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You Have Such a Beautiful Family

Rose: Russell Saunders (a.k.a. Batman’s Primary Care Provider, arch-nemesis of the anti-vax crowd, and certified Franco-skeptic) has been my bestest best friend since 1997. Unsurprisingly given our throughly genteel and urbane sensibilities, we met in an AOL chatroom devoted to Simpsons trivia. (Seriously. That is actually how we met.)

I did my best to persuade him that New York City is the best fishin’ city in the universe, although I’ll allow that the city itself may also have played a role in Russell’s deciding to move there in 1999. Only six blocks away from each other, we lived the life of childless Manhattanites — albeit with significantly more TV-watching and fewer art gallery openings than Stanford and Carrie in Sex and the City.

Fifteen years later, neither of us are in Manhattan. We now have husbands and reliable cars. We live in the suburbs. We no longer regularly blow wads of cash on tipsy dinners at upscale restaurants. And…the children. Dear me, the children. Won’t somebody stop thinking of the children? It seems like every time I sneeze, one of us is telling the other about a new baby. Between us, we have seven kids under the age of seven. Probably not what I would have predicted in 1999.

In one sense, ours is not an unusual story. Friends get older, have families, etc. We recently realized, however, that we have something else in common besides wading armpit deep in diapers and sippy cups. It’s the fact that strangers regularly rush up to tell us, “You have such a beautiful family.” Most families, I’m sure, get comments on how cute their kids are. This is different. Both of us, it seems, have the kind of family of whom people wish to express their approval. Who embody some kind of value. They want us to know that they appreciate our families. We decided to co-write an article about what it’s like to have such a beautiful family.

Russell: Ah, yes. 1999. The year we became neighbors as well as friends. The year I formed a me-shaped indentation on your couch in between on-call shifts. The year I learned to stop worrying and take an illegal sub-let from a mutual friend with whom neither of us are in touch any longer, and whose unpleasant personality we finally agreed to stop pretending to find charming.

No, you’re right. I don’t think I could possibly have predicted the sheer mass of juvenile humanity with which I now dwell. The laundry that does not seem so much to accumulate as reproduce. The reality that on the miraculous days the children all slumber until 7 AM, it feels like sleeping in to a sinfully luxurious hour.

Back in the days when the George W. Bush presidency was a mere promise of disaster instead of the memory of one, I never would have guessed that I would one day be packing four children under 5 onto a plane alongside a husband far less unnerved by the prospect than I, and then sitting with them as we crossed three time zones. I regret to admit that the Better Half is far better at ignoring or shrugging off the negative attention of others, but I stepped onto that plane praying that we wouldn’t be that family. You know, the one with the crying infant or truculent children. “Please,” I implored the travel gods, “let this go smoothly.”

I needn’t have worried. Not only did the kids handle every flight we took on our vacation with aplomb (I’m going to knock on wood as I type this, but so far flying with the kiddos has always turned out much better than I always fear), but our family received so many beaming smiles and gushing comments we were practically the in-flight entertainment.

[Aside: attention random passers-by! I feel generally OK with the “you have a beautiful family!” comments that are the main thrust of this post. (Stay tuned!) I feel… less so about the “what a big family you have!” ilk, a la “You must have your hands full!” or “Need another kid?” Your observations are not as droll as you seem to think. I’m not quite sure what point you’re trying to make, and politely request you put a sock in it. Thanks.]

Now, it bears mentioning that my kids are all genuinely cute. Really. I’m not just saying that. Telling me I have a beautiful family seems to be stating an aesthetic truth, at least as far as the children are concerned. Plus, everyone seems to fall all over themselves when they see twins, and so our two youngest would probably get a lot of attention no matter the composition of the family as a whole. When people make their happy comments, I believe they mean them.

But the comments about the beauty of our family seem to be about more than the kids’ pulchritude, manifest as it may be. People seem to be approving of the moral beauty of our family. They see our family with the two dads and the children of different races (three of our kids are biracial Hispanic/African-American), and they want us to know that our kind of family is beautiful, at least to them. “You have a beautiful family” comprises approval and reassurance of that approval. It communicates that our interlocutor is the kind of person who thinks same-sex parenting is aces. I call it the “Whole Foods” glow, for the location where our mere presence seems to validate everything the other customers like to think of themselves.

