As I was sitting at my desk tonight and thinking of all my worries for my kindergartners, I could not help but remember when Vanessa and David started kindergarten. I had so many worries. However, on that day, a misunderstanding lessened my worries. I found this story that I had written about their first day. I thought that you might enjoy reading it too.
In May of 2009, I was dreading what was ahead for David and Vanessa. I knew my own early experiences in school and I was worried.For the past year, I had stayed at home with the kids after their adoptions. We had worked on pre-school skills, life skills and English skills to get them ready for kindergarten. However, that year flew by quickly and it was soon going to be time to go to traditional school in August. I was very reluctant, but I knew this was a step that they needed to take.
Kindergarten would be a big step with all new adventures, new skills, new friends and new discoveries. However, it was the new discoveries that worried me and to be honest, even scared me. I can remember my first year of school, and while it was not a bad year, I learned some tough lessons that year. Lessons that I still sometimes wish were not true. I cringed at the thought of David and Vanessa learning similar truths about their world.In the 1970’s, I lived an ideal life with my parents on a small farm. My grandparents lived beside us and our community and church were small. Due to my being born with a disability, I had been to see the “Big City” many times and frequently spent weeks at the Children’s Hospital with kids from all over the world. School would prove to be an intrusion into my ideal life. From my very first day at school, I started to learn tough lessons. No one looked like me. No one was taught like me, and ultimately I learned that not everyone wanted me in their school. Unlike the hospital, with kids with all types of disabilities and unlike my home, with my father who was a disabled veteran and our neighbor with a wooden leg, at school I was the only one with an obvious disability and at first I was a curiosity. Eventually, my classmates became bored with being entertained by my every move and they mostly accepted me as a playmate. Recess became the best part of my day because I mixed freely with my new friends. In the classroom, I sat in the back at a table and colored. I could catch bits and pieces of what the others were learning and I was occasionally given a book like theirs to look at while they did their lesson. I learned the words for kids like me. I disliked the word “retard” the most. Some teachers didn’t think I could be taught and I learned that some did not want to waste time with me. Even the principal doubted aloud in my presence if I belonged in their school.
My early experiences were the solid foundation of my fears for David and Vanessa. Haitian by birth and now living in rural America, they enjoyed a small community of family and friends. They had already made many discoveries, just coming to join our family. Starting in the airport and continuing at church, they found out that few black people spoke Creole, even the darkest skinned people spoke English. To add confusion, a white woman with light hair spoke Creole to them because she had lived in Haiti. David knew that he looked different than me. As he colored pictures of moms and kids, moms were orange and kids were brown. However, what concerned me the most is that like me, neither David nor Vanessa knew that their community was not like their home and church.To try to ease the transition to go school, I made arrangements for David and Vanessa to go to pre-kindergarten, two Vacation Bible Schools and a day camp. When the first day of Summer school arrived, David and Vanessa were so excited to get to go play with lots of kids. I drove the kids to school that morning, and I got Vanessa to her class first. Due to her disabilities, she had already met her teacher and toured as part of the process of getting the school ready for her so she separated from me quickly and was ready to start her day with the help of a classroom aid. David and I went more slowly to his classroom, pointing out where the cafeteria and restrooms were located and finally stopping to take a picture of him outside the classroom.
We entered the room and we were greeted by an experienced and prepared teacher who had activities already going at the tables. I took David to the seat for him, and he immediately dove into playing with the building blocks at his table. I lingered and took a couple more pictures as he started to talk to the boy next to him. I was pleased to see that the boy was a minority, and based on a brief exchange with his mom as she left, I knew they were from Guatemala. I was pleased that David would not be the only minority student! David had told me bye, and I was across the room when I heard the little boy ask in a suspicious tone, “Who was that?” I stepped behind a cabinet out of view. David said, “My mom.” The boy said, “That’s not your mom. She’s white.” I sucked in my breath and waited to hear David’s response. David said insistently, ”She is my mom.” The boy said, “Not your real mom.” I was about to step back around the cabinet, when the teacher interrupted the boys with a new activity.That afternoon I went to get David from school. The little boy and David saw me waiting in the hall. I could hear enough to know that they had resumed their previous conversation. I stepped closer to the door as the boy was asking David questions again. David replied, “There are white moms too”. Then the little boy asked, “How do you get to school?” David seemed annoyed as he answered, “I told you; in a car.” The boy inquired, “But who drove the car?” David seeming more annoyed, ”My mom!” The boy confused, “Your real mom?” David pointing to me in the hall, “Yes.” The boy then said, “She can't drive.” David who was looking completely annoyed now; responded, “White moms can drive too!” As luck would have it, the bell rang and David came running to me. I figured I’d explain the little boy’s concern about my disability and driving later.
On the way home, David told me all about his day including about the boy who kept asking him about his mom all day. David explained,” He has a brown mom. He doesn’t know about white moms.” He exclaimed, “He didn’t even know that white moms can drive!”I decided that David understood the little boy just fine so I never explained the boy’s concerns. However, that afternoon I felt more confident that David and I would do just fine handling the tough realities of kindergarten…one misunderstanding at a time.