Heritage Projects

I am beginning to hate these ‘heritage’ projects. You know the ones. Family trees. Milestones from every year of your life. Questionnaires with lines to answer questions like ‘who was the first one to hold you?’, ‘what was the weather like on the day you were born?’ and ‘What did you look like when you were born?’ For a child who is adopted, especially if it was an international adoption, those projects can spell doom and gloom as parents scramble to make them fit into the specifics of our children’s ‘heritage’.

My son has never had any interest at all in his Korean heritage. It’s not for lack of our trying. He has a shelf full of books and videos and trinkets that we have collected through out his babyhood and childhood. He is more interested in learning about Israel (because his best friend was taking Hebrew classes to prepare for a Bar Mitzvah) and Germany (because his grandfathers fought there in WWII). He recognizes the South Korean flag however. In fact, I have framed a Mayflower project from first grade. Just a boat – but definitely identified as the ‘Mafloer’ – with three Popsicle stick flag poles. One holding a white sail, one flying an American flag….and one flying a Korean flag. History re envisioned through my Korean born son’s eyes.

My daughter relishes every little thing we learn about Russia. She loves every story that we tell her about our adoption trip to retrieve her from her Russian orphanage. She laughs and demands that I tell the ‘bath tub story’ again and again. (Her first tub bath in our Moscow hotel and she played and played in the water. I flipped the switch to drain the tub, stepped out to get her towel and pajamas and was confused as to why the water wasn’t draining. She’d figured out how to keep all that lovely warm water in the tub by unflipping the knob when my back was turned.) She is proud of her history….of which we know nothing. Her required autobiography begins, “When the police found me at a bus stop in Russia, I was wearing a blue dress and could tell them my name.” She was approximately two when they found her and five when we adopted her. She remembers nothing before the Children’s Home in Tuva.

As a Teacher, I understand the idea behind a heritage project. It opens a door for exploration of traditions and diversity. It gives a child a sense of ‘continuity’…..of belonging to a much wider world. As an adoptive parent it drains my heart a little. I wish I could fill those missing pieces. But it does allow me to explain things like ‘grafting’ – the process used by tree growers to enhance a tree’s make up…to make it better…stronger. My family tree has been grafted twice, with shoots from different corners of the world. Stronger? Of course. Better? Definitely.

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One Comment on “Heritage Projects”

  1. Marymurtz Says:

    I’m with you on this one. Our daughter’s preschool was putting up a bulletin board and asked parents for baby pictures of the children. We have several of our daughter, who joined us at 13 months of age, but only a couple of her before that, from a friend of the birth mother, and we didn’t share those. I spoke with the teacher and said “You know, it’s a fortunate thing that everyone in the class has these pictures…” and went on in that vein for a while.

    She finally said “Mary, I wouldn’t have done the bulletin board if there was even one kid in the room who didn’t have a picture.” She has a family history sheet on every kid, and they tailor their projects and lessons to fit everyone in. I was really gratified about that.

    Of course, later on down the line, we’ll run into a family tree project and then I’ll have to get back on my soapbox.


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