Truth be told, even though these comments are as much about the commenter as they are about my actual family, they don’t bother me. It seems churlish to object to the obvious good intentions of people who really are being as charming as they can to me and my family. Plus, since I still worry (though less and less with time) about the more ambiguous glances communicating disapproval of my two-dad household, I’m not going to pretend that the reassurance isn’t a little bit welcome, even if it’s mostly signaling on the speaker’s part.

But I suspect you and I might feel differently about that last part?

Rose: I do feel a bit differently, but not entirely.

For the record, I have three boys. The second of my children, whom I have called James on this blog, was born with a Ridiculously Rare chromosomal rearrangement. He has severe psychomotor and cognitive disabilities.

[Aside: the equivalent comment we get to the comments on the size of your family is, “So, are you going to try for a girl next time?” Ha ha ha ha haaa….haaaaa…ehhhhh….not really.]

I think James, like our other two kids, is very cute, and he is the only one of our kids who managed to rummage through the recesses of our Italo-Jewish genes and wind up with lovely blue-green eyes. Because I think he might be hard to visualize from description, here’s a pic. His behavior includes stimming, tics, and a tendency to stare into the middle distance. These are liberally interspersed with wide grins, attempts to join conversations (he’s not gonna let any ol’ inability to speak hold him back), and vigorous sign language demands that his interlocutor sing to him.

Disney 2014 The Unbearable Lightness of Edmund

James is unmistakably disabled, given his wheelchair and behavior. His facial features also announce genetic difference. People in general don’t comment on my kids’ cuteness (as opposed to their noble beauty) unless we are out without James. One exception to this: someone behind us in line at a store looked back and forth repeatedly between James and my oldest, Thomas, then gestured toward Thomas and said, “Well, he’s cute.” Lovely. The most dramatic positive reaction we ever got was from a woman who literally ran and caught up to us in a parking garage. She gushed over James, teary-eyed, about how amazing “these children” are. Then she asked if she could kiss his feet.

So here are some thoughts as to why you and I might have different reactions to the comments:

1) There is not a vocal, politically powerful segment of the population that believes that my husband and I should not be married or parents. There are no laws anywhere preventing our parenting children. The negative reactions in public to your family are felt to be moral opposition. Our negative reactions are visceral: they involve sidling away, mocking teenagers, and (somewhat ironically, I like to think) open-mouthed stares.

James is notorious for suddenly holding the hands or grabbing the arms of strangers in public and smiling up at them. To my eternal surprise and gladness, people are almost always charmed by this. There is no winning-over that can be done in your case.

2) Those who believe that children like my son should be aborted or killed generally are ashamed to admit it. Except philosophers and internet trolls, who lack acquaintance with the concept of shame. See here for the most famous, fatuous, and influential philosophical argument for modern-day liberal eugenics. NB: advocates modify “eugenics” with “liberal” to indicate a rejection of state-sponsored eugenics, not because they promote free-wheeling willy-nilly eugenics. As a philosopher and blogger, I’m pretty sure I wade far deeper in this muck than anyone who has a real job. My bioethics syllabus includes many articles advocating such. Retweets and syllabus readings are not endorsements.

But no matter how often this song plays on my particular radio, disability rights groups are far more organized, well-funded, and politically powerful than philosophers and trolls. There are no ableist rights groups that have sit-ins to block the building of ADA-mandated ramps. I never worry that some stranger in public will confront my family about it.

3) I imagine people say it to you in a happy, friendly way. People usually say it to us in a very solemn, earnest tone. Which is fine, of course, but if you’re having fun on the beach with your family, it’s a bit of a bring-down to politely accept solemnity.

4) While it is not the case that all homophobes are racist or vice versa, it is usually the case that people who wish to declare their opposition to homophobia also wish to declare their opposition to racism. And shop at Whole Foods. You pretty much know the folks who are saying it to you and what they are trying to say.

5) On the contrary, I am uncertain of the agenda of the person saying it to me. Here are the general categories:

Some say it because they oppose abortion and wish to express approval of James’s patent unabortedness.

Similar to your Whole Foods glow, some wish to express acceptance of those with disabilities.

Some wish to begin a religious conversation, expressing such views as James is a gift from God, or that God does not give you any burden you can’t handle.

Some use it as a preface to introduce the fact that they know/love/work with/volunteer for someone with disabilities. I have actually made friends this way.

As might be imagined, my response varies depending on the motivation of the person who is telling me my family is beautiful.

