By: Shannon Ralph
So, I’ve been
obsessing thinking a lot lately about my eldest son’s all-too-near-future foray into middle school. I’m worried about him. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting Lucas, let me take a moment to describe my dear son.
Lucas is, well…he’s very much a product of his environment. Take one high-strung, work-her-ass-off, the-sky-is-always-falling lesbian, add a terminally laid-back, slacker, isn’t-that-falling-sky-a-gorgeous-shade-of-blue lesbian, throw in a couple of dysfunctional extended family members with addictive personalities, add a chubby blonde baby to the mix, and you get…Lucas!
Lucas is awesome. Really, he is an amazing kid and I adore him. But he is an enigma, of sorts. He is a math whiz, but struggles with reading and writing. He can remember the (every language BUT English) words to his entire choir repertoire, but can’t seem to remember to flush the toilet. Or change his underwear. Or bring home his homework. He gets nervous. Often. But not over the things you and I might get nervous about.
He is a sociable kid. He can stand up in front of a crowd of hundreds and sing beautifully without so much as hint of nervousness. But he freaks out if the bathroom sink drips. He struggles with anxiety. He doesn’t handle the unknown very well. He has to know what he should be doing at all times. He has to know how things will turn out. He has to know how every story ends. He has attention issues at times. He’s never been diagnosed with attention problems, but he tends to escape to his own thoughts a lot. He’s a thinker. He’s what used to be called a daydreamer. He’s not worldly like other boys his age. He’s a true innocent. Obnoxious, but innocent.
Come September, he will be thrown into a completely different world and I am worried. He has a good group of friends, so I am not so much worried about him being lonely. Or bullied. Or called names. That may happen, of course, but he has a core group of four good boys that he hangs out with. He’s not a loner.
No, I don’t harbor the “normal” parent middle school worries. My worries are irrational. Ridiculous, even.
• I worry that he will be unable to remember his locker combination and will start crying in the hallway—a turn of events that would mortify him.
• I worry that he won’t remember how to get from one classroom to the next without a kindergarten-style walk-with-your-finger-on-the-wall line of classmates.
• I am afraid that the clothes I pick out for him (because he does not care in the least about clothes and will put on whatever I hand him) will be a little too lesbian chic for 5th grade.
• I am afraid he will start speaking in lingo I don’t know and that I won’t be able to find an appropriate translator.
• I am afraid he will begin cursing and, being a less than stellar parent, I will laugh rather than react appropriately, thereby reinforcing a sailor’s mouth in my innocent little boy. And we all know that “shit” and “damn” are gateway words. Before long, my baby boy will be casually spouting the BIG ONES, and it’ll all be my fault because I reacted poorly in middle school.
• I am afraid he will not fit into any of the typical middle school cliques. He’s not truly a “geek/nerd” because he is a pretty dang social kid. He’s not really a “brainiac” because, while he is amazing at math, he can’t write a coherent sentence to save his life. He is in no way whatsoever a “jock.” He has neither the interest nor the ability to be athletic. He’s not really “preppy,” as he does not own a single piece of clothing manufactured by Hollister or Abercrombie (we are Target and Old Navy people up in here). He’s never been your typical rough-and-tumble boy. He’s just a regular kid. A good kid. I am hoping there is a group for that.
• His friends will find out that 1.) He cannot tie his shoes (seriously…he wears slip-on shoes all the time and has refused to learn to tie his shoes—though his six-year-old sister can tie hers), 2.) He still cannot ride a bike (and has no desire to learn, in part due to his anxiety), and 3.) He still sleeps with the stuffed “doggie” he’s had since birth.
• I worry that his homework is going to be beyond me. Fourth grade math is already pretty damn advanced for my tastes.
• I worry that he will stop climbing in bed with his mommas on the weekends. I love that time with him.
• I worry that girls will like him. He’s a handsome boy with gorgeous blue eyes and big dimples. He’s smart. Sociable. Kind. Gentle. He’s everything an eleven-year-old girl wants in a steady “boyfriend,” right? I am SO not ready for unworthy little hair-flipping, giggling, make-up-wearing wenches hanging on my son. See…there you go. I am not going to be good at this.
• I’m afraid he’ll get lost in the shuffle. An average kid amongst average kids. How will anyone know what an extraordinary child he is?
In the end, isn’t that what we all worry about as parents? Will the world be able to recognize the amazing potential that exists behind those radiant blue eyes? Will the world understand what a beautifully crafted, brilliantly original child we created? Will the world treat him as such?
I hope and pray.
