Yesterday was a fun day at Pkin’s school. Though Thanksgiving is still a couple weeks away, yesterday was the special Thanksgiving lunch where parents and other family and friends (though usually just parents) come to share a cafeteria meal of Thanksgiving goodies (I know you are picturing those canned green beans you remember from your childhood. They were exactly the same.)
This is not the first time I’ve been to Pkin’s school. I actually visit a few times a year and volunteer for a number of PTA activities (was even on the PTA board last year). So, I was taken a bit by surprise by some of the conversations my presence ended up creating yesterday. Apparently, sometime between 1st and 2nd grade is when children get a sense of race and difference as well as a very cursory understanding of adoption. Good to know.
I was asked no fewer than 4 times if I was Pkin’s babysitter. When I told the questioners that I was her mom, I got a variety of responses. One boy, the first who asked while we were waiting in line for our food, simply gave us a curious look and then turned around to get his turkey.
The second time came after we sat down at the lunch table. The girl sitting next to us, someone who knows us fairly well from Girl Scouts, had many additional questions though. She shared that she always thought families couldn’t be different. I explained that families could be lots of things — some are the same, some are different, and some are everything in between. She then told me about her aunt who is Korean and how that means her family is different too (this girl is African American). I told her that was exactly right.
She then asked me how something like that happened. So, we talked about how her aunt entered her family and how Pkin entered ours. She was pleased to announce that she now knew families could be all kinds of things, which I applauded.
That conversation rambled down many other paths before we were finished: why we adopted (Did you want to save money? Did you not want to go to the hospital?), what she knows about her mother’s time in the hospital, what it means to be pregnant, at what point you aren’t pregnant anymore…luckily we never got into how you get pregnant in the first place.
When we got out to the playground after lunch for recess, we had many more conversations (I was one of the only parents who stayed, which automatically means I became part of the playground equipment for the kids).
The third asker simply accepted my answer and told me his family was from Peru. I told him I had never been to Peru, but would really like to visit as I don’t know much about the country. He told me it was really nice, then asked me to help him flip over the bar.
The next asked a follow up question, “Is she adopted?” I said “Yes” and that was that. Then, of course, other kids picked up on the question and asked again (I suppose because they each wanted a chance to ask on their own). I answered them all and they continued on their way across the monkey bars.
Just when I thought all was well, I heard a conversation going on behind me. One girl, who I had just been told was a bully by another child, was explaining to few other children that Pkin being adopted meant that her mother didn’t like her and didn’t want to take care of her so we got her. My heart jumped to my throat and I honestly thought to myself, “Oh shit!” As I did the momentary brain gymnastics about how to best address this comment without drawing undo attention to it (most of the children were not involved in the conversation and hadn’t heard it), I was actually helped out by the same girl. She asked me why Pkin had been adopted.
This gave me an opportunity to explain, unfortunately in the most general terms because of a child’s attention span during recess, some of what goes into an adoption.
The academic in me certainly knows that the entire endeavor is far more complicated than I was able to convey, but the mom in me thought it worked out OK under the circumstances. I went straight from that conversation to Pkin’s teacher to let her know about my lunchtime conversations (in case it came up in class later). And, of course, I immediately started planning how I would develop a program to talk about adoption and other formulations of family to other students at her school.
I’m still planning. It is not easy, especially since Pkin is not the sort of child who wants to be the center of attention. And I wouldn’t want her to be. Adoption is much bigger than my daughter and I would never dream of making her the poster child for a school of children with all sorts of family forms. I get that some parents can do that and their children love it. It just definitely is not for us.
Sometimes it is damn hard to be an academic who writes about and studies adoption and part of a family formed through adoption at the same time. Geez!