Saturday, December 20, 2008

My ethnic womb.

What do you mean I am not supposed to grab my baby by the arm? Oh, Auntie C said so? Well, she also said that an ankle tracking device was a good idea...


Apparently, my ethnic womb is capable of creating children of different ethnicity. Dude, I am so NOT kidding about this. Now, to understand why this just puzzles and cracks us up at the same time, we have to start with first born J. When I was a teenager people always thought I was older. That is, until I became a teenage mother. Then all of a sudden, people did not believe that I was my son’s mother. At 18, I was not equipped to deal with said assumption and it was a painful thorn on my side. I eventually learned to live with it as I aged, but it would rear its ugly head at the most inconvenient times.

When J was 8 we were crossing the border from Juarez, Mexico into Texas. While we were on a car trip from California to Tennessee, it never crossed my mind to bring his birth certificate. We were stopped at the border because the US Custom agent did not believe that J was my child. I was rather pasty at the time (had been ill and out of the So Cal sun) and J was a beautiful shade of light brown with sandy brown hair. Straight hair. The agent looked at my lighter skin and (naturally) curly hair and could not wrap his underdeveloped brain about him being my biological child. I guess he had never heard of a perm?

During my first exam in grad school, P pulled me out of the classroom to show me a hive covered J. J had only had one previous incident in PR (three years earlier), none in So Cal. Great! Welcome to the pits of Northern Cal. We took him to Urgent Care and the doctor nicely told me he would treat him even though I was not his mother. WTF? I calmly informed him that I was his biological mother; he laughed and said, “I buy sister, not mother.” NO, it was NOT flattering, nor funny.

When J was fifteen, a beautiful mole he had on his ear since birth changed size and shape. In my ignorance I had assumed that his darker skin color would give him an advantage in terms of his exposure to the sun. The surgeon felt that the mole needed to be removed immediately, but grilled me about whether I had the right to consent to the surgery. As in, are you the real mother? Whatever the hell “real” means.

But the icing on the cake came in June 2005, when P called me to tell me that J collapsed in the bathroom, an ambulance was on the way, and to meet him at the ER. I actually made it to the ER before they did (I was 10 minutes away at work, we live 3 minutes from the hospital). The receptionist had me fill out paperwork while I waited and I rushed to the receiving bay when the ambulance arrived. The ambulance doors opened, and I saw my child. The receptionist came to me, touched my arm and said, “Ma’am, please step away, this is not your child.” WTF? Yes, this is my son. She began to pull me and stated, “I know you are upset but he is not your child.” Look, I know I come across as dense, but I KNOW my children, OK? The worse part was that whenever I asked for help for J, the nurses would go to the nurse’s station and say, “His girlfriend or his sister said that…” Again, NOT flattering, no matter how old I am or look.

While we waited for Baby S, we had plenty of time to reminisce about those incidents. We are not naïve and have always known and expected to attract attention. I was honest with P and did express that given my previous experiences with J, I would probably be hypersensitive about repeating that experience with Baby S. P, as usual, had more faith in me than I do and would tell me that I would just roll with whatever came my way.

Let’s forget China, because that is an obvious, what-the-heck-are-you-doing-with-a-Chinese-baby experience. BTW, although we got so much attention, including touching, pictures and filming, we did not feel as uncomfortable as we had anticipated. On the flight home, the flight crew referred to Baby S as our daughter, and we chalked it up to their experience with International adoption.

Then one week after we arrived home, I was at Wally Mart with Baby S and we happened to see a mother and son (7 years old) that were part of our travel group (they did not adopt from the same province). The boy recognized Baby S and I immediately and that led to us getting in line behind them. The mother and I talked, while aware that the cashier could not keep her eyes off us and was eavesdropping (as evidenced by her mistakes and snail pace). Let’s just say that China came up frequently during our exchange.

Mother and son leave, and it is our turn. The cashier begins to gush about Baby S and I say my usual thank you and wish she would hurry the heck up. She asks Baby S’s age (16 months), comments on how small she is and tells me her son is 10 months and 28 lbs. I smile and say, “Well, Caucasian babies develop different than…,” and she smiles at me, a “knowing” smile and states, “yes, they develop different than Hispanic babies.” OMG, did she really say that? I was speechless and just smiled. Did she really think Baby S was Hispanic? Like, NO WAY! I called P as soon as I left the store and he had a good laugh about it. He asked me, “Did you correct her?” No, I did not as I did not see the value in doing so. The clerk was not malicious, just mistaken and while amused, I let it go. Could it be because of my previous experiences with J?

Since then, for every person that assumes Baby is adopted, we get someone who assumes she is my biological child. This tends to happen more when Baby S and I are without P. The white dude adds that International Adoption touch to us.

Friday night, at P’s office Christmas party, we did not think that Baby S’s origin would be in question. P took two weeks off to travel to China, while working there for only nine months. In his very small company, you get only one week vacation a year, and rarely at once. We assumed that at least Jim, the owner, was aware of Baby S’s adoption. Meaning why P was off for two weeks, right? During dinner, our tablemates repeatedly offered to hold Baby S to “allow” us to eat. P and I commented that we spent two weeks feeding Baby S out of her carrier or on our laps and we were OK. Then Sandy told us that she was an expert on getting babies to sleep and I jokingly asked, “Where were you for the past five months?” Guess what? We had to explain those statements. They knew Baby S is 21-months old, so why was sleep a problem just the past five months? I took that one and explained that she had just been home for five months? HUH? What do you mean five months? Then Jim (the owner) asked why we were in China with a baby for two weeks.

I was SO willing to leave that one up to P, really. Seriously, they were clueless about Baby S being Chinese. That is NOT a positive for us, because we (P, J and I) are VERY proud that Baby S was born in China and we are equally proud about her cultural heritage. Jim then asked P about the process (while marveling, “She is really from China?”), the wait and was very inquisitive about our journey.

This evening, I could not help but ask P what has been on my mind since last night. I told P that I respect everyone at our table, but must ask, “Where did they think Baby S came from?” P stated, “From your ethnic womb. Baby, you are not Puerto Rican to most white folks. You are ethnic, and your ethnic status entails the ability to produce children from every ethnic background there is. I hate to admit it, but they look and see ethnic facial features, dark hair, and dark eyes. That is P’s daughter with K”

We know J will read this post and we also know that he will take it as intended. He’s lived this and we know the role reversal will really make him chuckle. We know he is thinking that he could at least deny us, while Baby S has less options.

Why do we know this? Because of something J told us when he was in high school. Although he went to a rather liberal HS, teens will be teens. One morning, after P and I dropped him off at school, some smart a$$ kid said to him, “J, isn’t there something weird about your Mom and Dad?” J responded, “Yes, there is. I take after my father’s Irish side, but please don’t tell my Mom.” Heh

Baby S, do take after your brother.

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