Monday, February 7, 2011

"You're Adopted"

Duzi and I had an interesting experience in his Kindergarten classroom this morning. Every Monday morning, I volunteer to help with centers. For the third time this year, one little boy in the class felt the need to announce loudly to me, within earshot of Duzi,

 “I know Duzi is adopted. My mom told me Duzi is adopted. You just adopted Duzi.” 

This particular kid is actually very sweet, very innocent, and also very precocious. The first time he announced Duzi’s status as an adopted kid to his fellow Kindergartners, I patiently smiled and replied,

“Yes, Duzi is adopted. He has a mommy and daddy, just like you!”

He also told me he wanted to have Duzi over for a play date. The second time this kiddo mentioned this information loudly during class, I dismissed it, chalking up his comments to the fact that Duzi was probably the first adopted child he had ever met, if not the first black child. Today, though, when he announced the exact same thing, several other kids chimed in, saying things like, “I didn’t know that!” and “What’s adopted?”  This time, I was supremely annoyed.

Duzi heard the whole conversation and reacted by coming over to the table I was at and demanding, with a gleam in his eye,  

“Why didn’t you tell me that?”

He was making his silly-crazy-I want a laugh-face, which told me he didn’t know how to navigate the situation and that he felt really uncomfortable. He is obviously aware that we are an adoptive family. This wasn’t news to him. He was being sarcastic (evidence that he is a Howerton).

I had to smile at my son. If he could articulate his thoughts like a grown-up, I think they would read like this, “Duh! Of COURSE I’m adopted! Thank you SO much for stating the obvious. I am already aware of this fact and so is my mom. I don’t know you very well so, when you announce this to the class over and over again, I feel marginalized and SUPER PISSED.”

I might be projecting my own thoughts here.

I ended up hugging Duz and kissing him 10 times on the lips right before suggesting kindly to my table that they not report things about one another to the class, that they should only share their own news.

When I tucked Duzi in to bed tonight, he remarked, very seriously,

“Mom, everyone thinks I’m new.”

We talked for a long while and in his Kindergartner way, he expressed how frustrated he feels when people single him out, whether it be for positive attention or negative. We talked about how he used to be new to America, to Washington, to his family – but that now he is not new. He’s a son, a brother, a grandson, a cousin and a student. He belongs here.

He’s ready to be treated like any other American kid.

I understand that I cannot expect other, non-adopted 6-year olds to innately understand how a simple declaration about adoption can make an adoptee feel stigmatized and inferior. I don’t think this little boy meant to hurt anyone’s feelings. 

I’m debating whether or not to call the little boy’s mother and invite her over so we can chat about the whole thing over coffee. I think I will. When I think about what I knew and didn’t know about adoption 5 years ago, even 1 year ago, I only have kind thoughts about this family.

In the meantime, I’m trusting that God’s grace is vast enough to protect my little man’s heart.


  1. cannot even tell you how many times this has happened this school year for us as well.
    so frustrating.
    love you.. navigating the same roads...
    and you are doing a fabulous job.

  2. Thanks for sharing. I am just starting to run into these situations as we start the adoption process with our two boys (ages 3 & 4).

  3. Jodie- You are a super mom. Way to help him process so healthily. You Rock!

  4. Even though we "just" have a step-parent adoption, I totally get this. Our daughter's last name changed over the summer due to my husband adopting her. When she came back to school she proudly announced that her Daddy adopted her, to which one of the kids loudly exclaimed "You come from the pound?" Ouch.

  5. I wonder if you could talk to the class about adoption. Even though the child seems nice and sweet, the parents aren't always. Going to them might just put them on the defensive. Such a tough road to negotiate. Just from reading your blog though I can tell you are a great mom and I am sure whatever you choose to do will make your son feel great, which is really all that matters.
    Good Luck.

    Jennifer from CA

  6. Hmm, I'd have to agree with Jennifer. It might be nice to address the adoption topic with the whole class. Maybe you could read an appropriate book about adoption and have time to talk about it as a group afterwards--if Duzi would be comfortable with that.

    Otherwise, if you know the child's parents and know they would be open to talking about it with you, that might work. If you don't know them though, I'd have to agree with Jennifer that I think they might be put on the defense--even if they truly do agree with you and understand where you're coming from.

  7. My kids are a little older than yours. My daughter, now in 4th grade, was adopted as an infant. Each year, she has asked me to come in and talk to her class. I come in and tell the story of her adoption, and then open it up to questions. I always tell the kids that my daughter has the final say about what details she chooses to share. I actually talk about the differences in our skin color, and explain that since she grew in another woman's tummy, her skin color matches her birthmom's skin, but that even though we don't look alike, she's a part of our family.

    In my experience, kids are curious and have no filter- whatever they think, they say. Giving them the correct vocabulary to use helps. And from what my daughter has told me, once it's out in the open, it's no big deal.

  8. I side with the "talk to the class" commenters. It does seem like a discussion with the mother of this child could come across as though you're asking her for some kind of corrective action, which would put her on the defensive, rather than solving the problem. Maybe the best thing to do is ask Duzi how he'd like you to handle it...


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