When People Ask How Many Children I Have, This Is My Answer

by Angela Zimmerman
Originally Published: 
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Trigger warning: child loss

Every school open house, every parent huddle on the side lines, every waiting room, every clogged check out like, there’s one question asked:

“How many kids do you have ?”

And I always answer four. That’s when the math starts. The person asking always does a quick count and notices that my answer is always more than three children I usually have orbiting me. The price I pay for forcing them to do mental math is more questions:

“The other off with the grands?” This one is mostly asked by smiling gray hairs looking to wave that Grandparent Pride flag in someone’s face.

“Is Daddy babysitting the other one?” Usually asked by nosey middle-aged women, hoping that there really isn’t a Daddy in the picture so they have something juicy to share with their equally nosey pals later. I often wear my wedding ring on my middle finger, so this is often asked after a quick glance to my hands. (Side Note: Daddies don’t “babysit”; they parent. Just like mamas do.)

“Travelling light today? Four kids are quite a handful!” This comes from people I like to call the No Shit Sherlocks. They point out the obvious to casually reinforce their ideas. Usually their ideas revolve around how four kids is a lot of kids for one person to have. Oddly enough, these people are the same ones that oppose free birth control. Go figure.

Their questions and the conversation usually end when I let them — complete strangers in public settings — in on my most painful truth.

My eldest son died when he was five.

November 3rd, 2011 was the worst day of my life. Seven days before my twenty-seventh birthday, what we thought was a lingering cold took my eldest son. It was sudden and horrific, like a mushroom cloud centered on our little family on our little street. Like radiation, the pain of that loss spread, affecting everyone it touched. Everyone affected underwent emotional mutations that changed who we were and what we would become.

Even though I’ve been without him longer than I was with him, explaining that pain out loud is unequivocally hard. Especially when it’s to total strangers who have no vested interest in me or my family. So many people only want to know things about you so they can stockpile it into their internal bank of gossip. You and your struggles become boredom breakers. I cannot stand knowing that something so incredibly debilitating would be reduced to ego-enhancing chatter.

At the same time, when asked, I can’t answer and not include him. To say I have three children would be a lie. It would be the greatest lie I ever told. While he’s not here physically, he’s present in every action I take. His creation created who I am. Whether he is here or not, he is still my child.

This solution is not an easy one. It is not one that will fit everyone. My father lost his only son when I was a child. Years later when I was older, I noticed, when asked, he gave an open-ended answer. “I still got these two at home.” I can understand this type of answer. I really, truly can. Having to highlight the biggest pain you’ve ever felt at another person’s whim leaves you open and vulnerable. There are people who can not allow themselves to feel that way. And that’s okay. There is no right way to grieve. There are no rules set as to how to be a parent with a dead child. My way is the only way I know how.

He will always be a part of our family. So no matter the intent of the question, no matter the place or the person, I will forever include him in a count of my children.


I have four children.

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