Another project that comes up in school is using your own family to track how genetic traits get handed down. What is dominant, recessive, X-linked? Can you predict if your kids will be bald?
This one is just loaded with potential problems and not just for the adoptee! Imagine if your mother had an affair and you might really be So and So's kid? Is ninth grade science the best time to be figuring that out?
Below is the true story of what happened to me in ninth grade science:
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But they can’t have blue eyes!
One of the best things that my parents did for me as a child was to be open about the fact that I was adopted and to share what limited knowledge they had with me. I have no conscious memory of finding out that I was adopted, I just always knew. This was pretty advanced for the early 1970’s, a time which was known for secrecy and lies in adoption.
One thing that I’ve never understood is when parents try to hide the adoption from their child. Like any secret, it will eventually be found out. And from the adoptees that I’ve talked to or blogs that I have read, where they don’t find out until later in life, it has been devastating. All trust of their parents is lost. And in the cases where they don’t find out until after their parents have died, a lot of time all information is lost too.
I can’t imagine what would have happened in my grade 9 science class if I hadn’t known that I was adopted.
We were studying recessive genes as they relate to eye colour. We had to fill out a Punnett Square based on our parents eye colour to show the probability of what our own eye colour could be.*
Both of my adoptive parents have blue eyes, which is recessive. I however have brown eyes, which is dominant. Using what we learned in that science class, my eye colour was not a possibility from my parents. As it were, I was a bit of a smart ass in high school. I knew full well going into the assignment that our family was genetically impossible. But luckily for me I knew why. Because my teacher did not handle it well at all. When he was handing back the assignments he pulled mine from the pack and used it as an example of work that was obviously wrong. When I smugly told him that it was indeed correct, he went off on a tangent about how my blue eyed parents could not have possibly me, a brown eyed baby. A few kids in the class were shocked, snickering jokes about the milk man and other wild guesses as to how I came to be. And the whole time, my teacher just kept going on, looking at my eyes, “but they can’t have blue eyes! They can’t!”
Eventually I spilled the beans. “Of course my parents can have blue eyes! I’m not genetically related to them. And this is a stupid assignment! I’m adopted, so what does it matter what colour eyes my parents have?”
I wish I could say that my teacher was contrite or apologetic, but he was not. He was smug in the knowledge that he was right. 2 blue eyed parents could not and did not produce this brown eyed kid.
I have shared this story with many people over the years, including adoptive parents who had not yet told their kids that they had adopted them. And still these folks were not spurred into action. They continued to live and perpetuate a lie, focusing their energies not on sharing the truth, but on covering their tracks and spinning the web of deceit wider and wider. Their solution to the school project dilemma? Tell the teacher that the child is adopted and doesn’t know and request alternative assignments for the class. I’ve lost touch with this family over the years, so I don’t know what eventually happened. One of the kids also had a variety of medical problems, so I can’t imagine that they could hide the truth from him forever.
Kids are a lot tougher then most adults. Growing up knowing we are adopted is in no way as scarring or damaging as finding out when we are a teen or and adult. The first time I told my son his adoption story he was 4 hours old. He was bundled up in a pile of hospital blankets and I was pacing the hallway with him. And he’s been told it many, many times since then. There are enough other secrets in my own adoption that I don’t need to make new ones.
* Science has since shown that eye colour is not so simple. You can check it out here.
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