Are You The Nanny?

“Heart and Seoul: A Korean Adopted Woman’s Perspective”

After having my twins, I was fortunate enough to be able to stay-at-home with them for almost three years. Life at home as a full-time mom was wonderful. I had struggled to have children and I relished in my overwhelming blessings that are my son and daughter.

“Are they yours?”

Our daily routine usually included getting outside to a playground or some other childrens activity. I can not tell you how many times I was stopped on the street by strangers so that they could admire my babies. Most of the time, the banter with these strangers was unremarkable. “How old are they?” “Are they identical?” (Uh, no I just told you they are a boy and a girl.) But more often than one would imagine, I was also asked whether or not they were mine. The implication being that I was the paid caretaker. Then there was the afternoon when I was at a small playground and asked, rather bluntly, “Are you the nanny?” No, I’m the mom, I replied rather amused.

Growing up in my white family in upstate New York, I was asked many questions related to my being adopted and about finding my “real” mom. Wanting desperately to not be different, my usual response was that I already lived with my real mom, meaning my adoptive mom. This response always brought confusion to the inquirer and I would go on to explain that my adoptive mom was my real mom. She was the only mom I knew and she was real.

My Korean mom was relegated as my “biological” mother. How pathetically sad, I think now. Undoubtedly, she is more than just someone from whom I received my DNA.

My parents have six children. Four of my siblings are biologically related to my parents and my youngest brother and I were adopted, separately, from Korea. (I was eleven when he was adopted.) My four siblings that were not adopted are clearly my parents children. My mother and father’s DNA is obvious in all of them.

Family resemblance was, and sort of still remains, a slight obsession of mine. As a young person, I was amazed at how much families could look alike. I wondered, often, who I looked like. I would look at my hands and think, do my biological mom’s hands look like mine? So, it was with hyper-anticipation that I dreamed of someday having my own children who would look like me.

Then, as fate would have it, I fell in love with and married a Black man. Super fast forward to six years after we were married, when we were finally headed to the hospital for my scheduled c-section. It was a miracle that we made it to this day. As I lay on the operating table, body half numbed, I tried hard to be in the moment. Honestly, it was difficult though. It was so hard to believe that I was finally going to be a mother. As the doctors pulled my children from my body, I anxiously awaited to hold them. I had tears streaming down my face and an enormous lump in my throat when the nurse and my husband brought my babies to me. My first words upon seeing these precious beings were “they look like me!” And they did. They both looked so much like me, I was awestruck.

Like all babies, as our children have gotten older, we can now see characteristics of both my husband and myself in them. I often joke that our daughter is the Black version of me and our son is the Asian version of my husband. Which is why, it is even more amusing that I have been asked whether or not I was the nanny. My kids look like me!

To be sure, I am aware that the nanny question is more than just a question of ignorance or laziness. I have many girlfriends who are Black that have also been asked whether or not they were the nanny. The question obviously has roots in not just race, but class as well. I guess in the wealthier neighborhoods of Brooklyn, people are just not used to stay-at-home moms that are also moms of color. In my almost three years as a stay-at-home mom, I never once saw a white caretaker. (I despise the word nanny but that’s another topic for another column!) My girlfriends and I have only half joked about getting t-shirts made that say, “No, I’m NOT the nanny.”

While growing up, my mom was also asked whether or not I was her child. “Yes,” she would say, “she is mine.” The question posed to my mom was not because people thought she was a paid caretaker but because we look nothing alike. Now, ironically I am asked the same question. “Are they yours?” Different reason for the question, perhaps, but same question nonetheless.