‘You can just adopt’ and other childless ‘bingos’

I have just returned from the land of many babies, where I heard so many childless “bingos,” I need a new card. “Bingos,” if you haven’t heard, are the clueless comments people make about childlessness. If you’d like a good list of the typical ones, visit https://bingobaker.com/view/496736, where you will find a full bingo card of remarks such as “Don’t you like kids?” “Who will take care of you when you’re old?” and “Children are a woman’s greatest achievement.” We have heard a few of those, right?

Last weekend, I was in San Jose, California, for the Dia de Portugal festival, the first one since the pandemic began. I was there to see friends and family and sell books. It was incredibly hot, noisy, and crowded. The most popular booths were the ones selling beer and water.

At my table in the Portuguese authors section, I spread out my books: two on Portuguese Americans, two books of poetry, and my two books about childlessness, Childless by Marriage and Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both.

People walked by. Some paused to flip through the pages of my Portuguese books, then walked on. Some bought copies. Some said, “Oh, I have that book. It’s good.”

We traded a few words in my limited Portuguese. “Bom dia” (Good day), “Obrigada” (Thank you), “Faz calor.” (It’s hot). A parade circled the plaza at the History Park San Jose where the festival was held. Singers sang, and folkloric dancers in red, green and yellow costumes danced. People passed by wearing the Portuguese flag design on shirts, scarves, hats, and even Covid masks. I said hello to Portuguese people I hadn’t seen in years.

Here’s the thing. I knew it was a Portuguese festival and most interest would be in the Portuguese books, but I didn’t expect some of the reactions I got to my childless books. Most who looked at them didn’t understand the concept of being childless by marriage. When I tried to explain, a woman early on responded, “Well, that’s no problem. You just adopt.”

“It’s not that easy,” I began, but she was gone.

A couple of the men snickered at my Love or Children title. “I choose love,” said one well into his beer ration. “Children?” He made a disgusted face.

The younger women all seemed to have children and/or be pregnant. The woman sharing my table, Higina da Guia, a nice writer originally from the Portuguese island of Madeira, was selling children’s books. Most of the books were bilingual, in Portuguese and English, intended for parents wanting to teach their little ones whichever language they didn’t know. Swell. But time after time, a woman would be looking at my books, and then her husband or friend would nudge her to look at the children’s books. They totally forgot about my grownup books.

I should note they showed no interest in my poetry either. Oh well. When I try to sell my Portuguese books in Oregon, people pass right by them. It’s all about context.

Higina’s daughter and granddaughter joined her. I watched as Higina wrapped the little girl in a red, white and black costume from Madeira. She was so excited to see the little girl in the skirt and vest passed through the generations of her family. “She will remember this forever,” she told me as the child posed for pictures. It was sweet, but it made me sad. I will never get to do that.

My brother came with his daughter and granddaughter, my niece and great-niece. I was so glad to see them and to have the validation of family sitting with me for a while. I love being Aunt Sue. It’s not the same as being a mom, but it helps. I don’t see them often enough. I shed a few tears when they left.

Helping me in my booth was my sister-friend Pat, a mother and grandmother whose claims to anything Portuguese are that she grew up in Massachusetts with lots of Portuguese people and that she once dated a Portuguese guy. She had a great time talking to everyone and people-watching. I noticed she reacts to children the way I react to dogs, as if they are magic and she has a special connection with them. It’s one of many things I love about her.

But I learned a lesson. When I take my childlessness and my childless books out into the world, I can expect many bingos, especially in an old-country culture where not having children does not seem to be a “thing.”

Living in a retirement community where I don’t see many kids, I forget how it might be for you where you live, especially if you’re at an age where your friends and family are busy with babies and growing children.

Where do you hear the most bingos? Is there a situation where it’s especially hard to not have children? Let’s talk about it. I welcome your comments.

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7 thoughts on “‘You can just adopt’ and other childless ‘bingos’

  1. Dear Sue, It is very very interesting topic. I shall give my comments soon. Much love hugs and kisses, Shokee


  2. Church. Doesn’t matter the occasion–wedding, funeral, Christmas Eve, a regular old Sunday. I’m tempted to take a Childless Bingo Card next time I go. 😉


  3. Family gatherings are getting harder. Father’s Day was a mix of revelations. We arrived at my husband’s parents’ home late afternoon, only to learn that out of 9 children, we were only the second to visit for the day.
    Mother and Father-in-law put together a large meal, expecting at least half of us for lunch. No one came. The out-of-town families had other things going on, and a few of the in-town people just begged off. I found myself thinking, “See. Even if you have 9 children you may still find yourself alone.”

    My mother-in-law passive-aggressively interacted with father-in-law. Sure, she has 9 children. But she’s alone most of the time in a marriage that is not satisfying.

    Later my brother-in-law showed up with his family. They had just returned from vacation. The kids are getting older and much more conversational. It’s obvious that they have a very fun and friendly family life and they especially enjoyed their vacation. This is the sort of family I wish I had growing up. The sort of family that I wish I’d have in the future.

    But present day is good. Great even. I just spend too much time regretting the past and feeling anxious for the future. Lately I’ve been organizing and streamlining my life. Preparing for an old age that doesn’t include children to help me.

    I’m in my late 40’s and I have much older friends who tell me that I’m too focused on the end of life and need to use my time to find joy. One has a grown child she rarely sees. Another is an 80-year-old widow who recently introduced me to her new boyfriend. Your life is your attitude – not your status as a mother.

    So, I’ve been spending time in therapy and learning how to manage these feelings. I’m still purging things out of my life, but it’s more so to release the person I’ve been holding on to.


  4. I got an adoption comment just the other day, from a fellow 42-year-old who also doesn’t haven’t children! I wish the myths that adoption and IVF are easy and guaranteed didn’t persist so strongly in society. It’s just not true. So, say I start the paperwork to adopt… I hear the average wait is 4 years. And then I begin raising children when I’m in my late 40s? No thank you. What irritates me most now is those comments feel so dismissive. I’ve worked hard to create a life without my children that I can enjoy. That is no small feat! Anyway, I feel like I’m rambling… And preaching to the choir.

    I’m glad you included all of your books at your booth. I bet you made at least one person think and, more importantly, gave at least one person comfort. Who knows. Maybe they went home and looked up your titles online, found your blog, and are now relieved to have found someone who understands what they’ve gone through alone. Having someone understand is priceless.

    I haven’t gotten any bingos in a while. There was kind of a funny interaction at the store the other day. I saw a cute baby and pointed it out to my boyfriend. I hardly ever care about babies, but this baby was just so chubby and happy and cute. The cashier said, “Uh oh, you better watch out,” implying to my boyfriend that *I* wanted a baby. I immediately started laughing and said, “Oh no, I’m too old for that and his kids are grown. We’re good!” What would have made me cry 10 years ago made me laugh last week. Miracles happen.


    • Thank you, Phoenix. People don’t understand how difficult adoption and IVF are and how often they don’t work. I say bravo for building your life without children and for being able to laugh about incidents like the one at the store.


  5. I’ve had ‘Of course, you never wanted children!’ a few times.

    When I was still in my 40s, I had a well-meaning friend telling me that I’d better hurry if I wanted IVF. (I couldn’t tell her that my husband was not in favour.)

    At one point, my husband told me, ‘Never mind. You’ll always have [son’s name] and [daughter’s name].’ He forgot that they’re not that much younger than me. (That’s another story…and no, i didn’t break up his first marriage – his first wife did that.)

    My husband passed last year. His kids and the grandchild that I was never allowed to call my granddaughter have cut off all contact after I finally snapped a couple of months after the funeral.


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