One spring day in 1999, I received a call asking me to speak to a fourth grade class on being an author. People from all kinds of professions were being asked to speak at schools around Marin County, California on Career Day. I happily accepted. But as the day grew closer, I worried about how I could talk about my book without explaining what the story was about. How would fourth graders handle the subject of a mother giving up her child?
I called the principle of the school to tell her what my book was about and ask her advice.
“No,” she said. “I would not want you to discuss that subject with the children.”
She was quite firm about it and, even though I, too, had some trepidation I was left feeling a bit tarnished.
On my way to the school the morning of the talk, I believed I would be speaking to students from wealthy families, given the address. So, I was surprised to be greeted at the classroom door by children who were mostly from Mexico. They were clearly excited about my visit.
I took the teacher aside. “Do you know what my book is about?” I asked.
“Yes, I do and I want you to talk about it,” she answered without hesitation.
“But, your principal specifically requested that I not touch the subject.”
“This is my decision to make, and I want you to be honest,” she insisted. “Trust me.”
I took a deep breath and entered the classroom, as the children scrambled to sit down in a big circle. Somehow I was able to find the right words to describe how it was to be forced by society’s judgment of me as an unwed mother to give up my first born for adoption. I told the children that I always knew I would search for my son when he turned eighteen, and that I’d found him and we had a good relationship. I told them that I wanted to write the book so that others, in the same situation, would feel less alone, and so that those who loved them would understand why we had to find our children.
After my talk, I asked if there were any questions and received a flood of compassionate responses instead. “Did you cry every night, until you found your son?” “Did he miss you, too?” “Was he all right?”
The teacher saw my shock and explained in front of the class that most of the children were separated from at least one of their parents, who out of necessity had to remain behind in Mexico in order to give their children a better life. One after another, the children spoke of their longing to see their parent, about their nightmares and sleepless nights from crying, and how they were trying to be strong. They asked questions about how my son was doing now, how I was doing. I was moved to tears.
The teacher asked me to stay an extra hour, and I suggested the children spend the time writing their own stories. I could tell they were old souls, and so I asked them to be silent for a few minutes and either pay attention to what feeling came up first for them and write about that or else write about a part of their story that needed to be told. After a brief meditation, they began writing. As many as time allowed shared their stories after, and even the teacher was surprised at their depth. But then it was lunchtime and time to say goodbye. I regretted having to leave, since I felt so close to all of the children and would never see them again.
A week later a big package arrived in the mail, full of drawings the children had made and letters thanking me for my visit. As I read each one, I couldn’t help wondering, despite never wanting them to have suffered as they had, if they were better off than many privileged children and that their young, hard-earned wisdom might someday make the world a more compassionate place.
Here are a few excerpts from their letters:
“Dear Mrs. Carol, I really liked the stories that you told us especially about your son that you were separated from. Coming to help us was like a shining star in the sky. You opened my heart with joyfulness.” Love, Ruben
“ … Your story about your son touched me. You are very nice to come and I hope you are with your son …” Sincerely, Robert
“ … I hope you and your son are with each other forever. Come back soon.” From Jener
“ … It was very sad about your son Jack. He looks nice. Why don’t you get your son and bring him here so that we could see him … “ Your friend, Laura
“ … When you left I was so sad at the end that I wrote a story at home.” Love, D’Jaun
“ … I also like your story about your son. It is very sad. It reminds me of my little brother. My story is very sad, too … “ From Sylvia Rose
“ … It was like being in the forest when you read your story. I’m going to miss you.” Sincerely, Diana
“ … We like your story so much. I might buy one myself with the money I got from my Mom. Why don’t you go get your son and go live with him? Or go get your son and bring him back to the school.” Sincerely, Beyonka
“ … You made my life like a kid in the sky. These drawings are my movies in my head.” Sincerely, Angel
“I like the story that you told us because it reminds me of when my parents left me with my Grandfather …” Love, Yeison
“ … Thank you when you tell me to close my eyes and think of past time.” Love, David
“I hope that you’re happy with your son Jack. We all like the book that you read to us and you touched our hearts too.” Sincerely, Selene
“Dear Carol Schaefer, I want to tell you that I understand because my aunt gave my grandmother her little girl because she couldn’t take care of her. She wanted to see her child again, so she gave her to my grandmother. So that is why I understand you. … Your story was like a dream to me.” Love, Selena
“… Ms. Wander found your story at the bookstore and it had your autograph. Having you here is like having a doctor come.” Sincerely, Jessica