Parents and Non-Parents from Different Planets?

Last week, Annie and Winnie were buddies. When we passed Winnie’s house on our walks, the tan and white Corgi would waddle up to us. I’d pet her long soft fur while the two dogs sniffed each other, and then Winnie would walk with us a ways up Cedar Street. It was nice.

This week Winnie attacked Annie, barking, growling, biting. My pooch didn’t know what hit her. It was motherhood. Winnie gave birth on Saturday. The young woman who came out with her was holding a puppy, the only one that survived the troubled delivery. Now Winnie was in full mom mode. I can’t blame her. She has one tiny puppy, and she’s going to protect it with everything she has. She also probably feels sick and sore. But Annie, a spayed virgin at 11 ½, did not understand. Why doesn’t my friend like me anymore?

Ever feel that way around your human friends? They give birth and suddenly they’re not as friendly to you. It’s all about the baby.

Which brings me to the story that keeps popping up in my Google alerts. Brace yourself before you read “Childless millennials should be banned from Disney World, tired mom rants.” It seems this mother went on a Facebook rant about how childless people should be banned from Disney World, that the theme park should be reserved for “families” with kids. Say what? If I haven’t reproduced, I don’t get to have fun like everybody else? I know this mom was tired and frustrated, but we all need to think before we post.

Years ago, I wrote a post about LEGOLAND, which only allows adults without children on certain all-adult nights. I would LOVE to go LEGOLAND. So would the couple in this article who have been struggling with infertility for nine years. Come on, people. Aren’t these parks supposed to be happy places?

I’m not sure I want to mention this, but here goes. I was at a conference last weekend. I decided to duck out of one of my evening workshops to take a swim. I checked the pool on the way to my room to change into my bathing suit. Nobody there. I looked forward to peacefully gliding through the water. When I returned, less than five minutes later, at 9:30 at night, the small indoor pool was crowded with six kids under the age of six and three parent people. They took up the whole danged pool, splashing around, shouting, oblivious to this older person who needed to get down the steps and swim a few laps. Oh, I swam, but it was no fun, and I was soon back in my room, sinking into a hot bath where I could soak in peace.

Like that mom at Disney World, I was tired and frustrated. Things are not going well with my father, and I can’t do anything about it. My stomach hurt. I was tired of sitting in over-air-conditioned meeting rooms listening to people talk about writing. And now the pool was so full of children who should have been in bed that I couldn’t enjoy my swim. If the parents had thought to say something like, “Move over so the nice lady can swim,” that would have been different, but I seemed to be invisible to them.

If I were a mom person, would I have enjoyed paddling around with the little guys? I don’t know. Like Annie suddenly attacked by her former friend, I just know sometimes parents and non-parents seem to live on different planets.

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

 

 

 

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Thank God My Children Won’t Read This

CNF71 CVRIf I had children, they would be mortified. An essay I wrote about sex with my late husband is included in the new issue of Creative Nonfiction Magazine. It’s pretty graphic. I talk about his problems maintaining an erection after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and about my problems with menopausal dryness and the need for lubrication. I even talk about offering him a blow job. OMG. Thank God my parents will never read this. I hope my stepchildren never see it.

Not that the general public reads Creative Nonfiction. Most people can’t even define creative nonfiction: true stories told using the techniques of fiction, such as characters, dialogue, setting, plot, etc. Making it into Creative Nonfiction has been a life goal since I earned my master of fine arts degree in creative nonfiction 16 years ago. So career-wise, this is great, but oh my God, do I really want people to know this much about me?

But then you readers here at Childless by Marriage already know so much. If you’ve read my Childless by Marriage book, you already know things I would not want my family to know, things I have never told anyone else.

Editor Lee Gutkind points to my story as an example of things they couldn’t have published even 10 years ago. He’s right. Not in a public journal like CNF. But here at the blog, we’ve always been pretty honest. It’s part of the story.

We are childless by marriage. How does one create a child? Sex. So if we’re not getting pregnant, something involved with sex is preventing it, whether it’s birth control, impotence, infertility, or abortion. In my Creative Nonfiction piece, I talk about stopping coitus to find some lube. When I was younger and with other men, it was about running to the bathroom to insert my diaphragm or grabbing a condom. If we had just kept going, I might be a mother now, but we didn’t. Somebody always stopped the proceedings, said, “We’d better . . .” and we did. Or we switched to an activity that did not include placing penis in vagina.

Now my church, Catholic, says sex is only for making babies. But most Catholics I know use birth control. It’s one of those things we don’t talk about–and probably should.

When you decide to sleep with someone, you immediately need to figure out what you’re doing about birth control, not just to prevent pregnancy but to prevent STDs. If you’re on the pill, you can choose whether or not to mention it, but if you’re using another method, you’ll have to discuss it. You will know whether, at least at that moment, your partner is interested in creating a baby. Which may lead to more long-term choices.

