The little old lady smiled genially at me cuddling my son.
“What an adorable boy!” she cooed.
I thanked her.
She noticed my accent, and we chatted about where she had been in the States.
Tickling my son’s foot, she then asked, “And where is he from?”
Oh, I said, he’s a Brit.
“No,” she said, “originally. Originally, where he is from?”
Ah, the joys of multiracial families. For those of you new to our saga, I am white American and my husband is BBC – British born Chinese. When my husband holds our son on outings, people give him the type of look that you normally give doting fathers with their offspring. A kind tilt of the head, and a sweet nod. When I am out with my son, I generally get a slightly questioning look, one that asks “Why is the nanny being so over-familiar with her client’s kid?”
It’s hard not to take it personally, the fact that our family is a bit of an oddity. According the the 2001 UK census, only 15% of British Chinese males married outside of their race, half of the percentage of British Chinese females. You will generally see far more BBC females with other race males than BBC males with people who look like me. It genetics, pure and simple. My husband has the stronger genes, and our son is the spitting image of him. I am a caretaker in their eyes, not a genetic contributor. And some days, it stings. I look at pictures myself or my sister and her kids as babies, with our bright blond ringlets and large light blue eyes, and I try to mash it in my head with my son’s dark brown hair and soft almond eyes. I tell myself that Alex got my fierce spirit, my cheekiness, my drive. I remind myself that I am just as much in there as his father, it’s just a bit more difficult to see at first glance. When a Chinese mother pushes her mixed race baby in a pram, you can generally tell they share DNA. I don’t have that luxury.
The exchange above wasn’t the first time someone asked about us. We had just gotten off the plane from London to Chicago to visit my family when Alex and I ducked into an airport bathroom to freshen up. A lady in the basin areas commented on Alex’s good nature, and I boasted that he was very genial after a seven hour flight, no mean feat for a then 4 month old. “Oh! He’s adopted!” she exclaimed, as if the light bulb went off, trying to understand why we were paired together. When I explained (nicely) that no, his father was Chinese, she said, “Oh, I thought you went over to China to pick one up.” Setting aside the fact that children are not accessories that one pops over to pick up (thank you Madonna for perpetuating that thought process), on what planet would it ever be acceptable to say something like that to a mother? I pasted on a smile, got Alex cleaned up, and met Monkey outside the restroom area, who himself was slightly perplexed that a woman had just come out of the bathrooms and given him and up and down look (maybe she thought he wasn’t really my husband, but a baby broker. The world may never know).
But back to the lady from before, asking where my son was from. I wanted to say “Originally, he’s from my vagina.” And believe me people, after a 66 hour labor with multiple instrumentation and massive hemmorage, I have every right to give props to my vagina for all it had endured. But, I didn’t. I smiled, and re-iterated that he was British born and bred. She got the picture, and no more was said on the subject. Ah well. Putting up with well meaning (and eventually, non well meaning) people who don’t quite understand Mendel’s Dihybrid Cross is a small price to pay for having the most wonderful boy in the world.
In the end, I don’t care if I never ‘see’ myself in Alex – I know I am there, in every smile, in every cry. When it comes down to it, DNA doesn’t make you a parent – the hours you put in, the sleepless nights, the worrying, the laughter, the tears, the blood, the pain, the joy – THAT makes you a parent. My son is an original, born into the brave new world of multi-cultures, multi-nationalities, and multi-races. He may have a hard road ahead finding his way amongst so many different worlds, but one thing will always stay the same. Mummy loves him. Daddy loves him. And that, folks, is all that matters.