Bringing it to the classroom: adoption talk 101 in 2nd grade

Happy Adoption Awareness Month!

Photo by S. Smithstein 2007

Although I am of the mind set that every waking moment has adoption awareness potential out there in the big world-in this particular post, I am going to share with you my attempt at reaching a new audience: a classroom of seven and eight year olds.

With the help of Adoptive Family Magazines guide to talking about adoption in the classroom, I took the plunge recently and went into Sam’s 2nd grade classroom to do a mini lesson. It took about twenty minutes, and according to Sam (the only opinion that matters in this case of course) I did a good job. With both teachers’ permission I was able to invite Marcel to watch too. Now he has twenty new best friends in 2nd grade–a total bonus as far as he’s concerned. Each age group is going to demand a different approach–but the one I took worked well for 2nd grade–and I would imagine for 1st grade too. The resource cited above, has tips and suggestions for whatever age you are presenting to.

When I asked Sam if he’d like me to come in and give a little talk on the topic he was all over it. It came up because the teacher sent home a letter asking for volunteers to come in and talk about rituals of importance in their family. I feel rather lame in the ritual department overall, and the ones we do, like jumping off docks together, don’t translate well into full class activities. So, I suggested adoption, since it is such an important part of our family story. I outlined the way the talk would go to the teacher, and what food I would bring to share at the end (pumpkin mini muffins). She thought the program looked very well suited for the class, and a morning slot was agreed upon.

Introduction: What do babies need? What do parents do?

With little “Baby Dexter” wrapped in a blanket on deck as my prop, I took the chair by the white board in front of twenty-one eager little faces on the rug in front of me.

“Hi everyone-I’m Catherine–Sam’s mom. Like your teacher, I’m a teacher too. But my most important job, is being Sam and Marcel’s mommy. I didn’t become a mommy until I met Sammy. How people become a family is why I am am here to talk to you today, and share something that we think is very, very important in our family: adoption”

A few eager hands went up volunteering their understanding of the word. It was sweet to see how many kids knew someone who was adopted, or had an adopted sibling, or cousin, or or adult extended family member. “Wow, this certainly is a room full of experts!” is a great line if you are not sure how to handle all the knowledge out there. “So you’ll really be able to help me and the friend I brought along to help me share our story..” This is where I reached down and got baby Dexter. He is a brown skin baby doll (that I got for Sammy before Marcel was born). Wrapped in a blanket I held like he was alive, and asked if the class thought they would be able to pass him gently and quietly from friend to friend as we came up with some very important answers to a few questions Dexter had for the class.

Question one: What do babies need? I held up a sign with those words which they read out loud, and then we took turns adding things to the list. Admittedly a little hard to engage, and write while sitting on a chair that is only eight inches from the ground–but I managed. “Milk, food, toys, warmth, clothing, love, hugs, a home, visits to the doctor, medicine…” and of course parents. After praising the kids for their continued expertise on being great older brothers or sisters or cousins or friends, we went on to “What parents do.” The kids easily volunteered all the right answers; “Feed the baby, love it, change it’s poopy diapers!! Ewwwww!” If they got stuck, I just went back to the baby list to prompt them. At the end I made sure to add; “parents to bring them into the world”.

So when Baby Dexter’s parents had him, and they were able to look at both these lists, they realized that they would not be able to give him everything a baby needs. They realized they were not in a place in their lives where they could manage to do all the things a parent needs to do. This was the hardest choice they could ever make, but they did. They got help finding a mommy who could be his everyday parent in my case. Some families have two mommies, some have a mommy and a daddy, some have a grampy and a mommy, and an uncle…

At this point I went on about how lucky Baby Dexter is, because he has a mommy and a daddy who loved him so much to bring him into the world, and who still love him very much, and will always be part of his life who are his real parents.

He also has an everyday mommy who gets to do all the things a parent does everyday too, and that means I am his real mommy too! (Sam specifically asked me to address the–Are you his real mommy-language. He said that kids asked him that a lot.) With Baby Dexter safely back in the satchel, and my eager learners transitioned back to their desks, I ended the talk with a read of “Tell Me Again About the Night I was Born” using a document reader and a smart board! (OK, so just holding the book would have worked for me, but the kids needed to move to a new setting after fifteen minutes on the floor. ) They loved the book. It is one of Sam’s all time faves too.

