Monday, January 27, 2014

All Those Dumb Questions We Keep Asking

I've had two c-sections. I'm mom to three boys.  And two of my boys are twins.  

Forces at will in my story mandate that, when the history of my mommyness broaches, dumb questions will be had. 

I wanted to write this post a few days ago when I saw three pieces on the same day on Facebook brewing attitude for anyone stupid enough to ask women about having a c-seciton or all boys or, Heaven forbid, twins!  Just today though, before I could even get this sucker typed out, I momentarily connected with a mom in the corner of the library just after Story Hour. In between me reading to her daughter and Thomas huddled thisclosetogether and her playing peek-a-boo with Alistair, she had the usual questions to ask me...


"So, all boys?"
"Yeah, all boys." [smiles]

And then later, after my second attempt to explain that the twins really don't have anything to do with my family's genetics:

"So, you don't have any twins in your family?"
"Oh, I do, it's just that... they have nothing to do with that. I mean, they do, it's just, see, they are a different type of twins. Anyone can have them..."
[confused silence]

I became familiar with dumb questions when I was sixteen, the year my brother, Mark, was born.  Mark has Down syndrome, and as a teenager with little more to care about than cross country practice and studying for the ACT test, I had no idea what Down syndrome would mean for us or him when he was born.  It was a different kind of fear, a numbing fear that mulled uncertainty over in my mind while I held a sweet little baby in my arms.  There wasn't an assurance all would be okay. It feels, in my treasure chest of memories, as if we were all huddling around him hoping he would tell us what it all meant.  And he has, all these years later just like any other kid who brings with him or her their very own owner's manual, shown us that it would be okay.  

But to not know that? It was a tiny, tight ache I wanted to rub away. And instead, it was that people had dumb things, born from curiosity, to add to the quiet heartache.  In front of the grocery store.  At school as I was trying to finish a lab report. Within our home. 

When I returned to school in the fall after he was born, I sat in the front row of my psychology class and like the gentleness of a summer's night with the flickering of lightning bugs, I heard a flickering of demeaning things said among a group of upperclassmen behind me I hadn't noticed before, "you're retarded", "how gay!", but had really always been there.  Now I had a frame of reference to notice such things and how loud and base and rude they now occurred to me! Just like, I guess, the happiness of a mother can pierce a woman unable to conceive or the spoken joy of a marriage burns the widowed or heartbroken just one place setting away.

Our words can cause so much hurt. Sometimes we see the pain flash across the face of the one we're speaking to and a realization sinks that there was a power we held and now unleashed to poison and cut a heart which didn't need another burden. Other times, we ask a cute mom at the library if she really doesn't have any girls like at all?? and don't see that it stings just a touch.  But oh we are capable of saying such dumb things, aren't we?  Asking the woman when she's due and she's not.  Finding out our hurtful things came round to the one on trial without their presence. Saying things quickly and wishing we could pick them back up and start again but no such luck. And then the tone too:  Being rash. Anxious. Sarcastic. Snarky. Thankless.  Maybe we should all just keep our mouths shut!

But no.

That's just not how it works.  

I'll speak for myself and me alone, but please don't stop talking and asking dumb questions.  Despite the hundred articles you have or haven't clicked on in the past year that warn you within an inch of your life to think twice before you ASK THESE AWFUL QUESTIONS OF A MOM TO ALL BOYS?? HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND??, I want you to talk, to wonder, to peer into others' souls and homes and hearts and even if you think you might strike hurt but don't mean any harm. 

There's something far worse than dumb questions.  There's silence. There's an absence of the ones we had kind've hoped to show up and just be there. There's burdens with no one in sight to relieve you.  

Dumb questions are not the enemy.  Here's what is:

Talking at people rather than talking to them.

Making assumptions (good or bad) about your friend or daughter or mother-in-law: She's good! How awful!, etc. etc.  Ask (if you think it's appropriate) in the best way you know how to... things like: Does it still hurt? How can I help? What do you need? or let's just get straight to it--I want to hear about ______________. 

Being intentionally insensitive. (Um, this is pretty rare.  Really rare.) Our litmus test is easy: Is it true? Is it good? Is it helpful? 

So if your "stupid question" doesn't fall into one of these three categories, they're fine by me. 

Our job is not to avoid pain at all costs. While it's helpful to know that there are some hot button questions for those around us, it's far better to focus on encouraging one another, being accessible and mindful and available, and then, most importantly, listening to answers or, where one is under construction, a flood or fumbling of thoughts unleashed with relief. 

No one story is a story of all pain or of all good.  We each carry with us little broken pieces or numb pieces or pieces we're trying to sort out and if you bring it up, well, maybe we might flush red or shed a tear (or laugh even though we don't feel so good inside about it just yet).

Or maybe I'm wrong, and I'm just a big believer that this facade of polished digital lives is doing us some harm in taking us off the hook to be fully real with others. Maybe I'm wrong that strangers' questions deserve a bit of grace and a smile.  Maybe I'm wrong that the majority of people just really aren't aware of our underlying pain or when and how to ask, but it's also that they really want the best--if they could just deliver it to our doorstep for us, they would.

 Well, if I am wrong, I advise you to stay far away.  I ask a lot of questions, and there's a 100% chance, since my story is different than yours, most of them are going to be dumb.


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  2. I love this post! It resonates well with someone who has fielded questions for years about their wierd family with 15 kids! It opens doors to things that I never would discuss otherwise!

    1. I bet! I imagine you've got your responses fine-tuned by now. ;)