Posted by: molly | May 17, 2011

When Genetics Don’t Really Matter

My husband and I skewed the census ever so slightly the last time around.  After talking, plotting and planning we decided to be a voice of two in America (since our plotting only managed to get us on board during this census; however, watch out 2020!).  This year, after faithfully filling out a litany of question about income, education, and housing, we decided to have a little fun with the questions about race.  According to the most recent census, I have defined my own race as “brown-eyed” while my husband is “green-eyed.”  I doubt we will show up on any of the official statistics but have instead joined the group of “other.”

Lest it seem like just a hippy fight-the-system attempt at bucking the establishment, we actually put some thought into it.  What is the difference between the various “races”?  Is it nothing more than a classification based on the amount of melanin in one’s skin?  And why does that really matter for any reason other than the fact I am one of the unfortunate people in the world who turns into a lobster when left too long in the sun while other are immune from the damaging effects of sunshine?  Are genetics really that important?  We all stem back to one couple in the end!

My husband and I are currently fostering two children.  Our 7 year-old daughter has beautiful olive skin, dark brown eyes, and almost black, very straight hair.  Our 5 year-old son has light brown skin, big dark eyes, and a mass of very curly black hair.

According to my mother, our foster daughter looks just like I did when I was a child (except change the olive skin to blazing white, the dark hair to light brown and the eyes to green-brown–sounds like the spitten image, I know).  However, despite what my mother sees as similarities, she does not have my lips.  I have my father’s lips (read this as “I have lips” since my mother has very thin lips, just like her mother and her mother’s mother, and, well you get the picture).  The other day I told my daughter that she has Granny’s lips.  Now, statistically it is quite unlikely that she really does have the “Witherow lips” that my mother inherited from her Irish mother.  But to my 7 year-old it doesn’t matter.  She has her Granny’s lips and my straight hair.  After hearing that his sister looks like Granny and Mom, our 5 year-old piped up with a comparison of him and my husband (since he is not ready to cross gender lines yet in identification of features).  His analysis:  “when I grow up I want to shave me head like Daddy.  Then we will look alike.”

As I lather up in sunblock alone this summer (I am the only lucky one in my family to lack enough melanin to need it) I won’t really be thinking about race.  I will be thinking about two precious children:  a little girl with my straight hair and Granny’s lips and a little boy who thinks that shaving his head would make him look just like his daddy.   And maybe they are right that genetics don’t really matter:  straight hair and shaved heads are enough to look alike for me.



  1. Molly, I love this post! You’re a good writer (and I mean that) and I’ve enjoyed finally catching up with your blog. Keep up with all the great things you are doing, here and in the lives of these two precious kids!

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