IMAGE SOURCE: ARIEL HOLCOMB PHOTOGRAPHY
by Laura Harris
Eight years ago, I fell in love with a musician who had a great smile, strong convictions, and proved he was a kid at heart by climbing trees with me on our first date. We married in 2011, have two children, and are still best friends to this day. It just so happens that I’m Caucasian and my husband is Korean, African-American, and Cherokee. His skin is the color of dark caramel and his eyes do the coolest crinkly thing when he laughs. I, on the other hand, very closely resemble a peach Crayola crayon with brown, curly hair.
Needless to say, meeting our kids for the first time was AWESOME.
Of course, it would have been, no matter what we looked like. But one unique element about our family is that our son and daughter both represent four entirely different ethnicities from four different continents. History class will take on a whole new meaning for them.
Honestly, skin color doesn’t come up very often in our house, unless we’re having a specific discussion or teachable moment together. It simply isn’t a “thing.” But when I stop and see my life from the outside, I’m reminded that there really are differences in being a white mom with multiracial kids. Some of them are hilarious. Some of them are sobering. All of them are a privilege to experience if it means I get to spend one more day being my children’s mom.
You’re probably waiting for me to dish the dirt on all the terrible things strangers have hissed in my ear in the grocery aisle. We do live in a messed up world, but honestly, most people just stare.
Will my children face some of the persecutions their father faced as a child? Will they face things that their white classmates and cousins won’t understand, and, to a degree, I won’t fully understand? Yes. But every family faces challenges, no matter their skin color. Every family is made up of completely unique individuals. Every family has their “weird is the new normal” moments. Here are a few of ours.
1. Your kids may not look anything like you.
In my case, my kids look like their daddy. It’s just the nature of the dominant genes. That’s fine. I happen to think he’s adorable, so bring on the adorable descendants. We didn’t fall in love because of our skin color, or decide to have children because of that. The byproduct of our different races means that the kids simply don’t look like me very much.
Still, I see similarities flash by — like when my daughter speaks in a gentle voice to her stuffed animal when it’s “injured,” stroking its fur and giving it hugs. Or when I saw my 1-year-old son toddle out of his room recently. His eyes darted around as he tried so hard to hide the little quiver in his chin, and when his eyes locked on mine, his face wrinkled and his eyes welled with tears as he raced into my arms. It’s in those little moments that I see it. The gentle hand. The shape of the quivering chin. That’s when I see me.
2. People regularly ask, “Are your children adopted?”
My uterus gets a little angry every time someone asks me this question. I can’t fault them for their assumption, so I’m not offended, but the devil in me always wants to answer with something like, “No, after two pregnancies and 41 total hours of labor, I birthed both of these children straight from my Caucasian loins.”
3. People don’t know how to ask about your kids’ ethnicity.
I hear things like this a lot: “Aww ... these are your kids? Wow! So, what’s their … um … who … uh … ”
Meanwhile, their hands flail about, searching for the right words in mid-air.
It usually ends with a benign, “W-where is their dad from?”
So I answer honestly. “Virginia.”
“ … ”
“I’m just messing with you,” I say. “You’re really asking what his ethnicity is, right?”
A sigh of nervous relief tumbles out of the other person. “Yes, yes, that’s what I was asking.” ::vigorous head nodding::
The thing is, I totally get the curiosity. My husband has dealt with this his whole life — sometimes with far less polite inquiries and assumptions made of him. I’ve tried to reverse roles and picture someone doing that to me.
“So, you’re German and English right? Can you say any German phrases? Can you sound like My Fair Lady? Do you know any good sauerkraut recipes?”
(I don’t, by the way.)
According to my husband, this video accurately depicts the hilarity of what his whole life has been like:
4. Everyone in your family is tanner than you … dang it.
My daughter was born during a Midwestern winter when the light-skinned world is at its pastiest. My little newborn was like a sweet caramel candy in my arms.
Don’t even get me started on how long it takes them to tan each summer. When my husband and kids wear sunblock, they still come home three shades darker. It’s cool. I can be the pasty mom. It’s cool… ::sniff::
5. People might think your baby’s birthmark is a bruise.
I had no idea what a “Mongolian spot” was before I became a mom. When my daughter showed up on the scene with a birthmark that looked like an ink stain on her lower back, I immediately asked my husband about it. His reply was, “It’s an ‘Asian baby’ thing.” Turns out, more than 80% of babies from Asian descent are born with the bluish gray birthmark.
It’s not even just Asians, though. According to the US National Library of Medicine, “Mongolian blue spots are common among persons who are of Asian, Native American, Hispanic, East Indian, and African descent.” Less than 10% of Caucasian babies have it.
So basically, this is a completely normal birthmark for nearly everyone except white people.
When my son was born, his Mongolian blue spot looked like a splotchy map of North and South America stretched across his lower back, right hip, and buttocks. I totally bragged about it to my family ALL the time. “Look at my baby’s cool birthmark.” (Sorry, son. I stopped, I promise.)
That was until the day we were told that an incident report was filed while he was in a child care facility. One of the attendants changed his diaper and noticed the bluish marks, completely unaware of its origin. Out of concern and to make sure proper paperwork was filed to prove that he wasn’t injured while in their care, the attendant filed a report about the mark and gave it to the director … who showed it to me.
The whole matter was cleared up because we’d been friends with this director and many of the people on his team for years. They knew we would never abuse our children. Still, the danger of other caregivers mistaking our son’s large birthmark for injuries and calling CPS unnerved us. We decided to photograph the birthmark and file a signed statement from his pediatrician that it was, in fact, a birthmark (which led to the most embarrassing trip to the Walgreens photo lab I’ve ever taken).
6. Every day with your partner would have been illegal not that long ago.
My husband’s entire existence represents his parents’ interracial union and the progress this world has made. Our union is one step even further down that path. Things weren’t so rosy in the United States 50 years ago, however. Interracial marriage wasn’t even legalized until 1967.
This one will really scorch your latte, though: Upon further research, I learned that Alabama didn’t legalize interracial marriage until 2000. Two. Flippin’. Thousand.
I’m so grateful to live in a world that doesn’t hate my family or hunt us down or persecute us. Again, I’m not saying these things won’t ever happen, because people are people, but I’ll take every good day as a gift. Our ancestors made their choices. Now it’s up to us to make ours.
7. Your kids will ask you some day, “Mommy, why doesn’t your skin look like mine?”
I think about that one quite a lot. Everything I read and watch and listen to makes me think about my children and the world in which they’re growing up. I’m sure that’s the same for all parents. I cannot do anything about other people’s prejudices or misguided beliefs on race. What I can do is show acceptance in my own home.
My children will know that I love them. They’ll know that I love their father. They’ll know that we accept each other’s families.
My husband and I talk openly about racial issues with each other, gaining a better understanding each time. We’ll watch a movie and discuss why a person of a certain race was cast in a certain role. We’ll reflect on our childhood and compare the moments when we felt like outsiders, often for very different reasons.
I don’t think we meant to do this, but all these conversations are preparing us for the day when our children ask us that one question, “Why doesn’t my skin look like yours?” “It’s actually a beautiful story,” I’ll tell them. “Your own little history.”
Until that day, I will patiently wait, pray, and prepare for my babies to ask their questions and find their voices in this world.