I grew up in a family with two older brothers, my mom, and my dad. My parents are still married and I am close with my brothers. For much of my childhood, my family structure was the only kind I knew. As a young girl, I didn’t realize the lessons on families that I wasn’t being taught.
It was my first year as a Spanish teacher in Denver. The school where I taught was a contrast to the schools I attended, though I didn’t know it right away. That day in class, I was beginning a lesson on family, from the book La familia. The students, ages 5-6, gazed up at me with eager eyes as I held the story in front of my shoulder.
My fingers trembled with nerves as I began to turn the pages. My uncertainties crossed my mind and filled me with butterflies. I hadn’t prepared this lesson as well as I could have. As I opened to the first page, I realized the book wasn’t a story at all.
‘El hermano, brother,’ it read. A simple picture of a boy sat on the page, staring at us blankly. I could feel the students’ eyes on me, asking the same question that had formed in my own mind,
”What’s this story about?”
As many teachers do with a baited audience waiting, I jumped to the decision to improvise. I added in my own descriptions, embellishing the pictures in the book, ”The brother has a… hermana!” I proclaimed as I turned the page. Their eyes lit up and several students mimicked the word out loud, ”Hermana!”
A few began making connections to their own families. They couldn’t contain themselves, eager to share. ”I hve a hermana!’ said one boy. I smiled to myself, relishing in their practice with the foreign language and confidence to use it, even when mixed with English.
The ‘story’ continued. I turned the page. ”They have a madre,” I read, ”and a padre.” Before I could go on, a student spoke out loud. Her words stick in my memory like glue.
She said, ”Some families have dos madres and some families have dos padres,”
The widest smile bloomed on my face. I looked at her with astonishment and pride. I realized in that moment what made this school special and how differently these children understood family.
I said to her softly yet firmly, ”Yes, yes they do.”
In my 5th grade class, we have been learning about writing memoirs. I teach my students that memoirs are a small moment story that connects to a big lesson for the reader. To practice what I preach, I tried out my own! I hope you enjoyed this special small moment of mine, as well as the lesson I strongly believe in: not all families look the same.