Donna Smaldone
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Sunday / February 12 / 2012

Innocent enough, this is a loaded question

Kenis Sweet leading the children's message at Christ Church in Glens Falls, New York
Kenis Sweet leading the children’s message at Christ Church in Glens Falls, New York

My son used to jokingly respond, “Not that I know of.” when people inquired, “Do you have any kids?” Perhaps you have to know him to understand the humor. Funny.

I find myself struck with this question, or more specifically, “So, how many kids do you have?”

Innocent enough, it’s an excepted conversation starter in our culture, often used as an entree to share about one’s own children. In today’s mixed family atmosphere, the question becomes more amorphous than it once was.

Our friends from Virginia Beach would answer, “16.” You heard me… SIXTEEN! They each had eight children from previous relationships. I remember them filing into church on Sunday morning, all 16 children in tow, once asking Skip, “Why do people look at us so strangely when we come to church?” Skip gently explaining… “Um, you have 16 kids!“, going on to note it’s simply out of the ordinary. People like to stare at ‘out of the ordinary.’

What about the woman who has had a miscarriage? How does she answer the question?

My high school friend could answer, “Two daughters”, but only if she was in the mood to explain her second daughter Catherine Elizabeth is in heaven with Jesus because she was born and died with Trisomy 18, a condition caused by a chromosomal defect, occurring in about 1 out of every 3000 live births. Different than Trisomy 13 (or Down Syndrome), 50% of babies who are carried to term with Trisomy 18 will be stillborn, and less than 10 percent survive to their first birthdays. Although Catherine became part of that statistic, the impact she had on so many lives, is incalculable.

When my forever friend first told me of the daughter she was carrying, she knew the baby would not survive long. She and her husband spent time they never imagined, grappling with, “What now?”, knowing they would carry the baby to term regardless of how much time they would have with her.

I have never seen human beings act so selflessly.

“What is her name?”, I asked.

“Catherine Elizabeth,” she responded.

Wanting to engage with the depths of this young life, I pushed further, “Is it Catherine with a “C” or a “K”?” — not only because of my curiosity, but because I wanted to communicate I cared to that level.

Catherine Elizabeth with a “C” was born on the 21st birthday of one of Skip’s-n-my daughters. I remember getting the text from my friend late that night, telling me Catherine came into this world and quickly left it. Tears surged from my soul and I called my Mom to share the despondency and unanswered questions. That was nearly two years ago.

What about me? How do I answer the question? How many children do I have?

Skip and I became iPhone converts this weekend. Not converting TO the iPhone cult, but rather away from it (egads!) We are now proud new owners of the Droid Razr, which is fitting because we started our cell phone careers with Razr flip-phones many moons ago.

As we waited (hours!) for our data to transfer from iPhone to Droid (mostly mine), we chatted with Best Buy employees and new friends George, Cody, Ryan, Jameson, and FNG. These young men made an impact on me as I listened to them talk about life, love, work, and the military. In their mid-20s, more than half our new friends shared they are divorced, some amicably, some still in fitsicuffs. My heart suffered with theirs.

We talked about children with these young men, who could easily have been our own. Some of them had wee ones and it was fun to watch the sparkle dance about their eyes when they spoke of them.

When we referenced our own children, we mentioned all three, “They are 27, 25, and almost 23.”

Though we spent most of our time talking about Grant and Brittany. Sharing knowing glances with one another of the pain of loss, we once again came to grips with the ache of being estranged from our third child. Truth and reality do not make for easy-to-embrace.

Whether or not you face hardships with the number of children you have, please take the time to be mindful that some of us do.

 

8 responses to “Innocent enough, this is a loaded question”

  1. Laura says:

    I hear you Donna…another important point to make is to be mindful of asking couples “When are you guys going to have kids”….that question hurt deeply every time I heard it after we suffered a miscarriage with our first pregnancy. I also have friends that are suffering from infertility and trying desperately to get pregnant, and hearing that question can send them in a downward spiral. Asking about children is not always a light conversation filler…it can be one of the toughest questions to answer…

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you so much for sharing, Laura. You’re right. People’s insensitivities are almost always not inentioned to be as they are. Thank you for sharing your story.

      Love,
      Donna

  2. Jenn Wood says:

    Oh boy, I could spend hours on this one. The fact that Colin and I are related and do share some resemblance only makes it easier for people to assume that he is my son. Not to mention the fact that we act like mother and son and pretty much have since he was born even though I didn’t get custody of him until he was two and a half. Since his parents have become a regular part of our lives again it only adds to the odd looks when we’re out and about and he calls them “mom and dad”, yet I’m the one who parents him.
    One of the things I have struggled with is when people ask him if he is mine – well of course he is! But the implied meaning in that question refers to mother/son, not aunt/nephew. It gets even better when people refer to me as his mom and he corrects them – “that’s my Jenn” is his usual response. When people ask my mother about her family she tries to sort of the dynamics and would probably benefit from a flow chart to aid in the explanation. What is now the norm for us can sound absolutely foreign to others.
    I think we all need to remember that such a simple question or inquiry can bring to the surface many different thoughts, feelings and reactions. Ten years ago we were a normal family by most standards, four years ago we became anything but that. And when I look back over what’s transpired I think we’re the better for it, pain and all, yet it’s not something I necessarily want to rehash, particularly in front of the sweet little boy who’s in the middle of it.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Wow, Jenn… such poignant words and sobering reality to serve as an exclamation point to my post. Thank you so much for sharing.

      You are a tremendously special human being, aunt, and mom. Thank you for allowing your heart to be shared. You are extraordinary!

      Love,
      Donna

  3. Dawn says:

    Thank you so much for putting our family out there. Sometimes it can be hard to know how it will be received, but I am honored to have our family recognized exactly how it is, and especially the acknowledgement of Catherine Elizabeth, who despite her short time with us changed lives forever.

    It is true that my mood dictates if I want to share Catherine, and it is always a struggle when I choose not to, as she is such an important part of our lives and VERY MUCH my daughter. I often remark at how easy it is for her big sister Maggie to say: “Yes, I have a sister Catherine in heaven ” when asked if she has any brothers or sisters. And I often envy her ability to disregard how the questioner will feel and to acknowlege her baby sister, despite the fact that she only got to see her for a short time the day she came to this earth and went to heaven.

    The most important thing though is that lives have been touched by her even if they have never met her and her legacy continues and changes continue to happen because of her. Love you baby girl!!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Indeed BOTH of your precious daughters have touched many lives — mine and Skip’s included. They are a reflection of the unconditional love you and Michael pour out every day. I love you, my friend.

      Love,
      Donna

  4. Kenis says:

    And of course, there are those of us who refer to others’ kids as if they belong to me/us. (See the photo of me with “our kids” at Christ Church!) That’s the “It takes a village” philosophy.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Yes! Those kids DO all “belong” to you, Kenis. You are loved!! Thank you for all you do for so many of our children.

      Love,
      Donna

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