Thursday, June 30, 2011

Southern Comfort

This summer is flying by so fast! It has already been a couple of weeks since we returned from our vacation. We spent five days on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and two in Savannah, Georgia. The last time Stewart and I were away for a week was a year and a half ago, when Max was not yet in the picture. Obviously, a vacation with Max is much different than one with just the two of us. The biggest difference is in the type of vacation we chose to take. We enjoy the beach, but we usually tend to go on active vacations, where we do a lot of hiking and exploring. But with Max, we were more than happy to just chill out by the pool and visit the beach once in a while. We actually spent more time on the beach than we thought we would, because surprisingly Max wasn’t into eating the sand (as opposed to rocks, twigs, and leaves, all of which he’d stuff into his mouth with abandon if given the chance!)

Having just returned from a vacation in the South, many people have asked us about how our “alternative” family was perceived down there. We weren’t too concerned about it in planning our trip, or otherwise we wouldn’t have gone. Stewart and I try to be optimistic and not pre-judge strangers who come into contact with us as a family. Living in worry and fear of the worst is not a good way to live life, nor is it a good example to set for Max. And I was pleased to be able to tell those who asked that in both Hilton Head and Savannah everyone we encountered was very nice to our family. Not only that, but many of the people we met were very enthusiastic about Max (I hope it is not getting to his head!) For example, by the end of our stay in Hilton Head, practically everyone hanging out by the pool knew Max and wanted to interact with him.

Our "Big Squirt" on the hotel pool deck

There were a few awkward moments from the trip that jump out -- mainly (and thankfully) due to their rarity. These occurred when we encountered people who did not know what to make of our family structure, or perhaps were simply in denial about it. At the hotel breakfast buffet in Hilton Head, on two different mornings with two different waitresses, Stewart and I were asked if we needed separate checks. It wasn’t like one of us was solely taking care of Max during breakfast, while the other one read the paper or sat ten feet away; we were both clearly parenting Max throughout the breakfasts (mainly, imploring him to eat the banana and not to squish it between his fingers or throw it on the floor!) We never heard them ask any man and woman with a child if they wanted separate checks, and never in New York have we been asked that question when out at a restaurant with Max. So culture clash seems like the most likely explanation.

Another awkward -- but more funny -- moment came when one time our family was getting out of the hotel elevator and a woman with a strong Southern accent asked Stewart and me if: “y’all are brothers, because your noses look similar.” I replied that we are definitely not brothers! Besides both of us being white guys of approximately the same height, I don’t think we look that similar.

But perhaps the most bizarre encounter came in Savannah. Stewart, Max and I were at a park and Stewart was insisting on taking a photo (per usual). A batty old woman approached us and asked us if we would like her to take a photo with all three of us in it. I whispered to Stewart that maybe we should decline because the woman seemed a little off of her rocker, but Stewart said that he didn’t care: “a photo is a photo and getting one with all three of us in it isn’t always easy.” So we had the woman take the photo, and as she handed the camera back to us, she said, pointing first at Stewart, then at me, and lastly at Max: “Let me guess: grandfather, father, son.” A smile must have crept onto my face at her crazy proclamation, because the woman got excited and said: “I knew I was right!” and wandered off as we stood there in silent amazement. Despite my smile I felt a little bad. While Stewart is older than me, as I remind him of often, he is only older by eight months and hardly looks like anyone’s grandfather. I tried to console Stewart by telling him that the woman probably thought I looked about 20 years old, meaning she wouldn’t have been that far off in estimating his age if he had had kids young, as they are wont to do in the South. Stewart wasn’t buying it. I can’t say I blame him. If this had happened in reverse, and she thought I was the grandfather, I probably wouldn’t be blogging this story (or if I did I wouldn’t be laughing while typing it up!) Fortunately Stewart has a great sense of humor about it in retrospect.

Me, Max and "Grandpa" in Savannah

When the most awkward family situations are the funny, innocuous ones I’ve just described, you know we had a great vacation among great people. Who knows what prior beliefs some of the people we met had about gay people, or about gay people getting married and having kids. But I’d like to think that their experience of having met us and Max, and seeing that we are just another young(ish) family trying to enjoy a nice vacation, either made them realize -- or solidified their pre-existing belief -- that we should be welcomed into their tourist towns with the same famed Southern hospitality they offer up to everybody else. That’s how we felt when down there and we’d go back to both spots.

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