Thursday, November 6, 2014
Why I am trying to become even MORE of a helicopter parent
And so it begins. Last week I attended yet another school meeting to discuss my little RADish. I came prepared with an official letter asking for my son to be re-evaluated in an attempt to reopen his IEP. I brought two short teaching articles to pass out to the team, because I know that despite the many combined years of experience in the room this particular group of educators doesn't have a lot of experience with the unique cocktail of anxiety and behaviors my youngest presents daily in the classroom. I have made many attempts to educate the school team on early life trauma and its effects on a developing brain. I have given tips on managing behaviors and preventing sensory overload. And because of the challenges my youngest son faces in a peer setting, I have shared, in detail, the story of his adoption.
As most adoptive parents will tell you, these stories are sacred. You can ask me how I feel about the adoption movement currently sweeping through churches, and I will tell you. You can ask me generic adoption questions, and, if I am able, I will answer. But if you ask me a personal detail of my sons' adoption stories, my lips will be sealed.
"Was he abandoned? I hear that the babies are just left by hotels and police stations. Where was (insert child's name here), found?"
"Did his real mother do drugs? Is that why he is 'the way he is'?". (I shudder at this one. I am his REAL mother. And the WAY HE IS is perfectly made by God, thank you very much.)
So you can ask, but unless you have a valid reason, you will not hear the details of their early days from me. Everyone in our world is on a need to know basis, and most people do not need to know.
I felt that the school team held that golden ticket to the entire story. I have found that many of the resources we come in contact with, from therapists to church caregivers to school teachers do not have a clue what havoc early life trauma can wreak on a young child. So I take a deep breath, say a little prayer that this time I will not cry, and share.
All of that to say this: this school team knows my baby's background. So imagine my surprise when I ask the innocent question, "What is a social story?". I was informed that my son was having these social stories read to him daily, and I had never heard that term, so I asked. And the team very proudly showed me a binder with a photo copied story about keeping our hands and our feet to ourselves. Very appropriate, right? After all, we have one of these at home, that I made for my son two years ago. Seems I was ahead of the game. And then I read the story. And then I quietly explained that they were not to read this to my son again, not without changing a few things, and that I needed to see every social story they were sharing with him. And here's why.
"If you hit and kick, no one will want to be around you. No one will want you around,"
Um, can we say unfriendly adoption language? Seems while I was fighting for an understanding of my son's specific needs I dropped the adoption ball. I assumed that the school understood the adoption and abandonment part of my son's story. The light bulbs going off in the surprised eyes around the room told me otherwise.
November is National Adoption Month. A month to bring attention to the beauty of adoption. A month to spotlight the plight of orphans around the world. And I love adoption, of course. I do not, however, believe that adoption is the right choice for every family, and so I am careful about the way I advocate. So for this special month I want to bring a different aspect of adoption to light- the fight that many adoptive parents are fighting every day for safe adoption language. In their kids' schools. In their kids' television shows. In the movie theaters. Adoption adds a whole other layer to the media and conversations our children are exposed to. We scour the Internet for movie reviews before we allow our young ones to attend a movie field trip with their day care class. (Bet you didn't know that adoption themes run unchecked throughout popular childrens' movies.) We stop relatives from making yet another "Everything that is made is China is cheap" remark while our innocent little ones are unwrapping Christmas presents. (And yes, that actually has happened to my family, twice.) We arm our elementary age kiddos with the ammunition to answer intrusive questions from peers at school. We help create "All About Me" posters that have no baby pictures and offer to visit classrooms to explain the Chinese New Year and Autumn Moon holidays.
I have done all of that. And I will continue to do it for as long as my boys need me to. What I didn't do, what I didn't even think I needed to do, was oversee every single aspect of their school careers. But those two sentences in my son's social story? They could have been setting him up for failure every time they read to him.
I am not a helicopter parent. Or at least I try not to be. I let my oldest son wander off in stores, knowing that he knows his boundaries and rules. I no longer keep my youngest within arm's reach on play dates, fearful that he will bop his new friend on the head with the heaviest toy he can find. A few weekends ago I sat on a park bench chatting with my sister in law while my boys ran around with their cousins. At one point they were no where to be seen, having wandered into the woods. I could hear them, so I knew they were still close. Every day I walk that fine line between letting them be boys and explore their worlds and wanting to keep them wrapped in bubble wrap and in my line of vision at all times.
But last week I learned that I need to become even more of a helicopter parent when it comes to the adoption messages my boys hear. I know that I may come across as over protective and slightly unstable to my non adoptive parent friends. But I vow to no longer let that bother me. While I looked around that meeting room last week and saw those light bulbs go off in the eyes of my son's school team, I have to say that I had a light bulb moment as well. I cannot expect my sons' school to use appropriate adoption language. So it's up to me. I have already rewritten a few pieces of the social stories being used with my son. I have already let both of their teachers know that I am available to talk about appropriate adoption language with them, if they ever have a question. My Special Needs Mom cape has been firmly attached for a while now. But my Adoptive Mom cape had quietly fallen off. Think how high I'll be able to fly now that I am wearing both!