My daughter, all of nine and I are standing, facing each other. I hold a tube of cucumber face pack and apply the goo in an even layer all over her face. I avoid her fine blond hair, so pale that I have to look carefully to even see it. Up close, her face is translucent in a way mine can never be. I can see her blood vessels branch and fan out. She is patient, eyes closed, offering up her face for me to do my thing. I am tempted to kiss her forehead, leaving a mark on the rapidly drying peel.
I finish, step back and realize with a start that I have no idea if a face mask is good for her skin or not. I am pressed to run warm water on her face, wash away what I have done. Instead, I ask her to tell me if she feels anything tingly or irritated. She nods and beams at my handiwork. I keep a close eye on her. Nothing happens. She peels off the mask and is awed by how soft her skin feels. Her twin queues up now, knowing her sister loved it.
I step out of the bathroom, my phone in hand debating if I should send an SOS to their birth mother or a friend nearby. I calculate the time difference and the odds of catching Mommy B online and reach out to my friend instead. We plan to chat the next day. I make a list of questions on the skin and hair care I need for my children. I also realize I could just trawl through the beauty aisle at Target and not go too wrong considering most of America is people like my children.
We are all at the island. My kids and I. I set out warm beverages and rifle through their school bags pulling out daily planners, homework folders, tests to be signed and notes from their teacher. My ears perk at the conversation my twins are having.
“It is the best day of my life!” One girl glows as she recounts her crush asking her about her day. I stay in place, frozen. I have heard variations of this theme over the past year but today feels different. The conversation is not meant for my ears. The red creeping up on my child’s face is troubling. Her twin gloats over the fact she outed her sister’s crush to the said boy.
I sign the notes, sigh in relief to find no Math homework and casually change the conversation to why they decided to skip soccer today. The color recedes on her face and I breathe. Minutes later as she undresses to shower and I brush her hair to tie it up, I talk to her about girl code. I talk to her about how some things are to be kept confidential. I tell them both that until they are much, much older, no boy should have the capacity to have so much power over them. Some things stay in the family I tell her. But, I linger and she completes the sentence.
“You have to tell Amma if your sister or friend is in trouble.”
We laugh and fist bump. It is an uneasy conversation. Uneasy because I am wading in the dark, my experiences no match for this generation.
My last name would have been <XYZ> Pattu states as she twirls around me. I smile and say yes. She repeats the name, rolling it around her mouth, tasting, testing its heft. Her sister, unusually quiet until then pipes up. “It could have been <ABC>,” she says saying her birth father’s last name loudly for the first time. They walk around, saying combinations of their names with the different last names they lay claim to. I watch, my heart feeling light with something I cannot name.
A package arrives in the mail. Ammu clutches it close to her as she races inside. The block printed names, the familiar from address, the bulk of it is reassuring. The girls crowd over it. I pick it and put it away promising they can tear it open over the weekend. Homework comes first I tell them. They reluctantly agree. Ammu wants to hold it for a moment before she lets go. Pattu takes it from her, holds it next to her heart and sighs dramatically. Not wanting to be outdone, Laddu takes it from her and kisses it before she hands it over to me. It goes to a shelf that even I have trouble reaching. Gifts from the birth family are now a tradition, the regularity of it a calming presence of love that transcends the miles. “I love them” mutters Ammu as she stares at her long hand division.
In the years since we became parents, I have wondered how this will all play out, this open adoption. Eight years in, I love how the fabric of our family has been stretched and shaped into something unique. The blend of skin tones, the languages we speak, the connections we have made, the security my children have the uncomfortable conversations that help me peek into their minds.
Most of all, I realize there is no one size fits all in parenting. Each family, each child, each birth family, we make it what it is.