The nanny

I've heard mothers complain about feeling a loss of personal identity upon becoming a parent. "All I'm known as is Suzie's mom!" I hear my mommy friends lament.

I don't feel too sorry for them; at least they actually are Suzie's mother. I, on the other hand, am always referred to as The Nanny.

"Hello, Silas' nanny!" is a common greeting. I hear it from his swim teacher, from his friends' parents at the playground, and from strangers in the grocery store who have met Silas at one point or another when he wasn't with me. People are always embarrassed and try to make an excuse.

One woman told me, "Oh, I'm sorry. It's just his dad is so much older than you!"

"That's my dad!"

Our conversation changed from slightly uncomfortable to skin-crawlingly awkward with just those three little words.

Another time at the growers market a woman said to Silas, "Isn't it nice of your big sister to take you out?"

I was a young mother, but not shockingly so. I was also blessed with the face of an eternal 12-year-old. Chipmunk cheeks, freckles, no sense of fashion ... it all lends itself to a certain agelessness. People also confuse my younger sister with being the older of the two.

I try to enjoy it, as people always tell me to do, but I fear that my face will one day instantly convert from looking like a 12-year-old to a chain-smoking, sunbathing 80-year-old in a single instant.

The main reason I'm mistaken for the nanny is that Silas and I don't look much alike. I remember when he was a little baby, just watching him and wondering how we were possibly related. I was always glad the hospital gave me the choice to room with my baby, otherwise I might suspect that I was given the wrong infant to go home with. Like mixing up favor bags at a party.

Silas is half Hispanic, and I am about as pale as they come. In the summer I hide in the shade and slather on sunscreen muttering about melanoma, while Silas turns a golden brown despite wearing enough sunscreen to drown a horse. I have nondescript hair, which I think I've stated is a different color in each of my different forms of ID.

When I think I can get away with it, I always try to list myself as a brunette, like my tall slim sister is. Muddy blonde is more accurate. Silas has brown hair, brown eyes and is about as cute as you can get. (According to his grandma, Silas' best feature is his Calvin-style hair — that stuff will just not lie flat. We are currently in negotiations as to what his hair will look like on school picture day.)

In a town as racially diverse as Ashland, we attract a fair amount of excitement and confusion. People always ask me, as though he were some kind of designer breed puppy, "What is he?" People guess things like Inuit, Chinese, Hawaiian, Indigo "¦ but hardly ever ask if he's Mexican. It's as if to ask if a child is part Mexican is a racist comment in itself. Shockingly, Ashland may not be as open-minded as previously thought.

It is strange, however, to be a single parent to a child who doesn't look like me (except, of course, that we're both totally adorable). Filling out forms is always a mind-bending experience for me. Do I check the box that Silas is Hispanic when I just check the white box for myself? It feels weird for us to be dumped into different categories.

Sometimes I mark that we're both white, occasionally we're both Hispanic (does being a mother to a Hispanic child make me, by reverse genetics, Hispanic as well?), but usually I just don't choose anything.

People worry about giving out their name, birth date and social security number, but to me the most personal question is always those little check boxes.

Zoe Abel is back to the daily grind of nannying. Contact her at

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