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Coupling

Family resemblance

Our son doesn't really look like either of us, but that's just fine with me.

By Brooke Lea Foster
September 11, 2011

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When I push my 18-month-old boy in the stroller around our neighborhood, I often get a double take. A passerby will look at Harper, then at me, Harper, then me. I think the person is trying to figure out whether I’m his mother – or his nanny. I’m blond and fair; my husband, who is Filipino, is tan with big brown eyes and jet-black hair.

Harper is something in the middle. He doesn’t look as Pacific Islander as my husband, but he’s very clearly not New England white either. So people stare, in part, because he’s a unique-looking baby and, in part, because they’re trying to figure out where I fit into the picture.

“He looks just like his daddy, huh?” a neighbor yelled out to me with a smile as we passed by the other day. “Is his father, um . . . ?” I filled in the blank with a smile. “Yes, Asian,” I said.

Strangers love to try to figure out which parent a baby looks like. They stare. They smile. Part of it is fascination. Even I’m amazed when I see a baby who has, say, his father’s beaked nose and his mother’s elegant high cheekbones. It’s interesting to see how kids turn out when two very different-looking people make a baby.

But listening to someone say how little your child looks like you gets old, especially for mothers. It can feel like a slap, like you carried and pushed and nursed for naught. Family members are particularly open in their assessments. They spar about which side of the family children take after and size up children’s stats as if they were baseball players. I once overheard a woman at a Comfort Inn breakfast bar go on and on about how all of her grandchildren looked just like her son, with her daughter-in-law sitting right there. “You wouldn’t even know that they’re yours if you didn’t tell people,” the woman snickered. The daughter-in-law gave a tight smile.

“Mixies,’’ what my husband and I fondly call biracial children, are particularly fun to compare with their parents. Harper’s exotic face has stopped people in their tracks. “Mixed kids are always so beautiful,” mothers often tell me at the park or the local Starbucks or at the zoo when they see Harper. And I agree.

But in the midst of this compliment, they also smile apologetically and treat me as if I were a wounded bird when they realize how little my child looks like me. Some even force something such as: “I actually do think he looks like you,” even though it’s obvious that’s not true. It feels as though they think I’ve missed out on the point of parenthood itself  –  to bring a “mini-me” into this world.

Here’s the thing: I never really wanted little blond babies. I always wanted to adopt a child from Asia or Africa. In my mind, there were too many children out there in need of parents to have more. That all changed when I met my husband. I fell in love with his dark eyes and easy smile, his cocoa skin and his soft black hair, and I couldn’t wait for us to have kids together. Because I couldn’t wait to see how our kids would look.

And while on the surface, Harper doesn’t look like me, I see myself in him every day. I see it in the way he loves to snuggle and read; in his big, wide, toothy grin; and in his love of the beach. (Oh, and did I mention he got my slender toes?)

People assume I’m sad that Harper doesn’t look like me. But mixies are adored by their parents for that very reason. They don’t look entirely like either parent; they look uniquely like themselves. They’re the rare birds you spot in a tree and feel special just to get a glimpse of. You can’t help but notice them.

“What is he?” a woman asked me on the street the other day, as if Harper were an exotic specimen to be studied.

I didn’t answer and looked at her quizzically. She seemed to self-correct. “What nationality is his father?” I told her my husband is Filipino.

“He’s gorgeous,” she said. “You must want to stare at him all day long.”

“I do,” I told her.

Read more of Brooke Lea Foster’s writings at http://www.Mommymoi.com. Send comments to coupling@globe.com.

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