No, I'm not the childminder - yes, I'm their biological mother

Growing up I didn't really notice that I looked different to the other kids, not until I reached high school. Everything changed from that point; people noticed that my skin colour was darker than theirs, but I confused them by having straight brown hair. Before asking my name, or anything else about me, kids would say "where are you from?"


I hail from the not-so-exotic Bedfordshire, and both of my parents hail from the slightly-more-exciting London. My grandparents on my Dad's side came from St Vincent, in the West Indies, and mixed with my mother's blonde and whiter-than-white gene pool I got my "tanned" skin tone, straight dark brown hair and green eyes.

When I was pregnant for the first time, I tried to imagine what my baby was going to look like. Ian has brown hair, fair skin and blue eyes, so I expected that our baby would have either green or blue eyes, perhaps an olive complexion, but most definitely he would have dark hair. So when this little red, squirmy blonde-haired baby was brought to me the first words out of my mouth were "who's that?!" Because a baby with fair skin and fair hair was not what I expected at all! 

Little N has sandy blonde hair now, and his skin is the kind that goes golden if you even mention the word "sunshine". If I was surprised by his fairness, then J's was an even bigger shock. He is almost white blonde and his skin is even fairer. And to top it off, he looks exactly like Ian and nothing at all like me. But that's okay, I don't mind that there isn't an awful lot of resemblance. I think most parents are used to getting comments about how much their child looks like the other parent. 

What I do mind however, is the number of comments from people who assume that I am the childminder, the nanny, the babysitter, the au pair. And when I explain that I am actually their mother, I then get confused looks, awkward mumbles of disbelief and once even "what, biologically?" I have lost count of how many times this kind of comment has been made to me at toddler groups and mummy meet-ups, or in supermarket queues and waiting rooms. 

It hurts. 

Something changes when you become a parent. It seems to start during pregnancy. All of a sudden, people lose all sense of tact and diplomacy, and it's open season on people giving their opinions, regardless of whether they're wanted or not. It continues through pregnancy and seemingly all the way through parenthood. People give you their two cents without filtering their thoughts at all. Even when those comments are hurtful. 

It's also frustrating that once people have accepted that no, I'm not a childminder, and yes, I am their biological mother, the brain-to-mouth filter still doesn't engage. I then get remarks such as "oh but you're so dark and they're so fair, their dad must be really fair then."

Actually, no. Sure, he's got white skin and blue eyes but he's got dark hair. I could give them a  quick science refresher about how the mechanism behind hair color isn't a dominant or recessive allele but a cumulative effect based on the number of eumelanin or phaeomelanin genes that are turned on, and given that my mum and two of her sisters are blonde that I probably contribute just as much if not more to the boys' fair features - but I imagine it would go completely over their heads.

Instead I find myself awkwardly smiling and muttering "yeah something like that". I'm the one that ends up feeling embarrassed by the situation, even though it's not me that has caused it. It's other people with their inappropriate questions. I have friends who have had ended up feeling equally embarrased when they have been asked if their twins were conceived naturally, or if their children all have the same dad. It is of nobody else's concern, and anyway I don't know what people achieve from knowing the ins and outs.`

It's okay to be curious about other people; that's human nature. It's not okay to be tactless about it though. Before you say something, ask yourself if it's really necessary. Ask yourself if it's really appropriate. Ask yourself if it would upset you if the shoe was on the other foot. And if it would, rephrase the comment or perhaps just keep the thought to yourself. 

That way you definitely won't hurt anyone's feelings.

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UPDATE:

Wow. The response to this post has been overwhelming to say the least. Most people have responded kindly, thank you to all of you lovely people! Some others have been a little less supportive, so I'd like to clear a few things up. I've reworded some of the things that have been said, so as not to point the finger at anyone directly:

1. "I don't get it, she just looks like a tanned white girl, why is she so bothered?"
I write a post about people assuming I'm a childminder because my hair and skin are darker than my children (that is other people's reasoning by the way, and not just my assumption), and I get a bunch of people saying that I'm not dark-skinned enough for anyone to make those comments. Okaaaaay. Yes, in this photo I guess I do look like a "tanned white girl". It was taken at the end of winter, when my skintone looks "tanned" (and I get delivery drivers and checkout staff asking me if I've just got back from anywhere nice. Nope it's just my skintone). So if people think I'm tanned in winter, what do you think they make of me during the summer! Oh, and yes it has been edited in post-production because being winter the image was pretty flat and I had wanted to warm it up a bit. But whether you think my skintone is too light or too dark is besides the point, as this post is not about the colour of my skin. It is about people making me feel hugely uncomfortable on a near weekly basis.

