Photo by: Mona Shand

The Things People Say When Your Child Looks Nothing Like You

by Mona Shand
Photo by: Mona Shand

My oldest son joined the swim team this summer, which has made for daily back-and-forth trips to the pool, countless loads of towels in the laundry, and the faint smell of chlorine permeating our house, cars, and general lives.

With so much time in the sun and the water, his skin turned a deep golden brown (aside from the parts covered by his suit and swim top), and his sun kissed hair now has the kind of radiant blond highlights women rip out of magazines and pay big bucks for their hairdressers to reproduce.

That’s right, my son is blond. BLOND. While blond hair is certainly not an oddity in my lovely neighborhood of manicured lawns and pedicured toes, located in a city which according to the latest census data is 94 percent Caucasian, let me assure you this is extremely odd in a half-Egyptian child.

As you might expect from someone with a full set of Middle Eastern DNA, I have olive skin and an overabundance of dark, coarse, thick, curly hair (and believe me, I wish I was just referring to the stuff on my head). It requires a significant investment of time, money, styling products, and raw upper body strength to be tamed into submission, and God forbid the humidity rises or an unexpected rain shower moves through, as it could easily double in size… horizontally speaking.

For better or worse, I always assumed my children would inherit my coloring and hair type due to the obvious dominance of our genetic pool. After all, my peeps have several gazillion years of history going for us. We built the pyramids. We carved a half-man, half-cat out of rock. We staged the largest protest in the history of mankind to overthrow a ruthless dictator and then staged an even bigger one to overthrow the jerk who came after him. We are EGYPT.

When I married my sweet, pale, Caucasian mutt of a husband, it honestly never occurred to me that our children would look anything but Egyptian. Sure, maybe their skin would be a bit more fair, or their eyes on the lighter side of brown, but that’s it. I just assumed that in the genetic World Cup, Egypt would kick the pants off of Team Scotland-Ireland-Germany-Maybe-Sweden-But-We’re-Not-Quite-Sure-About-Great-Grandma’s-Side.

And then came baby, who of course looked like every baby out there: squishy and wrinkled, kind of like a diminutive Yasser Arafat after a clean shave. Score one for the brown folk!

But within a matter of days he began to lose that dark (familiar) hair and it was quickly replaced with (what the WHAT?) fine blond strands. The slate grey eyes I was certain were going to turn brown, instead became huge baby blues (and have since morphed into baby greens).

By his first birthday, he was officially the Golden Child.

During the course of that first year, I began to field some interesting questions when we were out in public together. Turns out people say a lot of funny things when your child doesn’t look anything like you. The first time I recall my maternity being called into question, I was at the park pushing Blondie on the swing, when a little girl sidled over and asked, “So where’d that baby come from?”

In my confused state, I stifled my first impulse, which was to blurt out a sarcastic “Umm…my uterus?” and wondered briefly if I needed to launch into “Well, when a man loves a woman…,” but finally settled on “What do you mean?”

“Well, he’s not your baby because you’re all brown and he’s not,” she explained, “Are you the babysitter?”

  • And that’s what many people, even today, take me to be: the nanny. “So how long have you been taking care of him?” they’ll ask.

“Let’s see, he just turned seven in July, then add in the 40 gestational weeks.. no, make that 42 because he was so stubborn, so that brings us to…”

  • Occasionally, people tap dance around the idea that he might have been adopted (without actually daring to say the word, because somehow that would be uncouth), and because I find it so entertaining, I just stare blankly at them and let it all unfold.

“Sooooo…. how was the whole, you know….um….process? Was it… difficult? Expensive? Do you have an open…um….situation?”

One woman at a local coffee shop praised my generous spirit and offered to connect me with her niece who had “also rescued a child from poverty.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that economic conditions in Royal Oak, Michigan, his birthplace, were actually quite stable.

Oddly enough, we receive no such inquiries when my husband, he of the Mighty DNA who will henceforth be known as The Gene-ius, is around, since our oldest is his virtual clone.

But it doesn’t bother me a bit. Though we might not look alike, each morning when I watch those big green eyes flutter open, I can see what others might easily miss: the best pieces of myself reflected back.

I see it in his quest for knowledge, his sweet, almost too sensitive demeanor, his goofy and somewhat sarcastic sense of humor. His love for animals, the water, and music. The way he gets lost in his favorite books. The temper tantrums he uses to cover up hurt feelings.

Trust me – that boy is mine.

That’s why every night, I run my fingers through that fluffy blond hair and count my blessings.

Because I’ve been lucky enough to discover that sometimes, if you take the rough, coarse parts of yourself and mix them with a whole lot of love and way more luck than any one person deserves, they come out soft, fine, and smooth.

Like they’ve been kissed by the sun.

Mona Shand is the mother of 3 children, 2 of whom actually do resemble her! She is a former TV news reporter turned freelance writer, and the Michigan correspondent for Public News Service. You can read more at monashand.blogspot.com, join the conversation at Facebook, or follower her on Twitter.

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