What do you think?

Russell: First of all, all three of your kids are cute. And as James’s godfather, I am now struggling with a desire to inflict grievous physical harm on that person standing behind you in that line. The world, it is full of schmucks.

Yes, I think any variance between your reaction and mine is largely due to the political implications (or lack thereof) that our families respectively represent. If there are people who believe that families like yours should not exist, their beliefs are generally viewed as so shameful as to not bear public expression. There is, blessedly, not a politically active eugenics movement within our country. On the other hand, there are plenty of people who are quite happy to express the belief that I ought not to be able to call my husband that, to say nothing of being parents. (I’ve had the privilege of “un-friending” a few I’ve known since high school on Facebook.) I can still reasonably fear encountering people who are genuinely hostile to the notion of my family existing at all.

And yes, you’re right about the tone. People who express a belief that my family is beautiful typically do so in the lilting way that they compliment children’s cuteness in general. It doesn’t seem freighted with meaning in the way your comments do, even though I know there’s more than a statement about cuteness behind it. I imagine it would be more trying if, every time someone said something about my family’s beauty in solemnly approving tones, I felt compelled to say “I know” and gaze at them with placid profundity, it would get on my nerves, too.

Sadly, my daughter is yowling from her crib with something other than placid profundity, and so I must draw this conversation to a close. I am grateful for both of our beautiful families, and that though we may have lost access to Ollie’s, after all these years we still have each other.

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61 thoughts on “You Have Such a Beautiful Family

  1. I’m jealous. My family was/is totally mundane, and if no notice if they were well behaved. The only looks, comments I got were when they were obnoxious on planes and in grocery stores; and of course, my husband, when out and about with them, often drew odd comments from people wondering where I was.

    It is rather odd to me that it’s socially acceptable to make stray comments about family that one would not make sans children; there is something about the presence of children opening the family to the participation of the village. From that perspective, I thank you both for providing an education into the diversity of the village. It’s a burden, and you shoulder it with aplomb.

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  2. I get odd looks when I’m out in public with my daughter and son.

    I can understand some of it – my daughter is very openly affectionate with me – she’ll still hold my hand on occasion and swing back and forth.

    She’s 23.

    My son is 6. People assume that my daughter and I are sisters, or that my son is actually my daughter’s child.

    Add in the fact I’m almost 7 months pregnant with #3 (and the last – unless my husband decides to carry the 4th himself) – people normally stare at the 3.5 of us with their jaws hanging.

    “She’s 23? She’s yours? You’re pregnant again? There’s going to be nearly 24 years between your oldest and youngest???” “Couldn’t you have spaced them better??”

    To which I normally reply, “Yes, she’s 23. Yes, she’s mine. Yes, I am pregnant again. Your gradeschool math teacher should be proud.” and “Well, if I thought I could get pregnant at 60, I might have tried to space them better…”

    People seem to have no ‘filter’ when it comes to making comments about families with kids.

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    • Hearing about your daughter being openly affectionate with you warms my heart. One of the joys of my life is that my daughter is and has been – all through her teenage years – very openly affectionate her mother, often resulting in the same types of comments from strangers – that they must be sisters. (She’s been like that with me, too, tho too a lesser extent.) All I can figure is that USAmericans’ default view of children is that they will have – or perhaps even should have – an antagonistic relationship with their parents. Which is sorta whacked, in my view.

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    • I cannot believe people say you couldn’t have spaced them better. Except, of course, I can.

      I too love hearing about your 23 year old being so openly affectionate. I hope I have a close loving relationship with my sons when we’re adults. One of our jokes about James is that we at least have one kid who will never be embarrassed hugging his mom in public.

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  3. Ya know, the two of you are the worst people to write this piece, because your families actually ARE beautiful. Pretty ridiculously so, really.

    Still, great post.

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  4. I think Darwy pretty much nailed it with, People seem to have no ‘filter’ when it comes to making comments about families with kids.

    My sister is the parent of one-(soon-to-be-two) 1/2 Korean 1/2 Western European (mostly Irish/German) Mutt. She gets comments that I admit I find really amusing but they’re clearly in the category of “thank you for expressing an opinion about something that’s really not your business”.

    But it happens to everybody, my own family included. Because people don’t have a filter when it comes to kids (or parenting, for that matter).

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    • Or on families with no kids. People really like meddling into the affairs of others.

