From The Mouths of Babes


What can you possibly tell a persistent four-year-old about infertility? The short answer: nothing.

What can she teach you? Now there’s some fodder for a blog post…

Imagine me sitting with my new BFF, an innocent four-year-old tow-headed girl with eyes the size of saucers (think Cindy Lou Who, the littlest Who down in WhoVille from Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas).

The two of us sat side by side yesterday in a boat anchored in a small cove. While her daddy and mommy swam nearby we got to know each other better. She did most of the interviewing. Favorite colors (mine, midnight blue, hers “all the girl colors”…whatever that means), favorite animals (total agreement: cats), and some more weighty topics.  A snippet from our conversation went like this:

Cindy Lou: (staring at the ring on my left hand) That’s a pretty ring.

Me: Thank you. My husband gave it to me on our wedding day.

Cindy Lou: What kind of dress did you wear?

Me: A very pretty long dress.

Cindy Lou: And then you had kids. Where are your kids?

Me: We didn’t have any kids.

Cindy Lou: Where’s your husband.

Me: You know him. He’s swimming over there with your mommy and daddy.

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Cindy Lou: So where are your kids?

Me: (trying to redirect the conversation) How about a snack?

Cindy Lou: Okay. Are there snacks for your kids, too?

Fortunately Cindy Lou’s third-degree-style line of questioning ended as her dad climbed back on the boat and distracted her with something on the beach nearby.

Our rather absurd exchange got me thinking about the way we’re socialized from a very early age to see the world. In Cindy Lou’s eyes any married couple must, of course, have kids. You know … first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.

Is it any wonder getting back into socializing with those living that very paradigm has been a bit of a challenge?

Little Cindy Lou just couldn’t wrap her head around any other family dynamic. I realized later that what was unique about her query was her persistence in trying to get me to fit into her familiar family model.  I had the same question posed later from a woman my age. She was a new acquaintance, a mother of two, seated on a boat tied up to the one I was on. Unlike Cindy Lou, she had learned to ask the question about whether I had children only once.

Can’t help but think about how many more times and how many more ways (the grandchildren question surely will come my way in the not too distant future) I’ll be asked about the children we never had.  At least it doesn’t sting or bring me to tears the way it once did.

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20 Responses

  1. luna

    July 28, 2008 9:41 pm

    the socializing is just incredible. I’ve had that same awkward moment with children too. even if it doesn’t sting as much as it used to, I’m sure it still hurts. hope you at least had a wonderful day on the boat.

  2. Me

    July 28, 2008 10:25 pm

    I’ve got an interesting one for you: A few months ago my niece told me that people who have kids smoke and people who don’t, don’t. Her logic: Her mom and dad (and most of her friend’s parents) smoke, but my husband and I do not. Interesting, eh?

    • Pamela Jeanne

      July 29, 2008 6:48 pm

      Very! I’m going to pay more attention to what the little ones say. There’s a lot we can learn from their views on the world.

  3. stepping up

    July 28, 2008 11:51 pm

    We’ve all had many days like this and I’m glad the sting is gone for you.

    I’m trying to wrap my brain around the life I have- on days like these. I’m very happy in countless ways. And, yet, when words like these come my way, there’s such a tug at my heart. The worst situations are when I let my guard down. I know the questions are coming when entering a room full of women… but when you’re talking to an older male neighbor about the grass and an innocent comment emerges it seems to hurt more.

    Just like you- I wonder if these conversations will ever subside. I don’t think they will. So we all must find our way around the obstacle course.

    The biggest reason I continue to read your blog is to figure out how to live happily when this society reminds you of its “BIG PICTURE.” Your words are always so helpful. TY

  4. Samantha

    July 29, 2008 1:17 am

    It’s tough that everyone pretty much does think in that paradigm. Too bad humans are designed to see differences and then expect conformity, not search for what makes all of us unique.

  5. loribeth

    July 29, 2008 1:54 am

    Cindy Lou reminds me of my SIL’s niece (our two nephews’ cousin). She’s now about 23 (!) but she was about that age when our oldest nephew was born. I can remember her fixing me with her big brown eyes and asking (in front of the entire assembled extended family, of course), “And where’s YOUR baby?” This happened on more than one occasion too! Dh & I had been married for a couple of years by then, but were still nowhere near ready to ttc. Still, I felt that our plans were absolutely nobody’s business, & I could have cheerfully strangled the child. ; ) I could only assume she’d overheard something her parents or other relatives had been saying.

