Saturday, June 17, 2017


I hear about all the horror stories of mixed couples from around the country and abroad. Just a while ago, looking for inspiration fro a new topic, and dealing with a case of writer's block, I read a few other blogs on interracial or mixed couples and the problems they face. They write about everything from having issues with holiday traditions to being spat on in the street by strangers. I even recently got a video forwarded to me from a friend, with interviews of interracial couples since the Loving trial in Virginia. As I read these stories, I just don't relate.

Growing up and living in Miami, Florida, there were always mixed couples around, and I grew up around so many different ethnicities that dating exclusively white didn't seem like a necessity. Actually, since I was in the racial minority at my high school, it didn't even seem like a possibility. Today, most of my friends are in interracial marriages, of one form or another, not because we all came together as some sort of support group, but because we all grew up in the same social conditions. So when I read these stories of the terrible things that interracial couples go through elsewhere, I feel very blessed to have grown up in Miami, but then I also wonder what life would be like if we tried to move anywhere else.

The internet is full of horror stories about mixed couples dealing with everything from microaggresions about sex and education and culture to outright and zealous disapproval. I didn't have any relatives disown me, and neither did my wife. None of my friends were surprised, and, like I said, many of them were in similar relationships themselves. I do remember having a conversation on the subject with my cousin's husband, back when I was about thirteen. He must have been at least thirty at the time, and, while I can't remember how the subject came up, he was trying to convince me that the Bible is against interracial dating. He was quoting "Do not be unequally yoked together in marriage" at me, and even at that age, I was pretty well read in my scriptures, and had to tell him that the Bible doesn't say that. He grabbed his Good Book and tried looking it up, but couldn't remember where exactly it was. This is from a Cuban/Hispanic man married to my white cousin. That relationship he doesn't see as interracial at all, so for him, the only sinful relations were between Black and white, apparently. For reference, and just in case it comes up in conversation at any time, the verse he was referring to was 2 Corinthians 6:14, and the wording is "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers," which is a whole different topic for an entirely different blog post. If I had possessed more rhetorical skill back then, I would have pressed him to say what exactly was unequal in these relationships.

I did have one old lady at church ask me, pretty soon after my wife and I married, why I married a Black woman, and if I couldn't find a white woman to marry. She asked this seated in her pew, right behind another older interracial couple. The wife sitting in front of her almost spun around, but her husband just restrained her and shook his head. But she is a very old woman, a member of a very diverse church with many mixed couples. It's really hard to get mad at her for asking, because she's so old, and, otherwise, very sweet, and obviously losing that battle, based on the demographics around her.

Other than that, I've seen racism in Miami, but never directed at us, so I don't have the same experience that I see in the video or in the articles I read. I remember on our honeymoon, a week long cruise in the Caribbean, we saw so many mixed couples aboard the ship, we started calling it the "Swirl Boat." I guess I'm more aware when I see other mixed couples, and get a sense of comfort from that. I certainly felt that way on our honeymoon. I hope my wife felt it as well, since this is her first (and last, hopefully) interracial relationship. There was one moment, while we were on a snorkeling excursion, that drew attention to our differences, but not exactly for racial reasons. My wife and I were both in peak physical condition on our honeymoon, because we saved sex for after the wedding. Speaking for myself, I wanted that first naked impression to be a powerful one. Apparently, one benefit of having an abundance of melanin is the ability to maintain a youthful appearance, so even though we're only three years apart, my wife always looks considerably younger than she is, while I ... don't.

On the snorkeling boat, there was a really nice lady with a table set up selling some hand-made jewelry, because it's the Caribbean, and everyone has a side hustle. There we are in our swim suits - me in my board shorts, as lean and muscular as I've ever been in my life, my wife in her bikini, literally looking like a supermodel, breaking hearts every time she holds my hand or kisses me on that boat. We tell the lady that we're looking for a necklace for our daughter (from the very beginning, my wife talked about "our" daughter and son, partly because it's just easier, but also from her understanding about how this family worked). The sales woman said, "What?! You no look old enough fi have pickney!" She asked how old the "baby" was, and started laughing when we told her the kids were 12 and 14.

"Me did tink you was one young gyal," she said.

"How young did you think I was?" my wife asked.

"Eighteen, maybe twenty," the lady said.

I looked at my wife, shrugged my shoulders, saw about the same thing, and felt pretty good about myself.

"So, how old did you think I was?" I asked.

The lady paused for a second, "Maybe forty-five?"

I was thirty-eight at the time.

"And what did you think we were doing together?"

"Me tink say you was robbing the cradle, having some fun in the islands."

I'm still not sure if that was a compliment or not, but at least it wasn't about being a mixed couple. The thing is, I became more conscious of that than of our races. I started wondering if everyone on the ship was thinking that. Even so, I loved the way she said it, with no judgment at all. I guess anything goes on the Swirl Boat.

