I realized curious onlookers hear roughly 13% of the conversation after they ask “So, adoption huh?” The other 87% of the diaogue is in my head. Hammy, the mentally unstable hamster who runs my brain wheel, internally berates me for weeks after these exchanges. He scolds me for over-sharing, under-sharing, and my lack of boundaries. He also scolds me for my top bun penchant, but that’s another story.
Between sets tonight, my swim coach (who I adore) asked if I adopted my son, and how long he’s been home. Casual adoption questions translate to asking for a sound bite on the most impactful event of my life. Between swim sets during Masters practice. In the cereal aisle at Trader Joe’s. While waiting for a table at Islands. On the elevator at Days Inn. Ya know?
I feel Hammy’s beady black eyes glaring disappointment into my soul as soon as the curious onlooker scratches their nose and says “So, um…” The nose tickle is the onlooker’s body screaming what their brain knows: “It isn’t your right to know the answers! Live with the curiosity! It won’t kill you! Or Google! What about Google?!” The scratch pushes away the physical alert, and we’re off.
Curious Onlooker: “Is that your son? / Did you adopt your son? / When did you get him? / Etc. (so many openers)”
Cue Hammy’s glare of disgusted anticipation. He’s certain I’ll flub this.
Me: “(Uncomfortable reply, over-compensating attempt to hide my discomfort and hurt feelings.)”
Hammy: “Allison, you are a spineless waste of vocal chords.”
Curious Onlooker: “(Emboldened, increasingly intrusive line of questioning.)”
Hammy: “When are you going to draw the line and define some boundaries? No, I’m kidding. I know you’re a soggy chicken-nipple who’ll keep answering until this gaping hole of manners is done with you.”
Me: “(Humorous attempt to deflect and distract.)”
Hammy: “Oh, she’s got jokes! Isn’t she hilarious while she’s trying to be likable at the expense of her son’s privacy?!”
Curious Onlooker: “(Probing question about Luc’s birth family.)”
Me: “(Brief answer followed by watch glance, and comment about the late hour.)”
Hammy: “Allison. You have a funny way of pronouncing, ‘None of your damn business, Rust-Juice-For-Brains!'”
Curious Onlooker: “(Question with the term “Luc’s real mother.)”
Me: “(Shaky voice correction about who Luc’s ‘real mother’ is (hint: it’s me).)”
Hammy: “Poor Luc doesn’t realize he has sandwich spread for a mother.”
Eventually, I find a way out of the conversation. But for the rest of my life, Hammy finds precious moments to remind me of my mistakes. He’s convinced me the majority of Luc’s future need for therapy stems from my incompetence. And, the hardest part is he’s partially right. My friends hug me, and tell me it’s rubbish. But it isn’t.
I guess what I really want to say (Hammy: “And could have saved us all a lot of time by saying it earlier.”) is those questions are intrusive. It’s not easy to figure out the right time to ask or answer them. But it’s not hard to figure out the wrong time. And I’m clearly inept at answering in a healthy way–
Hammy: “You have the spinal cord of a jellyfish. Get to the point, Allison.”
I wish people would take a few seconds to think about how their questions will make Luc and me feel. And have they have earned enough trust in our relationship to ask them in the first place?
If the mystery is a distraction when people are around us, maybe the bigger question to answer is why.
Hammy: “That was excruciating.”
Sometimes I just can’t. I know that’s a t-shirt, but really I don’t feel like I can write about the enormous pile of poop that life is sometimes. It’s so hard that it is entertaining to watch from outside. Few people want to be in it with us though.
The situations we face are often unpleasant, scary, frustrating, and intimidating. And when they are, I have to put on my “War Music” playlist, roll up my sleeves, swallow the tears, and “fight.”
Today I’m navigating wanting to keep an honest blog, but also feeling like it’s none of anyone’s damn business what I’m going through as a mom, or what Luc is going through as a young Black male in this messed up, ignorant, racist, backwards world.
You know what? I love you for reading this blog. And I’m thankful. But today it’s just none of your business. I’m sorry. Is that okay?
