An ordinary (transracial parent) rant

Round and round/Mama C and the Boys

Ordinary is one of the words of the week. We play with words at our house. A list is a challenge. A game in the making.

Mary Baba was not an ordinary girl.
Gummy bears for breakfast is not an ordinary request.
Correct, it is not ordinary for you to wear matching socks.
A merry-go-round in the mall, is beyond the ordinary indeed!


Yesterday an all too ordinary exchange jarred and pickled me more than ordinarily. It went like this:

A swim instructor: Are you Sam’s mom?
Me: Yes
Instructor: Good. Then I would register him for the next level he is ready for…

Fantasy Me: Who the &%#?! else could I be?
For six weeks you’ve watched us come in together.
You’ve seen me dig into my bag for his goggles.
And glare at him when he doesn’t mind you.
Watched as I almost fell in trying to catch his big dive on film.

How about when he calls me MOMMY?
Beaming with pride because he can now swim
in all of his beautiful Blackness from one end of the world
to the other.
Unassisted by you.

It’s a drag is all.
On us. That folks can’t just assume
when they see us being as ordinary mother and son as it gets-
that that is just what we are.

I have learned that it is much better to err on the side of the familial:
She must be his mom,
Or he must be his dad.
Because then if I am wrong the good natured auntie, caregiver, teacher or friend can say;
“Oh no. I am not his mother, but how lucky I’d be if I were…”

Instead of having to rage silently inside that:

    YES. And he is BLACK and I am NOT.
    And you noticed.
    Aren’t you OBSERVANT?
    Thank you for reminding him, me, everybody
    that we are not just ordinary as a family
    through your unextraordinary eyes.


  1. I am so pleased that you’ve turned big words into a game and it seems that your kids have mastered the word “ordinary.”

    And I will now err on the side of a trans-racial family’s caretaker must be a parent (or would be lucky to be) … I always wondered what the sensitivity level was for that correlation. Thank you for opening my eyes!

  2. Because the ordinary TRUTH is, it’s easy to tell when someone is the mom. They show it every little tiny ordinary loving momish thing that they do. Go MAMA!

  3. #1 Hooray for Sam’s big accomplishment–he can swim! What a wonderful life skill you have given him. #2 I think that most of the time I do err on the side of the familial, but as of reading this I have promised myself that I will always do so.

    • Yes Mama indeed a life skill. And thank you for taking that on as a promise. And maybe if we all spread the word on that too, by modeling or with intention it could save a lot of unhappy moments for folks..

  4. Congrats big guy…don’t we want to err….when you assume I’m pregnant,

    It’s interesting to hear it from your point of view.

    I wonder, though would you ask when all 8 of my little ones came onto the playground, various shades…would you ask (the dreaded large family question) are they all yours

    or when you find out they stay home with me all day, how do you do it

    and when I tell you I have to leave now because I have to also work tonight ones say I could never.

    Maybe we hate these questions because we hear them all to often so for us it has become annoying like when we see a tall person over say 6’4″ and they hear for only the billionth time, wow u are tall. Or maybe because they hit on an insecurity or blemish.

    So here I would say, that the instructor was simply being polite. And we might be a little sensitive. Just about every instructor my children have had musical, education, sports, has always approached me with “you’re so and so mom’s”? A few of those kids look like mini-me’s. Isn’t that the joke we are no longer a name we are so and so’s mom, you’re the lady with the boys, you’re that woman with all those kids.

    I feel your frustration. Over a cup of tea we could sit with families that are just like ours and laugh over all the weird looks and common ridiculous questions we get. I think though if I truly want to learn, grow and embrace others some of these questions may have to be asked and tolerated. I would love to get to know you and your awesome boys so I hope you will be kind to us lesser folk as I may ask a seemingly ordinary question or 2 🙂

    • I think you might be right. I think she was probably being polite. And after I published this, I remembered I had a friend take him once, maybe another friend another time. So her particular situation may have been very legit. I really popped because that day I had just heard it once too much. It is not my style to rant, for the most part. OK so there was this hockey game once…but normally I am obliging to a fault. If this came across as a “lesser folk” than I really over stepped. You bring up great points about the 6,000 assumptions I must make too. Well said.

  5. You are wonderfully kind and awesomely gracious, i love the post and very simply and truthfully stated

    If I hear… more time….I’ll for me it’s usually….if I hear mama can I one more time…but I understand

    There needs to be a holiday, an island for moms, and maybe dads if they really behave, and kidlets and on this holiday we all can go for 24 hours and we just be and we just laugh. Laugh at the mama stains that are permanent, on the pig tails that aren’t even because someone thought they were a beautician on the 2nd night in a row i chose to feed my kids sugary cereal. We wouldn’t feel judged, we would feel threaten we would all just all relish the ups and down of motherhood.

