“What’s your baby mixed with?”
I barely heard the question as I was perusing the health bar aisle. So many different bars, all claiming to keep you full or make you good at sports or magically reduce your waistline.
“Hmm? Were you talking to me?” I looked up in the direction of the voice. There was a woman standing a few feet from me, pushing a cart with toothpaste, shampoo, and some frozen dinners. Typical grocery store stuff. Her badly bleached hair was in a messy bun with bangs falling out and her jeans and jean jacket ensemble was straight out of a Kacey Musgraves song. I’d put her around 45.
“What’s your baby mixed with?”
This time I knew I had heard her properly. What a weird, and incredibly inappropriate, question. But, sadly, I was somewhat used to this, and I had my answer ready.
“Oh, I honestly don’t know. Could be just about anything. Not sure who her father is.”
Cue the look. The confusion in the brow line. The judgment dawning in the eyes. The slightly upturned mouth as she determines that I’m a bit trashy. I’ve really come to enjoy watching peoples’ faces when I tell them I don’t know who my daughter’s father is.
“She’s adopted, you see. Her dad and I don’t have a lot of information on her birth parents.”
“Ohh! Well, I bet she’s Guatemalan. She looks Guatemalan. I would know. I have three Guatemalan babies.”
“Uhh, yeah maybe.”
As she bent down to pick out her desired flavor of Ensure, I took the opportunity to move a few aisles over and escape this incredibly awkward encounter under the guise of hunting for a new pair of fingernail clippers.
This was one of the weirder exchanges I’ve had, but there have been others much like it throughout my daughter’s life. As an exceedingly pale white woman with a mixed race child, I’ve gotten a lot of peculiar questions. Ever since adopting her at birth, people have assumed that the evident difference in our skin colors is an invitation for them to ask anything and everything. I’ve been asked if I’m watching her for a friend. I’ve been told that I should sign up for a class if I’m going to continue attempting to do her hair. I’ve even been told that I’m clearly not her mom.
Then there are the people who notice our differences and decide to blatantly ignore them. They say things like, “Oh wow, she looks just like you!” or “I can see where she got her pretty eyes.” It’s like they think by pretending that my gorgeous little girl looks anything like me they are proving that they aren’t racist. It makes no sense. It’s ridiculous. And for the record, my daughter couldn’t look much less like me.
Well, people are just curious, right? Or trying to make something that that they find inherently uncomfortable more comfortable by asking questions, or by ignoring it even though it’s right in front of them? And educating people about the reality of transracial adoption should be something I’m honored to do, right? Maybe.
But as my daughter gets older, and is more and more aware of what is being said to, around, and about her, I know that eventually she’ll be put in the position of educating those around her. Her dad and I signed up for this. Literally. But she didn’t.
So I’m doing what I can to prepare her. I make an effort to tell her everyday who she is to us. She knows she’s adopted (although at 3, I don’t think she has much of an idea what that means) and she knows that she is brown and we are pink (in her words). She also knows that she is smart, and funny, and creative, and strong, and impressive. She knows that her we don’t define her by skin tone, but on her person as a whole. Her brain, heart, and soul. Her actions and her words. The person she is today and the woman she’ll grow to be.
After the most recent one of these conversations, she looked up at me and smiled, her big brown eyes shining, and said “That’s what makes me me!” I think she’ll be all right.