“Is everyone who lives in Ignorance like you?” asked Milo.
“Much worse,” he said longingly. “But I don’t live here. I’m from a place very far away called Context.”
“Don’t you think you should be getting back?” suggested the boy, holding one arm up in front of him.
“What a horrible thought.” The bird shuddered. “It’s such an unpleasant place that I spend almost all my time out of it.”
–The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster
The third child is the one that usually gets them.
“Oh! I didn’t even see her!”
Or “Three?” then looking from the two boys to the baby I’m wearing in the carrier, “At least you got your girl.”
They seem surprised, then happy for me. Happy that I got my girl and I can be done with childbearing and crowding the sidewalk with my offspring. These are usually quick exchanges on the street, but even so, I sense beneath their goodwill, there is some relief that along with two boys I have a girl, and that because I have a girl, I have closure. Three kids is just about the limit of acceptability here in New York. Three is enough, three is nearly too much.
These are strangers, so I let them be happy for me: that I got my girl, that I have two lovely boys, that I can be “done.”
But sometimes I am a little more forthcoming and willing to rock their worlds. If someone asks, for example, if we are having any more, I’ll tell them that I think so. After all, every girl needs a sister, right? And when they seem surprised, taken aback, sometimes I’ll let them in on a little secret: I have 11 siblings. Three kids does not seem like a lot of kids to me. Even in less than 750 square feet. Even on public transportation. Even in tiny grocery stores where the boys chase each other and we can barely navigate the stroller through the aisles.
I have to remind myself often that it is merely the place that I am standing that causes people to look twice and to question my sanity, to push for a promise to stop having kids, or to tell me to “go on with you and your bad self.” I’m in New York City where most women of my age and education level are getting comfortable in careers. They are dating and staying out late, bar-hopping and night-club crawling.
I, too, am hopping, but usually on one foot, in competition with my 6- and 3-year-old to see who can do it the longest. I’m crawling, but mostly just to get the wipes on the other side of the room, or to meet my 9-month-old daughter halfway. And I do stay up late, but it has more to do with my baby’s midnight feeding than with hanging out with friends or meeting guys.
So I can excuse those who are puzzled by my presence – and the presence of my entourage – in this setting. However, I did not set out to be an object of curiosity or the recipient of bewildered expressions. In fact, when I realized what I had done, I was as surprised as everyone else. Oh! I guess 23 was kind of young to have a baby. And maybe it would have been nice to have had some time in New York City without having a child to tend. Ah, well, what am I going to do about it now?
But where I come from, and in suburbs all over the country, three kids is normal and four kids don’t merit a second glance. There are plenty of well-educated women who have not yet turned 30 who have mastered diaper changing and potty training and even school pick-up and drop-off.
Maybe one day, I will be one of them. For now, however, I am happy where I am. Happy to be out of context and causing people to look twice and to wonder if they’re all mine. Happy to hop and crawl my way through this city with my kids at my side.