2. "I've got brown hair and my children have got blonde hair. No-one has ever questioned me! What's she going on about?"
Well, I'm really glad to read that, because if you were getting questioned as often as I do, by complete strangers I may add, you'd probably end up feeling as disheartened as I do. But you not being asked doesn't change the fact that I do get asked, and it doesn't change the fact that it hurts my feelings.

3. "It's just small talk, how else are you meant to get to know people at toddler groups?"
This one is really bizarre. It's not small talk to ask if my children are really mine. I have never, ever questioned anyone about their heritage, ethnicity or looks in general. Goodness knows how I've got any friends at all, if you're meant to ask intrusive questions about their family and background within the first five minutes of meeting them...

4. "She's choosing to be offended"
I'm reacting to a situation that I'm in because other people choose to speak before they think. I don't have a choice in the matter. I suppose I could walk away, but ironically I don't want to be rude to them!

5. "It's just an observation"
So we should just all walk around saying exactly what's on our minds, regardless of how it might make the other person feel? There are plenty of things that I might observe about other people, but I'd never dream of saying them because I would never want to make someone else feel sad or uncomfortable.

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Dear Bear and BeanyMummascribblesA Mum Track MindWafflemama.

51 comments

  1. Oh Sian, I can imagine that must be so hurtful. I'm so suprised, as I have genuinely never even thought about you and your boys not looking alike - in fact I always think N does look a lot like you, maybe it's just photographs but I've never noticed any differences in skin tone at all.

    It's not at all the same thing but I constantly hear remarks about my Noah having "red" hair - the jokes of "Is he the postmans?!" dont bother me so much, but the exclamation of "Oh hes ginger! Where did he get that from?!"...asked almost in disgust are a bit more hurtful. People just really need to think before they speak :/ xx

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    1. Thank you for saying that N looks a lot like me - that makes my heart sing! Your Noah has beautiful hair, all of your boys do, people can be so bloody rude at times x

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  2. It actually baffles me as to me they look just like you. J looks a little more like Ian but still like you and N couldn't look more like you. G has blonde hair and I've never had anyone question it, although I did used to feel like if stolen her from a blonde lady haha!! And as for your looks, if you hadn't have said anything I would never have even noticed anything darker about your skin- you just have a glow :-). People need to learn to keep their beaks out xx

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    1. I love that you think they look like me, thank you! I never had anyone say anything when I just had Little N, but since J came along with his Swedish looks more people assume I'm not their mum than do. It happened last week at Bluestone which prompted me ranting now! No-one ever questions Ian on whether he is their dad despite him having dark hair, so I dunno if it's the combination of my skin, hair and eyes? Either way, it's just rude to assume!x

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  3. It's just as hurtful as people accusing me of an affair because I'm dark haired and my other half is redder than sunset. Our boy is blonde. I mean, blonde! Like honey blond. It's really hurtful.

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    1. Oh my gosh, have people actually said that to you?! That's crazy! :( x

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  4. Wow! I do wish people were able to play what they wanted to say in their head before they spoke- I have the best comments as a mum to twins- "are they natural?" being a favourite, it really does baffle me that people do actually think their comments are appropriate. Oddly, I've never been asked about my children's appearance- only once at parent's evening when a teacher said "oh I wasn't expecting you to have dark hair" (my husband does the school run!). I have three children with pale skin, blondish hair and blue eyes- and I am their opposite. I thought I would get more comments, especially as I frequently travel alone with them- fortunately not, reading this I am feel slightly grateful but so sorry that people feel able to speak so thoughtlessly.

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    1. I wish they could do that too! Oh wow, asking if your babies are natural is a shocker. Honestly, who in their right mind would think that is an acceptable thing to say! Unbelievable x

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  5. It never even occurred to me that you don't 'look like' your boys at all. In fact I don't think I've ever wondered about parents bring different from their children, thankfully I was brought up in a pretty multicultural area sof perhaps that helps! Sorry people are so tactless

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  6. oh goodness - one of my friends said to my daughters best friend 'ooh where have you been on holiday, your a lovely colour?' Before we all mumbled something about her being mixed race rather than suntanned. I always think people can be so daft with their comments.

