Stepping Carefully with the Stepchildren at Christmas

little blonde girl hanging an ornament on a small Christmas tree not much bigger than she is. There are boxes and toys under the tree on a wooden floor.

Today’s post may not apply to everyone here, but quite a few of us are in love with partners who have children from previous relationships. In most divorces, arrangements are made for who gets the kids on the holidays. Fred and I traded back and forth, which is common.

It could be that this isn’t your year. It’s just the two of you. That can be sweet and wonderful, unless your partner is depressed about not being with the kids and the family is bugging you about not having any children. Maybe you enjoy their company and wish they were with you. Or maybe you feel relieved but don’t dare say it out loud.

Perhaps it’s your turn to have them for the holidays. You’re not quite comfortable with each other, and you probably have different ideas about how the holidays are supposed to go. You have different traditions, eat different foods, and have different religions or none. Their mom opens gifts on Christmas Eve; you wait till Christmas morning. You prepare an ethnic feast that they refuse to eat. You go all out buying gifts for them and get nothing in return. Suddenly your Christmas is all about his/or her kids, and you resent it.

On the other hand, having these children around gives you some legitimacy among the parent crowd. You can freely say, “our kids,” “my daughter” or “my son.”

Of course, plans can change, and you might be left with a pile of presents and a ton of macaroni and cheese with no one to give them to.

But let’s say you have them this year. Holidays usually include the rest of the family, too. Do your parents and siblings accept your partner’s kids as part of the family or treat them like strangers? It’s not something you can control, but it hurts when your stepchildren get the cold shoulder. I remember when Fred’s youngest called my mother “Grandma” and she didn’t respond. Poor kid. What was he supposed to call her? Mrs. Fagalde?

The age of the children makes a difference. Little ones are more adaptable and more easily accepted while sullen teens will not be so easy. But you brought them here. It’s your job to try to make them as happy as possible.

What can you do? If you and the ex and your family are all on speaking terms, a little preemptive diplomacy might help. Ask the mom what foods they won’t eat, what she’s getting them for Christmas and what you might buy them. Ask whether it’s all right to take them to your church or out of town to be with your family.

Ask your own family to accept the kids, let them call them Grandma or Auntie, and treat them like the other children in the family. After all, if you are not having children of your own, these are the children you have. Stand up for them, even if they drive you nuts.

Do your best to include them in all of the holiday activities. Let them help you bake cookies or put up the decorations. Hang a stocking on the mantel with their name on it. Remember that they are not at “home” and that can be as hard for them as it is for you.

Will they give you big hugs and call you Mom or Dad? Maybe. Maybe not. They might hide in their room and refuse to speak to you, but it’s worth a try.

Dear readers, what advice can you offer to those dealing with stepchildren during the holidays? What has worked well for you? What has turned out to be a disaster? I look forward to your comments.

Photo by Cottonbro Studio at Pexels.com

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

What is a Family? Do You Have to Share DNA?

How was your Thanksgiving? Was it as it as bad as you expected? You know if you go in expecting to be miserable, you will be.

I had a good time. Church in the morning, then dinner at a friend’s house. Folks around the table included two male neighbors who have no family nearby, my friend’s husband and his mother, and their three teenage foster children. Plus Evergreen the cat and Buddy the dog. It was great. I think we all felt loved and welcome, even though we didn’t bring a traditional “family.” The food, to which everyone contributed, was fabulous, too.

The friends who hosted the gathering have their own children and grandchildren, but they live far away, and they have always collected the strays like me for the holidays. I already have an invitation for Christmas, although I am hoping to round up some strays of my own for a “no one alone” celebration.

That might be delayed because I got sick the day after Thanksgiving. I’m coughing and sniffling as I type this. Yes, it’s Covid, despite all the vaccinations. I have to isolate myself, so I might not have time to get anything organized before this Christmas, which is, yikes, less than a month away.

Meanwhile, what is a family? That was the subject of a recent article at “Stephanomics” by Bloomberg columnist Stephanie Flanders. The definition of family is changing, at least in the United States, she says. The most recent figures show 44 percent of Americans age 18-49 don’t have children now and probably never will have. The working age population has fallen for the third year in a row.

