By Halfmoon Circle
Having a child on the way gives one an anticipation of the unknown that is one of a kind. There are always the obvious questions to be asked. Whose facial features will it get? Who will it be mannered after? Will traits skip a generation? And so forth and so on. But I think there is a special kind of curiosity when these questions have a cross cultural element to them.
If the idea of picturing the offspring of two ethnically homogeneous people feels daunting than adding a little melanin to the melting pot makes dribbling a football feel easy. One soon seeks out every person with the particular mixture they themselves have conjured up, for us my wife is black and I’m white, to get a better road-map of what to expect. This little survey ends up at a surprising but predictable result. It is as unique as the individual themselves. I cannot speak for all the multi-cultural families out there but at the onset of my wife’s pregnancy the only definitive thing I knew was that my daughter’s hair would not be straight and her complexion would be darker than my own. So as the pregnancy wore on so did my anticipation.
My wife was certain she would look like either me or her grandmother, based on an old tale that the baby will look like who got on her nerves the most. It truly didn’t matter to me. I focused on the technical nuts and bolts of getting her through the pregnancy and just prayed for a healthy mommy and baby at the end. But I was beside myself with excitement. Another thing I didn’t know was that all babies, regardless of race, come out pretty pale. I’ve been told that many a dark-skinned dude has had to be taken out of the delivery room and explained this before they dialed up a paternity test. But a first time father does not think on these things. As a matter of fact I don’t think he’s supposed to think. And that was my mindset the day my daughter was born; curious, stressed and excited to the max.
Having said all this nothing could have prepared me for that day. What came into my world that day was more beautiful and precious than anything I could have imagined. She came out with a head full of straight black hair already made up like a little pixy. I was actually surprised at how light she was (didn’t know about the pale baby thing yet). My wife told me later she couldn’t believe that was her daughter. She was pretty damn pale. The hair thing was a shock too. It has now blossomed into shoulder length hair that goes from kinky to cork screwy, depending on which angle you look at her. My wife’s mom told us to look at her cuticles for an idea on how much she’ll darken. In my survey of mixed folks I had heard this before with some believers and some not. What shocks me, and still does, is how looking at my daughter is not a dead giveaway of the racial ingredients involved in making her. She could pass for anything I think. As she gets older it gets more obvious but I think there will always be a question. I must have really grated on my wife’s skin because according to EVERYBODY, to quote my wife’s aunt, “It looks like you just spit her out”.
It would have been nice to stay in this insulated world of perpetual celebration. Where the idea of race was more like the pieces of life’s puzzle we were gradually putting together. But as I’m sure ALL multi-cultural families know (or at least in the South), the public spotlight is always on you. Even friendly admirers can make you uncomfortable. It’s hard to determine if they are looking at you with delight or disgust. And then there was the fact that I couldn’t deny my daughter if my life depended on it but my wife was frequently asked if she was the nanny or if that was her baby. Questions like this are devastating for a new mother. I think it took my wife some time to find herself in our daughter. I saw it immediately but she always thought I was just trying to comfort her. Her family would always ask if she was darkening up when they called. That pissed me off at first. But now I think it had everything to do with my wife. She really was having a hard time with the lack of resemblance. I didn’t realize the impact this could have. I also think that this is a unique situation for parents of mixed kids. It’s not that a parent wants to see their race stand out and be dominant in their child. But of course they at least want to be able to appreciate parts of their child that are unique to them. There is also the thought that if a mixed child looks so overwhelmingly like one parent they will identify with that race and that race only. Then there is the fear of traditions and customs not being passed on. What parent wants to forgo their family history and customs because their child came out too light/dark and chose a side? One day they might not have to pick a side but that day isn’t here yet. I love this quote from Danzy Senna.
There are consequences if you choose and consequences if you don’t.
But the positive far, far, far outweigh the negative. Having a mixed child is also very liberating. Especially for millennial children of divorce like myself who aren’t exactly comfortable with passing on all the traditions of their own upbringing. It is a new fork in the road that a family gets to chart on their own. And the darnedest thing is that for all the anticipation there is no way to predict what a child will become. All you can do is love them and work your butt off trying to give them what they need and just pray…..pray,pray,pray,pray they make good decisions. That, my friends, is universal. Some days when I look at my daughter I know that one day, when she’s old enough to reason on such things, my race will be the last thing on her mind. How I have treated her throughout her life will affect her. The way I have treated her mother will have an impact. Have I tried to make her seem like the most important thing to me? This will matter. But you know what will not matter? Who has to wear the most sunscreen on what I hope will be many trips to the beach we all take as a family.