Any parent of more than 2 children these days knows the drill. There you are in line at the checkout in Aldi, Kroger's, Lowe's, what-have-you, just minding your own business and trying to flip over the trashy magazines before your little ones see them. Your baby is chewing on the rail of the shopping cart, your 3-yr-old, who is sitting in the middle of the cart surrounded by 7 gallons of milk, is eating all the grapes and throwing Mac n Cheese boxes over the side. Your older kids are milling around, staring in glazed-eyed fascination at the forbidden exotic candy, and trying to be "helpful" by loading everything onto the conveyor belt in a huge, precarious tower. You hear a gasp from behind you....and you know what's coming next. "Are they all YOURS?" asks the lady. "Yes," you sweetly reply, "they're great helpers." (That's on a good day. On a bad day, you might mutter, "So they tell me!" or "I think so. But not THAT ONE.") Then comes Phase II of the exchange: "You know what causes that, don't you?"
Over the years, we've developed many comebacks, as I'm sure you have too. Most of them I never speak aloud. Oh, they're snappy, and pithy and zingy, all right, and it makes me feel good to come up with them as I drive home in the van, fuming. Things like:
-"Yes, and we LIKE IT!"
-"No, what??? Oh my gosh, do you know?? can you tell me, PLEEEEEEASE???"
-(confused look) "We *thought* we had it figured out....but if that were the case, we'd have thousands of kids!"
But those are the things we think and do not say. I usually try to keep in mind what the undercurrents are in this situation. Does the person seem to be genuinely interested, or snarky? If it's an older lady or gentleman, I find their general attitude to be wistful or reminiscent, and their next words are something like, "We only had 2, we wanted to have more, but..." or "I was one of 8, myself!" I don't want to pull a defensive attitude against these sweet souls.
Now, there are others, whose tone and timbre indicate that their inquiry is not so benevolent. Such as the lady (probably in her mid-40s) in line at the library who tsked, made other grunts of disapproval, and muttered sotto voce, "You better stop having so many kids." Believe me, I started to unsheath my mama bear claws. But do I really want to get into a philosophical debate with complete strangers, in front of my kids, in a time-sensitive environment? Will that really be conducive to changing anyone's mind?
So I smiled at her and wished her a good day on the way out. It should not be my goal here to score debate points or put other people down. I just looked at the joyful, energetic faces of my kids, and the bitter, dour expression on the woman's face, and knew that mine was the better portion.