"Adoption 101 in Room 26"

When my son was deluged with adoption-related questions, we decided his classmates were ready for some "Adoption 101."

Mother and son teaching "Adoption 101"

My 10-year-old son, Ian, is intelligent, athletic, and drop-dead gorgeous. He is also biracial (African-American and Caucasian). Kids at school had brought up the subject of Ian’s “white” parents before, but, in fourth grade, the questioning began to invade Ian’s comfort zone.

After a particularly frustrating week, Ian and I met with his teacher, Ms. Smith. She asked Ian if he would like the opportunity to answer, on his terms, some questions his classmates might have. Ian was all ears, so the three of us decided it was time for Adoption 101 in Room 26!

Setting the Stage

Ms. Smith was wise enough not to send Ian to the front of the room unprepared. One day, she read All About Adoption, by Marc Nemiroff. The next day, she showed the class an educational video that placed adoptive families in the context of just another family configuration. [AF recommends That’s a Family!]

Introducing the students to the concept of adoption without specifically mentioning Ian helped set the stage for his day as star of the show.

Assuring Ian of His Right to Privacy

The purpose of the presentation was to educate Ian’s peers about adoption, and also to satisfy their curiosity about the subject. At the same time, I was concerned about protecting my son’s privacy. I wanted the presentation to focus on adoption in general, rather than on Ian’s birth mother and why she made an adoption plan.

Ms. Smith came up with a creative solution to avoid putting Ian on the spot. The week before the presentation, she had each student write down three questions about adoption as a homework assignment.

She compiled the most common, appropriate questions so that Ian could decide which ones he wanted to answer. After reading over the list, he chose every one — 14 in all!

That evening, Ian and I discussed how to answer each question. He wanted me to handle some of them, such as “How did your parents get you?” and “Why are some kids in orphanages?”

Ian wanted to tackle others himself, like “Does your family treat you differently?” and “Do you ever think/wonder about your birth parents?,” but we agreed that I would also expand on some of his answers.

The Big Day

After Ms. Smith introduced us, I broke the ice by reading our family’s favorite adoption book: Jamie Lee Curtis’ Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born. As I read, you could hear a pin drop. The kids were not just polite, but spellbound.

Then it was time for the question and answer session. Ian was in his element throughout the presentation. He answered the first set of questions on the list, then I took over as he stood next to me.

I was proud to see how clearly Ian’s sense of security in who he is and how he came to be a McIlvoy came through in his answers. Here are a few of the questions and answers from our presentation:

Question: How old were you when you were adopted?
Ian’s Response: I was a baby.

I explained that we met Ian the day he was born, but we still had to go to court months later to make his adoption legal.

Q: Do families tell their adopted children they were adopted?
Ian: I’m not sure if all families talk about adoption, but mine does.

I told the class that, nowadays, I believe most adoptive parents tell their kids they were adopted and where they came from.

Q: Do you like your parents?
Ian: No, not at all (he smiles, poking me in the ribs). Just kidding! Yes, I like them and I love them.

An Encouraging Response

After the presentation, Ms. Smith had each of her students mention one thing that they learned about adoption in a thank-you note to me and Ian. When I picked up Ian from school at the end of that day, Ms. Smith presented us with the packet of letters.

Here are a few things they had to say: “Adoption is a normal thing,” “Even if you are adopted and you have different skin colors, you are still a family,” and “When I am bigger, I’m going to adopt someone.” Their responses reassured us that the presentation’s message had come through.


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