“You two would make the cutest kids,” the nurse said.
She helped me transfer my husband – post-anesthesia and on painkillers after his septoplasty; the world still spongy to him. I propped him up like a crutch under one arm. She held the elbow of his other arm.
She asked if I had children. I gave my usual answer. Maybe this time, I said, “Not yet.” This was pretty early on. I imagined the cute, mixed-race children my husband and I would make. I tucked away her compliment in my memory, like a slip of fortune cookie paper I’d once tucked away in my wallet.
I don’t remember if that fortune came true. But her compliment now haunts me like a curse.
“I will pray for you,” the mother of the bride said.
An implication? An insinuation? An insult in response to my telling her I had no children.
I had congratulated the elderly woman on her daughter’s marriage. She said she hoped that I too would find a nice husband someday. When I told her I was already married, she asked if I had children. When I said no, she clasped my hands in both of hers, looked into my eyes, and said she would pray for me.
I winced. I didn’t know this woman. I’d just met her. How dare she claim to know me? I wanted to write her off as a religious nut. I didn’t know then that I might one day welcome her prayers. That I would resort to prayers of my own.
“Happy Mother’s Day to you too!” my new co-worker said.
This in response to my wishing her a happy Mother’s Day. I know she has kids. I’m almost sure she has said as much – at least one kid. I’ve seen and heard the child in past video conference meetings. I don’t know why she would think that I had kids.
I’ve always looked young for my age. Liquor store cashiers have always asked for my ID. Now, greys streak my dark hair. Did she think I’m old enough to have children, therefore I must have children? I turned her comment over in my mind, rotated it around like a puzzle I just couldn’t crack. Why didn’t she just ask the question? I wish she’d just asked the question.
It would have been easier to say no in the way I say the sky is blue, than to say, “Oh, I don’t have any kids.”
Would she then have cocked her head and knitted her eyebrows? Would she then have said, “Huh?”
Could I then say the words, “You wished me a happy Mother’s Day, but I’m not a mother.”
Instead, I said nothing. I said nothing because I didn’t know how to correct her. She wished me a happy Mother’s Day, and in the natural pause of the conversation, I ended it. I walked away.
“You know… because she knows you don’t have kids,” my mother said.
This as she relayed to me her friend’s comment about how God will take care of me – when it’s my turn. This because my mother bragged to her Indonesian friends – silver-haired friends who dye their hair dark as though youthful looks could fix their stiff joints and fading independence – about all the things I do for her.
All of my mother’s friends have grandchildren. They asked her about my plans for having children in the same way they ask about the weather. She told them not yet. I imagine her fumbling for an excuse. I don’t tell her why.
When her friends complain about their children’s spouses, my mother praises my husband. He swaps the summer tires and winter tires on her car every season, fixes her fence, helps her move her furniture. She tells her friends how lucky she is that I married a good one. I can’t tell her why.
The explanation never came, so she stopped trying to explain. Instead, she tells her friends about the lawn service I arrange for her house in the summers; the snow service in the winters.
My mother never asks why. I never tell her why.
“No,” my husband said.
His answer to my pleas for having children.
I wanted children. He didn’t. We knew this about each other. We avoided talking about it before we were married. I was convinced that I could convince him. Three years into our marriage, I asked my husband for children. “Wait three more years,” he said. I don’t think he intended to lie at the time.
After three more years, I asked my husband for children again. “No,” he said. Then he kept saying it. This time the answer stuck. This time he told the truth.
“Fine, then you’re not allowed to die before me,” I said to him.
“Yeah, ok,” he said.
I insisted. He hesitated. “Promise me you won’t die before me,” I said.
He muttered an agreement, even though we both knew it was an impossible ask, a hollow promise.
“Do you have children?” – the question people ask me.
An innocent enough question, usually asked by a parent having just told me something about their child, perhaps something unsolicited or perhaps a story too long. I think they mean well. I think they mean to let me have my turn to talk about my children.
But I always answer, “No.” I always try to state it matter-of-factly. I always wonder what they hear in my voice. Do they hear a touch of disappointment? A shade of shame? My no hangs in the air awkwardly – my dirty laundry flapping in the wind for all to see. The people who ask are the ones who have children. Their unsaid “why not?” hang over me.
Biography: Nia McCash is a Chinese-Indonesian-Canadian writer and IT professional living in the Greater Toronto Area with her husband. They have no children and she still grapples with this from time to time. You can find her on Twitter @niamccashWrites.