Swirling in 4-year-old Terms

She's swirled.

When I first heard the term “swirling” I rolled my eyes.

I’ve really gotta stop doing that. Because last week it came in handy when Annika said something that freaked me out and I suddenly realized what a delectable term is in the biracial/multiracial world. It’s one of the few cultural terminologies I’ve ever heard that doesn’t come with any baggage. I like it.

So, Annika and I were driving down the road and she says to me from the back seat, “Mama, I washed my face before we left, doesn’t it look nice?”

“Yes, baby. It does.” I agreed.

“Mama, if I wash my face it will get lighter, right?”

My heart skipped a beat. What the hell? Okay, my brain said, don’t freak out. Maybe she doesn’t mean what it sounds like.

“Um, lighter, like your skin color getting lighter?” I asked.

“Yes, Mama, my skin will get whiter.”


Shit. Don’t freak out. Handle this with dignity and grace! She’s not even 4 yet. She can‘t have developed a neuroses about her skin color yet! Don’t give her one.

As I pause to think what I can say to her without turning this into a big thing, the latest images flash through my mind of her imaginary brother Freddie, who’s white; And her penchant for pretending to be the blonde/blue-eyed characters from shows and storybooks and never being the dark-skinned people.

Am I fucking up? Does she not get enough exposure to people who look like her? What the hell?!

I realize that this seems like I spent a lot of time hemming and hawing, but not really. My mind was racing.

So I said, “Honey, your skin will never get lighter. You will always be brown and beautiful. Your skin color is beautiful and you are beautiful. I think that brown skin is lovely. You have lovely light brown skin. Daddy has beautiful dark brown skin. We are all beautiful with the skin colors we were born with.”

She beams up at me and says (she’s been learning Spanish, btw), “I’m café!”

Then, she had a realization.

“Mama, I’m a mix of you and daddy! You’re white and he’s brown and I’m like a mixture of you both!” she squealed. Seriously, she was so excited.

“Yes,” I said. “You’re swirled. You know like an ice cream cone that has half chocolate and half vanilla? That’s you!”

Swirled. I get it now. Eye roll over.


  1. You handled this so beautifully! What a perfect response. And what a lovely picture of the two of you!

  2. Kathleen Green says:

    Beautiful! I have a swirly Granddaughter-her Mom is my Daughter her Dad is from Bangladesh.She is the most gorgeous little 3 year old God ever made.I have been telling her,as her Mom,Dad and everyone else she knows how beautiful she is since she was born-she is dark skinned,with a lot of our features.She is the most lovely child I have ever known-sweet and beautiful.-Kathy Green