Running with Kids
Four spouses married to immigrant wives live in the same middle class neighborhood and meet on Sundays at Erik’s house to talk about current events, the struggles of their minority wives in a place they often feel estranged, and to connect in their commonalities. They meet in Erik’s dining room, dusty and rarely used for anything other than their meetings. They sit around the long, twelve person table with wine glasses filled to the brim.
Who’s at the table:
Erik: Married to Emelia, who emigrated from Spain in 2006 after she met him while he studied abroad. She loves him but longs for her family and her home. Erik says they will visit, but is always too busy during the summers to make the trip.
John: Married to Hadiza, who was born in Wisconsin to an African immigrant, a Tutsi pregnant with Hadiza when she fled the genocide. Though she’s asked, she doesn’t know much about her mother’s successful efforts to flee, just that she was able to come to America because she was married to Hadiza’s father, a Hutu. A track star in high school and college specializing in many events, Hadiza was close to earning a spot on the 2012 Olympic team but sprained her ankle during the qualifiers. She never ran the same and settled as a middle school gym teacher. She married John in 2015. He’s a business major slowly rising up the ranks of a fortune 500 company.
Hazel: Emigrated with her wife from Mexico. Together they run a successful roofing company. Hazel is a skilled construction worker and strong leader. Her wife is perfectly bilingual and talented in social media marketing. In the area, their roofing company is a monopoly. They have three kids with their ex-husbands, all three honors roll students.
Donghai: Married to Xiu. After Xiu’s mother died of malaria, her father emigrated from China because he heard people in capitalism don’t die from diseases. She spent her childhood helping him with his English on his resumes and in his emails. Xiu’s father is a skilled salesman, but it took him two decades to land a good job. Now he makes well into the six figures and supports her while she spends most of her time writing fiction. Donghai is a pharmacist at a hospital, working long hours but making good money.
John says: So I go sit with Hadiza on the couch after putting the kids to bed and tell her I’m ready for a third. She says, Really? I say I want a third, to try one more time for a boy. But she says she doesn’t want a third kid. I ask her why. I’m a little mad, she’s known I want a third. She finally tells me all she knows of her mother. She says she was obsessed with teaching her how to run. From three on up, she made her do squats and crunches and leg presses until she cried. She made her run long, long distances. The neighbors watched her and felt bad for her as she ran around the block for hours at a time. Around and around, screaming for water and sweating through her clothes. She thinks some of them called child protective services a few times. Always she made her run, scolded her when she wasn’t fast enough. No time for school, just running. When Had got good at it, she made her run in heals and in dresses. She made her run barefoot and in just her shirt and undies. She made her run in whatever clothes she might find herself needing to run in. She said she needed to know how to run faster than anyone else. She said her father ran slower than most and that’s why he died.
Then Had’s mom told her she couldn’t have more than two kids. Only two. She settled for only Had and that was good. She said she can’t have more than she can carry while running. She said she saw people with more than two kids running with only two kids under their arms. She said her mom doesn’t have nightmares about the blood and the death but of the faces of the abandoned children standing helpless in the dry dirt. She said she can never have that kind of heft on her shoulders.
So I tell Had, That was Africa, Had. She says she thought so, too. But look now. We live in the division that happened in the years before what her mother endured. Division brought upon us by our superiors. She said there are Nazis among us. One day our streets will flood with blood. One day. And where will we be standing when it happens? Not with our guns pointed at the other side. No. We’re in the middle now and we’ll be in the middle then. Big government came for her mother but we also hate the hate on the other side. Both sides will be after us. Then she said, Now, tell me, if I’m not here when you have to run, which kid do you leave behind? Your oldest daughter, your youngest daughter, or your potential son? I didn’t answer. She commanded me to answer her. I said I couldn’t. She said, Because you know you’ll turn around briefly to see the look of abandonment on the face of the child you left behind. You won’t be able to help it.
It really hit me, what she said. I got a vasectomy a few days ago. I limp around the house now with ice on my crotch. She gives me a hard time about it. She says, I walked with pride through the pain like a queen both times I pushed a child through my vagina, but you get one cut in your balls and you sulk around like a baby!