Well it finally happened. We have been home from Russia with our twenty seven month old son for nearly three and a half months and some foolish person in the grocery store wins the title of "First Person to Say Something Stupid About the Fact That My Children Don't Look Alike." On one hand I am, again, surprised at the stupidity of some people. On the other hand, I am sort of amazed that it took this long to happen. At least I was prepared.
There I was in the grocery store check out line with my big four and a half year old Chinese son and my tiny Russian toddler. The two year old was sitting in the baby seat in the front of the cart, holding a can of frozen apple juice up to his older brother's cheek. His brother would jump back and they would both scream with laughter. This little game had been in play since the diaper aisle and it didn't appear to be getting old to either of them. As this game moved throughout the store, with my big four and a half year old hopping up and down next to the moving cart we gathered more than our share of looks. Most of them happy, smiling looks. And then we took our frozen juice show to the checkout line. Where the lady waiting in front of me smiled at my boys and said, "Are they both yours?"
"Yes, of course. Why?" (My boys need to see me acting surprised when someone questions the relationships in our family. So if you ask me an invasive and stupid question, you will be pressed to explain yourself. If you ask me a polite and appropriate question you will receive kindness in return.)
"Uh, well, they don't look alike."
"They don't?" (Now she is thinking, is she crazy? Has she never noticed that her kids don't look alike?) I followed this up with "Oh no!". Later I thought I should have said "Don't tell my husband, he'll totally freak out!" But I just can't think that quickly on my feet.
Now you would think she would have just let the conversation drop at this point. I mean, I thought I had made it pretty clear that I wasn't going to sell out my children just to appease her curiosity. But she didn't. She said, and I quote, "Well, OK, they're both your children but he (pointing to the tiny toddler) is really yours, right?"
I looked down at my boys, wondering if they had heard her. It didn't seem as though they had. My big four and a half year old was standing on side of the cart trying to reach the box of fruit gummys while the two year old patted him, not so gently, on the back with his baseball hat. They were both giggling and the two year old was kicking his feet against the cart, making a repeated loud banging noise. (After some serious quizzing once we were in the car I was satisfied that my oldest son had not overheard the conversation.)
"They look like brothers to me.", I said. I then turned to the person standing behind me in line and offered to let her check out in my place. She took me up on it and we swapped places. Current crisis averted. But how long is it going to be before someone else says something stupid that my oldest son does hear?
Here is what I worry about: one day he will figure out that his little brother looks more like us than he does. He has already been asked by friends at day care about his little pushed in nose, a casualty of his cleft lip and palate. One day that beautiful little nose will be repaired, but right now, he knows that not everyone has a nose like his. I also worry that my younger son will one day grow tired of strangers asking about the ethnicity of his brother and not asking about his. People just assuming that he is my biological child and born in America takes his Russian heritage away from him and can be just as damaging as his brother's Chinese heritage always being publicized. And here's the part of the whole story that perhaps bothers me the most. Why would anyone even say anything to me in the first place? I would never even entertain these thoughts, let alone actually say them out loud and especially in front of the children!
I know that the next time these questions are asked, if my big four and a half year old hears them, I will simply ask him to answer. As far as he knows both he and his brother are real. They are really brothers. They are both my children. I mean, really. I barely tolerate taking my own children to the grocery store. Why would I be there with children that weren't mine?