By Meika Rouda
Lately I have been posed with the Do I mention my kids were adopted or not? quandry. I was at the dentist the other day and my hygienist who I have been seeing for the past few years was looking a little round in the belly. She is a little younger than me, smiley, always cheerful and I wanted to ask “are you pregnant?” but knew better. Maybe she had a huge lunch? Isn’t that what the celebs complain about when Star magazine says they are pregnant but really they just had a bowl of pasta and are bloated? Anyway, while my mouth was hanging open, I noticed the engagement ring on her finger and managed to say “You are engaged; congrats!” She smiled and said “and I’m having a baby in May.” She rubbed her belly. “I noticed you were a little rounder but didn’t want to say anything just in case.” She laughed. “I have had the strangest cravings! Licorice, something I don’t even like usually, I just can’t get enough. It is so strange. I feel like my body has been invaded.” She is talking to me while poking at my gums. I can’t say anything because I have a suction tube in my mouth so she continues. “And apples, this baby, oh he is a boy, he just loves apples. How were your pregnancies? Did you have any strange cravings?” This is when I have to think, do I just say “my pregnancies were easy”? (which they were since I never was pregnant). It is a half-ish truth but evades the issues. Or do I just say “I never was pregnant, we adopted both of our kids.” As is my tendency, I went with the latter. She looked at me and said “Oh- I forgot, you told me that before. So you did have easy pregnancies then!” And then inevitably the conversation switched from pregnancy to adoption. How long it took. How she knows a friend who has been waiting forever for a baby. How she knows someone who adopted form China. I wish we could just talk about pregnancy and not worry about that fact that I didn’t give birth. It isn’t a delicate subject to me but I can’t really explain that to my hygienist.
Later that same day I was at school picking up my son who I have mentioned before is tiny. As he was playing with another boy from his class on the playground, the boy’s mom said to me “he is so strong for being so small.” Kaden has mastered the monkey bars even though he is the size of a 3-year-old. It is amazing to watch him. “Yes, he is.” She turned to me and said “Well, you and Chris are tall so he will have had a growth spurt. At least you don’t have to worry.” Then of course I just had to pipe in and say “Actually, he may be small. Both of our kids were adopted and his birth mom was only 4’11″. ” She looks at me wide eyed and I realize she is shocked. It just never occurred to her that he was adopted and why should it? I didn’t mean to be so forthcoming; it is just the truth and I know my son will be in school with these kids for the next eight years so why not be straight up? Plus if I am coy about adoption that makes me feel like there is something to be ashamed of and I don’t feel that way. I feel like it is something to share and celebrate. So I am going to tell. Even if it makes people uncomfortable, that is their issue not mine.
By Brandy Black
I have been dreading these days, the final decision, the waiting and the lottery! I saw “Waiting for Superman” by myself and sat sobbing in the theatre. How could it have gotten this bad that we leave our children’s education up to chance? Private school might have been an option before the twins but now public is the logical choice and truthfully I’m a supporter of public schools. It is daunting making such impactful decisions. My wife is finally starting to catch up with all that has been weighing on me for the last 6 months. I have done my research -immersion, charter, magnets; I have finally navigated my way through the challenges, the tours, the applications and now, I wait. Wait for the day when we find out if our daughter is one of the lucky ones or if she waits patiently with a number for her fate. I envy the people who have real choices rather than chances. I lie awake at night burdened by this process until I remind myself that everything happens for a reason and things work out the way they should. I don’t think a worrier like me could get through life without understanding that. Our daughter thinks that she will make the choice. I tell her about the schools, the rules, the fun and inform her that once we “decide” she can give her final word. I’m not sure how I will finagle that if there is only one choice, but I’m prepared to cross that bridge later. It’s all about baby steps right now. Sleeping through the night is first on my list.
By Brandy Black
- Addressing issues about lesbian- or gay-headed families means that I will have to talk about sex in the classroom.
- I am uncomfortable using the words “gay” and “lesbian”.
- I don’t know what words to use when interacting with members of lesbian- and gay-headed families.
- I don’t know how to reconcile my personal beliefs with my responsibility to all the children and families in my classroom/school.
- I don’t know what resources on gay- and lesbian-headed families exist, or where to find them.
- Teachers and kids will think I am strange.
- Teachers and kids will treat me unfairly.
- My family and I will be called names.
- My family will not be included like other families in the school.
- My friends’ parents might not let their kids come over to my house to play or for a sleepover.
- Teachers and kids might think I will be lesbian or gay.
By: Wendy Rhein
I’ve been struggling with writing this all day. I have drafted more first, second, and seventh paragraphs than I care to admit and trashed them all. The truth is, my kid and many other kids I know were hurting last week and it infuriates me.
