Tuesday, November 12, 2013

An Interview with Kumar

Today is Interview Project Day!

For this year’s interview project, I was pleased to interview Kumar, who blogs at Stuckout. Kumar currently works part time at a small liberal arts college in the sustainability office, working with students to start new projects on campus and collect data. He also works part time with the local city government in the Department of Metropolitan Development and the local Urban Enterprise Association. He is an adoptee who was adopted from an orphanage in India when he was about a year and a half old. When Kumar was in high school, his Dad died after suffering from ALS. He grew up in Southwest Ohio and blogs about ALS, Adoption and Family.

Did you always know/realize that you were adopted?

I think I always knew that I was different than my sister. I think I owned the fact that I was adopted at an early age and would tell my friends at school when I was younger. I don't ever remember there being any confusion in my mind as to whether or not I was adopted. I took it for granted, it seemed like a fact of life, just like going to school and playing in the woods with my friends. I never assumed there was an alternative.

What is your earliest memory of being different?

I think I was aware at a very young age (2 or 3 years old) that our family was different than most other families. I am not sure if I attributed this difference to the skin color difference between us. I think I was aware that I had been born in India because I am told that I spoke about India occasionally as a small child.

How did your family help you process those feelings of being different, or what did they do to make you feel as if you belonged?

I don't think my family helped me explicitly. I don't have any specific memories of my parents helping me process my own emotions. From a pretty early age I was very protective of my own personal emotions and tended to push away any attempt at getting me to open up. I also remember that I spent a lot of energy, it seemed like a lot more than other children, trying to fit in. I wanted to completely neutralize any abnormalities so that kids would treat me the same way they treated everyone else. I had a strong need to conform as a small child (under age five). My parents never sat me down and talked with me about adoption. I knew that they would answer any questions I ever had, but I often felt it would burdensome for them to answer my questions. I projected emotions a lot of times onto them and my sister. I definitely feel that now I wish I had spent more time as a child/teenager asking questions about my adoption and exploring the emotions I had that felt particularly influenced by being adopted. I never felt like I wasn't loved or wasn't part of the family. The issue, as I see it now, is that even though they may love me the same way they love their biological child and I love them the same as they loved me, I did have a different experience growing up and that difference did not seem to be recognized. Yes, I felt like I belonged, but I belonged in a different way. My life began differently and my experience as a family member is different than theirs.

Did you know other families/children with adoption as a part of their story? Or were you the only one in your community/school?

There were quite a few other families and children that I played with as a child and knew as a teenager who were adopted. It was not strange to see white parents with children who were not white. I don't think I spent a lot of time thinking about those children's experiences in relation to my own, I think I did feel, and sometimes still do, some affinity with adopted children. I was very curious about their stories (as most people are).
What is the most ridiculous question you've ever received from a complete stranger about your adoption/origin/nationality?

They get pretty colorful at times, as I'm sure you have experienced. Most of the time the really ridiculous questions don't bother me because they usually represent complete and utter ignorance, its the people who try to "figure me out" that piss me off. Mostly I feel I get a lot of questions like: "Where are you from?" "Where did you grow up?" "Where are your parents from?" when people really want to know "why is your skin brown?" Why they think that it is acceptable to pry into my personal story, I don't know, but depending on my mood it can really piss me off.

Once I was in a bike shop where one of my buddies works and two teenagers came in and after looking at me strangely for a few minutes the girl asked me, "Are you an A-rab?" I was sort of dumbfounded and caught off guard. Her pronunciation was pretty unspectacular and all I could think was if she was asking me if I was a rabbi, for some reason. I quickly realized she thought I was Arab. Most people around here think I am hispanic and talk to me in Spanish. I know Spanish so when I respond in Spanish it really throws them for a loop which can be fun at times and again depending on the mood it can get under my skin.
Growing up, what was your family like? Did you take vacations? Live in the city or country? Have cousins/grandparents/aunts/uncles close? What kinds of traditions did you have for major holidays, like Thanksgiving?

We were a weird bunch. I grew up in a small intentional community in small town Ohio, Southwest-ish. The intentional community was out on a plot of land in the woods with a valley, plenty of open space, forests surrounding our house. We had chickens, ducks for a little while, a very faithful golden retriever and my parents maintained over an acre vegetable garden. The garden was my dad's passion, it was very hard to see him have to give up and stop gardening as he became ill (diagnosed with ALS).