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  7. I think they look just like you Sian! Some people are so rude and tactless and don't engage their brains before they speak. Both of my girls are fair with blue eyes and Lewis is fair with hazel eyes whereas I'm dark with brown eyes, I did hope at least one would inherit my colouring but they didn't! It actually annoys me a but when people say how much Rose is like her dad or how blonde Holly is! X

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  8. Ohh people can be so tactless, can't they? I have a similar issue-I am Malaysian and have tanned skin, whereas my husband has blonde hair and blue eyes. My first son looks quite Caucasian with fair skin and brown hair. But my second one (who is 5 mths old) has my features and colouring, so usually when I'm out they will ask about my baby but not my toddler, or they'll be like "Oh is that one your son?" pointing to some Asian kid and are surprised when I introduce my son. I thought that by now, multicultural families are a norm so people could be more understanding and tactful.

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  9. It's outrageous the things people say and think are acceptable isn't it?! Like you say, it's open season where babies are concerned. Loved reading this, well said! X

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  10. I really liked this post, I have brown hair, brown eyes and olive skin. My little boy has blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin. I do sometimes worry when I'm alone with him it looks like I've stolen him! Nope he's all mine lol

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  11. I can totally relate to this post. Although my children don't share my genes as they are adopted. My son has a beautiful olive complexion hazel eyes and when he was a baby has masses of big loose dark brown curls. I on the other hand am blonde (most of the time) pale pale skin and blue eyes. People would stop me in the supermarket, play centre and anywhere for that matter to tell me how stunning he was with the mass of curls (He was and still is as a teen although curls have sadly gone) Then they would ask me if his Dad was dark. I must admit I could be rather naughty and I would often say "Oh I can't remember to be honest it was a while ago and I may have been drunk"

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  12. My midwife couldnt believe that our son was ours...i am white but tan well with sunshine like your son. With brown hair. MY HUSBAND is bright ginger and very pale. Both boys tan well but are white but both boys are really blonde, like your youngest he is nearly a white blonde! I love genetic and think its amazing :)

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  13. People can be such idiots. My mum is olive skinned and perpetualy tanned whereas I am ghostly and I'm certain that if I didn't look like her facially, people would make thesekind of dumb statements about her x

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  14. I can't imagine what that must feel like - sometimes people need to think more before they speak! #TwinklyTuesday

    Helen x

    http://www.treasureeverymoment.co.uk/

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  15. It happens less now, but my wife used to go through this all the time. Both she and her daughter have very dark hair and darker complexions, but my daughter with her came out looking just like me, with blue eyes and lighter hair. I don't understand why people need to vocalize every assinine thought that pops into their heads. #twinklytuesday

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  16. Poeple always say unsolicited advice isnt it? A lot of comments hurt and yet people doesnt stop in saying them over and over. In my case its my marriage. It failed and people kept on saying I hould work harder and not give up. Like I havent! For 6 years I did!

    But it will never be enough for them. I wish people will be more sensitive of their comments because they do hurt!

    #twinklytuesday

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  17. How awful. My both my boys have blonde hair, my eldest browny/blonde and my youngest really blonde I've never had any comments about them not looking like me as I have dark hair. Shame on people who need to think a little bit more and engage their brain before their mouths. Written very well too, thanks for sharing #TwinklyTuesday

    http://topsyturvytribe.wordpress.com

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  18. So I have always looked really young. Always. I'm almost 26 but I like 16. So when I was pregnant with my first somebody came up to me and said "I've been telling my daughter that this is what happens if you're not careful. She's 15 and cuddling with her boyfriend on the couch!" I said " I'm married, a college graduate and 23." He laughed and said "oh congratulations" and drove off. Rude

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  19. People are idiots! I can't believe they'd be so rude! But I definitely think a lot of people especially in superficial social situations (oooh alliteration!) make off the cuff remarks that they haven't thought through. Not though it's any excuse. My first child has dirty blond hair and I constantly get asked about his colouring because my husband and I are dark haired. I might just have a badge printed for him which lists the colouring of all his maternal and paternal relatives so people can weigh up the possibility rate of his amount of melanin!!!! Heheh!