      Both me and my wife are tired of the endless ranting that there is about the fact that we do not have kids. Can you imagine? A couple that has been together for the better part of a decade without *any* kids?

      Yeah, we hear about it from pretty much everyone in the families, to the point that we started being vicious on our answers. We do plan to have kids, but due to several circunstances it is a *not right now* thing.

      I always though i was good at making people look stupid and feel guilty when i was pissed, but my wife topples me over by far. A couple weeks ago we were looking for a new house, and the real state broker (?) was a woman that kept yapping:
      “So your kids will really like the common area”
      “You don’t have kids?”
      “Well, obvisouly you plan to have kids. So you could turn this room into a room for the kids, and…”

      My wife got so pissed about that stranger meddling in our life that she just turned to her and lied “I’m infertile”

      I had to turn around so i wouldn’t burst out laughing and ruin all the guilt…

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    • and thats why i don’t do this whole ‘handle people’ thing well.

      I believe you; you don’t have to give us more evidence.

      Both me and my wife are tired of the endless ranting that there is about the fact that we do not have kids. Can you imagine? A couple that has been together for the better part of a decade without *any* kids?

      So then have some kids. That way people won’t think you are a weirdo.

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  5. Not only is this an excellent OP, it’s good to see something by Rose and Russell again. (That’s not a criticism….I realize you both have your hands full. But I like hearing from you both!)

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  6. Russell–I must have missed the announcement that you and your husband had added twins to your family. Congratulations!

    Wonderful piece about both your families and your friendship.

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  7. Fascinating and powerful piece. Thanks you two. And always excellent to see Rose re-emerge form the ashes!

    As a teacher, I’m privy to a lot of conversation about parents and families. And I’m going to focus on Russell’s situation only because A) I’m more familiar with it and B) I just listened to a podcast that gave me a fancy term I can apply to it.

    Generally speaking, whenever there is a same-sex couple in a school, teachers either want to gush about how wonderful they are and ignore any potential deficiency they or their children might have OR look side-eyed at them and speculate about how their gayness is really the cause of whatever non-perfect behavior their children exhibit. Many teachers seem incapable of seeing them as just another set of parents, good at some things and bad at others. I think it is a combination of the moral approval/disapproval and (FANCY PHRASE I HOPE I USE PROPERLY ALERT!) fundamental attribution error. “Oh, the kid with the hetero parents failed a test? He probably didn’t study. Oh, the kid with the homo parents failed a test? They were probably so busy gaying that he couldn’t study.”

    I had one set of same-sex parents back when I taught in DC who truly were remarkable. They weren’t perfect, mind you; I had to give them their share of tips and points and, “Ooo, yea, don’t do that’s”. But they were truly remarkable people. The type who made a conscious effort to connect with black families in the class (they were white) — even if they otherwise didn’t get along — because their daughter was black and they knew she needed black adults in her life. The type who paid conscious and explicit attention when they adopted a second daughter — also African-American but much lighter skinned — and worked hard to make sure the bevy of “What a cute baby comments?” didn’t create issues for the elder daughter around “colorism”.
    And they were known within the community to be remarkable. Those who knew them well, knew them as I did, knew why they were remarkable. But a lot of other people… well, they just SEEMED remarkable… these two gay men and their adorable little brown girls. Ugh.

    At my current school, one much less welcoming to same sex parents, we had another family a few years back. These parents were not particularly remarkable. They were largely absentee, allowing a bevy of nannies to care for and shuttle around their four children. They spoke of their children as if they were trophies. Like, quite literally. It was irksome. But, they weren’t all bad. They were genuinely warm and loving when they were with them. They provided for them above and beyond. But, they were certainly deserving of some ire. Not just as parents, but as people. They were renowned for calling and talking a teacher’s ear off about nothing in particular for the better part of an hour. They often scheduled PT conferences right before lunch and then prattled on about nothing in particular while the food got cold. Ugh. Very irritating. But, because they were gay and we are not a particularly gay-friendly environment, people spoke of them as if they were abusive. It was appalling.

    In both situations, it was hard for a lot of people to see these folks just as parents. They were gay parents. And that seemed to have to mean something.

    Bringing this back to , she and I used to laugh that we will know we have reached the mountain top when we are comfortable telling a developmentally delayed person that he is being a dick if his dickishness is unrelated to his delay. Let’s see people as people. Let’s consider and understand how their unique circumstances might dictate somewhat of a divergent response, but let’s not continue otherizing people, even in supposedly benign ways.