As great as the honeymoon was, we did have to come back to reality, and that's how I feel about Miami sometimes. I know that we live a charmed life here, where mixed couples and interracial marriage are common, and no body stares or says anything negative any more. Mixed kids are seen as beautiful and wholly embraced. But I wonder what life would be like if we had to move somewhere else. As much as I love Miami, it's expensive to live here, and we talk about moving elsewhere when the kids are bigger. We choose our vacation spots based on how we think the racial climate is, whether it's in the US or abroad. I know I've got a certain level of protection here where I grew up, but I wonder If I ever had to leave Paradise, would I be telling some of the same stories I see in these interviews.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

What's in a Name? Part 2

There's always a lot of confusion for the littlest children in blended families, starting with what to call everybody you live with, to knowing who is related to you and who isn't, to figuring out everybody's schedules. This last one is one that causes not only confusion, but a whole lot of tears and disruption around our house.

By the time our youngest was two, she was very verbal, almost too much, and very attached and bonded to her big brother and sister. She would wake up every morning at least a half hour before anyone else wanted to be up, and that without even an alarm clock. It was as if something in her just just knew when would be the worst time to jump in somebody's bed and woke her up with just the right amount of energy for the job. Of course, God bless her, she had no concept of days of the week - still doesn't, really - so weekday and weekend mornings were just the same - still are, really. So she could never figure out when her brother and sister were going to be home, and when they weren't. She would check on them just to make sure they were home, and was always surprised, and a little sad, when they weren't.

Night time was even worse. She likes to say good night to everyone before she goes to bed, kisses and hugs and all that, and sometimes, even now, she'll forget that her siblings aren't home. It's less of a stressor now, but when she was two and three, she would cry for her brother and sister, wailing their names because she missed them so much. I guess it was partly the shock of not finding them home, plus not being able to really understand when they would ever be back, or where they were in the first place.

It reminded me of when her big sister would cry for her mom at night. Putting her to bed was always an emotional routine back in those days. There really isn't any logic or magic that can cure it, just touch and time. Just remembering those nights helps me empathize with the baby more, instead of thinking she should suck it up for a night or two.

Fortunately, now that she's four, she doesn't cry at bedtime when her siblings are gone as much, but it still happens. There was one moment just this past week, when she was watching a show that she usually watches with her sister, and that started her crying for her. At first, it was every night when her siblings were at their mom's house, and bad enough that it would break your heart for her to hear it. We tried asking her if she wanted to call them, or even Facetime with them before bed, but she would always refused. We tried it a couple of times, and it sort of calmed her down, but not much. She really didn't want to be on the phone with them or even see them through a screen. She wanted to touch them, to know that they were sleeping down the hall from her, or just on the other side of her closet.

Explaining that they were at their mom's house didn't help much, because the concept was lost on her. If Mommy is here, then this is Mommy's house. So whose house are they at? After she actually met their mom, it made a little more sense, but then again, it probably mixed some other things up as well.

What does your daughter call her half-brother and half-sister's mom?

Auntie? Nope.

Mrs.? Eh.

First name? Definitely not.

Right now we're at peace with "Brother's Mom" or "Sister's Mom," because just saying it like that helps her keep it straight in her head. She's not around their mom enough for it to be awkward, and it's not really different from what she calls her friends' and classmate's moms and dads. For that matter, she calls me "Mommy" or "Teacher" half the time anyway, so who cares.

Then there was the time that both families got together for dinner after my son's high school graduation. Not only was it both sets of parents and step-parents, but grandparents, remarried grandparents, aunties and uncles, and cousins. Add to that some non-related friends who bear the title of "Auntie" and it gets even more confusing. Our little girl mostly sat at the table quietly next to her mom and looked at everyone. After a while of watching everyone getting along, she started quietly playing with the two boys next to her, both a little older. Afterwards, she asked who those boys are, and I'm still not sure how to explain to her that one of them is her sister and brother's cousin, but not hers, and the other one is not related to anyone at the table at all, not adopted, not officially fostered, but generously being raised by members of the family for a while.

In fact, I'm not much of a help, really. Since I'm still stuck in the loop of respect names, I still call half the women at the table Auntie myself. I wonder what the baby thinks of that. One day, maybe soon, her teacher is going to ask her to draw her family tree, and she's going to make a hedge bush about a mile wide.

But as confusing as it must be for her, and, frankly, for me sometimes too, at least it's not angry or tense. Awkward sometimes, yes, like when my ex-wife's mom stops by to pick up the big kids and the baby runs down the driveway to get a hug and a kiss, and sometimes even a gift or two. Or when their grandmother is so friendly and so innocent about all this, she offers to babysit from time to time.

That's awkward, and probably confusing for the baby. But the thing is, it comes from a place of genuine love, and it makes me smile whenever it happens. Maybe there will always be some awkwardness in families like this, and lots of confusion in uncharted waters, but at least there's no fighting. I'd rather see my little girl confused and tripping over what to call everyone, than afraid of her brother and sister's relatives or watching us behave like angry fools.