I originally intended to post yesterday instead of today, but my efforts were hampered by two, yes two, injured pinkies. Two injured pinkies may not sound like much but when one is trying to type they prove quite the impediments. The left pinkie I sliced open two days ago when trying to get into my front door before the alarm sounded, only to find S., before leaving for his business trip, had accidently locked the chain on the door. Before realizing the futility of getting in from the front I struggled with the chain for a few fruitless seconds and thus, the sliced pinkie. This is certainly the worst injury- my nail is hanging on by a thread and everytime I type the wound reopens. My right pinkie I cut when I tried to move the dog’s crate into the guest room since that is where he prefers to chill. The walking wounded – that’s me.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about children and their role as conversational subjects in the adult working world. The most recent and (to me) concerning event happened last week while I was attending a meeting out of town. Those of us involved in this particular meeting were sitting around a large conference room, discussing different approaches to crisis communication training, when one of the men I report to, in response to a question, broke out some response involving milk and cookies and mice. It rhymed, and everyone else at the table broke out in the kind of laughter that comes, I guess, from reading the same book to a toddler over and over and over again ad nauseum. At first I didn’t understand and I must have had a blank expression on my face because this man, this, it should be noted, very important man when it comes to my livelihood, looked at me and said “Oh, don’t worry Courtney – all of the parents understand the reference.” And all down the conference table men and women, both older and younger than I, nodded and one woman held a hand to her chest and sighed “Oh, my five year old LOVES that book” and I wanted either to shout “You idiots, we are here for CRISIS training in anticipation of a flu pandemic (not really why I was there but you get the idea) and we are discussing childrens’ books? Really?” or slap her.
Which is so not me.
But it’s not like the previous evening put me in any kind of mood to listen to this discussion. I attended a dinner at a lovely restaurant with many of the very same people sitting at the conference table , and while the wine was lovely and the pasta al dente I was the only person without children and, it turns out, when seven out of the eight people at the table have children that is, of course, going to be the topic of conversation. I learned about how my supervisor’s three year old daughter won’t go to bed without wearing her Cinderella shoes and how another woman’s son wants to be a nurse and how another woman started working parttime because her daughter wanted her around the house more and by the time we got to the man who adopted children with disabilities I was all whatever, your child can sign in four different languages, I really don’t care.
Again, not like me. I care about children. I would even go so far as to say I like them, and love certain ones in my life with my entire heart. And I know it’s hard for people with children to understand, when they realize I’ve been married eight years, that I don’t have any.
I used to imagine my childlessness would remain a private matter, but I have been asked by nearly everyone in my workplace every variation of the question on why I do not yet have them. I tend to be honest, if somewhat appalled, when answering these questions – I am open to having children, would, in fact, love to be a mother, but refuse to undergo any extraordinary measures to have them. With an oddly-shaped uterus, a formerly broken pelvis that didn’t heal correctly, and a history of infertility in my family, having children doesn’t seem like it will be as straight forward a proposition as it is for other folks, and I actually feel no bitterness or frustration about this. I believe I am in God’s hands and if S. and I are meant to be parents we will be.
Not even the tiniest bit of help? Not even one round of in vitro?
No. not even that.
What I do resent is the expectation of bitterness and frustration on my part when there isn’t any. Many people really seem to struggle with the idea of a happily married woman in her early thirties refusing to go the extra mile to have a child, but what REALLY gets them, I think, is my rather laissez-faire attitude about it. I had one physician I work for tell me I’ll never really know what it means to love until I have children, and another tell me I can’t really understand the crisis cancer wrecks on a family until I have a child and understand the possibility of losing him or her, as though my uncle’s prostate cancer or my grandmother’s brain tumor were somehow a walk in the park emotionally because, you know, cancer was the natural progression for them.
But we all come from different places and the struggle to understand one another is part of the reason we inhabit this big piece of earth, and I can overlook the enormous breach in privacy these questions commit, but I do admittedly have trouble with children as subject matter – as the primary way most of my colleagues relate to one another, and to me.
I fear none of this will translate once read.
It is not that I am uninterested in my co-workers’ children. During the appropriate place and time, like during lunch and near the beginning or the end of the day, I enjoy hearing about potty training, dating, groundings, college applications and confirmation classes – these are the children that will be in my life for the forseable future and I feel invested in their success. What I do object to, and perhaps it doesn’t happen in all fields, but it certainly does in mine, is a discussion midway through a working meeting on the inherent value of the Wiggles, conversations that engage me about the qualities of breast pumps when I’m on a conference call, and references to childrens’ books I haven’t read.
I know I am not perfect, and I probably make one hundred exclusionary gestures every day without meaning to, but I really try not to. And maybe these thoughts are the beginning stages of some sort of old-woman bitterness, but I do think if I have children I will keep the conversation about them to my friends and family, those who ask, and this blog.
If I am really drilling down through this exploration, I guess what really irritates me the most is the assumption of want on the part of my co-workers…their assumption that I must want children even if I don’t have them. While I think I have established here that this desire is genuine, I almost feel – at fault- for not wanting them more than I do. For not going through the tests and treatments. For not charting my ovulation and then standing on the landing, pointing an impatient finger to my watch and looking at S. meaningfully.
I nearly feel as though my lack of overwhelming desire to have a baby somehow makes me faulty as a woman, like maybe I shouldn’t even leave the possibility open if my desire is so lackluster.
But that’s sort of ridiculous. I mean, I don’t assume that the single people I know desperately want to get married, or even remain in a steady relationship. I don’t assume those who’ve never traveled want to, and I never force a book on someone who doesn’t claim to be a reader. I don’t invite those I know who hate movies to the cinema and I don’t cook meat for vegetarians. I believe most of us are hurtling through this life, embodying at once an ever-growing notion of who we are and a yearning for the many lives we have not lived. And since each life is individual, an unknowable inside narrative within each person we meet, I think assuming a little less, and listening with grace and gratitude a little more, are actions I am going to strive for in the new year, and hope it comes back to me.