When I was twenty days old, my adoptive parents took me in. A bit of the backstory: my adoptive father is my biological father’s elder brother. This is not a story about how and why I was adopted, but how it has shaped me as a person and how my understanding has changed over time.
If someone was to ask me, “When did you find out about being adopted?” my answer is always the same: I’ve always known. And I have-I can’t remember a time I didn’t know. For that, I thank my adoptive parents, because I’ve always known my reality and my truth-and I have never thought it wasn’t ‘normal’.
Growing up, I moved around quite a lot, so for a few years I only saw my biological parents during the summer holidays. When I shifted back to Pakistan, it was as if I was being reintroduced to my biological parents and two siblings all over again (not to mention the plethora of cousins, aunts and uncles). Add that to the culture shock of being overexposed to Pakistan’s vibrant and loud ways after years-it ended up being a bit much for thirteen year old me.
I remember on one of the first evenings I was spending with my younger brother, I told him I was a champion at badminton in my school abroad-a blatant lie. When I lost miserably against him, he of course found out, but my heart had been in a good place-I had wanted to establish a bond with him.
What seemed new in the beginning became the norm for me soon. When both sets of parents were posted in Lahore, I spent many nights at my biological parents’ house, playing ludo, badminton (still losing), watching movies and sneaking out at night with the cousins who were old enough to drive.
I have never been uncomfortable with my reality, but when I was younger, what made me uncomfortable was what people would say. In seventh grade, my sister accompanied to my school play in which I was acting-when my friends asked me who she was, I said she was my cousin.
I still remember the momentary look of hurt on my sisters’ face. Later in the day on my way home, my adoptive mother asked me why I hadn’t said she was my sister-I answered I wanted to avoid awkward conversations with people. I was told what people think is none of my concern, and that is how I have lived my life.
The next day in school, while all my classmates were sitting down for lunch, I told them the person I had introduced yesterday as my cousin was actually my sister-I did get a few accusing stares, beckoning me to explain why I had lied, and I did.
Now, well into my twenties, I speak openly about both my families and offer only a short 45 second summary whenever someone can’t understand why I was referring to my dad as ‘Abu’ one day and ‘Daddy’ the next, or why my moms have suddenly changed professions and cities.
There have been times when I’ve felt like the luckiest person for having four doting parents who care about my wellbeing. There have also been times when I’ve found myself struggling to measure up to the expectations of four different individuals. But one thing I have never felt is different or ‘not normal’.
Growing up in a situation that most Pakistani families would consider ‘outside the norm’ was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. My life isn’t inhibited by strict cultural constructs and that fact in itself has liberated me as a person, effecting how I make my decisions and live my life.