What’s going on? Money is a big factor. The Brookings Institution says it now costs more than $300,000 to raise a child in the U.S. and that doesn’t include college. The cost of a home these days is prohibitive. Also, people spend more years getting their education and building their careers, leaving fewer years to have children. Some see their childless peers enjoying their freedom and decide to follow suit. There are all kinds of reasons why Americans are having fewer children, and it raises concerns about who will do the jobs and keep Social Security going in the future.

The article notes that while the U.S. is leaning hard in the no-kids direction, other countries are trending the other way. In the Philippines, for example, they are having a baby boom.

But let’s go back to that question of what is a family. Family Story, a think tank in Washington D.C. which is studying the evolution of families, says the definition of family is moving toward chosen families. Biological families often live far apart, and travel is difficult. They may be split up and scattered by divorce. That’s certainly the case for me. We reach out to friends from work, church, or the community for everything from Thanksgiving dinner to emergency rides to the hospital (thank you, Teresa) to a jug of orange juice when you can’t get to the store (thank you, Martha). Often, we feel more at home with the people we see every day or every week than with our families whom we see only a couple times a year. And that’s okay. We can call or Zoom with our bio families and eat pumpkin pie with our chosen families and have the best of both worlds. Right?

Is anyone feeling guilty? Okay, I am a little. I feel like I should reach out more to my family, but they are far away in ways beyond just geography. Know what I mean?

I spent the last couple months watching every episode of “Friends” on HBO Max. Don’t judge. That show comforts me. Perhaps it is not realistic, but the six friends get together for every holiday and
major event. They all have families but choose to be with their friends instead. Do you have people like that? I don’t, but I’m working on it.

Consider the vision of family described on the Family Story website:

We envision a world in which any individuals bonded by love, support, or care for each other, who by choice or circumstance are interdependent, can be recognized as family; a world which elevates the strengths and ingenuity of all types of families rather than focusing on their perceived deficits; a world where we are served by inclusive policies and in which we are able to form and re-form families–free from judgment and discrimination.”

What is a family? When I was married to my first husband, I argued that my husband and I and our dog and cat were a family. My in-laws didn’t buy it. For them, a family had to have children, but for me, it was true. Are Annie and I a family? Not a traditional one, but yes, we are, even if she can’t drive to the store for OJ. Did the group gathered around my friend Sandy’s table on Thanksgiving constitute a family? It sure felt like it.

I feel as if I have several families, including the one I was born into, my church family, my music family, my writer family, my neighborhood family, and yes, my childless family. I am grateful for every one of them. When I get to feeling alone, I need someone to remind me to just pick up the phone.

Is it okay to spend the holidays with a chosen family rather than your biological one? If a large percentage of the population never marry or have children, thus never forming traditional families, what does the future look like?

What are your thoughts about all this? How was our Thanksgiving? What will you do different for Christmas? I welcome your comments.

Photo by cottonbro studios on Pexels.com

 

Still Not Pregnant? and other Holiday Conversation-Stoppers

Thursday is Thanksgiving, a day when people traditionally gather with their families. For those of us who are childless, this can be fraught with discomfort watching other people with their kids, and we’re likely to face the dreaded nosy questions about our non-parenting status.

What can you say that will quickly shift the conversation on to other subjects? Some answers are more acceptable than others. Top of the list is a medical condition that prevents you from having children.

Back when I was a kid, when people did not speak openly of such things, it was a whispered “Oh, she can’t have children” to explain what happened to certain aunts and cousins. That someone would CHOOSE not to was inconceivable.

In the days when I was still fertile, I used the medical excuse sometimes. “Oh, we can’t.” I never blamed Fred. I blamed my family tendency toward diabetes—quite a stretch—but I had no good illness to blame it on. In my mid-40s, when I came down with Graves’ Disease, that might have been a real excuse—Graves meds and pregnancy do not mix—but no, I was just reaching for that quiet acceptance that would end the conversation.

But you know what’s coming next, right? Why don’t you just adopt? Like that’s an easy thing to do. Be ready with a reason why you can’t adopt either. My husband was too old when we got married. Most agencies won’t give babies to people pushing 50. End of discussion.

