I don’t write much. I often wish I wrote a lot more than I do. I often want to write about things other than adoption, ALS and family. I like writing short stories and just about my life in general as a result I am rebranding this blog. In effect, I am changing faces. I’ll keep the name for the time being since it is in the URL but this is now going to become my own little narcissistic space for all things Kumar. To those of you who just connected with me because I write about adoption I will still write about adoption but also a lot of other things as well.
Thanks for the encouraging words of support and critical thought and I hope some of you folks out there keep an eye on this page and continue to follow me through this cyber world.
Friends, acquaintances, web surfers and lurkers welcome to the Adoption Blogger Interview Project 2013. I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Lisa Cook of Open to Life (and God’s plan for it). We had a great time exchanging questions and responses over the past few weeks. Before we get started don’t forget to check out all the other awesome interviews (including mine!) at Open Adoption Bloggers. Additionally, you can check out the interview post for my group here (I don’t know what this is, but someone told me to post it so there).
The interview that follows is almost entirely verbatim of the conversations that Lisa and I had. I am not very into molding, shaping and engineering how others tell their own stories so the following is “raw”. I have messed with the order of the questions so that is will flow nicely. That being said I have included some of my own reflections at the end which hopefully gives you an idea of how important a project like this can be for opening your eyes to experiences you’ve never had.
What is your occupation?
I used to work for a not-for-profit agency, coordinating various programs for them. I left when Olivia was 3 months old to be home with her. I now stay home with my kids and offer childcare during the school year. In the summer, I work weekends at a local tourist attraction.
What do you feel were to biggest factors in your decision to adopt?
We wanted to have children, and we couldn’t get pregnant. That was the first and driving force, although if I’m being honest, the idea of adoption has always been attractive to me.I had a wonderful childhood and I have amazing parents, but I’ve always been aware that there were kids who were not so blessed. Right out of college, I started working for a not-for-profit organization with a social service department, and I started to see firsthand how true this was. In a perfect world, adoption would be unnecessary. But our world is not perfect, and there are kids who, unfortunately, cannot be raised in their biological families. Domestic infant adoption allows some of those kids to have a consistent and permanent family from birth and still have contact with their biological families. That made sense to me.
Another big factor in our decision to adopt is that we felt called, specifically, to this method of family building. At every step, we felt nudged in this direction. Call that what you will. I call it God’s will. He alone knew and knows exactly what these birth families were and are facing and that they would need to make this decision. He led us to them and them to us, specifically, for a reason. We are just enjoying watching these kids’ little lives play out and trying our very best to be the parents they need us to be
Did you ever think about adopting internationally? If so/no, why/why not?
Actually, when we began to research adoption, we looked at all of the possible avenues. We did go to an orientation at a local international adoption agency. Initially, I was very attracted to this possibility in theory. But after we learned about the specific countries and each one’s particular adoption process, none of them appealed to us as much as the domestic agencies and options that we had also been researching. They seemed (to me) to be more impersonal and detached “baby sources”. I hate that term, but it really felt like we would sign up, complete all of the required paperwork, pay our fees and be rewarded with the baby of the age/sex/health condition of our choice. It felt like shopping and was too impersonal for me.
Domestic adoption, in this time in history, almost always requires some contact and communication with the birth mother and/or birth family. At first, that scared me, but gradually I got used to the idea and realized what a gift this could be to us and to our kids. I always say that the teenage years are turbulent enough without being completely in the dark about where you came from. Our kids see their birth mothers at least a couple of times a year and know who they are. (Well, Olivia knows. Martin is too young to understand what is going on just yet.) We (my husband and I) get to know the birth mothers and birth family too, and we can see certain personality traits in the birth family that help us to understand our kids as they grow and display some of these inherited traits as well.
These kids…they didn’t just materialize out of thin air, and even though we took both kids home from the hospital at birth, they have a history before us. For us, domestic adoption was the most comfortable choice because it allowed us an ongoing connection to this history. But every family/couple is different, and what is right for one family/couple is not necessarily right for another. We have close friends who have adopted two children internationally, and they are very happy with their experience and had reasons for their international journey that did not apply to us. When we talk about adoption with them, they refer to our ongoing relationship with our kids’ birth families and say, “Wow, that must be so hard…I can’t imagine having to deal with all of that.” But I can’t imagine NOT having that experience. Neither experience is right or wrong…they are just different.
