Monday, May 23, 2011

It happened.

Somebody who doesn't know me asked me if I have kids.

David and I had just had a conversation about what we would say and both agreed that our answer would depend on the situation and that was okay.  David said that it is a question he will never again ask anyone.  I said I guess I would only ask someone if I was willing and able to tell them our story.  And then today it happened.

I was getting my nails done.  Just my fingernails.  Because when I have a manicure and my nails look pretty, I think I look like I'm the sort of person who has her shit together.  Which clearly I am not at the moment, but there's at least something to be said for keeping up the facade, right?  (It's just like how surprisingly normal and clean a lot of people look even though they are on Hoarders look.  You could never tell that their bathroom is dripping black mold because their hair is done and they seem to wear deodorant and everything.)

So anyway, I was getting my nails done.  Just my fingernails.  Because I painted my toenails myself yesterday, although the girl asked me TWICE if I was sure I didn't want a pedicure and I was like, "OK, so you think my home pedi sucks, obviously, but no, just here for the $9 manicure, thank you very much."

Anyway, she's an Asian girl and I'm not sure where she is from but, based on the foreign language I heard her speaking on the phone, it's not Japan and it's not Korea.  It sounded more like she was speaking Chinese but I don't think that was it either.  Maybe she's from Taiwan?  I think Taiwanese sounds similar to Chinese/Mandarin. 

Point is, she has a pretty strong accent.  I had to ask her to repeat herself a couple of times (so perhaps she thought I didn't understand when she asked if I was sure I didn't want a pedicure the first time) but I like talking to people with accents, including this girl I work with who is Chinese and whose name is Lily, but her accent made me think her name was Liddy when she introduced herself, and she was too shy to correct me, so I kept calling her Liddy until I saw her name written down and now I am mortified because it must have sounded like I was MOCKING her accent by mispronouncing her name on purpose.  Which I was not.  Obviously.  Despite such foibles, I would say that I am actually more inclined to make small talk with people who have accents.  I'm not sure why this is.  Maybe it's because I'm miserable at speaking other languages so I'm totally impressed when anyone is bilingual.  Whatever the reason, I don't mind chatting with the girl at the nail place.

So she asked me about my job and I told her I teach college students.  She appeared shocked by this news, which I chose to believe was because I look like a college student myself, and not because I look mentally incapable of holding a position of authority in an institute of higher education.

She asked me what my husband's job is.  She seemed uninterested in that answer.

And then she dropped the bomb and asked if I had children.

And I took this big dramatic breath.  The nail salon was empty except for me because I went right at the tail end of this raging storm that came through town.  I guess with all the talk of the rapture, I figured if I wanted to get my nails done, there's no time like the present.  And if there's a raging thunderstorm going on, I might as well tempt fate by sitting in a glass-paned window-front retail location.  Because WHY NOT.

So I took this big dramatic breath in the empty nail salon and I felt like it really was a moment of great suspense.  I wasn't even sure myself what my answer would be.  It was like a movie when there's a dramatic pause and the music swells.  (Except in this case the music was a kid singing on the Ellen DeGeneres show.)

Will I decide that it's a passing moment with a girl in a nail salon who certainly doesn't need to hear the details of my grief but is just trying to make pleasant conversation given her limited English language skills and just say no?

Will I just shake my head silently and simply pretend to be enthralled by the Ellen DeGeneres show, thereby killing all further conversation?  (Which, to be fair, I do actually love Ellen but I was not crazy about the song "Unfriend You" that this kid was singing.)

Will I just say "Not at the moment," which seems vague enough that it might suffice, even though it's a weird answer, but obviously English is her second language so she'll probably assume it's normal? 

Will I say yes and pray that she does not ask me to elaborate?  (But of course she would ask me to elaborate... isn't the follow-up question always "How old?")

As I was considering these options, the dramatic pause was long enough that the poor girl thought I didn't understand her and rephrased the question:  "Children?  Child?  Do you have baby?"

And then I said, "Yes.  No.  Yes.  I had a baby but she died."

My eyes filled up with tears but they didn't spill over and I kept my voice steady.