So, when people ask why you don’t have kids, what can you say that will cause the nosy ones to react with, “Oh, I’m sorry” rather than “there’s still time,” “you’re going to regret it,” “if you just pray harder,” etc.

  • Lack of required body parts—early hysterectomy, testicular cancer, no ovaries, no sperm, no eggs—should work, but these days people will suggest fertility treatments, donors, surrogates, etc, like if you don’t do all of that, you’re just not trying hard enough. Ask them if they want to pay for it. Maybe your religion, like mine, frowns on it, but they might suggest it’s worth sinning a little to have a child.
  • Can’t afford kids—That won’t fly. They’ll assure you that you can work it out.
  • Genetic problems you’re afraid to pass down.—People might or might not understand.
  • One of you is an addict, an abuser or mentally ill—Well, you don’t want to share that, do you?
  • “He doesn’t want kids, but I do”—Good luck with that one.

You could say “we’re trying,” but eventually people are going to want to see results. Ages ago, when my grandfather kept pressing as to why we weren’t having children, I finally said, “Fred’s shooting blanks.” “Oh,” said Grandpa, and he never brought it up again. It’s the kind of thing guys don’t talk about. Grandpa didn’t know anything about sperm donors, in vitro fertilization, and all that stuff. No sperm, no kids, end of discussion.

In this child-centric world where most people do have children, we are the outliers and are often called upon to explain ourselves. “You don’t have children? Why?” Can we just turn it around and say, “You do have kids? How come?” Especially when those kids are full of Thanksgiving dinner, haven’t had their naps, and are being real buttheads.

There’s really no good answer, other than, “Nope, no kids for us. Can you pass the gravy?”

One of the joys of being older is that your childless status is a done deal, and the questioners tend to lighten up. You may still feel like an outsider watching your relatives and their children. Try to love them anyway.

I am thankful for all of you. Have a blessed holiday.

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

When You Take Away Your Partner’s Parenthood Dream

Two weeks ago on the blog, I wrote about Steph Penny’s situation. She has lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. The risk of trying to have a baby was so great she and her husband were forced to choose a life without children. In her book Surviving Childlessness: Faith and Furbabies, she wrote about her choice and many other aspects of childlessness.

One of the many passages that struck me in this book talked about how it feels to watch your partner go without children because of your problem. Steph describes that on page 12:

“It hit my husband, too. He had wanted children even more than me, so it affected him greatly. I felt an enormous amount of guilt about that. I still do. I had always thought my husband would make a superb father. Not being able to give him this gift was almost more than I could bear.”

She adds that it was her husband’s idea to dedicate her book to the two children they named but never had.

Guilt. Imagine you have an illness, a fertility problem, a children-from-a-previous-marriage problem or can’t for whatever reason give your partner the children he or she longs for. You hear them weeping when they think you don’t notice. You see them flinch when someone announces they’re having a baby. You see them turning red as they remain seated when all the mothers or fathers are invited to stand for a blessing at church on Mother’s or Father’s Day. You watch them fumble for an answer when strangers ask, “How many children do you have?” or “Hey, when are we going to hear the pitter-patter of little feet at your house?” You see the pain in their eyes when their parents play with their siblings’ children and they will never play with theirs.

Maybe you can’t help the situation. Your physical or emotional problems are not going to go away. You can’t produce sperm or eggs where there are none. All you can offer is to step aside and let your loved one find someone else who can give them children, but if you truly love each other, isn’t that asking too much? Maybe all you can offer is sympathy, a shoulder to cry on, and an explanation to those nosy people who press for answers as to why there are no babies at your house.

I know my husband felt bad. He saw me see-saw between anger and grief and knew it was his fault. He heard me trying to deflect the questions about when I was going to have a baby. He saw me trying so hard to bond with his kids. After his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, before he went deep into dementia, he probably worried about me being alone.

But none of that changed the fact that he had had a vasectomy and was so much older than me that he didn’t want to start over with a baby. Nor did it change the fact that he and his wife had so much trouble conceiving that they adopted their first two children, finally having a bio child after 17 years of marriage. Mostly likely we would have had trouble, too. He couldn’t help it.

