My son is constantly being mistaken for a lost child.
It happens at shopping centers, street corners and airports. Especially airports. In fact, we’ve taken to wearing matching clothing at airports just to provide a big, broad visual signal to everyone that we’re together.
You see, my son and I don’t look alike, because he is black and I am white. (Although, to him, “brown” and “peach” make a lot more sense.)
There are a whole load of issues that come along with transracial adoption and what I’m writing about today is the least of them. I’m not right at this moment talking about the vast responsibility to educate myself on how to raise a black child. Right at this moment, I’m just talking about this little minor thing; an annoyance really ― that so many people don’t recognize my son and I as a family.
When my son was a baby, people used to approach us on the street with highly inappropriate questions like “So why a black baby?” That was awkward, but at least he was an infant and couldn’t understand when a stranger asked me if he was “imported or domestic.”
Now that he’s 5, people still make inappropriate comments, but they’re even more likely to simply fail to realize we’re together.
Security guards have tried to “help” him while I’m standing at his shoulder. Protective women have stopped and yelled “WHOSE CHILD IS THIS?” while I walked right behind him, eyes trained on his movements. Once in the grocery store checkout line, the clerk asked his where his mommy was while I paid for his Kix cereal and Batman fruit snacks.
The one time he actually did get lost, in a small indoor play place, the man who helped him look for his mom walked right past me while he was reaching toward me with outstretched arms.
“Come on, we’ve got to find your mommy,” he said, as we both blinked at him, perplexed.
Even when they don’t actually say anything, there’s a casual way that people get in between us that drives me nuts. People take the seat between us on the subway. They separate us on the escalator. Sometimes I get frustrated and want to scream “PLEASE DO NOT COME BETWEEN ME AND MY SMALL CHILD!”
And hey, I get that we’re not the default picture of what a family looks like. But we can be having an in-depth conversation and someone will still assume that the tiny person talking to the adult person sitting next to him is inexplicably alone on the bus. We can be touching and laughing together and have the same thing happen. Sometimes people even act as if I’m not entirely sure of our relationship ― responding with a “REALLY?” when I say that I am not the babysitter. (And no, I don’t know who these people are who ask me if I’m the babysitter as if it’s any of their business.)
It’s nice when people are simply concerned and looking out for a child. But it’s also frustrating that they can’t look at us and see us for what we are: a loving mother with her son.
And just like with the inappropriate comments, my son is soaking it all in. He feels confused and nervous when someone doesn’t recognize me as his mother. He doesn’t yet understand the reasons why someone might not think we belong together. He doesn’t understand why his family doesn’t look like a family to some. Why our skin colors makes us any less connected.
He knows we have different skin colors, but I am still the woman who cleans up his bodily fluids without complaint, the one who spent nights in the hospital emergency room when he had a high fever as a baby, the woman who tells him she loves him so much he’s started responding “I KNEW you were going to say that” and rolling his eyes.
He doesn’t understand why people are always asking him where his mommy is, when she’s so clearly right next to him.
And maybe he shouldn’t. After all, it’s 2017. Families come in all kinds of Voltron-esque conglomerations. If an adult in public is caring for a child, you can likely assume they’re together, no matter what their skin colors.
So next time you see what you think is a child alone somewhere, take a closer look. There might just be a person nearby paying close attention ― even if they don’t “match.”