For my prior post to have pride of place for a while. But such is the life of the infertile...something like this always seems to come up.
Some dear friends are visiting town this week. I went to college with both of them (actually, I set them up!) and they are staying with another friend from college while they're here. We're trying to arrange dinner. I get out of work late, and although I can rework my schedule and make it a bit earlier, there's no earthly way I'm getting out at 5PM. (I'd have to get on the metro in the morning before it even starts running.) I could take leave for the end of the day, I guess, but that really seems like asking a lot, IMHO.
None of this would be a problem - I can meet them for dinner by 7:30 - except that their four children have an 8:00 bedtime. Honestly, that seems ideal to me. I can say hello to all the small people, wear a smile of heroically virtuous patience for 30 minutes, ignore that one parent is simply absent for half an hour trying to persuade the little goblins to sleep, and chat with the other parent. I can catch up with my friends, in whose lives I am really deeply interested. I never get to talk to them - I write an email to the wife every now and then to see how she is, and I never get a response. I get it - she's super-fertile, she has four kids under six, and she is constantly exhausted.
Oh, did I mention that they got married thirteen months after we did, and they have four children? And I'm sure she doesn't remember this, but not long before her wedding, we had a phone call where she talked about how scared she was that she would get pregnant right away, and her family had gotten used to the idea of her marrying young, but starting a family young would just not fly with everyone, and how was she going to avoid that? They didn't have a good reason to TTA for years. I said something lame to the effect that she might find out that that was not the problem at all, but I was wrong, naturally, as I always am on this topic. And I'm not holding a grudge - I'm not angry. She wasn't to know. But the conversation made an indelible impression on me, all the same.
So anyway, getting back to my point - I don't have to spell it out for you, right? It's obvious to any adult with a brain, right? I want to catch up with my friends. You know, friends - the people I went to college with - the adults, the ones in their 30s. And I'd like my DH to have a chance to get to know them, which he hasn't before now. I don't have anything to discuss with the five-year-old, let alone his younger siblings. I'm happy to pat them on the heads as a gesture to their parents. I don't even mind if in catching up, a biography of the children is a main feature of their parents' answer to the question, "So what's new in your lives?" I'll get bored eventually (as they would get bored with an exhaustive description of my job or my remodeling), but I can tolerate some period of that.
But I draw the line at showing up, not for dinner, but for the Theater of the Small. I'm not coming so I can see their children. I tolerate seeing the children more or less as a necessary evil; I'm coming in spite of the children (because I can't have children, so other people's children are a cross - in case you've never been to this or any other infertility blog before), so I can see the parents. And apparently they don't automatically know this, although I think it is so obvious that every human should automatically know it, and that puts me in a very awkward position.
Because if they can't see the obvious reality, it means they're being distracted by some non-reality, a non-reality in which (I speculate) every human whom they have ever encountered lives for the opportunity to spend time with their small children. How could such a bizarre reality be dislodged? And why is this my job?
I started typing an email to the mutual friend who is playing host; I intended it to ask something along the lines of, "Was this conceived of as an, 'everyone in your area desperately wants to see the kids and hasn't found time to visit them in five years' tour? Because I need to know if that's true, so I can prepare an excuse to leave early." I realized that I was dragging someone else into the problem and there was a significant possibility he might misunderstand - or over-understand and think I couldn't tolerate being in the kids' company for even a moment (which is not true, though it would have been in the recent past). If I sent that email, I could not control the consequences. I closed it and began another email, to my friend, the mother of these children. She is a good friend; I should be honest with her about how I feel - not confrontational, but open. This is my reality. If I asked her, I'm sure she'd say she gave a d@mn.
Then I thought about how that exchange would go.
"Friend, I just wanted to reach out to you in advance of your visit to prevent any misunderstanding. While I'm happy that I have an opportunity to see the kids again (especially the younger two, whom I haven't met!), spending time with other people's children is an issue for me. It's getting better than it was, but..."
No. That won't do at all. I would say, "spending time with other people's children is something I try to do in small doses. As you know, I can't have kids of my own, and I find that spending a lot of time around..."
No, that doesn't really explain it. "I'm happy that I have an opportunity to see the kids again, but it's really you and your husband I want to catch up with. Obviously I'm happy for you that you have a beautiful family, but I never get a chance to talk to you, and I know that it's difficult to talk to parents when they have to keep track of the kids at the same time! And, as I'm sure you understand, kid-centric activities are difficult for me. I don't avoid gatherings just because children will be present, but when they consume the focus or the conversation, that's not a good scene for me."
And she'll say...what? "So you want to see us only when the children are asleep?"
"Oh, no, that's not what I'm saying. I mean, I work on the late side, but I'm going to try to get there earlier because I want to have an opportunity to see you guys. And I would like to see the kids."
"Do you want us to put them to bed two hours early?"
"No, no. I'm just trying to make sure that the goal of the dinner isn't so that we get to see your kids. Obviously, that's nice, but for me the main thing is that I get to see you. I just have trouble when I'm supposed to spend an entire event just talking to or about someone else's children."
"Do you not want anyone to talk about the kids, then?"
"No, that's not it. I'm not trying to create a gag rule. People can talk about whatever they want. I just can't tell the theme of the visit. If you're asking me to dinner because you want me to get to see the kids because you think I've been dying to, and you want to make sure they trot out all their new words, and their latest milestones, and spend all evening chatting with me...I haven't been waiting to see them. Other people's children are a cross. I want to see you. I went to college with you. I never get to talk to you."
"OK...so...I think you really don't want to see them. Which is too bad, because we made this trip just so everyone could see them, because they're getting so big and you never seem to find time to visit us up north. We could just tell everyone that you guys are coming for dessert, after the kids go to bed. Would that be better?"
I cannot explain to my friend what the issue is so that she will understand. It should be obvious, but it's apparently not obvious, and if it's not obvious, then it's inexplicable.
If she could understand that I didn't come over for Kiddie Hour because I am deprived of children at home and am just dying to get my fix with somebody else's, if I didn't have to explain that I can deal with kids but I have to deal with them, if when I talked to her husband he had blithely said that he understands that everyone works late and it won't be a problem and frankly they'd be delighted to feed the kids first and then do a later dinner with just the adults so we could get a chance to really catch up - then I would feel better. But he said nothing of that kind, and it doesn't look like that's what's happening.
After six years and their four kids and talking maybe only once a year, I feel like I am just now losing a dear friend. Two dear friends.