I’m pushing my daughter Gabi in the swing at our neighborhood playground. The sun is shining, and her laughter rings through the air, giddy and light. I am so happy in this moment, just the two of us.
A mom sidles up next to us on the swing set and plops her son down. I catch her from the corner of my eye looking from me, to my daughter, and back to me again, evaluating. I instantly tense, bracing myself for the conversation topic I know is about to be initiated.
“How old is she?” the mom asks smiling. “Eighteen months,” I reply, smiling back. I inquire the same question of her son, and we chitchat for a minute. And then, the dreaded question: “Are you the nanny?” (pause) “How long have you worked for the family?”
My heart pounds. I’m seething inside. “I’m her mom,” I assert, trying to steady my voice. “Oh!” she quickly exclaims. “She doesn’t look anything like you!”
I want to scream in her face. Tell her that I have the stretch marks, 10 extra pounds of lingering baby weight, and urinary incontinence to prove that I carried Gabi to full-term. Make her understand that what she has just said is a tremendously ignorant thing, with layers upon layers of historical context, predefined racial assumptions, and continued rampant societal and socio-economical constructs. But I don’t. Instead, with an ice-cold voice I say, “No, she’s mine,” and I walk away with Gabi in tow, back straight.
This situation has played out in many different scenarios during the past year-and-a-half of my daughter’s life. With each passing instance, I’ve gone from shock to rage to sadness to now comprehension that the world is not as progressive, and people not as open-minded as I would have previously thought or hoped for.
I have a biracial family. I am Mexican-American, with dark brown skin, dark eyes and hair. I fell in love with and married a blonde-haired, green-eyed man of European-descent who turns bright red in the sun and has to wear the highest SPF sunscreen imaginable. We are each other’s opposites in so many ways, looks and personality. Together, we’ve created a healthy, happy, intelligent, and beautiful daughter who has golden streaks in her brown hair, gloriously big brown eyes framed by dark lashes, and fair skin. When she looks at me, I see reflections of both my husband and myself in her.
I’m no stranger to small-minded and ill-informed people over the course of my lifetime. I’ve gotten everything from “Where are you from?” (and when I reply “San Diego,” the next question is “No, but where are you really from?” Some Mexicans are U.S. born, who would have thought?!) to “What is your ethnicity?” (and when I reply “Mexican-American,” the response is “Oh, but you don’t look like a Mexican.” Really, please tell me, what does a Mexican look like?).
When these events played out in new forms with my daughter, I had to do some soul-searching and deep-thinking. Despite the fact that we live in San Francisco, supposedly one of the nation’s top liberal cities, and it is 2016, ignorance is alive and well. Whether malicious or not, it is extensive.
So, I shared my experiences with my network of parent friends—black, white, Asian, Mexican, mixed race, straight, LGBT, adoptive, egg-donor, sperm-donor, surrogate, you name it. And I learned through sharing my thoughts and feelings that other parents have had similarly frustrating or hurtful assumptions made about them, in which they’ve felt like they’ve had to explain or justify their family dynamic. Whether it’s two moms raising their child who get asked which mom is the “mom” and which one is the “dad,” or the single mom on the playground who is met with quizzical looks from others when clarifying that there is no other parent currently involved in her child’s life, I realize that these situations happen on multiple levels. In the process, I found there are a few common themes.
I had to create my own script.
I had to craft the words I needed to communicate with others when asked about my biracial family. I had to become comfortable with breaking the rules of social niceties by addressing these comments head-on instead of brushing them aside or over-explaining to try to make the other person understand. While it is not my job or place to “teach” everyone that yes, in 2016, mixed families do exist, it is my job to ensure that we as a family never feel “less than” because we are different from some other families. It is my job to ensure that Gabi is proud to come from the family she comes from, to never shy away from addressing that fact, and for her to know that she is a perfect, unique blend of the two of us.
‘Why do you ask?’
This is such a simple and easy response to any invasive line of questioning. I listened to this episode of The Longest Shortest Time podcast, which made me realize that this four-word response takes the responsibility out of answering and instead puts it on the person who has asked. It makes the questioner realize that maybe the question is not welcome and maybe it’s out of line.
Every family is different.
Each family has their own story, their own journey to get to this moment in time. Their family make-up (race, sexuality, gender, religion, or other) may look different than yours, but that doesn’t mean they are inferior or superior to yours because of it.
We’re all parents.
We’re all sleep-deprived. We all have food in our hair. We all wish we could sleep in more. We all want just one more cup of coffee. We all have (at least) one item of clothing on that is stained. We all love our kids and wouldn’t change them or the journey it took to get us here for the world.
Think before you ask.
Questions like, “Are you the nanny?” and others may seem harmless to you in that moment, but they hurt. Take the time to think—Should I really be asking this? Is it really any of my business? Do I have to satisfy my curiosity to ask?—when approaching other parents on the playground, at school, on the soccer field, at the coffee shop, etc. The world out there is big, beautiful, and varied—be open to the fact that not all families look like yours.