    Of course we probably have to bring a muzzle for us women, because gosh our mouths are so judgmental, and than probably eye patches because sometimes our eyes say it before our mouths….ok never mind

    I’ll be satisfied with bloggy friends lol…..nice to meet u, mamma of those lovely dark boys. lol

  6. “Instead of having to rage silently inside that:

    YES. And he is BLACK and I am NOT.
    And you noticed.
    Aren’t you OBSERVANT?
    Thank you for reminding him, me, everybody
    that we are not just ordinary as a family

    through your unextraordinary eyes”

    Im new at dealing with these intrusive probes and awkward moments…
    the questions that remind me that I too chose to create a not so “ordinary” family.
    Finding blogs like yours-layered with words I couldn’t find to describe how peoples questions made me feel-truly makes a difference. It almost comforting.
    Thank you-

  7. Err on the side of familial – I really like that. It would be a challenge for so many though. Our culture teaches us to look for genetic similarities. People do not like to be wrong, but erring on the side of non-familial gives them an ‘obvious’ out for their mistake. I must find a way to encourage more people to err on the side of the familial

  8. My sister-in-law who is caucasian took my african american baby girl to her son’s t-ball game last week, and she told me how everyone was staring at her and asking her, “Whose baby is that?” “Is she yours?” And then my SIL asked me, “Does that ever happen to you?”

    Ha!!!! Does it EVER happen to me? I don’t think I could ever answer that emphatically enough… YES! Every single day of my life!!! And, yes, I know that most people are just curious and many are often trying to be polite or kind, but there are days when I am so done with having to explain my life to every stranger I meet. And sometimes I want to give big hugs and kisses to the many people who don’t even give us a second look.

  9. When I lived in the South, I heard that question all the time. Along with, “Are you a daycare provider?” “Are they your foster kids?” “Are you their real mom?” (That one was my particular favorite, especially when asked right in front of my two kiddos.) Being followed in stores, stared at, a few whispered comments – those become so common I learned how to ignore them. Then I moved to Illinois – yes, racism is everywhere, but here, my children haven’t been asked once yet who their real mom is, or if I am really their mom. I didn’t realize how tense shopping trips had been until I went grocery shopping here and upon leaving the store, was stopped by an employee – I though, here we go – and all the man wanted to say was that I had a sweet daughter who was so well-behaved. I walked out realizing that was the first time in years noone had questioned who I was to my children. It was so freeing to just be a mom without questions as to why I was their mom.

    • I can feel your ease and relief there. Thank you for sharing it here.

      I totally relate–because when I go visit my mom in DC, I am asked all the time if “[your] kids and [you] would like a seat (on the metro) or told how handsome my BOYS ARE. The assumption is that we ARE family. Not having to constantly be scanning for the approaching offender is nice… Or not having to readjust and say; “I” “I am his MOM”.

  10. Found you through Rage against the Minivan…poignant story and true reactions. As a short term foster parent, my family changes almost every week…meeting new moms at the playground or even at church, the questions that I am asked are equally understandable and angering. But I must say, I prefer the questions to the assumptions: people at church are the worst offenders-they always assume we are running some sort of church van ministry. Why, at church, foster care (or transracial families in general) is unfathomable, I will never understand.

    • Heather–of course. I wasn’t thinking about families in a foster situation. So how do you wish people would approach you? What is wording that helps the kids feel safe and seen?
      Thanks so much for chiming in, and stopping by via RATM (which sent about a gazillion visitors my way!).

      • I haven’t quite figured out what the right words are yet 🙂 I would like for the assumption to be that families all look different and that we are a “normal” forever family. But in my kid’s situations (usually respite care or waiting for a kinship placement to get approved), to pretend that I AM their parent isn’t appropriate either. If my kids are near me when asked, I typically just say “yes, they are all mine” but if they are not around, I will tell people that they are my foster kiddos and how they can help kids in need. When I have older kids and I know that we are going to be in a situation where questions might come up, I ask THEM how they want me to introduce myself.

        I welcome (honestly inquisitive) questions in appropriate situations (um, like meeting someone for the 1st time, not after an entire season of swim lessons!). I am much less tolerant of people who should use their context clues and know better.

  11. I am a 19yo nanny. When i go to the playground with a 5yo and 3yo and 11mo kids, people assume they are mine. I may look older and more mature than i am, but why does everyone assume they are my children? How many 19yos are married after all? I really don’t like it when people assume someone is the mom.

    • Good point Belinda. I guess in my situation I feel the context dictated that I was most likely the mom. But the same could be said of yours–if say you were always coming to the same playground. Thanks for joining in the conversation.

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