I didn’t always dread going to the supermarket, you know. It used to be fun, easy, or a great time to bond with my mother as we split a candy bar on the way home. I’m not even exactly sure when everything changed. All I know is that at some point in my adult life, going to the grocery store meant very odd conversations and strange circumstances. At first people laughed. They thought I was just being dramatic. (How on earth would they come to such a strange and outlandish conclusion, I ask you?!) Then one day my husband confirmed that something about me “attracts crazy people”. I say it is that opposites attract. He says that it takes one to know one. Fair enough.
Then I entered a life situation that is an ultimate conversation starter; pregnancy. I answered the same questions about due dates, genders, names, etc. and it was fine. I’d hear a few well wishes and personal stories and usually we would leave with a smile as situational friends. Situational friends are the people that you meet and chat up while in some life situation such as waiting in line in a check-out or sitting next to someone on a plane.
Then the odder questions started coming, namely if I was going to breastfeed. It caught me off-guard, to be honest. I answered that it was my plan if possible, and then suddenly I was given a run-down that sounded like a brochure. This became VERY common. Even a 60 year old man asked! Clearly my expanding belly had a gravitational pull that the crazies could not resist.
My husband had some outstanding solutions. First, he INSISTED that I needed to stop smiling at people. No more talking, friendly greetings, etc. Second, I had to go in with a mission and get out as quickly as possible, avoiding eye contact whenever possible. Third, cover the children with blankets or make them as inaccessible as possible. ( A little too Michael Jackson for me.)
Even implementing my husband’s advice did not stop the problem. It has gradually improved- so much so that I thought this week might be the week where no one tries to mine my business. As a shopping trip goes, it was beautiful. There was no fussing, no grabbing, no demanding; Firstborn even put items onto the belt for me instead of reaching for M&Ms. Clearly this was a hallucination—could we get through the commissary without an awkward conversation, embarrassing moment or totally sigh-worthy moment in young motherhood? With a cart full of children and the bagger behind me with my bags loaded in his cart, we headed outside. I know it is strictly optional to accept help with bags, but at this stage it is exceptionally helpful to have someone load the groceries and take away the cart while I transfer the boys into the car-seats. The few dollars they are due for the service (their only pay) is worth it to me. However, that was not the only price I had been paying.
A middle aged gentleman pushed the cart behind me as we walked out to my van. We talked about the weather and how the last snow the city had was in 1984…all well and good to discuss with a stranger. Sadly, the weather wasn’t the only thing about to take an unpleasant turn. He asked about the ages of my sons and then asked the question that I can’t seem to avoid when buying food. “Are you going to try for a girl?” At this point I answered, “I did. I got a boy and I’m happy with him.” He looked at me, a bit incredulous. “Don’t you WANT a girl?” Seriously? I can’t win at this point. If I say yes, the conclusion is that I should start trying. If not, something is clearly wrong with me. “Not right now. My hands are full. We’ll see what God gives me.” I said, carrying 40 pounds of baby and gear to the opposite side of the van.
“Well, if you do try and you get a boy, are you going to try again for a girl?” This conversation has bow brought me a minimum of 18 months into the future and given me tow hypothetical children. I stopped and looked at him with a look that clearly conveyed that this was over the line.I’m not as sweet as I used to be.
I matter of factly stated that a few reasons why I would NOT be getting pregnant with either gender any time in the immediate future, declared that I LOVE raising boys and while not opposed to a girl, now is not the time. After a few more comments about this brother having 7 boys before getting a girl and other gems that I do not care about, I finally closed the doors and politely sent him on his way.
Driving home I just felt annoyed. This went beyond sharing in the joy of having children and enthusiasm for families. This was NOSY. None of his business. Obnoxious. Furthermore, it happens to me EVERY time I run an errand with two boys. People can’t make conversation that doesn’t involve some interaction with m ovaries. It’s so nice to know that our grocery workers are trained doctors who can declare that you are almost due rather than only 5 months along as well as trained in family planning. Why make those pesky choices when strangers can tell me when to have a child, why, and which gender? They don’t need any other information! You really can get it all at the grocery store.
(One friend of mine who is constantly questioned about having more or another of the opposite gender has recently miscarried. You’d think revealing that sensitive information would stop people. It doesn’t. It eggs them on with encouraging clichés and personal stories that are no help at all.)
The time has come to be proactive. I can’t just charge through grocery stores during non-peak hours as if I’m a participant in Running of the Bulls. The fact is, it only eliminates one part of the problem. To put an end to my grief, I must go on the offensive and be part of the solution. It is time to produce a guide to help the masses.
How to tell If your Question about a life/family planning/ parenting decision is inappropriate:
1. 1. Is the person you are asking a stranger? If Yes, the question is inappropriate.
2. 2. Are you going to be personally involved in making and implementing this decision? If No, the question is inappropriate.
3. 3. Is there any obvious commonality? If not, the question is inappropriate. If yes, keep conversation only to that commonality. For example, “A Texas A&M shirt, huh? Did you go there? My oldest son is looking at colleges, but that might be too far.” While answers to these questions are still of no consequence after the conversation ends, it is less intrusive and offers no personal information about the children.
4. 4. Is sex involved or the topic of your conversation? Then the question is HIGHLY inappropriate. I would be appalled if a stranger asked if intended to have sex that evening, with him or anyone else. Asking me not only if I intended to have sex in the near future but if I desire to have a child (of a specific gender no less) from that union is ridiculous. What if I asked back, “Are you going to use a condom next time?” I’d be considered vulgar and rude. Take note of the hypocrisy.
5. 5. Has the person suddenly become embarrassed, aggressive, or break down in tears? Too late. Your question was inappropriate. Yell a sincere apology as you run for over and don’t ever do it again.
6. 6. Consider that you don’t know the circumstances of the person your question is aimed toward. Is the question acceptable if the person is struggling with infertility? Miscarriages? Death? A good friend was hit on once in a bar with the declaration that she was too pretty not to be with a guy. Where was her man? “He’s dead. Killed last year when I lived at Fort Jackson.” Back away slowly, idiot. You asked the wrong 28 year old widow.
7. 7. Lastly, does it REALLY concern you? We all have stories of family members who are concerned with keeping family name alive, wanting a certain gender, etc. Again, that is a family dynamics issue. That is not the business of a man who is making sure your toddler doesn’t crush the bread. Curiosity kills cats and conversations. Don’t go there.
There you go- 7 basic guidelines to assist you in making the choice on which questions to ask strangers. If you really have an undying need to know about relationships and babies that aren’t your business, go read the tabloids. They are in the supermarket about 4 feet from nosy people who should really be working for the magazines.
Happy conversing. Good luck out there.