Tag Archives: adoption

The Secluded Crib

The twins had a bunch of clothes that they’d outgrown, and I wanted to give them away (the clothes, not the twins – do I have to clarify that?). I phoned around to various NGOs (that means charitable organizations), starting with the Red Cross. Guess what? Nobody wants old clothes. Not even if they are in decent condition. And these clothes are ok-ish. My kids would still be wearing them if they hadn’t grown out of them.

I would have thought that we, in India, surely have enough people who live in conditions of such abject poverty that used clothes in good condition given away free would not be spurned. If we don’t, if our poor people are well-clothed enough to be able to turn up their noses at cast-off clothing, it would be a good thing. It would indicate, surely, that all our people are well fed – because only after they had spent whatever they could on getting sufficient food, would they spend on new clothes and only then would they spurn used clothes. Or only after all the charitable organizations had ensured that the people they looked after had enough to eat, would they spend money buying them new clothes. Surely? Or do we have well-dressed people in this country who are poor and starving? One meal a day, but wearing new clothes, not rags?

What about victims of natural disasters who have lost everything? Those who were not particularly well-off to begin with, who had no bank accounts? Do they also not need or want somebody else’s clothes? Not even for their children, who are hardly likely to fuss, or even know the difference? Or do they have good clothes for their children already? Are there so many people and organizations sponsoring new clothes for the needy that old clothes are really just not needed?

Or, what I think is more likely, are these NGOs not even reaching the really needy people? Are they providing for the haves, not for the have-nots? I’ve seen slum kids in the cities dressed in rags. Haven’t you? Ok, let’s not talk about beggar kids – we know it’s a racket and they’re made to dress in rags, and who’d want to give money to well-dressed kids. But slum kids are those who have parents, families, food, perhaps, but not clothes – at least, not much. At any rate, what they do wear falls far short of the kind of stuff I’m looking to give away. Does nobody want to take the clothes that more fortunate kids have outgrown and pass them on to these unfortunate kids?

I don’t really understand it.

But, after some phoning around, I did find an orphanage willing – not overly eager, mind you, but willing, almost as though they were doing me a favour – to take the clothes. So off I went to deliver them.

As I was leaving, I noticed a small, secluded crib hanging near the gate. It had a built-on roof. There was a bell attached to the roof. Suddenly, I realized that it was there for parents – mothers mostly, I suppose – to put their “unwanted” babies and disappear.

The realization gave me goosebumps.

Whether it is ever really used like that any more, or whether it’s largely symbolic, I don’t know. But the fact remains that mothers do leave their babies, it happens all the time. I can’t bring myself to believe that they throw them in the gutter in a completely callous manner. Surely they tuck them up carefully, whisper goodbye, pray that their child will survive, somehow, maybe even flourish. I thought of someone leaving her child in the crib, ringing the bell, scurrying out before anyone saw her, hiding, watching, crying. Oh, very Hindi-film-ish, but suddenly it just touched a raw nerve in me.

Our girls were left like that. Not in a crib at an orphanage, they were left at the hospital where they were born. That’s just as bad, or worse. I’ve known this since we got them, but it suddenly became too real to me. I found myself crying as I walked away from there.

It’s stupid, of course. I, of all people, should be happy there are mothers who leave their children. That’s how childless people like us get ours. But I look at my girls with their cheeky smiles and their bright eyes and I think of them left there, symbolically in that secluded crib… and I have no words for what I feel.

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Twinnings and More

Lots has been happening, but I’ve been too busy to blog about it.

The twins have started to talk, they answer questions promptly, and can sustain a back-and-forth exchange to about 4 or 5 rallies. They find novel ways to say things. Once I asked Tara if she was sleepy, she rubbed her eye and said “eye so sad,” which I took to mean yes.

They’ve become more active, both at home and in the park. They were gifted a couple of hockey sticks and balls, and I’ve mostly had to lock up the sticks because of their propensity to swing them around without a care for what (or who) is in the way. Yesterday the actually got into the Frangipani tree in the park, got out of it the other side, giggled wildly, rinse and repeat. So far they have loved being lifted into it and sat in its branches, but it’s good to see them start climbing trees, something I loved to do and had plenty of opportunity to do at just the right time of my childhood years.

