Sahana was born to a brown mom and a white dad in New Delhi with light skin, brown eyes and brown hair. In parks and play grounds, well-meaning people cooed over the baby, turned to me, the brown mom and asked if I was the ayah (nanny). I was indignant the first couple of times, ‘No, I am her MOTHER!’ Once the novelty of being the first time mom wore off, I found it humorous and replied, ‘I am her ayah and mother rolled into one!” I am not sure children notice the color of skin much, but I distinctly remember the day Sahana looked at me with wonder and said “Mom, you are brown!!!” She was close to three and I honestly think that was the first time she noticed my color being different from her. Before we had children, Sean and I sometimes wondered how our children will feel about being of mixed race because children desperately needed to belong. Sahana had no problem, whatsoever. We told her she was special since she belonged to two countries and she truly believed us. Fluent in Hindi, Bengali and English, she mingled with her Indian friends and her American family and friends with equal ease. In fact, she loves to be different, loves to be noticed. In a Ravens (football team) pep rally, she was the single brave soul who dared to wear the jersey of the nemesis, Patriots (a rival football team) and sit right in front to be noticed. To this day, she revels in her uniqueness at having two ethnicities, Irish American and Indian. As a little girl, she boasted to anybody who would listen, “I am half American and half Indian”! Later, when she learnt percentage, that changed to “I am 30 percent American and 70 percent Indian because I was born there!”
Young Ryan was very different. He was born in the United States. He didn’t feel he needed to belong to two countries. He wanted to be like most of his preschool friends, white and American. He loved his Indian mom but denied his Indian heritage. In fact, he got angry if we pointed out that he was darker than his Caucasian friends. He noticed the difference in our colors early on. He always identified as mommy and Sahana being from India, while daddy and he were from America. Unlike his sister, he didn’t want to stand out, didn’t want to be different, he just wanted to blend in. I felt sorry for him and it would be a lie if I said I didn’t feel bad about his attitude towards part of his heritage. I noticed a gradual change in his outlook towards his ethnicity when he went to kindergarten. Slowly he started to acknowledge his difference from his other white friends and felt good about it. Two things helped, school and our dog! We are fortunate to live in a very diverse community. Once he went to school, he befriended children from India, Pakistan, Korea, China. School talked about our differences, read cool books on how wonderful it was to be different, how special. That helped. He started telling people he had not one, but two countries. Our lab mix, Sage helped as well. Ryan considers Sage his dog brother and shares a wonderful connection with him. Ryan, a die hard Ravens fan sometimes roots for the arch rival Steelers, when they are not playing the Ravens. Reason? Sage was born in Pennsylvania, (Steelers are a football team from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania). A Ravens fan rooting for Steelers, that, my friends, is true love! If Sage is a mix then it is OK for Ryan to be a mix too. Now he is proud to call himself a mutt like Sage. I do tell him he doesn’t have to go that far but….
Sometimes, when I go to have lunch with Ryan in his school, his little friends pipe up with the refreshing innocence of a six-year-old, “Are you Ryan’s mother? But his color is different than yours!” So now he introduces me to his friends this way, “Oh this is my mom, she is brown because she is from India. And I am part Indian too, but I am not brown because my dad is from Boston!” The other 6-year-old he talks to, generally gives us a blank stare and says “Do you want to play ball?”
The cutest thing both my kids say to me is “Mom, your color is brown and you smell of chocolate all the time. In fact, you smell like chocolate chip cookies!” I like the sound of that….. a lot. Maybe, just maybe I can bottle this chocolate chip fragrance and sell it to make some dough? Hmmmm….let me think about that one!