Genes are like a bunch of seventh graders; never quite sure how they’re going to rearrange themselves. They’re rarely predictable. And, when they converge, they produce results with lasting consequences.
The hereditary line on my mother’s side of the family took particular twists and turns. My mother’s mother had five sisters. Two sisters produced children; four sisters were sterile. My mother had two sisters. All of them had children. In my generation, my sisters were unable to give birth. Neither could I.
My sisters dreamed about becoming mothers. When scientific advances such as in-vitro fertilization and U.S. adoption agencies failed to provide them with children, they did not abandon their dreams.
My youngest sister, Annie, and her husband adopted two boys from a Ukraine orphanage. Luke and Joe were lifted from sterile cribs and thrust into the middle of a large Irish family. When they were eight and asked about their heritage, they proudly stated they were one-fourth Italian (from their father’s side), one-fourth Ukrainian, and 80% Irish. No one knows how they mathematically came to that conclusion.
Kellie, my middle sister, and her husband traveled to Russia to adopt a boy they named Connor. His mother’s last name is his first name. Kellie experienced enormous joy as a mother to Connor and of young babies in the hospital where she worked as a nurse. Although her dream to experience motherhood was richly fulfilled, Connor’s dream about a mom crumbled when my sister suddenly died. He was 8 years old. Kellie is no longer able to physically embrace her son and husband, but they are part of a large extended family that continues to remind them how deeply, firmly, completely they are loved.
Although I rarely revealed details about my personal life to my seventh grade students at the urban school where I taught, that did not keep them from asking questions. Experience taught me to provide brief answers and move on. Information about my personal life was not a standard on the core curriculum.
“How old are you?”
I told them my age.
“Do you dye your hair?”
“How many children do you have?”
I don’t have any children.
“Why don’t you have any children?”
My body won’t let me have children.
“Did you try to adopt children?”
Because I was not married. I experienced a painful divorce and I was afraid to care for a child by myself. Of course, I did not tell them this. Many of my students are raised by single mothers.
Because I teach. Because I love all of you. I could say that, but the words stick in my throat. I try not to cry.
I would love to have children.
And, every year, the obnoxious, noisy, argumentative, cantankerous seventh graders respond, “We’re your children,” they agree.
And, every year, my voice cracks and my heart swells with love for them.
“Yes, you are my children,” I concur.
Relationships are not built into the core curriculum, but learning does not take place without them. I am lucky to be part of a big family, too!
Who is your family? Who are your children?
My seventh grade students in an inner-city school share their deeply moving stories in Voices in the City School.
Honesty Builds Trust (Especially With Youth) reflects a powerful lesson I learned from students about integrity.
Children share surprising spiritual thoughts in What Color is God?
Kids talk about all of the things they’re not supposed to talk about at school. Use tips from Politics, God, Race, Sex, & Other Controversial Topics Kids Discuss at School to start a dialogue.
Listen to the Voices of Our Youth offers suggestions for conversations and providing safe opportunities to express their thoughts and opinions.