They have started to enjoy jigsaw and shape-sorter type of puzzles now, as also play-doh and crayons. I thought they weren’t interested in scribbling on the walls – they’d only done it once, the rest of the time they used paper, their picture books, the floor, the bedcover, and their own bodies (with sketchpens that was, and they made such a godawful mess of their legs that they haven’t had sketch pens since) – but it appears it was only a question of opportunity.

I normally give them crayons when I’m sitting nearby keeping an eye on them, and take them away when they’re done with them; so it’s not as if they have crayons easily accessible at all times. But usually when I pack up the crayons, I can’t find quite as many as there were when they started. I’ve never bothered about this too much, they’ll turn up eventually, and if they don’t, that is also in the nature of such things.

So yesterday Mrini found one of the unclaimed, missing crayons. I was busy and turned my back to her for a couple of minutes… And that’s all she needed. Our bedroom walls became the canvas for her creativity, much to my disgust and irritation. I’ll have to keep an eye on those unclaimed crayons in future, I guess.

Meanwhile, the break from school doesn’t seem to have done them any harm. Yesterday they went back to school after a three week break, and they don’t seem to have forgotten it, they went happily and came back in high spirits. I think they now know the entire set of nursery rhymes that they hear in playschool. They surprised us by singing “God’s love wonderful” (in a somewhat garbled version) and asking for Jingle Bells (a few days after Christmas) – both songs they had not heard at home. What’s more Tara (and Mrini to a lesser extent) can tell the story of Aladdin, with a little prompting from me. It goes like this:

Me: Aladdin was a
T: Young boy
Me: And he went into a
T: Big cave
Me: And it was all
T: Dark, dark
Me: But Aladdin was
T: Very good (followed, after a pause, by) not scared
Me: He had a
T: Big torch
Me: And he went into the big cave and what did he find there? Lots of
T: Jewels
Me: And lots of
T: Camels (sometimes, rarely, it’s gold)
Me (carrying on, regardless): And a
T: Magic lamp
Me: And he gave it to his
T: Mama
Me: And she was
T: Rubbing it
Me: And
T: Polishing it
Me: And then what happened?
T: Whooooo… genie came!
Me: And genie said, Aladdin, I will give you
T: Two fishes (an interesting variation on three wishes)
Me: And the genie gave Aladdin lots of
T: Jewels
Me: And lots of
T: Camels
Me: And he made him
T: Very rich
Me: Then Aladdin went to meet the
T: Sultan daughter
Me: And he went on a
T: White horse
Me: And he fell in love with the
T: Princess (or sometimes the prince!)
Me (ignoring the gay tendency for now): And they got
T: Married
Me: And they lived
T: Happilygiligili

In other fascinating news, this morning they got up, took down their pajamas, took off their (sodden) diapers, pulled up their pants, took their diapers to the kitchen, and threw them in the dustbin!

Last week, when we returned from the park with S&P and their one-year-old daughter, p, the twins shocked all of us by happily going home with S&P, without so much as a single backward glance! (S&P luckily stay in the same building.) When Amit went to pick them up 15 minutes later, they didn’t seem very inclined to come home, and I believe Tara gave a determined no in reply to the question of whether she would like to go home.

What’s more, they repeated the act a couple of days ago, and they seem quite eager to make it a daily occurrence, without a thought for S&P’s convenience. Of course p loves the company, who’s bothered about the adults anyway?

So, given this happy independence, Amit and I decided it was high time that we adopted a baby-sitter strategy. We checked with the cook, who agreed to baby-sit one evening a week, provided we got back around 10 or, at the latest, dropped her home by 11. Considering we’ve had only two evenings out sans kids in the last 1+ year (thanks to S&S and Anjalimasi for their unpaid baby-sitting services), it sounds like a good deal. Our first date is tomorrow, and I have to say it feels a bit strange. I know we’ll both spend most of the time (we’re giving it 90 minutes for our first time out) thinking/worrying/talking about how the kids are doing without either of us around.

Big school starts in June and I think it’s going to be from 8.30 till 12.30 once they get past the settling in period. That means that, if Amit drops them, I’ll have an empty nest from 8 till 12 (when I’ll probably have to leave to pick them up). An older and wiser friend warns that I’ll miss them like crazy, but right now I can hardly wait. I always thought that when we had kids I’d like to be a SAHM for some time, but I never attempted to define the time. Now that I’ve done it for almost a year-and-a-half, I think the time to go back to work is, oh, let’s see, right about now, actually. Of course, it has to be just when there is a global recession on and there are no jobs to be had.