I left handing the teacher a box of muffins for their snack time in a few minutes, and a pile of handouts for the kids take home folders also from Adoptive Families Magazine called; “Talking to classmates about adoption” with a little note on the top from me saying; “Hi this is from Sammy’s mom, to help you if your kiddos have any questions about the talk I gave today.” It’s a great two sided sheet with lots of tips and positive adoption language. I left feeling tremendous that a few new allies were in the making, and Sam felt just a little easier within his beautiful brown adopted skin in school today.


If you would like help sorting through how to talk about adoption in your child’s classroom or any other issue plesse see my coaching tab at the top of the blog or email me at

Have you given a talk in your kids school? Share your successes, ask questions, or leave a link to a post you wrote about the event, to inspire others to get out there this month too.

Your very fine hat (poem)

This was the extent of our back to school shopping last week:
new sneakers and the hat.
Honestly, that sums things up over here.
We just don’t have room for much else that is new.

Uncle (my oldest brother) has moved out,
after living with, and loving on us
for almost five full on years.
He’s not gone too far but he’s not that near.

We’ve been preparing for this dreaded-
exciting transition for several months.
Celebrating all that is Uncle in one hand,
and grieving all that is his leaving in the other.

But rage doesn’t RVSP to an invitation.
It just crashes the party
whenever he needs to remind the world
that he is both the pinata, and the bat.

Swinging blindfolded into the unknown
like an infant wailing for his mother,
wrapped in a blanket of confusion and fear
hush hush hushed into a stranger’s promising arms.

Eight years later, and a very quiet part of you
may still remember her soft hands caressing your very small head
and for a moment maybe you are still able to hold her hand there,
woven in the flair and the tilt of your very fine hat.

C 2012 Mama C and the Boys

Brotherly lake lusciousness while camping (plus this and that)

I love to celebrate Sam and Marcel’s beauty and the transformation that summer brings. August is a midway, not an ending right?  And so you know that I really do read things occasionally, and have something to add to the greater good–I’d love to send you to the blog and press release announcing the  long awaited title Clearly Invisible: Racial Passing and the Color of Cultural identity that came out today. I have always been impressed and captivated with whatever I have read by the author on line, and feel tremendous excitement for her in the release of this very important book.  Finally, I’d love to link you all to My Brown Baby’s thoughtful tribute to the mother of Gabby Douglas today. It really made me goosebump for several reasons. Now, back to loving on these beautiful boys in all their summer time dazzle.

Single Mama gratitude-the larger family edition

On the train with my boys
Mamacandtheboys 2012 All Rights Reserved

When I travel alone, I remember how much I appreciate traveling with Shrek, or a friend. Bringing yourself, and two boys, and your luggage into a crowded public bathroom is challenging. Allowing Sammy to go in a public bathroom alone is still out of the question for me.  It just is. Those “family bathrooms” are such a welcomed gift–the ones that are a big room with their own door in some airports and train stations.

When I travel alone I am always hearing how well behaved my boys are, seconds before I want to scream; “don’t eat the popcorn off the floor PLEASE!!!!!”

When I travel alone, I see how grown up they really are.

When I travel alone I see so many folks looking, smiling, staring, but mostly appreciating our family for whatever reason they are.

When I arrive at the destination, in this case my Dad and his wife’s place only a few hours away by train and bus, I feel so much space open up around me. Space is really about time. Time for me to be one of a gaggle of caretakers. I get to meditate, go for a run, and even say; “here are their pj’s, I am going to go to bed early..” and just like that I am asleep and they are taken care of. For those of you who do not single parent often or ever, I can not begin to tell you how rare a gift that is. To be able to go to sleep in advance of your children? It get’s even better–the boys can wake up and go downstairs and they don’t need me. Grampy is already up. Uncle is already up. The cousins are almost up. I can say; “I’ll be down soon” and no one cares.

I can steal upstairs and write a blog post. I can meditate. I can lie on the bed, and look up at the ceiling and just wonder. I can finish an application for that award and send it off two days early. (I am a semi finalist for a very prestigious award, but I don’t want to say anything else. Just send your good vibes to the panel today and this week. The award has to do with race, culture, and education.) I can even write a poem. It may not be the best poem, but it’s a poem.

