Neither dogs nor exchange students are the same as having your own kids

annie-9314When a friend at church choir said that his 50th wedding anniversary was June 22, I mentioned that that was the date I married my first husband. After practice, he came up to me at the piano. He said he hadn’t realized I had had a husband before Fred. He asked if I had any children from that marriage. “Nope,” I said, covering the keyboard and turning out the light. He started to walk away, then turned back to tell me I could always host an exchange student. He and his wife have done that for years.

“Sometimes I can barely tolerate my dog,” I said, successfully going for a laugh. But really, why would I want to take in someone else’s teenager, only to send them home at the end of the school year? That is nothing like having a child of your own. Besides, as a stepmother, I’ve done the taking care of someone else’s kid thing. It is no replacement for your own.

Meanwhile, there’s the dog. A bear has been prowling around our streets lately. Neighbors have seen her—they think the bear is female—in their yards. As my chiropractor neighbor adjusted my spine yesterday, he told me his wife had found the bear with the chickens. One of the chickens died.

“What about the fence?” I asked.

“The bear just mowed it down,” he said, cracking my neck.

Since he’s uber-Christian, I didn’t say the word that came to mind. I had hoped my chain-link fence would keep the bear out of my yard.

Last night, Annie started barking around 9:30. She would not stop. She would not come in. Something is out there, she insisted. She’s too big to pick up and carry in. I lured her in with cookies and covered up the doggy door. She was so desperate she pulled the cover off. Racing around the yard barking, she ignored the treats I offered. “I’ll give you 10 if you’ll shut up!” I yelled.

Around midnight, I looked everywhere with the big flashlight, then sat holding my dog under the stars. She was shaking and panting, every muscle taut. I tried to explain to her that it was okay to go off duty and go to sleep. I tried to explain that the neighbors needed to sleep and that the bear might hurt her. But no. She couldn’t rest. She ran off to bark some more.

When I dragged her in and blocked access to the door, she whined as if she were in incredible pain. Lax dog mom that I am, I got out of bed and let her go. Perhaps with the fence, Annie’s high-pitched barking, and the complete lack of anything a bear might want to eat, the bear would not bother us. I hoped gun-toting neighbors would also stay away.

I don’t know what time Annie stopped barking, probably when it started to rain. Now she’s conked out on the loveseat. This morning, I see no sign of the bear, but in her anxiety, Annie shredded the lounge cushion. Nuts. In the middle of my dog’s barkathon, I wanted to a) go sleep at a motel, b) give the dog a sedative, c) never get another pet, or d) trade Annie for a cat because cats don’t bark. But this morning, I love my dog too much to do any of those things.

I hope if I had a baby, I would be willing to stay up all night when she cried and do whatever it took to keep her safe and happy, even when she turned into a teenager. In return, by the time I reached the age I am now, I would have a younger adult who (I hope) loved me and made sure I was all right. Someone who would call and say, “Hi Mom. How are you?”

I will never get that from an exchange student or a dog. My friend means well, but as a father of three with several grandchildren, he doesn’t understand.

As for that first husband we don’t talk about at church because Catholics frown on divorce (I got an annulment!), he got married two more times and never had any children, but that is ancient history.

What kind of lame things do people suggest to ease your childless emptiness?

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Suddenly we’re all wearing maternity clothes

I became an adult in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when women wore mini-skirts and platform shoes, peasant blouses and bell-bottom pants. In high school, I had some psychedelic-patterned, tent-shaped dresses so big you could have hidden another person in there. They seem hideous now, but that was the style.

Pregnant women wore “maternity clothes,” stretchy bottoms and big blouses with Peter Pan collars, bows, and lacy sleeves. The object was not only to make room for the baby, but to be “modest,” a word we don’t hear much anymore. As desirable as it was to have children, there was something crass about showing one’s baby bump in public.

I never had a baby bump. I had a my-period-is-late-and-I’m-so-bloated bump. I had a my-period-is-late-and-please-God-let-me-be-pregnant bump. And these days I have a can’t-stop-eating-mayonnaise-and-French-fries bump, but I never had a baby bump. That did not stop me in my days as a young married woman from wearing big clothes and hoping people thought I might be pregnant. I’ve always had a vivid imagination. I might caress my belly and pretend there was a baby in there, but there never was.

In today’s tight dresses, there’s no way to hide one’s pregnancy status, but back then, it was easy to pretend, to play mommy-to-be dress-up.

More than the actual baby, I think I wanted the public affirmation of my womanhood, the approval, and the excitement of entering the next phase of my life. Instead of maternity clothes, I put on suits, narrow skirts, slacks and blazers for my career as a journalist.

