Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Bambinos September 19, 2011

If you ever happen to find yourself in Sheffield in the north of England, you might want to steer clear of Vito’s Italian restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, the food is delicious, the service is excellent, and Vito himself, if he happens to come out of the kitchen to talk to you, is charming and funny. But the place is a minefield for the childfree.

During my recent trip home, I went there with my mother and her gentleman friend to celebrate his birthday. Over the course of the meal the waiter (picture 50-ish, stocky Sicilian, with a thick half-Sheffield, half-Italian accent) discovered (from asking me) that I lived in California, was a writer, and was married to an American.

“So,” came the next question, “you have bambinos?”

“Um, no,” I said, quickly going back to my pasta.

“No?” he says. “Why not?”

There was an awkward pause while I weighed my options as to how to answer. I could grab this “teachable moment” and educate this man as to why is wasn’t okay to ask such a prying question; I could tell him the truth and risk embarrassing him, my mum, and her friend; or I could tell a big fat lie.

I chose a hybrid answer. “Too old,” I told him.

Now you think the penny would have dropped for him and he’d have walked away from the conversation, but no. Instead it went on, something like this:

“Too old? How old are you?”

“How old do you think I am?”

Sicilian shrug. “Thirty six?”

“Thanks for the compliment, but I’m 41.”

“41?! That’s not old. My sister-in-law, she have bambinos and she 50! You have plenty of time.”

At which point I think I nodded and smiled and mumbled something like, “We’ll see,” and wondered if I could have steered the conversation differently.

This occasion wasn’t the right place to set this man right. And he wasn’t the right target for a lesson. Here was a man who came from a time and culture where all women have bambinos, and so naturally why wouldn’t I?

Yes, his question was awkward and embarrassing, but the reality is that anything he asked me in a normal line of conversation could have been awkward. I could have just lost my job, just been abandoned by my husband for a younger woman, just lost my house and been forced to move back in with my mother. He just happened to ask the one question that was my personal trigger and I don’t think that reading him the riot act for his misstep would have been the appropriate thing to do, do you?

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12 Responses to “Bambinos”

  1. stacey Says:

    I have been cursed in the looks department. Not by being beaten with the ugly stick, but by being touched generously with the anti-aging wand. I am 42, but look 30. As you can imagine, this leaves me wide open to the same offensive statement by strangers, friends, and even family. I say family because there are so many of us, no birthdays get celebrated anymore, therefore the math to figure out how old we actually are each year is enough to cause collective brain explosions.

    Yea… so… It’s really condescending and offensive. I try to tell myself people mean well, but some people need to realise not everyone is cookie cut, therefore they should say nothing. It’s kinder.

  2. Iris D Says:

    Lisa, your conversation with your waiter sounds like a replica of my conversation with my husband’s friend.Who actually told me “It’s never too late.” I simply said, “Sometimes it is.” There was an awkward pause, but I think I needed to say it. And Stacey, I have the same issue. I wouldn’t say I look 30, but I do look younger than my 42. On a recent visit to see family (extended family and family friends) overseas, who I had not seen in about 14 years, I was asked about when I was planning to have kids, without exception. So probably something like 21 times in a three week period. One of the worst for me lately was when my college supervisor’s wife asked me if I was planning to have kids during a dinner in front of her male cousin (who I had just met), a mutual friend and my supervisor. She doesn’t have children and I know this is a source of sadness for her, but he is happy to be childfree. I said, “I don’t know.” She asked again. I said, “We’ll see.”… It might have just been seconds, but it felt like years. She wanted a straight answer and it felt like I was being purposely evasive, because of course that is what I was being… but I just couldn’t blurt out, “We’re infertile.”

    • lmanterfield Says:

      I love your “Sometimes it is” answer. It’s a show stopper and so much simpler than trying explain that it might not be too late (for me at 41, it’s not too late, as such) but sometimes it’s just time to stop and walk away. That’s always so hard to explain to someone.

      Did you consider talking to the wife alone later and explaining. I think you were right to not blurt it out at the table, but that’s a situation where it could be worth the effort to spell it out and save her from embarrassing herself in the future, and making her guests uncomfortable. Ugh. Sorry.