When I am with my larger family for a spell, I move slightly out of my motherhood role, and find that I am allowed to be both the mother and the sister, daughter, and just allowed to dip a little more into the all of me circle sketched out on the life stage. I love it here. I also love it when my kids see me here. At the same time, new layers emerge in their persona too. Different members bring out different skills, edges, desires, and needs in them too. Last night as they were playing Uncle Tag and laughing their guts out, I could feel their happiness in a way that I rarely get to see. There is an abandon that Uncle brings out, that is so precious. Watching a ball game with Grampy, or painting with Grammy all show allow for new styles of parenting, and loving on them too. They are celebrated and encouraged, and reeled in through new lenses. Perhaps all of this is so obvious to most of you. To me, perhaps as a single mama who doesn’t share that with a co-parent on a daily basis, many of these observations are somewhat new.

All about who? He’s amazing and it has (almost) nothing to do with me!

Grand Slammy!

Sam is at bat. Two outs. Two strikes. Three balls. Bases loaded. Sam’s team is losing 2-0. It is the bottom of the 2nd to last inning.

For this potentially final pitch I scrambled off the bleachers, and hid behind the storage shed.  I couldn’t watch.

Just writing about it makes my heart rate climb.

The crack of the bat, followed by the rapturous screams (and not the dreaded sighs) signaled that it was OK to look, to race around the corner and see his powerful hit bounce squarely in the outfield. To watch him clear first, second and miraculously arrive at third was exhilarating. My son had hit a triple.

His team was now winning 3-2.  The next player hit him home.

The game was over ten minutes later.

They won their first game of the season.

My son. My son was the hero.

But my genetics were not involved. And something about that makes it all the more glorious. Seeing a child you have raised, you have nurtured, you love deeply whack the crap-a-lap-a-ding-dong out of a ball is a moment of concentrated joy-pride-glory. When that child is not your biological offspring that moment, I would argue, might be even closer to pure magnificence-because your own ego is one tiny step removed from the event. He didn’t “get that arm from Grandpa Joe” or at least not my Grandpa Joe.  He just did it, and it is ALL HIM.

That is another amazing gift of adoption–you are creating opportunities for a child to realize their potential unencumbered (in a general way) by familial expectations for specifically chosen traits of excellence. (Or the opposite! There is also no worry that he’ll “turn out just like Grandpa Joe did after his arm gave out.”) I do know that Sam’s birth father played basketball really well.  But I have no idea if anyone played baseball. He might discover that story someday, or he might never know.

He will always know that feeling of marvel at his OWN skills, strength and glory that he achieved at the plate this week.  Perhaps it is just another way to look at the story of adoption, open or not. That there maybe something very freeing, on occasion, for a child to discover their talents by accident? Of course biological offspring do this all the time too. I am just suggesting that as a biological parent of Marcel, I know that I really think he should be good at, and love soccer like me. Sammy is OK at soccer, and not nearly as interested in it as I was. Of course I understand that by taking him to baseball, soccer, and basketball practices, and teams etc, I am helping to select which parts of his genetic story is being awakened and nurtured. He is also teaching himself the ukulele. I couldn’t even spell the word until three weeks ago. I have less musical inclination than s butter knife. Sam is clearly gifted there too. Marcel has shown little inclination at this point.

As adoptive parents, or adoptees, or birth parents–what is your take on this piece? How connected is pride and joy  for your kids connected or not connected to biology? As adoptees did you ever have that experience of success as unencumbered joy, or did it often have a “I wonder if my biological mom also loves to dance too.” component?  As birth parents/ first parents in an open adoption–what is it like to witness your child discovering a skill or talent you both share verses one you have no connection to what so ever? As always I look forward to your thoughts!

The Lady of the Lake strikes again (slideshow)

Leaving the lake where we spend an extended week every summer, is harder and harder on me each year. I’ve been going to that lake since I was seven. It has not changed a lick. The four cabins were purchased by the same folks who own them today-the year I was born.

