Sunday, October 15, 2017

And Do You Have Kids?

All ready to be fancy for the night

Bryce and I went to a ball Friday night. It was in the gussied-up fieldhouse of the college where he went and is pursuing his doctorate, and it was the President's Alumni Ball -- we were invited through corporate relations, and we knew pretty much NO ONE at this event. But, I mean, how often do you get to go to a ball?

There were some really awesome things -- a bhangra dance performance, an all-male a capella group that serenaded us hilariously as we walked in the orange carpet and then solemnly sang the alma mater song after the bhangra dances, free wine (that may or may not have been a good thing), entirely gluten free entrees (but not so much with the hors d'oeuvres or desserts), and after dinner and presentations you had a choice -- dance, or play at the ginormous arcade setup they had ringing the cocktail area. We played pinball machines, shot millipedes from tiny spaceships, shot dinosaurs in a Jurassic Park jeep thingie and I raced Bryce on a motorcycle in my fancy-ish dress, which wasn't very ladylike but whatever. It was fun.

At dinner, we sat with the corporate relations people and a few other corporate-y people who were alumni. Once we sat down and you could chat, it became clear that everyone there had something in common -- three or more kids. In high school, or college, or the military, but it IMMEDIATELY went to "as a mom" type statements and "treasure the days" and "poor guy, all we had was three girls" type ilk. I may have drained a glass in one sitting during that small talk, leaving my delicious short rib without accompaniment. Whoops.

And sure enough, one of the people turned to us and said, "And do you have little kids at home?" I guess I should feel a little better that we appeared clearly younger, and even though I knew, just KNEW that going to an event where you're going to be sitting with strangers this would come up, I felt a little stuttery.

"No, that didn't work out for us." (Not a bad answer, right?)
"Oh, I'm sorry."

And then I had this strange feeling that I needed to make the person feel better, because I inexplicably said, "Thanks, but you know, we love kids, and I'm a teacher."

WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME? I mean, it was good because it deflected the conversation and it turns out that he has kids at my middle school, but why did I feel like I had to soften things? And I HATE it when other people say "Well, you're a teacher, so it's like they're all your kids" because in what universe is a good consolation prize a ton of 13 year olds? And wouldn't it be kind of inappropriate if I Mom'd my students, like the worst kind of boundary-crossing? That's not my role. It's a nurturing role for sure, but it doesn't replace the fact that I won't have children of my own to raise. So why would I have basically made that connection FOR someone?

Desperation, probably.

Eventually the discussion wound its way back and the gentlemen who opened Pandora's Box let me know that he and his wife had a hard time, as well, and they weren't willing to consider adoption because the process just seemed so heartbreaking and difficult. So I shared that yeah, we tried with IVF for over 5 years and then spent 2 1/2 years in the adoption process, and it sure as shit is heartbreaking and difficult and the toll for us was too great. And then he said,

"But you never know what could happen -- we ended up pregnant unexpectedly and then were shocked when we got pregnant again -- anything can happen!"

And I let that go. I just said, "We decided that we are enough as a family of two and we'll put our energies into that life" and, despite the free-flowing cabernet sauvignon, I did not tell the tale of woeful biology and broken body parts and the complete impossibility of ever having a whoops pregnancy. I think sometimes people feel better if they think that they've given you hope, even though for us hope came finally in the letting go of that possibility so we could focus on the rest of our life.

In the end we had a great night out together and didn't feel like sad saps at all. We went home to our cats and didn't have to pay a babysitter and drive him or her home...we could just get into pajamas and have some tea and go to bed. It doesn't take away from our grief to enjoy the life we actually have, even when we're reminded that things didn't turn out quite the way we'd hoped during dreadful small talk with strangers.


  1. I got distracted by the idea that there were video games at the ball. THAT is a ball I could attend. It is so odd what becomes the question for an area -- the go-to question for every social situation. A world of topics and that was the only one they could all discuss? Did they notice the video games? Because if I had been there, that's all we would have talked about.

  2. “I think sometimes people feel better if they think that they’ve given you hope, even though for us hope came in finally in the letting go of that possibility so we could focus on the rest of our life.”