He loved me, and he saw how much it hurt. In marrying me, he took away my dream of being a mother. The guilt must have been tremendous. As was my grief. Just yesterday, watching a baby born on a TV show, I sobbed so hard it hurt. After all these years.

We stayed together because the love was greater than the grief or the guilt.

How about you and your partner? Does the one who didn’t want or couldn’t have children feel bad about it? Do you talk about it? What can you do to make it feel better? Is the love strong enough to overcome the other feelings?

I welcome your comments.

Photo by Lukas Medvedevas on Pexels.com

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Childless Thoughts About U.S. Elections and Thanksgiving

Dark-haired little girl surrounded by her grandfathers, both in white shirts and ties. Table full of holiday food.

Last night, I stayed up late watching TV coverage of the mid-term election. As I type this in the morning, we are still awaiting results in many races, still waiting to find out whether Republicans or Democrats will rule.

Reproductive rights is one of the big issues this year, especially after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the decision that protected the right to abortion. Many states have since enacted anti-abortion laws that either prohibit terminating a pregnancy or make it nearly impossible. If the uber-conservative Republican Party dominates the government, more states will follow.

What does this have to do with childlessness? Well, more oops pregnancies would be carried to term, babies that might not otherwise have been born. We hear threats that if the Republicans rule, they will go after contraception next. What if you didn’t have easy access to the pill or other contraceptive of your choice? How would that affect the choice to have children with a spouse who doesn’t really want to?

At 8 a.m. on the Oregon coast, frost covers the lawns. It’s 33 degrees out, darned cold for this area, and my neighbors across the street have already turned on their Christmas lights. Too soon? It is for me, but Thanksgiving is only two weeks away. Normally I spend the holiday with my brother’s family, but he and his wife are going to Hawaii this year. Bravo for them, but I don’t want to spend Thanksgiving alone.

The other day at church, I got to thinking about the circle of life. Traditionally, when the old die, young people are born to take their seats at the Thanksgiving table, so the numbers remain about the same. I have fond memories of sitting at my parents’ dining room table surrounded by grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, and cousins (see photo). As the years passed, the grandparents died and my brother and I moved up a generation as young newlyweds. While I remained childless, my brother had two children. Now he has three grandchildren who climb into his lap and play with his white beard. Our parents and the aunts and uncles are gone, but his table in California is still full. At my house, 700 miles away in Oregon, it’s just me. I’m hoping to get together with friends from church, but it’s not the same.

If I look more closely at the old photos, I see the cousin who never married or had children. I see the childless aunt and uncle who never talked about why they didn’t have kids. But they all had a place at the table. In every generation, there are some who do not have children. In my generation, that would be me. And you.

This post meanders a bit, but I wonder if it sparks any thoughts or comments from you. If you’re in the United States, how do you feel about this election and the way reproductive rights seem to be going? (Be nice. I know these issues engender strong feelings). How are you feeling about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday? Do you have a place at the family table?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

When Chronic Illness Forces a Regretful Childless Choice

We often talk here about childlessness that comes because one’s partner is unwilling, but what if that partner wants children but has health conditions that make pregnancy impossible or dangerous for mother and baby? What if you find out after you’re married?

Fans of the movie “Steel Magnolias” will remember when Shelby, the young woman played by Julia Roberts, defies her mother and her doctors and gets pregnant despite her Type 1 diabetes. When the child is a few years old, Shelby dies of kidney failure. The pregnancy was too much strain on her body. It’s melodramatic, not totally realistic, and the movie comes from an era when childless marriages were much less common, but it does shine a light on that horrible decision some people are forced to make. Do I want a baby enough to risk my own health and the baby’s?

On the Nov. 22 episode of The Full Stop podcast, three guests told their stories of health problems that forced them to give up on motherhood. Charlie Bishop has MRKH (Mayer Rokitansky Kuster Hauser) Syndrome, in which females are born with absent or underdeveloped reproductive parts. Pregnancy is not possible for the one in 5,000 women with this condition. Bishop is planning for a childless life, which includes getting married next year, travel, writing, and directing an organization called MRKH Connect, which sponsors research and offers support. She can be found across social media via @mrkhconnect.

