I have two children. They are ten and a half years apart in age. It used to surprise me how often people commented on my sons’ age gap, but now I am used to it. When I wait for my younger son at a birthday party, karate practice, after school pick-up, or some other school-related function, another parent might ask if I have other children. I’m sure the parent is trying to be nice by making small talk. I affirm I have an older son and, inevitably, I am asked his age. When I answer, judgmental facial expressions usually follow. “Oh wow, I guess he was a surprise!” or “He must have been your OOPS baby!” are frequently the comments people make about my youngest son. Frequently. By people I barely know.
When this first started happening, I was caught off guard. Didn’t people realize they were delving into sensitive, personal, intimate territory? What if I had one or more miscarriages between my two children? What if I had struggled with infertility? I have friends that dealt with both. They were devastating, painful experiences that my friends don’t talk about easily. Does some random parent shoving a piece of cake in his mouth with blue frosting on his lips at a kiddie birthday party realize what he could be asking when he questions me about my children’s age difference? Is he really prepared for the emotional response his words could elicit?
I am tremendously grateful that I never struggled with miscarriages or infertility. Having watched my friends go through the leveling pain they cause, I know how fortunate I am. There is over a decade age gap between my children because I am divorced and remarried. I had my older son during my first marriage. When I got remarried, my husband and I chose to have another child on the timeline that was best for our family. It was a choice, not an “oops.” Even if it had been an “oops,” it really wouldn’t be anyone else’s business.
Sorry, but I don’t owe you an explanation. That’s what I’d like to say to people who comment on my sons’ rather large age gap, but I don’t. I suppose I don’t want to be rude and make someone else feel uncomfortable, so I bite my tongue. Most often I choose to be kind, smile, and comment on the beautiful relationship my sons have. With so many years between them, there is no sibling rivalry. They are close and they love each other dearly. Talking about that usually changes the direction of the conversation.
Donning a beard last year, my older son attended his little brother’s Veteran’s Day school performance. I introduced him to the mother of another first grader I was talking to after the show. When my oldest wandered off to find his little brother, the mother commented on the age difference between my boys and asked me if my youngest son was an accident. Yes, she actually used the word accident! At that point I decide to have a little fun. I smiled and humorously questioned “Are you asking me if in the throes of passion one night my husband and I couldn’t be bothered to use birth control?” The mother turned bright red, stuttered some incomplete response, and quickly changed the subject. Maybe it was a bit mean, but I wanted the woman to understand just how inappropriate she was being. Something tells me she also asks dating couples when they are getting married, married couples when they are having children, the parents of twins if they did in vitro fertilization…you get the picture. Sorry, but they don’t owe her an explanation either. None of us do. We are all living our lives the best way we know how. We face challenges. We work to overcome them. We learn. We grow. We don’t have to explain ourselves to unaffected acquaintances along the way.