So our son is involved in a project at school. His class has the wonderful good fortune to be taking part in a mentoring/buddy program with nearby Duke University. He and all of his clasmates have been partnered with individual Duke freshmen students of education. The Duke students come to Whirlwind’s classroom once a week. The buddy teams pair up, find some space to work and together they’re all designing projects and will develop and present them near the end of the semester. It’s a great thing and Whirlwind is very excited both about his “buddy” and the project they’re developing.

As part of the program all of the families of the elementary school students were invited to a dinner, meet and greet, ‘work session’ on Duke campus. It was an interesting evening.

Both the Duke “buddy” and the elementary school “buddy” were required to write autobiographical letters explaining facts about their life and background. They read the letters to each other with the families listening and then as a small group we worked to find commonalities and unique qualities in their backgrounds which were then listed in the appropriate fields of a Venn diagram.

Whirlwind’s letter started off mentioning his adopted African-American sister. Seemed like a nice sentiment that she came first until he concluded his write up of her with…”and like most little sisters she can be highly annoying.” For that one, if she had reached up and smacked him in the back of the head right there in front of his buddy, I honestly would not have scolded her. But she was a big girl. I was very proud.

The letter goes on to describe some of his favorite family trips and places to visit. All standard ten year old stuff and then he wraps it all up with words to the effect of: “Another important thing to know about me is that my dad is not my biological dad. I don’t know my actual dad because I came from donor sperm.”

You can assume that neither Erin nor I had an opportunity to pre-screen his letter, and I’m guessing that neither did his teacher.

To the young woman’s credit, she didn’t really react as he read this. Erin and I were reasonably neutral about the whole thing. But then we all faced the inevitable, “OK. So where does the conversation go from here?”

Thank GOD for Erin, because I was useless. She on the other hand picked up on the fact that Whirlwind’s Duke buddy had shared in her letter that she comes from a very diverse ethnic background which she can trace back quite far. So Erin opens the conversation with, “well I think we can all agree that you both come from unique diverse backgrounds.” And that’s EXACTLY what went into the center of the Venn diagram! From there the conversation flowed easily into less potentially awkward commonalities and differences: food, activities, reading, etc. Erin for diplomat of the year!

Whirlwind’s orgin has never been a secret. Back when we were dealing with our infertility and considereing ways to build a family Erin and I knew and agreed that if we elected to pursue pregnancy through donor sperm, it was something that would be out in the open. But ‘open’ is a relative term and it seems that we as adults had different expectations about that definition than the boy. Obviously we failed to consider the transparency of kids and therefore how and where it may come up. THIS was definitely not in the parenting manual.

In case you’re wondering this isn’t a regular topic of conversation in our house. The last time I can remember talking about it with him directly was when his little sister arrived and the whole topic of where do baby’s come from resurfaced. Back then the conversation went some thing like:

Me: “Well, a man gives a woman a special cell (remember, he was 5 at this time) and the baby grows in the woman’s belly and then is born.”

Him: “Did you give Mama that special cell?”

Me: “Well, I couldn’t. So we had to go out and get those cells from somewhere else.”

Clearly there have been follow up conversations given his use of the terminology, but my point is it’s not standard sitting around the dinner table conversation.

Last night, Erin, Whirlwind and I talked after we were home and I asked him why he felt that was an important thing to share. He pointed out that his teacher encouraged them to think and write about things that they felt made them unique. Gotta admit it, the kid knocked that one out of the park!

I asked him if it’s something that troubles or bothers him. Does he have questions, or are there things he wants to know. He says he’s curious to know if he has other relatives out in the world, but beyond that no, it doesn’t really bother him.

I didn’t even get upset about the “actual dad” verbiage. As someone who likes to write, I could see the complication of his sentence structures and using “biological” twice in such short order. He needed another adjective and while using “actual” could be seen as insensitive, I understand what he was trying to convey.

Want to know the best part? That letter’s gonna be stuck up on the wall of Whirlwind’s elementary school outside his classroom for the next three months. Some of you might be thinking, “Why wouldn’t you ask his teacher to not include his?” Or “Why not have him revise it?”

Erin and I talked about it and we agree that we refuse to do that. As we explained to him last night, how our son was conceived is just one fact among the myriad of elements and components that make him who he is. The individual fact of how each of us came into this world is just one instant. It’s a snapshot and it certainly doesn’t tell the whole story of who each of us are. It certainly doesn’t define him. So why make a big deal of it?

Asking him to change the letter would suggest that we’re embarrassed about what he chose to share about himself. We won’t send that sort of message to him.

Looking ahead, I am a bit concerned for him that classmates or schoolmates might read it and give him a hard time about it. I’m worried they might use it as a lever to tease or bully him. But if kids are inclined to pick on someone, they’re going to find SOME thing to leverage. Size, weight, skin tone, hair color, the way other kids speak, whatever. Who knows? Maybe by laying this out there he’s beaten them to the punch and taken the potential sting out of it. If he’s comfortable sharing it, then there’s really nothing there to leverage, right?

So I’ll ask you, is there such a thing as being too open about things? What are the risks and rewards?

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