Monthly Archives: September 2014

Continuing with Jah’s story

Recently I have been doing what this blog title suggests and indulging in ‘Adoption Reflections’. Now I’d like to continue Jah’s story.

To re-cap where we were with Jah’s situation.

  • He was now five years old.
  • We were all waiting for an adoption order to be granted.
  • An alternative barrister had been lined up to present his case
  • Amazingly, his birth mother had been located.

    She had turned up at a hospital giving birth to her third child.  As the birth was by Caesarian section,  Jah’s birth mother had to stay in the hospital for a while and a hospital social worker had spoken to her at length about the advantage of her giving her consent to the adoption. The really good news was that she was going to agree to this. Sadly, we heard that this new baby was suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome and was born with learning difficulties. The social worker was trying to enable the mother to look after him. The alternative would be for him to go directly to a foster home. This would then be the third child she would have given up to the care of others. (Jah was her first-born. The second son had been adopted by a couple who took him to live in the United States.)

Jah was due to start school in September. He longed to have the same surname as the rest of the family, but we tried to make light of this and said that things would soon work out.

At last the day dawned when Jah could start school. He set out confidently.

Jah looking important with new haircut

After he had been at school for a couple of weeks, all parents had an interview with his teacher. She was very experienced and due to retire soon. To our surprise she said that Jah was quite a slow learner, although she did have confidence that he would get there in the end.

This did not sound at all like the bright, lively child we knew. We knew that he did have some strange learning blocks but we thought it was more to do with a lack of confidence. The teacher agreed. I asked whether they had any books that showed children that looked like him. They had none at all, so we suggested some that the school could use. (Reminder. This was c. 1981 and long before people had given much thought to representing diversity in books.

As I have mentioned earlier, books are still not representative enough. But they were even WORSE then!).

Jah soon made friends at school and was often invited round to other children’s houses. He grew in confidence. Things began to move on the legal front and we were told that there would be a hearing at the High Court – the Royal Courts of Justice – some time in November.

By mid-October we began to talk to Jah about the adoption day, because we had always been given to understand that he would accompany us.

We all waited anxiously for a date to attend the Court.

Mentioning adoption and colour. And is it true that children are “always colour-blind”?

My best friend at school in the 1940s was adopted. We all knew that, so there was no mystery or hiding the fact. As far as we were concerned, it was a fact of life.

In 2011 I was due to visit my granddaughter’s school and talk about my latest picture book.

Sammy Flying coverI suggested to her Dad that he should talk to her about why I am white and she is black. She was about five years old at the time. It seemed a good time to explain to her about adoption, as I thought that some older children at the school would say that I could not be her grandmother. (We adopted her Dad who is black, when he was a baby, in the days when interracial adoption was actively sought.)

Later I overheard her playing with her various dolls and she said very matter-of-factly “That doll is adopted. . .   That doll doesn’t like wearing dresses. . That doll likes going on the trampoline etc. “ She invented all sorts of scenarios for her different dolls and was obviously quite at ease with the concept of adoption.

Our granddaughter is now aged eight. Recently she ran over to me at a playpark and said “Grandma, I’m going on the slide with my new friend”. She then explained to that girl who was wearing an African print dress. “She’s my Grandma. My Daddy was adopted”. Then they dashed off together. At that moment, perhaps she thought it a good idea to explain the colour difference to her new playmate. Presumably she felt the need to explain about me just then, although I have never known her do so before.

I recounted this episode to some friends – one of whom is married to a man from Jamaica. I got the distinct impression that they disapproved of my granddaughter saying this, but I can’t think why. I do accept that sometimes children are not aware of the colour of their friends. Sometimes the colour difference is not important or relevant, but equally I believe that sometimes it is worth noting. And why not? By the time you are eight, you have probably worked out that white people usually have white children and mixed-race couples have children who look a bit like either parent.

Why do people insist that children are always colour-blind??

As for mentioning adoption, perhaps that is more tricky? I don’t know.

I am looking forward to buying a copy of a new book by Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith, entitled “The Great Big Book of Families” published by Frances Lincoln Limited .

Big Book of Families As I understand it, the book mentions every possible kind of family, with combinations of step-families, fostered children, adopted children, single parents, families with two mums, two dads, children of all different colours. It should be an enjoyable and very worthwhile resource in homes and certainly in all schools.

I myself have been trying to write a book about an adopted girl and her Life Story Book. A Life Story Book is a kind of scrapbook, outlining an adopted or fostered child’s own particular story. So far I don’t seem to get it right. My critique group also give me the impression that adoption and a Life Story book are very difficult and delicate subjects to raise, especially in a classroom. Perhaps “The Great Big Book of Families” will free people up to discuss variety in families.

Families do indeed come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours. I salute Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith in opening up this matter.

EXTRA NOTE

Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith have written two other books. One is the” Big Book of Feelings” and the other “Welcome to the Family”.   Mary says “The new book, ‘Welcome to the Family’ is specifically about all the many different ways babies and children enter families“.

 

 

Terminology and the emotive power of words, especially with regard to race

Recently my husband D. was performing at the Edinburgh Fringe with the drama group “3rd Thought”. The actors were presenting either a poem, a story, or a scene from a play to the public as a one-to-one performance. Sometimes, especially when a group of foreigners came for their story, a small family group shared in the experience. At the Edinburgh Festival there were people from Germany, Japan, Korea and many other countries, so sometimes they came up in a group simply because they needed help with the language.

1459821_764991816857111_1487635275530316461_n Sometimes a simple poem has a very moving effect on the participant. One person was even moved to tears. This reminded me of the power of words.

During the last decades, words referring to race have changed fairly frequently. For mixed-race, we now often say ‘dual-heritage. I no long hear the phrase that used to be common – ‘half-caste’. That sounds offensive now to my ears. And yet I remember that at a book launch of one of my books in early 1990s, a child came up to me and explained, to my surprise that she was ‘quarter-caste’. I had not heard that before, but this definition evidently pleased the child in question.

Nowadays people can be frowned upon if they use what is considered to be out-dated terminology. For this reason I salute the founders of a new website that honours different cultures and backgrounds of children. The title uses strong metaphors and thus avoids the problem of current or outdated terminology. It is called Mirrors, Windows, Doors. http://www.mirrorswindowsdoors.org/wp

windows doorsImage courtesy of sattva at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I quote from the website itself: © Marjorie Coughlan and Mirrors Windows Doors, 2014

“Those words were originally coined by Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Education at Ohio State University, who specialised in African American children’s literature. In a 1990 article re-published recently here by Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), she wrote:

‘Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

Clearly the website will recommend books that offer new insights and will embrace a world view. That is something to be welcomed.