the class might start to realize my kids and I don’t match. I am their real mother and they are my real children. And they are real brothers. Come to our house and watch them battle over the 60 zillion Legos and Lincoln Logs that are strewn all over their bedroom floor and you’ll see how real it gets.
Although I don’t tell everyone I meet this, my children’s birth mothers abandoned them and we have zero information about their DNA or how they came into this world. You might have other adopted students whose birth parents are part of their lives. Everyone’s adoption story is different. Since you’re going to be part of my children’s lives this year, I wanted you to know a bit of our story.
My children are still learning their stories and how to process how they came to be in our family. We talk openly about adoption at our house but they don’t fully understand what all of that means. They understand that babies grow inside a mother’s tummy but when I try to explain they grew inside another mommy’s tummy…well, they don’t quite grasp it yet. They will soon enough, and if I’m not there to stick up for them when another kid taunts them about being adopted or being different, I trust you to act in my place. That’s a big deal.
I admire your patience and dedication. I know your salary is far less than what you deserve and I know it’s probably hard to always keep a smile plastered on your face when us parents are complaining about school supplies and in-service days. And while I’m the last parent on the planet that will tell you how to do your job, please consider the feelings of our family when you plan assignments involving genealogy or baby pictures. These are potentially sensitive subjects for my children and something as innocent as “bring a baby picture to school on Thursday” or “let’s draw our family tree” might bring on a conversation with my child that I don’t think we’re ready to have yet. We adopted the boys when they were 2 and 3, respectively. We have precious little baby pictures and the ones we do have show the inside of an orphanage and we won’t be bringing those for show and tell.
My kids are excited to meet you. Although their beginnings are probably different than most of your other students, their joy over the simple things associated with school – riding the bus, a new box of crayons, and seeing their friends – are just the same as everyone else.
I trust you with my kids but I also trust enough to give you a peek behind the curtain of our lives. While I am normally the mom who is quick with the MYOB about adoption questions, you will probably be the person who influences my children the most over the next nine months. I am inviting you to ask me anything you want about my boys and I promise to take it as a sign of interest, not nosiness.
I hope it’s a great year. Thank you for what you do.
P.S. What is up with all that glue, anyway?
Jill Robbins writes about adoption, motherhood and midlife on her blog, Ripped Jeans and Bifocals. She has a degree in social psychology that she uses to try and make sense out of the behavior of her husband and children, but it hasn’t really helped so far. You can follow Jill on Facebook and Twitter.
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