In my eagerness to start work, I took up a freelance writing assignment which turned out to be really, really (and I mean REALLY) boring. The sheer boredom of it almost killed me. I have never struggled so hard to finish a task in the agreed time in my entire professional life – and believe me, I’ve fought some tough battles in my day.

And finally, adoption update: We’ve been hearing for a month or so that we’d be meeting the District Magistrate any time soon, as the last step towards getting a birth certificate for the twins. It was supposed to be yesterday, then it got pushed to tomorrow, and now it stands set for Monday. Or Tuesday. Let’s hope it happens some time next week, it would be good to get those birth certificates in hand, it’s going on
for eighteen months since the twins came home.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

I’m not sure if my account of our trip to Pondicherry to file papers gave the impression of quite how rushed and hectic it was, but it really was. Amit was extremely tense about the whole process going off smoothly and without any further delays. I was only worried about managing the kids and keeping them happily occupied.

Our lawyer, for some reason, thought she was doing us a great favour by asking us to come and sign all the papers at her office on the morning of the filing. She apparently thought that the only alternative to this procedure was for us to come a day earlier, thus she was showing us maximum consideration by sparing us a day. She did not consider that we might actually have much preferred to arrive a day earlier and finish the work at leisure instead of being under such pressure. She also did not appear to have heard of or thought about the possibility of sending us either the actual documents or a draft of those documents by fax, snail mail or email beforehand, so that we could read or even sign the papers well before the date of filing.

Naturally, there were pages and pages of stuff to be signed by each of us, along with filling in our names and addresses in a couple of places. By the time it was all done, it looked like we hardly had enough time to get to the courthouse before 10 a.m. – and if we were late, that was one day wasted.

Amit asked the lawyer for a copy of the papers we were signing, and she flatly refused. Obviously, there was no time to make a copy at that time (it’s not as though her office even had a copying machine), but that was not her main reason for refusing. She said it was not required for us to have a copy at all!

How can that be? I’m signing legal stuff on stamp paper stating something or other, shouldn’t I at least have a copy of whatever it is I’m filing?

Amit, being nothing if not stubborn, insisted on photographing the documents with his cellphone, which he managed to do without making it unduly late. I tried to hastily scan through the pages – I wanted to be sure there wasn’t a line in there somewhere saying that we agreed to make over all our worldly possessions to the said lawyer, so help me god.

So, in some ways it wasn’t surprising that we missed it. What did surprise me was that Amit actually read the photographic copy of the entire document word for word during the drive back, and he still missed it (and he’s the sort who’ll catch “Foster Care” spelt as “Faster Care”).

It’s not as though what we missed was a tiny little typo error – no, there it was plainly stated that I, the joint petitioner, was currently employed with such-and-such company and drawing a monthly gross salary amounting to exactly so much. (And therefore financially empowered to look after the said children.)

This, on a petition dated 9th April, 2008.

When we had submitted the entire set of documents including our payslips to the adoption coordinating agency in Bangalore way back in April 2007, I was gainfully employed. By the time we got the twins home in September 2007, I wasn’t. This statement – which, by the way, occurred twice – in April 2008 was plain wrong, by well over six months.

The penny quietly dropped into my head sometime on Thursday morning, but even then I didn’t pay it much attention. It wasn’t until I discussed the matter with Amit late on Thursday evening that we both realized just how serious it could be. HOW could we have missed this? We both knew we had read this in the document, it had just not occurred to us that it was no longer true.

After much serious discussion and several frantic phonecalls, remedial measures were put in place. Our lawyer, who was plainly peeved at us not having pointed this out that morning (HOW??), agreed to stop the file in court, and one of us would have to dash down to Pondicherry, legally withdraw the file, make the corrections, initial them, and “appear” (if you can call it that) before the judge to re-submit. The only saving grace was that only one of us need go, which meant that Amit would have to do the dashing, while the kids and I stayed home.

