If the Cordes family remembers one thing about July 2010, it will no doubt be what they learned about Indian culture, for it would seem that they could not get enough of it this summer.
First, the entire family — Dale, Heather, Kiran, Caelan and Micah — headed off to the Rocky Mountains for the Colorado Heritage camp. Then Heather and daughter Kiran held their very own heritage camp here in Lawrence.
A giant saffron, white and green flag of India hung outside to welcome the campers the first day, and inside were the strains of a sitar, the shimmer of fabrics and the unmistakable scent of Indian cuisine. And for four days, nine girls did crafts, cooked Indian food, watched Bollywood movies, wrapped themselves in saris and learned about their home country.
But gathering for activities was not the only purpose of the camp. Rather, Heather Cordes wanted her daughter to be proud of her heritage and to understand there are others who shared her experience of being born in India and adopted by an American family.
The idea for the camp came to Heather last winter when she sensed that her daughter was struggling.
“I felt like something was missing for Kiran,” she says. “Something was not there for her, and she seemed unhappy.”
Ten years ago, in September 2000, Dale and Heather Cordes brought home their infant daughter Kiran from an orphanage in Mumbai, India. The couple then welcomed two boys when Heather gave birth to Caelan in 2001 and then Micah in 2007.
Last winter Cordes was perhaps sensing some of the anxiety common in adopted children her daughter’s age.
According to Judith Schaffer and Christina Lindstrom in “How to Raise an Adopted Child” (Copestone Press, 1989), the age between 9 and 12 is difficult for children as they realize more clearly than before that they have two sets of parents.
The authors say that despite conversations about adoption a parent may have, an adopted child is likely to have doubts about his permanent status as a member of a family. Because feeling insecure is not uncommon during this stage of development, these authors see this period as the ideal time to investigate a child’s background and heritage.
“Kiran needs more reassurances,” Heather says. “She needs a tangible sign that she belongs here.”
Cordes notes that others are always telling her two sons that they look and behave just like her husband, Dale. But Kiran doesn’t have that.
“As parents, we love our children all the same, and we don’t see our adopted child any differently than our biological ones, but that doesn’t mean that our children don’t feel insecure,” Heather says. “And just because we love them the same doesn’t mean that they have the same needs.”
Amy Jones, whose two daughters Keeran, 12, and Lia, 11, attended the camp, noticed a change in her girls’ behavior.
“The camp served as a springboard for the girls, and they asked more questions than ever before about where they came from,” Jones says.
Heather says that her favorite aspect of the camp was sitting back and hearing the conversations. She liked listening to the girls as they talked about whether they were “biologically related” or “adopted-related.” And she enjoyed those moments when a light bulb went off as a girl realized how different her life would have been had she remained in India.
Jayna Lauridsen had that very revelation: “I kept thinking about my house and how I would have lived and the foods I would be eating if I stayed in India.”
Cordes wanted the camp to be a celebration of family, the girls and the rich culture they were born into. “Letting kids be is so much more therapeutic than directing them.”
Cordes will consider the camp a success if, like she has sensed for her daughter, it makes the other girls “feel more comfortable in their own skin” and “brings them a sense of peace about where they came from.”
Judging from the reaction from the girls and their parents, she doesn’t need to worry about the success of the experience as parents are already making plans to keep the girls connected throughout the year.
“I am so glad Heather did this,” says Amy Jones. “The timing could not have been better as it has led to very thoughtful conversations about my girls’ heritage and who they are.”
Kiran Cordes summed up her reaction to the camp in something she wrote after the camp ended: “We hosted an India camp at our house with some of the new friends I made. I didn’t feel very alone like I did before because there were kids born in India….”