Samples from a Memoir Project: What is a gannet?

A work in progress. All text and illustration Amy Hosa © 2017



Long ago I came to terms with the birth of my son in 1981: I’d been hijacked into the Twilight Zone, and accepted the challenge of raising an alien from another planet. That Gannet was “an extra-ordinary visitor I’d taken into custody by choice” was a fictional construct, but that concept kept me sane during the wildly emotional and trying times while figuring out how to parent a child like no other. I’d gotten stuck with “the puzzle baby”, caught between a knife piercing my heart and a whirlwind of confusion in my brain. The fiction of “external choice” between mother and son gave me the opportunity to step outside, process the data, and strategize a plan. Whether or not you’ve lived with a parent, child, or sibling from another planet, my hope is that parts of our story might mirror a path you’ve been on at one time or another. 



2 STORIES - works in progress

What is a Gannet? 

The Gannet is a beautiful white albatross-like sea bird. We liked the brisk sound of its two-syllable name, and gave it to our son. Gannet’s are gregarious by nature, and congregate in noisy colonies atop rugged cliffs. Awkward at liftoff, they jump off the edge to take flight. Once airborne, graceful soaring and diving swoops make them excellent fishers with voracious appetites. As life unfolded for our boy, the bird’s traits became more and more synonymous with his own. One night at dinner a Scottish friend blurted, “My God, he eats like a Gannet!” and instantly got whacked by his wife. Translation: he eats like a pig. Spastic arm movements were described as, “You know, it’s like he’s flapping his wings, but he can’t get off the ground.” But, oh, could he ever fly - just play Stravinsky or Thelonious Monk. The spasticity melted into swooping and soaring gestures. Like a Gannet circling in a thermal, he glided on currents of sound, and was drawn into a higher realm. Back on solid ground, it took eight years of patiently manipulating and strengthening his muscles, before his first halting steps were achieved. Even today he stands then stops, as if at the edge of a precipice, and requires a light push off the edge before taking flight.

For the first twenty-four years the source of Gannet’s disabilities and anomalies was a mystery. It was a comfort to find shared familial traits, even if they were ascribed to a species of bird. I keep a postcard of a North Sea Gannet rookery high atop wave-battered cliffs, and picture my son today at home amidst the cacophony of his flock. Despite the fact that we now know he has a genetic anomaly called Mowat-Wilson Syndrome, Gannet continues to honor his namesake with the voracious appetite. With a birdlike frame, and weighing only 106 pounds, he still inhales food and eats like there is no tomorrow. 

And...a sampling

of a few of the

illustrations that


other stories

Creature from the Black Lagoon

[Timeline: Gannet, late 20s]  He has a cerebral palsy shuffle, slightly spastic arm and head movements, a slack mouth that drools, and a wandering eye that never quite focuses. With all that and more - there is no guessing why this skinny man turns heads, and elicits finger-points and stares as he walks down the street. If that isn’t bad enough, now he is going to look like The Creature from the Black Lagoon, wearing a bright-blue padded helmet, tinted-swim goggles with holes punched for ventilation, and blue full-length arm splints with thick Velcro straps so his hands can’t touch his face. Staff explain, “You just had cataract surgery. We need to keep your eyes safe.” Gannet understands, but that doesn’t stop him from growling 24/7. Wearing this gear is meant to thwart his compulsion for slapping his face and cracking his head against walls like a demolition ball on speed. The loss of all that intense pain – a kind of twisted pleasure for Gannet – is like going cold turkey for a junkie experiencing withdrawal. If getting his eyesight back is worth all this suffering and humiliation, Gannet certainly isn’t letting on.