Friday, September 2, 2011

School Projects: Timelines

"Mooooom!  Did anything important happen to me when I was one year old?"

That was Maya's question earlier in the week.  She had to make a timeline of her life for second-grade Social Studies.  Zoe made her timeline last week in fifth-grade Art class.  Yep, that's another one of those tricky school projects, like family trees, DNA exploration, baby pictures, that can be difficult for children adopted even a little later in life. 

It wasn't a problem for Zoe, who loves to share every bit of her adoption story with anyone who will sit still long enough (there's a new kid in her class, and she told him all about it -- "I was wrapped in three layers of clothing with a little hat and put in a cardboard box and left near a bus stop and found and taken to the police station and then to the orphanage . . ."  He apparently asked her, "Does it make you uncomfortable to talk about it?"  And she said, "Duh!  I wouldn't tell you about it if I was uncomfortable!"  Little does she know that he was probably indicating that it made HIM uncomfortable to talk about it!).

Maya was okay with the timeline, so long as nothing on it mentioned China or her foster parents -- those things make her too different in her mind, and she wants more than anthing else to be just like everyone else.  So, did anything big happen when she was one year old?  I suggested her birthday party (with balloons!) that her foster parents gave her, and pulled out the pictures from the party (I'm so fortunate to have these from her foster parents!).  Nope, she didn't want that.  Since she was adopted at 18 months, which was when she was one year old, she decided to put that -- but no mention that the adoption was in China. 

Interesting timing -- a great blog by an adoption therapist, In My Child's World, talked about timelines just yesterday, to emphasize the importance of our children KNOWING their timeline, especially the timeline BEFORE we entered the picture:
Erik and I sit on the floor. He’s swaddled in a brown, cozy blanket as we look at the stark white paper. “Ok, Erik. We’re going to do a timeline, just like the kind you do in school. Have you made one before?” “No, I don’t think so,” he replies. I explain to Erik that the timeline is the story of his life from the very beginning to today. “So, how did your life begin?” “Ummmmm, with mom and dad.” “Even before you were a family with mom and dad. Where did you live?” “Guatemala!” “Yep, and who did you live with in Guatemala?” “Mom and dad.” “Before mom and dad...” Erik looks up at me with a quizzical look on his face, “I don’t remember,” he answers.

At the age of five, Erik doesn’t fully comprehend his life story even though he has heard it before. So, why do we need to bring it to his attention? What are the vital reasons for a child to know and be able to recite their life story from the beginning to present day? The key points include:
  1. Children need to be aware of their life story in order to grasp why certain situations, sounds, smells, sights, and people trigger them.
Go read the whole thing -- it's well worth it. 

So have you had the timeline project yet?  How did it go?


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I agree with this.
How many of us really know our adopted children's true stories before we adopted them? Could you swear it's true? I seriously doubt it.

Do our kids need a response when they are asked questions like this or put in "timeline" situations? yes. Although it would be nice if more teachers would be more sensitive to this issue.

But I'm not going to lie to my daughter and tell her something that I'm not sure of just so she can have a fairy tale to tell. That will come back to haunt both of us someday when she's a teen and old enough to understand that it's either unknown or it's a lie the Chinese government perpetuated.

More lies on top of lies doesn't make it OK. Does it? When she is old enough I will tell her the truth about her former government and how oppressive and dishonest they are truly are. And I know a lot of little Chinese girls who will want answers.

Anonymous said...


You know what - having something matters more than you think. Mom and dad told me the story they had been told by the SW. Did it end up being true - not completely but I HAD SOMETHING about why I had to be surrendered for adoption that made it okay.

If mom and dad had known more they would have told me - good or bad. They only had the story they were told and made it clear that it was 2nd hand info. Much better than - no clue about anything before you came home.

It also fed into discussions on why so many of us were surrendered simply because society (and the government) deemed it the right thing to do and no choice was given - here in the USA - millions of us were surrendered. In my opinion the USA (as well as Canada, UK, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, etc) has shame to bare for their treatment of mothers, so perhaps you may wish to compare how BSE mothers/children were treated in the USA when you have that little talk about how oppressive China is. Note I am not saying it was equal but no country is immune from having done bad, horrible things and painting one bad and the other perfect is lying.

Anonymous said...

I just think adoptive parents should stand up to the teachers and school who insist on assigning these callous assignments. Why are adoptees continually forced to conform to the non-adoptees world? It's time for a-parents to just say NO. Why do schools/teachers feel the need to get so much of our personal family information anyways? Is there no privacy anymore?

As an adoptee who has suffered through these assignments directly and indirectly through my own children who cannot answer/complete these assignments.

Just say NO.

Anonymous said...

My adopted daughter DOES know her complete "timeline"; it's just that she shouldn't have to share it with classmates if she doesn't care to. It makes her feel sad, it's not a happy story, and frankly, it's none of their business. Fortunately, her school is very accepting of diverse families and nothing like this has come up yet.

There are so many other ways to teach these concepts: you could read a biography and create a timeline of a famous person, for example.

Anonymous said...

After stressing about DD's timeline project I went into school to assist the class on the day they printed theirs on the computer. I had the same concerns as others here until I saw the kids' timelines. They had stuff like, "When I was 1 I sat in a car seat." "When I was two I loved to eat crackers." "When I was a baby I drank a bottle." "I watched Barney when I was a baby."
many other kids just had very random and general items on their timelines, one even started when he learned to ride a two wheeler. The fact that DD didn't have specific details from her 18 months in foster care and that some of her other milestones were from the orphanage didn't make her stand out as any more different than the fact that she is the only lefty in her class.

And other kids had also been adopted...adopted by their step father or living with Grandma, someone had their parents' divorce on their timeline and their dog's death, one boy even told me his mom died when he was three...everybody has a story and if you anticipate our children's adoptions as being the main focus in most of these projects you will only make your child feel more different than just letting them
accept their history and have it be a matter of fact instead of something to get up on a soapbox over.

When I told the teacher I was concerned at first for DD doing her timeline, the teacher assured me that she teaches the kids in her class to be sensitive to each other as they all share and bond over each others' timelines. Life is interesting. Don't teach your child to hide from their own story, and remember everybody has their own baggage to carry.