I took about a fifteen year hiatus-from around age 17-32 not knowing I’d ever go back to this gentle childhood oasis.  I rediscovered it, in the dead of a Maine winter, at my mom’s suggestion when I yearned to get away on a writing retreat in the warmer weather. This was over ten years ago. Knowing I didn’t need my own cabin for a week I came up with a wild idea to host a retreat of sorts for fellow creatives and lake lovers the following summer. Within weeks of putting it to paper, and emailing friends the cabins were full.  Then for the next five years the concept grew, and I hosted an artist-musician-writer-creatives retreat for over twenty one week each summer.

We spent the day on our own doing our artsy thang, and then met at the dock at 5:00 for appetizers,  wine, and conversation. Each night a different participant had the dock and dinner prep duty. We shared two cabins, and countless hours of laughter, revelations, insights, struggles and successes.

To this day, aside from Sam and Marcel, I consider what I organized  and facilitated there to be one of my greatest accomplishments. Several albums, manuscripts,  and gallery shows had their humble beginnings there. Over twenty women spent at least a half week there at one point. My inner Left Bank Parisian Salon Hostess was rediscovered on that dock.

That lake  (also known to those in the know as “the Lady of the Lake” ) is also where I prayed for an answer to this question; “Am I ready to begin a family on my own through adoption?”

The Lady of the Lake is also where or to whom  I prayed for an answer to this question; “Am I ready to attempt to bring a child into my life with the help of a donor?”

This time I asked  if I was ready to merge my life, and the lives of my children with another in the near future? She is always so wise in her decisions about my future. As I swam with the loons, and watched an eagle carrying a large branch overhead, I seemed a little closer to knowing what might be next for all of us.

A few pictures included below to help you see why this place is so insanely magical to all of us now.  Of the ten days there I spent about half of them alone with the boys. It was what we all needed to reconnect with ourselves, each other, and the natural world. Sam’s swim lessons over the past several years have clearly paid off, and Marcel’s caution around the water was reassuring actually. The hour of “quiet time” every day meant we all had time to read (Sam read TWO full length graphic novels), paint, mediate, and build with blocks, or sticks and pebbles and other discoveries. There was no television, or electronics except my camera and phone.

It was a very sweet gift to share the place with Shrek too. He completely got it. He often does.

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Sam the grandson of a whaler?

My eldest son is famous, again.

OK, he hasn’t made it to the Olympics, yet .

But he has become immortalized in paint, the first of many opportunities I am sure. What is particularly layered and cool about this is that he is indeed the great great grandson of a whaler on my father’s side. (We come from New England on my dad’s side, and the French West Indes on my mom’s side. Whaling was a source of fuel and other necessities at the time. For a rather concise history on the brief whaling industry peak in this country, go here.) He was asked by the artist, Scott Kelley,  to model for this painting to represent one of the offspring of the only known Black whaleship captains in history-for his upcoming show Whale which will take place here.  To see more of the pieces in the show, or learn a little more about the artist poke around here. The words under the painting read; “Sam with a portrait  of his grandfather Absalom Boston*, the sole Black whaleship captain of Nantucket, master of The Industry, 1822. Scott Kelley 2012”

Sam the grandson… Scott Kelley 2012

*Two resources I found with a quick search on Absalom Boston are here and here. Enjoy!

Vrooooom-Chirp-Splash-You’re it

Shrek’s bike, and my flowers that the boys planted in the flower box Shrek built

The calendar says so. My flowers say so. The plan to go strawberry picking today says so. Sammy still asleep, and Marcel playing with his trains and cars on a very weathered looking carpet says so. The extra helmet in the foyer say so. My school calendar for last year waiting to be replaced with my school calendar for next year says so. This anniversary of losing my little Dixie Dale say so. The whir of the fan, and the chirps and the swaying bird feeder says so. The crackling laughter from the foot traffic passing by the window says so. Summer is here.

It is a time for reflection and projection. Bucket lists, and to do lists. Plans and spontaneity. Watering cans, and paint cans. Swim

Funnel cake at the ball park

suits and hiking boots. Bleachers and beach chairs. Sand toys, and the constant presence of  a cooler being emptied or filled up. Sports camps and peace camps, and Mama C camp. Writing. Adventuring. Laughing. Connecting. Lakes, oceans, camp sights and stolen moments alone with a keyboard, and a promise to write more. To write often.

