Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Birthday drama

Yesterday was our daughters 10th birthday. A day that for most children is happy and joy-filled. All birthdays should be inherently awesome and the beginning of the double digits is among the best. Brian and I started out singing her “Happy Birthday” before we went to bed on Monday night (as it would have been 10 a.m. Tuesday in China) and woke up yesterday morning wishing each other a happy birthday, on her behalf, of course. We enjoyed a birthday breakfast with my mom and are celebrating her birthday at the local Chinese restaurant with a friend tonight. I believe birthday cupcakes are in the making. All in all, we have had an absolutely lovely start to her 10th year of life, filled with fun stuff and dining out, and celebrating a birthday in the way we know how to celebrate. Apparently the fact that the actual child isn’t here to celebrate is ancillary.

And through all this celebration and fun yesterday, I really started to wonder if she even knew it was her birthday at all. Was anyone celebrating with her? Did anyone even make mention of it? And even if they did, did she even care? Or did she recall the tragedy that befell her years ago this day? Did her birth parents recall that day as anything different? Did her birth parents wake up with a heavy heart? Or did they not even remember at all?

You see, accustomed as I am to explaining this to other people, when I’m the recipient of this information, it’s a bit different. The truth is, the August 20 birthday for our Yiyi is completely made up. Nothing about her story or her life indicated that her birthday was even really in August, or even the year 2003 for that matter. Like many internationally adopted children, the orphanage director took one quick look at her the day she came into care, decided that she looked X years old and gave her a birthday of that date (August 20), X years before. This is a typical story of most children adopted internationally. I’ve been counseling families about this for years. Old hat.

Rewind to last Friday, when I got a call from the school principal of the school Yiyi is going to go to. Lovely man, patient, kind, would have let me stay on the phone with him as long as I needed to get all my questions answered. Which, one of those questions was, “So her birthday is August 20, 2003. What grade does that put her in?” (Thinking, of course, the cut-off for birthdays was August 1 and that he would say 4th grade). His reply, “5th. She will just be the youngest 5th grader.” Silence. I replied, “I thought the cut-off was August 1st.” He stated, “not in Shawnee Mission, it’s August 31st.” Oh my lands. My Missouri upbringing failed me for this Johnson County life I am living! With a shaking voice I stumbled, “so that’s it, not like consideration of her learning abilities or past education, just 5th grade no matter what?” Yes, my dear Nikki, that’s how public school works. (Note: Please, homeschooling parents, no negative comments about how if we homeschooled we wouldn’t have to deal with this. I am aware of that. I respect you and admire you so much for what you do, please afford us the same respect. Let’s keep this a friendly place. This is the decision we have made for our family at the present time. We did not make this decision lightly, and we are not closed to considering other ideas in the future, but for the time being, we are deferring to those who are trained to educate our special needs, ELL child, in the second best school district in the state. Thank you.)

So I got off the phone, stunned, which then turned into panic that middle school might start in 6th grade (Praise the Lord, it’s 7th grade!) And then I just made the decision that she would just repeat 5th grade regardless to get her another year of the basics. Yes, that’s the answer. Then I remembered that I’m married and have a partner to discuss such an idea with. Son of a public school teacher reminded me that she may make friends in that class and then to have them move on and have to put her with a new group of younger kids might not be appealing to her. Yes, true, wise husband of mine.  

And then I started to reflect on how her birthdate is a completely arbitrary date anyhow and just because China decided it was August 20, she’s going to be stuck a year ahead in school (thanks Kansas and China). And by the end of yesterday I had come to the conclusion that August 20 is a completely inappropriate birthdate for her for so many reasons and we should just change it. Yes, let’s change it to a “happy” day. We’ll change it to the day we became a family and make the year 2004. That will get her back a grade in school and it’s going to be such a happy day that will be good around. That’s the logical choice, isn’t it?

Well, you see friends, that’s the comfortable and logical choice for me. But it’s not my life now, is it? I’ve never been a supporter of changing these adopted kids birth dates. I’ve always told people to leave well enough alone, arbitrary or not. But now the shoe is on my foot and there seems to be so many reasons to try to change it. But what if she knows when her “birthday” is? What if she knows that she’s 10 and then we change it to make her 9? Is she going to understand that in the end, it’s because we want to be setting her up for better success and this will only help her? Thought you had a summer birthday? J/k, you’re a January baby now.

Are we just playing with fire, ripping her out of everything she knows and is comfortable to her, to give her a new life (that, by the way, will be a super happy day for us but might not be a happy day at all for her at all), in a new place, in a language she doesn’t speak, with people who love her, but she doesn’t know, oh, and now BTW you’re 9, not 10, and please eat this pizza because all kids must certainly like pizza. This birth date changing seems less and less like a good idea today than I originally thought.

And then it struck me; parents have to make decisions every day that they risk their children being upset with them about for a long time.

Welcome to parenthood, me.


  1. From a public and private school parent who makes choices for all my kiddos, I have taken on the system and fought to have my little girls "retained" one year from their birthrates...even if it made them "old" for their grade. I have not "held them back" but had them placed initially one grade level below the state standard. I can't give them back all the years of childhood we missed together, but I can give them one year longer to be a kid...learn a new culture, new language, etc. This has been a personal choice we made for our girls and a VERY hard battle to fight at times. One DD has been mad at me since the first day of kindergarten when she figured it out (with only 6 months of language skill) until this summer when we talked about everything she'd be rushing into - middle school, homework, loss of recess, etc. For the first time I received a "Thank you, Mom!" I don't know how our story will end or if it was truly the "right" choice, but it has worked well for our girls.

  2. you just make me smile. i love thinking of you as a mom. you're awesome!!