FYI: Current “War Music” Playlist…
Sound of Da Police by KRS-One
Lose Yourself by Eminem
You Can’t Stop Me by Andy Mineo
Electric Pow Wow Drum by A Tribe Called Red
Say I Won’t by Lacrae
Conqueror by Estelle
New Man Theme by Mr. Lif
White friends and family often ask me if I’m creating a self-fulfilling prophesy by teaching my son about racism.
- Do I create a self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about road safety? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset by discussing looking both ways before crossing the street.
- Do I create self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about cavities? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset by discussing oral hygiene.
- Do I create a self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about expiration dates? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset by discussing food poisoning.
- Do I create a self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about splinters? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset when I teach my son about wood grains.
- Do I create a self-fulfilling prophesy when I teach my son about bad movies? Perhaps I nurture a victim mindset by discussing plot holes.
It sounds like blaming the victim. Nobody invites car accidents, cavities, food poisoning, splinters, or bad movies. We all accept that they exist. The more we understand those unpleasant realities, the more empowered we are to protect our bodies and our minds.
I am so lucky to get to work at the pool teaching 3rd graders to swim. I got this job almost 2 months ago, and I can’t believe I get to work with amazing kids, in the pool, teaching something I love (swimming), AND I get paid!
There is a very cool grant that provides the following for every single 3rd grader enrolled in public school in the city: for three weeks they are bused to the pool, given swimsuits that match the instructors’ suits, provided towels, and taught to swim for 1 hour. We also teach them some water polo and a little diving.
The above pic was inspired by one of my recent students. He was TERRIFIED of the diving board. Most kids are terrified of the board when they get up there. But this kid attacked his fear. He clenched his fists, gritted his teeth, and shouted “THUHREEEE, TWWWOOO, OOOOOONNE, BIG JUMP!” And he did that every time he jumped. He never once honored his fear.
I know how he feels. I took a diving class a few weeks ago. The instructor greeted us with, “First, we conquer your fear of heights. Jump off the 5 meter board. Twice.” The 5m doesn’t look so tall until you’re standing on it. I was earnestly concerned I would soil myself both times I jumped.
The next day, I watched my student conquer the same (or greater) level of fear over, and over, and over, and over. He must have jumped ten times. I am still so impressed.
Today, that session ended. I had to say good-bye to this very cool kid. And I had to say good-bye to 10 other students who stole my heart too. Ugh. The only bad part of the job is the final hug.
My son and I enjoyed a fro-yo in a small courtyard area after school today. A Black woman and a White woman sat at a small table next to us. The White woman talked and talked and talked and talked and talked. Eventually, I noticed my son watching the pair. I whispered to him, “That White lady is talking a lot, isn’t she?”
I’ve noticed this before. Whenever I sit near a White person and a Black person who are out together, the White person monopolizes the dialogue. The Black person quietly nods, and slips in short affirming exclamations. I wondered if my son noticed the same thing. Without even pausing for thought, he nodded.
Luc: “She should stop talking. The Black lady wants to say something.”
Me: “Do you think the White lady will stop talking so she can say it?”
Luc: (sighs like he’s 70 years old) “She should turn off her engine.”
Luc: (pointing at his mouth) “Yangyangyangyangyang…”
Luc & Me: (peels of laughter)
The poem of a racist slave owner was put to the tune of a British drinking song, and adopted as the United States National Anthem in 1931. Changing it might say, “Hi people who are Black. We are changing our national anthem to something that doesn’t celebrate the murder of your/our ancestors. Because, really it’s the rock bottom least we can do.”
* * * I struggle to push these posts live. I wrote this a couple of months ago. I’m trying to be brave. Trying to publish more raw, unedited posts. Here goes. * * *
Sometimes people are surrounded by people who tell them they can’t. I am one of those people. No matter what I did, it was the wrong thing to do, and it wasn’t good enough. Or it was too good, and needed to be sabotaged. When I was in my mid-twenties, I was a comic strip artist. I was good. However, it is an industry dominated by White men. I found it difficult to break into a level that would pay the bills.
During this difficult period, I sent some original comic strips to my family as Christmas presents. It took me a long time to work up the courage to do it, so they went into the mail a little late, and arrived close to Christmas. I didn’t hear anything from any of them until I received a long, typed letter in the mail. It carefully explained why original comic strips from Walt Disney or Charles Schulz would be a lovely treat at Christmas. But, the letter reminded me, I was no Walt Disney or Charles Schulz.
