Tag Archives: Allison Garwood

So, Adoption Huh?

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.”

Am I Raising A Victim?

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.

Why Does Whitey Take Up So Much Convo Space?

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.”

Me: “Engine?”

Luc: (pointing at his mouth) “Yangyangyangyangyang…”

Luc & Me: (peels of laughter)

Grandma Lee’s Funeral

Dress covered in wrinkles and iron juice, I try to seem as put-together as my cousin.

Dress covered in wrinkles and iron juice, I try to seem as put-together as my cousin.

My weekend might have been worse than yours. We flew to Athens, Georgia, for my grandmother’s funeral. Reed calls me the velcro member of “The Family” (the core family: my two sisters and our parents). I am the detachable/re-attachable obligation.

24 hours until the funeral:
Reed, Luc, and I arrive at Bob Hope International Airport relaxed, ready for caffeine, and determined to make the best of a funeral weekend. Michael, our Southwest ticketing agent, cringes as he breaks the news that we are at the wrong airport. Our flight will leave from LAX as scheduled, and we would need teleportation to board on time.

22 hours until the funeral:
The Great Wrong Airport Debacle of 2015 resolved (thank you, Southwest!!), we scuttle through security where I nervously present an expired driver’s license and my antique passport. A text from my sister pings that we should not stop by our parents’ house (both of my sisters are staying there) when we get to town because Mom is stressed. I figure she must only want family around her at a time like this. Oh wait. I am family.

11 hours until the funeral:
We hobble into the Holiday Inn of Athens, Georgia, at 1am. Luc is asleep. I am 18% alive. The empty bottle of saline surprises Reed anew, and he makes his monthly dash to a 24 hour drugstore.

4 hours until the funeral:
A text from my sister pings that we should not go to our parents’ house today before the funeral because Mom is overwhelmed. I figure she must want family around her at a time like this. Oh wait…

3 hours until the funeral:
A text from my sister pings that we should absolutely be on time for the funeral. The Family will arrive promptly at noon, and I’d better be there waiting. Or else. I silently question 5 hours of flying, 4 hours of laying over, and 3 hours of driving for this.

1 hour until the funeral:
The hotel iron is a union member who already worked 40 hours this week. My dress, covered in wrinkles and large ovals of iron juice, has reached a new level of suitcase chic.

11:15 AM:
We arrive at the church and debate parking in the spaces marked “Funeral.” My husband insists we can’t park there because “those spaces are for family only.” Really? Really?? Velcro Girl growls.

Noonish:
The Family arrives. Mom moves and speaks with a quiet fluidity. I think she is medicated. We file into a gargantuan sanctuary. Ambitious choice for a 99 year old’s funeral. Surprise baptism! My sister scheduled an adult baptism for herself. Today. An hour before our grandmother’s funeral. The Family is pleased and does not offer an explanation.

12:15 PM:
Miraculously, energetic, excited-to-see-each-other-after-a-whole-year 5 and 7 year-old cousins remain quietly pretend-somber. Sort of. Mom invites everyone to view a short, silent slide show of Grandma Lee through the years. It loops. And loops. For 45 minutes.

Grammy promises her fading grandchildren tiny, mysterious presents if they behave. Desperate parents hiss time-outs, shoot stink-eyes, and issue death threats to bring the impossible to fruition: happy, hungry, bored, quiet, calm children.

Post Funeral:
The service lasted in the neighborhood of 136 child-years. We file into a room with finger sandwiches and cookie platters. Luc takes a finger sandwich for show, and then shovels 80% of the cookies onto his plate. I pretend not to notice because, frankly, he deserves them.

Eventually we are dismissed and return to the hotel for food and swimming. A stressful, mandatory, The Family style dinner closes the day.

24 Hours Post Funeral:
Reed packed with an air of time abundance. We arrive at our gate hungry and just in time to board. Hopefully trail mix will satiate us for the next 5 hours. “Attention please: we have a passenger on board with a peanut allergy. No peanuts or peanut products will be permitted today. Thank you!” We survive on millions of pretzelito packs and thimbles of orange juice.

Was my weekend worse than yours?

Everything Bagel Life

Raisins ruin Everything bagels.

