Teaching Moments: Mystery Moms and the 'Interrupting Chicken'
For most of this past year, I had a very intense, life-consuming job that cost me a lot of the smaller moments in my children's lives. I still tried to be home for dinner (even if it meant the kids had a delayed bedtime) and I tried hard not to spend too many weekend hours catching up on work I hadn't finished during the week.
But the little "extras" -- the bake sales, the class trips -- were not to be. Until now, that is. A new, less insane job has freed up more hours in my week and made me available for some of those moments.
That's why I really wanted to be a "mystery reader" in my 5-year-old's kindergarten class this month. Every Friday, someone shows up at school to read a story to the class -- it could be a mom or dad, an older sibling, anyone special to one of the students. It's a 10-minute appearance that the kids look forward to all week, as they wonder who this week's mystery reader will be.
The teacher, of course, spends a fair amount of time arranging these appearances, so it's no mystery to her who's coming in. Em* had put herself on the schedule for a Friday in April, and had told the teacher that I was hoping to do it, but that she'd appear in my place if I couldn't make it.
Then, one night Em was reading Mary* a book called "Interrupting Chicken," in which a papa chicken tries hard to read a bedtime story to his little girl, who repeatedly breaks in to put her own ending on the tales.
It occurred to me that it might be fun for us to be a mystery reader duet, with one of us reading the part of the little interrupting chicken. We practiced reading upside down (how do kindergarten teachers do that?) and alternating lines, so we were ready to perform when we knocked on the door of the classroom.
We could hear the teacher wonder aloud "Who's our mystery reader today?" as she opened the door, then exclaim in mock surprise that there were two of us.
Turns out, the surprise was on us. As bad as I'd felt about not having gotten to know Mary's classmates this year, I hadn't thought about how they hadn't gotten to know me, either. Or about me, even.
So, as we were taking our seats in front of the reading rug, we could hear the conversation going on in back. "Who's that other lady?" "That's my other mom," Mary was explaining. "You have two moms?" "Do you have a dad?" "Which one is your real mom?"
Mary answered that last one perfectly: "They're both real." But the questions continued: "But which one did you come out of?"
Now, Em has never been entirely comfortable answering unexpected questions like these, and I could see she wasn't thrilled with the way things were going.
"That's for another day," she said, and the teacher quickly jumped in to add "Yes, children, let's start our story!"
But I was, after all, the interrupting chicken. And if there's one thing I've realized about having kids, it's that you should answer their questions as they arise. Take the opportunity to explain something in a way they can understand, and they're satisfied (at least for a little while). Don't leave them wondering, and on this topic, especially, don't make them think there's something to hide.
So, I said, "Well, I think we can answer those questions before we read our story." (I could sense the murderous twitch of Em's hands even without turning my head.) In about 30 seconds flat, I explained that Mary had been born in Russia, just like her older sister, and that they'd come to America as babies to join us, and that's how we became a family. And that was that -- asked and answered, and we went on to read our story aloud. Mary was thrilled, the children went back to their tables, and the mystery readers left the building.
Our post-mortem lasted a little longer than story time had. Em's take on it was that Mary's adoption story is hers to tell or not tell, and that by talking about it we'd intruded on her privacy. What if Mary doesn't want her classmates to know she was adopted? We can't unring this bell -- the information is out there now, like it or not.
I disagreed (obviously). There are details of both our children's adoption stories that we have not shared with anyone, not even aunts and uncles -- those particulars do belong to them, I think, and they can decide someday whom to tell, and how much. But the fact that they were adopted? To me, that needs to be out there, to be matter-of-fact, to be simple.
And, come on, now, we're both women -- people will want to know how we came to have a child, since we're clearly missing an ingredient for creating one. Why make a mystery out of it?
Em and I will continue to disagree on this one, I'm sure. If she gets questions when she's alone she'll handle them her own way (which may mean dodging them). But when the interrupting chicken is on hand, you can be sure I'll take advantage of the teaching moments and squawk away. Which is why Em just might find herself feeling a little nostalgic for my previous job, after all.
As for me, I can't wait for the next bake sale.
Veronica Rhodes writes about gay parenting under this pen name; read her blog on RedRoom. She and David Valdes Greenwood alternate weeks writing the Family Gaytriarchs. Look for them on ParentDish every Wednesday.