My eyes widened this week when I saw The Stir's "15 Things Not to Say to the Parents of Biracial Children" show up in my Facebook feed. Moms and Dads were asked to share the communication gaffes they've heard from other people regarding their biracial kids. Like many, I've recently read a lot of these "don't go there" pieces ("What Not to Say to a Working Mom," "What Not to Say to Breastfeeding Moms," "What Not to Say to a Stay-At Home Dad," etc.). I wondered why we were all pissing each other off so much and saying the wrong things. If people didn't start saying the right things, would the world just go silent?
Now up at bat: the parents of biracial kids -- oh, that's me! So, what the heck should people not say to me now?
First, I don't really view my children as biracial. I mean, yes, of course, they are. But to my husband and me, they are Zoe and Sam. What that alone stands for in and of itself and what those two beautiful spaces in the world they occupy mean is more powerfully definitive than any checkmark on a form or license. We're not naïve, though. The world shows us every day that we don't live in The Land of Make Believe. We know how the world can see us in varying degrees and extremes because of our differences. Everyone has something. This is just one of our somethings.
"Are you the nanny?" "I wonder if her hair will be nappy?" "You're lucky. Biracial kids are sooo much cuter." These are just a few of the comments that interracial parents may hear. Whether we hear these exact words or a variation of the remarks in question ("Look at them! That's God's Photoshop right there!"), we've had a handful of eye-raising interactions and potentially awkward situations. It's a little weird when a complete stranger stares at your child in a stroller while asking you about your ethnicity and your non-present husband's genetics in the elevator at Nordstrom's.
But, if life's taught me anything, it's that "a little weird" can be quite awesome. I had a lovely conversation with the woman in the elevator that day. It felt like we both walked away with a harmonious appreciation -- for kindness. I'd like to think Mr. Rogers would have been proud.
I'm aware the world is not rainbows and unicorns too. I realize there are awful people with unfortunate upbringings who will spit venom on cue or gladly share it from behind a computer screen. I'm no bigot-whisperer. But I do know that thus far, it's been fairly easy to decipher evil from your everyday lack of understanding. The majority of the comments I've heard in these five years of parenthood have never seemed to come from a place of ill will. Don't I have a responsibility to offer a kind response to an at-the-moment clueless neighbor?
Enter my actual neighbor -- 6-year-old Amanda. She's everything that makes 6 awesome: curious, chatty, and a remarkable old soul. Heading out for some errands with the kids, I started chatting up her mom in the street while Zoe and Amanda made a beeline to climb a tree in the garden. Amanda decided to drop in from a low-lying limb for a quick Q & A with the grown-ups.
"Miss Jenn, did you adopt Zoe?"
"Huh? Well, no..."
"You didn't? Oh... then why are you the only one that's not brown in your family?"
Her mom and I smiled at her inquisitiveness. It was breathtakingly beautiful and innocent. Her mom, perhaps slightly embarrassed, started rambling about how she had just ordered a book about how to raise a spirited child. I smiled again. Thank God for that spirit, right?
After a brief explanation about how parents and kids can share different features and also have differences too ("Yeah, my Dad doesn't have my freckles,"), Amanda was off and jetting up the tree trunk again.
There wasn't an ounce of me that considered not responding thoughtfully to Amanda -- not one molecule of distrust, frustration or fear. You may be thinking, "Yeah, but she's a kid. An adult is supposed to know." Says who? Just because I know something doesn't mean it should be known. I usually don't have any insight into what led them to their question or statement toward me. I just know that there's something in it that might not feel easy to navigate. Much of what is worthwhile is not easy. Is a compassionate response only warranted if the remark comes from the mouths of babes?
A common reaction to all of these "don't go there" articles is, "You're preaching to the choir. The people who need to read these lists do not." I get it. We're cultured, have strong morals and already know what to say and when to say it. But, what are we helping bridge if we say nothing or very little at all? If it takes a village to raise our kids, sign me up for the choir that sings a little louder celebrating our differences. Whether we're an X, Y or Z parent or have an X, Y or Z kind of child is irrelevant. Sing.
The universe has a funny way of bringing clarity into our lives. Amanda gave me mine. And whether the next Amanda is another 6-year-old precocious tree climbing neighbor or a 66-year-old grandma, I'll offer her kindness and understanding. I don't know her story. But if I offer mine, maybe she'll tell me hers.