Color correction

An hour after Otto was born, fresh from his first shampoo, I was flat-out shocked by the tuft of red hair on this baby before me.

It never occurred to me that it would be anything other than black or brown, a match to my own dark hair and features. Suddenly there was bright, obvious evidence that someone else’s genetics were a part of our family.


Like Josh and Miles, Otto and I are frequently asked about his hair. The question always comes from an elderly woman at a checkout line in one of two ways:

  1. Where does that red hair come from? Or,
  2. Does your daddy have red hair?

Now. I realize the person asking the question absolutely does not care what the answer is; she is simply engaging in small talk.

Still, I feel obligated to reply in some way, and—more importantly—I feel obligated to answer in a way Otto can model. But with over two years to work it out, I still struggle with the best, truthful, easygoing response.

After several red-faced, mumbling, bumbling tries, I have settled on raising my eyebrows and shoulders in an “Aw shucks, I just don’t know” posture, while casually responding “I guess it’s somewhere in his genes!” Then I try to change the subject. Or leave.

True, I probably don’t give people the benefit of the doubt, but I feel vulnerable outing myself and my family for the sake of small talk. I also (and this is truly the Midwestern in me), don’t want the person asking the question to feel uncomfortable for asking.

It had been a while since Otto and I were quizzed about his hair. This is because it is torture shopping with a 2-year-old and I try my best to run errands alone.

So the other day at the grocery store checkout, the elderly woman working bypassed me and asked Otto directly, “Does your daddy have red hair?”

My heart raced and a rush of nausea set in. Otto’s face scrunched quizzically, his body was visibly taken aback, his head slowly shook in a back-and-forth “no.” Holy crap, we were not ready for this! We hadn’t practiced! We were only just starting to talk about dads! I was a horrible model, what with all my talk of genes! He doesn’t know what genes are! He thinks I’m talking about jeans! Oh my god! He is going to tell someone he has red hair in his jeans!

And then, as he patted the messy waves on his head, in his quiet voice and limited language, he answered truthfully, casually, straight to the point about the color of his hair:

“Not red. Orange!”


3 thoughts on “Color correction

  1. My oldest daughter, now age 7, has had blonde hair since birth and in the past year or so it has finally darkened a little bit. The donor and my partner who gave birth are both brunettes. So we too have no idea where this blonde came from. We always joke, “this is not what we ordered!” I remember when she got her haircut once the hairdresser kept going on and on about her beautiful blonde hair and where did she get it from. I also mumbled and shrugged my shoulders, but the hairstylist just would not get the hint and kept asking “Is it from your dad? Your grandfather’s side maybe?” Finally, Annie blurted out “it’s blonde because I want to be just like Cinderella!” Maybe not the best role model, but at the time, it stopped the conversation, which was the best answer.

  2. Love it. It’s fun (and scary!) that as our kids get older and get a grasp on language they’re able to form their own responses. I’ll be interesting to see how Otto’s answers to these types of questions will change over time. I have a feeling he’ll start modeling the responses for me!

  3. Tell everyone it is simply from you! When I tried to figure out how my daughter ended up with bright orange hair, as the product of 2 light brown haired people, that both myself and the donor had the recessive red haired gene. It can only happen if both genetic donors have it, so guess what? You have it too!

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