I've already mentioned how important shoes were to this first day of school for Zoe -- as a 4th grader she can now wear saddle oxfords (in a size FIVE, believe it or not!). And Maya's new sneakers are so white the glare blinds me, a real difference from her completely grungy formerly-white sneakers at the end of the kindergarten year!
But it was other shoes that played an important part in Maya's first day as a first grader. Her teacher assigned a very cool getting-to-know-you exercise at orientation. On the first day of class, each student was to bring in four items, small enough to fit into a little brown bag, that described his or her personality ("What's a personality?" I'm guessing I wasn't the only first-grade parent who had to answer this question for a 6-year-old!).
Maya brought: 1) her stuffed dolphin, so she could say she loved to swim and tell about her Florida vacation; 2) a photo of her in her recital costume so she could tell about her love of music and ballet; 3) a self-portrait, so she could share that her grandmother is an artist and that Maya loves to draw and wants to be an artist when she grows up. . . .
. . . and then Maya wanted a fourth thing to share about being born in China. She finally settled on the shoes she was wearing when we first met in China, the shoes her foster mother lovingly embroidered and beaded.
Maya recounted her every moment in the spotlight, presenting her four items (she said that the picture she drew was the best one, far better than anything the other students drew!). She said, "I pulled the shoes out of my bag LAST, and I said they were my baby shoes from when I was adopted in China. Mrs. I (teacher) said, 'Those are your baby shoes?! (ahem, Maya was 18 months old when she was adopted, so I'm sure her teacher was thinking what a BIG baby she must have been!) They are sooooo sparkly!'" Maya was quite pleased with that response.
After talking about her shining moment with her sparkly shoes, I asked, "Do you think your classmates know what 'adopted' means?" Maya conceded they probably didn't, so I asked, "How would you explain it to them if they asked?" And Maya's immediate response was, "W.I.S.E. Up!" I was feeling pretty proud of my parenting skills in introducing the W.I.S.E. Up book . . .
. . . and then I asked, "If you decided to do S (share) or E (educate), what would you say about adoption?"
Maya's response: "I'd say adoption is when your REAL parents can't take care of you, so they take you to an orphanage, and then a mom comes from another country or from the same country, I guess, and adopts you!" LOL!!!
So we had to do the whole "do you mean your birth parents?" thing, and the "your birth parents sure are REAL parents" thing, and the "feel my hand, do I seem real" thing, and the "you have two real moms" thing, and I was struck once again (right between the eyes!) by how important it is to repeat, repeat, repeat, and check understanding over and over again. . . . (And don't worry, I don't expect Maya to take the laboring oar in explaining adoption to her classmates; I'll be talking to her teacher about it and presenting in the classroom if the teacher and Maya are ok with that).