For Palo Barker, a condition called myasthenia gravis has prevented her from even considering pregnancy. Myasthenia gravis is a chronic autoimmune, neuromuscular disease that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles. Some days, Barker says, it takes all her powers just to breathe. She is in and out of the ICU and takes high dose steroids that could harm a fetus. She is active in a group called Chronic Survivors Childless Warriors and myasthenia gravis groups in the UK. She also has a private group for Asian childless women, open by invitation only.

Steph Penny suffers from lupus, an autoimmune condition which makes the risk of miscarriage or congenital deformities too great. She has written about her own situation and that of others who are childless not by choice in her book Surviving Childlessness: Faith and Furbabies. She has also carried her message into her work as a singer-songwriter with songs like “Angel at my Keyboard”, which you can listen to at stephpenny.com.au.

While Bishop and Barker didn’t really have much of a choice, Penny says she faced what she calls a “forced choice.” When told there was a 50 percent change she would miscarry or the baby would be born with severe deformities, she and her husband decided the risk was too great. It seemed like the only rational choice.

For these women and others like them, their reasons for not having children are not visible from the outside. People may assume they don’t want kids when that is far from the truth. They face the same clueless questions and dire predictions about a lonely old age as the rest of us, but what choice do they really have?

Although the podcast guests were all women, men also deal with illness, injury, or congenital problems that make pregnancy risky. They too may face a “forced choice.”

These conditions may not show up until after one is grown and in a relationship, wanting to have children. How do you deal with this? If you’re the spouse, do you give up on having children? Do you leave and seek someone else? Or do you accept this loss together as a couple and support each other through the difficulties of the illness?

What do you think? Do you or someone you love have a chronic condition that would make pregnancy impossible or inadvisable? How do you live with that? If it was possible but risky, would you take the chance?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Halloween When You Don’t Have Children: Trick or Treat?

Parden my tardiness this week. I had a bad reaction to my Covid vaccine and was not up to posting anything here, but I feel much better now. I offer a reprise of my 2016 post, which says everything I have to say about Halloween. And no, I am not putting a costume on my dog.

It’s time for kid-centered holidays. Labor Day was no problem. But Halloween is a different story. All those kids whining about costumes and candy. All those proud parents taking pictures of their little ones dressed as pumpkins, Ninja Turtles, or whatever’s hot this year. Carving pumpkins, baking orange-frosted cupcakes, buying sugary treats to hand out at the door. It sounds exhausting.

Yesterday, I asked my hair stylist, mother of four, if she was ready for Halloween. She sighed. “Almost. I still have a few more things to do.” At that moment, I did not mind one bit that I don’t have children.

Yes, it might be fun to do Halloween with my kids. I might enjoy every minute of it. By now my children would be adults, possibly bringing their own children to my house to show their costumes to “Grandma.” I’d be posting pictures like crazy. But that’s not going to happen. Living out here in the spooky old woods, I don’t even get other people’s kids coming to the door. So I don’t have to buy candy. I still have a few of last year’s Tootsie Pops that I bought in a fit of optimism, but it’s too dark out here. If somebody knocks on the door, it might be a bear.

Remember that even if you had children, you might not see them on Halloween. My father’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all lived far away, and he didn’t see them on Halloween. Mostly he just worried about trick-or-treaters smashing his plants and trashing his yard.

I could feel sorry for myself on Halloween, but I have choices, as do you. I can go to one of the many events for children and shower them with candy and compliments about their costumes or visit someone who lives in a more child-friendly neighborhood. My late mother-in-law lived in a section of town where people brought their kids by the busload. For several years, she hid in a back room while my husband and I handed out little Hershey Bars for hours. It was fun.

If you live in civilization, you can enjoy decorating your house and yard and offering tricks and treats to the neighborhood kids. Dress up, get silly. If you don’t have a kid, be a kid.

Or put on your own costume and go party with other adults. Karaoke, anyone? Pumpkin-tinis? Dancing to “The Monster Mash?”

If someone is pushing you to watch them and their kids have fun, you can go and be the fun “auntie” or “uncle.” You can also say no, stay home, turn out the porch light and watch TV. It’s okay.

