On Monday, my first day as a trophy wife, Ellis and I bundled up and headed over to playgroup. Normally, her babysitter takes her to playgroup and all her friends are there. After a week at grandmas, we needed some good toddler playtime and perhaps some fingerpaints. I put on my best, casual, “I am a mom” outfit–stylishly rolled jeans, a sweater and a scarf–Ellis had pigtails and we rolled into playgroup on time and with back-up snacks.
I can do this. No bigs. Do moms say “no bigs”? Probably not. Cool it on the street lingo around toddlers. Also, no swearing. Shii—crap.
At the sign-in table, the woman in charge looked at Ellis and smiled. “Oh, Ellis we missed you! How are you, sweetie?”
And then she saw me. “Um? You are?”
“Oh, I’m Ellis’ mom.” I said. I had a giant bag and eyeliner. I hoped I looked the part.
The woman frowned. “Oh, I thought you were the babysitter.”
“No, she normally comes with her babysitter. But J– had her baby. So, here we are.”
“Oh, its just that Ellis looks so much like the other woman. And you two…” She stopped.
“Yes, well, she definitely came out of me. I can testify to that every time I sneeze pee. Right?”
She gave me a smile, which felt cheap. Comments about pee should be at least worth an awkward guffaw.
This isn’t the first time someone has thought I was the babysitter. It happened once when I took Ellis to story time while her babysitter was sick. And once in the grocery store, a cashier asked who in the family the child looked like. Her wrinkled nose indicated that the answer was not “The lady pushing the cart and wiping the child’s nose with her sleeve.”
I’m brunette. Ellis is blonde. She has blue eyes. I have brown. She is sunny and smiles at strangers. I tend to hunch my shoulders and say things about pee. Several times in my life I’ve been asked if I was Chinese (mostly by Chinese people and I have witnesses). The only ethnicity Ellis will get mistaken for is Hitler’s Youth. Sometimes, when we are out together I think people wonder why a Chinese woman adopted a white baby. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Did I just blow their minds?
“SHE CAME FROM MY VAGINA!” I want to yell. “SHE IS MINE!”
But some days, I honestly question my daughter’s maternity. She is cautious and clean and spends most of the day following me around saying, “Uh oh! Mom, wipe it!” And pointing out all the messes I make. On Wednesday, at the park, she spent 5 minutes fixated on the dirty slide. Demanding that I wipe it and crying when I told her to wipe it with her butt. “No butt!” She wailed. “No butt. Mom, wipe it!” She is also literal. For a week I told her about the upcoming airplane trip to grandma’s house and all the special airplane treats we would have. When the day came and we settled into our seats and prepared for take off, I gave Ellis her airplane treat, a lollipop. She licked it, giggled and then shoved it against the window of the plane. “Airpain! Teat! Eat it, airpain.”
It’s like raising my husband in a dress.
In my less defensive moments, I know that she doesn’t have to be me. She is more than just a composite of genes and her mother’s neuroses. She is a human and has somehow managed to become a fully-actualized person who is concerned about sticky messes, the fate of bugs, and where big trucks go. And if I ever stare at her and wonder where she came from, it’s not because I don’t remember the 15 hours of labor, it’s because I’m just amazed that I am capable of creating someone who actually cares enough to demands having her fingernails cleaned after playing outside.