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While we were in New Orleans, we had to take our son to the emergency room. He’s fine, and was fine at the time, but he had bronchiolitis/RSV and was wheezing a lot. We called his pediatrician, who said it was probably not a big deal but since he’d never wheezed before we should have someone check him out. Due to insurance restrictions, we ended up in the ED. They declared him a “happy wheezer”, didn’t even think he needed a breathing treatment, and sent us on our merry way with an inhaler and mask gizmo, just in case.

When we checked in, I had to fill out an admissions form. This form had an extensive section for information on all three of us, more so than any form I’ve previously encountered. I was rolling right through the baby’s section — social security number, name, birthdate — when I hit a blank that gave me pause.

Religion: ___________________

Nobody had asked me this before. Mine and his father’s, yes, but I’ve never had to mark down baby J’s religion. I paused and looked at BWB, who shrugged. Just put both, he said. Oh, right, of course. So I filled it out: Christian/Jewish. I was proud of us, satisfied with that answer, and moved on.

The clerk at the desk, an older gentleman who had been telling me about his pre-Katrina job in real estate, looked apologetic. “I’m sorry, mama, but the system only lets me put one in.” I frowned, and started to explain that it wouldn’t be accurate. “Should I put down other?” Um. Okay? So my son got marked down as “other”, and he apologized again. He said he was Cajun, and they never had a good box to check for that, or for Creole either. I smiled and nodded, and we moved on.

But I haven’t moved on. My son is other? No. Other implies not belonging, lack of definition. My son is not other. My son is loved and accepted by two communities, has two sets of ladies at coffee hour and oneg who want to hold him. My son was blessed by a rabbi and a priest, he hears both Shalom Rav and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing sung to him as lullabies at bedtime. I reject your checkbox, fancy computer system.

Yet even as I write this, I know that this is only the beginning. We have a long road of other-ness ahead of us, and I am sure this will be far from the last time that we find ourselves in this position. We are still confident in our choice to “do both”, and still certain we will make this work. That doesn’t mean we’re not aware that it would have been easier to just pick one. Sometimes the right thing isn’t the easy thing, though.

Someday, my son will speak for himself. He might choose to identify as Jewish, or Christian. He might call himself Buddhist, or Muslim, or Wiccan. Maybe he will continue to claim all of his heritage and defy the checkboxes on his own. Until he gets old enough to make those choices, though, it falls on me to try and make the world accept his religious reality.

So no, not “other”. How about, All of the Above, Yes, or Both? It’s Complicated. More Than Meets the Eye. Answer Unclear, Ask Again Later. Clearly, the form needs to be updated.

In the meantime, we’ll keep doing our thing despite the boxes. My son and our family are many things, and we are okay with that. Even if sometimes we don’t fit neatly on a form.

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When the baby was first born, my parents came and immediately exclaimed about the cleft in his chin. Just like his grandfather (my dad), and his great-grandfather! Our family chin! Finally, after several rounds of excited discussion of the remarkable chin, my husband (who had been very patient) pointed out in a slightly injured tone, “I have a cleft chin.” OH. Of course! A cleft chin just like his father! Ahem. Cough.

It’s funny though, one of the first things that happens when people meet or hear about a baby is often to inquire who he looks like. It usually comes right after, “Is he a good baby?”, one of my all-time least favorite baby questions, and somewhere before a question designed to determine his developmental status, ie if he is rolling over yet, or if we have introduced solids. (No, and no.) I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about why it is so important to determine if he looks like one parent or another, especially to uninvolved parties. I can completely understand why my mother sees so much of me in him, and why BWB’s mother swears she has a picture of him at three months which is indistinguishable from our son’s, but why does it really matter to someone I just met? My theories range from it being just one of the standard conversational topics about a new baby to something more along the lines of ensuring the baby’s status as a member of the tribe. One way or another, it is one of those things which almost always comes up.

I wonder too sometimes if we read into it, as if his face is an array of tarot cards or tea leaves. Hmmm, he looks like his mother, clearly he will have a penchant for salty things and enjoy knitting. Aaah, he has his father’s chin, obviously he will put entirely too much sugar in his tea and excel in the martial arts at a young age. Of course it doesn’t work that way, but maybe that is what we are trying to see when we study our babies’ faces?

So, after all that, who does our baby look like? Sometimes I look at him and I see his daddy’s cheeks, or an expression that is totally BWB. I tell him, Baby, you have your BWB face on this morning! Other times, he screws up his little nose and I have to laugh, since I know how that expression feels from the inside of it. I think he has his father’s nose, and frankly the cleft chin could have come from either of us but we’ll call it BWB’s for the sake of paternal pride. Most people seem to think that overall he looks more like me, at least so far. My mother-in-law is, of course, a notable exception. I have not yet seen this photographic evidence that she says she has, but my husband insists our son looks nothing like he did as an infant. Among other things, BWB says he was an ugly baby. (No, I don’t believe him, either.) We do have a couple photos of the baby where he looks a great deal like the photos of me at his age. (Well, actually slightly older than his age, since I was a tiny baby and he is not. But you get the idea.) He has such an expressive little face that he can look quite different from one moment to the next — my mother calls him the little face-dancer because of it.

Sometimes I look into his eyes and it is disconcerting, because it is like looking into a mirror. I would say if nothing else, he definitely has my eyes. How very strange, to see so much of myself in someone else’s face. It takes my breath away.

In the end, though, I think the answer as to the question of who he looks like is pretty simple: He looks like himself. That’s all he ever needs to be.

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