Caller: Madam, I got your number from XYZ and I want to enquire about homeschooling.
Me: OK, how many children do you have? How old are they?
Caller: I have one daughter and one adopted son.
Me: *Found dead with phone in hand, brain splatter pattern indicative of spontaneous combustion*
Extremely articulate host to another guest: You must meet H and S, they are a wonderful couple, their son is adopted.
Me: *Has been arrested on charge of murdering host with cutlery*
Millennial so chill, needs built-in defrosting: I heard you are an adoptive parent. Me too, yay! Just adopted a puppy from the shelter.
Me: *After coming out a trance from swinging handbag as if it were the Excalibur a la Charlie Hunnam in the film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and finding all but the cowering cashier dead in Ratna Supermarket.
I don’t think I’m going to succeed in writing an articulate, empathetic, educational piece on the appropriate use of adoption language. I promise to try; but if it turns into an angry reactive rant, please forgive my sensitive mother’s heart. Animal rights activists, I mean you.
I’m going to be using the male pronoun throughout this essay, because we are adoptive parents of our extraordinary son and so this subject is personal and hard to be objective about.
There is absolutely no reason to introduce your or anyone’s child as ‘ adopted son’, particularly if it’s a daughter. Sorry, that was terrible. Often, usually newbie adoptive parents, come from a place where their own nobility moves them to tears and they introduce their long suffering child as their adopted kid. There are so many things wrong with this. Firstly adoption is not parlor speak. In my mind there are only two conceivable situations where the parent must bring up the adoption story of their child to utter strangers- if a doctor asks for the family history and two, at the astrologer’s if you intend to get the kid’s horoscope made. It isn’t as if one doesn’t discuss adoption with close friends or family, particularly with other adoptive parents or prospective adoptive parents. But there is no reason spring the most profound, indelible truth of your child’s life onto unconcerned parties. To call your child, your adopted son, is to segregate him, mark him as different. Particularly like us, if you have a biological offspring to boot. Now unless you are going to introduce both with adjectives related to their births, say- this is my adopted son and this the-one-time-we-fucked daughter, don’t do it. Adoption is a truth your child will never ever forget, just like your biological child will never ever think about her birth, so no need to keep throwing it in his face.
Any mention of adoption should always be in the past tense, this is my son, he *was* adopted. Adoption, is not an affliction that always remains current and chronic. It is just one of the many ways we grow a family. Just as you would say- she was born 18 years ago, you should say, he was adopted 12 years ago.
Within the family, we’ve never kept the story of my son’s adoption a secret. My son will always have two sets of parents. His birth parents and his forever parents, us. I usually wait for cues from my son to talk about it; he is the one who tells me the appropriate way he wishes to speak about it.
To address the last, most difficult part of this essay, this concept of adopting pets or ‘pet parents’. I get intent behind it. I do. I’m the crazy dog lady who feeds the strays. I have more dog friends than I do human. I have fought with louts on the streets for kicking at puppies, rushed wounded dogs to vets, paid for expensive medicines. I hope to start a shelter someday. And I frankly prefer a dog to a human on any given day. But here’s the kicker. Taking a rickshaw to a shelter to pick up an animal is very different from adopting a human child. There are no legal, ethical, moral implications to it. There is no years and years of waiting, there is no whetting from social workers, lawyer fees, court dates, no doctors’ certificates, reference letters, character certificates, nomination forms, no mile high financial paperwork. Adopting a child is never done on a whim. Often parents have gone through decades of yearning, infertility treatments, miscarriages, and a massive amount of soul-searching before they come around to visiting an adoption agency. And then the interminable wait. When we adopt a child or give birth to one, we hold in our hands the the potential to change the world. How you bring up this small human will have a telling effect on posterity. Unlike dogs, children not only grow; they also develop, change, they constantly challenge existing norms, push their boundaries, the ripple effect of this causes societies to grow, change or decline. And importantly, the vast differences in physicality of bringing up a child as opposed to a pet- I don’t know of one parent who came home after a long day at work, kicked back with a drink in hand while idly scratching under their child’s ear. We love our dogs for what they represent, undying loyalty, sublimation of their self to our needs, an non-judgemental, unchallenging presence. Can a child be that, um, never. At least not mine. Dogs encompass all that’s good and kind in a human being and leave out all the bad things, like rolling their eyes, texting while driving and whining about eating baingan ka bharta.
By all means feel good about rescuing an animal from a shelter as opposed to buying them from a breeder. But it does not mean that it is the same as adopting a child, anymore than adopting a village, adopting a garden, adopting a school would be. All very noble, vital things to do. But these are projects, not parenting. I get that English is a limited language and I’m perhaps getting hung up on semantics. But I would love to change the popular slogan from, ‘Adopt, don’t shop’, to ‘ Rescue, don’t shop’.