"So, are you going to have kids of your own?"
It's one of those questions I'm simply not sure if I should be offended
by. More personal than, "How much money do you make?" and less
intrusive than "How many times do you and the missus do it?" It's a
combo Q of if I can get it up, when I stopped beating my wife, and if
anyone would even want to procreate with my DNA. My answers are part
"None of your business," and part "That's a really great question,
let's talk about our lives in intimate detail this afternoon over
I'm a fairly open person and enjoy getting to know friends and family,
but I was taught by my folks to leave certain issues well enough alone.
The size of someone's mortgage, for example, if a couple signed a
pre-nup, the dollar value of a trust fund, or the cost of the bottle of
wine a guest brings over. Not to mention quandaries of a sexual nature:
"So, ya straight, or are you AC/DC?" Can't see my mother bringing that
up at her bridge group. But times have changed and people now talk
about all kinds of things -- therapy, plastic surgery, addictions,
piercings, impotency, insider trading, favorite sex pills, the whole
After being engaged to Vanessa for only a week, my
bulldozer-of-a-cousin asked if I was going to adopt her twins -- right
in front of them. Ignoring her (I don't think Rachel or Riley were sure
they wanted me at that point), we walked arm-in-arm-in-arm to the
playground, with more apt questions to ponder, like who'd be the Purple
Tag Monster of Death and if you can get sawdust splinters on the inside
of your mouth.
To keep Over-Inquisitive Olga at bay, I've always been boldly
forthcoming about my child-bearing plans: "Kids!? Oh, sure, I know
they're out there," I'd shout loudly at intimate gatherings. "Actually,
thanks for reminding me! I need to follow up with this gal I met in
Bali in the '80s. Never did get her name..."
It's usually the couple who has been trying the longest that gets asked
the most often about their childbearing abilities. Procreation
intentions and interpersonal life choices are no business of those
outside the bedroom. (And don't even get me started on Roe v. Wade.)
A friend of mine is "having trouble getting pregnant," as they say, and
we joke about embellishing our situations just to teach unrelenting
investigators a lesson: "Well, Jane, we've tried everything, spent over
a hundred grand on operations, and even had a few miscarriages along
the way, but if I can earn a little more this year and the sperm swim
strong, we're going to try In Vitro one more time. Thanks so much for
asking." The one I use is, "Yes, Vanessa and I are experimenting with
some cloning, but it's hit and miss -- the sheep were so much easier to
duplicate -- but we're really trying, so please do root for us. And can
we give you the mutant if one comes along?"
I believe in the concept of Environmental Parenting. Nature vs.
nurture, or if DNA has a stronger influence than the amount we instill
our values and personality into little people, is an egotistical
debate, beside the point and best left to evolutionary scientists and
prison parole boards. In my own case (for better or for worse), Rachel
and Riley are already acting like me, using my words and inflections.
("That's probably not the best idea," one will murmur in my own
sarcastic cadence as I stand on a bar stool trying to reach a burnt-out
light bulb over the bathtub.) I taught Rachel to head-butt people who
get too close, Riley's mastered a wicked jump-hook over taller players,
and we're all learning how to wriggle free from headlocks and wedgies.
Rachel even looks like me (or vice versa).
As a family, we're affecting one another with our personalities, spirit
and influences. The merger goes both ways; I have more childlike
enthusiasm for things like good cartoons, fruit roll-ups and sea
anemones; the twins appreciate down time, lava lamps and Dire Straits;
and Vanessa is still sexy but with a budget, and teaching me about the
importance of hair removal and eating organic (not at the same time).
We're creating new versions of one another. We're picking up one
another's traits, bad habits, colds and clothing. And we're better off
for the confluence.
So, in answer to your question, I know one thing for sure: I've already got kids of my own.
The Accidental Parent is a column about a lifelong bachelor, Michael Stusser, who recently married Vanessa, the mother of 10-year-old twins -- Rachel and Riley.