I will be co-teaching a summer reading program once a week, and doing some contractual work for my district, along with my summer curriculum design work, and hopefully a few other writing and race in the classroom gigs will manifest too. But this all falls squarely under the part time work department in terms of hours spent.

Shrek and I are looking forward to much more time together and as a family unit too. He’s on the docket for a goodly portion of the summer travel, and many weekend get aways, and this and thats. Yes, we’re doing great. Stay tuned..

You’re it!

I’m working on some ideas for summer blog posts–the kind that I can spend several hours thinking about, and hopefully collaborating with some other writers on them as well.  Race and child rearing, birth parent perception, the stigma of the single mother are all on the top ten list of topics I’m eager to dig into more deeply.  Do you have any burning topics you’d like Mama C to address? What are you looking forward to in the coming weeks? To laughter and restoration as much as possible for you and yours!

Significant males in our lives day

This morning we Skyped with my father in New Mexico, after making #1 Uncle blueberry pancakes.  Now the boys are off playing ball with him in the park. Bliss. We made a card for Shrek and are working on various messages and drawings for some of the other significant males in our lives that we like to acknowledge today.

The absence of a “father” per se, is not the curse or deficit some might attribute to the children of the single mama. In fact in our home, it is quite the contrary.

Neither Sam, nor Marcel have a dad. That is a fact. Both, have a biological father. In Marcel’s case that man is Tree his known donor. We emailed him a special message today. Marcel understands that Tree is not his dad, but is his biological father. Marcel has created a working definition of donor that meets his needs. This is not a sad thing, this is a very powerful act: to name and own your understanding of a relationship.  For today, that is a relationship that exists in it’s own container that the three of us are designing. It will evolve as Marcel gets older, and his needs change with that growth.  For Sam, there is a birth father, that he has seen pictures of, and whom he has reached out to with letters and pictures. He has not had any contact from him since he was about a year old.  .

What my sons do have is a super capable mom and an amazingly supportive village of co-parents which includes many, many, meaningful males. These men are among other things: Black, white, and many other hues. These men are adopted, married, transgendered, strait,unemployed, conventional, Jewish, free spirited, professional, spiritual, agnostic, political, Muslim, outgoing, independent, Christin, artistic, quiet, musical, single, immigrants, wealthy, athletic, young, middle aged, and older who all have one thing in common; a meaningful connection and commitment to participating in Sam and Marcel’s expansive walk in the world. These men model what maleness is: multifaceted, magnificent, and theirs to design.

A few weeks ago I asked Sam if he ever get’s any flack, or teasing from friends who know he doesn’t have a dad. He immediately answered; “No. My friends think it’s cool that I have a mom who does so much stuff with me, and that I don’t have to worry when my parents don’t get along.”  So, that is clearly a commentary on what first graders were talking about and taking in that day.  On another day I imagine Sam might have answered that differently–as he is surrounded by so many loving coupled  people, who have highly functional and successful relationships.  But when I pushed a little more that day he continued; “Mom, I think it’s cool that you do what you do. I don’t know, I just think we are really good just like we are. My friends like me, not me because I have a dad or don’t have a dad.”

This is also possibly a reflection of Sam taking in that marriage could be in my future one day, and that will mean a large shift in the family dynamic. But, for today we cherish all the many generous and gifted men in our lives, and all the ways you enrich all of our lives. Of course, this post would not be complete without acknowledging the two males who are probably the most significant in both their lives: each other. Years ago I read a quote from a young man, raised by a single mom, who also had a brother. In it he said;

“I learned how to be in relationship, by having relationship with my brother and my mother, and watching them do the same thing. I learned how to be a loving and relational man by watching what made a relationship successful.”

I was pregnant with Marcel when I read that.  To learning how to be in relationship, and honoring the men who show us over and over and over how that looks when it works, and modeling for us, how to arrive there-hearts and souls in tact.

Reading to my brother.

I’d love to hear about your experience with this day–what it means to you, or doesn’t. What books you read to your kids if Father’s Day is difficult, or challenging, that have helped your family find words to normalize and embrace all the great you do have. Who the most significant males are in your family dynamic, or how you see your children impacted by any of it. To read more about Father’s Day from all sides of the adoption constellation there is an Open Adoption Round Table discussion on the topic here.