It all began the Monday before Mother’s Day.
My son’s kindergarten teacher sent me an email to inform me that over the last few days, Jon’s behavior had been “like spring fever on steroids.” How clever.
While that subject could fill more than a few paragraphs, this is about the seemingly secondary purpose of the note. It continued,
“We will be doing some Mother’s Day activities this week. Jon asked if he could do them for his Grandma – of course!! Just wanted to check with you on this.”
I replied to both topics; for this one: “Yes, he’s done things for his Grandma (or Nonna, Nick’s mom) in the past, so that’s totally fine.”
And this was true. Both at preschool and in Sunday school at my parents’ church, my son was encouraged to make something for his Grandma or Nonna on Mother’s Day — which he always did, without issue.
The holiday came and went. We called Nonna in Italy and Grandma in Virginia. We also spent a good deal of time consoling/entertaining our pouty 6-year-old who was frustrated none of his friends could come over to play. They of course all had plans with their mothers.
Come Monday morning, once husband and son were packed up and off to work and school, I finally got around to weeding through the stack of activity sheets, flyers, and crafts that get brought home from school each week.
Amongst the pile, I found a homework assignment, an activity sheet, a craft, and a card — all about or directed toward “Mom.”
I was initially surprised, then confused; this soon morphed into concern and irritation.
I asked Jon about it that afternoon — particularly the homework, as I had no idea what was going on or what it said. He explained it was a picture of him and his birth mom, and that she was catching him. The assignment was to draw and write about how your mother helps you. My son deciphered the caption “Saves me,” and described his drawing of a rather surprised woman catching an even more surprised-looking boy.
I asked him what that meant.
“You know, like when you fall and someone catches you,” he explained, matter-of-factly.
Though none of my concerns were assuaged, I chose not to pursue. Papa and I have always strived to take cues from our son on the subject of his birth parents, while ensuring he knows the facts appropriate to his age. I did remind him that he could talk to us about this any time. He vaguely nodded and then resumed regaling me with his latest Pokémon conquest.
But I wasn’t done with his teacher. I spent some time crafting a new message, taking care not to make any assumptions. Up till now, I’d only been encouraged by her methods and their results.
I noted my surprise at so many crafts and worksheets about “mom,” and asked if Jon had shown any signs of being frustrated or feeling left out. She replied that he didn’t seem at all bothered by the activities. She assured me she had been attentive to him, even offering suggestions on ways to modify or do a different activity.
“He did mention his birth mother, and seemed to enjoy talking about her.”
That’s an important phrase right there, but it was one I initially glossed over.
Later that evening, Papa saw the papers and showed similar concerns. I went to a place of frustration at the public school system. I bemoaned everything being so prescribed and pre-printed, leaving no easy way to personalize a Mother’s Day activity to say “Grandma” or anything else. Hell, even my parents’ small Baptist church in rural Virginia was able to accommodate our “situation.”
And I imagined my son going along with the rest of the class so as not to seem too different, or out of fear of being teased. I know he’d told me he was fine, but I kept thinking about him not having a way to belong. I even tossed in the imaginary insult to kids who were estranged or orphaned from their mothers.
So yes, this was originally going to be a letter of protest about the lack of inclusion. I was going to use examples of kids of color being forced to read about white kids, or Jewish and Muslim kids isolated in a flurry of Christmas activities.
But between starting this post and now, I talked to my son again. I was determined not to pry, so I eased back onto the topic.
He told me his teacher presented the option to make something for Grandma, but that he wanted to make something about his birth mother. I asked him if classmates were curious or if he felt left out. He mentioned one kid making fun of her name, but that was all that seemed to bother him.
We sat and talked about his creations and about his birth mother some more, but according to his agenda, not mine. He seemed genuinely interested, and that was when I realized this had become more about me and my issues than about him. I did my best not to let on, but I imagine Jon picks up on those kinds of things — he’s a smart kid. I stopped my thoughts and just listened and watched, savoring the moments of conversation, marveling at how mature and insightful he can be.
I’ve written about his birth mother before, about my struggles with this way-outside-the-ordinary relationship. I thought I’d reconciled my resentment and frustration — in fact I’m sure I had.
But my son continues growing and learning. I’m reminded he will only continue to get more curious about where he came from — and that the thinking and talking about it is part of his journey to becoming the man he’s going to be.
As often seems to be the case, what started out as an exploration of what might be going on in my son’s head, turned out to reveal what was going on in mine. Looks like I’m going to have to keep growing and learning, too.
I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU.
While I’m content that my son advocated for himself in class — and that doing crafts about his birth mom was what he genuinely wanted to do — I still think there could be better, more creative solutions to this scenario.
If you’re a parent (or a teacher), how do you or your kids’ school handle Mother’s Day for those with two dads / no mom? Is it better? Worse? A non-issue? Share your stories in the comments, or if you’d like to remain anonymous, message me on Facebook or via email.
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