A beautiful boy, age eight, he said, had many questions for me when I sat beside him with Miss I and ds both on my lap. The most important of these, for him, was this:
"Why you don't look like her?"
I started to answer his question, working from the assumption that what he actually meant was "Why doesn't your daughter look like you?" This is not a manifestation of my white or maternal narcissism (or do I protest too much?). It's this: even if I didn't want to discuss reproduction with this child who isn't mine, I was still working from a bio-centric position, and the parents come first. I reframed his question in more familiar terms (I'd had these conversations with precocious children in parking lots, restaurants, etc several times before):
You're wondering why my daughter doesn't look like me, but my son does. Families, I began, don't always look alike and families aren't always made in the same way . . .
But biology, genetics, parental priority did not order his logic. So he tried again, in terms he thought I could better understand.
"Look," he said seriously. "She has brown eyes. Everybody's got brown eyes," and he gestured around the train car. "You don't," he said, indicating dh, ds and me. I couldn't argue. On a train between the Bronx and Harlem, we were (at that time) the only white people and in our vicinity, the only blue eyed people, both facts I hadn't noticed before he pointed it out. Then he leaned in to look closely into my eyes. "Do you have any brown?" I don't. I suppose I could have explained "recessive traits," drawn the diagram, told him any number of things he'll learn soon enough. I could have told him what ds knows, which is that his ancestors came from cold places, hence lower levels of melanin. But these answers would have been beside his point.
Later his nine year old sister would state firmly but kindly that I had "too little hair" and I shouldn't have let "them" cut it.