What are your plans for Halloween? Are you looking forward to it or dreading it?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

IT’S OKAY TO LIKE YOUR CHILDLESS LIFE AS IT IS

Dear friends,

In last week’s post, I was all “woe is me, I’m alone. I don’t have kids, my husband died, and here I am, injured and alone.”

Let’s look at the other side of things today. For those who missed last week’s post, a rotten board in my deck gave way, my leg went through it, and I fell backwards. I ended up with a broken rib and a leg bruised from hip to ankle. No fun, but it could have been so much worse. The incident showed me that I need a better emergency plan. I’m working on that.

Fast forward a week. My deck has been repaired. I’m healing. I can now move around without screaming, and my bruises are not as colorful anymore. In a few weeks, I’ll be as good as new. I plan to exercise like a maniac to get rid of the weight I’ve gained sitting around.

But here’s the thing. Once the original shock faded, I realized I love my life. I love my freedom. If my nonexistent grown children had rushed to the hospital, they would have insisted I could not take care of myself, that I should not live alone anymore. They would put boundaries on my freedom. Oh Mom, don’t do that. You’re too old. Too delicate. Too injured.

They would have had a fit if they saw me hanging my Halloween lights the other night. I just love colored lights, and I felt well enough to do it.

I love my freedom. Yesterday on a whim, I took myself to lunch at the nicest restaurant in town. Then I bought groceries, did some shopping, and went to the library. Back home, I walked the dog, then settled in the sunny patio to write. When I ran out of words, I played my mandolin, probably driving the neighbors crazy, but who cares? I had nobody else’s schedule to worry about, so I did what I wanted to do. This was not terrible.

My friends rallied around when they heard what happened. They brought food, flowers, and prayers. They offered rides, housecleaning help, and even a bed to sleep in if I didn’t want to be alone. I often think of myself as alone, but I have more people, than I realized, and help is available when I need it—even though I don’t have a husband or children. Of course when they need help, I need to be there for them, too.

I need to make a plan for Thanksgiving. I don’t enjoy spending holidays alone. I’m going to have to reach out, and that’s hard for me.

But sitting in the sun in the patio that I put together myself, I thought, “I love my life.” Should I feel guilty for not being sad? I don’t think so.

People who have traditional families often have to wait until retirement to pursue their passions, to write that book, take that class, or go on that trip. We don’t have to wait. We can do it now.

Some people choose not to have children. They want the freedom, the uninterrupted time, and the money they can save. They sound selfish to those of us who would happily trade all that for someone who calls us Mom or Dad. But since we’re in this situation, let’s admit that sometimes it’s not so bad.

What can you do today that you could not do if you had children? I look forward to your comments.

****

Fun book with nobody having babies:

The Chili Queen by Sandra Dallas

It’s the 1880s. Addie French is a madam in a small town in New Mexico. She has two “girls” at the moment and pitches in as needed with the gentlemen callers. She has a boyfriend in New Mexico named Ned and another unnamed boyfriend in Kansas, where she visits to shop and socialize. On the train home from Kansas, she meets Emma, an aging mail-order bride who is about to be stood up by her potential husband. Addie takes pity on her and lets her move into her boardinghouse—not as a good-time girl. Soon Emma and Ned get chummy. Ned happens to be a bank robber, and they cook up a get-rich scheme, but everything goes catawampus, with crooks tricking crooks and surprises right up to the last chapter. Do the good guys win? Well, it’s hard to tell who they are, but it doesn’t matter. This book is good to the last page.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Childless, Alone? What’s Your Emergency Plan?

3d cartoon woman falling from height, illustration isolated on white background

Last Thursday, when I walked out on my deck to take some pictures of the trees in the fog, a rotting board collapsed underneath my foot. My leg went through, and I fell backwards across the edge of the deck onto the wet lawn with my leg still stuck between the boards. I live alone. There were no neighbors within shouting distance, the young ones at work and the older ones too far away to hear me. I had been holding my phone, but it flew out of my hand and onto the grass when I fell. I had no choice but to push myself up and pull my leg out. I’m grateful I had the strength to do that. Maybe all that yoga I have done over the years helped. If I couldn’t push myself out, I don’t know what I would have done.