Strangely Estranged

When we took the twins back to Pondicherry last week, we had every intention of making a short visit to the adoption agency (that is, the orphanage). We had some romantic notion that those people would like to see the twins, see how they’re getting on. We thought it might be nice for the twins too. Not that they’d remember anything of that place now (after six months away, they wouldn’t, would they?) but if we did take them there for occasional visits over the course of the years, they would have something to latch on to when they began to understand about adoption. Everything I had read about adoption spoke of the wisdom of doing this, and some of the personal experiences I found on the Net also spoke of building a sort of relationship with the institution or organization which kept the adopted children prior to their adoption. And our kids, after all, had spent the entire first year of their lives in that place with those people – surely that was something worth building on?

We had had intermittent contact with the agency over the past few months, mainly to do with paperwork concerning the adoption. Since we spoke no Tamil, we had mainly communicated with Sister M – the head honcho there – and Sister P, who was the only other person there fluent in English. On our first visit to the agency six-plus months ago, everyone had been very warm and welcoming. We had been a little apprehensive, but we faced no trouble at all in taking the kids out, getting their medical tests done, and finally driving away with them.

What did strike me as odd then, and left a mildly unpleasant taste in the mouth, was that they – that is, I suppose, primarily Sister M – seemed a little too eager to “get rid of” the twins. “Get rid of” is exactly the feeling I got – though I tried to attribute it to a more charitable emotion of wishing the twins a good home and family. An alternative but still understandable motivation could have been financial: charitable organisations are always in need of money, and getting rid of the twins benefited them significantly monetarily. Still, the eagerness, even anxiousness, to get us to take charge of the kids was vaguely reminiscent of a shopkeeper trying to sell a flawed product at an exorbitant price to over-eager, innocent customers.

Well, these particular customers were happy to take charge of these particular “products” that didn’t appear – medically or otherwise – to be flawed, so I tried to ignore the feeling of being duped… and what with being so busy and happy with the girls, it was quite easy after all.

Till now. When we called the agency to tell them we’d be dropping in during our visit to Pondicherry, the response was surprising: “Oh, there’s no need for that,” said Sister P sweetly, “you’ll be meeting Sister M at the courthouse.”

Sure enough, we did meet Sister M at the courthouse. Now, Sister M, being the head honcho and all, was, I suppose, never the one to actually manage the kids on a day-to-day basis. So she may not have had the pseudo-parent kind of bond with them that the actual care-givers may have had. Still, they had been her charges for one year, right in their infancy… she had even selected their original names herself, or so she had told us earlier… Both of us expected her to show some little interest in the twins – for decency’s sake if nothing else. I expected some comment on how good they were looking, how much they had grown, perhaps how they had put on so much weight, or that they were generally looking healthy and happy. I’m sure any parent would feel happy to hear any of these things, but none so much as an adopted parent, especially if it came from the person in Sister M’s position.

All we got, instead, was a curt question: “Are you happy?” My response was that the more relevant question would have been whether the twins were happy – this was brushed aside almost as though it were completely irrelevant. Sister M made no effort to communicate with the kids, far less hold them or cuddle them, merely made some polite conversation with us for all of two minutes and then turned away from us.

Well!

Discussing the matter later, Amit suggested that perhaps since she dealt with adoption all the time, she was inured to such emotional matters as how the kids were faring in their new homes, or whether they were blossoming or not. Perhaps. Who am I to judge or even to presume to understand what her life is like and what her emotions are? Perhaps for those who are in the business, ultimately these children are merely commodities, sold off just like material goods, to make their “owners” happy. But, I couldn’t understand it and I couldn’t feel at peace about it. I wish we could have had a warmer reception from the agency on our return visit, I wish we could have felt like it was a place the kids could revisit over the years.

Perhaps, for those women who actually do all the work for the kids there, it would have been a different story, and there would have been some interest or happiness in seeing the twins again. But without any encouragement from Sister M, it looks unlikely that we will ever meet them to see the interest – or, perchance, the indifference – on their faces.

Of course, our kids lost their biological parents. Now it seems like they’ve also lost their first “adopted” (to use the term loosely) parents, and with it, all connection to their lives prior to coming home to us. And that’s sad.

