I recently travelled to Morocco for the wedding of a cherished friend. I’d never been before and everything seemed magical and other-worldly; the architecture, the gardens and especially the call to prayer which gave me chills every time it echoed across Marrakesh.
The bride, my childhood friend, was happy to elope with her beloved. A bit past forty, with many an engagement behind her, she knew what was important. She found her partner. But one of the bride’s best friends knew something, too. That celebrating the love of those we call friends is vital and life-affirming. This woman was responsible for convincing the bride and groom to forgo city hall. I hadn’t met her and already I adored her.
Forty or so friends converged on a magnificent road in the old city in Marrakesh. Over a casual lunch I was thrilled to finally meet this wonderful and persuasive friend. Polite introductions and conversation began. I knew little, save where she lived and that she was married. Inside a hot minute I heard myself asking “Do you have children?”. She responded immediately and enthusiastically in the negative.
My first reaction? I felt a little put off. Perhaps more aptly I felt chided. Are you wondering if I had been drinking? Fallen and whacked my noggin? You should be. All this woman did was answer my query with a one syllable, two letter word and I did a W H O L E thing in my head. Her answer wasn’t the problem. My question was.
Emily Post, often quoted in my childhood home, forbade certain questions in polite society. My Mom added her own ideas to the impolite ‘never ask’ list. The obvious ones… How old are you? Are you tired? Are you sick? (If the person you’re addressing is neither tired nor sick you’ve just told them they look as though they are…) What do you do for living? This one is verboten as it begs the truly, utterly, horrible don’t-you-dare-ever-ask “How much money do you make/have?”
As a young woman I loved school. I did quite well (my polite Mother was also capable of being quite scary when I didn’t live up to my apparent potential). After college I applied and was accepted to Oxford University (in England. Clarifying as I was often asked “Oxford, Mississippi?”). After my Masters in philosophy I went on to Law School. In the five years of post-college graduate school work the questions I was most often asked? Do you have a boyfriend? Have you met anyone? I loathed these queries. It represented a small-mindedness. An antiquated idea of what being a woman was- a misunderstanding of who I was. I was working my ass off learning. Why did a boyfriend matter?!
When I finally got that boyfriend? Guess the question I got the most… Yup. “When are you getting married?” And when I got married what did inquiring minds want to know? “When are you having kids?”, or my personal favorite version of this line of questioning, “are you trying to have kids?” The literal meaning of asking a person if they are trying to have kids is asking if the person and their partner are having sex or attempting to get a surrogate pregnant. Emily Post is rolling her eyes from beyond. My Mom is rolling them in the here and now.
Ok. The people asking aren’t purposefully rude. But the questions ARE. I found myself frustrated and annoyed. As a woman, surely my worth, my ability to capture the interest of another, went beyond my skills at coupling and procreation. And yet, years later, when face to face with a young woman whose energy SCREAMED brilliant, witty and worldly, one of the very first things I thought to ask was “Do you have children?”.
I had narrowed and smushed her into the very box I hated. Was it 1951? Did marriage denote an absolute desire for children? I had assumed so much in that one question. That she wanted children. That she could have children. That she wanted to talk to me, a relative stranger, about her family plans or lack thereof.
Shame on me. I was taught better.
I chose to have children. The story of my own waking to my deep knowing that I wanted to be a mother is for another Motherlucker time. But my choice informs only my life. I want to meet the women and men who cross my path with openness. I want to listen so well that my questions are born from cues they give me, not ideas I’ve simply adopted without thought. Children are wonderful. Wanting or not wanting children are value-neutral. So while I celebrate all the wild, unpredictable joyful and harrowing Motherlucker moments in my life, I vow to be mindful and celebrate the choice to do something other.
Part of being a member of the Motherlucker community is celebrating everyone. Mother or no…