It’s the First Day of School for the Adopted Kid!

First Day of School #2!

Today was Rory’s second “First Day of School.”

There’s a new head teacher in Rory’s classroom this year; one who appears to have certain fairly defined expectations for how things will go. Last week, she invited each student to come in to meet her, bringing something to show her—a book, she suggested, or something important—and to see the changes in the classroom. We adopted 4-year-old Rory last summer, and she brought, as she will always bring if asked for “something important” her “pictures.” This is a photo album she brought with her from her foster home in China, and it includes pictures of her foster parents and the other children fostered there in a large group home as well as pictures of her family here, and she loves to share it.

But the new teacher did not want Rory to share it, or at least not right away. She wanted Rory to walk quietly around the classroom, and Rory, in some confusion, complied, touring the room, listening, and participating in a demonstration of one of the activities. Eventually the teacher did allow Rory to show her a few pages, in which she showed a politely distant interest.

Which was fine. Rory was adopted, and it is a fact of her life, but just one fact of her life. Maybe her new teacher didn’t want to make too much of it. Maybe she was nervous about being shown a picture of Rory’s foster mother while Rory’s real mother looked on; what seems ordinary to us could reasonably have seemed more than a little weird to her. We don’t think anyone should make too much of Rory’s adoption, or cut her too much slack on the grounds of the kind of vague, psychobabble theories people who know a little, but not too much about adoption and transition are likely to hold, like allowing her to cling to a teacher on the ground that she must perforce be less secure about her place in the world than other children, or forgiving her tendency to push other children aside because she may have once needed to be aggressive to get what she needed. Some of that’s valid, but enough of it isn’t that so far, we think it’s better for the teachers not to consider Rory in need of special treatment.


This teacher seemed to have such very clear expectations about how the children would behave. She seemed tense. Why didn’t she look at the book? Why wasn’t she more comfortable with Rory? I worried. Should I write her a note explaining the ways in which Rory’s story is a little different from her peers? Should I describe how Rory’s natural desire to be the focus of an adult’s attention leads her to interrupt, and to seek out another teacher if the first doesn’t immediately respond to her, even when told to wait? And while I was at it, should I brief her on the ways Rory likes to talk about China, and the way we like to handle it? Maybe the laissez-faire approach was a mistake, this time around. Maybe I should jump in.

In the days after the first meeting with the teacher, I started to write that letter many times. I considered how to phrase it, so that it didn’t seem like I was either flagging some bad behavior, and marking Rory as the difficult kid, or hovering over to ensure some ideal classroom experience. I told myself I would just put a little something in at the end of a note, just a few tips on Rory, and really I would write the note just so her teachers would know the names of the people Rory talks about, which can sometimes be hard to understand. I told myself it would just be what any parent would do.

I was right, in one sense. This month’s Adoptive Families magazine has an entire section on ways to “ensure that adoption is treated accurately and sensitively at school.” Most of it is an off-putting litany that I can’t imagine doing–going to the school, making a presentation to the children about how Rory’s birth parents brought her into the world, but couldn’t do the other things that parents do, so we are Rory’s parents now, or read the entire class an adoption story. I wouldn’t do those things, not because we don’t talk about China and adoption regularly, but because the other children’s parents don’t come in to explain, say, why Timmy’s mommy and daddy don’t live together. Because those are home things, not school things. Because being adopted is different, but not defining. Because every child has a different family, one way or another.

But it’s clear that the urge to alert the teacher to your child’s particular needs is a universal one, at least for adoptive parents (in fact, “write a letter to the teacher” is number one on that list). It may be common among all parents–but not in our case. Because for my 4-year-old son, returning to the classroom across from Rory’s, I had no such urge. Of course, he didn’t have a new teacher, but my 6-year-old daughter has both a new teacher and a new school this year, and I never once thought about starting a letter to put in her backpack.

Rory was adopted into our family. We went through a lot to get to where we are today. But we are here, over a year later, hitting all the annual milestones for a second time, going, in the most matter-of-fact way, back to school. We still have our struggles. But I look around at Rory’s classmates, and I see that they have struggles, too. Some of them do things a teacher may not appreciate. Some of them have behavioral patterns that, shall we say, don’t work well in the classroom. Maybe their parents went in and explained. Maybe they didn’t. It’s none of my business.

But the things I might tell Rory’s teacher about Rory might be about adoption. Or they might be about Rory. And they might not even show up in the classroom. But if they do, they do, and it won’t really matter where they come from. I’ve just finished Scott Simon’s Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other (In Praise of Adoption) and in it, he has a line about a friend’s daughter who was adopted from the Philippines in the 1980’s. There was, he says “nothing to distract [her] from fitting into her family’s life with a minimum of analysis and evaluation.” That’s it, I realized. I may want to protect Rory–to make this school year turn out perfectly for her–but I don’t want to distract her from fitting into her school life with a minimum of analysis and evaluation. There may come a time when we need more, when Rory herself needs her teachers to know more about where she’s coming from in every possible way. That’s not where we are. Right now, we’re just another preschooler, heading back to school.

Originally uploaded by kjda

KJ Dell’Antonia

3 Responses to “It’s the First Day of School for the Adopted Kid!”

  1. ellen says:

    just curious: why did the teacher ask the kids to bring in something important to them and then not pay any attention to it? did she do that to all the kids or just to rory? because that’s what struck me in your post – the teacher’s lack of interest in something so important to rory.
    you’re right, we don’t need to have adoption define every single moment…but when it’s important to rory, then it’s important – and i think the teacher totally missed it. weird.

  2. KJ (aka Lola Granola) says:

    Yeah, i did kind of leave that hanging…I’m not sure. I think it was an oversight by a woman working hard to keep everything going smoothly while she steps into a new role, and I think she just had it in her head that they would do that LAST. And then–well, I’d like to think she just didn’t want to make too big a deal of it. She might even have not known how to handle a kid showing her a picture of her foster mother while her real mother sat right there. Maybe we were just too weird for her. I don’t really think anything of us anymore, but maybe she did!

  3. One of the things i love about our school is the paper that we get at the first of the school year where the teacher actually asks if there is something we would like her to know about our child. There is also a sentence for us to finish that goes like t his : I hope my teacher……. It’s interesting to hear their answers. Sounds like Rory is doing great! I do hope you get to keep in touch with her friend Bethany.