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I saw my aunt and uncle in the grocery store the day before Easter. We met up at the end of the jam and jelly aisle, in an open area near the meat counter. I waved first, since it seemed inevitable that they'd see me. It had been at least a year since I last saw them, and I wanted to give them plenty of time to recognize me out of context.
The only thing in their cart so far was a 10 pound bag of potatoes. Later on I'd see them picking out a ham. Until a few years ago, we all used to gather for Easter and Christmas at another aunt's house. But it looked like everyone would be cooking for their own this year.
"Anything new?" my aunt asked.
I gave the standard, "Not much," and then remembered something new, a growing rarity these days: "I'm going back to school."
"Oh?" my aunt said. "That's interesting."
"When am I gonna be an uncle?" my uncle chimed in.
I knew what he meant. "You're already an uncle," I said, trying to sound good natured. "And you're a grandfather! What more do you want? To be a great-uncle?"
"He's that, too," said my aunt, referring to my other cousins who started babymaking a few years ago.
"That’s right!" I said, keeping up the lighthearted banter just a bit too loudly. "See, you don’t need me at all."
We talked for awhile longer, but the subject of me going back to school never came up again. Nobody wanted to know where or why or how or for what. After that conversation, I wondered how many other people are thinking what my uncle, always the outspoken one, actually said.
Me: I’m going to grad school!
Others: When are you going to have a baby?
At a family visit a few years ago, I stood beside my grandmother while we watched a scene unfold around the clan's newest infant. I'm not overly close with my grandmother, and she's not an overly talkative woman, but I know she loves me. After minutes of silence, she turned to me and said, "Well, your mother wanted to be a grandmother, but I guess that's not going to happen now."
I found this curious for several reasons, the main one being that she is my paternal grandmother: my father's mother. Unless she and her daughter-in-law had developed a strong bond recently, or my mother was much more grief-stricken about my childless state than she's let on, I couldn't imagine this was an actual conversation the two of them would ever have.
I didn't know what to say, so again I played the jester. I gestured to my younger brother and said, "Hey, he could have kids!"
I don't know why my grandmother assumed kids were out of the picture for me. I can't recall ever discussing with her my angst and ambivalence about becoming a mother. And this was just a few years ago, when I was in my late 20s or very early 30s and still spry enough to try for a little spring chicken if I so chose.
All in all, I'm thankful that I don't get much pressure from family or friends about my childlessness. For now, this is what makes sense and works for me and my husband. People generally respect that. But every so often, someone slips, and I wonder how many people are questioning my choices. That happens to everyone, I suppose. At some point, we just need to stop worrying about what family, friends, or society think of the path we choose.
A friend recently told me, "I'm so tired of trying to manage my image with my family." For sure, that can be exhausting work, full of subterfuge and half-truths. Personally, I've never really felt the need to do that, especially outside of my immediate family. Most of them have never really known me, but only because we run in different circles, not because I'm hiding anything.
While I was growing up, my parents, brother, and I often spent Friday nights at my great aunt's house in the country. This was on my mother's side of the family. There was always an elaborate spread of food for an evening meal, well after dinner time. It felt so decadent to eat after dark. Summers were the best because the table was covered in delights from my aunt and uncle's garden: sliced bright-red tomatoes, deep green bell peppers, shapely spring onions.
When I became a teenager, those visits became less fun, as do most things at that age. This was during my mandatory dark and twisty phase, in which I was trying to embrace the writer within. I remember sitting on a wooden stool at the little bar island in the kitchen, apart from the family merriment in the living room, and writing something along the lines of: These people are my relatives, but I do not feel related or relevant. It was my way of realizing that you can't choose your relatives, but you can’t hide from them, either.
Most of the people from those Friday night gatherings are far away or gone now. Unlike my dad's side of the family, which is teeming with new life, my mom's side has only seen two new additions. If anyone should be worried about my procreation habits, it would be them – if there were anyone left to worry.
As I settle into my third decade, I have a growing hunger for family and relative connections. But I'm also not ready to throw my own eggs into the ring just yet. When I am, I guess we'll all have something to talk about.