And the poor girl working at the nail salon who has limited English language skills and was now unwittingly caught up in my dead baby saga said, "Oh I am so sorry.  How?"

I said, "It happened before she was born.  When I was still pregnant."  I blinked furiously to keep from crying and looked up toward the ceiling, which was convenient because Ellen was on a wall-mounted television that was up pretty high.

She shook her head and said she was sorry again, and I said, "It's okay.  I'm sorry, too."

Everyone on Ellen was clapping.  

Then she said, "No other children?"

I was like, mercy lady, don't you think if I had other children I probably would have led with that?  Or at least mentioned it already to try to help ease the awkwardness?

But instead I just said, "No, not yet.  Maybe someday.  How about you?" 

I took a deep breath and stared at Ellen's happy studio audience, willing myself not to cry.  Successfully.

The nail salon lady told me she has a three and a half year old.  "Big girl," she said.

"Oh, yeah.  I bet that's fun," I said. 

But no, it appeared I wasn't understanding what she fully wanted to communicate, which was that her three and a half year old was a big girl.  As in FAT. 

So she stops filing my nails and whips out her cell phone to show me a picture of a really fat little girl.  Keep in mind that this lady doing my nails is super tiny.  So it's kind of like she is Eva Longoria and this little girl is the actress who plays Juanita on Desperate Housewives.  It was funny to discover that this tiny lady had such a chubby daughter.  At the same time, I thought this was a really weird way to respond to the fact that my baby died, like this was some kind of attempt at consolation:  "Your baby died?  Well my kid is super fat." 

But then I thought maybe I was over-thinking it.  Either way, it actually made me laugh.  I said, "Oh, she is a big girl."

And then we talked about gel manicures (Evidently they do last longer--can anyone else attest to this fact?  Are they worth the extra expense?) and the weather (big storm here).

What I wouldn't give to have pulled out my cell phone and shown off a picture of my fat, happy, healthy baby girl.  At the same time, it felt kind of like a healing moment, to be able to talk about Eliza with a stranger and not start sobbing uncontrollably.  But it hurts to heal.  It hurts a lot.


  1. I found it easier to just put it out there then to try to explain around it. It seems like if you're somewhat evasive, they keep asking questions like, "do you want children?" (to which I reply, "more than anything/yes/I'm hoping to") which inevitably results in a promise that if I try hard enough I will have one soon...


    You handled it well. Heaven forbid you have a fat baby, you know, the bad kind. ;)

  2. Oh, it hurts so much.

    My mom has gel nails (as do some of my clients) and they all seem very happy with them.

  3. Funnily, or not actually, I actually feel more comfortable talking to people whose first language is not English too and telling them the truth. Maybe because I never use euphemisms and just say, My daughter dead. I sad. Or something, because even though I have a grasp of the English language, I regress to grunting to comfort someone who doesn't. It's hard the first time, and the second, and the get better at saying it, but it never gets easier. Some women I love pointed me your way when I asked about new blogs, so glad they did. And I too am sorry about Eliza. xo

  4. o gosh. i remember the 1st time i got this question from a stranger. i said no. i just couldn't go there that day. and i suspect i will have other days when i just can't get into my sad story with people i will never see again. ((hugs)) to you. it is never easy to tell anyone that our children are in heaven instead of in our arms.

    this weekend i got a similar question from a woman who apparently knew me. i didn't recognize her. i was in costco shoving my mouth full of a free sample (popsicle), and she says "hi." no problem, i'm nice and say it back. and then she said "where's that baby of yours?" i was so shocked that she knew me like that, and then that she didn't know me like that. that i just kind of waved my hand around (my mouth was full), trying to figure out what the hell i was going to say. finally she just said "o, he's not with you?" and i was like "yea that." needless to say the rest of the afternoon was shot to hell.

    it just never gets easier. :'(

  5. What is it with the nail salons? They always ask me if I'm married and if I have kids. The last time I went I braced myself for the question. The girl there recognized me and was like you have kids right? I said yes, a daughter and the questions stopped there. I was relieved I was able to say it and relieved there were no more questions to follow. Glad you experience wasn't a bad one.
    PS your the fact that she told you she had a "fat girl" is so interesting...and your Desperate housewife reference cracked me up!

