My in-laws invited me to a crab boil at the golf club. I— having grown up in the rural Midwest, surrounded by the sort of restaurants that never thought to fly in fresh shellfish, so that Midwesterners might, for a day, pretend to live on the coast of Maine—had never heard of such a thing. I also didn’t grow up going to golf clubs, though there was a club in my hometown, and my grandfather was an avid golfer in his day. To me, clubs were… foreign and fancy, and all of a sudden, I was supposed to go to one. With my brand new in-laws. To eat shellfish, which I’ve never cared for. (When it comes to surf ’n turf, I’m more of a turf kind of gal. (Ignore that innuendo. I stumbled into it, and I’m leaving it for now.)) This party was not my comfort zone, friends, but I was invited by family, and so I inexpertly blowdried my hair, put on a summer dress that was probably just a little bit too short, makeup that to me felt caked on but that my husband swore was tasteful.
One long table had been set, the length of the clubhouse patio which overlooked a manmade pond, with views of the first, tenth, and eighteenth hole, depending where you sat, with kitschy plastic table cloths and sheets of newspaper. My in-laws were already seated when we arrived, and they’d claimed one end for themselves, my husband and I, and two of their oldest friends. I sat down beside M., a woman with colorless blonde hair. I smiled my friendliest, most relaxed-looking smile— which always made my jaw ache. “Oh, it’s so nice to finally meet you. Sit down! Congratulations!” (We were still newlywed enough that congratulations and best wishes were part of any introduction.) “Let me see that ring!”
I held out my left hand, and she took it, admiring. My ring, which I adore, is a gold band with teeny, tiny little diamonds that go, “Oh, almost all the way around. Well, that’s okay.” She let go.
Drinks were served, bibs doled out, and crab, sausage, corn, and potatoes were spilled onto newspaper at intervals down the length of the table. Shells piled up on plates, butter dripping down chins
“How big did you say your house is? Three bedrooms? Room for kids, but that might get a little tight once they’re older…. You two should buy my house! It’s great for kids.”
This struck me as a little forward, but not too outrageous. People began asking me when Tony and I were planning to have kids long before we were even engaged. In fact, the questions became so pervasive in our life, that we have a policy: we don’t talk about family planning with people who we’re not planning a family with. Whether or not my husband and I want kids or plan to have them and when, is already a deeply complicated subject, and the when you invite people into a conversation, they feel free to give their opinions. They expect their opinions to have weight. I’m fully aware that my mother-in-law would like grandchildren, post-haste, and that can feel like an awful lot of pressure. Pressure to fulfill the expectation of my fairly-new in-laws, pressure to move faster or slower in whatever direction my husband and I choose. I’m private about this within my extended family, and I’m particularly private about this with people I’ve just met at a dinner party. By the time we’d gotten engaged, bought a house, got married, and made our way to the patio for the crab boil, I was practiced at deflection. I showed her a picture of the dog we’d just adopted, an eight year-old mutt named Brando.
“Oh, how sweet. Dogs are great practice for kids!”
I tried again, this time asking about her own children. They were grown, all in relationships, settling down.
“Are you looking forward to being a grandmother?” I asked.
She waved me off. Nothing on the horizon yet, but what about me? When are we getting started?
I gave my usual non-answer answer. “We’ll see what happens.”
“You do want kids, don’t’ you?”
She had turned in her chair and squared her shoulders to me for this question. Pointed, deliberate. Like my decision impacted her life directly.
“That’s something Tony and I keep to ourselves.”
“But you’ve talked about it?”
Yes, of course. We’ve talked about it. My husband and I— at the time less than a year married, proud new owners of Brando, the love of our collective lives, and very much still finding our rhythm as a married couple— talk about everything. It’s just… private.
Some of my deliberate silence about family planning is a desire, shared with my husband, to have the time to create our lives the way we choose without the added pressure of family and friends weighing in. Some of it is more personal to me. I resent that, as I’ve entered my thirties, and especially since getting married, the question of kids became the only question. This was the jumping off point for strangers, the place where M. decided to begin getting to know me. Not What do you do? or Do you have any hobbies? or Have you ever been to a crab boil before? M. began with something that is both personal. Intimate, and in a way, dehumanizing. It’s like I got married and people started seeing me as an incubator.
When I quit deflecting and said, “It’s just a personal question.” M. laughed, waved away a nearby mosquito, and asked me to pass the crab.