It happened the first time I ventured out alone with my baby. “What’s your husband?” the lactation consultant asked as she scrutinized my newborn. “Huh? Oh, uh … Chinese,” I stammered, wondering what this had to do with breastfeeding.
“Oh, mixed babies are so beautiful!” She went on to tell me all about her cousin and his Japanese wife who had the most exotic looking children. Sleep deprived, I just sat there with no idea how to respond.
As I left the appointment, the woman at the front desk took a peek. “Oh, he looks just like his father,” she commented. Since she’d never meet my husband, I was a little confused. By the time I got home, my initial confusion had been replaced with sadness. Would navigating comments about my child’s ethnicity become as much a part of my new mothering experience as sleepless nights and painful nipples?
The comments happen everywhere—the park, restaurants, the pediatrician’s office, even waiting in line at Starbucks. There are the well-meaning strangers, who without even saying hello, ask, “Where’d you get him?” like my child is a miniature horse in a 4-H exhibit. Other inquirers lack the right vocabulary asking, “Is he oriental?” like he’s a rug and “What’s his nationality?”
No matter how the question is asked, it is always awkward.
Recently, a supermarket cashier asked, “What mix is he?” I was tempted to answer, “Labradoodle.”
What everyone really wants to know is his father’s ethnicity. It’s clear that the olive skin and chocolate almond eyes don’t come from me. Still, it hurts when I’m asked, “What is he?”
Strangers don’t see the ways my son is like me. His toothy smile curves to the right just like mine. The similarity of our hair amazes our hairdresser. We gross out Daddy by wiggling our double-jointed thumbs.
It doesn’t matter that strangers don’t see these things. What matters is that I navigate the inevitable questions confidently and help my son build a healthy self-identity. Most importantly, I want him to know that even though he might not look like me, he isn’t any less my son.