I, too, am not the babysitter.
Most teenagers aspire to look older. After all, there are advantages to looking older at that point in life. Then, sometime in their 20s or 30s, many young adults begin to purposely reverse the signs of aging. I have yet to reach that point.
Ageism is a form of discrimination I have encountered throughout most of my adult life. From being asked what grade I was in by another teacher at a conference (she “apologized” by admitting to me that she thought I was one of the student volunteers), to being asked by a real estate agent if I was looking for a home for my mom and dad, I have lost track of the amount of times I have been treated with condescendence at what others perceive to be youth and inexperience. Pregnancy and motherhood have not been the exception.
One of the most annoying things about looking 16 and pregnant (and being twice that age) is that strangers will say and do the rudest things. I started noticing that along with the “Is this your first?” comment which many enceinte women get, I would also receive a not-so-discreet glance toward the ring finger on my left hand. They wanted to make sure that I had not gotten myself into a situation of sorts, often adding, “Was this a surprise?” I did not feel like going into detail about my personal life with an absolute stranger* (*more on this major topic later), so often I would reply “No, we waited until we were financially stable and had established careers until we tried”. That bit of information would do one of a few things: shut the person up, leave them dumbfounded, or prompt them to continue their interrogation.
I was a classroom teacher until my first son was born. When I entered what I’ve termed my “permanent sabbatical”, I relished in wearing very relaxed attire. My mommy wardrobe consists of graphic tees, jeans or cargo khakis, and a perpetual ponytail. I remember when I took him to an event for a nonprofit organization for which I have volunteered for nearly a decade, that I engaged in conversation with a man who must have been around my age. We spoke about how we each were involved or knew about said organization, and about 2 minutes into the conversation he asks me, “So, whose baby is this?” When I told him that he was my son, his eyes became quite large, and he stammered, “Wow, you’re a mom! You’re so…I mean…you don’t look like you just had a baby…” Followed by the obligatory glance towards my left hand.
My oldest son looks nothing like me. Although his skin has hints of my olive complexion, he was very light hair. I speak to him exclusively in Spanish. These factors, along with others’ assumptions of my perceived age, have presented quite a problem for me.
As a newly-stay-at-home mom, I ventured out to places where other moms (I thought) hung out. As I sat on the edge of the sandbox at the park, narrating for my son, I’d have other moms ask me, in a tone much too elevated, enunciated, and slow, “How ooold isss heee?” Once when I responded, a mom actually stated, “Oh, you speak English very well”. What a strange thing to say to somebody who was born in this country, has a Master’s degree, and is a former English teacher. As a result, I found myself going out of my way to make it clear to others that I was Alastair’s mum. I began buying outfits for him in colors that matched pieces in my wardrobe, and we would go places dressed like twins. Unfortunately, that didn’t do the trick. At an outing, as a gentleman watched my mini-me play with his son, the first thing he says to me is “He’s really attached to you. So, what’s the going rate for a babysitter these days?” What an odd icebreaker. My curt reply: “I wouldn’t know, we’ve never had to hire one.”
When I was pregnant the second time around, one of the common follow-up questions to the obligatory, when, what kind of baby, etc. was, “So, was this planned?” People can be so intrusive.
Now that I have the twins, outings with all three present strangers with opportunities to blurt out some of the strangest comments. The ones that fish for whether they belong to me usually blatantly ask, “Are they all yours?” Other folk try to be slick about their information-gathering, and will ask very random questions such as “So, are you in school?” or “Do you do this full-time?” Since my patience with the curiosity of others has waned with the increasing number of crying babies in my possession, I have now made it a point to make the other person feel very, very stupid in their assumption that I am my children’s nanny. Though I have to say, I am getting more comments pertaining to twin parenting, such as questions regarding how many the doctor implanted (for the record, we did not do IVF), and less about my authenticity as their parent. I guess maybe they think nobody in their right mind would take a job looking after 3 kids under the age of 3, unless they had a personal vested interest in their lives.
