Most days, it’s easy not to have kids. When I get home from work and have an evening ahead to do whatever I want, that feels great. When I make a date without needing to find a babysitter, I breathe a sigh of relief.
But some days, an offhand comment from someone who thinks I should have kids can really sting.
Yuri runs a shoe-repair shop down the hill from my house. If you walk into Yuri’s shop, he’ll look up from the boot he’s cobbling and give you a glare like you’re intruding. He’s always full of contempt for the shoes I bring him to fix. But my name, Anya, is Russian, so he likes me a little bit.
“Is no good,” he told me recently, pulling the heel away from my broken pair of wedge sandals. “Heel–no good. This part–no good. Shoes no good.”
“How much to fix them?” I asked.
“But I only paid thirty dollars for the shoes! I could buy a whole nother pair for that.”
Yuri tilted his head at me and narrowed his eyes. “You buy new pair, few month later–same problem. I fix for you–is good.”
I had to agree with his logic. I left my sandals to be fixed. Yuri told me to come back later that day to collect them. When I returned, he smiled and showed me how he’d repaired and fortified the previously flimsy shoes. The heels were no longer worn down by my uneven walk. The shiny blue straps now were deeply glued to the silver bases. These shoes were now better than new.
I thanked Yuri and pulled out my wallet to pay. When I opened it, he saw the photograph inside, of my friend’s baby.
“Is your baby?” he enquired.
“My friend’s baby,” I told him.
“Friend baby?” said Yuri. “Why not your baby?”
“I don’t have a baby.”
“Why you have no baby?” Yuri looked like he’d smelled something rotten. “Baby very good. Make you happy.”
“Well, I’m already happy. And I don’t really want kids.”
Yuri walked closer to me, eyebrows lowering. “Kids no problem. My wife and I, two kids.”
“That’s nice. How old are they?”
Yuri reflected. “My son, 30. My daughter, 35.”
“Oh, I’m 38. I’m about your daughter’s age.”
Yuri’s eyes widened. “38? Huh. Then is better you not have baby.”
“Because I’m too old?”
“You have baby now–when baby is teenager–you 55. No good.”
I laughed briefly, feeling annoyance twist my lips. “Well, I guess I missed my chance. Too late now.”
Yuri smiled at me briefly before his face returned to its usual dour expression. He got me my change and handed me my shoes. “Anya,” he said. “Is good Russian name. You come back any time. We drink coffee together.”
As I left Yuri’s shop, I reflected on the tenderness that had flashed twice across his face: once when he mentioned his kids, and once when he handed me my fixed shoes. I was more amused than annoyed that he wanted to set me straight about my deviant childfree ways.
After all, Yuri’s job is to fix things. I don’t need repairs, but he doesn’t know that. To him, I must have looked like a sandal in need of some stitches, staples, and glue.