Do you think there are many differences between the way you raise your children and parents who don’t adopt? Anything specific?
Some, yes. I think when you are an adoptive parent, you necessarily have to be an intentional parent. Some (not all) people who have biological kids just figure out this parenting thing as they go along.
But those of us who adopt are subjected to a rigorous homestudy process ahead of time, like a big fat job application to be a parent. We are fingerprinted and background checked and interviewed extensively and questioned about our pets’ vaccinations and the location of our fire extinguishers. If we adopt interracially or internationally, we are offered a whole set of classes to help us adjust to our new reality as an interracial family or how to incorporate the child’s heritage into our family traditions. There are so many things we are forced to think about ahead of time. SO. MANY. THINGS. All of this process is bound to lead us to do our own research and start thinking, even before baby comes along, about how we are going to parent this child who did not spring forth from us.
We also know that our kids are going to have to deal with issues and questions growing up that most kids don’t have to think about. Their gifts and talents, height and physical characteristics, medical history and predispositions…these all came from outside of the family in which they will grow up. This is bound to lead, at the very least, to some angst or feeling of disconnect as they grow up and go through those tumultuous teenage years. I intend to learn all I can in the meantime, through research and connection with other adoptive families, so I can help my kids through whatever questions they may someday have.
Are there ways in which your husband’s adoption beliefs differ from your own? What about other family members?
This is a hard one to pin down. The things we believe about adoption…the ways we feel or think…have changed and grown over time. When we started this journey (research/discussion phase), our individual ideas of what would be the ideal match/placement/relationship with birthparents were probably pretty different from each other. Over time, both of us have changed in our individual views and beliefs, and I would say that we are pretty closely aligned, now, in how we think/feel about adoption. We have walked through this journey together, gone to adoption preparation classes together, educated ourselves on various adoption-related issues together, dealt with real-life adoption situations together. We are pretty united on our approach.
Other family members readily embraced our kids as a part of the family, and we are so blessed that we didn’t have to deal with any disharmony over our decision to adopt interracially. I would say that the main issue where we differ is in the relationship with birthparents. Our parents grew up and raised children in an era when adoption, when it happened, was shrouded in mystery. Very little was known about birthparents, and there was absolutely no contact. This makes it hard for family members to really understand our desire to maintain ongoing contact and visits with the kids’ birthparents. Sometimes, aspects of our ongoing contact cause us frustration, and family members don’t understand why we go through the trouble. I think, sometimes, they (the grandparents) also feel just a bit threatened by the presence of birthparents in the kids’ lives…as if they will try to undermine our relationship as the kids’ parents. It is understandable, because most of the adoption stories featured on the news in that generation were negative. Perhaps we need to introduce the grandparents to the many positive open adoption stories in the blog world. Sure, there are people with negative experiences. But that is not the whole picture.
Do you think knowing the birthmother, and having a pretty strong relationship with her, affect your decision to adopt Olivia?
Well, no. Actually, we met Olivia’s birthmother for the first time just two months before she gave birth. We met in the office of the counselor who was working with her, and we were the third couple she had considered. She chose us on the spot, and we didn’t see her in person again until the day Olivia was born. Our relationship with her came later.Olivia’s adoption was done independent of an agency. We had chosen an agency but hadn’t yet signed up when we got this independent referral. At the time, we were unsure that we were prepared to adopt domestically outside of our own race, so we had decided to sign up to be “open” to only caucasian placements. But when this counselor (a friend of mine) asked if we’d consider being presented as a potential adoptive family for this woman’s baby, and that the baby was biracial, we immediately said “yes”. I actually trembled when I called my husband to ask his opinion because I was so afraid he’d say no, because we had agreed that we were not ready for this. But he did not hesitate. “Set up the meeting. If she choses us, we’ll do it.”
I think it was at this point that we realized that our family building was out of our own control and we’d be stupid to ignore a potential match just because the baby’s skin and hair wouldn’t match ours. This was a baby who needed a family. From a faith perspective, I’d say this is when we let God step in and take the lead and did our best to just follow.
You have said in a few entries that Olivia is confident and clear about who Samatha is vs. who her parents are, does Olivia talk about this difference at all? Can you also tell in the way she acts/treats you and your husband vs. Samantha?
