Thursday, April 30, 2015

Who's That Baby?

As a mixed couple, we live a charmed life here in sunny Miami, Florida. I hear stories from other couples about the side-eye and dirty looks that they get in other parts of the country, and even some tales of more aggressively hateful people, but I don't think we get that down here. Miami is such a culturally diverse area to begin with, that different nationalities, customs, or styles of dress are no surprise to us. Also, maybe I'm just sensitive to it, but it seems as if the percentage of mixed couples is much higher here, because we see it pretty much wherever we go. I'm aware that things are different the farther north we go, and the more we move away from our culturally diverse home, the narrower the views around us seem to get. Even then, we don't get half the grief from strangers that mixed couples report from other parts of the country.

However, when it comes to mixed-race children, there still seems to be a great deal of ignorance surrounding how the process works, and how the final product comes to be. I think most people assume that all children are a kind of melting pot for their parents' features, but not necessarily their coloration. We're used to thinking of a child, he's got his father's ears, his mother's eyes, his father's nose, his mother's hair, but when it comes to skin color, or other matters of coloration or race, I think we often just assume that God finds the two parents on the Pantone grey scale and then picks the middle-most shade for the offspring. The truth is, if a child can overload on one side of the family, getting all of his mother's features, for example, and looking nothing like the father, then the same can be true for coloration as well. Now usually, even with children whose parents are of similar racial background, when a child looks nothing like one parent, eyebrows tend to get raised, and sometimes even cheeks tend to get swabbed. But even then, differences in facial features don't have the same visually striking effect as differences in racial features. The latest example of this is the pair of UK twins of mixed race that look so obviously different that they have become worldwide headline news. The story raises so many questions for the audience. How can this happen? What are the odds? How am I supposed to feel about it? Am I allowed to talk about this and still not be racist? I noticed in some pictures, the copywriters went out of their way to be polite in their captions, identifying the girls by phrases like "far, far left" or "third from right," apparently just to avoid identifying them as "the white twin" or the "the black twin." Another great example of not only the genetics of mixed-race, but also the social ramifications is the film Skin, starring Sophie Okonedo. The film is based on the true story of a "white" couple who had no reason to ever question their heritage, until the wife gave birth to, for all anyone could tell, a black baby girl. By the way, the story takes place in apartheid South Africa, around the 1960's.

I don't know what the odds are, but I know it happens more than one might think, that a mixed race child isn't born with a "mixed-race" look. In our family, the two teenage children, who are also mixed-race, definitely have "the look." Even my teenage daughter, who is light skinned, still has dark features from her mom's side - dark hair, brown eyes, skin that darkens in the sun rather than burning. The baby, on the other hand, fools everyone. Like all beautiful girl babies, she is definitely a conversation starter, but when my wife is out with her, the conversation usually starts with, "Oh what a beautiful little girl! Is she yours?" or the more tentative and polite "Oh my, where did you get such a pretty baby?" To clarify, the baby turned out exactly as white as I am, and that's about as white as it gets. In addition, she has my clear blue eyes, and they don't seem to be changing, along with light brown, mixed with almost golden, hair. The eyes make a lot of sense, because although my wife is dark-skinned, her father has very green eyes, so I can see how those genes would team up. The hair is more of a mystery, because even on my side, none of my people have light hair.

The irony is that while the coloration takes center stage in everyone's mind when they see us all together, she still doesn't really look much like me, despite the fact that so many people say we look exactly alike. Most of her features come from my wife's side of the family, so much so that if you put a picture of the baby side by side with a baby picture of her grandmother (and namesake, oddly enough) they look exact alike, just different complexions. In fact, the first time my wife's grandmother, the baby's great-grandmother, saw our daughter, the first thing she said was how much she looked like her namesake at that age.

