Big Announcement…

We’re excited to announce that we are adopting a child from India!

We’re gonna have a child!!!!!! WOO!!

[*Party!*]

Let’s start from the beginning. When Varun and I were dating, we talked about kids–how many we wanted, when we should have them, etc. I shared with Varun that I felt called to adopt; several close friends of mine had been adopted, as were two of my darling cousins. As such, it has always seemed a natural and loving way to build a family.

Over the years, God has brought various families into our life who have shared their journeys in adopting children with us. Last year, we began reading and thinking about adoption. After Varun read Adopted for Life, we knew adoption would be a way that we grew our family.
We thought about it carefully, prayed, did research, talked with adoptive families and chatted with our own families. Finally, we decided in June 2012 to begin growing our family by adopting a child from India. We are adding to our family through adoption before we consider adding to our family biologically. (There’s lots of practical and ideological conversations to have about this, so I’ll probably add to my new FAQ page later.)

This week, we got our approval from the Ontario Ministry of Child and Youth Services! This is a huge milestone and means that our file can go to India and the waiting game can begin.

Despite the piles of paperwork, the home study, the government mandated parenting classes…it all still feels a bit surreal. It will likely be over 2 years (if not 3!!) before we bring our child home. (Here’s our timeline…) In the mean time, we are lovingly preparing a home for the special little one that will join our family.

(Believe it or not, we decided this in June and I didn’t blog about it for four months! Let’s be honest, I started a word doc and blogged Creed style. Anyway.)

(Not to worry, we won’t actually put chai in the baby’s bottle. At least not caffeinated…)

Special thanks to Shelly Spithoff for the amazing photos! We had so much fun taking them and they turned out beautifully! Stop by her website to get a peek at her awesome work.

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Many Villages: Racial Privilege

This semester I’m taking a course on Cross-cultural counselling. Part of the coursework is a weekly journal reflecting on anything I’ve learned, thought about, or found challenging from the course material. I decided to post parts of these reflections in a weekly series called “Many Villages”.

Two weeks ago in class, we took a 28 question quiz about privileges. It provided me with fascinating insights about my own experience growing up in a culture where most people seem to be like me. Grab a pencil (or text doc) and write down your answers, True or False.

1. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race.

2.I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.

3. Someone of my same race has been president of my country.

4. If I am/was in a relationship, I can be affectionate with my partner in any given neighborhood and feel safe.

5. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area that I can afford and in which I would want to live.

6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.

7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials, at any age, that testify to the existence and history of their race.

8. I can be sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge” I will be facing a person of my race.

9. I can be sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge” I will be facing a person of my gender.

10. I never have to deal with a passer-by being afraid of me.

11. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color that more or less matches my skin.

12. Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can be assured that the person behind the cash register will not assume that my checks are stolen, my credit card is maxed out, or that my cash is counterfeit.

So, what was that like? What was your ratio of true to false? How did you feel while taking the quiz?

As we worked through the quiz, I felt varying waves of emotions. To a certain degree, I knew where the quiz was going and what point it was trying to make. I felt slight resentment to be lumped into the North American, Caucasian, English-Speaking, Christian majority that easily answers true to most of the questions.

I resented the quiz-makers for pointing out that my life has been largely free of stereotypes, prejudice or mistreatment. I cringed at the implication that I somehow perpetuate these things, or at least take my ‘status’ for granted. Justified, I thought about the tax return forms and university applications that give the choices for race: Pacific Islander, Native, African American, Latino, Caucasian. There, I thought, I too am categorized with little concern for the significant ethnic differences ‘Caucasian’ could encompass.

At the same time, I felt guilty. My Barbie’s had blue eyes and blonde hair like mine. I have never had to look twice for ‘nude’ coloured stockings to match my skin tone. Most people can spell my name, have heard of my country of origin and can understand me when I speak English. Until at least high school, it didn’t even occur to me that this might not be the case for others. I feel uncomfortable thinking that I have in some way contributed to making others feel out of place, maybe even just by being white. I want to apologize. As strange as it sounds, I almost want to be less privileged.

In class, we began to discuss what it was like to have more than 25 answers of ‘true’. Or less than 15. The results were largely predictable with visible minorities reporting many times they were singled out, worried, confused, or underrepresented. Tentatively, I raised my hand and shared that I sometimes feel guilty. To my surprise, a classmate responded that asking good questions and growing in understanding would be more helpful to her (as a member of a minority culture) than me feeling guilty.

I’ve been considering this: that it would be more helpful if I sought to understand.

