When we’re oot ‘n’ aboot, my daughter’s appearance garners many inquisitive stares. Because of her fair complexion and silken hair, passersby sometimes try to discern without asking outright if there’s a familial connection. Aisha has inherited my prominent forehead and mischievous expressions, so more often than not, they realize that she’s mine. And since it’s pretty obvious that she is of mixed race, people often really want to know which one(s).
It’s because of her eyes.
Aisha’s big brown eyes, with their epicanthic folds, are a classic Down Syndrome trait. To me, they’re a dead giveaway – but so often, they just leave people stymied. The immediate assumption is that she’s mixed with Asian; I live in an ethnically diverse area, where my neighbours hail from places like Sri Lanka and India, various Caribbean islands or the Philippines. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked if her father is Filipino.
I don’t tell strangers that she has DS; my reasons for not being forthcoming are varied – but not because I’m ashamed of Aisha’s appearance, or of the fact that she has it. Mostly it’s just laziness and an aversion to awkward conversations. When she was younger, I think her appearance was a lot more typical of her condition, and on a few occasions keen-eyed strangers pulled me aside to tell me, all hush-hush like, about their cousin/niece/nephew/neighbour’s kid/godson etc., who was “just like that,” using their chins to point in Aisha’s direction, clucking their tongues in sympathy (?) or pity (?). “God Bless you,” they’d all said, as they shuffled off.
Now that her face is thinning out a little, I find it’s getting harder for people to see her condition off the bat. They simply assume that that something they can’t put their finger on about her appearance is merely a matter of race and not genetics.
What is she? they ask.
In my head, the reply ranges from the snarky: she’s human/a little girl/Batman, to the direct: are you asking what her racial background is? to the (intentionally) clueless: I don’t understand what you mean by that. Most of the time, I don’t even entertain their curiosity. I just smile and push Aisha in her stroller, leaving them to wonder on their own.
What is she? they ask.
Downright perfect, is what.