At one time in my life, a trip to the supermarket meant picking up a few things from Fairway on my way home from work. Within a few minutes, I could be in and out, without answering anything beyond "credit or debit?". Today, a trip to my small town grocery store is a major life event. As if toting my three under six isn't challenging enough, I never manage to get past aisle six without answering a truck load of questions about them. As if it's any of their business, strangers want to know how it's possible that my kids share can the same brown eyes, but skin tones that range from basic beige to caramel brown. How I gave birth to a Whitman's Sampler and they all have the same biracial dad.
These questions at the supermarket are typical for many women whose children don't resemble The Von Trapp Family Singers. One would think that in an era when celebrites adopt babies of different races as if they're shopping for Jimmy Choos, mainstream Americans would get used to seeing families that don't "match". With time, I've learned to answer these questions politely before letting them roll off my back. If my kids are within earshot (and not begging for Pop Tarts), I want them to hear a response that validates who they are, instead of something that sounds like an apology. In doing so, I let them know that even though America calls us "black people", they themselves are technically shades of almond, butterscotch and caramel. That African American families come in all colors, it's part of the beauty of being black. I do this not for the strangers' benefit, but because I want my kids to be proud of who they are.
I hope that Nancy Andrews, the Long Island mother who is suing a Manhattan fertility clinic for impregnating her with a "black baby" will do the same. Upon discovering that their daughter Jessica was born several shades darker than she is, Mrs. Andrews (who identifies as "white" despite the fact that she's Dominican and looks a whole lot more like Halle Berry than Nicole Kidman) and her husband, who happens to be white, had DNA testing done to find out if the baby was actually theirs. As it turned out, the results proved that the Park Avenue clinic had erroneously implanted the donated sperm of a black man (gasp!) into Mrs. Andrew's womb. The result was a beautiful, Afro-Hispanic baby they named Jessica. The couple is currently in the process of filing suit, claiming that Jessica "looks nothing like them" and that she will always be a reminder of a terrible mistake. As if Jessica won't have enough to contend with growing up.
One can only imagine what it must be like for a woman who desperately wants a child (in this case, a second child) to endure the emotional trials of infertility, the miracles of modern science, the inconvenience of morning-sickness, leg cramps, insomnia and who-knows-what-else during pregnancy only to find that her dream baby has been fathered by a complete stranger. I'd like to think that the race of the donor or appearance of the child would be of little importance in a case of gross negligence such as this. Based on the couple's claims, however, I'm not fully certain that they'd have had the same reactions if Jessica had been born blue-eyed and blonde. Regardless of the clinic's error, the shade of her skin, the kink of her hair, Jessica Andrews is absolutely Nancy Andrew's biological daughter. While her mother may never appreciate the African genes in her own bloodline, I hope she'll do her best to accept Jessica with open arms and that her husband will also learn to accept the child as his own.
And that with time, the Andrews will find ways to answer strangers' questions in the supermarket that will assure their youngest daughter she's 100% loved.
On Friday my posts also appear as an online column for Time Out New York Kids. Visit them at Time Out New York Kids for more city-specific parenting tips and diversions. The regular column will be called Not the Nanny, which pretty much answers the crazy looks I sometimes receive when I'm out and about with my rosy-cheeked son.