At 3 he asked his mom, "Why don't Justine and Chad have kids?"
His mom replied with a generic, "Well, they have three dogs instead."
At 6 he asked in front of us at the dinner table, "Why don't you have kids?"
Before I could answer, his mom said, "That's why they love spending so much time with you guys!"
It is a simple question from him, grounded in true loving curiosity. It is a loaded question for me that speaks volumes he is too little to understand yet. It is a question he deserves a truthful answer to, as it has to be confusing to see these people who love him so much not look like all the other families around him.
How do you as parents answer this question in a way that honors your child's curiosity and respects the feelings and the story of the stunned couple in front of you?
The answer is rarely simple.
Do you answer for us? Do you sugar coat? Do you change the subject? Are you fearful the truth is just too much for them?
My answer, in honor of my truth and of the children I never got to hold in my arms, will always be with age-appropriate honesty: "We tried really hard to have kids but we can't. That is why we love seeing you guys so much."
"What do you mean you can't? Just keep trying."
"We had a lot of good doctors try to help us, but sometimes some people just aren't able to have their own kids."
"But what about kids who need parents?"
"We thought and prayed a lot about adoption, buddy, but for us we decided it wasn't right for our family."
"Because every family is different, and we decided to fill our lives and give our love to all the awesome kids we have in our lives, like you!"
"So you love us a lot."
"Exactly, we love you guys a ton."
I suppose only time will tell how many times we will be asked this question by the many chosen children in our lives.
This is also a question I think is bound to come up in your lives; infertility and loss are just too common. I promise, it is someone you know.
We hoped, we dreamed and we paid for children through infertility treatments. I am, however, one of the women it did not work for.
Everywhere I go, I am the one who does not quite fit in. I cannot contribute to birth stories, feeding schedules or soccer banter, yet I continue to choose to live a childfull life. Filling my life by investing in the lives of our friends' kids and working my butt off to find other ways to mother in this world -- this is childfull living.
And inevitably, the many children in our lives will ask why we are the odd ones out.
Even though some of my parent friends (and even sometimes I myself) believe in the ease and the protection of sugar coating the answer to this curious question, it does not honor us. We will never fit the mold of the "typical family," but we have just as much love to give. Sharing our truth and our beautiful story of struggle needs to be honored and shared with pride and honesty, especially with the little ones in our lives.
The truth is always best, and the kids in my life deserve to know mine.
My story scares many people, including some of my closest friends and family.
I suppose on the surface it is a sad story -- failed infertility treatments and learning to live life without children when you wanted them so badly.
However, I also know all too well it is a story we all share.
On some level we are all figuring out how to live with some version of a plan B in our lives.
Because if we are really honest with ourselves, whose life has turned out how they hoped, dreamed, planned, or maybe even paid for? With or without kids!
The children in our lives, your children, must know that even plan B can be beautiful, and it is not second grade or "less than."
Life does not always -- or hardly ever -- turn out how we hoped and dreamed.
However, we can choose to do the work to be OK, to be better than OK.
Perhaps that is part of my legacy left on this Earth, not through my own children but through showing the many children in my life that you can be better than OK even when you don't get what you want.