Why do I think of this now? I realized the other day as I put on my leggings and matching “tunic,” that we’re all walking around in pseudo-maternity clothes. I could wear that stretchy outfit all the way to my delivery date if I were pregnant. I don’t know about where you live, but all the women and girls around here (Oregon) are wearing leggings. They’re only flattering if you have a perfect figure. They’re not warm enough in the winter. Some derrieres are showing that shouldn’t be shown. But oh Lord, they’re comfortable, and if you wear a big top, who cares how many French fries you eat.

Ironically, the women who are actually pregnant don’t try to hide their pregnancies. The other night at a concert, I saw a young woman wearing shorts and a tank top that stretched way out with her pregnancy of at least eight months. No frilly blouses and stretch pants for her. We have all seen celebrities flaunting their “baby bumps.” There’s no doubt what’s going on in their uteruses.

When you’re clothes shopping, do you ever accidentally find yourself in the maternity section? I rush out of there as if someone is going to catch me and point out that I don’t belong. What do you do? Do you long for those Baby on Board tee shirts or try not to look at them?

Am I the only one who has worn big clothes and hoped people assumed for a little while that I might be pregnant? Do you know anyone who has?

I apologize if this whole discussion is making you feel bad. From my post-menopausal perspective, it’s interesting. And now that I have Googled “maternity clothes,” I will be plagued with ads for pregnancy-related merchandise by the heartless algorithms of the Internet.

Here’s a look at maternity fashion through history. https://www.whattoexpect.com/tools/photolist/100-years-of-maternity-fashion

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Some great comments have come in on my previous posts about millennials delaying pregnancy. Check them out here and here. 

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My novel Up Beaver Creek is out now at Amazon.com. My first hard copies arrived yesterday. They are beautiful.

Sue has a new book, Up Beaver Creek

Up_Beaver_Creek_Cover_for_Kindle (1)People often say that for those of us without children, the things we create are our babies. For me, that would be my books. I have been making books in some form since I was an odd child wrapping my stories in cardboard covers and illustrating them with crayons. I keep promising myself that I will not produce another one without a six-figure contract and a big-name publisher, but oops, I have given birth to a new book, my eighth.

The idea just flitted by that I could do this like a baby announcement. You know: time, date, height, weight, a little picture with a pink or blue cap. Have you received as many of those as I have? Have they made you cry? So no, not doing that. Enough with the birth analogy. Although a friend and I had some fun the other day joking about how much it would hurt to actually give birth to a book, considering the sharp corners.

I hereby announce the publication of Up Beaver Creek, a rare novel in which the main characters do not have children and are not going to get pregnant in the end. In this story, P.D. Soares, widowed at 42, has gone west from Montana to make a new life on the Oregon coast, but things keep going wrong. The cabin where she’s staying has major problems, and the landlord has disappeared. She’s about to lose the house she left in Missoula, and her first gig in her new career as a musician is a disaster. What will happen next? Here’s a hint. The earth seems to be shaking.

Up Beaver Creek comes from my own Blue Hydrangea Productions. You can buy copies or read a sample via Amazon.com by clicking here. Click here for information on all of my books, a crazy blend of fiction and non-fiction, including Childless by Marriage.

A few of you served as Beta readers to help me with the final draft. You were a huge help. As soon as my big box of books arrives, I will send you your free copies. You’ll find your names in the acknowledgements.

Could I produce all these books if I didn’t have children? I believe I could. I might be fooling myself, but I’m always trying to live more than one life at a time. I succeed most of the time.

So, are our creations our substitute babies? Could they fill that hole in our hearts, the hole P.D. is trying to fill with music? Would it ever be enough? It isn’t enough for me, but it sure helps because my work connects me with wonderful people like you. I welcome your comments.

Post on man who doesn’t want kids draws strong reaction

 

 Dear friends, 

Sometimes I get comments on posts that appeared here months or even years ago. You may or may not remember what I wrote last August about a friend’s daughter finding herself in a pickle shortly before her wedding when her fiance declared he did not want children. Not fair, I said. What a horrible thing to do to her. The young woman subsequently broke off the engagement and took herself on a tour of Asia instead. Now she’s back home with her new dog Prince. She has gone back in school to finish the education she interrupted to be with this man. 

You can read the original post here: Another Man Drops the No-Kids Bomb

This week, Aaron responded. His words are harsh but include a lot of truth. So I offer his comment in full and encourage you to respond. 

I know it’s a little old now but this post is completely ridiculous.

“What is she supposed to do now?”

Leave him. It’s not complicated. They disagree on a fundamental life decision. The timing is far from ideal but better to end it now than getting divorced later, or him having children he doesn’t want.

“I want to throttle the guy.”

