Lately, I’ve been chatting with IT Ma’am. She is in Australia on a student visa, trying to study IT. She says she already knows all the material mostly. But she wanted to go to Australia. Anyway, maybe her English is improving.

One day, she says I should adopt C as my daughter. It hits me really hard, that suggestion. Daughter. IT Ma’am doesn’t know I adopted C as my sister. I wondered why C never told her—I thought they were close and the topic would come up. Then I thought there was some reason C didn’t feel comfortable mentioning it. So I didn’t say anything either. Eventually, C told me it just hadn’t come up , but by then, it had come to feel like a secret to me, or like a lie. And so I don’t tell IT Ma’am that C is already my adopted sister. I just responded to the suggestion of adopting her as my daughter.

Daughter has all kinds of layers to it.

I tell IT Ma’am that I don’t know if C feels that way about me. After all, you have only one mother. C is scared of her mother—it’s clear her mother is emotionally abusive to C—but that doesn’t mean C doesn’t love her. So IT Ma’am says she doesn’t know about C, but for herself she could go for two. Then she says I can adopt C as whatever I feel like, sister or whatever.

To me, they feel very different. Mother, sister. They don’t feel at all the same. One is immensely closer than the other.

But there are a lot of things about this that feel unreal to me about the whole thing, and I know some of this is that the idea of a daughter connects to all of these kinds of grief. My own baby, that never developed. Natashka’s baby, that had to be given up. The reasons both of us ever became pregnant. There is a grief about that too.

Then there is also the fact that I come home from school and I suppose the grief from many things is so great that C doesn’t always feel real anymore. Or at least the reality of the connection seems tenuous.

And then there’s the idea of “adopting a sister” or “adopting a daughter” like students are kittens. To me, it feels kind of like a fantasy or like a game.

It’s almost a week later when the reason for the weirdness of this finally hits me. Oh, this is a different culture. It’s not my own culture. It’s not any of the cultures I have lived in before. I got used to people eating cow leather and not washing their hands after going to the toilet, but the adopted relative thing still seems wonky to me. I’ve gone with it—it’s the medium through which C would understand how I care about her, and I do care. But in North America, this would be expressed in a different way. It would not probably be expressed through the use of family relationship term, or felt because someone has requested an “adoption.” It might be done more slowly, too. But it’s done here. It’s part of the culture. I met C’s adopted brother a few weeks ago, walking home with her. IT Ma’am adopted C last year as her sister. For them, it isn’t fantasy. It’s like eating cow leather. They do it sometimes. No one is making anything up. It might seem wonky to me, but it’s part of being here. It’s part of acculturating.