Color And Race Have Just Begun To Seep Into Our Everyday Conversations

In honor of November being National Adoption Awareness Month, Portrait of an Adoption is hosting the fifth annual acclaimed series, 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days.  Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying experiences.  

By Lakshmi Iyer

I stand by the kitchenette in the tiny hotel suite. The water warms in the microwave and I have the formula measured and ready in two bottles. I am lost in the wonder that sudden motherhood has thrust on me. I feel a tug of my pants and turn to see a tiny being asking me to lift her up. ‘Mama’ she says and eyes the bottle in my hands. I melt. I cry. I scoop her up and cover her with kisses.

A week later, we are flying with twin toddlers in tow. Two brown adults, two white children, we are a visual aberration. I clutch a sheaf of papers in my hand, should we be stopped. Rationally I know we are the legal guardians, but a part of me has adrenalin pumping, explanations ready and a fear that has taken hold.

“Are they twins?” I hear this each time I am at the grocery store, at Old Navy, shopping in the mall. I stop, beam with pride and nod yes. Random strangers stop me to share stories of their twin, or their twin children. I suddenly find myself part of an exclusive circle.

“Are they yours?”
“Are you their nanny?”

I am accosted by well-meaning and sometimes nosy strangers at the park or on my evening walks. I ignore or educate and walk on, feeling a little lesser in my own eyes. I hurt for these children of mine who will one day hear these questions and be compelled to defend choices they had no say in making.

“Where are they from?”

“What are they?”

Questions such as these are directed at me at inopportune times. Travelling to India highlights a different culture, a different mindset. Strangers do not think twice about asking intimate questions or touching my children’s hair or cheeks. I shield them bodily. I ignore mostly or answer in monosyllables. I teach them to be vocal about personal space. I teach them to object and move away.

I wince when I see sales people fall over themselves in helping us when we go with our children. The wait staff is extra courteous, the shopkeeper eager to help. I wonder how I will teach my children about white privilege, when I do not understand it myself.

“Come sit in the shade mama, perhaps you will become beige?” My daughter holds me by hand and walks me to the shade. This is because I tell her that she will be tanned in the sun. Color and race have just begun to seep into our everyday conversations.

“You were born from your mom who is light and has golden hair. Your sister was born from me, which is why she has brown skin and black hair.” The birth of a sibling brings color to the forefront. We talk about genetics, about resemblances, about family. The birth story and the story of adoption we have been telling the twins now take shape and form. They connect the dots and ask more questions.

“Are we Indian?”
“Are we American?”

I listen and mull it over, wondering how best to explain. I tell them we are American. We eat Indian food. We celebrate Diwali and Christmas. We visit temples and wear traditional clothing on occasion. We embrace the best of both. We are American and Indian. We are human, I conclude.

“Do I have a family that looks like me? Can we see them?” Being the only white children in a sea of brown on our India visit triggers questions that have hard answers. It also opens up an opportunity for a reunion and ongoing contact.

Showing a picture of their mother’s dog, I explain we will be seeing her. The girls are rapturous for a minute. They fall silent and ask in unison “That means we have a birth dog?”

“You do!” I explain and let that comment percolate for a while. Extended family takes on a new meaning.

We fly for seven hours and land in a place that is familiar and strange. We spend a couple of days connecting with the past and rewriting the future. We wrangle with deep emotions, experience gratitude viscerally and cry copious tears. We hold back tears as we hug and wave bye. Reunion is happy and sad, joyous and heartbreaking. It heals and cuts open new wounds. It rejuvenates and exhausts. It is the yin and yang. It balances and swings feelings way off base.

Leaving the farm we stayed at for two momentous days, I lock up and climb into the passenger seat. I turn back to check if the kids have seat belts on. The baby is asleep. Her tiny brown hand clutches her sister’s fair one. The older one looks on tenderly, holding still for fear of waking the baby. I snap a picture, filing the memory in the recesses of my brain knowing at once that all will be well.

“We have two mothers, our birth mother and our everyday mother.”

I turn around to see the twins talking to their cousin earnestly about their visit to their birth family. The ease with which they own their history makes me proud. I see concern writ large on my sister’s face. I nod imperceptibly and she relaxes. Adoption touches our families and by extension others’ too.

Back from the trip, I collate and curate our memories. I click through each picture, relive the moment and move on. I keep coming back to one, a picture of their mother braiding the twin’s hair. They are seated on the sofa. One twin is next to her and one on her lap. She wears an expression of contentment. They have smiles writ large on their faces. They look at home. I realize this is what it is all about.

Belonging. Identity. Family.

This is the reality of our lives. Lives touched by adoption. The portraits may be similar. Each tells a different story. Of hope. Of loss. Of joy. Of family.

On any given day, our life is a mélange of all.

Lakshmi Iyer is an open adoption advocate and Huffington Post blogger. She resides on the East Coast with her husband and three daughters. On most days, she can be found by the stove serving up hot food. When she is not cooking, she recounts the mundane-ness of her life in startling detail on her blog: Saying it aloud!


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