“How old is your daughter?”
The woman behind the pharmacy counter caught me off guard. I was flummoxed. I instinctively looked around to see if she was talking to someone else. Then it hit me.
What’s the right metaphor? Had I entered into the land of Oz. Scratch that. Too much around me looked the same. No, it was more like getting access into a private club. I’m getting closer … hmmm.
Ah! That’s it. It was as though I had been magically transported into an Infertile’s parallel universe — the mommy and daddy universe.
The thought bubble over my head filled with questions and exclamations: “You can’t really be talking to me? Are you? Wow, you are! You think I’m the mommy!”
That’s right. The pharmacist had completely ignored my brother-in-law after he indicated that my niece needed a stronger type of cough syrup to combat some cold/flu symptoms. The pharmacist had focused her attention, laser-like, on me. She calmly repeated her question. “Now, how old is your daughter?”
I blushed, a small part of me wanting to hold on to the moment as long as possible. My brother-in-law, distracted by the rows and rows of cough syrups lining the shelves, responded immediately, “Eight. She’s eight.”
I nodded in agreement. The pharmacist’s gaze didn’t move from my direction. “Does she have a dry cough or does it sound like congestion?”
There was no point in correcting her — as if it would matter in this instance. “There’s a bit of rumble, but it’s mostly dry,” I responded knowing well my own cough. I had picked it up, too, after my niece had covered me in spontaneous hugs and kisses in the few days since our arrival.
Earlier in the afternoon my brother-in-law had handed the little cuddle bug off to the responsible parents of another little girl who was celebrating her birthday with a group movie viewing involving 10 of her best friends, half of whom were also sniffling, coughing and sneezing between their squeals and giggles. It was December in Dublin after all.
Now back in my own house in my cozy sweats, sipping tea and fighting the cotton candy in my brain (compliments of jetlag and cold medicine) I’m struck once again by how different the worlds of Fertiles and Infertiles are. There are no sugary sweet cereals on the table, no other-worldly sound effects from kiddie consoles filling the air, no play dates to arrange, and no one eagerly appearing at my side to request another game of Mad-Libs (one of my favorite classics).
I realize how easy it is for the world at large to naturally assume that all adults of a certain age are parents of some kind. There’s nothing to indicate otherwise. And that’s part of the difficulty in trying to explain the Infertile’s experience of living in a parallel universe.