Sex is such a vital part of life, but until recently we didn’t talk about it much, and we certainly didn’t write about it. I’m both embarrassed and proud of my essay. When I wrote it, I thought it was funny. I still think people will get some laughs out of it. But it also shows the realities of middle-aged sex and dementia. Why keep it a secret? Everybody deals with this stuff.

I haven’t read the other pieces in the magazine yet.  is a print publication, not online, and copies haven’t arrived yet. The link will show where you can order a copy.

Some of you have confided that your partners refused to have sex with you. So hurtful! I wonder how many dare to mention their desire for babies while they’re making love. What are those conversations like, when you’re lying together naked and happy? Or are you afraid to mention it for fear of ruining the mood?

I don’t want to turn this into a porn site, and I sure hope I don’t get a lot of filthy responses, but we can be honest here. I’m honestly glad I don’t have children and grandchildren reading about Grandma and Grandpa having sex. Ew, gross.

One of the advantages of being childless, I guess.

I just realized the magazine never asked and I never mentioned whether or not I had children. Interesting.

Thanks for being here.

Childless couple gives it all to charity

“Childless adults make huge impact with charitable donations” is the title of a recent article in The Toronto Star. Writer Marsha Barber talks about how a childless couple, Margaret and Charles Juravinski, are creating an endowment fund of $100 million to support health research.

One of Barber’s friends, also childless, willed her house and land to the Indigenous community in her area.

Barber goes on to discuss how childless people give far more to charity than those without children. Parents are focused on providing for their families, both during their lives and after they die.

My first reaction to this was, ha, childless or not, I don’t have a fortune to donate to anyone. But wait. I give regularly to my church, the Alzheimer’s Association, and agencies that feed the poor. I have enough to spare a bit every month. Maybe if I had children, I’d be using every penny of my income for them. Whatever I could save might go for their education. Isn’t that what parents do?

In my will, I leave most of my “estate” to my stepchildren and my niece and nephew. I also specify that my instruments and music supplies go to needy music students and my books to the local libraries. That’s something. Honestly, except for my writing, I don’t care where it goes when I die.

If I had a fortune, I’d love to give it to a charity that can really help people in need. I won’t have children who are counting on an inheritance.

I talk about this in my Childless by Marriage book, noting some of the crazy things childless people do with their money. For example, playwright George Bernard Shaw is said to have bequeathed millions to anyone who could devise a new alphabet that made more sense than the one we have. It should have 40 letters, he specified. Louis da Camara, a Portuguese man with no family, picked strangers out of Lisbon phone book to receive his wealth. Ruth Lilly, a poet, left $100 million to a poetry magazine that had repeatedly rejected her work. She also gave millions to various charities.

Without children, if we are lucky enough to make some money and keep it—no natural disasters, health crises, or investments gone awry—we can do whatever we want with it, including giving it away.

Or we could not worry about making any money because we don’t have any children to support. Investments? What for? Life insurance? Why?

Our choice.

How about you? Does not having children enable you to give freely to charity now or when you die? What do you say when people state that childless people are selfish? If you could give money to anyone, who would it be?

Is summer vacation all about ‘families’?

Ah, summer. Here on the Oregon coast, it’s sometimes sunny, sometimes cloudy, sometimes wet, but warmer than the rest of the year. The wildflowers are blooming, the blackberries are beginning to fruit, and the local bear is raiding garbage cans. Streets, restaurants, and beaches are loaded with tourists, many of them toting children. That’s what happens when you live in a vacation destination.

Meanwhile, the people who live here are doing the family thing. This is the time of year when half of my church choir runs off to babysit the grandkids, go camping with the older kids, or attend family reunions. The calendar in the music room is loaded with the names of people who are taking time off while the offspring are out of school. Which leaves a few of us to pick up the slack.

Wherever you work, I suspect something similar is going on. It’s time for family vacations and entertaining the kids. While our mother-father co-workers are running off to the water park or Disneyland, guess who’s staying behind to do the work? The childless ones. It’s a good thing we’re around, but it’s hard not to feel resentful sometimes. Right?

When my husband was alive, we used to travel in the spring, usually around our May 18 anniversary. In addition to his regular work running community centers in San Jose, he was a licensed tax preparer. From January through April, he rarely looked up from his tax forms, but come May, it was time to spend some of that money on a great vacation before the kiddos were set loose. Over the years we went to Hawaii, Portugal, Costa Rica, and British Columbia. We cruised the Mississippi on the Delta Queen from Nashville to St. Louis, visited Tucson and Las Vegas, and explored many places closer to home.

