Lately, someone has been remarking that I have my hands full almost every day. Because my baby can’t walk and my toddler often refuses to, I think people mean it in the literal sense. Everywhere I go, I end up carrying a kid in each arm. At some point my pants start falling down. Then I inevitably drop my keys, which I’m then forced to kick like a misshapen soccer ball until I can reach my minivan and unload my load, horrified by how much underwear I am showing the world.
Most of the “hands full” comments are accompanied with an offer to help, so my response is just a grateful “thank you.” But when it’s merely offered as an observation, I have no idea how to respond. “Duh” seems rude. Although I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, I just can’t pull off saying, “Well, you should see my heart.” This is probably because I’m usually muttering profanities about “disrespectful keys” under my breath, and I’m afraid to show strangers just what my full heart looks like.
I grew up with 10 siblings, and the question we unfailingly got when out in public was, “Are these all yours?” You couldn’t blame people for asking. We were our own sort of freakshow — the Duggars minus little Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah, Jennifer, Jo-what’s-her-name and Josie. On vacation, we’d pile out of the 15-passenger van after a 15-hour car ride, dirty, nauseated, looking, as my father put it, like something out of “The Grapes of Wrath.”
“Are these all yours?” was a perfectly legitimate question, but, depending on the setting in which it was posed, my in-head responses varied. If someone asked us at a buffet restaurant: “No, we rounded up an extra one to be certain — certain — that someone would barf.” At the grocery store: “We borrowed some neighbor kids so we’d have two teams to knock over displays.” At a park: “We brought a spare for when we lose one of our own.”
For years, I begged my parents to go for an even 12 so that they could at least rip off the Galbraith family and explain that Mormons came cheaper by the dozen. Exhausted by decades of having both babies and teenagers, and an oldest daughter who knew she knew best, my parents just rolled their eyes and refused. Eleven is their magic number.
Before you have kids, it’s easy to get fixated on that magic number, that perfect amount of family members you’re going to have. Then life comes along, and so does infertility or surprise pregnancies, miscarriages or illness. It’s unlikely that the family you have is the family you planned, but like with everything in life, you have no choice but to play the hand you’re dealt. The problem is that everyone wants to know exactly what’s in your cards.
I cringe when I hear someone asking “So you have just the two?” (I think I hear this only in Utah), and I double-cringe at “So, when are you going to start having kids?” It’s just human nature, I guess, and I’m as nosy as the next person.
I’m guilty of hounding my next-door neighbor with, “When are you going to have another one?” because I want a buddy for my baby. But in writing this I realize I should probably stop it. Stop it right now. It’s a question that like, “Are you pregnant?” is better left unasked.
Speaking of “Are you pregnant?” I’ve gotten that one a few times lately. After four kids my stomach muscles are shot, and the wrong shirt or the wrong angle could easily suggest there’s something cooking in my oven. There isn’t. Having myself offended someone by asking “Are you pregnant?” before, I will never, ever, ever ask that question again. Should I see a long-lost friend getting an epidural in the labor and delivery unit, the most I would venture is, “So … anything new with you?”
Luckily, when someone asks me if I’m pregnant these days, I know exactly how to respond. No tearing up, no booty-hurt looks, no hastily explaining that I just, like, ate a Big Mac. I simply pick up my two youngest children, drop my keys on the ground, start kicking them, and say, “Actually, no. Right now, my hands are full.”