I’ve been wrangling with how best to deal with this incident for a while now. At the beginning of the month, my toddler started a new daycare. We had done the checking, the tours, the parent-accompanied visit–it all seemed good.
I was excited for my son to have some stability and maybe even meet local friends.
He did well with his morning drop-off, getting right into the toys and the play centre. I knew from his other daycare experiences that the longer I hung around, the more upset he would likely become, so gave him a hug, waved goodbye and left, telling the staff I would be back before lunch for him.
All seemed well. I ran some child-free errands but mostly, I was waiting for my brave little boy.
When I came to collect him just before 11.30, he was following the teachers and other kids prepping for lunch time. He wasn’t distressed, just maybe a little unsure of the new routine.
“How’d he do?” I asked, expecting to hear about a few tears and some calls for “mama”.
“Not great” was the reply.
“Oh no! Did he hit someone?” (He tends to use hands rather than words when another child takes his things).
“No. Nothing like that. He was very upset. He wouldn’t join circle time no matter what we did. He had a real aversion to it. And I mean AVERSION” Here she demonstrated his behaviour, the classic toddler shut down with shoulders rounded, face turned down.
This wasn’t what I was expecting.
Well, actually, it was what I was expecting from my toddler, because that’s what toddlers do on their first day at a new daycare!
But the staff reaction, that struck me as odd. Why would she try to make him do circle time — a group activity that requires a level of comfort and interest in other kids? Why did she not just let him get comfortable before forcing anything new?
Then another staff member broke in.
“I know he is adopted, and that it’s an open adoption, so maybe his behaviour is like this because he’s confused with all the women here”
“No” I said firmly, “he’s not confused. I’ve had him from 12 hours old, he knows who his mum is.”
I stood there looking at my beautiful boy, wondering how these people who are supposed to understand children could assume that his perfectly normal behaviour was odd? And then it struck me, they don’t see a normal little boy, they see an adopted aboriginal child and they assume. So often, our culture thinks of adoption as a worst-case scenario, either for the child, the birth mother or both, when it simply isn’t the case.
I don’t think the staff were malicious or racist, but I do think that in cases of interracial adoption there is a tendency to see pathology when it doesn’t exist.
We beat a hasty retreat, my heart beating in my mouth.
Buckled safely in the car, I called my husband, “am I right? This isn’t acceptable is it?” I asked when I told him.
“I’m going to sue them!!” Was all he said.