This brings me to another emotion that was vying for my attention during the test: a slight feeling of camaraderie. In a small, small way, I am growing in understanding. Marrying a man from India and being part of an intercultural marriage has put me in a small minority worldwide. A small example, which didn’t actually bother me, is that the gift bags and wedding cards we received depicting brides and grooms who were both blushing Caucasians. It didn’t hurt my feelings, but I noticed. I think that even noticing, for someone in the majority culture, is a big part of understanding.

Traveling overseas with Varun and visiting his family in India has given me legitimate opportunities to be the minority. Stares and gawking from curious onlookers, signs I can’t read, a head of hair that sticks out in a crowd of thousands: all are reminders to me that I am not one of ‘them’. As I struggle to learn Hindi and embrace Indian culture, I am reminded of the most basic fact of interracial relations: no matter how Indian I try to be, I will always appear white.

In truth, I will likely never become ‘very Indian’. But this is an important realization as it gives me insight into how my Canadian friends feel who were born and raised in Canada, but have Chinese features and appear ‘foreign’. Or how Varun felt when someone said upon meeting him, ‘Oh you’re from India? You speak English very well!’. Despite holding a degree from a Canadian university, marrying and living with an American, and excelling in a professional career in Ontario, to the casual onlooker, Varun might as well be fresh off the boat.

For better or for worse, being in an intercultural marriage has put me on the path toward understanding. When jokes begin or pop culture references surface, I glance at Varun to see if he’s tracking with the conversation. I have grown to realize that not everyone in a crowded room might be familiar with Western culture, and I seek to act as a liaison with grace and dignity.

This quiz did make me realize, however, that I still have a long way to go. Despite the small moments of understanding that I have had, I have not lived my life as the minority. If I am to continue to grow in compassion, I need to humbly listen to the experiences of others.

Weeping My Way Through ‘Secret Daughter’

Do you hear that sniffling? That’s me, ugly crying* after reading Secret Daughter. It’s been on my to-read list for two years but somehow the library never had it when I was between books. Luckily,  a dear friend lent it to me–without my even asking!

And let’s be honest: any book that’s about adoption and India is sure to tug at my heart. And a book about a blonde-haired white girl married to an Indian man? Forget about the dishes, I have a date with this book. Secret Daughter follows several individuals in the US and India from 1985-2005. Broken hearts, troubled marriages, adoption, infertility, poverty, motherhood, family and identity are beautifully woven together to create a gripping tale.

Gowda’s description of India is mesmerizing–she writes of the complexity, beauty and troubles of India through the eyes of someone who loves the country, but who has also lived much of life in North America. As two of the characters encountered India and wrestled with their own identities, I felt like I grew a little too.

Below are a few of my favorite quotes from the book (quotes are in blue, my comments are in black):

Someone in India: I met a guy…He’s smart and funny and so good-looking. And he’s got these deep brown eyes, you know?

Someone who fell in love with an Indian: Yes, I think I do…(they laugh together)

(Can I get an Amen?! Those deep brown Indian eyes…get me every time!)

“What do you think of [India]? It’s a five-star pile of contradictions, isn’t it?…Some people like to demonize India for her weaknesses, others only glorify her strengths. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between.”

After being scolded for wearing inappropriate clothes, an American girl thinks:

“Somer thinks back to the mid-calf length skirt and the T-Shirt [she was wearing]…’Not appropriate’?…She tries to fight her growing resentment of this country, the feeling that everything here is tainted: that the biased adoption process, the opaque cultural rules, and the oppressive weather, all are wrapped up with India as a whole. She expected to feel at home with Krishnan’s family, not so utterly out of place.”

(Somer’s fears and feelings when she visited India as the American wife of an Indian man resonated deeply with me. Written down, they seem selfish and ugly, but they are true. Inextricably intertwined with love and respect for my husband and his culture are roots of confusion, dislike and fear. It’s not a pretty part of me: but it is there)

My family. People [she] had never met and barely spoken to just one year ago, who have fetched her from the airport in the middle of the night, taken her to tourist attractions they had no interest in seeing again, taught her how to wear a lengha, fly tissue-paper kites, eat all kinds of new foods. She was not born into this family, she did not grow up with them, but it has made no difference. They have done everything for her…Through the flickering flames, she sees the faces of her cousins and uncles. My family…At some point, the family you create is more important than the one you’re born into.

(If you know my Indian family, you know this is incredibly apt. Late night airport runs, patience in cultural faux pas, generosity in linguistic mix ups…They have accepted me part and parcel)

Okay, well now that we’re all sufficiently weepy, let’s talk about your thoughts. Have you read Secret Daughter? What did you think about it? Do you have a favourite Indian author or novel?

*P.S. This is the best ugly cry ever

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