Photo: Chaw Chaw Su San
“He’s so adorable!”
I cringe every time I hear it. An odd reaction, I know, to a stranger’s well-meaning compliment for my toddler son. Especially since he is adorable—if you’ll forgive a mother’s boast—with his toothy grin, sparkling blue eyes, and wispy golden hair.
“He’s so blond!”
My son is not just blond. He’s downright towheaded. And me, well, I’m not even close, with my coffee-dark eyes, brunette hair, and latte complexion that are testament to my half-Mexican, half-Anglo-American genes.
“Where did he get such blond hair?”
This is why I cringe. I now feel a sense of obligation to explain my family’s history in order to satisfy a stranger’s curiosity. It makes me vaguely defensive and a little tired. I’ve answered this question a hundred times in my son’s two and half years, and I know I’ll be answering it many times more.
“Is his father blond?”
My husband was a blond baby, too, but his hair darkened to a toasty golden brown before he hit kindergarten. However, even with his grey-blue eyes and fair complexion, he’s also been questioned by strangers as to how he fathered such a blondie bear.
“Are you his…?”
And here, we get to the heart of the matter, the question that only a handful of people have had the courage—or gall—to ask me outright: “are you his mother, or are you the nanny?”
I suppose it’s a valid question, since I live in an area where many children are tended by nannies. I wonder it myself sometimes when I see another brown-skinned woman with a fair child in tow. I don’t ask, though, because I know how it feels to have your biology questioned so casually.
What’s funny is that the answer is as easy as looking at photo of my family: my son looks almost exactly like my father.
There are a few slight variations—flaxen instead of strawberry blond, fair instead of freckled—but they share the same mischievous grin, the same sky-blue eyes, the same little furrow between the eyebrows. It’s such a striking similarity that childhood friends of mine comment about it on the pictures I post of my son on Facebook.
So I explain this genealogical wonder, how I carried these fair genes from my father to my son. I’ve given this little speech to grocery store clerks, nurses, teachers, and friends of friends, hiding my annoyance and discomfort.
It’s something I’m used to doing. In high school, when my father would come pick me up, people would ask if he was my stepdad. I would explain that no, he was indeed my biological dad, feeling an odd sort of protectiveness for my father. To an outsider, I knew our mixed family looked like a game of “One of These Things is Not Like the Other,” but to me, it was normal. Beautiful.
So perhaps it’s only fitting my own little family follows the same pattern. I never tell these curious strangers just how magical I find this genetic coincidence. Every time I see my father and my son together, their blond heads bent over a book or stack of blocks, my life just clicks. I feel the connection of time running through me, the knowledge that I am the link that joins the past and future of my family together.
In time, my son’s hair may darken like his father’s, or maybe he’ll take after my dad and stay blond. I’m fine either way. In fact, I think I may prefer my boy remain blond, to keep those visible familial ties alive. It’ll be worth answering the same question again and again if it’ll help break people’s preconceived notions of how families are built and grow and change. Or, maybe I’ll finally give the answer that always goes through my mind when someone asks me about my son’s hair:
“How is he so blond? Black magic. Amazing what results you can get with the right ritual sacrifice.”
Yeah, that should kill any follow-up questions.
Sherezada Windham-Kent lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and toddler. When her son is asleep, she writes fiction, comics, screenplays, and articles. Her alter-ego is a film-loving comic book geek who indulges in video games and the occasional spot of embroidery.