by Jennifer Ryan
Sooner or later, every parent of an only child gets asked the dreaded question: When will you have another child? The first time I was asked, I was at a holiday party with friends of friends of extended friends. I had just met this woman. We had barely exchanged names. I was completely unprepared. Then, BOOM. She asked the question.Why all the drama? Well, my son was less than a year old. There should be some minimum age requirement on the first child before someone can launch into questions about the second, right? I mean, at least let the mother quit breastfeeding. Let the boob get cold before you attach another kid to it. Is that asking too much? All of this was my inner dialogue. Like I said, I was completely unprepared to answer such a question, so I was honest. “Well,” I responded, “I don’t really know if I want a second child.” She gave me this look like I had grown a second head. “Just one?” she asked. Wait. She didn’t ask it. She yelled it. I felt every head in the room swivel in my direction. A flock of birds in a tree outside the house was startled and took flight. Then some random person must have whipped out an MP3 player because “One Is the Loneliest Number” by Three Dog Night was the only sound in the room. Was that song in my head? Maybe that song was in my head. I couldn’t stand all the scrutiny, so I backpedaled. I backpedaled like crazy. “Oh I didn’t mean that I never want another child. Oh gosh no. I just don’t want another baby right now. Right this second.” Phew! She was placated. Crisis averted. Everyone went back to their food. The world made sense again.
Over the next several months, I crafted a strategy to deal with people. Whenever anyone would ask, “So…when are you having your second kid,” I’d say, “When the first one goes to college.” Human beings often use humor to deflect the uncomfortable. My response was a perfect blend of humor and back-the-eff-off. Most people laughed and changed topics. They saw my answer as the warning that it was intended to be. Once in a while, however, I run across that one person who just doesn’t want to let it go. I can see trouble on the horizon. First, the person examines my son. Is he defective? No. Next, the person examines me. Is she defective? No. Next, the person begins what I like to call “the dissertation,” a series of points and counterpoints regarding the merits of second children. My side of the conversation sounds a little like this. Yes, I do have a sister. No, I don’t know what I’d do without her in my life. Yes, I’m aware of the study that showed that only children in China were risk averse and less trusting. Yes, siblings do teach each other how to negotiate and compromise. And, so on. I usually stand there nodding in agreement, while I secretly look for an exit.
I convinced myself that these nosy people represent a statistically small percentage of the population. I don’t encounter them often, and they mean well. I tell myself that they have good intentions, but that’s not really true. At best, they’re socially obtuse and interjecting themselves into the personal lives of others. At worst, they’re fully aware that they’re opening Pandora’s box. They just don’t care that they’ve opened it. Then, a bird flies out of the box and proceeds to poop on your head. They get to return to their good times, their lively conversation. You get to wander around a social gathering the next few hours with bird shit on your head. Their day is fine. Your day is ruined. Getting mad doesn’t do anything. Somehow, you become the bad guy. So, what do you do?
Well, once, this woman at the gym saw my son, commented on how cute he was, and asked me the dreaded question. I wasn’t in the mood for a comedic performance or a dissertation. I just gave her the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I said, “I don’t think we’re going to have a second child.” She started to say something else, but I interrupted her. “I have a sister. I know how great siblings are,” I continued, “But, I had really bad postpartum depression. I mean bad. I had suicidal thoughts for about a year and a half. Plus, he was a terrible sleeper, which made my depression worse. I just can’t imagine going through all that again. I think having a healthy, happy mother is more important for him than a sibling in the long run.” She recoiled and couldn’t get away fast enough. I had crossed the TMI line. I had said too much. I had gotten too personal. Here’s the thing. If my honest response is too personal for you, perhaps your question is too personal to ask. Just a thought.
This exchange led me to an epiphany. Maybe brutal honesty is the antidote to all the personal questions. Maybe we can serve these people a heaping plate of discomfort pie in the same way they’ve been making us uncomfortable at social gatherings. Now you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, but I don’t want to air my dirty laundry for all to see.” No problem. I’m not saying you have to tell the truth. I’m saying you can make shit up. Lie. Lie your ass off. Get creative. Make up the craziest, off-the-wall story and hurl it at people, like a monkey throwing feces at a zoo. A monkey throwing feces can clear an area, and so can you.
Here’s an example. Dick and Jane have been dating for six years but remain unmarried. We all know a couple like Dick and Jane. They’ve learned to dread parties because someone always asks, “Hey Dick, when are you gonna’ make an honest woman out of Jane?” I love this question due to its absurd implications. Is Jane a perpetual liar? Will a wedding band somehow inject her with truth serum? I digress. Dick and Jane are on their way to a birthday party for a distant cousin. This time they’re looking forward to the party. This time, they have a plan. They’ve prepared a bullshit sandwich with mayonnaise, pickles, tomatoes, and bacon. Yummy, yummy bacon. Let’s see what happens.
Bill (friend of cousin): Hey Dick, you and Jane have been together how long? Six years? When are you two gonna’ set the date already?
Bill: What? Six years, man. She’s gotta’ be the one, right?
Dick: Oh no. She’s not the one. She’s never been the one. I got tired of going to the bars to look for girls. That’s a lot of work. I really just wanted to bang her for a while. To tell you the truth, I’m thinking of breaking up with her. The sex isn’t even that good anymore.
Jane (wanders over): Good? When was it good? Our sex life may have been good for you, but it was never good for me. A dry erase board, a diagram of the female anatomy, and you STILL can’t find my G spot.
Dick: Oh really? You could have fooled me!
Jane: I did fool you. Repeatedly.
Dick: That’s it. We’re leaving!
At this point, everyone is really embarrassed and uncomfortable. No one is making eye contact. They’re sure they’ve seen the last of this couple. Meanwhile, Dick and Jane are trading high fives on the way to the parking lot. The details of this outburst ripple through their social circle, like a giant rock in a still pond. I guarantee that no one will ever ask this couple anything personal about their lives again. Just think of the possibilities. Imagine how much fun we could all be having at the expense of others. You and your husband have been married a long time and never had kids. You can’t have kids. You don’t want kids. The reason is irrelevant. Make shit up. Maybe your husband has twelve lactating nipples, and you don’t want him to pass it along. Maybe you have a weird genetic skin rash. At least, you think it’s genetic. The doctor is still running tests to make sure you’re not contagious. Hey, that would clear a room! Make. Shit. Up. You’re in your thirties, still single, and oh so tired of hearing how that special guy is out there somewhere. Maybe you’re not attracted to the opposite sex anymore. Or, the same sex. Or, members of the animal kingdom. Maybe you’ve got a fetish for sock puppets, and you’re just waiting for the perfect bag of Hanes Cushion Crew Socks in white with a grey toe. Make shit up.
I hope the title of this article makes more sense. You see, I wanted to start a movement. I wanted to spread the word. I even created a few hashtags, like…
Unfortunately, I’ve since remembered that I’m old, and I don’t Twitter.