Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | November 15, 2009

Innocent Questions

Penny and I both attend our childrens’ parent-teacher conferences, but we are typically coming from different directions and often end up arriving separately. During the most recent round, I arrived at the school first, and Penny phoned me to say that she was running late and that I should go ahead and start without her.

So I went in to the teacher’s classroom at the appointed time, and the teacher gushed about how well Child #2 is doing, and how they’re growing into their own in a different way from the way Child #1 had, and oh, by the way, how is Child #3 doing? (Child #3 is still a couple years away from attending school).

And then she asked the question I’ve been getting a lot lately: “Are you guys still planning on having a fourth?”

“Welll…” shit, how do I answer this? “At this point, that’s probably not going to happen.”

We all do this: we all, from time to time, ask questions of our friends and acquaintances reflexively that seem (and feel) innocent enough, but that have the very real danger of touching a nerve. We ask the couple when they’re going to get married, ask the newly marrieds if there will be children, ask the new parents if there will be more. And so on.

Of course, my answer to the teacher simply screamed for follow-up questions: “Why not? What’s wrong? What happened? What’s changed? Are you guys okay? Medical problems? Money problems? Three turns out to be more than you could handle? You seem so good at it all, of course you’ve got to have a fourth!”

For just a second, you could see the questions playing through her mind, but her smile never faltered, and she never crossed the line from innocent question to intrusive question. She made some non-committal comment about great our kids are and then — just then — Penny walked in (with toddler Child #3) and we began the conference in earnest.

The question came up again yesterday, and once again while Penny was not at hand to hear me field it. This time, the questioner (a neighborhood mom; she and I were at an event to pick our respective children at the local community center) was slightly more pressing, but only slightly.

“I thought you were set on having four.”

“We were. Plans change.”

She nodded. “Plans change.”

“I suppose plans could change back,” I offered, but this is very, very unlikely. For the sake of this conversation, however, discretion seemed to require a reassuring ‘all is okay with the world as you know it’ sentiment.

She continued to nod. “Yes, plans can always change back.”

Plans can always change back. But Penny and I have passed a point of no return: we will never return to the status quo that kept us stuck for so many years. I’m waking up from my sleep walking, and I suspect she is, too. Could we get back together? Could we avert divorce? Sure. But our marriage would have to fundamentally change, and I see no sign that she’s interested, willing, or able to make the changes needed on her end.

Quite frankly, I think after all these years of trying, I’m no longer willing to make any more concessions on my own end.

“Do you guys still plan on having a fourth?”

Oh, I’d love it if that were so. But it’s just not going to happen. The timer hasn’t dinged yet, but you can stick a fork in this marriage. It’s done.



  1. Last line was funny 🙂 Great image!

  2. When you stop asking “Could…” and change the question to “Should…” you will be doing yourself a very big favor!

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