Saturday, March 10, 2001

Baby pictures, family trees

Call us lucky: Somehow, we have missed the dreaded "baby picture" and "family tree" assignments that send so many adoptive families into tizzies. Some parents protest the fact that their child should be given any assignment that they can't complete due to the very circumstances of their birth; some get creative and adapt the assignment to those circumstances, resulting in projects that may not relate very closely to the original purpose of the assignment, but get child and parent off the hook. Either way, it's an awful lot of ado over an exercise that doesn't have all that much academic value to begin with.

As I say, we've been lucky. The only time anything along these lines has come up was during our kids' first few months home, when my daughter's 5th birthday came up and her preschool teacher told me how the kids usually mark that day. Usually, she said, they would bring in baby pictures. She felt the awkwardness of that request in our case, and said we were perfectly entitled to not bring in pictures at all, or bring in different pictures, or talk about the adoption, or not talk about the adoption. As it turned out, I made up a little poster with pictures from Elena's first months home, and she shared that with the class. Of course, at the time, she spoke and understood very little English, so she couldn't hear if anyone made a rude comment or asked, "But where are your baby pictures?" I suspect the whole thing sort of rolled by her without much understanding.

That's still a problem. My daughter's 10 now, still significantly language delayed and comprehension compromised, and I can't say that she understands adoption all that much better than she did at 5. We talk about it, but I can see the words going over her head, brushing back her hairline a little but otherwise leaving her unruffled. It's an awfully abstract concept, adoption, and my girl is the Queen of Concrete. Could she, even now, get up in front of a classroom and explain the joyous story of her adoption? I don't see it.

Not to mention the fact that getting her to do an assignment differently than the rest of the class, and differently than the teacher outlined, would be difficult, difficult. Her great strengths in moving from self-contained special-ed to a mainstream class have been her desire to fit in and please the teacher. We have had homework battles wherein it is clear to her Papa and me that the math problems should be done one way, but she is so certain that the teacher said to do them differently that she is willing to do far more work to please her. The thought of possibly doing them another way had her trembling. So to say, "Honey, I know your teacher talked about bringing in baby pictures, and your friends are all bringing in baby pictures, but since you don't have any baby pictures, we're going to do something completely different but very special for special you," would not likely meet with approval. More likely, tears.

So I hope those assignments hold off. Maybe because our school district is seeing an increasing mix of ethnic groups and family situations, the curriculum committee has put the kibosh on "this is what children look like, this is what families look like" assignments. And hurrah for that. But if one does slip through, to tell the truth, I'd still feel somewhat lucky to be an adoptive parent and have an excuse to give it a skip. Because knowing me, if I had actually given birth to a child, I probably wouldn't be able to find where I'd stashed all those baby pictures anyway.

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