Occasionally, after a visit or when a special occasion is approaching (birthdays, holidays), Olivia will ask questions about Samantha and when we can see her again. She gets particularly frustrated when Samantha backs out of plans we have made (which happens much more frequently than we’d like). She knows, simply by the way we work hard to protect her feelings and make up for her disappointment that we are the ones she can count on through thick and thin. She loves Samantha deeply, but I can also see that she feels pain and some confusion when they are together because Samantha doesn’t always live up to her expectations. I’ve heard that some adoptees/birthparents put each other on a pedestal because they see each other only occasionally and in their best light. I’m afraid that, at this very early age, Olivia has seen too much of her birthmother’s life and lifestyle to put her on a pedestal. That’s sad, but also, perhaps, good for her as she ages and continues to understand the reasons why her birthmother really couldn’t parent her.
What are some of the ways you think Olivia’s experience growing up may be different than other children?
Olivia sees her experience as the norm, and not the exception. She can articulate exactly where she came from, who gave birth to her, who her parents are (us) and who her birthmother is. She has friends who are also adopted domestically. She sees other adoptive families get created and feels like this is normal. Occasionally, she will talk about her friends at school or her cousins and say, “Who is his/her birthmom?” So, for her, having two types of families (birth and adoptive) is normal, not weird.
So far, Olivia hasn’t felt left out or excluded in any way because of her adoption, or even because of her racial difference. Our community (neighborhood, church, school) has been so open and welcoming so far that I’m not even sure she realizes that she is different. She recognizes skin color. (She describes Mommy as pink, Martin as brown, and herself as beige.) She knows that most of the kids in school are “pink, with yellow hair”, but it does not seem to make one bit of difference to her. She does say she wishes she had straight, yellow hair, but at this point I think that is mostly because she wants what she doesn’t have (which is common of most girls…I always wanted curly brown hair).
I don’t know how this will change with Martin. He is more obviously different in skin color, and his personality is also different from Olivia’s. Olivia is a very confident child. There is nothing she cannot do, and she feels certain of that. I think that helps her overcome any difference she may feel.
What are some of the ridiculous questions you have been asked?
When the kids were babies…as in, less than 3 months old…people would always ask us where they were from and when did we get them. I think this is because so much is heard about international adoption that people just assume that if your children are adopted, they came from some country other than this one. This happened more with Martin because he is more obviously different in skin color. I always found this hilarious because anyone who knows anything about international adoption would realize that it is impossible to bring home a baby that young from out of the country. When asked, I would simply state the name of the town and say, “We brought her/him home from the hospital.” And people don’t know what to say about that. Domestic adoption and how it works in actual practice seems to be the best kept secret outside of adoption circles.Olivia was a strikingly beautiful baby, and people commented on her eyes and hair all of the time. But since she was so very light-skinned, I could always tell that people were trying to guess whether she was biologically ours (or at least mine). So they rarely said anything about adoption at first. Instead, we were always asked something like, “Where did you get all of those pretty curls?” When they looked to me for an answer, I would shrug and say, “Well, certainly not from us.”
Now that we have Olivia and Martin together most of the time, people are more likely to assume they are both adopted. Once, I had a whole conversation in the checkout line with a very nice black woman who just thought it was “wonderful, wonderful!” that we adopted these kids. And then she proceeded to lecture me on how to keep their hair oiled or greased to keep it healthy. Which…was interesting.
Other dumb questions: Does she know she’s adopted? (Hard to keep that from a kid with a different racial background…eventually she’ll notice.) Where do his real parents live? (Oh, don’t even get me started on the “real” question.) Are they siblings? (Um, yes, one is our daughter, the other is our son, that makes them siblings. Oh, you mean biologically? No. But biology defines exactly nothing in our family.)
In one of the more recent entries to talked a little bit about how infertility is no longer something that you spend much/any time thinking about. Could you talk about how infertility (your own, but how most people engage with it) has changed/developed in your mind over the years?
For us, infertility started out as an obstacle to family building. Then it became a catalyst for family building, and I think that’s how I view it now. It was also an avenue for healing, because without infertility, we wouldn’t have been motivated to find and heal the causes of it, which helped heal other things impeding my overall well-being.
At the beginning of this journey, infertility was all-consuming. It was all I could think about. There was all of this fear surrounding the expense and process of adoption. But after adopting Olivia, infertility didn’t seem that important. We continued to work on some healing treatments for other reasons, but we didn’t feel like we NEEDED to overcome infertility anymore. We never felt the need to be biologically connected to our children, and after one successful adoption, we lost the fear associated with the expense and process.
