A week ago he walked out of his room, his wide brimmed school hat perched on his head with his curly untameable fringe sticking out over his eyes. His socks were pulled up to his knees awkwardly and his shirt was roughly tucked into his pants, his belt on too tight and his pants pulled too high, I gazed at him and smiled.
“What?” He laughed as he looked down.
“I just can’t believe it” I said
“I can’t believe you’re actually in year 8, already!” I began to tear up a little.
“Daaaad” he sighed, do you HAVE to keep saying it?
“Do you HAVE to keep getting so big?”
“Daddy! Can you make him stop, please. He’s embarrassing!”
It’s a good thing I didn’t get to take him to school, although it was the same school as last year and the same uniform I would have made him stop for several hundred photographs before he got to the classroom. It was just under 4 years ago when we first got to drop him to a year 4 classroom, but watching him prepare for his first full year as a high school student was over whelming.
Only a year ago he began at his new school, a huge change that we had instigated in an effort to get him ready for the challenges of high school. His new school was offering a middle school transition year to help students moving from primary into high school, we had bravely taken the plunge and were terrified. Where we felt terror he felt anxious, a lifetime at the one school whilst fraught with good and many bad experiences had created a sense of comfort, short of moving in with us this was to be the biggest change of his life. In a way it was a severance of the final ties that bound him to his old life, a chance to really start fresh and create a new beginning, which was a thought that played on his mind.
A few days before his first day we were making dinner in the kitchen as he entertained himself in the living room. He was rattling off a million questions about what to expect and we were answering what we could until something we said threw him.
“We can’t wait to take you in for your first day tomorrow, we’re so excited and proud of you!”
He went silent.
A moment later his face appeared around the doorway into the kitchen, he looked at us quizzically.
“Are you BOTH taking me to school tomorrow?” he queried cautiously.
“Well, yes. Of course we are, why wouldn’t we be?”
“Oh… well, I thought it would just be one of you…” he cast his eyes downwards.
“Is that going to be a problem” I queried?
His eyes remained on the floor.
“Well… no…. I guess…” He walked away slowly into the living room again and was quiet.
We turned and looked at each other. It was one of those moments where we didn’t really need words, we’d both reached the same conclusion.
He didn’t want to be the kid who turned up to school with two dads.
Somewhere in our minds we’d prepared for this day.
We knew that at some point there would come a day he may become embarrassed by us or be worried about what people may think of us but we were not prepared for it now. He had never been shameful about us before, we’d watched him meet new kids before and do the explanation;
“That’s my dad and that’s my other dad” never with an air of shame, always with pride or simple nonchalance.
Perhaps that was the sting, the turn around in attitude from what was to what is in a heartbeat, it made my head spin and my heart ache.
We sat down over dinner a while later, he picked at his food with his eyes downcast, not saying much.
“Mate, do you want to tell us why you don’t want us both there tomorrow?”
He sighed without looking up
“Mate, you need to be honest, you won’t be in trouble but we need to talk about it”
He sighed, again, but his fork down and looked up with tears in his eyes and gave the most unexpected answer.
“It’s just… if I turn up to school and everyone sees me with two dads… well… they’re going to know I’m adopted… and they’ll think I’m weird.”
A wave of relief washed over me and I almost had to stop from smiling.
He had definitely been worried about being seen to be different but not for fear of the judgement about having two dads, but for fear of being identified as a child of the foster care system.
His innocence was astounding, where we thought him to be so quick to fear judgement about our lives he had not seen it as a point of difference for judgement but merely an indicator that would give away his own past.
We hugged him tight that night to reassure him that everything would be alright, we could sense the relief that he had got his worries off his chest. A big new chapter lay ahead, with no idea how to navigate it and us as his only guides, it was definitely going to be bumpy ride.