Really? You want to throttle someone you seemingly have never met, over an issue you know almost nothing about? You have no idea what was actually said. For all you (and your friend) know, he made it clear from the start and his fiancee chose to ignore it. I see it all the time on forums; someone posts all weepy about “never getting to have a family” but admits that their partner told them they didn’t want children before they ever got married. They’ll add in some rationalization like “we had a miscommunication” or “I didn’t know he meant never,” but we all know what really happens in most cases: he told her upfront that he never wanted children, she heard it loud and clear, and thought she could change him. That is 100% on her, no sympathy.

“What right does he have to take motherhood away from her?”

Thankfully he doesn’t, and that isn’t what’s happening. She can choose to leave him if she wants to be a mom that badly. Not sure why so many people infantilize women in relationships like this; that’s something else I see all the time. The woman wants marriage, children, etc. and her man is “dragging his feet” or whatever. Everyone talks about how he needs to step up, s*** or get off the pot, let her go… when all they should really be doing is telling her to leave him. Women are adults with their own agency. They shouldn’t be waiting for nor depending on a man’s actions. It’s pretty misogynistic really, and that’s coming from someone who is disgusted by much of modern-day feminism.

“He’s not old, does not have kids from another marriage. So what’s the deal?”

Maybe… he just doesn’t want kids? Like, you know that’s a thing right? Some people just don’t ever want to have children. I’m one of them. You aren’t, and I respect that. And you should similarly respect the choices of others.

I hope I haven’t offended any of you, and I can appreciate that you and many here have been through terrible emotional pain regarding having your own children… but that isn’t an excuse for posting nonsense like this.

Thank you, Aaron, for giving it to us straight. Readers, what do you think? 

For a female view of a similar situation, see this May 2017 post, Should She Stay with Her Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Want Kids? 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day: Another Stab to the Heart

I thought I could deal with Mother’s Day by now. I mean, I’m 13 years past menopause. It will get easier, I tell my young readers here. Most of the time, it is easier, but not always.

As you may know, I play the piano and lead the choirs at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Newport, Oregon. I share the job with another woman who never had children. For her, it was a conscious choice. I wonder if our not having children gave us both a better chance to pursue our music. Probably.

My friend was scheduled for the Sunday Mass, which got me off the hook for the actual Mother’s Day, but I played the Saturday vigil Mass. It also happened to be First Communion. The church was packed with boys and girls beautifully dressed in white, along with their parents, godparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. It’s a big deal and an honor to be part of it. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. If only it weren’t Mother’s Day weekend, too.

No problem, I thought. Even when a friend wished me Happy Mother’s Day at the Sign of Peace then started to correct herself as I hastily wished her a Happy Mother’s Day and hurried back to the piano, I was okay. In fact, I was proud of how I had evolved.

But wait.

We have this relatively new and uber-conservative pastor. We got our previous pastor enlightened to the point that on Mother’s Day he honored all women for their nurturing, caring, etc. It was nice. I didn’t feel excluded. But this priest went old school. He asked everyone to sit. Then he asked the mothers to stand. All the women around me rose. There I was, right in front, sitting as the priest stared at me, no doubt thinking I was a big sinner for not having children. He knows nothing about me, has no idea how painful it was as he blessed the mothers. Like a knife, I swear.

It could have been worse. Nobody handed out flowers. Many a year I have played with a misguided carnation on the music stand. But it hurt.

Normally on my Sundays off, I would join friends at another Catholic church and go to brunch with them afterward. Not this week. I couldn’t go through another mother blessing. As for eating out on Mother’s Day, I’m not suicidal. Restaurants would be jammed with mothers and their loving offspring. Everyone would be wishing me happy Mother’s Day. I’d rather eat dog food. I stayed home, washed clothes, did yard work, read, walked the dog and baked cookies—for me!

It’s safe here at the end of the road in the forest. The three houses clustered together are all occupied by people in their 60s and 70s who never had children, just dogs, cats, and a parrot.

So that was my Mother’s Day. Several of you have commented on my last post. How was your weekend? Let us know.

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A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Sally Carr, who died surrounded by friends because she had no family. It turns out some of the facts I reported were wrong. She did have some family, cousins in Philadelphia who were shocked when the State of Oregon contacted them about Sally’s estate. Sally’s parents did not die in a car accident when she was young. They lived to old age, but she chose to separate herself from them. I doubt we’ll ever know why, but this makes the story even sadder. I regret publishing what wasn’t quite true and hope those who knew Sally better than I did will forgive me.

Keep the comments coming and feel free to correct me when I get it wrong.

 

Take the sting out of Mother’s Day

Oy, this Sunday is Mother’s Day again. I have been blogging about this hurting Hallmark holiday for years. Go to the archives, look up the second post every May to read what I wrote.

What can I say this year? Stay off social media until at least next Tuesday. I know, I probably won’t either, but I’m giving you fair warning that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., will be loaded with motherhood posts and pics. I’m already seeing them today. If all those baby pictures and mom tributes make you nuts, go to the little X in the corner of your computer screen and click it. Do whatever you’ve gotta do to silence the madness on your phone or tablet. Just don’t look.