Because our lives weren’t centered on the school calendar, we sometimes found ourselves unwittingly surrounded by families, like the time we visited the Grand Canyon during spring break. Don’t do it! Too crowded. A two-hour wait for a table at any of the restaurants. And those tables were full of kids.

Ours were adult-focused trips. We liked touring historical sites, wine-tasting, nature hikes, local theater performances, visiting galleries and museums, and meals at posh restaurants, stuff that doesn’t go well with children. We were spared amusement parks, Happy Meals, and kids who’d rather play with their electronic devices than see the wonders of the real world. Mostly. There were a couple fun trips with my stepson. We had good times fishing, splashing in the waves at the beach, and playing games. He was a good traveler, still is, but mostly it was just the two of us.

Now it’s just me, but that’s another story.

As I have traveled back and forth to San Jose this summer to be with my father, I have often found myself surrounded by parents and children. They’re at the airport, the rest stops, and the restaurants. It’s their time. God bless the parents trying to wrangle several kids and all their paraphernalia through airport security!

No matter how frustrating it might be, the parents are lucky to have this chance to show the world to their children. I’m sure there were times when my own parents would have loved to dump us somewhere and travel by themselves, but they always took us along. To make it affordable, we camped, mostly in California. My brother and I both grew to love nature and its simple pleasures, the lapping of a lake against the shore, a Stellar’s Jay squawking above the picnic table, the feel of soft dirt under our tennis shoes, and sitting around the campfire under the stars.

I’m getting lost in nostalgia. It’s July. People with children and grandchildren are busy spending time together. Where does that leave those of us without children? Are you doing double duty at work? Are you traveling now or waiting until the kids go back to school? Are you sad or glad about “summer vacation?” Please share in the comments.

 

Childless Fourth of July Needn’t Be Bad

Dear friends,

I’m writing this on the Fourth of July because I’ll be helping my dad in San Jose next week. I have actually been dreading this holiday because doing it alone is no fun, and I’m lousy at reaching out. Plus I don’t want to leave my dog Annie during the fireworks because the noise terrifies her. She’s already nervous, following me around everywhere. Of course if I had a husband and kids and grandkids, the whole day would be different. Parades, barbecues, fireworks, it’s all aimed at children. Right?

So I was all woe-is-me yesterday. This morning, however, I woke up late to glorious summer weather here a block from the beach. I went out into my back yard, which is like a park full of birds, trees and flowers in bloom, and decided I would just enjoy being here doing whatever I want. I would dress in my favorite clothes, serve myself wonderful meals, and lounge as if I were at a resort far away, except with my dog at my side.

What do you do on the Fourth of July? Does it emphasize your childless status or are you able to just have a great time doing grownup things? Please share in the comments.

By the time you read this, I will be hanging out with my father at the nursing home, listening to his stories and his complaints, dodging questions about money and the future, and trying not to get killed in the terrible traffic. Also trying not to think about who will sit with me if I end up in a nursing home unable to take care of myself.

***

Lick_Sue_Fagalde_COV_EMI have a new book coming out. It’s not about childlessness, but all of my books are like my children, so maybe there’s a connection. It’s a poetry chapbook titled Gravel Road Ahead. The poems are about my journey with my late husband through Alzheimer’s Disease. The publisher, Finishing Line Press, is taking advance orders now through Aug. 16, and the number of copies they print depends on how many people pre-order the book. If you could help me out by ordering a copy, I’d sure appreciate it. It is not available on Amazon yet, so you have to order it from the publisher. For information on the book and how to order, click here. Or, if you’d rather not deal with the publisher, email me at sufalick@gmail.com and let me know how many copies you want me to reserve for you.

Here is the title poem to whet your appetite:

GRAVEL ROAD AHEAD

Where my husband lives now,
I don’t. Each day he forgets more
details from the house we bought
with his VA loan. I don’t. I tend them,
sort his papers, pay his bills,
dust his antique rolltop desk.

I linger in his swivel chair,
wearing his red plaid shirt, staring
at my small hands peeking out
from frayed cuffs with missing buttons,
toying with his ballpoint pen.

I straighten his paper clips, delaying
my drive up the steep winding road
to where my husband lives now
in a numbered room with an ocean view,
where the pavement ends, and I don’t.

***

Happy summer to all of you! See you next week.

 

 

 

Did you resolve your childless dilemma?

Dear friends,

I have been working on compiling 12 years of Childless by Marriage blog posts and comments for an ebook containing the best of the blog, organized by topics. Being a longtime editor, I’m trying to fix all the typos, mine and yours, and check the links to make sure they still work. Don’t you hate it when you get excited about a link and then it doesn’t go anywhere? With almost 700 posts, it’s a slow process. But I think it’s a worthy endeavor. At least everything will be up-to-date.