Raisins ruin Everything bagels.

I want an Everything bagel life. When onions, sesame seeds, salt, poppy seeds, and garlic each add their unique contributions, the result is an extraordinary bagel. The world is a richer place because of that collaboration.

But sometimes I feel like the raisins. Raisins aren’t invited to the Everything bagel party. Everybody knows that raisins would ruin the Everything bagel.

I found an interesting group created for inclusiveness in literature. It was thrilling to read their mission statement. “We recognize all diverse experiences…” They understood that having more books with a rainbow of characters would benefit everyone! This was the Everything bagel I’d been hoping for! But as I read about various grants and contests, I kept bumping into a familiar exclusion:

“Please note: … Being … a parent of … a diverse person will not qualify an otherwise ineligible applicant.”

It made me feel like a foolish raisin for once again trying to find acceptance in an Everything bagel.

My situation is tricky. I’m white, and so I have all the privilege that goes with being white. Is it because of white privilege that people judge me negatively for adopting a black child? We are routinely stared at, yelled at, scolded, mocked, threatened, harassed, bullied, dismissed, and excluded (see above).

What do I want? I’m not sure. My bio says: “An adoptive mom and former comic strip creator, I want to add to the diversity on the bookshelves by telling silly stories through a family that looks like mine: transracial and full of love.” I want to be a part of desensitizing people from the curiosity of uniqueness, and sensitizing them to a life of collaboration.

But, I keep getting scolded and told to go back to my Raisin bagel. On top of that, the Raisin bagel isn’t too sure about me anymore either. The raisin bagel thinks I wish I’d been born a poppy seed.

It always leaves me wondering, “Am I doing this right?”

Life Questioned: Did You Buy Luc?

When a conversation seems headed toward "orphanage," Luc shuts it down. Firmly.

When a conversation seems headed toward “orphanage,” Luc shuts it down. Firmly.

The other day, Luc and I were hanging out with a 7 year old family friend. Kind of out of the blue, she asked a blunt question. For the rest of the conversation, my only thought was, “Am I doing this right?”

Julie: “Did you have Luc in your tummy, or did you buy him?”

Me: “God brought our family together through adoption. Luc was not in my tummy.”

Luc: “I don’t want to talk about this.”

Me: “Fair enough, Luc. Is it okay if Julie asks me questions with her Mom when you are not around?”

Luc: “Not if she’s gonna come to me afterward with even more questions.”

Me: “OK. Julie, can we promise that I’ll answer your questions, and that you won’t try to talk to Luc about this unless he says it’s okay?”

(Silence.)

Luc: “She’s not promising.”

Me: “Julie, have you ever been through something in your life that was really hard, and you don’t want to talk about it?”

Julie: “Yes.”

Me: “That’s how Luc feels about this subject. Does that make sense?”

Julie: “Yes.”

Me: “So, can you two agree that you won’t ask each other about the hard stuff you’ve been through that you don’t want to talk about?”

Both: “Yes.”

Me: “Thanks, y’all. And by the way, Julie, I want to be clear about one thing that is absolutely true. I love Luc exactly as much as your Mom loves you.”

Julie: “I don’t know about that. My Mom loves me the biggest number.”

Me: “I know! And that’s how much I love Luc, too!”

Then Julie and Luc argued over which amount of love was bigger: infinity or googleplex. But how many zeroes does googleplex have? We would need to google it. “We need to Google googleplex.” Giggles. And we closed the conversation giggling about Googling googleplex.

Frye’s Higher Geography (a textbook from 1895) – Page 33

Since I am a cartoonist, I understand my mental processing this way: Hammy (the abusive alcoholic hamster on the wheel that is my brain) is a cynic to say the least. He allows me to believe horrific truths only to a point. Even if I want to believe. Hammy forcibly blocks my access to emotional reality by throwing whiskey bottles at my “Medulla Incredulla.”

For example: When my uncle’s body was discovered two weeks after he died, I found myself compulsively Googling body decomposition. It took me months of research to fully wrap my head around what had happened.