Even in the non-digital world, Mother’s Day is brutal for people who want children and don’t have them. I’m thinking about skipping church because I hear there’s a whole big ceremony planned. Nuh-uh. I’d like to go out to brunch, but I don’t relish the crowds, the flowers and the servers wishing every woman Happy Mother’s Day as if at least one-fifth of us are not mothers and will never be that sweet old lady surrounded by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

If someone invites you to a Mother’s Day party and you know it will hurt like crazy, don’t go. Tell them honestly how you feel or make up an excuse, but don’t go.

The only way to avoid the whole mess is to either stay home or go somewhere far away from people and media. Squirrels don’t know about Mother’s Day. Seagulls don’t give a rip. A redwood tree stretches toward the sky, oblivious.

One way to make it easier may be to give all your attention to your mother or others who have mothered you in your life. Go back to being the child handing a color-crayoned card to Mom. If your mother, like mine, is not around anymore, find some way to honor her anyway. Light a candle, sing a song, bake a cake.

I had a chance to look through my mother’s old cookbooks last week. Now I have a craving for her Salisbury steak. Maybe I’ll make that on Sunday and bake her chocolate cake with Cool Whip frosting for dessert. Or maybe I’ll just go to the gazebo overlooking the ocean where I used to talk to her when she first died. I can bring her up to date with everything that has happened lately.

In other words, I will make the day about my mother and not about the fact that I am not a mother. Like Secretary Day or Veterans Day, it’s not about me. For some of us, it’s too soon or too painful to think about our lost moms. Find someone else to honor.

I know how hard Mother’s Day is. I used to be the meanest, most miserable person on that day. I’d growl at anyone who wished me a happy Mother’s Day. I’d make my day worse by offending everyone around me. I learned that that doesn’t help. Nor does getting drunk and staying that way until the day is over.

Hang in there, my friends. As my dad likes to say about every holiday, “It’s just another day.”

Here are some things to read about the Mother’s Day dilemma:

“What Mother’s Day Feels Like When You’re Childless” 

“How to Deal with Mother’s Day When Mother’s Day Sucks for You” 

“How to Survive Mother’s Day If You’ve Experienced Adoption or Infertility” 

What are your plans this year?

Facing the children we don’t have

Kids, kids, kids! I made a quick trip to San Jose this week for my dad’s 96th birthday. Everywhere I went, I saw children. In the small town where I live, the average age is over 60. Not having any reason to hang out at schools and other places where children congregate, children are mostly an abstract concept, someone my friends leave town to visit. But wow, get on a plane for San Jose, and you will see children. They were in the airport pushing their tiny pink suitcases, they were on the plane, and they were in the shuttle bus to and from the parking lot. They were also at my aunt’s house, where we gathered for cake with my cousin, his wife, and their little girls age 1 and 3.

I will never know how to relate to children the way my mother did. She had years of practice, and I’m a lot more comfortable with dogs. But I’m getting there. For those readers who can’t bear to be around children because they don’t enjoy them or because they remind them of what they don’t/can’t have, I want to assure you that it gets easier. It’s not the child’s fault that we have this giant baby-sized hole in our heart.

Kids can be annoying. They clamor for attention. They whine. They break things. They disrupt your grownup life bigtime.

But there’s nothing like a little-girl hug. Seriously. And babies are fascinating. They learn and grow so quickly. When they look at you and smile, come on, that’s magic.

On the shuttle to the parking lot back in Portland, I watched a young family board with a ton of paraphernalia and three kids, a baby girl, a boy about 3, and a 13-year-old girl. They all looked just like the mother. At first I was annoyed when they piled their stuff on top of my bag and sat across from me. Then I was amused watching the dad holding the baby, who was just starting to talk.

Then I felt the pain, you know the one, the pain of not having a family of my own. I wanted to weep for lack of those grown children and grandchildren. Why couldn’t’ I have that? I’m sure they had no idea I was going through a whole range of emotions as I sat there holding my purse waiting to get to the W7 section of the parking lot.

Being around kids can be challenging for us. It can cause real pain, but if we stick around, it can also bring joy. We need to be open to that joy.

And then be relieved to walk to the car alone with just one bag and nobody clamoring for food or needing a diaper change. Ah, freedom!

It was a short trip filled with emotion. I hate leaving home, and I hate leaving my dad. I know I’m blessed to still have him. And I was lucky to see my little cousins as well as the big ones. Now it’s just me and Annie again.

Families stir up all kinds of feelings. How are you when you’re around kids? Do you enjoy them, or does it make you feel bad? Do you avoid them? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

For another view of my encounters with children on this trip, read this week’s Unleashed in Oregon blog.