I couldn’t help but stare. I had sunglasses on, so it was easier to get away with. My daughter and I were at a rest stop on the Garden State Parkway in New Jersey, eating lunch. A couple tables away sat a family of five, eating their Burger King lunch.
They were a good looking couple, late 20′s or early 30′s. He was athletic looking, with a black shirt on with the Temple University logo, a few days of black beard on his face, sharp nose and strong chin. I could easily imagine the two being on track teams in the past.
At the table were three boys, one in a high chair and two nominally at seats, maybe three and four years old, taking turns eating and walking around the table, sometimes jumping around a bit. I imagined them on a long trip, with energy to burn. Though they were energetic, they were quiet and stayed next to the table. The boy in the high chair focused on his French fries.
The two boys took turns reaching up and hugging their Dad (I assume he’s their Dad, they certainly shared his black hair) and he hugged them back. There were smiles all around. As I ate my lunch and observed them, all I could think of was, they are so lucky.
Before I started chemotherapy for my Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2000, my physician told me the chemo had been formulated such that sterility (which I read was a common male side effect of chemo) wouldn’t be a problem. Two years earlier, when I was 32, our daughter was born. Prior to my diagnosis my wife and I never decided whether or not we should have another child.
I went through chemotherapy and radiation. I relapsed six months later. I subsequently got a second opinion from another doctor to help us decide what to do next, where, and we discussed my treatment. The ability to have kids came up, and he told my wife and I one of the drugs I took causes sterility.
Before the next round of treatment began, the plan was to “bank” some sperm for possible future use (assuming the cancer didn’t kill me). I went to see a fertility doctor, whose bathroom was well stocked with Playboy and Penthouse magazines. Later that day that office called and told me there were no sperm to “bank”. They were nice enough to return my co-pay.
In my five or so year struggle with cancer, I focused on saving my life, not creating another. As my health improved, and my future brightened, I thought more often about what life would’ve been like with another child or two. It’s not like we were so distraught that we considered adopting, but I sometimes slip into that parallel world in my mind, that place where I never got cancer, but I do have two kids and a minivan.
I have to admit, I felt jealous this afternoon, watching that family (not just the kids, but being 15 years younger wouldn’t hurt either). In my mind, it seemed like they have so much to look forward to. I know the additional time, emotional and financial challenges that come with more kids, but my daughter being such a wonderful, loving kid, I sometimes think maybe it would’ve been well worth it to have more of that in the house.
Our daughter, Kaitlin, has our undivided attention (and other resources) but no siblings. She’s also missing out on the ups and downs of a fuller house. I try to make up for it at times by playing the annoying older brother. I think I’ve got it down.
Of course, luck is in the eye of the beholder. Someone might look at our family and think, how lucky we are. And they’d be right. We are very lucky to have each other. It’s just hard not to think sometimes how lucky we would be if there were more of us.