Yesterday my mother and I went to get our hair done. It is a little ritual we do every 10 weeks or so. Some quiet time for her to read magazines and drink coffee, and a nice little me and her thing, which we don’t often get the chance to do.
When I went to pick my mum up I was in a terrible mood. It had been a tense week for one reason and another, and when my dad asked me “So, what is new with you?” my brain leapt immediately to “Nothing good!” and I clammed up, as I so often do when asked this question.
For others I might try to invent a positive slanted something or other that tells them absolutely nothing. For my dad, I sometimes try and fudge together some diversionary train of thought, perhaps about current affairs (which he loves), or what somebody else we know has been up to lately. Yesterday I just didn’t have the energy or the imagination or the heart to even do that. I shrugged and said. “I have no idea”.
So my mum and I headed out to our hair appointment and I was left feeling agitated and dissatisfied with how my life is going just now.
The new junior (who recently started working at the salon) came over to take me to the back room, in order that she could wash my hair. She was very young, and very keen and very chatty. For me, the extraction of a tooth is often less painful than the extraction of small-talk, but I tried my best, so as not to squash her springer-spaniel spirit.
She asked the usual questions:
“Do you have any holidays planned?”
“What are you doing with the rest of your day?”
“Any plans for the weekend?”
I have no holidays planned in the foreseeable future. The rest of my day was probably going to be spent trying hard not to get my grump all over my parents. And the weekend felt like a big gaping void of nothing fun at all at the present time.
Then the conversation took an unexpected and alarming twist.
To explain …… there are two particular topics of conversation which make me freeze. Given my current employment status (i.e. not very much at all) the question
“So what do you do for a living?”
makes me want to crawl into a small hole and cover myself in leaves.
This was not her question.
The second topic of conversation which makes my blood run cold is
“So, do you have any children?”
The salon junior went there.
I should lie. I should say
I should divert. I should say
“Not at present . What about you?”
Perhaps make a joke of it?
“I have enough trouble taking care of my husband!!”
“No, we don’t”
She isn’t satisfied:
“So, would you like some in the future?”
There is nowhere to go. Because, if I am nothing else, I am compulsive truth-teller. And, if someone asks me a direct question I do not have what it takes to prevent myself blurting out the God’s honest truth. So I say:
“No, we can’t have children”.
The poor thing, somewhat taken aback by my answer, made some sad noises and said
“Oh, I’m sorry!”
To try and reassure her I say:
“No, It’s fine” (it isn’t)
“Not having children has its plus sides” (it does)
In front of us on the wall (inexplicably) is a giant map of Australia. In years gone by, this reminder of the big old world out there might have filled me with sadness and/or irritation (as I hadn’t seen any of it and desperately wanted to). However, over the past 6 years (directly as a result of 3 failed courses of IVF, a bit of a life melt-down and various subsequent bouts of depression – see ‘And Then I Exploded‘ for further graphic details), I ended up having (and grabbing) the opportunity to take myself off on a number of extended adventures – 2½ months in South East Asia, 6 weeks in South America, and then last year 6 weeks in Oz. I couldn’t have done that if the IVF had been successful. And I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to do it if depression hadn’t brought me to my knees.
And so I told her about my travels. Good thinking. Well done me! Excellent diversionary tactics. That conversation kept us going for a couple of minutes of shampooing.
But then this:
“So, was it you or your husband who couldn’t have the children?”
Did she really just ask that?
I almost laughed at the bluntness and inappropriateness of this young person’s intrusive line of questioning.
“ Well, actually it was my husband”
“Well it’s lovely that everything was fine and you stayed together”
As this wasn’t a direct question, and I couldn’t possibly burden the poor thing with how absolutely unfine things were for a very long time, I retreated to my previous position:
“Well, there are far worse things than not being able to have children. And at least it meant I had the chance to go off travelling.”
And then my hair-wash was done.
I sat in my chair waiting for the stylist, completely nonplussed by what had just occurred. This young stranger now knew more about me than many people I have known for years, and had no awareness or guile about the impropriety of the questions she had just been asking me.
And it was so refreshing.
In the car leaving the salon I told my mother what had transpired. This in itself is was not something I would normally do. I avoid the discussion of the ‘not having children’ thing with my parents as much as possible these days. We have done that to death over the years, and there is very little left to say. However, this unusual conversation had jiggled my day sufficiently that I thought it worth sharing. And, in many ways, I was grateful to this girl for giving me the chance to raise the issue with my mum and try (through its telling) to reassure her that I really was much better with all of that now, and able to talk about it without melting into a big puddly mess.
This girl had amused me with her candour. It had broken my bad mood, and I had a new found appreciation for this naïve honesty. I loved the fact that with no agenda whatsoever she had completely put her foot in her mouth and bravely went with it. It was a much-needed reminder that just being a person and talking to another person openly, without hiding behind platitudes or ‘The right thing to say’ is sometimes just the tonic. I plan to use this girl’s direct approach as inspiration when trying to talk to my friends and family in the future. I’m absolutely rubbish at talking about emotions with my nearest and dearest. Such conversations (for my introverted self) feel very icky indeed.
But hey, with a bit of frank sincerity, a sprinkling of love and trust, and a fair bit of practice, you never know, it might just take off.
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