Monday, February 16, 2015

"Why didn't your mom want you?" And other classroom chatter

Last week, I helped in my son's classroom for their Valentine party, making me privy to lots of classroom chatter. The casual atmosphere of a party often makes first graders say whatever is on their minds. Heck, they're first graders. They'll always say whatever is on their minds.

That's why my ears perked up when a girl said to a boy, "Why were you adopted? I'm glad I wasn't adopted."

I couldn't help but intervene.

"Oh, you're adopted?" I said to the boy. "My son is adopted, too. Did you know that?"

He nodded with a  smile. 

"Being adopted is awesome," I said, a phrase I've often used in my house.

"Why?" the little girl asked. Here was my opportunity to educate her about the awesomeness of adoption. To influence one more person in the world about the beauty that can come from it. As those large, inquisitive eyes blinked at me, ready for an answer, I was momentarily stunned into silence.

Why is adoption so awesome? I thought, in those seconds.

Both my boys are adopted and in both cases, our experiences have been miraculously wonderful. Not necessarily perfect. Not without the stumbling that inevitably accompanies anything human. (Or anything involving me. I stumble a lot.) But, on the whole, so overwhelmingly positive.

How would I manage to take the all-encompassing love, miracles, anticipation, joy, confusion, heartbreak, and overall beauty of my experience with adoption, condense it into a glowing orb of brilliance, and just hand it to the girl, saying, "Here you go. Love this as much as I do."

"Well," I stammered, still hoping to answer her simple question, "because you have lots of people who love you."

The girl continued her line of questioning to her classmate. "Why didn't your mom want you?"


I looked around the classroom. My son was busily cutting out paper hearts, away from this conversation. Good.

I'd heard this question before. That is to say, I'd heard of this question. And part of me knows why children ask it. I remember being that age and having a primal fear of being lost. Given away. Kidnapped. Not wanted. In a child's mind, adoption must be like one of those things.

Still, I wanted to influence her in that moment. But I wanted too much. I wanted her to love birth moms. I wanted her to know that their decision was the hardest thing they have ever done and that they thought only of their child. I wanted her to know they chose adoption out of the very essence of love, not because they didn't want their babies. I wanted to protect the boy being questioned, protect my son from these kinds of questions, protect all adopted children from believing they are anything "less than."

But I can't do that. No more than I can hand out glowing orbs of brilliance.

"My birth mom did want me," the boy said, completely unfazed.

I was impressed. His parents had obviously taught him well and had equipped him with an unflinching sense of self, which is, I believe, what every parent wants for their child. In addition, he'd instinctively replaced his answer with the term 'birth mom,' even though that wasn't how the question was put to him.

Later, as in five minutes, the teacher introduced me to the boy's mom, who also happened to be helping out in the classroom that day.

We chatted and I told her about what I'd just overheard. I added, "It sounds like we need to do some educating about adoption."

"I don't know," she said with the same worry-free attitude of her son. "Kids will say whatever they want. I just make sure my son knows all the facts. That way he won't worry when people say things."

"Well, you're doing a great job," I told her. At the same time, I couldn't help but feel slightly rebuked. Not by the boy's mom, but by myself.

Am I doing something wrong? Is my desire to educate everyone around me obnoxious? Is it even possible? Am I seeking to 'change the world' rather than influence my own sons?

Immediately, I thought about an article I'd read in the Huffington Post some weeks ago, which offered a mantra that has become my own:

"We need to prepare our children for the road, not the road for our children."

What more perfect opportunity to live by this advice? Yet, I wasn't.

That mom was doing what I want to be doing, what I should be doing more of: Focusing on my sons and the things I teach them, not protecting them from what those around them might say.

We speak openly of adoption in our house. And we speak so affectionately of their birth moms. We treat adoption as something special, because it is. But, is there a chance that we are SO positive about it that one day my sons will be shell-shocked when they realize that not everyone is? That some people might even be mean to them about it?

That night, I said to my first grader, "Is adoption cool or not cool?"

"Cool," he said, without pause.

"Are there some people out there who might think it's not cool?"


"Does it matter what those people think?"

"No," he said.

I have no idea if this was the right thing to say to him, but I went with my gut, which hasn't failed me miserably yet. Little by little, we'll keep the conversations about adoption open and honest. We'll keep the focus on preparing them for the road, not the reverse.

Even better than handing out imaginary orbs of brilliance will be sending my sons out into the world with the confidence that they'll be able to handle the situations they're confronted with, adoption-wise and otherwise. If they can manage this, they'll be the best ambassadors of adoption I could ever hope to offer the world.


  1. This is lovely, Shelli. I'm in awe of you and your character. Will you adopt me too? Xoxo

  2. You are always so thoughtful and insightful, I love hearing you "think". And as someone who is often woefully uninformed, I could use more illumination from kind folk like you.