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What?—Joyce Markovics Considers How To Respond

What? — Joyce Markovics Considers How To Respond

I was driving around Connecticut on a recent splendidly sunny Sunday. With no place to be and open to exploring, I spied a cute vintage shop and wandered inside. Stacked around me were sweet worn things in abundance. The shopkeeper, a woman in her 40s or early 50s, let out a warm greeting. She asked me if I was looking for anything in particular as I handled some dopy ceramic black-and-white poodle salt and pepper shakers. Not really,” I responded. I just like old stuff.” Then, without taking a breath, she asked, Do you have kids?” My posture stiffened. I looked down at the shaker show dogs’ blank eyes. No,” I said as calmly as I could, reeling at her presumptuousness. Though I felt like barking back: How much money do you have in your 401(k)?” or When’s the last time you had a colonoscopy?” 

Thoughts whirled in my head like leaves in eddies of wind. On one level, I knew she was trying to be friendly — she wanted to forge a connection. But that didn’t prevent me from thinking and feeling a host of things. I wondered if she asked men that question and also contemplated how my No” immediately excluded me from her mommy” club. As those words bounced off her tongue, did she take into account the millions of women like me, who, after careful consideration, decided not to have children? And did I owe her, this unknown person, an explanation? Did she ever think about women who have fertility issues — or those who want but can’t have kids for other reasons? What about women who have lost children? The Do you have kids?” question is more than charged — it’s explosive — especially when unexpectedly asked by a total stranger. 

After I placed the dumb poodles back on their shelf and scurried out of the shop, which, in the matter of a single shopkeeper’s question, lost all of its appeal, my internal reaction shifted to humor. In the future, I need a better response than No.” Maybe I should have replied: I don’t have children, but I do have a fancy chicken named Amelia Egghart. She’s a great flyer.” Or I had a toddler but left him at Costco a couple of years ago. I think he might be in the frozen food section.”