Speaking of up-to-date, I am finding lots of comments from readers who were in the throes of figuring out what to do about their childless situation. Leave or stay? Try to get pregnant or not? How do they manage the unbearable grief? Now that years have passed, I really want to know what happened.

Here are a couple of examples from an Oct. 9, 2009 post titled “Is He Worth It?”

Anonymous

Nov 12, 2009

I left my homeland, a good job and great friends to be with my partner. I’ve known from the start that he will probably never want to have children. It never used to bother me, as I used to feel the same. But the older I get and in particular now that I’m living in a country where I have no family of my own and no close friends, I’m starting to feel slightly different about motherhood. I would never pressure him to have a child with me to satisfy my needs. But sometimes I wonder if I’ve made a mistake. I do love him. What are my options? Stay with him and hopefully have a good life with him, even if childless? Leave him, and perhaps find a man willing to have a family with me? How could I though, when my partner is the one I love. I really thought I was more or less decided against the idea of having children. So why am I starting to feel differently . . . ?

torn

Nov 30, 2009·

I am so glad to have found this website, as all the other blogs seem to tell me to leave my partner. I love him to pieces and he loves me, but he is not considering having other children. He had an unwanted child at a very young age and does not feel he is capable of truly feeling in his heart that he wants to have another child. He says he prefers to not have another child if it is not something he truly wants as he knows how hurtful this would be to the child. He also feels like he has given so much so young that he wants to become stable in life before engaging in such a hard decision. I understand and I never really had the pull to have children before I met him. I don’t know if I would have that desire with another man. So I am left with this dilemma within myself. What is more important, risking possibly wanting a baby with someone that I don’t know that I would want one with or staying with the man that I love? At present, I am happy, but I don’t know if that will change. I guess the question is do I live for the present or for the future. I have made the decision to see a psychologist on this issue before making a decision. I hope you will all find peace with your decision.

So what happened? Are they still with their partners? Have they found a way to be mothers? If you’re out there, Torn and Anonymous, and you recognize these comments as yours, please bring us up to date, either at the old post, this one, or tell me at sufalick@gmail.com.

If you did not comment on the subject at the time, you still can. Scroll down to the end of the comments on that post and add your thoughts.

If you commented on any previous post and would like to bring us up to date, please do so, whether everything or nothing has changed, whether you have several children now or none. Hearing how things turned out for others helps the rest of us decide what to do.

I look forward to reading the rest of your stories.

Sue

P.S. Reading the comments from the period before and after my husband died in 2011 touched my heart. You were all so kind. I thank you for that. I’m grateful for every one of you gathered here.

 

 

 

Without Children, Is It a Family?

What is a family? Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines it thus:

A: the basic unit in society, traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children

B: any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family

They list various types of families: single-parent, gay parents, step-parents, etc. They also mention a variation: a group of individuals living under one roof. And then they go on to things like plant families, i.e., plants all sharing common characteristics.

They do not list two loving partners sharing a home and life. They do not list childless couples.

Have people asked you, “When are you going to start a family?” Have you heard people say, “Without kids, you are not a family,” or, God forbid, “They’re not like you. They’ve got a family.”

We all have (or had) a birth family, consisting of our Mom, Dad, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. But can we form our own family without children? Is it not a family if we don’t have babies?

“Family” seems to be code for children. Family-friendly movies, restaurants, and TV shows are designed to amuse the little ones and keep them safe from grownup language, sex, and other dangers. I have learned to avoid these things because a) I don’t have children, so I’m not qualified, and b) I don’t like little-kid stuff.

As I write this, I keep hearing Sister Sledge’s song “We are Family” and seeing the last scene of that great not-child-friendly movie The Birdcage. (Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Calista Flockhart, Christine Baranski. Such a great movie) The only children there are the adult offspring of the main characters. As the movie ends, everyone is dancing with the female impersonators at the gay nightclub run by the Robin Williams. Their definition of family is just a bunch of people who love each other.

So what is a family? Let’s look again. The Urban Dictionary  lists some much more comfortable definitions. Says Lola5544 April 29, 2011, who wrote the featured definition, “family is a group of people, usually of the same blood (but do not have to be), who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other. Not to be mistaken with relatives sharing the same household who hate each other.”

If you scroll down, there are some really funny definitions of family by people who are clearly not enjoying their relatives.

I’m not the only one thinking about this subject this week. Check out this article from Nigeria. The writer insists that the second a couple get married, they are a family, kids or no kids. I like that.

So what is a family? Can it be me and my dog? Me and my church choir? You and your partner? Do you have to have children to be a real family? What have people said to you about this, and what do you think? I’m eager to read your comments.