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  20. Oh dear. Parenthood seems to be one of those areas of life when normally intelligent decent people lose their filters and think they can ask any old tactless shit. I don't think many kids look exactly like their parents. And there are so many people getting together now from different backgrounds is it really still a talking point? Reading your post makes it sound like you're living in a Victorian TV drama and you're the 'exotic' incomer to the village! It must be very tedious and upsetting.
    On a much less hurtful level I am always getting surprised remarks about how blond my eldest is and how curly his hair is. Mine is dark brown (now greying) and straight. Little do they know my son is a dead ringer for me aged two, as family photos prove. But I don't tend to carry a photo of me as a child in my wallet!

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  21. Gosh I can't believe people would be so rude, I think I would just tell them - don't you think that's a little forward and intrusive. Don't take on people's negativity and definitely don't get upset by people that obviously say things like that to be nosey and nasty really it's non of there business. You have one life so I wouldn't spend another hour or day wasted on thinking about thoughtless comments
    Love & light k x

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  22. Some people are just insensitive and downright rude. I sometimes wonder if people wonder about me and my daughter too? I'm from the Philippines and my husband is white-British. My daughter has brown hair and eyes and her skin tone is lighter than mine. I hear comments about how beautiful she is and their words trail off. So I can imagine how hurtful it might be. They don't understand how comments like that can really stab you, or what others may think is harmless may actually be hurtful. #sharingthebloglove

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  24. I completely get where you're coming from on this. I am olive skinned with dark hair and eyes, and my husband has brown eyes and brown hair too. I imagined what our baby would look like before he was born and never in a million years would I have guessed we'd end up with the white blonde, blue eyed little guy we have. Most of the time I get comments of 'he's so blonde', but occasionally I'll get the people who assume I'm the nanny, or a distant relation - a health visitor early on did this and I remember being really upset (why would you assume a nanny is bringing a 2 month old baby to a weigh in session?). I don't think people really understand that it's hurtful, but that really doesn't excuse it - I always try to think before I speak! I often wonder if we have another child what they'll look like though, I do find the way genetics works so fascinating. Thanks for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove

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  25. I can only imagine how hurtful this is and think you've done incredibly well to stay so calm. People just don't know when to keep their mouths shut sometimes. Thanks so much for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday

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  27. I think nowadays people need to mind their own business more. You should just assume a child is with their parent and allow the parent to correct you if they are not. I have seen this before with friends and it's so insensitive and way more upsetting than people think. As for the children looking like their dad, I completely empathise as I feel like my son is a teeny clone of my other half, and everyone loves to tell me "wow, he looks nothing like you", great. You and your children are beautiful! Ignore the idiots as best you can.

    (Had to repost my comment as my phone decided to correct dad to dadoor and I couldn't leave it, or else I would've died a little bit inside)

    Lovely blog. You have gained a new follower!

    X

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  28. I think nowadays people need to mind their own business more. You should just assume a child is with their parent and allow the parent to correct you if they are not. I have seen this before with friends and it's so insensitive and way more upsetting than people think. As for the children looking like their dad, I completely empathise as I feel like my son is a teeny clone of my other half, and everyone loves to tell me "wow, he looks nothing like you", great. You and your children are beautiful! Ignore the idiots as best you can.

    (Had to repost my comment as my phone decided to correct dad to dadoor and I couldn't leave it, or else I would've died a little bit inside)

    Lovely blog. You have gained a new follower!

    X

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  30. When my aunty had her son, who was her 3rd child that came later in life. He was a blue eyed blondie and looked nothing like his parents or his 2 sisters. The amount of people that asked her if he was her's was amazing. I think the worst comment she got was someone saying was he a surrogate and the mum changed their mind!! I mean where do people get this stuff from and why do they think it is ok to say it. I have never even thought about your skin colour or your boys colouring, you all look like you are part of a set. Thanks for joining us at #SharingtheBlogLove Laura x

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  31. Wow I can't believe people could be so rude! People comment all the time on how curly my daughter's hair is, compared to my poker-straight locks. I don't mind that so much, but what I DO mind is when then laugh at her *quote* "wild" hair. Thanks guys! Way to give her a complex about her appearance!

    It's incredible to see what other people think is acceptable!