Love Comes Slowly

I used to think that the very first time I held my daughter – I didn’t know then that we’d have twins – I thought there would be some magic. I expected to feel something soft… something tender, maternal, loving…

This was when I knew we’d be adopting. I felt sure that it wouldn’t matter that it was someone else’s child I was holding, that the child would straightaway feel like mine, ours. I thought I’d feel happy, ecstatic even, and most of all, I thought I’d feel sure. Confident. I was confident that I’d be confident… when the time came.

In the end, I was nothing of the sort. I was, if I can use a single word to say it, determined. I was determined to be a mother to these two children. But I would have to say that right there and then, there wasn’t much motherly feeling in me. I felt two steps removed – like watching someone else clumsily taking hold of someone else’s baby.

Bonding doesn’t happen right away, does it? Both the girls cried when we first held them. I suppose this was inevitable – our social worker had warned us to expect this. I looked at them, each in turn, taking in their dark complexions (we had been told to expect medium, but I found them outright dark), their snub noses, their jutting out top lips, their dark, oily hair, and with Mrini, the spots and scars on her face and limbs, due to a combination of chicken pox (in the past) and scabies (ongoing). I didn’t think them pretty then, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. They were too old to have the absolute, heartmelting baby innocence of a 3-4-month-old infant, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me either. The only thing that could have stopped me, by then, was the discovery of some terrible and fatal disease or condition. That apart, I was determined that these two girls were going to be ours… but I realised then, that they wouldn’t become “ours” just by wanting it. That would take time.

Then, there at the orphanage, as well as in the days that followed, as we started getting to know the girls better, I didn’t feel any delight or elation. I felt a sense of achievement at having finally got what I had for so long wanted and hoped/tried/waited for… but more than anything I felt worried, unsure of myself, even a little scared. The enormity of the responsibility of being left alone with two small children without any idea of how to manage them began to sink in. At first, I was terrified of how I would manage when Amit finally returned to work and I was left alone with them all day. What would I do if they started to cry and wouldn’t stop? It took over two weeks for me to settle down, gain some confidence, realise that I could handle most things that they threw at me, and that they didn’t generally start crying without reason and without being amenable to love or distraction techniques. I realised that I had some, even many, of the answers – and that others I could pick up “on the job”.

In every possible way, the first 24 hours that they were with us were the worst. We didn’t know when to feed them, what to feed them, how to feed them, how much to feed them, how to clean them, how to sleep with them (we both were scared about rolling over and squashing them!)… Both were unwell, vomiting and suffering from diarrhoea, and Mrini (I think) had a mild fever as well. We rushed around, feeding, cleaning, making an absolute mess of that hotel room and feeling horribly guilty about it. No sooner had we cleaned one girl’s vomit than the other one was at it. We had planned to leave at 6 a.m. and for that we woke at 5, but it was 7 before everything was a little less of a shambles and we finally walked out of the room leaving behind utter disarray and a terrible smell. The only good thing about that time was that they didn’t cry, not even when they woke up that first morning, in a hotel, strange surroundings, strange people, strange food, everything new and different… They didn’t cry, but they didn’t smile much either.

That day, we took a large, comfortable car with driver and made the six-hour drive to Bangalore. I felt so self-conscious about being out with them – I thought that everyone, from the driver to the hotel staff, to the people at the restaurant where we stopped for lunch, everyone must be wondering what we two were doing with these two, when they clearly didn’t belong to us. I almost felt that we should have some legal document proving that we are adopting these kids, lest someone accuse us of kidnapping. (All we had was a foster care agreement, a single sheet of paper that simply didn’t seem to me to be very substantial; that’s all we have even now, and I still feel it is inadequate, but at least now the girls’ behaviour with us tells the tale more convincingly.) That same self-consciousness carried over for the next several days, as neighbours and acquaintances raised eyebrows and we had to explain. I never minded admitting that they were adopted, though, and gradually the self-consciousness gave way to delight and pride in the girls.

Getting home was a huge relief. At last, the girls were in their permanent home. From this point on, I thought, their lives would re-start. Both had been hungry and crying in the car, but once home and fed, Tara slept peacefully, while Mrini, the adventurer, set about exploring the house. It was so nice to see her wandering about, curious, apparently happy – they had been so extremely quiet and subdued till now, it was nice to see some spontaneous initiative emerging. Now, when I look back at the photos and videos of those initial days, I see two frightened, timid little creatures, nothing like the naughty monkeys they are now. But at least their smiles were beginning to show.

