My baby and me, different colours

“Mummy having a bad day?”

I am on a bus with my son beside me in his pram. An old lady is tapping me on the shoulder: “Is Mummy having a bad day?”

“Oh no,” I tell her. “I’m fine, thanks.”

She shakes her head, jerking her thumb towards my blue-eyed, blond baby. “No, love. His mummy. Hard in the beginning, isn’t it? It’s good of you to take him out for her.”

“He’s actually my son,” I say, but she’s already cooing at the baby and doesn’t notice. He’s cooing back. I feel slightly conspired against.

“He’s my son,” I repeat to the bus at large, in case someone thinks I’ve stolen him. “Hahaha.”

“He’s like a Stu-coloured you,” my friends tell me. “He looks just like you facially.”

“He really doesn’t look like you at all! Are you sure he’s yours?” laugh the women at my local playgroup. “Shall we check the hospital records?”

When we’re out as a family and Stu’s carrying the baby, people get inbetween the two of us on escalators and squeeze between us on trains.

When Herbie is a couple of months old, we’re in Waterstones, and a woman asks if I’m working for families in the area: “You’re an au pair, right? Your English is very good. How long have you been in the country?”

I explain that Herbie is my son, expecting her to be embarrassed and leave, but she continues to ask questions: “Your natural son? Was it IVF?” It doesn’t occur to me to tell her it’s none of her business. “Was he from your actual egg?

Then she says my favourite thing: “He doesn’t look black at all.” It’s one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever heard, but I still go home and have a little cry.

Whenever he sees a dark-haired woman, Herbie tilts his head and smiles up at her from underneath his eyelashes.

And when Herbie sleeps and his face relaxes, I see my mother all over his face. My black-haired mother with olive skin and dark, flashing eyes. My son’s grandmother, who’s too sick to be in our lives right now. At night, Herbie looks just like her.

And it’s enough.

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7 Comments

  • Reply Anne-Marie 8th October 2015 at 9:06 pm

    I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this! How stupid can people be and how unfeeling! My son is mixed race and I’ve often had people ask me if he is adopted (no, I had sex with a black man) or look around the playground completely lost at to who this child belongs to…

  • Reply Marie Borard 8th October 2015 at 9:36 pm

    Oh Robyn that’s a really sad piece. I couldn’t read and not comment. I love your writing btw but am obviously nowhere near as eloquent as you!

    If it’s any consolation though people are just rude. My son has blonde hair and blue eyes and neither me nor his dad do. People made the most hilarious comments pointing this out (they really didnt).

  • Reply Julia 8th October 2015 at 10:23 pm

    I’ve followed your husband’s writing for a while and have very much enjoyed his humorous insights into parenthood following the birth of your son. But I’m very glad to have found your site and to have read your words. I am childless and a fair way off actual parenthood myself, but in recent years have found myself yearning to read and watch accounts of what it’s like to have a child. Bit weird, perhaps. Anyway, as a white female with predominantly white partners, I have never before considered the difficulty of a situation such as yours. Your post was very, very moving. I so look forward to reading more about your experiences. Thank you.

  • Reply Lauren 9th October 2015 at 1:25 pm

    Beautiful piece. I’ve really enjoyed reading you and your husband’s take on new parenthood – it’s such a wonderful snapshot of a moment in time. I’m sure these pieces will mean so much to Herbie when he’s a little bit older. It astounds me that people can be so insensitive, and as always, it says more about them and their own inadequacies than it does about you or your son. Keep your head up, and I look forward to reading more of your work!

  • Reply DomesticGoddesque 10th October 2015 at 8:56 am

    People are idiots.

  • Reply Fibie 24th October 2015 at 1:05 pm

    What touched me the most were the last couple of lines. I’m 6 months pregnant and my father is also “too sick to be in our lives right now.” He has no idea about his new grandchild and I have no idea if I’ll ever be able to tell him. Your situation is likely to be very different from mine but there was a nuance to that line which really hit me hard. Thank you for your inspiring blog.

  • Reply Shinykatie 27th November 2015 at 10:47 am

    People really are idiots. When my beautiful black haired niece was born a friend of my sister said to her “you can see she’s got a dab of the old tar brush.” My sister was speechless. (And by the way, not that it matters I’m sure, but your genes will almost certainly take over eventually. My particular gene blend has certainly overcome most of my anglo-saxon husband’s influence. I have no idea if it’s scientifically accurate but I was always told that babies start out looking like their dads to help keep the dads near – since there was no Jeremy Kyle for checking paternity back in the Bronze Age.)

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