I think many people treat infertility as a hurdle to jump over. Unfortunately, some doctors don’t spend a lot of time on discovering or healing the cause of the infertility. Instead, they spend the first phase of treatment trying various methods to overcome infertility (fertility drugs, IVF, etc) before considering any underlying disease…to the great detriment (and expense) of their patients.
I’ve really appreciated hearing the way you talk about how important it is for the birthmother to make the decision to place her child up for adoption and how it isn’t up to do. Do you ever feel like agencies push birthmother’s in ways that you don’t agree with?
Some agencies, yes. It is why we chose the agency we did with Martin. We felt like they treated the birthmothers with respect and counseled them well. They also counseled us well, letting us know that when agreeing to a match, we were committing to a birthmother, and that we were expected to be supportive of her needs and wishes. If she wanted us at the hospital, we were to make it happen. If she wanted us to stay away until after signing (usually after 24 hours), we should stay away. Under no circumstances should we bring grandparents, or even our daughter, to the hospital. That time was all about birthmom and her time with baby. They reminded us over and over that the baby was NOT ours until signing, and if all would go according to plan, that baby would be ours for life, but this may be the only bonding time that birthmom gets with that baby and we need to LET HER HAVE IT. They were very focused on birthmom rights, and we felt that was important.
Thank you for reading! It has gotten past my bed time so I will not have time to write my own reflections but maybe I will have time tomorrow and can add them here. If you liked what you read don’t hesitate to check Lisa out at Open to Life (and God’s plan for it).
I hope you enjoyed the interview and that you will check out the other interviews that people have done as well!
I’ll be participating in the Adoption Blogger Interview Project again this year and highly recommend it to anyone who writes about adoption, even just occasionally. I have a great experience last year and felt that I learned more about other people’s experiences through the project than I have through any other means. You know you want to do it, I mean, I know I want you to do it. At least check out the site and see what other people have written in the past few years. Open Adoption Bloggers hosts the project, thank you to all of them for putting it together again this year.
I should admit I am not really following the whole Malala Yousafzai hype. I came across the article below because a friend shared it on the good old book of faces. The piece made me wish I had been following it a bit more carefully. I had been unaware of the attempts to uplift, appropriate, adopt and excpetionalize Malala. Omid Safi’s “How To Keep Malala from Being Appropriated: Five points on Malala, Obama, and Jon Stewart” published on the blog What Would Muhammed Do? brings to light many of the troubles with how the U.S. creates hero(iones) in other countries that exemplify U.S. interests. I was particularly caught by the way in which Safi criticized Jon Stewart’s use of the word adopt in his interview with Malala.
Excerpt from Safi’s piece.
“Malala is not “ours” to adopt.
It is not often that I disagree with Jon Stewart. He is quite possibly my favorite cultural critic, and my favorite comedian. That he can do both and weave them together is a testimony to his genius.
But I have to confess a profound discomfort with Stewart’s somewhat adorable comment to Malala “I want to adopt you.” Yes, we understand the urge, and I don’t think Stewart’s comments were in any way malicious or intended as anything other than a spur of the moment adoration. However, and this is an important point, Malala does not need to be adopted. Nor is she available for adoption. Her comments came right after she talked about how it has been the love and adoration of her own father that has given her wings to accomplish what she has. She already has a father, she has a family. And that family is as much a story of Pakistan, a story of Muslim societies, as the stories of the Taliban.
Malala is already rooted in a community, even as she is struggling to reform that community. One can only adopt someone who is an orphan, without family, without community. None of these are true for Malala. The extent to which she will be able to transform her own society will remain linked to the extent to which she remains grounded in her own community (while perhaps networking with international voices of resistance, human rights, etc.)”
It resonates with me that “Malala does not need to be adopted. Nor is she available for adoption.” In Stewart’s phrase “I want to adopt you” it is implicit that he, the one who would adopt, assumes that Malala is available for adoption. I think that is an underlying assumption in most cases of adoption. The underlying assumption that someone who you perceive as less fortunate for yourself (based on whatever western-centric lens of what defines someone as fortunate) would be better off in a western living situation. I think there is also an assumption that somehow Malala is different that all other Muslims, that she is an exception (another point I am stealing directly from Safi). I will elaborate a bit though. Not only is Malala labeled as an exception but she is thought of as more in line with U.S. ideals that other Muslims. She values education and equal access to educational opportunities; something that the U.S. touts in its global agenda. Since she seems like he ideals and beliefs are more inline with our values here in the U.S. she is thought of as a less dangerous and more conforming person to the our system of ideals. It is a common thread that people want to adopt children who are likely to succeed (socially and culturally) in their own home culture. Malala is identified as that type of person who is more aligned with our cultural and social values and thus more amenable to being adopted.