  6. Ugh, I remember the first time that happened to me. Even still now every time I'm asked that question I never know how to respond, there is always that pause while I think about what would be the best way to answer given the situation. Her response about her big girl cracked me up!

  7. The hair salon and stuff are the worst for that when they are pretty much required to make small talk and you are pretty much trapped with them. I avoid those places now for that reason, it's like signing up for an awkward time. I'm glad it didn't go too badly, I find that most people don't usually ask details like that if I do tell them, they usually get awkward and change the subject after the requisite "I'm sorry". I'm surprised you've made it this long without it coming up, though.

    And yes, you do look too young to be a professor! :)

  8. I remember a scenario much like yours, where the woman asked, I told and she said "I pity you" and I wasn't sure if she really pitied me or she meant to say "I'm sorry". I remember regretting saying anything pretty immediately. I`ve since learned to pick and choose my answer, and keep it short and to the fact. It does get easier.

  9. I'm gonna solve all your problems, ladies.

    Have no fear.

    Here's the solution: Don't get your nails or hair done. No services = no one asking you questions during said services.

    Keep in mind I haven't had a haircut since July 2010. Yep, I'm pathetic and kind of gross. Haha.

    The gross, sad lady who lost her baby. Typical. She loses a baby and lets her life just go to shit.

  10. I was terrified the first time I was confronted with this question. But like the other girls have said, it gets easier each time you answer it. I generally tell the truth, unless it's someone I know for certain I won't see again.

    I actually switched nail salons after Aiden died. I had been going to the same woman for 9 years and I love her to pieces, but another woman who worked there shared my due date and we'd always talk about our pregnancies.

  11. I remember the first few times, really well. I also remember the dread I felt in the lead up to these moments, as I knew I'd have to face them sooner or later. In some small way, it does get easier. But it is still awful.
    I think you handled yourself incredibly well.

  12. Oh, Brooke, I'm sorry you had to handle that question. It is something we all have to learn how to handle in our own way.

    I get the "Is this your first?" question now all the time as I can no longer disguise the fact that I am pregnant. My answer varies too and I no longer feel badly about that. I no longer have the desire to care take others after I drop the bomb that I had a baby and he died. People tend to get all weird and then I feel the need to make them feel less uncomfortable afterwards. Eff that.

    So when my patients ask I tell them yes, it is our first. When random sales people ask I usually say yes as well. But if it is an acquaintance or someone I will have further interaction with I let loose with the whole story.

  13. I have avoided any kind of pampering because I know when you're with other ladies the kids questions always come up. You are a strong mama and you handled it so well.

  14. Wow.. you did amazing Brooke. I know this was a big moment..
    Thinking of you mamma.... and I don't even want to discuss what was up with one of my nails this week... don't get me started! ;o)

  15. I like the answer you gave to "that question", Brooke. It's hard to have so many options of responses to what would normally be a simple question.

    I had a gel polish manicure and LOVED IT! But the polish is hard to remove (at least the kind I had) and the manicurist basically filed it off so I ended up with nails too thin and damaged to get a nice manicure again. My nails are still growing out :/ But the gel polish is so pretty and shiny that acrylic nails pale in comparison so I'm unpolished. I'm like you regarding looking like we have it together :)

  16. Salons can be such minefields, can't they?? I've been going to the same place near work to have my mani/pedis for about 15 years now. The same girl has been doing them for almost 13 of those years -- in the years since Katie. I used to have another "regular," who eventually left, but I do remember this girl giving me at least one pedicure while I was pregnant.

    Several years ago, we were talking about her kids & she asked me a question about my kids. I said, almost automatically, that I didn't have any. She gave me a really funny look & said "Really? I could have sworn you had kids." I suddenly remembered her giving me that pedicure during my pregnancy, but I just shook my head & said, "Two nephews but no kids." She gave me another sort of funny look & dropped the subject.