A workman came to our house last week to repair our washing machine. He was a nice man. He walked into our chaos with a happy smile and a courteous salutation. But, after the pleasantries were out of the way and he had started to tackle the job at hand, he sprung me with a question that was all too familiar. He commented on my son – a big, long-limbed, black-haired four-month old baby who, as my father-in-law likes to brag, is 98% exactly like my husband (never mind the 23 chromosomes that come directly from me!). The workman’s question was one I have heard before – too many times to count. He asked me, “So, who’s the Momma?” As if it wasn’t obvious.
Well, truth be told, it isn’t obvious. I know that when I look in the mirror. I know that when I see our family photos. It’s like one of those puzzles on an I.Q. test in which you have to point out the item that doesn’t belong with the others. My husband, my daughter and my son all look like they are from the same group – tall (the kids are for their age), olive-skinned, semi-Dravidian-looking, brown-eyed brunettes – but I am the sore thumb that sticks out. I, with my pale, semi-translucent skin, my dusty blonde hair, my aquamarine eyes. I, with the short stature of a teenager, and the youthful face of a kid. Me, the only one with glasses. The only one with thick lips and a thin nose. Me. I am the different one.
But, regardless of this truth – regardless of the fact that I am in an interracial relationship and have two children that others would likely call “mixed” – I live my life day-to-day forgetting this fact. Forgetting about how we look to others and how, when I’m with my children alone, it can sometimes be confusing to an outsider. So, when these questions come up, sometimes I am taken aback. I then have to remember what we are and how people expect me to respond to a question I would never ask.
Usually, it plays out the typical way. I answer honestly, telling them that I am the mother and go further by explaining that my kids look just like their father. Two chips off the old, proverbial block. That usually quells their thirst for knowledge. But not always. Sometimes that’s just the beginning of a round of interrogation. “Where is he from?” “What does he look like?” “Does he speak English?” “How did you meet?” “Have you been to his homeland?” “Are his parents okay with the marriage?” “What did your parents think?” “Do your children speak his language?” “Do you speak his language?” “What language do you speak at home?” “Is it ever difficult to be with someone from somewhere so different?” AARRGGHH! Being quizzed like this can be more exhausting than taking care of two children all day!
I know that most people ask questions without any malice and are interested because of their true curiosity about our lives, but it can still be difficult when this barrage of questions comes as frequently as it does. There have been times when, in my earlier married days, it was sort of fun to answer such inquiries. I felt like I was being interviewed for a magazine or television show. Interested parties would ask me things I was too happy to answer because I was in the blissful throes of newlywed love. I couldn’t answer enough about the tranquility I had found with this wonderful man. How easy our relationship was. How nicely our parents got along with each other, how our extended families had effortlessly merged into one. It was like a dream. Everyone loved everyone. Languages, cultures, maps were no boundaries. We were just one, big, united family joined by our matrimony and a common love of food.
Once our daughter entered the picture, however, it became less fun to answer such questions. In fact, there were times when people teetered on the line of being down-right rude and nosy. They would ask about my daughter, skirting around the topic of her coloring, saying things like “My, you have a nice tan. Looks like you didn’t get that from Mommy,” or “Gosh, she is so dark. Is she really yours?” The worst of all assumptions was when my child and I were playing at the park together and one of the mothers asked, “So, how long have you been her nanny?”
Now, with my plump, swarthy infant in hand, it seemed that this repairman was making the same assumption. How long have I been the nanny? That was what he meant when he asked who the Momma was. How long, indeed! Too long. Too long to keep being passed over as the rightful mother to my two beautiful, “mixed” children. After almost six years of being a parent, I felt like saying “Enough is enough!”
I am the Momma! I am the one! I carried, gave birth, nurtured, nursed and yes, even “nannied” these children – because they are mine. 50% mine! 50% me. Whether they look like it or not! Whether anyone in the world could point out our similarities or not. I am the Momma! And I am proud. After all, having children doesn’t mean that you have to produce your exact carbon copy because, frankly, that would just be boring!