After torrential rains and an all-around meteorological dreary day, to see this dog sashaying down the street was a spot of sun. He was tan and tiny and fierce and moved, despite his leash, as though he owned the sidewalk. He was also carrying a tiny stuffed reindeer in his mouth. Probably Rudolph. No doubt his favorite toy.
And as this dog and his owner passed, I naturally smiled. Anyone would have. The woman walking him smiled back. She then said, admonishingly, “He’s cute, but he has psychological problems.” I clearly had the look of one who was unfazed and intended to pet her dog, “psychological problems” notwithstanding; so, to be clear, she added I should probably not pet him lest he bite.
And as they continued walking along, her and her dog’s backs now to me, she added, “I adopted him. So, you can’t blame me for his problems.”
And where to begin . . .
Well, first off, it probably goes without saying that no bite that tiny dog could have inflicted would have stung more than that seemingly unwitting, seemingly harmless remark.
In our language, we use the word “adopt” to describe “highways,” “spots,” “attitudes,” animals, and, of course, people. And while I have always leaned toward wishing for more synonyms so the word “adopt” could be reserved for people, I understand its linguistic flexibility. That being said, it’s the fact that this woman, in a mere moment and eleven words, cut to the core of a problem much more prevalent and insidious than mere semantics.
Before I continue on, I know she didn’t mean it, didn’t mean anything by it. Most people don’t and never do. And maybe that is a significant part of the problem. That people don’t realize it. But in her remark she effectively linked adoption and “psychological problems,” said that those who are adopted come with said problems, problems for which someone else is to “blame,” and that despite an adoption, the psychological problems linger and that the best one can do is muddle through.
In eleven words.
And therein is the trouble.
As the mother of a family formed by adoption, it pains me that my children are going to hear the word tossed about in this manner, the word our language has to describe the process by which our family was formed, hurled blithely and without regard, a word that is and will be at times participially attached to them.
The woman I encountered today didn’t know me, didn’t know my beautiful sons, and didn’t realize the extent of the subtext of her remarks.
She also didn’t share with me something I didn’t already know.
She just reminded me that some people bite.