Half-way through the little kids’ dentist appointment this morning, I was feeling pretty accomplished. Little Guy has a hypersensitive mouth and a gag reflex that approaches a super power. He can even puke on cue. Suffice it say, a regular check-up is borderline torture for him and he made it through without a single tear.
The dentist was patient and followed my lead, warning him about what was about to happen and praising his efforts. This dentist and I were going to be great friends and I began to envision a future together–me and the dentist each holding Little Guy’s hands as he hopped smiling into the chair and willingly opened wide. All was right with the world.
Then it happened. Little Sister took her brother’s place in the chair and the dentist made some comment, but through her thick accent I could only understand the words “her hair.” Still aglow with the warmth of my newfound partnership, I assumed she was complimenting Little Sister. Her hair is thick and glossy and people often comment on it’s beauty. I’m always happy to hear people tell me how beautiful my children are so I asked her to repeat herself.
“Her hair is so dark, how is she sister?” Asked my no longer friend pointing a finger back and forth between Little Sister and Little Guy.
I was caught completely off-guard and probably stared at her with my mouth hanging open. The assistant looked at me awkwardly apologetic, I mumbled something about adoption and my heart sank.
I mean seriously what the fuck? This scenario which has been happening more and more lately really bugs the crap out of me for so many different reasons. First of all you have to be a complete idiot to not figure this out on your own. I am white, my husband is white, our first four chidren and our sixth child are white, and are fifth child is a dark skinned raven haired Latina, how do you think this happened? Secondly, what kind of insensitive pig asks a question like that in front of a child, and finally it’s not your business and I don’t owe you any explanations. Oh there’s more, but I’ll stop to prevent this from becoming a maniacal rant.
We had a similar experience not long ago. We were celebrating a birthday at a local Japanese restaurant when the hibachi chef who’d been very entertaining up to this point suddenly asked Little Sister, “Why you look different?” Not quite satisfied that he’d thoroughly offended us he pointed his utensil one at a time at each the kids seated around the grill saying “See, blond hair, blond hair, blond hair, blond hair, you black hair.” Yes, really, I can’t make this shit up.
I’ve been teaching the kids sarcastic retorts alternating with shocked dismay–I’ve told them to gasp, look at each in horror and ask “What happened to your hair!?”–to the persistent informants at school who like to remind them that they don’t look like each other. I’ve considered adopting four more kids of various races so I can simply respond that all of my children have different fathers and I like variety in the bedroom.
Okay jokes aside, it pisses me off and it hurts her. She is reminded at every turn that she is different. A difference she is acutely and painfully aware of. The rest of us look ridiculously alike. Even Little Guy looks like we fished him straight out of our genetic pool. Unmoved by so many compliments on her glossy black hair, she has told me many times that she wants to dye it the same color as mine. She rejects and even destroys her darker skinned dolls and barbies while doting lovingly on her white ones. She is asked day after day by everyone from classmates to strangers to explain how her very existence can be.
My journey pales in comparison to hers, but I can begin to understand how painful this need others have to draw attention to her differences is. As a child I was very blonde, fair skinned, and freckled while my older brother and younger sister had brown hair and eyes and slightly darker complexions. I endured endless jokes about being the mailman’s child. As funny as these jokes were to the adults around, they were hurtful to me. So much so that it still stings to bring those memories to the surface. Like I said, a cakewalk in comparison.
For so long we were so caught up in managing the behavioral and cognitive differences that the physical differences didn’t even register on the radar…for us. We failed her. We won’t anymore. I’ve written to her teacher asking to help her develop an adoption awareness/sensitivity program that I can help administer to Little Sister’s class and hopefully beyond. I am writing letters to the owners of restaurant and dentist office, I’m preparing for the next occasion whenever it comes (and it will) so that I won’t be left with my mouth hanging open again.