Sure you may say I am reading to far into the simple phrase, which i agree, I am, but I still feel there are a lot of assumptions that Jon Stewart had to make in order to feel the phrase “I want to adopt you” was appropriate.
Please take the time to read Safi’s piece since it is much more informative and well-written than my own and I feel makes some strong points that apply to a large part of the U.S.’s foreign policy structure.
Well written and well said by MastQalander at Muslim Reverie. I think this piece is remarkably important and to international adoptees, and their families, in particular. It certainly urges us to examine one of the ways in which we are privileged that does not gain a lot of attention. I certainly have benefited greatly form having a “Standard English” “accent”. I think for many adoptees, myself included, we also benefit from having western names as well as “Standard English accents”. I strongly recommend this post even if you don’t mock “foreign accents”.
“As many anti-racist feminist writers and activists emphasize, all of us need to hold ourselves accountable for our privilege and complicity. Although, for example, people of my skin color and religious background are demonized, discriminated against, and victimized by racist laws, there are certain advantages I have as a U.S. citizen and heterosexual male who speaks with a white suburban accent. If I apply for a job, my name, skin color, and religion are clear disadvantages, but my white accent will open more possibilities for me than for South Asians who “sound foreign.” When white classmates poked fun at me with “Apu accents,” they got more of a kick out of it when they did it to Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi students who, in their minds, “spoke like that.” I had the advantage of saying, “I don’t speak that way,” which also served as a way of stating, “I’m not like them, I’m more like you.” I didn’t have to worry about being laughed at or feeling ashamed every time I opened my mouth. This does not dismiss the fact that people of color face racism on the basis of their skin color alone, but rather highlights on how we should recognize the different yet interrelated ways racism impacts us all.”
This is the second part of a two-part series. If you haven’t read the first part check it out: The Orphanage Part I: Catholic?
We had just decided it was time to head down from the office and see the children. As we descended Sister Karla began telling us about their new building. She explained that the building where the children were currently, where we would see them, was not where they would be once the new building was finished. Sister Karla was aware of how “sensitive” outsiders, especially foreigners, were and how they would react to seeing a children kept in a run-down building. Partially out of pride and partially as a way to stave off any criticism she showed us the new building first.
We walked through its’ immaculate rooms, clean white floors, sturdy looking metal cribs, newly painted walls and curved arched doorways. We tried to look happy and impressed by their work and the scale of the improvements, we were, but we were eager to see the children. Before leaving we posed on the front porch of the new building for a few pictures.
It looked pretty rugged. In some ways it seemed fitting, for the orphanage to look run-down and unkept. Fitting, in that this is sort of what I had imagined, employing most orphanage stereotypes at my disposal. Sister Karla leading the way we crossed the dirt path towards the yellow painted concrete walls broken up by yellow metal screens. My heart sped up as we neared the metal doors. Through the yellow fence I could make out a few nuns passing to and fro, presumably tending to the children. “How many children would there be?” I had no idea. I wondered how many children had been in the orphanage while I was there. “Had I had friends?”, “Was I old enough to have had friends?” there seemed to be no way of knowing.
We passed through the metal door and into a large open room. There was no furniture anywhere I could see. It looked like it was more of an enclosed patio than a room. One wall was completely wire screen facing the new orphanage building. The floor was white tile, much like the new building. There were a handful of nuns some the age of my grandparents others looked a few years older than my sister. They were bringing out the children from the interior of the orphanage where the children must’ve slept. There were probably 10 or so children. Sister Karla introduced us to the women, none of whom spoke any English so our interactions were somewhat mediated by Sister Karla.They seemed pleased to hear that I had been in the orphanage as a child. I wished I could have spoken with them directly.