  3. Julie Says:

    I get asked if I have kids a lot, but it’s by my students, and I know they are just trying to get to know me, so I usually try not to freak out when the question is asked. Most of the time I do a pretty good job of it. This year the conversation went something like this:
    “do you have kids?”
    “nope”
    “don’t you want them?”
    “we did, but we can’t, so we won’t.”
    “oh, that’s lame. good thing you have us, huh?”
    “that is true.”
    And then we moved on. Until the next day, when the girl who sits next to the girl I had this conversation, told me I should have 5 babies. I pointed out that the neighbor student and I had had a similar conversation the day before, which she apparently didn’t pay attention to, so I told her we couldn’t have kids. then she responded with “oh, you should adopt 5 babies!” wtf? I just laughed and said that would be way too expensive and walked away from her.

    All that is to say that I agree with you. I don’t think educating him would have gone well, and I do think that there are times and places when “educating” people about infertility is not appropriate.

  4. S Says:

    Happens to me too. I’m 37 and look a bit younger. My husband is 35 but looks 40ish so by comparison I look even younger. I work from home and often have clients in my house. While we’re visiting people tend to glance around, mindful that this is also my home. Probably because they are expecting a little one to pop in at any second, they will ask, “so do you have children?” I almost always reply, “no we have three dogs and they keep us busy.” This will shut most people up or at best lead to a light conversation about dogs. However, there are some who will press on.

    It’s difficult because these people are in my home (I wish to be polite to my guests) and they are potential business clients (and let’s face it, I want their business). At 37 it’s tiring and condescending for me to hear the stream of wisdom that gets doled out.

    “There’s never a “right” time to have a baby”. I want to say, “well, there sure is a wrong time and when you are on the verge of leaving your husband that is decidedly the wrong time.

    Or what about “you’ll never have enough money.” In my head I’m saying “mmmm, when you are swimming in almost 30K of credit card debt and your husband isn’t really interested in full time employment, it again is decidedly the wrong time to actively pursue children and the financial responsibility within.

    Best of all, “babies will make a man settle down”. Well, sure maybe in a certain percentage of cases. Sure. How about my husband whose “social drinking” is really alcoholism? Will a child “cure” his thirst and keep him at home?

    You truly never know what others are going through. Probing questions, blanket statements, your own wealth of wisdom isn’t going to enlighten the women who at 37 is unhappily married, feeling the pressure of a million obligations, and trying desperately to escape to a better life. A life that might actually make it possible for her to have a child.

    My advice, just ask her how the dang dog is doing and move on.

    • lmanterfield Says:

      I find it so infuriating that people can’t just say, “I think it’s commendable that you have thought through this very serious commitment.” Because I’m sure these would be the same people to criticize someone who brought children into a relationship/environment that couldn’t support them emotionally or financially. Maybe you have “Just ask about the dang dog and move on” made into a poster above your desk.

  5. Angela Says:

    Wow. There was really not much else you could do with that invasive convo with a WAITER. Just smile and nod?? I’ve never understood some people’s need to uncover the intimate details of a perfect stranger’s life, someone who they’ll never see again and won’t ever know personally. I try to give one word answers to questions like, “Why don’t you have kids?” Like, “Can’t.” And enunciate the word. With a piercing look. Some people get it, some are just too dense anyway.

  6. DAK Says:

    I think in his case it was just ignorance. I am sure IF has never touched his life. I try to let those ones slide ; )

    Lately, when I meet new people or people I haven’t seen in years, I somehow throw out the “we don’t have kids” thing in passing coversation. Like “yeah, we travel alot, because we don’t have kids”. I will somehow sneak a statement in there so they don’t get the opportunity to ask and make it all awkward for me really. And honestly? Having to answer it just plain sucks no matter who it is or how many times you’ve been asked before, it just never gets easier and there is no great way to answer…

  7. DAK Says:

    p.s I also look alot younger than my soon to be 43 yrs, so at 53 maybe we won’t have to answer anymore : O ) Whew, something to look forward to! LOL

  8. themissruby Says:

    ugh!

    i got told by an elderly [though at the same time, not SO elderly] client [i work in aged care as a carer] the other week that it was INCREDIBLY sad that Guv & i had been together 12 years and yet had no children. she went on to imply that our lives would be unfulfilled, that we wouldn’t be happy, that we’d have nothing to show for our lives – all because we didn’t have any children.

    she’s now one of my least favourite clients and i detest going there.

    i now tell people that i prefer not to discuss my private life while at work, i go in do my job and leave, it’s not how i’d prefer to do it but it saves me the heartache of having to discuss why i lead a “sad” life of no children despite 11 years of happy marriage. lol

  9. Rerah Says:

    I read somewhere that Italy actually has a negative birth rate anyway–ironic!


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