We were at Family Night at the zoo when I saw all these signs saying, “Adopt a white crocodile.” I thought it had to be a joke or a gimmick – that is until I saw a sign that said, “Only $15!” I imagined a large metal animal crate, like the ones selling puppies in grocery store parking lots on weekends except with little baby crocs. Some dude in an undershirt would introduce me to “Snappy,” the runt of the litter and I worried how I would graciously decline. “I’m sorry,” I say. “But I already have a Gila monster at home. I just couldn’t.”
We came up to the reptile house and upon entering I saw a group of twenty families lined up at a table which was covered with little plastic white crocodile toys and a big sign advertising White Crocodile Adoption.
I turned to Laurie and asked, “Do you know what this is all about?”
“Yeah, you pay $15 for a little toy and the money goes to feeding the crocodiles.”
“So you’re not adopting anything. You’re sponsoring the crocs.”
As she said this, I watched a preschool age girl approach the table and ask, “Can I adopt a crocodile?” Her voice was soft and meek and broke my heart. Surrounded by dozens of families, I wondered how many of these children had misunderstood the signs as I had and thought they’d get to carry their new pet home that very evening. I wanted to chew the lady at the table out. What’s wrong with you people? Why can’t you just say ‘Feed the white croc?’ I might not have had a problem if the child got to watch the crocodile eat what they had donated. But walking away with little more than a happy meal toy seemed to be the last word in false advertising.
Once I got over my indignation for the disappointed children, I thought about the misuse of the word adoption. Most books I’ve read on adoption warned me of what would become my life-long battle for political correctness and proper adoption language. As soon as I got certified as a foster parent, I began noticing signs for “Adopt-a-highway,” “adopt-a-location,” and even “adopt-a-book.”
It’s not that I have a problem with the word being used on animals that are taken in for life. When Laurie and I fostered dogs for the Humane Society, we did everything a foster parent does. We fed them, took care of medical issues, and loved them as they adapted to their new home. In every way we welcomed them into our family and our daily routine.
But I don’t see how the word applies to donating money to a temporary cause and having someone else do all the work. I can’t imagine coming home from a hard day’s work and spending quality time with my stretch of Interstate 35. I’m certainly not putting any pictures of my “adopted” library book’s first day at school on my desk. And I’m for sure not going to hug and kiss any tree before tucking it in at night.
The problem is that Laurie and I never see these situations coming so we’re rarely prepared. They always come from out of nowhere from people we thought knew better. Last Christmas, the director of our children’s preschool sent home a letter saying each class had adopted a foster child for Christmas. “Shall I assume they mean they’ll be providing gifts for a child in foster care?” I asked Laurie “That’s what it means,” she said. This may have been another example of the type of thing that irked me for a few minutes and then rolled off my back. But the director should know better as she has fostered countless newborns, infants, and toddlers.
After we sold our house, Laurie and I interviewed for a position with an apartment ministry to residents of various complexes. Our interview with Lisa, a bubbly area director, went great until she suggested we solicit our family and friends to adopt us. “This means they’ll commit to your team while you work sending money to us monthly in support of you,” she explained.
“So they’ll be supporting our team financially,” I said.
“Is the term you use for this program “adopting a team?”
I didn’t want to come across argumentative, so I waited until the end of the interview and asked, “Do you mind if we use the word sponsor rather than adopt?”
“That should be okay. Why do you ask?”
“We adopted our kids and we feel that the term would be offensive to the meaning of the word ‘adopt.’”
Lisa nodded but said nothing. After a few awkward seconds, she offered each of us a handshake and said, “I’ll get back to you soon.” A few days passed before she called us back to offer us a position. I took the phone call, which was probably a good thing since Laurie wouldn’t have reacted too well when Lisa told me, “I do have one concern. The conversation at the end of the interview raised some concerns for me that you won’t be fully on board with our program.”
“Is your problem the way we brought it up or that we brought it up at all?”
“More that it was brought up at all. My sister adopted her daughter and I don’t see a problem in the use of that term.”
She obviously felt like she and I were on the same team, and I struggled to find a diplomatic way of telling her that she still had the right to be dead wrong about it. Unable to come up with a response, I told her, “Okay,” which seemed to satisfy her, and then I ended the conversation. I knew what I had to do, but I didn’t want to give her the impression that we were impulsive. So I let a few days pass before I called to tell her we wouldn’t be accepting the offer.
As Laurie and I scrambled to find a decent apartment with openings in the following weeks, we felt good about our decision. We hadn’t been able to resolve the issue with Lisa and knew she and her team probably considered us dogmatic, opinionated, and overly sensitive. But we made our peace knowing we’d stood our ground, confident we’d be able to handle the bigger battles that lay ahead.