Unsure what to with ourselves we stood. Noticing our awkwardness someone instructed that we sit on the floor with them. The children were placed in the middle of a semi-circle we made with the nuns on the floor. The ones that were big enough were set on a sheet in the middle of our semi-circle and were allowed to explore and move about on their own. Some of them flailed on their bellies while others were able to sit up, point at things and make demanding noises. One boy, the oldest I later learned, was dressed in blue shorts and a blue sweater. He ran around a fair amount and seemed to be more or less in control of himself in this patio. I wondered if I was like him, the oldest in the orphanage. I wanted a family to find him, to adopt him. I didn’t feel like this was a bad place for him, I just wanted him to have a family.
We reached the orphanage in early January. There were also some very small children. One of the children, visibly the youngest, had been found on Christmas, alone and brought to the orphanage. He was very small and skinny but judging by the pudgy-ness of the other kids I felt confident he would soon be able to show off his own baby rolls.
We, the generous Westerners, had brought gifts for the children. We brought plastic toys for the kids and a nice green check for the orphanage. I assume our parents had inquired about what type of gift the orphanage felt was most needed/appropriate and they said toys. We took out the toys and distributed them amongst the children. The ones that took notice of them mostly put them in their mouths as they tested to see if they were edible. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to touch or play with the kids so I just sat there and watched them clamber around eagerly tasting whatever they could get in their mouths.
Sister Karla encouraged us to play with the children. I hadn’t the faintest idea how to play with children. I had almost never been around people this young. I didn’t know how gentle I was supposed to be, how to hold them or what to do with them. “Was I supposed to talk to them?” I wondered as I thought about what I would do. I mustered enough courage, after scanning the room watching the nuns handle the children, to pick up one of the clambering children with a toy in his mouth.
He was very cute and I had been watching him in his orange shorts for a few minutes. He seemed light-hearted and curious. I doubted he would protest if I picked him up so I reached for him, trying to conjure images I had seen of parents picking up their children, and settled on grabbing under each armpit and lifting him towards me so our heads would be level. As I brought him closer to me I felt self-conscious, like I was being watched and judged by all these nuns. It was like this little boy had 6 mothers who were watching me, grilling me as I handled their pride and joy ready to judge me at the slightest twinge of irresponsibility. I held him between both armpits his white shirt hiked up exposing his cute belly. Wide-eyed we both stared at each other as his feet dangled 20 inches from the tiled floor. After a few seconds I realized I was being watched, a few of the nuns were grinning and commenting, probably on my awkward holding technique of this little boy in the orange shorts. I looked back at the boy, we both looked at each other not sure what to make of the other, I grinned and set him down.
I decided I liked him. We stayed there for a while interacting with the kids, hearing an occasional story from Sister Karla about the kids and answering a few of the questions the nurses asked us through Sister Karla.
I remember being somewhat sad when we finally left the orphanage. I had wanted to spend more time with the little children. I was curious to know each of their stories, or what was known. I wanted to hold the boy in the orange shorts again, give him a hug and talk to him.
Looking back on that visit, my trip back to India and more specifically to the orphanage, I wish I had stayed there. Knowing now how hard it is going to be for me to find any of my relatives, to learn my own story now 22-years after I crawled on that same white tiled floor I wish I would’ve stayed and tried to figure out their stories. It is surely naive for me to believe I could have helped all those children, but it is still a desire and I think it is partially what fuels my desire to find my own biological relatives, my first family.
Thanks for reading.
Lawrence, the faithful, charming and ever-so-kind driver, pulls our sleek silver SUV into the gates of the orphanage. “It looks like a church,” I thought to myself as I peered through the windshield.
A statue of the Virgin Mary welcomed us from the middle of the entrance. I was surprised. I had totally forgotten that the orphanage was run by Catholic nuns. It was funny thinking that I had lived for the last 13-years without any semblance of organized spiritual or religious affiliation and here I was staring at a the place I had come from, and it was highly structured around and by Catholicism. Momentarily, it made me wonder if I should be Catholic, if Catholicism was somehow part of my denied heritage.
The director, I’ll call her Sister Karla, was waiting for us as we climbed out of the SUV. Sister Karla welcomed us and ushered us inside while making it clear she was glad to have us as guests. She took the time to explain many of the functions that her organization, Sisters of Cross Society for Education Development (SOC SEAD), had been working on in the prior years. I was amazed to see how large the organization was. I had thought it was just an orphanage, but no, since my days it had blossomed; now operating a women’s groups, a primary and secondary school, worker’s training programs and a program for young homeless boys.