I was crushed. I believe it was that very letter that destroyed my passion for comics. My heart was so broken I was speechless for several days. I never experienced that before or since. It would be almost a year before I would draw again. And never sent my art to my family again.
So, that’s an example of one of the adventures I’ve experienced with my family. And 43 years of adventures like that, combined with my husband’s special recipes, left me discouraged.
And then I got mad. I got really, really mad. And I decided to fix my heart. I decided I would be my own best friend. And then I made a friend who came into my life in exactly the right way at exactly the right time. She has been an enormous source of encouragement.
I’ve wanted to teach kids to swim for several years. Over the past couple of years, I learned formal swim strokes, and recently joined a Masters Swim Team. I love it. But still. Every time I go to the pool, I shuffle past the Rec pool. I jealously (and probably creepily) watch people teaching kids to swim. Could I do that? No. No time. No experience. No skill. They’d never want me. Too old.
I applied anyway.
Today was my first day teaching 3rd graders to swim. It’s as fun as I thought it would be. The kids make my heart grow three sizes every time they giggle. But I didn’t expect the level 1 and level 2 kids. I’m still choking back tears. I had to excuse myself between sessions.
It’s hard to describe what it feels like to take a child from being terrified of the water to realizing they are capable of more than they initially thought. I made them look me in the eye and say, “I can do this. I’ve got this!” before each turn. I told them to high five everyone on their team when they completed their turn. I saw what changed in them while they swam, and I wanted them to see it in themselves and in each other. I even had one little girl flipping her hair and snapping when she said, “I am a strong woman!” by the end. She started out so shy, and so unsure, and she ended flipping her hair and snapping!
As a mom I certainly know where those tentacles of confidence will reach, and how they will permeate their school work, their friendships, and their willingness to take chances on themselves.
Kind of like what I just did.
* * * I struggle to push these posts live. I wrote this one several years ago. I’m trying to be brave. Trying to publish more raw, unedited posts. Here goes. * * *
In May, I participated in a small, intense Civil Rights tour. We followed some of the path that the Freedom Riders took back in the 1960’s. The group was diverse in age, personality, profession, and about 50/50 black/white, and male/female. We all learned a lot. We all continue to process what we saw and experienced.
About a month after the trip, I visited my parents in Georgia with my son and husband. It was a challenging trip. There were a lot of questions asked in accusatory tones like, “Why is it okay to say HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and not HWCU? That’s racist.”
When someone asks me a question like that, I assume they want an answer. Usually, though, they don’t.
* * * I struggle to push these posts live. I wrote this one a very long time ago, obviously. I’m trying to be brave. Trying to publish more raw, unedited posts. Here goes. * * *
“If we were to compare culture with an orchestra, and envision each instrument representative of a particular culture, then we can begin to see the benefit of listening to different instruments. The purpose of the orchestra is to produce music that is pleasing to the ear. This can only be accomplished if the musicians are reading from the same page, and are allowed to fully participate in the musical composition.”
— Tina Jackson-Williams
My chest is tight and aches because I am so deeply sad on so many levels and for so many reasons. I have only clumsy thoughts from partially processed experiences at this point. However, “God is faithful who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Cor 1:9) So I reach out to express sorrow.
“As the #Charleston police deem this horrific act a hate crime, we pray vigorously that this person’s hate does not cultivate more hate.”
As I read some of the sharply negative responses to TheKingCenter’s prayerful tweet that the hate might stop with the shooter, I was finally able to see the deep wounds behind the anger. This was made possible by the courageous people of color who have offered me the gift of seeing their intense pain that they keep walled off from the “general public.” I have said before that I am honored to receive that gift. I take the responsibility of receiving it seriously. Though, at this point, I don’t know what to do with it. Or how. Or where. So, I pray. And read, and learn, and hope, and pray. And accidentally say the wrong things at the wrong times. And fumble. And stumble.
As the time for me to stand up begins to present itself, I cling to this Scripture:
“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel — not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the Cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” — 1 Corinthians 1:17