Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Upside of the Family Tree Assignment

I've been thinking a lot about this family tree/family heritage assignment.  As I do, I've thought of a few positive things about it, especially coming at this age, and for this kid.

When our son was in 3rd grade and having similar assignments, he'd just been with us a year.  He is also much more reluctant to talk about his past, and has a lot more trouble expressing his emotions, much less analyzing them.  So with him, we simply let him do a timeline of the one year he'd been with us for the timeline project, and put together a rudimentary tree of our family without any in depth analysis.

Our daughter is starting her 4th year with us, and has always been more equipped to analyze herself and her feelings about her past.  For Linden, I think we will be able to use this assignment as a way to open up some conversations.  If we do the root-and-branches adaptation of a family tree, we will still have very little information about her "roots," but we can put in what we know, and talk a bit about the grandfather they lived with when they were babies as well as siblings.  We can talk about the mystery of birth dads and some more about the life of their birth mom.  This will be a great reason to pull out their books of photos of their birth certificates, hometown, and orphanage, and for me to pull down the further documentation I have stashed in the closet and let them look through it.

They have a sister living in their home country, whom we have had very little contact with, but whom Linden thinks about and talks about from time to time.  This assignment will give me a kick in the rear to reach out to her and her family again, to try to build a bond between the siblings.

We are fortunate in that my grandfather was from my kids' country.  (Well, it's not a coincidence, and was also an asset in the adoption process.)  So the assignment that involves researching your ancestors' culture will work both in a bio- and adopted- family way.  We can share the research, as is the intention.  I sometimes wonder if my kids and I are distantly related by blood--it's a small country, so it's possible, if unlikely.  My kids recently worked out that the fact that their dad is a descendent of Ben Franklin does not make them descendents of him, which was disappointing.  Maybe knowing that their cultural history matches mine will help them feel connected in some way.

I'm hopeful that Oak will also get interested in what we're doing and talking about.  Having it be his sister's assignment might actually make it easier for him to express interest.  I'm picturing family conversations that grow naturally out of our exploration of the past.  We do bring all of this up periodically, but the structure and depth of the assignment might be a good tool for extending our conversations and giving the kids information appropriate to their current stages of development.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Family Tree

No, I haven't died.

Yes, life has been busy.

Also, I started a book blog this summer, so my writing time/energy/mojo has all been going to that.

But then something happened that I wanted to write about, and it's more adoption related than book related, so here I am.

I went back to school this week--well, last week, counting setting up your classroom and going to boring meetings inservice week.  My kids go to school in a different district, so they don't start until next Tuesday.  A few days ago, we did their meet-your-teacher-and-drop-off-supplies events.  Oak is still in the behavior classroom at a different school, and his teacher is totally cool with his various issues.  Oak is also reassured to be returning to a familiar teacher and classroom.  All change is seen as potentially lethal, so the last week before school starts (and the first week or two of school) tend to be, um, challenging for all of us.  This year we're at -3 days in the countdown, and he's still doing okay, so yay for Mr. Nelson and the EBD classroom.

Linden is still at our neighborhood school, where everyone knows all four of us pretty darn well at this point.  I love the principal, and just hope she stays there until Linden moves on in a few years.  The decision to move Oak to a different program came with a lot of tears on her staff's part; they were willing to work with him, but realized they were not able to give him enough academic supports to make the constant disruptions worthwhile for anyone.  So I know this school has my family's back.  Therefore, I was a little taken aback to be handed the 3rd grade's first assignment packet.

  1. Make a family tree.
  2. Interview a grandparent about your ancestors
  3. Research and present on your ancestors' culture, including dress, food, religion, etc.

I know enough now to know that it is not just my kid who will be thrown by this.  What about single parent families?  Families with toxic grandparents?  What about African Americans who have no way of knowing their country of origin?  The thing is, I'm sure the teacher will allow kids to adapt the assignments if they need to, but why isn't the assignment already differentiated, so everyone can choose to learn the skills in a way that's approachable, instead of having to feel singled out and awkward by asking for permission to adapt it?  

So I'm gathering my resources and crafting my letter to the teacher.  As a teacher myself, I sure don't want to start our yearlong partnership off by pissing her off, which I could do by sounding judgmental (like it the paragraph above) or like I'm telling her her job.  But I want to not just advocate for my kid, but encourage the teacher (or the 3rd grade staff at our building) to think about how else they can present this unit so ALL kids can get involved without parents having to do all this pre-work.  

Again, as a teacher, I know nobody is ill-intentioned.  I run a lot of what I say and do in the classroom through the filter of "how would this sound to my kids?", and it's embarrassing how often the filter actually makes me change how I present something.  Like all forms of privilege, coming from a two parent family means that becomes your default image for how the world is.  I should know better, and I still slip up, so I understand how another privileged person can be oblivious.  Still, the responsibility always remains to educate yourself and to recognize your bias.  I guess this is my chance to help my daughter's teacher grow!