Adoption: Complex, Nuanced, Heavy

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The music of my teenage fills my ears as I walk and I feel a sense of being cocooned. I hum along with numbers I can remember. The beauty of Urdu washes over me and I am happy. The way one is happy for no reason.

Last night, I sat on a two-seater sofa with two other women, each of us trying to minimize the space we take so the other could have a bit more. We ranged in age from forty to sixty. The other two were empty nesters talking about their adult sons. We weighed in on the Golu in front of us. The thing that stayed with me though is the fact that their adult single children sought out temples and dandiyas in whichever place they now called home.

Eighteen years ago, as a newlywed bride, I remember my husband talking about Sunday evenings at ISKCON ostensibly for the simple dal chawal but really for that connection. For that feeling that made him feel home. The sight of fellow desis, some in traditional wear, some sitting by themselves in the hall gazing at the idols but lost in a world their own, the piped music trapping people in a bubble that curiously felt safe and happy.

I watch my children at each house we visit, their gauzy dresses drab in comparison to the glittering pattu pavadais and lehengas. They inspect the papier mache dolls in front of them, the idols familiar by repetition. They excitedly point out Hanuman and Krishna. They are familiar with the trio of Rama, Seetha, and Lakshmana. They love the Chettiar dolls who nod their heads at the slightest touch. They take pleasure in identifying the ones they know. This year they learn about Ashta Lakshmis and Kamadhenu. They also learn about Shiva and Mount Kailasam.

These children of mine know the routine down pat now. They linger by the Golu, they go play, they load their plates with vadais before I can say a word. They wash up and wait for me to call them so we can finish our visit and move on to the next home.

My husband is a first generation immigrant as I am. The people whom I talked to yesterday are too. Their children born and bred here seek the assurances of rituals from their childhood to ground them, to be a base they can return to, as we did. My children, also born and bred here with connections to this land that run deeper than typical immigrants are imbibing the experiences I expose them to. Each year, the sounds, the smells and the sights of their childhood and growing up years is imprinted a little bit deeper until one day they become indelible.

As white adoptees raised in a culture different from one they would have experienced otherwise, I often wonder what will be their base, a grounding station in times of turbulence? Will it be the halls of a temple in a strange land? Will it be the haunting strains of violin or sitar? Will it be the smells of coconut and jaggery? Will it be the cadence of rapidly spoken Tamil?

As children of this land, they have not been uprooted. Each day they venture into school and the myriad other common spaces, they are surrounded by people like them, speaking a language they know and understand from the womb. One day as adults, they will be mainstream merging and assimilating into their world.

I wonder about children like mine, uprooted from their home countries, transplanted into alien soil, absorbing language, smells, sights they are not accustomed to. I wonder about the imprints already in their head, fading with each year but not completely erased, searching for home everywhere. I try to understand what it is like to be told, this is your home, you are loved, yet struggling to fill a chasm that cannot be articulated. I wonder if it gets any better if they are supported, assisted in their search, to know they are not alone, they are understood even if nothing can be done about it.

My thoughts are back to my children and their nascent understanding of what home, culture, and belonging means. It makes me think about the power I hold in shaping these views, in helping them feel understood and supported. It makes me wonder if I will ever be good enough to step back when needed and step in when I recognize they need me.

Adoption is complex, nuanced and heavy. I fear if anything will ever be enough.

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