We took road trips. My mom and dad traveled a ton as children so we went out west a few times and did a loop east twice during the summers of my elementary school. Peter worked for a robotics company that had a branch in Japan and he worked in Japan once for a three month period and we flew over and visited him for 2 and a half weeks. I'm not really sure how we had money to travel, it always seemed like we never had any money. I remember catching glimpses of bank receipts and worrying that we wouldn't have enough money for food, we always did.

Both Peter and Kitty, my mother, grew up where I grew up. Most of my uncles and aunts, their kids and my grandparents lived within a 15 minute bike ride from our house. I wasn't very close with my cousins growing up, but now feel much closer. Our family enjoys celebrating most traditional American holidays: Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every Easter we would get together (while the cousins were all little) and have an easter egg hunt at our grandparents house. Then we would do Ukranian egg dying. We are big into games and so we always play a few games of cards, Boggle, Pictionary and other nerdy games when we get together. We also own 8 or so kayaks/canoes between the relatives that we take out on lakes and rivers multiple times a year. Each Sunday evening most family members gather at one of the houses in town and we have a potluck style dinner. This dinner has been going on for as long as I can remember.

You talk a lot about how your Dad died of ALS when you were young. How old were you when he was diagnosed? When he died?

My father was diagnosed with ALS in 2001, I believe, I was 12. My grandfather, father's father, was diagnosed with ALS a year later and died in 2003 I think. Peter, my father, died when in December 2005 when I was a sophomore in high school and 16 years old.

What is the age difference between you and your sister, and how did she help you cope with the progression of your Dad's illness? How did you help her?

My sister is 2.5 years older than me. She was in her first year of college when Peter died. As I think I mentioned earlier I was a very stubborn teenager. I didn't want to talk about Peter's illness as it progressed. My sister, LilaRose, was much more vocal than I was. I could see how much Peter's illness hurt her. I didn't know how to support her and so I didn't do anything. I know now that I was very confused at the time, as should be expected, but my confusion led to me ignoring my struggles with his illness. I also felt ashamed, embarrassed by his illness and as a result spent a lot of time away from home, at friends houses, in town or at my high school girlfriend's home.

I can honestly say that I do not think I helped my sister at all during his illness. I was unwilling to talk about his illness and as a result shut her out. Immediately after his death all I wanted to do was return to school, to have my life back. I pushed back against my sister and mother as they reached out to me. They tried to get me to talk, but I refused.

Now, and for the past 5-6 years I have done a lot of processing/reflecting on those years. I have looked to and relied on LilaRose heavily for support when I miss Peter, or when I just want to talk about how weird he was. I talk with LilaRose about once a week and our conversations mostly focus on Peter, things we remember, how strange it still feels. Although, I resisted my sister's support as a high schooler I have found much comfort in it these past few years. It is comforting and helpful to have a sibling, especially during a loss.

It seems like you had a good relationship with your Dad and miss him a lot. How about your relationship with your Mom? Has that relationship grown or changed since losing your Dad?

I think my father and I had a good relationship. I honestly feel like he died before I ever got to know him as an adult outside of his role as my father. Saying that, I often wonder how much we would get along now since we would have had much more time to "get to know each other" as individuals and not just as father and son. I feel much better about my relationship with my mom now than I did 4 years ago. The first two years after my dad died I didn't spend much time with my mom, I wasn't at home a lot and I actually left high school early and moved out of the country for a year. Since then my mother has remarried and I have had an incredibly difficult time with her partner. Just in the past 5-6 months I have really come to terms and been able to be around them both in a loving and genuinely appreciative manner. During the last four years I feel I have gotten much closer to my mom since I spent a lot of time being upset and needing to talk with her about how hard it was for me to see things change with her and her new partner.

I think that our relationship has gotten much stronger and clearer since my father passed away but I'm not sure how much of that has to do with me growing up, her remarrying or him dying. At any rate I feel very comfortable talking to my mom about most things in my life, which is something I wouldn't have expected as an adolescent. I think that subconsciously I also remember my dad a lot better when I am with my mom and so that also certainly affects our relationship.

Thanks, Kumar, for the great interview!!

For more interviews being published today, go here. For Kumar's interview of me, go here.

1 comment:

Betty Anne Davidson said...

Kumar, yours may be the first I've read of an adoptee's point of view. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! Lisa, way to come up with some great questions!