Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mistaken Identity

Isaac has a knack for making friends. Regardless of where we take him – a park, playground, pool – he’ll find the child (usually a boy) closest to his size, walk right up to them, and say, “Hi. Mine Isaac (as in ‘My name is Isaac’). Wanna play?” That’s all it takes before both kids take off like rockets. On a good day, Isaac will find someone on the quiet side. But usually he chooses the kid who is making the biggest spectacle of himself, which is what happened the last time I took him to a playground at the mall.

It was the middle of the afternoon on a weekday, so the playground wasn’t crowded when we arrived. The only adults there were a woman on her cell phone and another woman reading a magazine. I sat in a remote section of the playground and didn’t pay much attention to any of the kids until, after playing all of one minute, Isaac approached me and said, “Daddy, one of those kids pushed me.”

Which one?”

That one. In the orange shirt.”

The child Isaac pointed to was no bigger than he. Since he wasn’t crying, I didn’t make a big deal out of it. “All right, if he’s not going to play nice, then go play somewhere else.”

What if he pushes me again?”

I’ll keep my eye on him.”

Isaac seemed pleased and went off in the opposite direction of the kid in the orange shirt. For a minute or so, I watched the child, waiting to see if either of the women was going to do anything about him. But he never approached either of them. What I did see was him yell, push, and hit another child who was noticeably smaller than he. The woman on the cell phone saw it too and rushed to scoop up the baby. “That’s it!” she shouted, grabbing her purse.

Good for you, Lady. I thought. I don’t blame you for leaving. But she didn’t leave. Rather, she stormed over to me, her crying baby in one hand and her cell phone in the other.

Excuse me, Sir,” she huffed. “I just think you should know that your child pushed my child.” A little frustration was to be expected, but this lady’s tone hinted she was ready for a fight and it caught me so off guard that it took me a moment to realize she thought the rough kid was mine. “That’s not my son,” I said, pointing to Isaac who was still playing on the opposite side of the playground. “That’s my son.”

She looked over and did a double take. “Oh,” she said. Then she paused for a moment, trying to regain her bearings. All she came up with was “Well, never mind.” Then she stormed off.

I sat stunned for a moment. Did that just happen? I wondered. The other parent, the one reading the magazine, made eye contact with me. We seemed to be thinking the same thing. Where are this child parents?

The playground started getting more crowded and, as the orange-shirt kid got louder and rougher, I decided to take Isaac home. On the way, I went over the situation in my mind, trying to make up my mind about whether I was more annoyed that she assumed my son was Caucasian or that she assumed my son was an aggressive brat. Still, it was a legitimate assumption nonetheless. regardless of the fact that the child looked nothing like me. I had assumed the child was hers and he didn’t look anything like her either.

Yet, her reaction to the truth still amused me. I couldn't help think back to the first few months we were a multiracial family. Back then, a situation like that would have depressed me for days. I would have spent days wrestling with questions like, "Why does the world have such trouble recognizing him as my son?" Then I would have struggled with when I would ever get comfortable. I'd like to think that I've become more accepting of peoples' mistakes. But in truth, I think I've become more cruel.

For example, there was the time Laurie and I were at the checkout counter at Target and the cashier looked at Isaac and asked us, "Is he your son?" Without thinking much of it, I said yes. Then she squinted her eyes and said, "So y'all gave birth to him?" I thought for a moment, struggling with two distinct options: a) graciously inform her that we adopted him, or b) simply say yes and watch her drown in the awkward silence. I chose the latter and reveled in the fact that if at least someone in the family can be nice to total strangers, regardless of how idiotic their behavior might be.


Sweet Patience said...

Thanks for sharing! Great story.
By the way, I think that you chose B, to get a kick out of the cashier asking such a silly and somewhat invasive question! I would get a kick out of something like that.

Jeff B. said...

I would have a seriously difficult time holding back the sarcasm if I were in your shoes.

Sharon said...

I have two sons. My oldest is our biological child. Our youngest joined our family through domestic transracial adoption and is black. I was at Target once and a woman stopped me. "Your kids are really cute," she said. I was so happy -- she realized that they were both my kids! Then she pointed at my oldest, "You know . . ." she said, "that one looks more like you." Uh, you think?