I learn everything the hard way. Apparently this is my thing. I learn lessons by omissions, failures, neglect, and mistakes. Yay, me! Patsy Clairmont calls these “strict but faithful teachers” and they certainly are. I’m that student who needs them.
One thing I keep relearning each year as a mom to two adopted babes is that I am more than their mother: I am their advocate and community educator. I am their voice when they are in spaces outside our home. It is my responsibility to prepare teachers, coaches, friends’ parents, and church workers to best lead my kids. Because adoption and all the unique circumstances in parenting kids from hard places is second nature to me at this point, I sometimes forget that not everyone knows what I know. Our kids are so bright and lovely and appear so like their classmates on the outside, it is absolutely not instinctual to understand what is under the surface.
I’ve learned this the hard way by not giving the kids’ teachers the information they needed to protect their stories in a public school setting. This has resulted in tears, embarrassment, and awkwardness for my littles.
SO YEAR FOUR, I’M ON IT NOW. Be impressed.
I thought I would share with you the email I send their teachers at the beginning of the year which has been received beautifully time and again by our outstanding educators. They want our kids to thrive in their classrooms as much as we do; we are totally on the same team. This helps them with blind spots that are truly invisible to the naked eye.
(And while this letter to Remy’s teacher deals specifically with adoption-related issues, this same principle applies to any of our kiddos that learn differently, have emotional triggers, live in a non-traditional family, or have unique needs not easily detected or labeled. We are our kids’ advocates and their teachers are not clairvoyant; it is our job to help them understand and lead our children in the healthiest way possible.)
We are so excited about this school year! Thank you in advance for the zillions of hours you will invest in our kids the next nine months. We are grateful beyond words and promise to be entirely on your team this year.
While I have you, I wondered if I could put a small bug in your ear about Remy. We adopted Remy (and our 6th grade son Ben) four years ago from Ethiopia. The birthdays on their birth certificates were approximations. We changed her birthday but it is still entered as December on her paperwork. It is a real grief to her that no one knows when she was born. You can tell her “What a wonderful day to celebrate your life!” if she mentions it. She is the biggest celebrator of events I’ve ever known. She’ll probably start talking about her birthday in September. ;0)
The kids didn’t speak any English when they got here, so you will be pleasantly surprised how bright and sharp and caught up Remy is.
She asks so very many questions, mainly relating to time and calendaring and schedules. Thank you for your patience with her. Her life has been hard, and one of her issues is needing to constantly know what is going on and when and for how long. It is one area she can control, so her questions are endless. Please feel free to correct her like we do if she asks the same thing over and over: “Did we already talk about this?” or “What is your best answer to that question?”You can also help her learn to limit her questions, because we are trying to teach her some of the same self-control. Also, telling her up front what is going to happen and when is super helpful. This calms her down and reduces her anxiety.
She is an absolute dear. She doesn’t have one mean bone in her body. She will love you with a fierceness that might surprise you. Important adults left her at such a fragile age, so she clings quite tightly to adults who are supposed to love her. Goodbyes are devastating. She starts crying in March trying to get prepared to leave her teacher. Reciprocated affection from you is worth more than I can explain. Thank you for kindly receiving all her notes, letters, drawings, and gifts. She will give you approximately 100 million this year. Might want to rent a storage unit.
One thing I’d like to put on your radar is this: Please be sensitive with any assignments that have to do with family tree or heritage or “life stories” or even worse, “birth stories.” Remy’s story looks nothing like her classmates, and her childhood was marked by trauma. When other kids get to happily recount their early years, it is painful for her. If you could give me a heads-up on any projects that deal with her history or family history, I would so appreciate it.
It can be hard to be black in a white family, to be adopted when most kids are biological, to be Ethiopian when most kids are American. We instill much pride in her for her country and heritage (and would be so glad to come talk to your class about it!), but we try to not blindside her when she is not ready. We never want her to feel “other” or “lesser”, and sometimes school projects unintentionally alienate kids like Remy. Obviously, this applies to lots of kids in your class who don’t have traditional families. There is no “normal” anymore, so your sensitivity is so incredibly appreciated.
Thank you for keeping her history in the back of your mind. Because she is so delightful and darling, it is easy to forget that she came to us just four years ago from immense loss. We just want to treat her history with such care. I appreciate you so much in advance! I have enormous love for teachers, especially the ones who love my kids. ;0)