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What They’ll Talk About When They Talk about Love and Family

IMG_8146One of the things that Saskia’s kindergarten-first grade classroom does this year is to study families. This Family Study curriculum has me nervous.

I’ve heard that it’s hard to talk about your “different” family structure sometimes and have it seem anything other than “different” in this study unit. Note: we live in a very lesbian-friendly little city and while it’s not the most diverse place in the world, it’s not the least diverse place in the world, either. It is a place that loves its own quirkiness and believes in difference. Even the radio station touts itself with this phrase: “Different is Good.”

In her class, there is at least one other adopted friend. There are at least a couple of blended families or two-household situations. Saskia’s teacher is divorced and has one child, now in college. She won’t be anomalous when she talks about her family’s structure.

Cut to last year when the preschool version of a venue for family sharing arose through the Star of the Week. Each kid is, yes, Star of the Week during the course of the school year. Special things happen, like you fill out a book about yourself and your family can come in for sharing. If you had a pet, you could bring your pet, too. You have photographs from home on a bulletin board and tell about them when your parents come in to class. Each time something like this happens—Star of the Week or the fifth grade Lifeline or the graduation slideshow—I realize I don’t have well-organized photos and now that I have a digital camera, I have hardly any printed photos at all. I had to print some for Star of the Week. And actually, then I realize I should be printing photos so much more often—for Caroline and the grandparents. It’s like a If You Give a Mouse a Cookie scenario, these projects that require photographs. Down the rabbit hole of what you haven’t done right you go.

Anyway, the point of the Star of the Week here isn’t my failing as a photograph provider, it’s that Saskia wasn’t all that into the book project. I didn’t worry about that since years earlier her next biggest brother Remy refused to engage much with the book part. I didn’t feel at all surprised when the big occasion of both parents coming to class with her rendered her a silent clingster on the couch between us. We don’t go to school events the three of us all that often (remember, she’s the fourth of four; we rarely carve out that kind of time, because we really can’t). Was I a little surprised that she didn’t bring up or want to bring up anything about adoption? At that moment, I wasn’t surprised since she had recently told me she wished she’d been inside my tummy. Was I surprised that we kept our talk in front of the class time brief and didn’t really bring up adoption? I was a little surprised, yes. On the photographic array, there was a picture of Saskia and her Auntie Cece, though. Saskia named her. And on we went.

So, that’s to say I felt accommodating in the moment and comfortable enough last year—in part because I knew adoption came up during other people’s Star of the Week presentations. However, this year, with families as the focus (as opposed to shower the preschooler with love and attention) I want to do our part better and I want to be sure that the class study goes better. During the initial parent-teacher night, the teacher didn’t delve into difference, except to acknowledge that he wants to study all kinds of family structures. At the parent night, he mentioned interest in videos or books.

I could write a bunch about how there are picture books about adoption and yet so far none about open adoption. Those mothers are just … invisible. It’s not our story and I wish our story splashed across some thick and colorful and happy pages. There are books about adoption, from Jamie Lee Curtis’ Tell Me Again about the Night I was Born to Chih Yuan-Chen’s Guji Guji. I haven’t actively looked for new picture books about adoption for a while, so I will do that before the family study and ask around. In anticipation (anxiety-tinged, I’ll admit it) of this unit, I’ll probably go in and ask the teacher about how he will talk about things like lesbian and gay parents and divorce and adoption. Done right, the family study unit is of course a fantastic opportunity for all.

To read more Brain, Child essays on adoption, purchase our adoption-themed bundle.

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This entry was written by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

About the author: Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Brain, Child Magazine, and Salon, amongst others. Follow her on twitter–@standshadows.

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

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