I don't take offense to these incidents, and as far as I know, neither does my wife. I find it kind of funny when it happens, because it seems very innocent and only reveals the way we think of race and family and normalcy. I wouldn't want to go through some of the experiences that others have shared with me, and I certainly wouldn't want to explain them to my children. It's one thing to find humor in an innocent comment; it's quite another to be made the butt of someone else's joke, or the jester in someone else's court. Situations like the tasteless jokes on Melissa Harris-Perry's show, about Mitt Romney's family and his black grandchild being different from his cousins and siblings, show how unwilling we often are to accept racial differences and especially racial mixing. To paraphrase what Caleb Howe said about the situation, the picture of that black child in a white family is only funny if you think that race-mixing is absurd or laughable. I feel the same way when I hear about the geek rage over originally white comic book heroes like The Human Torch being cast as black in movies. A large part of the furor over Michael B. Jordan's casting as Johnny Storm was explained as tampering with the essence of the character, not because of his blackness, but because he's supposed to be Sue Storm's brother, and she's being played by a white actress. Again, for so many, it seems completely out of the realm of possibility that two people, one dark-skinned and one light, could ever be siblings, even in a fictional world where one of them can become living flame and fly and the other can turn invisible and create force fields. That we're willing to accept, because gamma radiation, but racial variation in a family, well, there's only so much disbelief I can suspend, right?

So I guess I'm really appreciative and proud of my wife for handling these incidents with the humor and patience that she does, because, for the most part, we have to believe that we're dealing with people who have genuine love and respect in their hearts, and may just need to see more of Mendel's laws of inheritance in action in order to see the beauty that comes with variety.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Can't Touch This!

Small children are such a mystery. Infants, toddlers, even preschool and kindergartners - their minds work in such odd and interesting ways, sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, but often unpredictable. They learn new ways of talking and being from us, but then they mix them up in such strange ways, like aliens coming here and trying to fit in with the humans, but occasionally wearing their pajamas to work or talking to mailboxes about what letters taste like. Every time our baby girl gets a new tic or obsession, we laugh at how she connected those particular dots and wonder how long it will last before she figures it out or gives it up.

The newest trend is now saying "Don't touch!" for everything. I don't know if she's really concerned about what she thinks of as her property, or if she's heard us tell her this so many times that she wants in on the game, or if she genuinely thinks that she's living with a bunch of thieves and vandals who want nothing more than to steal or otherwise wreck her personal property. Whatever it is, she feels the need to stress the point daily now. If she needs to go change or try to use the potty while she's playing, she might put down her toy, point her finger at whoever is closest and say, " Don't touch my Cookie Monster." Or if she puts down her sippy cup for even a second to cross the room and get a book, it's "Don't touch my cup." Or it could be personal space and body ownership. "Don't touch my feet," when you're putting on her shoes, or "Don't touch my ears," when you take off her shirt.

Does she really think that everyone else in the house, ages ranging from 14 to 41, is really desperately waiting for her to put down her fairy wand so we can snatch it up and prance around with it? I've heard of convicts released from prison still guarding their food whenever they eat, out of habit, but is it really that rough and merciless in day care? Do you have to watch your back so vigilantly in the two-year-old class because any toy left unattended for even a moment is lost forever?

It really created a problem for us, especially when it comes to the body issue, because we started teaching her months ago not to let anyone touch her private parts, that that's not okay, only for Mommy and Daddy (or a few others) and only when changing her diaper or washing her. We also choose not to force her to touch anyone or kiss anyone or hug anyone, because we don't want to give her the impression that people have a right to her body. So, I kind of get the "Don't touch my butt," or "Don't touch my elbow," outbursts, but what am I supposed to make of the "Don't touch my bed" or "Don't touch my remote," moments? I mean, it's not even her remote!

