Grandmas with brown babies

by doodaddy on January 13, 2009

I can completely forget the most bizarre events, and the memory only comes back when the same thing happens again.



Last week at the windy playground that Boo’s started to prefer (for its tire swing, if you must know), I sat chatting to a grandma with an almost-walking little girl. The topic hadn’t had time to get past the “She’s-so-cute-how-old-is-she?” stage when grandma pointed out:

“Her father is from Mexico. He’s a lawyer.”

Oh, I thought, noticing at last consciously that yes, grandma appears to be white and little girl appears to be Latina. And Oh! again, as I picked up on grandma’s not-so-subtle announcement of her son-in-law’s middle class job: He’s Mexican, but he’s not one of those.


It seems perfectly likely despite grandma’s wording that the “Mexican” lawyer dad is U.S.-born and possibly from a family that’s been in California a helluva lot longer than mine or hers, but I kept my peace. Because it wasn’t the first time something similar has happened.

* * *

Boobaby and I have been going to playgrounds since she was just a few months old. I held her or brought the stroller, my impression being that exposure to the sounds and smells of the tribe would make her more comfortable with big kids later on. (It seems to have worked, by the way.)

Sitting off to the side with an infant in the carrier, I chatted with grandmas a lot, and one particular person was in the habit of making friendly predictions about every kid she saw.

“Look at that girl’s hair!” she would shout. “She’s going to be a model!”

“Look at that boy kick! He’ll be a football player!”

It was blatantly sexist, but a quaint kind of mannerism, and since she thought Boobaby was going to be a great singer, I let it pass without remarking.

Until, that is, it occurred to me that the only words she ever had for her own two-year old grandson were along the lines of “He’s a bad boy” or “He always misbehaves” or “He doesn’t listen.” And yes, grandson was brown, and grandma was not. And yes, at least twice that I remember, grandma announced to me, apropos of nothing, that her son-in-law, the boy’s father, was Jamaican.

Now, she never drew the connection between “Jamaican” and “bad boy” and it’s true that some people are apt to find fault in their own progeny while they praise others’. And maybe mothers-in-law are biologically predisposed to think ill of their daughters’ choice in a husband.

But — and I was there — I felt a little too much ambivalence from grandma toward her own grandson for that.

* * *

I’ve heard about a kid’s heritage — or phrases like “they’re adopted” or “their moms had a sperm donor” — from grandmas and grandpas a score of times, but very rarely from a mom or a dad. And I take comfort in the fact that my generation isn’t much inclined to think that a kid’s biological parentage will matter to casual acquaintances.

I’m not naive enough to think that we’ve progressed past racial awareness. Questions of tradition, ethnicity, race, history, oppression, and power are subtle and powerful, and deserve to be discussed. But they have no place on a playground.

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tagged as in oddparents,playground,the future,worry ·

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

twinbabiesdad January 13, 2009 at 10:07 am

De-lurking for a moment,

Nice post.



OM January 13, 2009 at 10:23 pm

My mother-in-law has three children, all ended up marrying people from different countries. Which means one grandchild will speak Hebrew, another will speak Russian, and another will speak Spanish. And believe me, she doesn’t miss an opportunity to talk about it. Difference is that she’s proud of it. She sees this pretty insane situation as a source of pride in herself and in the way she raised her kids.

So maybe some of these grandmas are in that same situation? Maybe they do look at this world and see something they wouldn’t have recognized when they were young, but that doesn’t mean they’re not proud of themselves for having biracial grandchildren.



Kelley January 14, 2009 at 10:42 pm

My MIL was Hungarian. Never accepted me as I was a white Aussie. She even went as far as to not call my kids by their names but something in Hungarian.

And delighted in the fact that they looked Hungarian.


I do believe you are right, our generation have got past that. Now we are all about status and plasma tv’s…


doodaddy January 22, 2009 at 10:24 am

@Kelley – Wow — Ozism? Who knew?

And I don’t have status *or* a plasma TV. Am I on the outs now?


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