I didn’t know your Mum was white

I’m jumping onto a very thin tightrope with quite slippery shoes to protest the curious reaction people can have to our family: my children, my husband, me. It’s nothing like discrimination, or even lack of acceptance, it’s the reminder that somehow you’re other, a little bit different. It’s not awful, it’s just … wearing.

So, yes, I’m the Mum who is white. Pasty and glowing if you ask my children. And they don’t mean glowing in a good way. My husband, their Dad, was born in Burma. His Dad was Indian, his Mum Karen. That makes him complicated to explaim and most people feel they require an explanation. How did you meet? People are usually disappointed in the answer; they expect an exotic tale. Nup, my husband is the most unexotic of creatures. And happy to be so. I recently succumbed to conversational pressure by telling a new acquaintance that he was born in Burma. “I wish you hadn’t done that,” he said. He’s not ashamed of it, it’s just that however he understands his birthplace and parentage as part of his identity, he knows that other people are unlikely to understand it in the same way.

My children? Let’s just say my children had a vast array of clothing to choose from on Harmony Day. What did they wear? Sydney Swans jerseys usually. Past tense, because High School doesn’t seem to entertain such notions. And the days of having to explain their origins to casual passersby,the once inevitable questions about where their father was from or the possibility that they were adopted, those days are over. Forgotten. Until, at a gathering, someone who’s seen me will say to one of my daughters: I didn’t know your Mum was white. As if this has to be pinned down. I’m not completely sure why, or how it helps, but it’s something more than curiosity, something bordering on extreme surprise. The burden of questions has passed on to my, usually indignant, daughters.

Far more interesting to say: I didn’t know your Mum was: painting the house/ in love with Dr Who / playing the piano / thinking of writing a story on twitter/ dreaming of small mice and silvery grass when she drove through the night to collect you. To be fair, how would they know to ask those questions? Perhaps it would be enough if they realised that behind the skin and the gender, the age and the voice, I am, like my daughters, like all human beings, an intricate, contradictory mass of identities, desires, interests and obsessions. Ask the Smiths. They know.

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