My mother always told me not to stare, but I soon realized that’s not always possible. So I decided that at the very least, if one must silently judge another, it absolutely should not be done blatantly. And never, ever, with one’s mouth hanging open. (That’s just rude!) But I guess everybody wasn’t taught that, because this guy at the playground was ogling my kids as if he was a wolf in man’s clothing, staring at my children like they were running around in red capes. Instinctively, I peeled myself off the park bench and made it my business to know why.
As I got closer, we made eye-contact and I realized he was smiling. Creepy? Yes — but not in the way that made me want to call the police (just yet).
“Your children, they are all so…different.” At least his tongue wasn’t hanging out.
“They are,” I forced politely. My mother also taught me not to talk to strangers, but I’m grown now and I didn’t really appreciate his comments. I resented his taking a moment to point out how his ethnic group was “normal” and mine was “not”.
“I might not even know they’re all related, “ he chuckled, as if it was any business of his in the first place.
“They’re actually siblings.” I’m sure that whatever attempt I made at smiling back at him was canceled out by the fact that I was bracing myself – hard – for his next question.
“What race is the father?”
Bingo! “My husband’s mixed, actually…his mom is black and his dad is Irish American.” It came out with a sigh that was barely audible, but I couldn’t have cared less if he’d heard me.
“Unbelievable!” he marveled, “All the same dad?”
“All the same dad.” I repeated after him, just in case he was actually and undercover casting-agent for Maury Povitch. And then for some reason, I felt the need to keep talking, as if I had to have the last word on a subject that really had no conclusion to begin with. “If you really look at all three of them, they look alike…the twins actually look a lot like both sides of our families.” I was stammering like a Mormon tour guide at a sex toy museum. I hated explaining something so basic to complete strangers, as if my life is actually some great big science experiment.
“Twins!” he squealed in amazement. “On top of that, they’re twins?!” He giggled gleefully. “So different and both so unique!”
“Thanks.” Of course they are. But not for the reason you think, moron.
When I gave birth to two perfect babies with complexions as strikingly different as Hillary and Barack’s, I knew that the world might not instantly see that they’re actually brother and sister. But I never thought that perfect strangers would have the audacity to comment on this difference time and time again. I assumed most people — of any race — already knew that black people weren’t actually “black” and that the range of skin tones within the ethnicity could put Crayola out of business. But ever since day one, from the playground to the pediatrician’s, perfect strangers insisted on piping in: “They look so different!” or “You’d never even know they were related!”.
Or other things, like how different their hair textures were. It’s honestly left me often wondering if half the country flunked eighth-grade biology. At the very least eleventh-grade history, when were supposed to have learned about the “peculiar institution” of slavery.
Slowly, I began to gather up our belongings. Enough already. I shoved my son’s Curious George ball in my tote bag and started searching for my youngest daughter’s shoe. We might have to leave here without it, I thought, but at least we’ll go home with our dignity. I was so tired of protecting my beloveds from a world that sees them as anomalies, so angry at all of the supposedly educated people who felt the need to make a spectacle of them instead of seeing them for who and what they really are.
“It’s so amazing what happens when the races are blended together — you never know what you’ll get!”
“You’re right, you never know.” I said matter-of-factly as I fished my daughter’s mary jane from a puddle.
“So fascinating,” he smiled humbly, “so beautiful.”
Meera Bowman-Johnson writes about parenting, pop-culture and politics. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, their precocious six-year-old and unpredictable two-year-old twins.