  6. Dr Grumbles

    July 29, 2008 2:38 am


    This reminds me of when my nephew, after staring at me for ages, suddenly asked, “You’re my Aunt S?”

    When I said yes, he added, “I have an Aunt K… she’s my cousin A’s mom… so, whose mom are you?”

  7. Deathstar

    July 29, 2008 3:04 am

    The only bad thing about looking young for my age is that people are always asking me if I have kids. Eventually, I will, but I’m hoping they won’t be asking if it isn’t my grandchild by then.

    I have a feeling the little girl just wanted you to have kids so bad because she wanted to play with other children.

  8. Ms Heathen

    July 29, 2008 10:57 am

    I’m not sure which is worse – conversations like this one, or similar ones with adults, who frankly should have more tact and sensitivity.

    But, reading your post, I was also struck by how many of us are brought up like Cindy Lou – to assume that one day we will get married and have kids. This type of cultural conditioning is so very powerful and makes it all the more difficult to come to terms with the fact that it doesn’t necessarily happen that way for everybody.

  9. Brownsugar

    July 29, 2008 11:07 am

    The society we live in paints a picture of a married couple with kids, so cindylou figured there was something missing in this picture.

    In my culture its expected that within a year of been married you should have children and if you don’t your looked at in a funny way and people don’t care about your feelings they will ask you point blank that what are you both waiting for.

    But this article brought a smile to my face cos it shows the innocence of a child but a lesson learned that we don’t have to assume that people will respect our feelings in all situations.

  10. Alicia

    July 29, 2008 11:27 am

    Interesting point-that the way of life/family structure is ingrained at such a young age. When kids (and I meet a lot of them being a nanny) don’t understand what ‘my husband’ means I have to explain that I’m the Mommy and he’s the Daddy, but without kids. They seem to understand “mommy/daddy” but not “wife/husband”.

  11. Calliope

    July 29, 2008 2:42 pm

    It is so weird to me that kids are still spoon fed this notion of a cookie cutter family. When I first started trying I casually began a conversation with my cousin (who was then 6) about different kinds of families. I asked about a single woman being a Mother or a child having two Mothers of two Fathers and it was just this SHOCK of an idea to him. I think it is a total disservice to these young minds that there aren’t more conversations about diversity and what makes a family. In your perfect way you totally opened this girl’s mind.


  12. Ellen K

    July 29, 2008 4:20 pm

    This is painful on two levels: the bittersweet innocence of the child’s question vs. your own awareness, and the fact that, as others have said, most people do have a one-size-fits-all notion of what comprises a family. There’s that popular children’s book “Are You My Mother?” (which is not exactly adoption friendly).

    D.’s brother in law recently told me that he’d rather not spend lots of time with D.’s cousin, who is gay, his partner, and their adopted children because it “sends a mixed message” to his own kids. Gah!

  13. midlife mommy

    July 29, 2008 5:03 pm

    That would be very hard. I had the same kinds of questions about my marital status (I didn’t marry until I was 39) and about my child status (infertility didn’t allow me to be a mom until I was 44 and used DE). No advice though; it’s just something people do, without realizing how hard it is when you don’t fit the mold.

    As for all the girl colors? I think that would be purple and pink.

  14. Alacrity

    July 29, 2008 9:45 pm

    Is it any wonder getting back into socializing with those living that very paradigm has been a bit of a challenge?

    Yes, this whole thing does kind of blow one’s paradigm to smithereens, and make it feel awkward to be around those who don’t see it.

  15. Kami

    July 29, 2008 11:34 pm

    Not too long before LB was born, my nephew asked how my baby was doing. “So far, so good,” I replied.

    “Oh good. I hope you get it right this time.”

    I know what he meant – he hoped this baby would live, but it made me wonder about how much we (and others) expect that we can control this.

  16. Bea

    July 30, 2008 2:14 am

    Maybe it’s time society started letting 4yo’s know that parenthood isn’t a given? Some people choose against it, some people have that choice made for them. There must be some way we can introduce the idea to that young age group…


  17. Dr Bad Ass

    July 30, 2008 4:59 pm

    OK, I read this after waking up from a dream in which I was pregnant. Haven’t had that one in a while!

    Oh, and if you venture over to my blog, there is something there for you . . . a prize! a prize!

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