Reposted: Don’t ask, don’t tell…

This is a rerun post. It appeared on my original blog on June 4, 2014. I’m sharing it again because I just updated some travel posts from that time period and this post is related to them. Enjoy!

No, I’m not writing about the now defunct rule against gays in the military. I’m writing about people who ask very personal questions that they probably would rather not know the answer to. This subject comes up today after I read this very interesting blog post about a guy explaining why he doesn’t want to be a father. I happen to relate to this man’s experiences because, as a childless woman, I’ve heard a lot of the comments he’s gotten in retort. As a woman with no children, I’m sure the pressure for me to explain why I don’t have any kids is even more intense than it is for him.

I shared the post on Facebook and the responses were mostly positive.  There was one comment from a man, who said that he and his wife never had kids and no one ever called him to task over it.  I wrote that perhaps it’s different for men.  He responded that the author of the article is a man, to which I wrote that I knew the author was a man.  I was simply sharing my similar experience of being told that not having kids is apparently a huge mistake for which I will no doubt feel great sorrow.  

I can relate to what the blog author wrote, in spite of his gender.  When you are a woman without kids, particularly when you are a childless woman who is married to a military man, people often feel free to question why you don’t have any children.  Sometimes they’ll tell you you’ll be sorry you didn’t have them.  They’ll question who will look after you when you’re old (I think that is a really stupid reason to have kids, by the way.  It’s not right to expect your kids to take care of you when you’re old– it’s nice if they do, but I don’t think it should automatically be expected of them).  More offensive to me is when they try to tell me about adoption, as if that option has never once crossed my mind.

As an Army wife who has no children, I am definitely not within the norm.  Add in the fact that I went to college, grad school, and was a Peace Corps Volunteer, and you really have a strange duck in your midst.  I’m not saying there aren’t other military wives like me.  I’m saying I have yet to come across very many of them.

The blog that I posted about on Facebook was written by an Australian man who, no doubt, doesn’t get the stink eye as much as your typical childless military wife does (not that there is such a thing as a “typical” childless military wife).  Reading his thoughts reminded me of an incident that Bill and I ran into just days ago, while riding a train to Landstuhl, Germany.  It was the last of three trains after two flights getting us from Nice to Frankfurt.  I was tired and a bit grumpy.

A young mom and her four kids got on the train. The children’s grandmother was also in tow. They struck up a conversation, having just come from Paris after a trip to Euro Disney. The kids were as tired and as over public transportation as I was, and they were being a bit disruptive. Mom was trying to get them to settle down for their brief journey to Ramstein Air Force Base. Bill was helpfully explaining the train system to the mom and grandma while the kids busied themselves. It turned out the mom and her husband were stationed in Germany. Bill and I told her how lucky they were and I said I’d love to move back to Germany and stay for a long time.

Then Grandma pipes up with, “Yeah, but how do you do that with a family?”

I said, “Oh, it’s just us and two dogs…”

You would have thought I’d just dropped the f-bomb in front of Grandma.  She gave me a serious stink eye that seemed to say, “How could you NOT have kids?  You are selfish!”

I didn’t try to explain, though later I wished I had said something to the effect of, “Well, we don’t have kids because I used to be a man.”  Imagine the reaction!  It would have been classic!

But I was too tired to come up with something clever to say and elected not to explain to Grandma why Bill and I don’t have kids.  For one thing, it’s the kind of thing that most people would consider TMI, though I don’t have any problem telling people if they insist on knowing.  For another thing, it was really none of her goddamn business.  Moreover, I’m sure that if she knew why we don’t have kids, she’d be grateful that I kept my mouth shut.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why people think it’s okay to bring up such sensitive and personal subjects with total strangers or acquaintances.  There are any number of reasons why a couple doesn’t have kids.  It could be as simple as them not wanting to reproduce, or the reason could be complex and painful, like one or both of them had cancer that left them sterile.  In my case, Bill had a vasectomy when he was married to his ex wife.  He had it reversed eleven years later and the operation was technically successful.  We commenced trying to make a baby… and we failed.

Then he got sent to Iraq and we lost several months of time when we might try to reproduce with assistance (not that I was really all that keen to undergo a medical procedure to get pregnant). I have never been interested in adoption and have determined that the maternal instinct in me isn’t strong enough to spend the time or the money on the quest to have a child. So I am resigned to being childless and have finally come to terms with that decision. But there are people out there in the world who apparently want to second guess my decision not to be a mom.

Grandma wisely didn’t ask me why we don’t have any kids.  If she had, I might have taken the high road and said, “I’ll forgive you for asking if you’ll forgive me for not answering.”  Or, if I was feeling bold, I might have told her the truth.  Then she and her daughter would have to explain what an unsuccessful vasectomy reversal is to the kids in their care.  Or I could have said something totally outrageous like, “I don’t have kids because my husband’s dick is way too large for me and we physically can’t have sex.”  It would have been a rude thing to say, but if you think about it, it’s probably no ruder than having someone you’ve never met before judge you for not being a parent.

I’m starting to get to the age at which people will soon probably stop asking me about whether or not I have kids…  Then they’ll ask if I have any grandchildren.  I can hardly wait.

By the way, I also thought it odd that Grandma apparently doesn’t think kids can be successfully raised in Germany or elsewhere.  Frankly, if I were a mom, I’d prefer it if my kids grew up outside of the United States.  Things have gotten pretty weird around here, if you ask me.