Is that your baby? Has to be one of the rudest, most unsettling things you can be asked as a mother. You already know about my dealings with folks coming at me with that mess. So here’s another mother’s take on how to deal.
Blogger Alicia Willett, a new mom and good friend of my little sister’s, was not all the way prepared for the you-can’t-be-the-baby-mama drama. She decided to gather up a few tools for the next possible confrontation. The best part is, she still keeps it cute.
I always knew that our baby was going to be light-skinned — very light-skinned. My husband (whom I affectionately refer to as “Dudeguy”) nicknamed him “the Beigelet” well before we knew that he was a “he.” What I didn’t know was that complete strangers, possibly well meaning or ill versed in social graces, would often question me about whether or not my son was actually mine.
“That’s a handsome boy you have there.”
“Is he yours?”
At first I thought that she asked because I was traveling with a group that included other women. Then I looked around and realized that we were the only two adults in this particular section of the store.
“Yes. Yes he is mine.”
I wanted to add that I picked him up from the Babies R Us, but there wasn’t one nearby. I hate lost opportunities for making a snide remark.
When someone sees me, there is no mistaking that I am black. I’m American. I have brown skin. I wear my hair in its natural, tightly coiled state. Some people pick up on the subtle facial features that bespeak the Chinese portion of my ancestry, but few openly ask me if I’m mixed. Maybe they figure it’s rude (yes), or prying (uh-huh), or none of their business (PRETTY MUCH), so they leave their questions parked in their heads. Unfortunately, this nicety doesn’t seem to apply when I’m carrying my son around.
“He’s so cute! Is he yours?”
“This is YOUR baby?”
“Oh! I thought that would have been nice of you to babysit so early!”
That last gem was courtesy of a woman who “met” my son while he was sitting on my mother-in-law’s lap. Mom told the woman that I was his mother. She turned to me with an incredulous look and said, “No!” I confirmed that I was indeed his mother. And that line about babysitting so early was indeed her reply.
The awkwardness in the room afterward was palpable. I’m glad we left a minute later.
My husband is white; Anglo-Germanic to be precise. With genetics being what they are, the darkest the kid could have possibly been is “Beyoncé in wintertime.” But that wasn’t meant to be. Visible melanin was completely lost on him. He doesn’t tan, he turns red. His hair is straight and light brown. I jokingly refer to him as “my white child.” Even still, he has my face; the deep brown eyes, the broad nose bridge, the full lips, and the eyebrows that refuse to be tamed are all there. In my eyes and those of the people who know me, he is very clearly of me. And it is precisely this that makes me wonder why people can’t see past his complexion when we are together.
“Surely you can’t be that boy’s mother. You’re black and he’s white! You must be the nanny!”
They don’t always say it that way, but that’s how I always hear it, and it always stings. It stings because I expect more of people in 2012 where mixed couples and their little mixed babies are no longer considered anomalies. It also stings because I have to swallow my impulse to retort with something crass. This impulse is strong — very, very strong.
In my growing frustration, I took to Twitter to vent. I lucked out when a friend of mine sent a link to the New York Times article that featured my lovely hostess here and her thoughts on the “you’re the nanny, right?” complex that people seem to have. After reading it, I found the perfect weapon to arm myself with the next time my son and I are around people we don’t know: two shirts from Swirl Syndicate. One says “I’m swirled” with a cute little chocolate & vanilla ice cream cone. The other simply reads, “she’s my mommy, not my nanny.”
When we go out into the world, my boy will be wearing one of those shirts. When someone asks me if he is my son, I’m going to point them to the shirt. I’m counting any resulting awkwardness as a win for the mothers of mixed kids everywhere.
We are not nannies. We are mommies, and there should be no question about that.