And the whole situation is actually another piece of evidence that humans are just wicked. I say this, not because of some sort of greed or mistrust on her part, but because whenever she gets on the "Don't touch my umbrella" soapbox, all I want to do is touch that umbrella. I want to get my fingers all over that umbrella and show her that she's not the boss of me, that I can touch the umbrella if I want to, and there's nothing she can do about it. It's like forbidden fruit - as soon as she tells me not to touch it, the devil in me rises up and wants to not only manhandle it, but let her see me do it. So I find myself mentally torturing a two-year-old by hovering over her umbrella like Nosferatu while she screams, "No! Don't touch it!" Then I give it the tiniest of touches and we both start laughing. Maybe it's not evil in me, or at least I hope it isn't. Maybe I just need to prove to myself that she isn't really that materialistic or mistrustful yet.

Or maybe I just enjoy teasing her.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Welcome to the Potty, Pal

Spring Break! I don't know if it's the teachers or the students who get more excited. and since my school is a religious one, we generally take Spring Break the week after Easter, which gives us the Good Friday off as well, and results in an extended vacation. And what did I do with my week off? Disney? Nope. Camping? Nope. Sand and surf and bikinis? Nope. I never even put mine on. Instead, I spent the entire week trying to potty train the two year old. 

So, as a Spring Break experience, this one was definitely sub-par. I mean, there was a lot of nakedness and running around, just not the fun kind. Some of the highlights were staring at timers all morning and afternoon, washing soiled panties all evening, studying up on all of the different and conflicting methods before bed, and then running through the entire thing the next day, like some kind of Groundhog Day torture.

This was definitely one of those Roger Murtaugh moments, where I find myself standing over a pile of toddler poop that fell out of a pair of double-ply panties that I had just removed as gingerly as an explosives expert defusing a bomb, only to have the entire contents fall out onto the bathroom tile anyway. As if I didn't feel too-old-for-this-____ enough, my wife asked me if training the two teens was as difficult. I gave her some kind of answer, the best I could come up with, but the truth is, I really don't remember. I don't recall how that happened at all. I may be repressing it. I definitely remember changing my share of diapers, and I'm pretty sure they're using the toilet properly now, but I don't remember what came in between. I know I was involved in the process, and I remember vaguely that it involved a chunk of my summer vacation at the time, but I can't for the life of me remember how this is supposed to work.

It just seems like the easiest thing in the world. You have to go, there's a toilet/potty/latrine nearby - you figure it out. The game is hers to win, but this kid just doesn't seem to want it badly enough. And she seems to feel so badly every time she fails that I just don't have the heart to shame her as much or as hard as some of the methods call for. I give her the look and the subtle "Aw, man. Pee goes in the potty," but she seems so upset with herself that I can't go mush farther than that.

Still, I want to shout at her, "You were just sitting on the potty literally seconds ago." Really, how can you sit there for a full two minutes, and then less than a minute later, wet yourself, and everything around you, like you've been on a transatlantic flight, and holding it in since Paris? How many panties do you think I have in this drawer anyway? 

At one point we were both tired from the constant getting up and moving to the potty every five or ten minutes that I just gave up for the rest of the morning and decided to play my video game and just keep asking her if she had to go, which I knew was lazy, but proved to be exactly as effective as the previous two days of vigilance. Around eleven, with snack and nap about a half hour away, she sneaks up between my feet with that humble look and wants to sit on my lap and play games with me. I hand her the other controller (which is turned off, but she doesn't know this). She curls up with it in my lap like a cat and promptly falls asleep. I wake her up and tell her, there's no sleeping in Daddy's lap during potty training with no diaper on. She falls asleep again. I shake her gently and tell her that if she falls asleep, she will invariably pee, and I don't want pee all over me - again. That was Thursday, and the end of potty training for the week. I didn't get peed on that time, thank goodness, but I had enough sense to slap a diaper on her, feed her, nap her, and then just enjoy the day and a half we had left in Spring Break without worrying about her bodily functions. 

So at the end of the week, I had literally nothing to show for all my effort, maybe one ounce of pee in the special Elmo potty, with the video, the stickers, the chart, and the Elmo doll that has its own little potty. By the way, she likes the doll. The doll has it figured out, swishes it every time it goes to the line.