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    • , I’m now worried what my youngest’s preschool teachers will think of me. I have a job and three kids and my husband will be temporarily relocating to a different city. I’m already chafing at the school’s co-op requirements and plan on the bare minimum (not least because they are more difficult for poorer/working class parents). So I pretty much have zero desire to co-op at the school, zero desire to fundraise for it (I am, after all, already paying tuition), and our nanny will be taking my son to and from his classes. I can see how they will think I’m a horrible parent.

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      • I wouldn’t stress it. We can usually tell the difference between busy, working parents who are hustling to make it all work and those who see their kids as accessories. I didn’t mean to denigrate working parents and/or nannies. Our son has been in daycare part-time since three months and full-time since five months. We are the only people in our social circle who had our child in organized care this young (most relied on a parent staying home, family, friends, an in-home sitter, or some combination thereof). And we make no bones about it. It is what made sense for our family and ultimately served our son’s long term interests.

        I’m speaking about those parents who seem to see their kids as accessories.

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  8. I feel… less so about the “what a big family you have!” ilk, a la “You must have your hands full!” or “Need another kid?” Your observations are not as droll as you seem to think. I’m not quite sure what point you’re trying to make, and politely request you put a sock in it.

    I don’t think they are trying to make a point except for the fact that you have a large family by modern American standards. Considering that you made a proactive decision to have a family of this size, I don’t see how it is an insult.

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    • Scarlet is absolutely right here. It is always appropriate to comment on aspects of strangers’ lives, as long as those aspects are visible in public and appear to be a result of a choice, as far as you can tell. Absolutely unobjectionable topics to discuss with strangers include, in addition to the number of children they have: the attractiveness of someone’s significant other, fashionableness of clothing, level of fitness, whether and why their children are adopted.

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    • A couple of responses:

      1) I don’t consider it an insult. I consider it presumptuous. The tone of voice goes a long way, with there being an unfortunate tendency for people to adopt a sarcastic rather than friendly tone.

      2) On the note of presumptuousness, nobody who offers these comments knows how or why we have a family of our size. They, like you, have no idea how we came to our decision, and we’re certainly not going to explain it to random strangers. But just because we came to said decision does not mean that we’re particularly amused by the editorial comments of people who happen to be passing us on the street.

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      • Yeah, well, people are jerks. Someone above talked about “filters” being off. Hell, I’ve done that a lot, but I generally don’t comment about other people directly to their face pretty much because I’m more conscious that my filter is down. Most people aren’t so aware.

        Case in point: at a resturant, some old lady came up and commented to my stepmother how nice it was for her to be lunching with “her father”, who, in actuality, was her husband, and my father. Smooth move grannie.

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      • – I can’t speak to tone (which, as you say, can carry a lot of freight) but this is the sort of comment I can see myself making, and even if it sounded sarcastic, that wouldn’t be my intent – rather, as the parent of three small children myself, and so well aware of the kind of time/stress/work/sleep-deprivation involved, it’s an attempt at rueful bonhomie – which, obviously, you still might find presumptuous – but what I would be trying to say is really a sort of shorthand nod for “I feel your pain, fellow-brother-in-the-trenches. Semper Fi.”

        I suspect that at least sometimes, these sorts of comments are meant to be a sort of weary encouragement, even if it doesn’t sound like it.

        It can mean, roughly, “I acknowledge your commitment/struggle” and/or “you’re not alone.”

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      • That should read “weary *parental* encouragement”. The speaker may simply be trying to communicate knowing sympathy to a probably-overworked parent (because pretty much all good parents are at least somewhat overworked, and the more kids, the more overworked).

        Like if I see someone working hard in the hot sun, and as I pass him, I say something like “Man, it’s a scorcher today.”

        On the one hand, ‘duh’, and maybe he’ll be annoyed that I said anything so stupid and pointless; I don’t know anything about his situation, and if I really cared, why didn’t I get him a glass of lemonade, huh?

        On the other hand, I am at least acknowledging his existence, and that he is doing hard and worthy work under difficult circumstances.

        It’s meant to be a moment of simple human empathy, though it could certainly go wrong (I’m sure some would say it’s best to say nothing at all, if you can’t do something concrete to help).

