I should've known better.
I sat beside my daughter as the stylist shaped her hair into an adorable little bob. I smiled as my 4-year-old sat ridiculously still, obeying the stylist's directions to, "Look at your belly." Then I noticed it. The woman cutting my daughter's hair had what I thought was an unmistakable bulge in her lower abdomen. She was slender, but between the poof and her impressive bosom, I was certain.
"You're expecting?" I asked. I waited for her to smile and share her news.
"No," she said. She looked me straight in the eye, her voice firm.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," I said, stunned and mortified.
I'd said something that couldn't be unsaid, and if she was anything like me, she wouldn't soon forget it.
Blood rushed to my face. I wanted to burrow into the ground, to hide in a secret shame cave where I belonged. How could I have been so insensitive? How could I have asked the question that we all know you should never, ever ask?
"I'm very sorry," I said a few moments later. I wished I could somehow push rewind and blot out my terrible mistake.
"It's OK," she said kindly.
But it wasn't. It so wasn't.
The worst part is that this wasn't the first time I've asked this question. It's not even the second time. That's right, I'm officially the worst. I once asked a woman who I knew was pregnant when her baby was due. "Oh, I had him last week," she said. Doh.
The second time, I was at a memorial service when I spotted a telltale bump on a very slender friend.
"Congratulations!" I said, delighted for a dose of good news at such a sad event.
"Um, I have fibroids," she replied. "I'm having surgery soon." I wanted to vanish—I'd just congratulated her on having a series of tumors in her uterus. At a funeral.
I thought about these moments as my daughter smiled into the mirror, her new haircut framing her chin.
Should I say something else to the stylist? But what could I say? "Your boobs look so fantastic, I was sure you were knocked up!" just wouldn't cut it. So I sat there, staring at my angelic daughter, hoping she wasn't soaking up any of my stupidity. I wracked my mind for something I could say to let this woman know how truly sorry I was, but that just seemed like it would make the situation all about me. The truth was I'd said something that couldn't be unsaid, and if she was anything like me, she wouldn't soon forget it.
When the haircut was over, I thanked the stylist profusely, as if my gushing praise would somehow make up for my transgression. I left a generous tip and headed out to my car, unable to shake my mistake off. I even thought about sending her a note, but every time I tried to think of something to say, I realized I'd just be making the situation worse. "Sorry I thought you were pregnant—I think you're adorbs!"
Eleventy-million times over the next few days, I imagined how I'd feel if someone mistook my middle-aged belly for a baby bump. I envisioned hot, gloppy tears as I appraise myself in the mirror or bitch to my buddies about the idiot who asked That Will Shall Never Be Asked.
The only thing I came up with was to make a genuine amendment to my behavior. I vow that I'll never, ever ask another woman if she was pregnant, unless I literally see a baby coming out of her vagina.
And maybe not even then.