Do you ever think about talking to mothers and fathers as a journey to another country where you don’t speak the same language?
I was tilted back in the dentist chair yesterday while the hygienist scraped my teeth, and she started talking about kids. She’s a new hygienist, but her predecessors all talked about their kids, too. I don’t think I ever met one who wasn’t a mom. The mom-talk used to annoy me, but this time it didn’t.
One of the patients who passed by our cubicle was a girl, Izzy, whose basketball team was playing that night against the hygienist’s daughter’s team. She has known this girl since she was so little she couldn’t get the ball up high enough to go through the hoop, but now she’s four years older and a skilled player. Izzy’s team was likely to trounce her daughter’s team, but she was looking forward to attending the game and cheering both girls on.
Hmm, I thought as she moved from inside my bottom teeth to outside, where they’re extra close together. This is interesting stuff that I know nothing about. When she paused to let me rinse, I asked how many kids she had. She has three, two girls, ages 10 and 12, and a four-year-old boy. The girls play a lot of sports. From basketball, they will go into volleyball and softball, and my hygienist and her husband will spend most of their off-work time going to games. They want to get the boy into T-ball but don’t know how they will find the extra time.
Clearly their children dominate their lives. My parents weren’t like that. If we wanted to do something that required their time, they said no. They had their own things to do.
But for a lot of parents these days, it’s all about the kids, and everybody at the dentist’s office seemed to have them. As the scraping moved on to my upper teeth, I heard the word Mom a lot from another room. I overheard the dentist talking a boy through his first Novocaine shot. A dad himself, he told me later that he wants to make sure kids aren’t traumatized by their early dentist visits.
Surrounded by parent-people, I felt like an anthropologist who had come upon a civilization completely distinct from her own. It was so intriguing, I was surprised to realize the hygienist had finished scraping and was polishing my teeth with minty toothpaste. We were almost done.
I didn’t feel any personal lack or grief or annoyance, just a welcome distraction from the assault on my teeth. My life has no children in it, especially in these COVID days when I rarely go places where children might be. I spend my weekends with church, house-cleaning, yard work, movies, and dog walks. I was an alien asking, “Tell me about your people, who seem very different from mine.”
It took me years to get past the anger, grief, and resentment that dogged me in my 40s and 50s, but these days, I find children and parents fascinating. I’m not aching to join them anymore, but I watch with interest.
Do I feel left out sometimes? Sure. Do I wish I had grown children to help me with things I can’t do alone and to put on my forms as emergency contacts? Definitely. But that’s not how it turned out, so I’ll pay the occasional visit to the land of children and parents then return to my own land, where we take care of dogs and cats and maybe write books or play the piano. It’s not the place I expected to live, but it’s a very good place.
The best part of this visit? Nobody asked me how many children I had. I was dreading that question.
How do you feel when others talk about their child-filled lives? Do you think you will ever reach a point where it doesn’t bother you? If not, is there still time to change your situation?