I know now that I know how to be a mother to these girls. I know now that I know them now better than anyone else does. And, wonderfully reassuring that it is, I know now that they know me and turn to me the way any child knows and turns to its mother – I’m no longer just another kind – but passing – stranger to them.

And yet… I still worry about the paperwork – until it is all sealed, signed and stamped, how can I breathe easy? What if some strange twist of fate wants to take them away from me?

DON’T!

It’s not so much fun being a toddler, I think. There’s so many things you’re not allowed to do. For instance:

  • Don’t touch that (about 25 times a day for phone, computer, broom, dustpan, dustbin, and mop, dirty diaper…)
  • Don’t open that clothes cupboard
  • Don’t open that kitchen cabinet either
  • Don’t put your hand in the toilet
  • Out! You’re not allowed in the bathroom
  • Don’t take off your clothes unless I tell you to
  • Or your shoes
  • Or your hair clip
  • And DO NOT open your diaper
  • Nor your sister’s
  • Don’t bang on the washing machine, or dismantle its detergent tray
  • Don’t stuff the washing machine full of toys (unless you really dirtied them, in which case, don’t)
  • Don’t mess with the TV
  • Don’t bang on the window, the mirror, or the framed paintings
  • Don’t tug on the electric cable of the fridge
  • DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES EVER pull the childproof pieces out of the electric sockets and stick your fingers or bits of metal things into them
  • Don’t pull the paint off the wall
  • And double-don’t eat it!
  • Don’t climb on the dining table
  • Don’t unravel those bedsheets which I just spent 15 minutes folding
  • Don’t pull/push/pinch/beat her or poke her eyes out or pull her hair – she’s your sister!
  • Don’t attack me – I’m your mother!

And lastly but most vehemently: DON’T lock me or yourselves into or out of anywhere or anything (including, but not limited to the bathroom, verandah, apartment, and car)!

Evening Out

Last weekend we went out for dinner with friends. Once upon a time, this would have been commonplace. Now, it’s a rare occurrence. Of the two other couples we went out with, one has a son a couple of months older than the twins, the other is expecting their first baby in a couple of weeks. So, not surprisingly, evenings out together have been on the decline over the past couple of years.

From our point of view, the evening out was a bit of an experiment. We’d taken the kids out for dinner twice before, and the first time had been an unqualified and unmitigated disaster. So, although the second time with my sister for added support was a success, we still approached the idea with some trepidation.

We waited until the kids were asleep after dinner, then scooped them up and transferred them to the car, thereby waking them up. They remained awake for a long time after that; Tara eventually fell asleep lying on the sofa in the restaurant, but Mrini remained awake till we returned home well after 11 p.m. Still, both of them were very low key and, though a little grumpy, did not trouble us half as much as we were troubling them.

Yesterday evening, we tried it again. We were feeling brave, so it was just the four of us, without any moral or logistical support, the way it was the first time. We went out straight after the kids’ dinner at 7.30, while they were wide awake, which was really very brave. We selected our target carefully: avoiding formal restaurants we headed for the club.

If you’re thinking nightclub, or country club type of resort, or something fancy like that, forget it. This is a small, modest neighborhood club that offers tennis, badminton, squash, a gym, a small-ish swimming pool with a clubhouse that doubles up as a guesthouse, and some arrangements for food and drink.

The one factor that makes this place somewhat suitable for small children is that there’s a bit of a lawn with chairs and tables where they’ll serve drinks, snacks, and dinner.

It turned out to be quite a pleasant evening. Of course we had to run after the kids a bit, and they were a bit restless and cranky; but we also did manage to eat and drink sufficiently and even had some conversation that wasn’t addressed to the girls. We got home about 90 minutes past their bed-time and Mrini went straight to her room and flopped down on her pillow with complete determination, at which I felt a bit guilty for keeping her out so late. But they slept till 8 a.m. to make up for it, which was a blessing, because so did we!

So, with four dinners, innumerable lunches and general outings, a long trip to calcutta, and a short trip to CFC, I think we’ve earned quite a few notches on the family belt already.

And there’s another big one coming up – our tenth wedding anniversary. We have some ambitious plans for that one, let’s see how that works out.