Identity And Names In Adoption

“Pattu, Pattu! Laddu has grown up. She has hair on her legs just like our cousin. Soon she will be tall and have three babies. Two adopted and one borned to her…”

“I will adopt all three of mine.”

“I want to born mine. No adoption for me…”

The conversation catches my attention and I am rooted to my spot near the stove for fear that if I move, they will stop talking. The conversation peters out and I notice Saathi standing quietly by the sink. Our eyes meet and we go our ways. I pack lunches while he warms up his milk.

By 9:00 AM, I am back in the house. The twins are off to school. Saathi is at work and Laddu is in her play-school. The conversation from the morning plays in my head as bits and pieces of the previous day comes to mind.

“Amma, I don’t want to be Indian,” says Ammu. She pauses and continues “they tease me because I am Indian and my mom is fat.”

The trailing bit of her statement is muttered under her breath. I can feel the guilt thick around her as she says it. I sit in silence trying to figure out which part of this is adoption and which part regular life.

I eat my dinner in silence and when I think my thoughts are clear, I speak. I talk to her about body image, about why what she said about me should not affect her. We talk about what it is like to be different, to stand out in a crowd. We talk about things we can change and the stuff we can do nothing about. Pattu chimes in every once in a while bolstering her sisters account of bullying at school. To me it feels like these are things they can handle on their own. We go through the usual talk about ignoring people who bully. We talk about standing up, about talking to the said bullies about how they are hurting feelings. I cap the conversation with an offer to talk to their teachers about the bullying. They both nod and stay silent. I let it go.

I clear the table while the children retire to the sofa.

“Alexa, tell me a bed-time story.” coaxes Pattu. Alexa asks for her name to customize the story for her and Pattu pauses just a second before offering up her non Indian middle name. I stop what I am doing to look at her. She refuses to meet my eye.

As I tuck her in, I let her know it is OK to go by her middle name, she does not have to feel guilty about it. She nods and on impulse gives me a hug.

In the silence and daylight, these conversations mesh in my head offering me a lot to think about. In the weeks preceding their birthday and the days after adoption has been circling the air, infusing our thoughts and actions. If the rest of the year it lies simmering under the surface, birthdays bring them out to the forefront, putting the circumstances of why they are where they are right in middle. We mostly talk, process and set it aside. Some of these conversations are hard. Some of these questions on names and identity have no easy answers.

If my child wants to go by her middle name at school for the next year, I feel she should be able to. Saathi wonders if we are giving in too easily. If by letting her change names to fit in, we are avoiding issues rather than confronting them. I can see truth on both sides. So, I let it sit and stew in my head deferring decision making for a later day.

The conversation from the morning on babies and adoption sheds light on how children understand genetics and what they expect parental influences to be. I wonder how their ideas will evolve over time as they take into account nature and nurture. There are no pioneers who have laid this path out for us. We bumble along, figuring some things out, deferring a few and trusting that whatever happens is for the best.

If parenting as such is an adventure, adoptive parenting raises the bar a little higher, makes the journey a little rougher and pushes you a little further. It makes you unpack your ideas on race, culture, language. It strips you of any authority and makes you begin from scratch. You learn with your child and hope you will both make it out OK in the end.

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