Since 2004, they have created and maintained, somewhat, a website which does a better job than I of explaining their programs: Socsead.org.
Admittedly, this was my first time to an orphanage, well since I lived in one. I had no clue what to expect. My heart began to race as we climbed the stairs up into the administrative office. Sister Karla had told us that there was one caretaker, a very elderly woman, who said she remembered me and we would go and visit her first. I wondered how much she would remember, if she knew anything about my birth relatives, or if she could tell me what I was like as a child. It turned out, she could not speak English and I hadn’t the faintest clue what she was saying to me. We exchanged, via an interpreter, a few kind words and shared a hug. I was a bit disappointed by the nonchalance of our interaction but didn’t know how else to go about it.
Once in the office we sat down at Sister Karla’s desk as she told us about even more things the organization was working on. I was distracted. It was difficult to listen to her. My mind was off, at off in another place. I couldn’t believe I was here, I had so many questions…didn’t I? At that moment Sister Karla started me by asking, ”would you like to see your file?” as LilaRose turned to see how I would react.
“You still have it?” I responded, hesitantly, unsure, almost incredulous, that they still had any information on me. It had been 13-years I figured this place barely had running water, let alone a record of the children who had been in their care (yes, I know incredibly ignorant and racist for me to assume the orphanage was run poorly, didn’t have resources and was disorganized. But, like I said above, this was my first real interaction with an orphanage). Sister Karla pulled a folder out of her desk, she must have had it ready in anticipation of our arrival. She handed it to me with a smile on her face and her large brown eyes beaming at me as I looked up and took the folder. I felt weird opening it in the presence of others. It felt incredibly personal. “This folder could contain information and secrets I have been deprived of all these years,” I thought as I gently opened the folder.
The contents were largely the same documents that I had found a few years ago in that blue folder labeled “Kumar” in my parents filing cabinet. Sister Karla could tell how excited I was about the folder, though. Ever once-and-a-while I would catch her watching my face as I flipped each page over, read them front to back, scanning for anything I could have possibly missed. Eventually, I got up and she showed me to their new Dell computer. It was a hulking square box of a monitor, much like the ones many of us use throughout the public school system. She opened folders and showed me pictures, pictures of me! I couldn’t believe they had photos. I think they were photos that my dad had taken while he was at the orphanage.
After about an hour or so of oggling at my past we headed downstairs to where the children were with their caretakers. By this point I was excited to see the kids, very very nervous, but excited. I think I envisioned it as a way of seeing what it might have been like for me as a child. I thought it might tell me about myself, maybe even reveal something about my “true” self. Fantastic hopes for a visit to an orphanage.
Check out the rest of the story, The Orphanage Part II: Meeting the Kids.
The first few days of the trip were rough. I remember feeling frustrated, angry for much of it. I had great expectations of what this trip would do for me.
Growing up whenever I was bad at something or when I realized I wasn’t gong to be tall (which I took as a great disappointment) I always blamed it on the fact that I was out of my “element”. I thought, “hey, this isn’t fair. I have to be doing the same things as all these other people who are the same, but I am not the same. I would do better in India”. I believed that all of my shortcomings were a result of not being in India. I felt that if I only could go back to India I would truly be able to be myself. I would be around people who looked like me. Maybe I would even remember the language; people always told me that I would probably pick it up quickly since I had been there as a child. The more I blamed my insecurities on being in the US the easier it was for me to feel like I was being constrained by living in the US. I felt like I would be able to accomplish great things once I returned to India.
Returning to India was not what I had expected. I felt awkward and out-of-place. I felt like an impostor. The people in the streets were not like me. Their skin looked different. I didn’t belong here. Nothing came back to me. I couldn’t understand what people were saying to me. They expected me to understand. People wanted me to know their gods, to follow their customs, but I didn’t. I knew nothing. I could barely stomach the food and the sweets sickened me. I clearly did not belong in this place.
I had come here because my parents had given us this trip for our christmas present. I came here to feel normal. I came to India because I felt I stuckout in the US. Not glaringly, but I felt I was different from everyone else. I thought that difference was because I was adopted, because I was in a place that I wasn’t totally cut out for. Returning to India would erase that difference. I would no longer stick out. I would be like everyone else, not special, just another face in the crowd.
