Those of you Bruce Springsteen fans will remember his haunting melody and lyrics. That’s the song that started playing through my head during a random encounter Sunday. It was a beautiful, sunny autumn afternoon. I was in my driveway engaged in a battle with a squirrel who had taken up residence in a majestically tall Monterey pine in our front yard. The squirrel was eating like a king two stories above me and tossing down what look like mini corn cobs and the messy remains of a meal …. former green unripened pine cones … and from the looks of the debris on my driveway this had been going on for a week or more. Suffice to say, some serious cleanup was in order.
With broom in hand, smelling the sweet air and feeling the sunshine on my face I was perfectly happy communing with nature until two and then three women I had not met before stationed themselves at the base of my driveway. I had made the mistake of smiling and saying something about the beautiful afternoon. Harmless enough but then it got complicated. The first two, a 70-something woman (a neighbor two doors down) and her late-40 something daughter stopped to make small talk about the neighborhood. They were reminiscing about what the street used to be like when the 40-something stopped in the middle of a monologue about what a great neighborhood it was for kids to ask if I had children. It was a pleasant afternoon and I hesitated about whether I should offer up more than the customary “no” with a something of a sad expression. (Declaring myself “unable” to have them or acknowledging that we tried unsuccessfully somehow seemed wrong in what I thought would be a brief encounter) so I went with delivering a simple “no,” along with my best melancholy look. It was completely lost on her. (Note to self: work on improving the melancholy look…)
I soon regretted not being more candid when the third woman, a 50-something type, joined us some 15 minutes later. She was familiar with the 70-something neighbor and stopped to inform us that she had just purchased a new home and would soon be moving away from the neighborhood. Not wanting to leave me out of the conversation (it was my driveway after all), she informed me that the new house’s primary appeal was that it would be absolutely perfect for entertaining her future grandchildren. Imaginary grandchildren I might add. I soon learned her 20-something daughter is nowhere close to being married or thinking that far ahead. It was important, nonetheless, to her that their new house have a yard big enough for her future grandchildren to be able to frolic in the grass and to have a reason to look forward to visiting their grandparents.
That’s when an endless riff began about the best way to entertain kids and grandkids. With a painted-on smile and a huge desire to get back to sweeping without this increasingly painful for me/joyful for them conversation I started wondering why I hadn’t been more upfront about my circumstances.
Furthermore why is it that I have to grin and bear these conversations time and time again?? Will it be like this forever into the future, I wondered, as I tried to block their happy chatter out? Apparently so. Sucking it up and tolerating baby-talk, kiddie talk, teenage talk, grandchildren talk — that’s my lot in life. Seems I am not destined to ever catch a break in this vast arena of family-building, family legacy talk. Yes, I could have started sweeping dust and pine remains over their feet to signal my disinterest in the subject (time to move along ladies…) but my mother always taught me to be polite. That sort of behavior seemed wrong but …
… Why is it not impolite to overlook the feelings of a childless woman? Why is it just peachy to go on at length about the best way to indulge children or grandchildren in my presence? I tried to formulate a late-clarifying-infertile-status response but at the same time it would have been considered the height of rudeness for me to weigh in by saying, “You know, it must be exciting to have those plans to consider. In fact it would be nice to imagine how it would feel to make plans for future grandchildren, but given our inability to carry our embryos beyond a few days, we won’t have any grandchildren to plan around…so we’re just going to spend any discretionary income on spoiling ourselves in our senior years. Hey, sorry to break up this little gathering but I’ve got some sweeping to get back to…and a nice bottle of Cabernet awaiting me while I make my dear husband a nice dinner. He’s only just awaking from a nap after returning from a week in Germany. Catch you later…oh, and good luck with your daughter’s fertility. There are no guarantees you know!”
So much for my peaceful, happy, infertile-free afternoon. Thanks, ladies, for interrupting it with the reminder of what’s missing in my life. I tuned them out as best I could until they finally moved on allowing the lyrics from Bruce Springsteen’s song to fill my head instead, all with a painted on smile on my face.
When I look at myself I don’t see
The (wo) man I wanted to be
Somewhere along the line I slipped off track
I’m caught movin’ one step up and two steps back