“Amma, can we please let Snowflake free?” Ammu pleads with me, still sleepy-eyed at 6:30 AM in the morning. “After you are back from school,” I say. “But amma, imagine if you were stuck in a box for monnnnnths…” she continues, her angst making her drag out the words.
“I am not an elf and I am not stuck in a box,” I counter. It is all hypothetical I say. We get into a serious discussion on what hypothetical means and examples of the kinds of situations that are hypothetical. Just when I think we are done with the discussion, Pattu pipes up “even if hypothetical, you can imagine how it will feel to be shut in a box. Horrible!” she shudders.
The morning flies past in a flurry of activity and it is as I lie down for my siesta in the afternoon that I dredge up the things that have been niggling at the back of my mind. In a different conversation with a fellow adoptive mama friend later this morning, we spoke about exposing our children to their birth culture. I ended the conversation with “we have no idea what our children’s lives would have been under different circumstances. It is all hypothetical.”
A month ago when this piece I wrote went viral, I stopped reading comments after the first couple of days. A few struck a chord. One in particular went on to state how white adoptive parents were held to a higher standard when adopting children of color. That they were expected to understand how to do hair, to make sure their children were exposed to enough black presence in their lives etc and how parents of color adopting white children were not expected to do as much.
I have been mulling it over in my head a lot. My children are exposed to whiteness all around. At school, in public spaces, in popular culture, in the songs we listen to, in the shows we watch. They are exposed to Indian culture too. There is a part of their heritage I am still trying to figure out how to meld with ours. We check out books, we talk about it but it is not quite a huge presence in our lives.
As parents, when we adopt, the court makes us swear under oath that we will care for the child “as if born to us.” It is an oath I take to heart. But the truth is the children I raise were not born to me. They have a history, families who are connected to them in ways I can never be. While I may not be able to replicate the lives they may have had under a different situation, I can only offer openness of mind. An acceptance of the fact that they may want to pursue paths that will let them explore the heritage and culture they have missed out on. I can offer help navigating those unknown roads. I can enable and support them as they figure out parts of their identity.
So, when Pattu made the case for empathy this morning, it came to me. That is all I can do, try to see what it would be like in their shoes. I am not the one walking the path. All I can do is hold their hands as far as possible and then let go and trust they will and can navigate the journey on their own.