Don’t define your world in black and white
because there is so much hiding amongst the grays.
“How old was she when you got her?” I look up from my young daughter’s partially tied shoelace to see a friendly blond mother smiling at me expectantly. It’s preschool open house, and parents all around us are engaged in casual conversation.
Temporarily confused by the question, I buy time fiddling with the shoelace a few seconds longer than necessary, and give Kiana a quick squeeze before she races back to rejoin her classmates. Finally, without elaboration I offer the only words that come to mind. “Brand new.”
My answer does nothing to clarify the misunderstanding at hand, and the woman responds with enthusiasm, “Amazing! I’ve heard that’s rare. What agency did you go through?” A crimson heat rises in my cheeks, and the truth tumbles from my mouth without eloquence. “Oh! No. Kiana’s mine. I mean…biologically mine.”
An awkward silence situates itself between us, and it’s the woman’s turn to redden. To shift uncomfortably. To search in vain for words that refuse to come. “I’m sorry. I just assumed…” She doesn’t finish her sentence, and we both look away in embarrassment. Our eyes drift in the direction of our children, happily playing together a few feet away. Her daughter is fair and towheaded. Just like her. My daughter is dark, with a head of wild curls all her own.
It was an honest mistake. A natural assumption I’d soon find many others would make in the years that stretched ahead. You see, my daughter is black and I am white. Together we exist in a gray area that strangers often find confusing.
As a baby Kiana’s skin was relatively light, her hair silky. With an insatiable appetite, she seemed permanently affixed to my breast much of her first two years of life. In those early days we were visibly tied to one another. An undeniable pair.
I hardly noticed as my firstborn’s complexion gradually darkened and her curls tightened. I felt no less connected to this feisty toddler than I had in the months she was growing inside my very core…when I had watched my belly rise and swell to accommodate her changing form and felt the flutter of her first gentle movements evolve into vigorous kicks. She was the babe who had introduced me to the all-encompassing pain of natural labor and shown me that I possessed the inner strength to endure (and even celebrate) such purposeful pain. My body is permanently laced with the jagged scars of that maiden pregnancy, my heart forever swollen with intense love for this child who made me a Mama.
But as my daughter’s racial features became more physically distinct, something subtly shifted in the way others saw us. Our biological bond was no longer obvious to the outside world. Strangers and casual acquaintances feel an innate need to make sense of my family’s varying skin-tones, and often jump to an array of inaccurate conclusions in the process.
My preschooler has since become a middle schooler, and I too have come a long way since that day on the playground. Gradually I’ve learned to use humor and grace to navigate the awkward moments and overly-personal questions associated with Kiana’s ethnicity. The journey has taught me that few things in life fit neatly into the categories we create for them. And that unequivocal beauty lies within the gray areas.
Kelsie Kypreos’ favorite way to find herself is by getting lost in a good book (the sadder the better). Her favorite literary journeys take place in the sunshine, with plenty of chocolate for sustenance. She is lucky mama to two spirited daughters with whom every day is a new adventure. Kelsie and her family recently built their forever home on 20 acres in the Cascade foothills. She looks forward to a lifetime of exploring the wilderness right outside her backdoor.