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      • The “you have your hands full” comments don’t always rankle, and often seem to have the connotation you describe. The “need another kid?” comments never fail to annoy me.

        That aside probably made me seem more touchy about it than I am. But in general, I’d rather people not comment on how much work they think my family must be as their contribution to our day.

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      • I see your point and will be mindful of it in the future, but it occurs to me the term I should have used is some parental equivalent of “gallows humor”.

        Parenting small children is beautiful and wonderful and rewarding and yadda yadda, and also stressful and frustrating and grinding and tiring.

        Even the “need another one?” may sometimes be an expression of an understanding of that reality, and an attempt to leaven it with mordant (if cliched) humor; the equivalent of “hot enough for ya?”

        It can certainly be meant as jerkish, but maybe it’s not always meant that way.

        More just a sort of backhanded acknowledgement of “it’s a tough job, but we gotta do it.”

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      • How much older is your father than your stepmother?

        I’d rather people not comment on how much work they think my family must be as their contribution to our day.

        I’d rather be 6’3″, blond, tan, and good-looking. And have a pet unicorn.

        That aside probably made me seem more touchy about it than I am.

        Well at least you admitted it.

        In fact they have no idea if the kids are really yours or if you’re taking nieces/nephews along on a trip.

        Or neighbor children, for that matter. The point is, the comment isn’t offensive per se.

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      • Scarlet, she’s 10 years younger. At the time of this event, however, my Dad was in a wheel chair and had an incurable terminal illness, although he still looked pretty damn good for being in his late 70s.

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      • It just genuinely shocks me that people are so flagrant about commenting on the lives and choices of strangers. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. It is one thing to make comments to friends or associates. But to strangers? Good god.

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  9. We used to get the adoption thing a fair amount. It was always pretty funny since both of our kids our biologically ours, but it made sense given what people saw. My wife and I look very Western European. Fair skin, light-colored hair, etc. My oldest daughter (biologically mine, my wife’s stepdaughter) is a chip off the old block and with her red hair and freckles she looks like she fell out of an Irish Spring commercial. She’s tall like me too and when she was little I used to get a lot of, “Oh there’s no denying this one is all yours.” So the three of us look connected by appearances.

    My youngest daughter (biologically my wife’s child, my stepdaughter) is 25% Navajo but got about 98% of her looks from her father. My wife’s heritage softened those American Indian cheekbones and gave her some curves so this had the result of making her look ethnically hard-to-determine. Most people think she is South American or Mexican or occasionally they think she is part African-American. So they see us all together and assume we had one of our own together and adopted another daughter through UNICEF. We mostly just laugh about it. 20 years from now the way she looks will be so common I think people won’t even bother to try to figure things out anymore. The slew of gorgeous mixed-race actresses in Hollywood these days will certainly help (seriously, I just saw Guardians of the Galaxy – Zoe Saldana has to be one of the most beautiful women in the world, even when painted green).

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  10. Now I’m curious about what other AOL Chatrooms ya’ll hung out in.

    This post is the sort of thing I need to read. I admit, when I saw James’ photo, my first thought was, “Aww… he’s cute,” and while I can tell myself that I do that with pretty much all kids (somehow, when I had a child, I went from barely noticing that children existed to smiling every time I see children), reading this makes me look damn closely at what I’m doing and why.

    Also, being in the birthplace of Whole Foods, I’m totally stealing the “Whole Foods glow,” which describes so much of this place.

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      • He is cute. Perfectly arched eyebrows, beautiful eyes, good cheekbones, a dimple in his cheek.

        And that’s a great picture, too. His pose and the expression on his face make him look really engaging, and draw the viewer in (unlike photos were kids are rigidly posed with fixed smiles).

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      • , funny that you say that. I was just saying last night to another syndrome mom that the two aspects of the syndrome I’m totally jealous of are a tall willowy body and high cheekbones.

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      • I suppose I wouldn’t really call them symptoms, more characteristics, such as upslanting eyes and shortness are characteristic of Down syndrome.

        Yes, those are indeed attractive features. Their eyes, as a whole, tend to be too wide-set and bridge of nose too prominent for Western standard attractiveness. They actually look shockingly like the creatures from Avatar (albeit not blue). Some people with the syndrome are very good-looking. My 6-year-old typical son had a crush on a very pretty 9-year-old girl with the syndrome at a conference we recently attended. Others, probably most, are less good-looking: they have either have more extremely dysmorphic faces, crossed eyes, malformed ears, or teeth issues. Although James has a very severe form of the syndrome (in terms of the number of genes involved), he actually has one of the milder cases of dysmorphic facial features.

