New Poll: The Looks of Strangers

“You have a beautiful family,” the young girl told me quietly as we watched Hubby wrangle Baby in his arms. We were visiting the Pleasant Valley Lavender farm in New Jersey, when our visit had crossed over into her naptime. Hubby and Baby had been running—him chasing her, mostly—through the farm’s lush and sprawling front yard as she succumbed to the frenzy that precedes delicious sleep in kids her age. I thanked my hostess/lavender farmer, hoping that my heretofore playful toddler wouldn’t collapse into insanity and shatter the image of that dimpled, charming cherub that we had arrived with.

Reader, you have probably guessed correctly that the young lady was Caucasian. We didn’t have the kind of friendly history or time to start talking about modern family life in New Jersey. She just gave me a compliment about my family, and I took it, gratefully. When I say gratefully, I am consciously laying aside that fiercely independent Jersey attitude that doesn’t care who approves or disapproves of my personal choices. It is nice to be able do that, honestly. I don’t like to dwell on the angst of being different. Of being a Black woman whose schoolmates scorned her for ‘acting white,’ whatever that means. Blogs that wring their hands over the complexities of identity and belonging—and pick through the minutiae over matters like having servants—make my eyes glaze over with the same disenchantment that some bring to learning about mutual funds. I understand and respect why a blog that thoroughly explores such feelings might appeal to a certain market, but I do not always have the time or patience for such musings.

Just an hour before that young lady spoke to me, the women who ran the operation made Baby and I feel completely comfortable as Hubby went scouting for lunch further into town. They let us into their house to use their bathroom. They freely offered to let Baby play on the swing set in the back yard, and Baby got acquainted with the koi fish (I believe) that glubbed and glided through the  pond out back. When Hubby got back, we felt completely free to sit at the table on the far end of their yard and eat our food—all before we even bought anything. There must be many other great people, white people, in the world who hold nothing but benevolent curiosity about mixed families. It could stem from anything: a great-grandfather who worked as a missionary or in an oil field in Africa; an interest in family genealogy; an interfaith marriage that carries the same emotional stakes as an interracial one. It was a truly relaxing afternoon and was a credit to the open, friendly ways that you can still find amidst the sharp-elbowed striving so acquainted with living in the Northeast.

New Jersey, and the Northern part of the state, particularly, is a colorful jumble of cultures, languages, cuisines, fashions and creeds from many parts of the world. Differences ought to be celebrated, especially when they don’t cross over into dysfunctional. These days, when onlookers rest their eyes on Hubby, Baby and me for longer than a few seconds, I don’t reflexively feel uneasy about it. One day we will come across some oddball jerk who wants to make us feel strange and “unusual.” And when that day comes, believe me, I will spread on that special Jersey sauce. Thick.

Right now we’re moving through life like a kayak on a glass-smooth lake. No one bothers us, and if anyone glares at us as we make our way, I rarely notice.

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