    This. This is the heart of the issue for the platitudes. Somehow people have it in their minds that they can make everything better by sharing their happy endings. They cannot fathom that happy endings don’t all have the same road.

    I think you handled your self amazingly well. Even if you get less than great with the situation, truly you were awesome.

    And the ball sounds like it was wonderful. MAy there be more wonderful opportunities like that one soon.

    1. Dammit, Cristy always beats me to it! This is what I was going to say.

      You really nailed it with the platitudes. I'm a little less kind, as I think that platitudes are often a way of dealing with their discomfort, rather than yours, and clearly make them feel better, even if they do nothing for you. I know, I've done it before I knew better.

      Also - you look great in red!

    2. This is basically what I wanted to say to. Sorry it was a little hard but I do think you handled yourself super well and made the best of it. Video games, yummy food, and free wine – pluses for sure.

    3. Cristy hits it right on and I am guilty of trying to be hopeful for someone before I knew better. Love your fancy dress!

  3. Wow Jess, that night sounds like it was so much fun! I love how they had all those arcade games you could play, that is a definite fun twist on a ball like that! And you guys look quite smashing!!

  4. Video games!!! :)))

    When I read about social situations like these, I always remember Dr. Suess and his wife couldn't have children but made up a daughter named Chrysanthemum Pearl. Then when others were sharing stories about their own children, they would make up fantastic stories to share about her. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever do that...

    Also, you are beautiful! :)

  5. OK. They all like the video games but I got stuck on the bhangra. Love bhangra!

    That's some difficult small talk to navigate. You did better than I might have, and you looked fabulous doing so.

  6. I agree you handled the inevitably awkward conversation really well. Maybe your desire to soften it came from fearing people would think you don’t like kids and resented them talking about theirs? I actually think it is appropriate to share that you are a teacher, because it emphasizes that all people, whether they are parents or not have a stake in the future and a contribution to make. I feel strongly about this partly because I have been befriended and mentored by many people who don’t have children. If the child free choose to do so, they have great resources and ability to nurture those around them, and while their contribution is different from that of parents it’s highly valuable. Young people, from children to adults need friends and mentors who are not their parents; it’s partly how you build a healthy independence and identity. So I’m glad you had a good time and I don’t think any of the parent talk should ever make you feel less of yourself.

  7. You and Bryce look marvelous. Your response was to a routine question and the awkward follow up was as good as ot could be.

    Video games as a ball. Awesome.

  8. That sounds like an amazing ball!
    It sounds like you handled it incredibly, but I agree, I'm always trying to make things less awkward and sad for the other person. I end up saying, "no, I have dogs"; my husband's go-to is, "no, I have a laser disc player and a Super Nintendo." Both usually generate laughs and the conversation can turn from there yet I wish I could be more honest. "I can't and yes I've thought about adoption and all others forms of creatively creating a family and none of that is for us." I haven't gotten there yet.

  9. You both look great in that picture! That's a shame you ended up at that particular table but glad to hear you still ended up having a fun night overall! There was a woman in my book club I was friends with (who since moved away), in her 40s and chilfree by choice and married. She was always so interesting to talk to! Well read and traveled a lot. Conversations like that are so much more interesting than when people go on about their kids non stop.

  10. I am sorry that you had to face these kinds of dumb comments & questions -- but glad that you had a good night out regardless! There are so few occasions where we get to dress up these days, aren't there? I was looking for a dress for my nephew's upcoming wedding & the salesclerk asked if I was interested in the long gowns... I told her I haven't worn a long dress since my own wedding & before that my high school graduation. There were some beautiful gowns there, but I know I will be more likely to wear a short dress again, even though the only place I seem to wear dresses these days is at weddings...!

  11. Arcade games!!! That's so fun! So I'm not proud of it (OK, I'm a little proud) but one time, on a road trip in Iowa, we stopped at a gas station and this guy and girl workers asked me if I had kids, in making small talk. And I was so tired of saying, "Oh, well, no, not yet..." that I threw back my shoulders, gave a little laugh and said, "Oh no. No, we don't want kids. We like our freedom!" And the guy laughed and said, "I respect that!" And we moved on. And I thought, God! I need to start saying THIS from now on to strangers. I felt so GOOD. It didn't make me sad, or weird or anything.

    Anyway, I hate that question.