I don’t purchase many big-ticket items, and never do I buy things sight unseen. So the premise of procuring a human this way makes my head spin—even as I was lucky enough to be adopted from Children’s Home Society in Oakland, California.
The perspective of being a shelter kid
Returning from visiting my mom in hospice this week afforded me some inescapable solace during the long drive home. I pondered the time I'd had with her, and was overwhelmed with a sense of love.
As an adopted adult, I know full well the dedication, sacrifice, and momentary lapse of reason that goes into adopting a lonely orphan child. For the prospective adoptive parent, the want of the child must far exceed the desire for money, time, peace, and sanity. Just like having your own. But adopting anything is a crapshoot at best, and one fraught with a million unknowns. “Will she love us back?” “Will they grow up normal?” “Does he carry communicable diseases?” “Will we regret the decision for life?” “Will he hit us with a bag of hammers in our sleep?”
I once adopted a hermit crab named “Herbie” from a pet store and had to sign a declaration that I would protect and care for the little crustacean to the best of my ability for the duration of its natural life. Had I known that hermit crabs can live 12-15 years, I would not have entered into such a pact and instead left the unaffectionate ‘lil guy on the checkout counter, elated that I had shirked the responsibility of regular salt baths, twice daily warm water misting, and constant humidifier monitoring.
I can’t imagine signing on the dotted line for an actual child, or how many signatures such a covenant requires. I was never privy to the documentation regarding my sale. My parents could have chosen the semi-vogue option of an exotic, foreign child. Instead, they opted for the multi-year bureaucratic stall of a domestic towheaded kid. Maybe they didn’t want to pay shipping.
An often-overlooked advantage to an adoptee is the notion of “family”
When you are not adopted and decide to banish a shady family member, that person forever remains flesh and blood. Sadly, there’s no knocking anyone out of the family tree. But for an adoptee, things are much more loosely defined. The adopted individual can simply choose whomever they want to be related to within the family org chart. I find myself exceedingly proud to be related to some extended family members, while I relegate others to the “acquaintance” pool.
I have successfully dodged these individuals at Walmart, BBQs, and weddings. I simply deny all pseudo-genealogical ties and remind them, “It’s nothing personal, I am adopted after all.” On the flip side, never seeing an actual blood relative is a reverse mindbender. The realization that I’m as related to my own mother as the Easter Bunny is unsettling at times.
Each time I see my parents, I notice disparate habits they've developed as they age. One of my father’s most perplexing habits is the rampant use of cruise control in his Lincoln sedan at inappropriate times. He can be seen on California’s crowded highways, speed locked at 70 mph, dodging between moving cars like a game of “Frogger,” never allowing himself to touch the brake pedal or cruise control “pause” and “resume” switch. When I asked him “Why, Dad? Why?" he retorted, “It saves gas!” I assumed he was just a lazy driver. But a cost-cutting measure?
Another trait of my dad that seemed typical until I was an adult is his anxious stockpiling. He rarely parts with or discards anything. If the family wants something gone, it must be stealthily removed from the house under the cover of night, and buried under the existing garbage in the outside trash bin. Otherwise, he will remove the object from the trash unbeknownst to us, and it will be cleaned, reassembled, and placed in its original location.
And since he's the craftiest man around, we rarely had a repairman at the house. The drawback was that we never got anything new. Everything we owned was of industrial grade from Sears. If something did break, dad would fix it and we’d be on our way. This went for clothing as well, as my mom had the skills of a commercial seamstress. My pants and shirts all consisted of the “Toughskins” brand from Sears. This was clothing made from the weather-resistant fabric of wild Himalayan Mountain Yaks.
If I was somehow able to tear something, mom would sew it back together using grit and a 50 lb. test fishing line—also from Sears. She went so far as to sew actual pockets from the rear of outgrown jeans onto the knees of all my Toughskin pants so I had little chance of tearing them. No matter how tough I tried to act as a boy, I could never be taken seriously with patch-worked clown pants.
Expectations of adoption
Most in the Western world consider raising a child other than their own to be a frightening undertaking.
Many, including legislators, expect that the absence of shared blood must result in tension, a troubled sense of identity, and even second-best love and affection. However, anthropological studies of adoption show that this is not the case.1 You didn’t birth your pet, and you love that fur baby immensely. How much more could you love a child?
There’s a desire for most aspiring parents to create their own “mini-me” that looks and acts like them. Sometimes the best thing you can do is break the chain and add some mystery and outside DNA. According to the Administration for Children and Families, there are currently more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States ranging in age from infants to 21 years old. Of the 400,000 children in foster care, approximately 117,000 are waiting to be adopted.2
These kids are in the foster care system because they have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents or guardians. All these children have experienced loss and some form of trauma, and need the love and stability a permanent home provides. Children from broken homes are not broken. They're broken-hearted.
I am my parents’ son—adopted or not. Though I have gleaned neither my dad’s penchant for cruise control nor my mom's grace and resilience as she fights stage IV cancer, I see many other characteristics from them in myself. I could not possibly love two humans more. They chose me. When I paused for a moment and looked at Mom this past weekend, I could see the age in her comforting face. I knew I had much to do with it, and wondered why they ever took on the challenge of me.
And though they may seem increasingly bonkers as they age, given the choice, I’d choose them every time. I wonder if “Herbie” the crab feels the same way.
For more information on adoption, visit AdoptUSKids.org.
Howell, S.L. (2009). Adoption of the Unrelated Child: Some Challenges to the Anthropological Study of Kinship. Annual Review of Anthropology, 38, 149-166.