Now that I have explained the inner workings of my brain, let’s move on…

My brother-in-law and his wife cleaned out the family storage unit. They found boxes upon boxes of very old family photos, books, letters, death certificates, and more. While visiting them this past week, I got to dig in, and I found “Frye’s Higher Geography: Georgia Edition” by Ginn & Company. It was written in 1895.

Finding a textbook that my husband’s family has been holding onto for over a century was a gift to me, and a blow to Hammy. I have been able to touch the pages and see with my own eyes a book that actually taught human beings to oppress our own kind: human beings. The method seems to have been based on grouping humans based first on global location, then flesh color, and then on similarity or dissimilarity to European culture.

A "negro" baby seems to be riding an ostrich in Africa.

A “negro” baby seems to be riding an ostrich in Africa.

“Illustrations: Nearly all the pictures in this book were engraved directly from photographs. To the selection and grouping of subjects for the photographs, the author has given fully as much time and care as to the text itself. The aim has been to present characteristic or typical forms that are educative.” — Alexis Everett Frye, Former Superintendent of Schools of Cuba

A "Negro." It looks like the young person who belonged to this book drew the "Negro" spitting up a white man's nose?

A “Negro.” It looks like the young person who belonged to this book drew the “Negro” spitting up a white man’s nose?

"If the long rivers of Africa were open to ships from the sea, the poor savages might more easily learn how the white man dresses, prepares food," etc.

“If the long rivers of Africa were open to ships from the sea, the poor svages might more easily learn how the white man dresses, prepares food,” etc.

"The Negroes of Africa have broad flat noses, thick lips and black frizzly hair..."

“The Negroes of Africa have broad flat noses, thick lips and black frizzly hair…”

“Such natives are very ignorant. They know nothing of books; in fact, they know little, except how to catch and cook their food, build their rude huts, travel on foot through the forests, or in canoes or on the rafts on the rivers, and make scanty clothing out of the skins of animals or fibers of grasses or bark.”

“Millions of black people have been taken from their homes in Africa and sold as slaves in other lands. The climate of their native land fitted the Negroes to work in the warm regions of the earth, and there they have been most useful, chiefly to the white people. In most places the slaves have been set free and have generally settled where they worked.”

One of the crimes of abuse tends to be the denial by the abuser of wrongdoing, or even of any injury at all. I hope that relief and vindication will accompany the deep sadness these excerpts cause. With that hope, I will continue to put posts together based on this textbook.

Still “Processing”

I am still trying to download my notes in an orderly manner into neatly compartmentalized blog posts. It’s going way more slowly than I’d hoped.

Last week, during a phone conversation, my mother said, “I think you are still processing this trip. You need to be careful who you talk to … and how you talk to them.” Maybe it comes across as a little harsh, but I totally agree with her. It was so much to take in. If I say yes to God for trips like the Civil Rights Tour, I can expect fundamental truths in my world to be obliterated and replaced with actual truth. It has left me questioning EVERYthing.

Helping Vs. “Helping”

The more I learn, the more I want to be helpful. “Helpful.” To me, that means I am busy physically helping things get better. At this point, I don’t think I’m supposed to dive in. I don’t know enough. Right now, I need to learn. Maybe apprentice. Watch, read, ask.

Fellowship Monrovia Civil Rights Tour 2015

Fellowship Monrovia Civil Rights Tour 2015 in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial.

Fellowship Monrovia Civil Rights Tour 2015 in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr Memorial.

My church, Fellowship Monrovia, has decided to create a center for racial reconciliation. Amazing! But wait, what does that mean? What does that look like? How is that done? What are the steps?

We have no idea. But step 1 was to assemble a team of 12 and send us to the Southeast to experience the culture and ask questions of the people. We had the life-changing opportunity to learn from the very people who were the change in the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s.

FAQs:
Q: How was the trip?
A: Indescribable. Powerful.
Q: Was it fun?
A: Um. No.
Q: Where did you go?
A: Little Rock, AR; Memphis, TN; Jackson, MS; Selma and Birmingham, AL; and Washington D.C.
Q: What did you learn?
A: I’m glad you asked! I’m going to post some notes and thoughts over the next few days. Or maybe weeks. It’s hard to process everything we experienced. But I’m going to try.