Lau­ren Grod­steins books include the nov­els The Expla­na­tion for Every­thing, A Friend of the Fam­i­ly, and Repro­duc­tion is the Flaw of Love and the sto­ry col­lec­tion The Best of Ani­mals. Lau­ren teach­es cre­ative writ­ing at Rut­gers-Cam­den, where she helps admin­is­ter the college’s MFA pro­gram. She will be blog­ging here all week for Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ing.

Recent­ly, one of my writ­ing stu­dents turned in a sto­ry fea­tur­ing an adorable, vul­ner­a­ble child whose blue eyes were wide with wis­dom” or some­thing sim­i­lar­ly icky. Although I oth­er­wise liked the sto­ry, I warned my stu­dent – my entire class, in fact – against this par­tic­u­lar cliché, the urchin who spouts soul-ennobling max­ims while either bring­ing the adults togeth­er or putting them in their place. This child is usu­al­ly between the ages of four and eight, preter­nat­u­ral­ly mature, humor­less, and almost always blond. I call him the Gold­en Child, and he annoys the crap out of me.

After I fin­ished teach­ing that day, I met my four-year-old son for lunch in the cam­pus gar­den. My son is blond. My son is blue-eyed. My son has a good sense of humor, but still: my cre­ative writ­ing stu­dents saw us in the gar­den and said, kind­ly, that it looked like I had a Gold­en Child of my own. I smiled through my cringe. They were right: Nathaniel is gold­en, as all-Amer­i­can as a fourth of July fire­work. I, on the oth­er hand, look like I was just crowned Miss Shtetl 2013. In oth­er words, my son doesn’t look like me at all, and he doesn’t look par­tic­u­lar­ly Jew­ish.”

I have a strange rela­tion­ship with my son’s all-Amer­i­can looks. Of course I think he’s beau­ti­ful, but I’m always sur­prised at how fre­quent­ly peo­ple com­ment on his appear­ance, and espe­cial­ly how peo­ple admire him for his blondness. I’ve nev­er been blond in my life, so before Nathaniel was born I’d nev­er wit­nessed, real­ly, the pow­er of blond hair, even when it’s on the head of a lit­tle boy. Peo­ple like to touch it, pat it, remark on its lemo­ny high­lights. Peo­ple have even praised me for it, as though it was some­thing I gave him on pur­pose. And more than once, peo­ple have asked me if his father is Jew­ish, if his father is the source of the kid’s lucky looks.

These sorts of com­ments bring up all kinds of fun­ny feel­ings in me . On the one hand, I want to shake the per­son: Jews look like all sorts of things, dum­my, includ­ing like Cap­tain Amer­i­ca over here. On the oth­er hand, I want to acknowl­edge my own pride in this beau­ti­ful blond boy — blond like the Vikings, blond like the sun. And on the oth­er oth­er hand, I some­times won­der if my son’s con­nec­tion to Judaism will be affect­ed by what he looks like. Already the threads feel loos­er in him than they are in me: no, his father was not born Jew­ish, and yes, the blond hair comes from his father’s side of the family. 

Is it easy for me to be Jew­ish because I look so clas­si­cal­ly Semit­ic? Will it be hard­er for him because he doesn’t? And what does it mean that I even think about these things?

On Fri­day night we light can­dles; on Jew­ish hol­i­days we cel­e­brate with fam­i­ly. Last fall we ate in a sukkah togeth­er, and we look for­ward to doing that again. This fall he’ll start Hebrew School at our won­der­ful syn­a­gogue. Still, like many Jew­ish kids – like me when I was his age – he’d rather cel­e­brate Christ­mas than Han­nukah and has no real inter­est in being dif­fer­ent from his friends. And unlike me, with my stereo­typ­i­cal­ly Jew­ish face, my Jew­ish name, he’d have an easy time pass­ing one day for some­one he isn’t.

For the moment, how­ev­er, my Gold­en Child is a font of dubi­ous knowl­edge. I’m not blond!” he says. I’m brown like you!” This is patent­ly untrue, but strange­ly, it pro­vides some solace. He wants to be brown-haired because he wants to look like me, he says — because he’s my son and we’re fam­i­ly. How won­der­ful to hear him say this! Even if it’s ridicu­lous. My son is not brown-haired like me, but he is Jew­ish, like me. He loves his fam­i­ly, like I do. See!” he says. I’m just like you!” 

Just like all chil­dren and their par­ents, he is and he isn’t. But occa­sion­al­ly, despite the cliché of it, he is wise beyond his years. 

Read more about Lau­ren Grod­stein here.

Lau­ren Grod­stein is the author of Our Short His­to­ry, The Wash­ing­ton Post Book of the Year The Expla­na­tion for Every­thing, and The New York Times best­selling A Friend of the Fam­i­ly, among oth­er works. Her sto­ries, essays, and arti­cles have appeared in var­i­ous lit­er­ary mag­a­zines and antholo­gies, and have been trans­lat­ed into French, Ger­man, Chi­nese, and Ital­ian, among oth­er lan­guages. Her work has also appeared in Elle, The New York Times, Refinery29, Salon​.com, Bar­rel­house, Post Road, and The Wash­ing­ton Post. She is a pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish at Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty-Cam­den, where she teach­es in the MFA pro­gram in cre­ative writing.