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  11. There’s probably something in the back of our heads, towards the base, that sees children as common property. They’re not really individuals, not yet anyway, and we, as fellow tribe members, have the right and responsibility to nudge the kids in whatever direction.

    Of course, in a post-industrial society, it’s probably vestigial.

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    • I agree that this feeling exists. I’m not sure I agree it’s vestigial–I usually feel my daughter is safest when I’m around other families, with the kids playing together and the attentions of a large number of adults at least loosely focused on the children’s welfare.

      We don’t usually get comments regarding our family make-up (two dads, one daughter of similar complexion). Even those who might feel one way or another about same-sex parenting can’t be certain Jason and I aren’t brothers, at least until our daughter identifies us both as parents. What rankles me, though, is how everyone loves to say how pretty or beautiful our daughter is, and just leaves it there. I always have to add something on like “and she’s very good at reading.” Folks probably think I’m a bragging, doting dad, but I’m trying to fend off the persistent damage done to my daughter by a society that only values her for her looks. And it’s not my imagination that this is happening, either. She already cares far more than I would like about being pretty, and has even said things like “Princesses don’t have to read” (we corrected that misconception in a hurry).

      Consequently, if someone comments on anything else, I generally regard them as saints.
      “Did you pick out your outfit? You are very clever!”
      “You’re so polite!”
      “You speak so clearly!”

      And I try to keep this in mind for other people’s kids who I talk to.

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      • Thanks, Kazzy. I have read that piece, and it may be why I notice so much how people only compliment girls’ looks. I’ve been taking some hints from this to try to counteract the effect. When my daughter gets focused on physical beauty, I ask her what the most beautiful thing about her is and she says “my inside.” Getting there…

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      • When my son was very small, people used to compliment his looks all the time. Though, given his round face and big brown eyes, and how much he looked like his sister, the usual compliment was “What pretty girls you have!”

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      • People always comment on my sons’ eyelashes (which they inherited from their father): “What gorgeous eyelashes! Why are they always wasted on boys?” Which I find…problematic.

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      • When people gush over how cute Mayo is, I sometimes find it a bit uncomfortable. “Thanks?” It feels weird to take credit for something that was simply a matter of genetic luck.

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      • When #1 daughter was a newborn and people would say she was adorable, I’d say, “yes, she’s still the in the 6 month, 6,000 mile warranty: if anything goes wrong we can still exchange her.” In Eugene, OR, where dictionaries don’t include the word sarcasm, this was enough to shock most people into a sort of sputtering cataleptic fit.

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  12. So… putting up with my own inability to be subtle here.

    I am not trying to offend. Please forgive me if i do, im just stupid sometimes.

    I understand that Russel union ( marriage? ) is one between two guys that have four children. So that turns out some heads, especially on oh so religious and “morally correct” USA.

    I do not understand why Rose’s bring the same kind of attention? Is it because James has a disability?

    Sorry if this seems obvious, but don’t have kids and i do not understand how people act, and when someone is being a bigoted idiot i tend to point it out. It is why i went to work with IT, truth be told. If the computer is being stupid i can just reboot it, not so much when someone thinks you are somewhat wrong because you do not fit in their narrow view of how the world should be.

    My wife gets a kick of watching me having to deal with my mother’s overly religious family too…

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      • … and thats why i don’t do this whole ‘handle people’ thing well.

        Quoting no one in particular, but the feeling “If you are not a cis-gender heterossexual being that looks exactly like i think you should look, have the same color as i do and have no differences from me in your genetic makeup then i have contempt for you.”

        Thanks for the clarification Rose.

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      • To be fair, far far more people express acceptance of him (even if I am sometimes ungrateful of the brand of acceptance) than hostility toward him. But the most common reaction by miles is something like, “Holy crap, there’s a really disabled kid over there and I don’t want to say the wrong thing or offend anyone or have to decide if it’s nice or insulting to hold the door open, so I will pretend assiduously I have not seen them.” Not hostile, just uncertain.

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    • Is it because James has a disability?

      Now, now, just because you disagree with Dr Hanley doesn’t mean you should ask this…

      Oh, you mean James Woodhouse? Never mind…

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