‘You don’t belong here and your color is awful!,’ a child said to my 5-year-old African American son on his first day of school.’: Mom worries for her adopted children at school this year, says despite ‘all the goodness, there is hurt’

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“This morning, after what seemed like a never ending summer, we walked our four children onto the campus of their elementary school. I’ve been doing this mom gig now for 10 years, and as a mother of 5 children I have done this first day of school thing countless times. Each new school year held its own feelings and emotions. Some years I felt so sad to say goodbye to our long days home together, full of worry that they wouldn’t be able to handle the long days without me, and yet other years I might as well have thrown open the door to my minivan and with a sweet motherly shove, dropped them all off at the curb and peeled rubber as I raced toward my silent, childless home.

But this year felt different. I didn’t cry tears of sadness as I walked my son to his kindergarten playground for his first year of real school. Nor did I happy dance down the sidewalk as I skipped off into the sunset. But rather, I let the emotion that I had been suppressing for the last few weeks of summer, actually stick around for a moment. There it was: worry. The tears that were welling up in my eyes, and threatening to escape if my kids gave me one more hug goodbye, were not there because of how much I would miss them, or from how happy I was for a ‘break.’ But rather all the memories of the tough parts of recent school years began flashing through my mind.

Courtesy of Shannon Henson

I thought of my son, sitting on the rug in his class, watching as each of his fellow students walked by him as they made their way to the coveted treasure box. They had all worked hard to earn their positive behavior tickets. But there sat my son, feeling shame and confusion as to why he couldn’t control his impulsive behaviors enough to earn those 10 tickets each week.

I pictured in my head the side table in my older son’s class. You know the one where the kids who ‘struggle’ go to get help from the class aid. The one where he sits and takes his tests, and has questions read allowed to him, because his brain does not process information the same way that other kids’ brains do. I picture his face as he looks up at his other classmates and wonders why he has to be the one who is different.

I think of my daughter, as she fell into my arms sobbing last year after a parent of one of her classmates, yes you heard that right, a parent, made ignorant and downright mean statements to her about her after she shared with her class that she was adopted. I remember the feel of holding her in my arms as I tried to help her process why someone would say such mean things about something she felt so proud of.

And finally, as I hugged and kissed African American kindergartner goodbye, my mind flashed back to his first day of transitional kindergarten last year. That moment before he even stepped foot into his new classroom, where a child on the playground came up to him and told him, ‘You don’t belong here and your color is awful.’ At age 5, my son had to come home and tell our family this as we sat around the dinner table. I had to look away so he wouldn’t see my tears.

Courtesy of Shannon Henson

Yes these are just a few of the worry inducing memories that filled my mind as I dropped my kids off for school this morning. This was the reason for the tears in my eyes. And yet, even as I worried about what this year would hold from them, I started to feel a bit of the heaviness begin to lift as other memories crept in.

I suddenly remembered how after a few weeks, my son’s teacher recognized his struggles. She allowed me to share a little of his story with her, and we talked about ways to help him. ‘I am adopted myself. I feel a connection with your son,’ she then shared with me. Soon after, my son proudly marched up to me after school and showed me that darn little rubber snake he had pulled from the treasure box that day.

You see, his teacher recognized his needs and set a new goal for him. An attainable goal that filled him with pride and all kinds of good feelings when he met it. She also recognized when he needed to move his body, and allowed him to run a lap right outside the classroom to get his wiggles out.

My mind also dug up the memories of two recent teachers my daughters had. Teachers who created classrooms that became my daughters’ second homes. Classrooms where they felt safe to share and explore their feelings, and therefore felt safe to listen and learn. Where their teachers read books to them about how families don’t have to all look the same, and who encouraged them to do projects and write about their adoption stories.

And finally, I remembered the good kids. The kind friends my children have made along the way. The girls who made cards for my daughters on the first day of school when they transferred to this school mid-year a few years back. The line of little boys who follow my youngest son everywhere he goes, because they love to explore and laugh with him. And finally, the boy who invited my oldest son to his birthday party last year; the only birthday party he was invited to that entire school year. The joy I felt seeing the excitement on my son’s face when he heard he was invited brought a smile to my face.

You see, school can be a tough place. It can be so hard to trust that our precious children, each with their own personalities and needs, will be ‘safe’ during the hours they are away from us. But what I’ve discovered is that school can and should be a place of comfort and safety. That our kids are often surrounded by teachers, administrators, and even yard duties who want to pour into their lives; who want to meet both their educational and emotional needs. And for every bully out there, there are also a ton of other kind kids. Kids who welcome and include, and who build each other up. Who just want to play tag, and chase bugs, and know that they can because of the safe environment that their teachers and admin have strived to create.

But sometimes, even with all the goodness, there is hurt. But you know what else they have? They have me. Their loving mama who they know is waiting every day for them to come home and listen to the stories from their day. Who will celebrate their achievements with them, hold them while they cry after a hard day, and tell them just how special they are. They know I will then sit and pray with them about that situation and remind them that God is in their corner and cares deeply for them.

So yes, today on the first day of school I felt emotional as I said goodbye to each of them. Not because it would be so hard not to see them for the next 6 hours (Lord knows I am ready for a little silence), but rather because I am releasing them once again. But with the knowledge that release is not necessarily bad. Release helps you to realize that you cannot protect your child from everything, but also that you don’t always have to. They are often surrounded by others who want good for them too. Who care for them and build them up. Release reminds you that though you may care so deeply for your children, God cares even more for them and wants good for them too. Ah, yes, today I choose to release.”

Courtesy of Shannon Henson

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shannon Henson. You can follow her journey on Instagram and FacebookDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read Shannon’s powerful adoption backstories:

‘Please,’ they begged. ‘Would you take in a newborn, just for the weekend?’ I knew my husband would say no.’: Foster mom adopts ‘special little boy,’ is forever grateful for her son ‘who almost wasn’t’

‘We were ready to tell our kids mommy was expecting a baby from her tummy. Their first question was, ‘Will we be able to adopt him?!’’

‘As I wheeled the adoptive mom out toward the elevator, I could see her shoulders shaking with sobs. I knelt down beside her and took her hand in mine.’

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