Monday, February 2, 2009

Locker Room Overheards

(first, some briefs of our life as of late: cabin fever setting in hard)

It is a strange phenomenon that occurs at times, when you speak of something, it happens within days.
Just last week, when Cara was visiting, we were talking about the ever-curious question, How many children do you have? I was musing about how depending on the context, or the person, or how detailed I thought I could get at that moment, or how long I planned to be in the conversation, my answer varied.
"For example," I said to her, "If I'm talking to a stranger in the locker room, and I'm almost dressed, and I know I'm not going to really get to know this person in any great depth, sometimes I'll use this stock phrase that I have which is, 'I have two children at home with me'. This doesn't discount Charlotte, but it also doesn't force me into a longer conversation that I'm not prepared to have."

It was just the next morning, on Friday, that I was toweling dry my hair, hanging upside down, and happened to see the book Three Cups of Tea in somebody's gym bag. I had just that morning lent the book to a friend for her book club, so I asked the woman if she was in my friend's book club. She was, and as we both dressed, we started to talk. I was completely dressed, with my hairbrush in my hand, when she asked it, "How many kids do you have?"
Such a simple question to her, practically the simplest. To me, the most complicated. I was already brushing my hair, the kids were downstairs in the child watch waiting for me.
"I have two with me at home, " I said, shaking the water out of my brush.

"Oh," she said, "Do you have another one that doesn't live with you?"
In five years nobody has ever asked me that. Not one, single person has ever noticed the unusal phrasing of that stock answer, and I was delighted to provide her with an answer, of course. When I told her about Charlotte, she apologized for having asked, and I reassured her that I was quite happy to talk about her, and about it, but that I didn't always bring her up immediately just because of my concern that "some people" just can't handle it. I phrased this to indicate that she was clearly not in that category, and indeed she did follow up with a number of questions, allowing me to speak loudly and clearly so that everyone else in the locker room also probably got to hear the summarized version of what could basically be called my life story (you could call Charlotte's birth and death a defining moment, above any other moment in my life!). I followed her to the blow dryers, although I hadn't planned to dry my hair, and dried it a little just so that I could keep on talking, and so that I could bask in the beauty of this rare specimen who just kept on firing the questions. My coat went on very slowly (although I planned to stay at the Y for some time longer) and my shoes were ever so carefully tied while we talked, while I was outed as the mother that I truly am, feeling almost shameful for having attempted to avoid the issue.

So perhaps this is a lesson to me, and it should be, and I will make it one. Do not be so lazy (last year's New Year's Resolution), do not skirt the issue when you don't have the so-called energy to face the person in front of you. Answer the question with honesty, because it's the truth, and don't just offer a half-truth to make a quick getaway.

It makes me hang my head to even imagine that I needed to be taught this lesson.


Mel said...

I too have used the exact line "I have two children at home with me" many, many times, and I often wonder why no one has questioned that unusual phrasing. When I tell these half-truths, I feel like I'm protecting an innocent bystander from my tragedy. When I meet someone that I know I will have a long-term relationship with, the truth has to surface because there's no easy way to tell people once you've missed this opportunity.

I list all my children on (medical and school) forms though, without exception.

I almost feel like we're in a secret society. I'm relieved to not be the only one living out these scenarios. I mean, it's terrible that there are many of Us, but it's also comforting.

Hope's Mama said...

Similar to my post from the other day when the nurse drawing my blood asked if i had children. She thought she'd upset me but it was quite the opposite, I loved being given an opportunity to talk about Hope without me bringing her (it!) up. You know I'll listen to you talk about Charlotte all day long Carol xo

kris said...

I love this entry, Carol. First, I love those pictures--Liam flashing (pun intended) through the back of that second photo is priceless, and Greg looks so happy to be out in the snow with his boy. I also love that this woman gave you such a gift without even meaning to! I love that she stayed with the conversation and didn't back away. Hearing you talk about Charlotte is such an amazing thing and I'm grateful to have heard parts of her story.

Three Cups of Tea is a good place to start a conversation--our mutual friend recommended it to me and I've devoured it!

ezra'smommy said...

I can't help but think that this woman you met is a very special person... what insight she has to have known just the right question to ask.

Meg said...

Carol. I think you're being too hard on yourself. You were not being lazy. You were about to leave and you don't know how everyone will react. You were protecting her. And, I'm so glad you were able to talk about Charlotte. It's wonderful that you and that woman were able to conect. Just don't feel ashamed. Be proud! You try to guage situations and see when it's the appopriate time to say something. You did the right thing. I'm glad she asked and drew you out.

Amy said...

I just wrote a blog similar to this today. The questions, they always come, and depending on the emotional state I am in, the answer varies. I have used the line you offer and others when trying to explain my childless state.

How nice you were able to talk freely of your sweet daughter.

Cara said...

Carol - this is just amazing. I can't get over the timing and your ability to go a step further. No need to beat yourself up, just celebrate the opportunity!

So, the moral is I should come and stay more often, right? A glass of wine and staying up too late turned into a good thing!

You are such a wonderful mother to all your children. xoxo

Dalene said...

I am in the process of figuring out how to answer that question myself, and I really like the line that you use. I suppose it is a lifelong struggle to figure out what to say.