Monday, February 21, 2011

Defying Definition

It's funny how complete strangers need to make sense of things that are really none of their business. Being a mixed-race, blended family can be a fun way to mess with people's minds. This was not my primary goal when I decided to marry Ren, but it has been an entertaining side effect.

During the first years of our marriage, when we still lived in Japan, I had the distinct pleasure of being a "Japanese" mom to my adolescent stepdaughter (we'll call her Big Sissy since she's the oldest). Maybe in future posts I can go on and on about what it's like to be a newlywed foreigner in Japan trying to step-parent a Japanese junior high school kid (and get her safely through high school entrance exams, for example), but that's not this post. Anyway, Big Sissy was having trouble seeing the chalk board, so I went with her for a comprehensive eye exam. After what seemed like hours alone in the waiting room, the nurse called for me to see the doctor to hear the results of their tests. When I, a twenty-something foreigner, walked into the examination room, the doctor asked me, "Are you her mother?" "Yes," I replied, as formally as possible, while asking myself what foreigner in her right mind would wander in off the street and pretend to be mother to a Japanese junior high school girl? After giving me a dubious once over, she turned to Big Sissy and said, "Is this your mother?" Big Sissy responded in the affirmative as politely as I had. At this point, the doctor appeared to be waiting for a hidden camera to appear and reveal the joke; obviously we were both lying. When no camera appeared, the doctor resigned herself to giving me the results of Sissy's eye exam.

Years later, Ren, Big Sissy, Sky and I were at the Japanese consulate in Chicago. At the time, I was 6 months pregnant with Pink P, wearing a god-awful paisley shirt purchased desperately from the women's section of the local department store. I'll admit that Ren looks young for his age, and Big Sissy slightly more sophisticated than the 20-year old that she was at the time. Sky was 2 1/2, for those of you keeping score at home. When we walked into the passport section, the American man working as the security guard stared at us for awhile trying to work out how we were connected. Finally, he came out with his best guess and asked me, "So, are you the grandma?" I never wore that paisley shirt again.

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