falling off the family tree

It started as an email: Catherine, I know you wanted to talk to me about your son’s adoption before we tackled the first assignment about family, his teacher wrote; but with the beginning of the year being so busy, I forgot to ask you before today. This morning the students are going to be asked to write about their family. Is there anything special you would like me to know beforehand?

With three minutes until my own homeroom bell, I knew this was not going to be an optimal setting for our conversation. Email feels less and less adequate as a form of communication to me, but I didn’t have a choice. I was very pleased she had reached out, and felt that she was right on the mark for asking.

My answer looked something like this; Encourage him (privately if possible–to avoid him having to answer a zillion questions he is not yet prepared to answer) to include all members of his family. Let him know that his first mom, and any member of her family can be included too.

I made that all important mental note to follow this up with setting a date to come in to talk to the class about adoption, and went off in a flurry to my homeroom.

Needless to say, I inquired how the project went later that day:

Me: Did you have a chance to draw a picture of your family today Sam?

Sam: Yes. How did you know?

Me: Your teacher emailed me, saying it was going to happen. She asked me about your first mom, and how you might want to include everyone in the picture. How did it come out?

Sam: I drew me, Marcel and……….Tea (his birth mom).

Me: Oh.

(insert long, long pause here.)

Me: And how did it feel being able to make the choice of who to include in your family?

Sam: Good.


a few days later, and I take up the conversation again, hoping that maybe he was just testing me.  Of course I wanted him to retell the story like it really happened.

Me: Did you work more on your All About Me unit at school?

Sam: Yes.

Me: What did you work on?

Sam: A picture of my school.

Me: Great. And what about the family portrait-did you get to finish that? You know, I thought about your choice, and I wanted you to know that being your mom, your everyday mom is the most important job to me in the whole world.

Sam: No. You can’t change it. I like it the way it is. You said it was fine. Remember? You said I made a good choice. And, I don’t want to talk about it anymore.


You might feel like hugging me after reading this post. I guess I think of it this way; Sam drew his family. Sam did what his teacher asked him to. (She may have suggested he do it, because she thought that is what I meant.) He may have been drawing me, and told me it was Tea, because he was testing that scenario out.

He drew the people he understood to complete the assignment. He drew his  heart at that moment. And that I was not included, does not mean I am not included in his family. Instead it means quite the opposite–that I have created the container for Sam to hold all of his understanding of being a son, beautifully.

How have you handled these moments, or others like them? What’s your thought on how best to handle them, and your own heart? Today in the car he just pops out with this gem; Oh I see. Marcel came out of you, and he is your color. I came out of Tea, and I am her color. The next line was about how remarkable it is that fog disappears in the sun. What’s not to love?


  1. Wow…. heavy. I know I can’t change anything but maybe one day, he’ll include all of you. I’m sure those assigments are heavily rooted in genetics. I’m bet Theo will draw out his birthfamily as well when that assignment comes around (I just think that will be so tough thought).

    Side note (and possibly irrelevant at this stage): I know there are packages you can send to the teacher about adoption. Our local association has one. I’ll email it to you just for the record.

  2. Hehe, I love those last few lines. Kids have such big minds that they jump from one great idea to the next.

    ((Hugs)). I think that Sam “chose” because he knew that it was ok to. But like you said, I don’t think that choice meant that you were eliminated, just sharing the spotlight =). Maybe he will have more chances to work on family portraits or maybe even tell family stories, and I bet those portraits and stories will be all about how much fun he has with his mama and brother on a daily basis!

  3. You bet I wanted to hug you!! But I also want to praise you for seeing the whole episode from his perspective and not only from yours.
    My adopted son is way too young to draw his family – but I have thought about it. I read somewhere that adopted kids need help on how to do it. What does e.g. a family tree for an adopted child look like? Other kids get help on where to put mom and dad, gransma and their siblings. Adopted children need cues on how to fit in all the people in their lives too. Just because they are adopted doesn’t mean they are inventive enough to create a family tree that will cover their history.
    One mentioned making a tree with the roots visible too. That way the everyday family can be the branches and the birth family the roots?

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