Quinn’s kindergarten class gathered at my feet, their multi-colored heads bobbing like so many shafts of wheat in a field. I raised the book higher on my left side and showed them the beautiful illustration of rainbow goblins scaling the cliffs that guarded the Valley of the Rainbows.
“Yellow, being the craftiest, was their leader,” I read.
“I love this pawrt,” Quinn divulged from his criss-cross applesauce position on the floor. “The flower rwoots hear their plans.”
Across the room, seated on the edge of a kindergartner-sized desk, Mrs. M. held the newest addition to our family. A five-month-old little boy with huge, brown eyes and a flirty smiled he turned on any one who would look at him. Our first foster child. He too bobbed on his sturdy bottom, waved his arms, and let out a high-pitched squeal, excited by the crowd of children.
“That’s my foster bwother.” Quinn basked happily in his place at the center of attention.
I finished reading, answered an untold number of questions on the habits of rainbow goblins, and stood beside Mrs. M., the baby back in my arms.
“Tell Quinn’s mom thank you,” Mrs. M instructed.
“Thank you!” the class intoned and then questions poured from them nearly drowning me like the flood of color that drowned the rainbow goblins.
“What’s your baby’s name?” one small girl asked.
“Oh, it’s Graham*,” Quinn said with perfect aplomb. “He’s our foster bwother.”
“Why don’t you tell the class what that means, Quinn.”
My breath caught and I waited like the class for Quinn’s words.
“Well,” he said slowly and thoughtfully, “you see, his momma never learned how to take care of babies because maybe her mom wasn’t very good at it or maybe she just doesn’t know how to do it very well, so she has to go to baby school and learn how to do it better. So, we’re taking care of him for a while and then he can go back.”
I’m not sure how he formed the “baby school” idea, undoubtedly from something I said trying to explain difficult and painful circumstances to a little boy, but the substance of the explanation was certainly accurate. The class accepted it without question.
Sometimes, I wonder if I worry too much about what my children can understand and what they cannot. I’ve read so many articles beginning, “how to talk to your kids about …”, and in the end I think the important thing, no matter what the issue, is that I talk to them. Or maybe even more important is that they know they can talk to me.
We’ve gently tackled many difficult conversations since Graham came to live with us. Poverty. Why someone wouldn’t know how to care for a baby. Why a mom might not show up to visit her baby. Why a baby might not have a dad or know his dad.
This was not the first time I’d heard one of my children explain a complicated situation succinctly and with compassion. They’ve proved more than once that they understand more than I imagine. I think I understand more clearly through their eyes.
Now I’m left to wonder only one thing: Do any of us truly understand what “going back” means?
*Not his real name.