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Kids of Your Own

"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 coffee."

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 she-bang.

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.

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