I look just like my mother. Fair skin. Blond hair. As a child, I often heard people exclaim that I was my mother’s daughter. Most definitely. I don’t remember caring one way or another if I looked like others in my family. It wasn’t something I thought about. I just did. Today, as the mother of a bi-racial daughter who was adopted at birth, I live every day with someone who really, really wants to look like someone in her family.
My daughter is beautiful. Her birth mother is Hispanic. Her birth father is African American. At only 6 years old, she shrugs off the never-ending compliments from strangers about her gorgeous naturally thick and curly hair. I often wonder why in the world she would want to look like me when she is uncommonly beautiful. However, I know in my heart that it isn’t about looking like me. She is missing that sense of belonging that comes with looking around and seeing people, especially relatives, who look like you.
Recently, we were in Jamaica for a family wedding. We stayed at a resort with people from around the world. Skin tones were black, brown, white, and all the combinations. My daughter loves to swim. She had played in the pool for hours with her older cousins chasing her in the pool and throwing her in the air. She laughed so hard at times I thought she would sink. I was talking to my niece when I heard my son call to her from across the pool. I turned around to see her talking to the lifeguard. She spoke for a minute then pointed to me, and ran back.
“What did he want?” I asked.
“He asked who I am here with,” she said.
With that one question, he pointed out the thing she hates the most. She doesn’t look like anyone around her. As I sat in my bathing suit on the steps of the pool only feet from the lifeguard, she crawled into my lap and tried to hide.
It breaks my heart to see her sad. I held her tight and said the things I always say.
“We don’t have to look alike to be family.”
“You and I know that we look alike on the inside. We have hearts that love each other.”
The older she gets, the sillier those things sound. My niece, whose grandmother is Syrian, chimed in to say that she was dark and had brown eyes, too. It didn’t help much. I held on tight until the lure of swimming got her out of my lap and back into the deep end.
I know that we will never look alike and that there will be many more instances when people ask her who she’s with, looking for someone to put her with based on her beautiful dark skin and curly hair. I’m always trying to think of the right words and map out my plan of action to make sure that, as she grows, she knows she is beautiful and that there are many people in the world who look like her. And that, the one who looks the least like her loves her the most. Me.