I do not know my daughter’s health teacher. If I did, I would thank him or her from the deepest wells of my maternal heart. This smart soul, clearly in tune with how to connect with teens, gave the class one of the great assignments of high school times: Instead of having a semester final, the students were asked to compile a portfolio about themselves. Imagine! Giving a teen the opportunity to earn marks for sharing personal information, narratively, in complete sentences. Not only is it a great way to shake the native Insta-Snap, staccato kid language habit, but asking someone to tell their personal story is a real gift. As an adult, I don’t think this question has been asked of me for as long as I can remember. For an introverted child like my daughter, it was an opportunity to get down in one place, the interesting story of her birth, adoption, health struggles, favorite things to do and articulate her plans for the future.
As I helped her work through her words, I said seriously, “Do you even know how interesting you are?” She didn’t agree or disagree, just kind of looked at me like, “Mom, have we met?”
It’s a funny thing when you see a child’s personal story, in their words. We all have our kids’ histories in our heads, phones and hard-bound albums. Old crayon drawings and school photos look out from our walls and desktops every day. After all, we’ve been right there with them, so we know their stories by heart. It was funny then, when I looked over her paper and read her history up through her plans after graduation, I got choked up. Maybe it’s because a distillation of 17 years can fit on two digital pages and that cannot be possible because I have 5,840 days of wear and tear on my heart and face to show for her wonderful, unique life. In case you do the math, that number is short because we didn’t meet until she was 11-months old.
Adoptive parents I think, retain a permanent awe that in the whole wide world, we found each other. Every year, new twists to the story take shape. Whether it be the mystery of heredity or development of a personality that you can only ever take partial credit for, our acquaintance with nature and nurture is an intimate one.
I don’t know that my daughter was quite so moved by this assignment. For her it may have been just that. Certainly, she enjoyed it, but more likely it was just another thing to do in a busy junior year. The task included a recap of things she’d learned from guest speakers and lessons. These included human sexuality and drug use. Thank you again, health teacher, for augmenting our open lines of communication on these critical topics! This is where I’d have to shout out to the school’s Child Development teacher too, for that person covered premature birth, which we rarely discuss in our house, but played a role in my twin daughters’ lives that cannot be overstated.
As I proofread her story, I smiled at her acknowledgement of how much her parents “dislike my taste in music” and welled up where she talked about a difficult period of two years with a concussion. Pride over her ambitions. It seems strange to marvel at a person’s story you know like the lines on your hand. I wish now that I had been given this assignment at her age. I wish my mother and grandmother had been given this assignment. What a gift it will be for my daughter to look back and see who she was at this age and how she interpreted herself. I look forward to looking at it a few years from now to marvel at who she has become.