“Are you done?”
The inquiry is peppered in my direction abundantly when I am out with my five young boys. My answer is always the same, but the other day I had a little fun with its delivery.
“With what?” I responded over the clamor at an indoor playground. The lady motioned to my son who was giving her grandkid a lift into a purple tunnel. This slip of her well-manicured hand made her interest in my family’s size quite clear. Still, I could resist having a little fun.
“My fries?” I pointed to the ketchup-blurred wrapper before me, “Sure, go ahead. Help yourself.”
Because, you see, for a stranger who knows nothing about me—not my name, age, or where I am from—to ask, albeit kindly, about my plans in regard to “being done” bringing souls into the world...well … it is just...hmm...
But still, it happens all the time.
“Oh no,” she tittered, “Your kids.”
She motioned again to my five sons.
“Whew,” she said, “I feel SO sorry for you.”
Keep in mind this stranger's smile was genuine. I know her words, specifically the ones about “feeling SO sorry” for me, especially when you see them on paper, are offensive. I take most issue, however, with her tone when she dropped the word "done."
She emphasized it, like most who make this inquiry do, with the same inflection one would use when saying, “I’m DONE donating my skull to neurosurgery students so they can practice shock therapy!”
“No, are you DONE having kids?” the lady smiled on, yucky-faced at the suggestion of sharing my fries and apparently oblivious to my humor. Had she understood, she would have realized that I was chastising her for inferring that my precious children are something to be DONE with. Also, unbeknownst to her, she had gotten her hand verbally smacked—lightly—for submitting such a personal question so soon into our visit. But like I said, she was oblivious.
A hand slap from a Catholic mother bent on evangelizing the world?
You bet. Because should it not be more normal for a stranger to ask about my French fries than my fertility? Shouldn’t it? And should a stranger not have the sense to realize her tone when speaking in reference to future children and should that tone not be sweet? Shouldn’t she? And should it not be odd to speak about new life in a tone casual enough to be mistaken for an inquiry about French fries?
But it is not. And the kind stranger was waiting for a response.
So, I pulled out my best hum-dinger. Fortunately, I was rested so it came out on a smile. It works, however, with any tone. Now do not get too excited because my steadfast reply is certainly no doozy. It is, I promise, completely honest: “God only knows,” I said.
Because only He does. Only God knows how exhilarated/exhausted I am and how many children I can raise to His glory. I have come to view these experiences with curious strangers at play lands or parks as opportunities to “give a reason for the hope I have received” (1 Peter 3:15). Because what reason other than hope in God’s love and provision do I have for being “open to life” when so many people in this day and age are not. If I can challenge negative attitudes while I am at it—gently, even humorously, I believe I owe it to the many curious strangers with whom I cross paths.
On a brief side note, I am not pushing a platform of unbridled fertility. To the contrary, my husband and I have prayerfully utilized Natural Family Planning (NFP) during times of serious stress. I only touch on the topic to convey the thought that the decision to expand or limit one’s family size is a little more complicated than snagging or passing up French fries. And shouldn’t it be! We are talking about children. We are talking about life itself.
“Where do you go to church?” the kind stranger inquired, motioning to the crucifix dangling around my neck.
“St. Joseph’s,” I reply.
Her face is marked with a certain understanding, even admiration.
Perhaps something I said did sink in. Or perhaps this curious stranger tasted the joy of a visit with my children and was surprised by its sweetness.
I would like to think so.
© SARAH JOHNSON lives with her family in the coal region of Pennsylvania where they stomp through creek beds and wooded glens, seeking out the wonder. When she is not prying briars out of socks, Johnson enjoys reading, writing dramatic teen novels, and occasionally keeping a blog: www.FishsticksOnFriday.blogspot.com.