Orcas and My Children

Orcas have families.  They swim, sing, chatter, and love in familial groups.  When the family gets too large, they split off, extended families, with relatives in all parts of the ocean.  Orcas in captivity live alone, do not swim, sing, chatter or love in pods.  Some live in parks, far from the sea, with trainers they learn to trust and obey, SF-06_0637-crW

and visitors who come to watch them. SF-06_0582-CrW  

But when the day is over, when the show is over, home is a tank behind the stage.

  SF-06_0653-Blog2 and they are alone.

It was May 2006 when I came back from India to see my two daughters graduate, Cici from Barnard College, Heather from New York Law School.  I came also to close out the apartment I had rented in NY, put a few remaining possessions in storage, and leave for India.  But before I left, Cici and I took a long postponed trip to San Francisco and Northern California.  It was an adventure, and a chance to just spend time together.  She was my baby — the youngest is always the baby.  Now she had graduated and would move in with Heather and Andrei, and I would close the nest (even the temporary one) and fly off to care for orphans in the city of Cici's birth.  Yes, I felt as though I were abandoning my children (grown as they were) but I heard the voices of the children calling me from India.  I had to go.

The epiphany of the trip, the ten days together, was at Six Flags Marine World outside San Francisco.  We had stopped there on our way back from the redwoods up North.  But for reasons unknown, the plight and life of Shouka, the killer whale brought home to each of us the meaning and intensity of separation and belonging.


Orcas have been a part of our lives since then.  For Cici's birthday the next year I contributed to a fund to save Orcas, particularly those in marine parks and other amusement places.  The world of orcas became part of the conversation of our separation.  For Cici, as a transnational adoptee, pods, families where one belongs or not, countries where one belongs or not are part of her everyday thoughts and experience.  For me as a mother who Cici describes as "overly attached" leaving my children in the US behind, to come to India to care for the children here pulled at me, weighed on me — sometimes I drove myself nuts thinking about all this.

I write now, 10th September 2009, as Cici, Heather, and Andrei are in Alert Bay, Vancouver B.C. where they were hoping to find whales, and where today the found them and other sea animals in abundance.  Cici wrote on Facebook:

Dream day! Steller sea lions, humpback whales, muerres + guillemots (seabirds), porpoises… and… ORCAS! A family of 4 (three siblings, one mother)! It was pouring but now the sun is shining over Johnstone Strait.


This is a mother and baby.  The people on the boat knew their names.  They know all the whales who visit, their ages, their relationships with each other.  Here is another picture, a mother and baby flanked by her two sons, swimming in synchrony.   Whale fam

The visitors have to come to THEIR home to see them. My MarinersCR

This is my pod, or the American part of my Pod.  Today was an epiphany for me too.  I miss my kids terribly.  I wish I could be with them to see the family of whales, mother and baby, mother, baby, and sons…. but I am mother to another Pod now, or another part of my Pod.  I am here because the children who called to me had lost their families, but more importantly they had lost their pods.  They had no extended family to swim with.  They had no familiar songs or chatter, or even familiar strands of love.

I have made a pod here.  My children no longer live either in the sea unprotected, or in an aquarium, captured. It's what is often not understood, the the orphan loses her pod.  She can't tell what sea or island she comes from, who are her aunts, uncles, siblings, extended pod…. they have all be lost. In the most profound way they are alone.  

Now I protect the children who called to me, the ones no one else would nurture and love, the disables who had to be excluded from the family.  And yes, as Cici described, I am probably "over attached" and "over protective" as others say.  I love being a mother.  One day I WILL be able to spend time away, but this pod is not yet secure enough to swim without me.   That's why I can't just go off to watch the whales in Alert Bay.  That's why I can't cross the ocean to join my grown children.  But I do miss them, and I treasure the modern means by which we can talk, chat, share pictures, and extend our love to each other.









4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. LinZi
    Sep 11, 2009 @ 04:57:48

    I am SO happy to have come across your blog! Your pod looks bright and happy, and you are very inspiring to me. I have have always wanted to found a home or organization to help orphaned and street children in India… I have already worked with a few… but at this time in my life I need to figure out ways to make a career and support myself, so later I can be free to help others easily…
    Anyways I would love to hear more about your Shishur Sevay! I will continue to read here.


  2. Shreya S
    Sep 21, 2009 @ 04:53:25

    you are an amazing lady!


  3. Susan Rogers
    Sep 21, 2009 @ 07:20:35

    Absolutely beautiful posting , Michelle. The analogy between your girls and the whales is so clear and so poignant.


  4. Travelingcloud
    Sep 21, 2009 @ 19:27:15

    Thanks and appreciated,
    On Mon, Sep 21, 2009 at 3:23 AM, wrote:


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September 2009
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