I used to feel I had to explain to strangers why my kids look so different than me and each other. But I eventually realized I really don't owe anyone an explanation and the questions were out of line to begin with.

By Christina Crawford
March 24, 2021
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An image of a girl on the beach.
Credit: Getty Images.

My three children appear to be a science experiment in defying genetic logic. In addition to being racially ambiguous—you can't immediately pinpoint their racial group or ethnicity simply by looking at them—they look nothing alike and have vastly different skin tones. This seems to intrigue people and elicit questions which has made for some, ahem, interesting encounters and awkward conversations.

I have brown skin, dark hair and eyes, and wild curly hair. I'm no scientist, but from what I learned about recessive and dominant genes in eighth grade biology, I assumed my offspring would also share these features. They did, sort of. My youngest and I have similar coloring. Remarkably, my middle son's skin is darker than mine. But in an act of genetic defiance, my oldest son emerged with bright blonde hair, green eyes, and fair skin. And eyelashes that look fake because they are so long and thick (but I'm not bitter about it).

I frequently get asked if I am his nanny. I politely smile and shake my head no. But then they keep talking, "But he looks nothing like you or the other two!" "He looks like a white kid; how is he your son?" "What are your kids anyway?"

I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they mean well. I used to feel I needed to define their brownness (or lack thereof) but then I realized, I don't actually owe these strangers an explanation of my children's skin color. And neither do they.

Living in race-limbo is tricky and I try to help my kids navigate the unique space they occupy on the spectrum of being perceived as white and not white.

This is a dance I'm all too familiar with. My own ethnicity is frequently called into question and people feel compelled to assign me a racial category, "You look something, but I can't quite figure out what."

I am happy to humor people's inquiries about myself, but I draw the line at people feeling like they can ask invasive questions regarding my children's race and freely comment on their appearance, especially right in front of them. Even well-meaning compliments just serve as a reminder to my oldest that he doesn't look like the rest of us, "Wow, where'd he get those pretty green eyes?"

I've noticed that my son seems bothered by these comments as he always queries me about his heritage after one of these encounters. I assure him that he comes from the same pool of genetics but has just somehow manifested those genes in different ways than his siblings.

It also deeply concerns me because my family is hoping to adopt a foster child who happens to look nothing like me either. How would it make that child feel to have their identity questioned and constantly have it pointed out that they don't look like they "fit" with our family?

While it is perplexing and astounding to me that people question or make observations about a child's appearance, I am certain the vast majority mean no harm and are simply curious. But despite their innocent intentions, their words can inflict pain. By telling a child they look "different" from their parents and siblings or that their race isn't easily classified, you're implying that they simply don't fit in—even in in their own family. And asking someone "what" they are diminishes their humanity.

So, these days, when the dreaded question arises and I am asked to define what my kids "are" and why they look so different from me and each other, my response likely does nothing to satisfy inquisitive onlookers; but it is our truth.

I'm sorry (not sorry), but I can't put them in a box for you. They are each a magnificent and multifarious mosaic composed of a complex and exquisite blend of DNA of all the souls who came before them. Their genetic makeup is representative of the melting pot; of the tangled roots that bind our mortal bodies to the very earth we all inhabit. They are the embodiment of the future of humankind. And they are beautiful.