Back to when I only had one: I remember a trip to a store, where the sales clerk asked me, in Spanish, how old the baby was. I responded, and she followed with “Is he yours?” I’m not sure how many other moms get asked that question, but I replied that he was indeed mine. Only this time, I added, “Why do you ask?” and she stated that it was because she thought I was so young. I told her I was 32. She said he was so cute. She then paired this with “He must look just like his father”. So, basically she said my son was adorable and in the same breath that he looked nothing like me. I replied that he actually looks just like my dad (which he does), which leads me to my next point…
Not every child has a father. Mine don’t. In fact, they have two moms. Yep. Three boys, 2 moms, a bird, and a dog. That’s our family. Carmen and I met while we were both educators. She is 3 years older than me, and I often joke about our “significant” age difference. Not too long after we started dating, strangers began to make an assumption about our relationship. A girl at a makeup counter stated that I had a very young mom. I told her that actually, my mom is in her 70s. She seemed confused, as did I. The man we hired to paint our brand-new home made the same assumption. So did the acupuncturist Carmen went to go see a few weeks ago when she threw out her back from holding the twins. What’s funny about that, though, is while I was filling out Carmen’s paperwork in the office, I thought I heard the acupuncturist ask me if I was her doctor (English is not her native language). I told her that no, I’m not an M.D., but I do know quite a bit about medicine. She looked confused. I clarified that I was her spouse, and Carmen added that we’re the same age. I then understood what she had originally said.
Perhaps the most infuriating case of this assumption for us was when we were expecting our first. We enrolled in every possible pregnancy, breastfeeding, and childcare class available at our hospital. Carmen and I, as I previously mentioned, are both educators and lifelong learners, and so we tend to sit at the very front and ask pertinent questions. The instructor of our childcare class was talking about baby powder, and how it’s something that most parents no longer use. She then said that it was “Something”, (and she asked Carmen to cover her ears), “That grandmothers tell you you should use”. Our jaws dropped, we looked at each other, and Carmen whispered, “Oh, my God, does she think I’m your mother?” For the first time ever, the anger really struck. Did she think this because I look so young? How young can I possibly look for people repeatedly to believe that my wife, who is older by only 3 years, could possibly be my mom? Or was it because we’re both Hispanic, and this woman assumed that here I was, an unmarried teenager who had to have my mom accompany me because who knows where my baby’s daddy might be? We were the only-same sex couple in the room. Interestingly, also the only Hispanic pair.
When each of us has been alone with our oldest, we have encountered the nanny assumption. Carmen has been asked, point-blank, how long she has looked after him. Her response: “Since birth. I am his mother”. When we’re together will all three boys, the assumptions run rampant. Either I’m the babysitter or the auntie, or Carmen’s the grandmother or the “help” (when a woman exclaimed recently in reaction to our family that she could hardly manage having one child of her own, and I responded that it actually wasn’t too bad having three, she remarked ‘That’s because you have help’—and motioned to Carmen, who thankfully did not hear this comment!). The alternate possibilities to our actual reality are seemingly endless in the minds of others! Here’s how it usually happens: A stranger will ask if the youngest are twins, which leads to a question about their sex, which inevitably leads one of us to say that indeed all three are boys. Then, the golden question: Which one of you is the mother? When we have responded that we both are, here are the reactions to this statement:
What do you mean?
Oh, that’s…nice (said in a confused manner)
<SILENCE> <stunned expression>
Well, I mean, which of you is the real mother?
This last question deeply irks us both. Do they mean to ask who is the biological mother? Or who carried them? And most importantly, WHY DOES IT MATTER TO THEM?!?! We are legally married. We are both on their birth certificates. End of story.
As a same-sex couple, the assumption that our children have a mom and a dad does not bother us too much, as that is the norm for most families. It is the resulting questions once a person finds out that our kids have two moms that we find are not only personal and intrusive, but also downright impolite. These questions range from who we used as our donor (that is the term we use exclusively, and we establish the term, especially when people ask if all three have the same dad), to how the child was conceived, etc. We don’t make it a point to ask intrusive questions of other couples (Think: What position were you doing it in when you got knocked up?), so I’m not sure why people think it is acceptable to ask intimate questions about our family.
While we live in what’s considered a cosmopolitan metropolis, I am taken aback by the sheer ignorance and blatant disrespect I have received from others. Anyone who has taken an intro to biology class certainly understands the essentials of genetics, and how a child is not always a mirror image of the parent. So why do people assume? Why do they think that because I have a young appearance that automatically I am a caretaker? Is it because I speak a language in addition to English? Or because my son is fairer than I am? I’ll never know what goes through someone’s head and eventually makes it out of their mouths like a runaway train, but I know I have reached a point where I am now armed with an arsenal of responses, and can finally walk away without feeling humiliated and belittled as I once did.