Last week I heard and endured several painful stories about how children interact and label each other. In my own life, and in the lives of no less than three friends in just seven days, I find myself thinking much too much about how kids treat those they consider different.
In one case, an older child, along for a playdate with a little one, felt the need to tell my friend’s child that not only was she adopted, but that her birth parents couldn’t take care of her and she was ‘given up’ so she would have a better life.
And then again, a young girl adopted by a single mom who sometimes joins her precocious daughter for lunch at school. Last week the mom was dismayed that children at a shared lunch room repeatedly asked her daughter why she doesn’t have a daddy, why she looks different from her mom, and told her that her “real” mom didn’t want her so she came to live here. Those are some pretty heady ideas for five-year-olds to come up with on their own.
Then there is the young teenage daughter of two wonderful dads who came home from the bus stop when she should have been on the bus heading to school. Through the tears and blood smudges, she told her stay-at-home dad about the teasing she endures daily about her “queer dads” and how on that particular day she had had enough. She said she knew better than to go to school having beaten the crap out of another girl in their neighborhood. She knew that she, not the offensive and mean-spirited girl, would be the one suspended.
And finally in my own family. This past week my first grader was studying Martin Luther King, Jr. and one of the boys in his class said that all King did was make white people and black people fight. He went on to say that King was just a troublemaker.
As a child of an African American father and Caucasian mother, Nathan sometimes questions his racial identity and I have left the label, if one is necessary, to come from him and not me. I tell him he is the best of both of us, that naming his color is not as important as remembering that he is more than white, more than black. He’s his own person.
I was so angry that this little 6 or 7-year-old child in my son’s public school classroom had that kind of power to cast doubt and darkness over the meaning of Dr. King’s work that I launched into an intensely personal and political conversation with Nathan. He learned what “racist” means, that even now people who will judge him, his brother, and many others by the color of their skin and not the content of their character; and we talked about the power of words to change the way people think. I was exhausted. We drifted in and out of different elements of the conversation for hours. I tried to balance his maturity and his age, what he was capable of absorbing and not wanting to scare him or worry him. He’s a thinker, a dweller, and he likes to have a lot of information once he latches on to a topic. But he is six. Just six!
After the lights were out for the night and the last tuck in and good night kisses were shared, he asked me if I knew people who thought that white people should stay with white people and black people with black people. I told him the truth, that yes, I have known those people. He was quiet for a little while. Then he said that if they had their way, we wouldn’t be a family. Not him, not Sam, not me. And that would be awful. Thank God they don’t, I told him.
I imagine that my friends whose stories I mentioned had similar, exhausting, and draining conversations with their kids this week. And I imagine that they all kissed their children goodnight, closed the bedroom doors, and then cried quietly for a while, trying to not wake our dearly loved children in rooms nearby. Hoping and praying that we said or did the right thing. And wondering how much therapy was going to cost us a few years down the road.
What amazes me is that we nontraditional families outnumber the traditional families with 2 parents of 2 genders and biological children. The tradition is no longer the norm. And yet these old ideas about what makes a family and the need to justify how we became a family and why our family is made up of a variety of colors and genders are playground and lunch room conversations among the under 10 set.
These ideas come from somewhere closer to home than a television show or movie. Some kids seem to need to separate “like me” and “others” into separate circles, and the like me circle is increasingly shrinking for those kids. I implore their parents and grandparents to open their own minds and circles so as to not close their children’s.
By: Danny Thomas
Today I walked to the end of the street,
to your bus stop
5 minutes early,
then walked home.
Yesterday you wanted to walk home alone.
I don’t know what to do today.
We didn’t talk about it this morning.
Watching you grow, letting it happen (as if I had a choice…),
Making it happen.
You are growing, brave and independent
I am so proud of that, so proud of you.
Still it’s hard to take the risk,
To let you take the risk.
I think one of the dichotomies of being a parent is that,
While you get to re-experience the joys of childhood
You also have to relive
Just how hard it is to be a child
When all this change,
this transience, is new.
I feel like, even at thirty-eight years old,
I am bewildered by this experience of growing up, growing old…
And how tough it is to try to make peace with the inexorable advance of time,
the ceaseless changes time puts us through…
And I have had nearly four decades to wrap my head around it.
Even while I see that experience refracted, at least, two more times, through my parents,
and through you, my dear Maya.
we’ll keep waiting for the bus together in the morning…
And I’ll keep finding some reason to be at the end of the driveway watching for you when you
Until time changes that too…