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“How many kids do you have?” the cashier innocently asks.
And I’m screwed.
People don’t realize the impact of this question – there’s usually more than meets the eye. And more often than not? It’s none of your business.
It’s the middle of the day and I’m at my local grocery store. My 5 year old is by my side and my 9 month old is in the shopping cart. I draw attention. Who knows why. Maybe it is my obnoxiously pink Milk Snob cover. Maybe it is the fact that my 5 year old is well behaved and staying right by me. Maybe it’s my 9 month old saying, “DA-DA-DA-DA!” at the top of her lungs because she can. (No, she doesn’t actually WANT her dad, she prefers me, but that’s one of her favorite sounds to say.)
Who knows. Whatever the reason, people in the grocery store FIND ME and STRIKE UP A CONVERSATION.
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not against conversing with others and making small talk. I can handle that; I enjoy that. But think about it…. How do you get to know someone? Presumably, you ask questions in hopes of getting a glimpse into who they are and what their life is like.
New friends are fun and I love to meet new people. However, lately I’ve paid a lot more attention to the questions asked when getting to know someone new. It’s been quite fascinating to perform this little experiment. Typically, a person’s name is disregarded, which seems strange. Isn’t that kind of an important part of a person’s identity?
The questions go like this:
1. Where do you work?
2. Where does your husband work?
And then WITHOUT FAIL this question comes:
3. How many kids do you have?
(I promise you – more often than not, this is the order of the questions – I swear on my life.)
This would be the order of questions for people who are stuck next to each other at a lunch – awkwardly eating their food while trying to converse. If a random person strikes up a conversation at the grocery store we skip questions 1-2 and go immediately to #3.
Photo credit: runneralan2004 via VisualHunt / CC BY
Seems harmless enough, right? People are simply getting to know each other.
What if that person has suffered a devastating loss? What if one of their children is no longer on this earth? What if?
I struggled with this for a LONG time. What do I say when someone asks me this question? Do I LIE and say I have 2 kids? That seems like a slap in the face to my little angel boy. Do I say I have 3 kids and wait to see if they can count? Am I really going to bare my soul and hardest trial with a random stranger in the produce aisle?
I regret to say I have done both.
When I’ve said I have 2 children I immediately feel GUILT and SHAME. How could I neglect the son that taught me so much? He changed my life and the way I view everything. Now I’m going to pretend he doesn’t exist? SHAME SHAME SHAME.
When I’ve said I have 3 children people look quizzically at me – like they’re trying to figure out why I only have 2 with me. Where is the third?
The WORST is when I say I have 3 children and end up crying (yes it’s happened) or excusing the fact that it happened by COMFORTING THE STRANGER! (“It’s ok” and “It turned out to be really good for our family,” both are TRUE, but why am I consoling a stranger?) I kid you not, both have happened.
Photo via Visualhunt
I have been pretty open with my experience losing my son Ian at 21 weeks because it was healing for me. I shared because I HOPED I could help people and make a difference in the lives of other women who were experiencing the same loss as me. I knew I could open up and bare my soul so I wouldn’t have to “go there” every time someone asked me about it. Instead, I could simply refer them to my blog if they wanted all the details. Maybe that’s selfish or childish of me, but if you haven’t lost someone you love you simply may not understand. It’s a HARD, DARK place to be and it’s not easy or fun to go back to that place of grief.
But Kaylynn, if you can share on the internet, you can share in real life, right? Easier said than done. I can do it, but not at the grocery store to someone I’ve barely “met.” It’s different. I’m typically caught off guard by people and their stupidity in real life. When someone reaches out to me via my blog I can usually put some thought into my response.
Then I realized something. Why am I ashamed? This is a FACT and I shouldn’t shy away from it.
When I go into my Dr.’s office and they say, “You’ve had 3 births, 2 living children.” FACT. No one bats an eye. This is not disrespectful, it doesn’t mean they don’t care and aren’t sympathetic, they get it.
When my 5 year-old is asked about her siblings there is no hesitation, “I have a brother up in heaven and a baby sister at home.” Fact, and no apologies in sight. She’s proud to have a brother in heaven and wants everyone to know.
There is something to be learned from both of these responses.
So, to the random lady at the car wash, the cashier at the grocery store, the fellow mama in the produce aisle… Back to the question:
“How many kids do you have?”
Me: “Three: I have a 5 year old, a 2 year old angel in heaven, and a 9 month old.”
When the inevitable “AW” or infuriating “side-tilt” comes I will not be ashamed. I will not console or comfort them. If they have a problem with it then that’s their thing. I refuse to waste one more second tip-toeing around others when it comes to my son. THE END. No apologies. No hiding it. No excuses. I will share. I am proud of my story and my son. He is real and he IS my son, I will not forget him or pretend he doesn’t exist.
To the mamas out there – do what is best for you in the time that you feel is right. It has taken me a LONG time (almost 2 years) to get to this point. It has been hard and there have been many tears along the way. Do what is best for you TODAY. Tomorrow will be different. One day at a time – you got this.
Random stranger, next time you want to ask a woman “how many kids they have” …. maybe don’t. Unless you’re prepared to hear the answer. Some women are hurting silently and others deserve a medal for getting dressed – they don’t want to bare their souls to a stranger. I know you’re trying to be polite and make friendly conversation, but it’s time we re-evaluate the way we talk to one another. Think before you speak.