teen video gameWhat do you do when you don’t look like one of your kids?

I always remember the story my ex told me about when Ethan was 2 or 3 years old. He was driving to Rhode Island and stopped for a bathroom break. At the time, whenever Ethan wanted to be put down, he’d say, “Help!”

For some background, let me fill you in on some details. My ex is of the see-through white variety. When his freckles connect, he’s “tan.” My son—while a personality clone of his father—looks like little ol’ Asian me. We Asians dominate everything, including genes.

So imagine yourself at  a New Jersey rest stop in the middle of the night when you see a skinny, white man toting around a little Asian boy who is screaming “Help!” Yeah…

Now picture yourself at a restaurant. A tall, blond 16-year-old walks in with a youthful Vietnamese woman (emphasis on youthful). If he were actually mine, I’d have been another York, Pa., teen pregnancy statistic. Sure, blended families include adoption, but our ages are just close enough to likely rule that out. So over the last year of stepson sushi nights, I admit to being the paranoid woman at the restaurant.

Think the Sexy Septuagenarian crush isn’t healthy? This isn’t either. People are staring, I think to myself. I feel their eyes on our table. I’m not a creepy cougar, I want to belt out! I settle instead for “Oh we should tell your DAD ABOUT [insert x, y, z topic] WHEN HE GETS HOME” in a louder than average voice every.single.dinner.

I remind myself that people have much better things on their minds than to care about random strangers’ dinners. It’s all in my head. They probably don’t even notice us sitting there. After all, are our images projected on their phone screens? If not, we obviously don’t exist. But even with my internal reality checks, every dinner I find myself pulling out the same old line with the same decibel levels.

Then on the teen’s birthday on the 23rd, a click switched. Hard. Seven teenagers were sprawled across our living room. Avery’s “only birthday request” was that I play a round of COD (Call of Duty for the less acronym inclined). Despite my massive distaste for shooter games, I agreed out of love and more honestly to earn some stepmom points to be cashed in later for Taylor Swift marathons in the car.

We set up the XBox. The teens took their heckling spots on the couches as I sat on the floor. As the game loaded, one of Avery’s friends said, “Shouldn’t you give up your seat? She’s elderly.” After a quick glance over at me, she saved herself (not really), “Uh, but not elderly.”

And there you have it. Thirty-three and elderly. It was time to stop worrying people thought I was a creepy cougar. Perspective shift. Apparently I just look like his grandmother.