Note to Self: The Kids Question

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One of the things I loved about New York – not in the top ten but definitely a nice perk – was that no one ever asked me why I wasn’t married or when I was going to have kids. This is because there is so much to do in New York, who has time to notice the absence of rings and toddlers? You get there when you get there (if ever).

It’s not like that anymore. It might be a function of being so far from Manhattan or it might be because I’m 38. Whatever it is, “So, are you going to have kids?” has become this year’s, “How ’bout them Mets?”

It’s weird to ask people about their sex lives over cocktails, isn’t it? (Unless the people in question are your Sex-and-the-City, personal girlfriends, of course.) Not just that: they’re also asking you to summarize your plans for the rest of your life in what will probably be a drive-by conversation lasting no more than five minutes.

Maybe I’m taking this too seriously. Maybe it’s understood that the kids question is like the co-worker’s question about your recent hospital stay: no one actually wants you to tell him about how the surgeon left a sponge in your chest cavity that’s formed a third lung and kept you on painkillers so long that now you’re going to have to go to rehab like your second cousin Larry who’s been living on the streets of Minneapolis for the last six months with his three-legged ferret Myrtle. Maybe they’re just asking to fill the time and be polite.

Except asking about kids isn’t like asking about your health: presumably you already have some health to discuss whereas you don’t already have kids. Isn’t that as random as asking me if I want to get my pilot’s license? Or something more serious, like if I’ve been considering leaving my life of single, western world privilege to go help out in Sudan. I wouldn’t broadside you over a mojito with, “So, thinking about reconfiguring your concept of life, liberty and the pursuit of your particular happiness this fine weekend?”

Here’s what I’m thinking. People usually want something when they act oddly, right? Not from you: for themselves. They’re displacing what’s on their mind onto you. So it’s not really about you at all.

Parents want grandkids, but some instinct tells them it’s inappropriate to request that another person bear live young so they can spoil them with treats. Instead of finding a quiet moment to talk about their personal life with you at brunch and saying, “I look forward to having grandchildren someday,” and appending a respectful disclaimer about how that desire may not converge with your thinking about your future, they punt managing their desire onto you at a crowded potluck with, “Do you think you want kids?”

Same with pals. What they’re really asking is, “Do I want kids and can we please talk about that?” If they already have kids, they’re saying, “I hope you’ll have kids too because I’d like some back-up for my choice and someone to talk to about it.”

(Of course, there are exceptions. Some of my close friends really are curious about what I think. But they’re not the ones trotting up to me at bars to discuss it. Kids are best discussed over non-alcoholic beverages. Come to think of it, alcohol and kids don’t really mix from conception onwards, so good rule of thumb there.)

Instead of being privately offended or tactfully declining to respond, I’ve settled on the inappropriate response to the inappropriate question. I got the grandkids question at a wedding overrun with children under five last month and responded that perhaps arrangements could be made to rent some of the existing toddlers rather than adding to their number. The next time a half-drunk acquaintance tries for my position, I’m going to pull up with, “I don’t know. But how do you feel about nude camp? ‘Cause that’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while.”

I’ll let you know how many people are still talking to me in a month.

(That’s me in the picture by the way, working hard at correcting my 20/20 vision in a plastic swimming pool.)

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2 Comments on “Note to Self: The Kids Question”

  1. amber
    August 28, 2009 at 10:29 am #

    OH! i know exactly how you feel about this…and i have finally come up with the perfect solution for this problem. My mother and sister-in-law always ask me when i am going to have kids…they are obsessed with the fact that i don’t have children, or how i could have possibly gone this long without them.”oh amber you really should have kids! you’re so good with kids, why haven’t you tried?” so the next time someone brings it up, you should respond with a simple “oh, we were just trying when you called and interrupted” or if you are out at the bar just tell them you’ll have to hurry home and give it a shot. everyone is so blunt with asking about when you plan to have sex and concieve…why not slap them in the face with that response?

  2. October 18, 2009 at 2:10 pm #

    Oh, that’s funny…did u really start to ask about nude camp? It could be hilarious 🙂

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