"Michalene, go back to bed!" I scolded without looking up. Even
a full day of camping couldn't wear out my intrepid 6-year-old, but
I was not going to have her waking up her younger siblings. When
Michalene didn't move, I looked up and noticed the tears rolling
down her face. OK, this was bigger than one overtired little
As I gathered her in my arms she managed to gasp, "The other
kids [sob] on the playground [sniff] said Danny [sob] wasn't my
I sighed. This was going to be complicated.
Even in our ethnically diverse hometown, our family is used to
stares from strangers. Michalene and her brother Danny are
particularly prone to questions, as they are only eight months
apart in age, but opposite in appearance. Michalene is African
American, while Danny, our only biological child, is Caucasian. In
the campgrounds of the Midwest, our family sticks out like a sore
"I'm so sorry," I began. "How does that make you feel?"
"I feel awful," Michalene said through her tears. "Danny is my
"Of course Danny's your brother," I affirmed. "I know it's
frustrating. But remember, we've talked about how some people
aren't used to seeing families who don't look the same."
Michalene rolled her watery eyes at me. "Mom, it's not that.
They said Danny is taller than me, so I must be littler and he must
be my big brother. But it's not true! We're both 6 right now, but
I'm almost 7!"
I had missed the mark. It wasn't my kids' racial disparity that
caused comment, it was their size disparity. I quickly calmed
Michalene by reminding her that my own "baby brother" was taller
than me by the time I was 10. Consoled, Michalene settled down once
again in her little camper bed.
For a few minutes, I gazed at my sleeping children, gloating
over the unique beauty of my multiracial family. Then I ventured
outside, told the whole story to my husband, and finally allowed
myself to laugh at my own stupidity. I was acting like such a
My husband and I both have noticed the pattern. It's always the
grown-ups-trying so hard to be polite and pretend they aren't
curious-who can't stop talking about our children's race and
adoption stories. Kids ask questions so blunt that their parents
literally squirm, but once those questions are answered, they just
Perhaps we grown-ups should take a cue from the kids and learn
to focus on what's really important. Transracial, adoptive,
"artificial twins"? Whatever. Little brother two inches taller than
big sister? Now that's a big deal.
Erin Ruggaber Howard is an Aurora mom.
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