As one half of a married gay couple, adopting a child came up in conversation. While I say “came up,” it’s not really one of those things you drop into the conversation when deciding what pastry you deserve to make up for the lack of calories from your skinny extra hot latte.
“Shall we have the chocolate croissant or the iced brownie, shall we adopt a child?” This sort of thing isn’t as a flippant or as trivial of that.
We sat down and were very grown up about it. We researched all the websites about adoption and fostering, reading all those tragic and abusive stories and the Hallmark moments when a child enters a new family and their lives are transformed into a massive flurry of bake-offs at the school and the regular round of family trips and success stories of the adoptive child finding the cure for cancer (okay, I made the last bit up, but you get my drift). It made us aspire to be a part of that success story.
We looked at all the forms and everything seemed straight forward. Looking at the profiles of some of the children was heart-breaking. Could we have more that one? Sure, there were whole families of children that were clinging together in the hope that a family would take all four or five of them. We even considered moving to a larger house, such was the powerful emotional pull.
Something held us back. When you look at the small print, each child profile comes with a disclaimer. Like a packet of cigarettes and the health warning. The list of medical and emotional issues some of these children come with is huge. Not a single one wasn’t damaged in some way; some were long term, some were manageable and treatable, but that picture perfect image of having family where you have attractive, well behaved, and academically gifted children seemed like a long way off.
We hemmed and hawed over adoption, and decided to put a family on hold and decided to get a dog.
We went along to the pound, and saw all these sorry incarcerated furry faces peering at us through the bars, waiting for parole. We were attracted to Lola, a five-year-old English Bull dog. Her original owner had been sent to prison and she’d been shuttled from home to home, and eventually had been removed from her last owner with her brother after being starved and abused. With a simple form filled in, and a donation, she was in the back of the car and came home with us. We had a comprehensive instruction brochure with instructions on how to get her weight up to a normal level, and her health needs. None looked overly complicated or confusing, so we felt in control.
As with children, I had this perfect image of dog ownership. Having a dog in your home is like inviting a hooligan to run riot with your home furnishings and your walls, and to be constantly vacuuming up the dog hair. In just over a year we had gone through three vacuum cleaners!
We picked the only dog who didn’t like walking. I thought all dogs got excited when you show them the lead. I’ve seen those commercials when you are greeted with a panting and enthusiastic bundle of fun. With Lola we had a roll of the eyes and quick plod for her bed. The image of jogging around the park, listening to my iPod with my faithful hound bounding by my side, was never re-created. You took Lola off the lead and she sat, and looked at you, and virtually said “Off you go, enjoy your walk around the park, pick me up when you’ve finished.”
Things came to a head when she started suffering anxiety issues when she was left alone. We consulted dog trainers and dog therapists, and all avenues were explored. The one common piece of advice was that she needed a stablemate. Getting a second dog wasn’t an option for us, so with a heavy heart we had to re-home her. She is now very happy and settled with her new adopted brother, Buster. Lola still has an aversion to walking and exercise, but is happy in her new home.
So what did I learn about adoption? It’s not really for me, or us. We have come to terms with the fact that we’re not cut out to be parents to either children or pets. The big lesson learned from the experience is that you have to be a certain type of person to be a parent. Adopting a child is a life-long commitment, and expectations and dreams may never come to fruition. I feel some straight couples who have families don’t appreciate this and are living with the consequences.
Adoption is a life changer for both the child and the parent, and it may not be the life changer you had ever imagined. If you can accept that, then I have every respect and appreciation for you.