Arriving in India, I immediately felt out-of-place. My discomfort overwhelmed me, not just physical discomfort either. People knew I was different. They thought I was Indian, but knew, presumably by my dress, that I was not like them. I didn’t blend it, I still felt like I couldn’t escape unwanted attention. It hurt me to realize this. I had thought this trip would change my feelings. I thought it would make me feel more comfortable, like I belonged somewhere. Rejection. India was rejecting me because I was a phony. I was a phony American and now I was a phony Indian.
These thoughts tore into me during my first few days of the trip. I couldn’t shake them as they felt reaffirmed everywhere we visited.
The first few days of the trip we walked around Bangalore. We visited temples and gawked at the emaciated, seemingly stray, cows wandering the dusty city streets. My eyes began to become bloodshot and I developed a cough from all the particulate matter from car exhaust, dust and whatever industry defined Bangalore’s prosperity.
Our trip would take us further into the south center of India, slowly making our way to the city where I lived, in a small orphanage overseen by a group of Catholic nuns. Reaching the orphanage, personally witnessing my direct connection to India had a profound effect on changing my feelings of rejection. Visiting the orphanage forced me to acknowledge that I did, in fact, have a connection to India.
“We arrived in Bangalore at 1:00 in the morning. After going through customs and then getting our baggage we met Gayan. He is the guy who is our escort while we are in India. We took a taxi back to the hotel. On the way we saw a lot of stray dogs and some men cutting down a tree and it fell in the middle of the road. We checked into out hotel, Pai Viceroy, and then Gayan left and we went to sleep.” December 27th, 2004.
I remember being terrified, absolutely mortified, as we walked off our Lufthansa flight into the Bangalore airport. After making it through customs and finding our luggage we tried to find our way out to meet Gayan, our guide. Both of us were exasperated after more than 24 hours of travel and were very relieved that Gayan was waiting for us. After greeting each other we stepped into the night air. The air was cool. The entrance to the airport was illuminated by dirty yellow street lamps. My heart began to race, as tired as I was I couldn’t believe I had actually made it back to India. Again, this realization filled me with terror and excitement.
We approached a group of young men, most of them with mustaches, light-colored polo shirts and hair longer than mine. They looked up at us as we grew nearer. I wondered to myself if they knew I was Indian, if they could tell. I wondered if they resented me. They knew we were tourists as they looked at us and Gayan began talking to one in a language I couldn’t understand. The young man Gayan talked to show us to his little minivan taxi and put our stuff in the back of it as we entered through the sliding side door. The minivan was white, dirty and I doubted whether or not it was safe. The inside had no seat belts. It was dark and there were two benches on each side of the van facing each other. I wondered what Gayan had told them about us, how much they knew?
We were tired and Gayan wanted to ask us a lot of questions. I stayed mostly quiet and let Lila, my sister, answer his questions while I gazed out window watching the scenery whizz by. The roads were empty and the city seemed quiet from out little metal box on wheels. Every once in a while, though, the van would slow down, the driver would give a few toots of the horn, and we would shoot off again. I remember thinking, in a very condescending way, how bad of drivers they were and how I could definitely do better than them even though I had barely ever driven. I spent a lot of the trip thinking about how I could “improve” things in India because I felt they were so poorly done. Naivety, on my part.
Arriving at the hotel was relieving. Relieving to be out of the little taxi van and finally able to sleep.
I knew this trip was going to be transformative for me. I was anxious and curious to see what it would be like to be in a place where I didn’t stick out. I was excited to feel “normal”, like who I was normal not exotic or foreign. I went to sleep telling myself I needed to begin journaling the next morning so I could remember this trip, so I would remember what it meant.
Last Tuesday, June 25th the Supreme Court ruled on what has become a controversial case involving a Cherokee baby girl, her adoptive parents, the Capobiancos and her biological father Dusten Brown. Marcia Zug covered the ruling as a follow-up to the piece she wrote pre-Supreme Court hearing. Since she knows the case much better than I, I will just link you to her article.
Here is a snippet of Marcia’s article and I have included below a link to the post I put up after her first article.
“According to the majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, the five justices’ biggest concern with Indian Child Welfare Act and the provision that prevents the involuntary termination of Indian parents’ rights is that it might “dissuade” potential adoptive parents from seeking to adopt Indian children. Well, duh, that’s the point.” The Court Got Baby Veronica Wrong.
Piece I wrote and Marcia’s first article.