    Well I think you look like a lovely family unit, so try to ignore those people who engage mouth before brain! #SharingTheBlogLove

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  32. Some people are so rude, and you're completely right about them losing all sense of tact from the moment you become pregnant - the amount of comments on my weight and how I look like I'm about to drop (this is at 6 months pregnant) from family, friends and strangers is a little hurtful even if that individual person doesn't mean it to be. As for the comments in your update, I bet they wouldn't say this to your face they'd give you a sympathetic nod. You look beautiful as do both of your boys, whether they look the spitting image of you or not! #SharingtheBlogLove

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  33. I can only imagine how you feel and it must be frustrating at times, but try to respond as positive as possible to it. I think I would have joke prepared for this kind of situation and make fun of it. It would make the other person less embarrassed as well. I think. xx
    Andreea

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  35. When I read the first part of the post I just nodded along and thought how annoying and insensitive people could be asking such personal questions. Then I read your update and to be honest I'm amazed at people's negativity! Ignore the haters - it's your blog and you are entitled to express your feelings. I'd be offended too if people kept asking if my kids were mine! Thanks for sharing on #fortheloveofBLOG x

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  36. Some people really don't think about the impact of their words before they speak, do they? Here in Mexico I think it's very normal to have a mix of different shades of skin / hair/ eye colour within the same family, but people are very direct about it and use language that sounds somewhat rude and even racist to British sensibilities. It takes a bit of getting used to! #fortheloveofBLOG

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  37. I'm always astounded by how rude some people can be. Yes, sometimes you do end up talking about colouring, but if you're going to ask, you just say 'so which of you do they take after?'. So many of my friends have kids with white blonde hair when both parents are dark haired, but as children the parents were blond, so it's quite comment to have kids who change hair colour as they grow up. But on the whole, you just don't talk to strangers like that.

    We can't see either of us in N...he's mousy hair colour and green eyes which is my childhood colouring although he was fairer when younger. THe OH has dark hair and blue eyes so I was expecting blue eyes seeing as that's the more dominant eye colour usually. But other than that we can't see each other in him. I think there's certain occasions where he'll look a bit like a cousin in expression, and my mum said he had her side of the family's mouth. But walking down the street it'd be a mystery. I have to say people round here are obviously less intrusive at those kind of comments - I've not been asked it once. They'd get a mouthful if they did #sharingthebloglove

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  38. This upsets me so much, I so wish people could engage their brains before speaking. I can't believe some of the questions us parents get asked, the biological twin one being really common apparently! It always annoyed me when people asked if I was breast feeding, it was usually asked so the could say oh well done when I said yes but really made me mad, why would they care?! Thank you so much for linking up to #FriYAYLinky you and your boys are just gorgeous xxx

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  39. I'm so sorry you have to put up with silly people's comments, especially the updated ones! I mean yes, a lot of mums seem to think they have the right to say whatever they are thinking to your face, but that's just ridiculous.
    I can't imagine how you must feel when people talk to you like that. :(
    My children both look a lot like me, and nothing like their dad, and you can tell when people say that to him, he feels a bit upset inside. I know it's not the same.
    All I can say is, you are beautiful. Your children are beautiful.
    Don't listen to the strangers who are just plain rude and don't think about what they are saying. Sarah xxx
    whimsicalmumblings.co.uk

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  40. I am so sorry that you have to put up with this, it must be incredibly frustrating. As for the comments you have received and responded to above, I have no words - so incredibly rude!!! Sending hugs xxx #SharingtheBlogLove

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  41. Wow, it amazes me the comments people come out with and think are appropriate. And those follow up comments are ridiculous! As if its OK to ask someone's if their kids are really theirs!!!
    So rude!
    #sharingthebloglove

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  42. Curious about other people, that's human nature. Sometimes the word of others makes you hurt, I experienced this feeling, until now I still hurt. Thanks for sharing.

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  43. Rather strangely when you do have a lid that looks like you people decide to say things like 'well he's definatley yours' to my husband which i find a bit rude as it suggests that i could have had an affair or something.

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  44. You're so right about inappropriate comments suddenly becoming 'ok' once you have kids. 'are they yours?' NOYB! Curiosity is human nature but tact is still required and some questions just shouldn't be asked. Great post x

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  45. Ahh that sounds so frustrating. People can be so weird and rude can't they? I always get asked where I'm from, and when i say "Bolton", some say "where are you really from?"....because I'm indian! we also get a lot of "who does the baby take after" because his eyes are so different. I have to admit it tempted to do a genetics test sometimes because I never really know what to say. (I *think* we may have some Burmese roots in there somewhere!)

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