Thank God the leg was not broken, but it hurt, and I had this weird pain in my back. I told myself I’d go to Urgent Care the next day if it wasn’t better. I had work to do.

I was watching TV that night when I turned slightly and something in my side popped. Uh-oh. A minute later, I sneezed, felt agonizing pain, and couldn’t catch my breath. I have to go to the hospital, I thought. Something is really wrong. Carefully I put on my shoes.

Unlike the time when I drove to the ER at midnight with chest pains, which was stupid, I knew I should not drive myself. I was shaking all over and couldn’t stand up straight. I called a neighbor. She was out of town and so sorry she couldn’t help. Screw it, I thought, and dialed 911. After my first-ever ambulance ride to the hospital, X-rays showed a broken rib and contusions from hip to ankle. All they could really offer was painkillers. Everything will heal in time.

“Do you have anyone to be with you?” the nurse asked as I lay on the hospital bed in my green gown and yellow Covid mask.

“No,” I said, holding back tears.

“Do you have anyone to drive you home?”

“I thought I’d take a taxi,” I said.

She shook her head. “Since Covid, taxis are hard to get around here.” We live in a small town with no Ubers and sparse bus runs. “You’d better try to find a friend or family member to come get you.” She handed me my phone.

I wanted to cry so hard, but I held it in. I had already wept after the fall, and I would do it again, but I had to find a ride. It was midnight. Most people I knew were asleep. I called a church friend who stays up late. It was a bit of drive, but she said she was happy to do it. I waited by the door in a wheelchair. I was so glad to see her.

Then I was alone with my dog again. I couldn’t sleep, my brain reliving the fall, thinking about what could have happened. I couldn’t find a comfortable position in the bed. I’m not a fan of recliner chairs, but I wished I had one. I wished I had someone to bring me my pills. I wondered how I would change the Lidocaine patch over my ribs by myself (turns out it’s not that difficult).

The next couple days brought me a lot of attention as the word spread. Friends brought medicine, dog food, flowers and dinner. They prayed over me and assured me I am not alone, that they care. My family lives too far away to be of any immediate help, but I am blessed with great friends.

Now I’m taking care of myself. Some things are difficult, but I’m managing. The pain has been severe, but it is easing. I am so grateful that this was not the event that would send me out of my independent life and into a nursing home.

If I had children and grandchildren, like most 70-year-olds, one would expect them to rally around, sitting with me at the hospital, giving me rides, picking up my prescriptions, and dealing with my dog, who has problems of her own. But I don’t. Maybe they wouldn’t anyway. But I hope they would.

My handyman has already replaced the rotting boards in my deck and assures me it should be secure for a few more years. After days of fog, the sun is finally shining, and I will sit on my deck later.

And yes, I’m looking into those emergency-alert devices, even though I hate the whole idea of wearing one.

Meanwhile, this incident has shown me that I need a better emergency plan. I need a team of friends who are ready to go if I need help. The people are there. We just need to make it more formal, so I have names and numbers ready for me—and the hospital—if/when this happens again. In return, I will do the same for them.

I’m terrible about asking for help. Yesterday, I bought my own groceries, and I probably should not have done that. It was harder than I expected. If we create a plan, then we can feel comfortable calling on our friends when we need them. I’m going to work on that. Did you know that 27 percent of American households are occupied by people living alone? Some have kids; some don’t. We all need a plan.

Most of you are nowhere near my age, but it’s something to consider in this childless life. If you never have children and your partner is gone—even if they’re just gone for a week or a day—who will you call? How will you manage your own care, especially if you are severely injured or unconscious?

We can do this childless thing, even survive old age alone, but we need to be ready for the unexpected. I certainly never dreamed the deck would break under me. It must have been the weight of that extra chocolate chip cookie I ate the night before.

Ilustration copyright: 3dmask

***

We have received some great comments lately on recent posts. Please scroll through and take a look. Add your two cents.

***

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Without kids, what pictures go in the album?

Daughters Day. Son’s Day. Last week, social media was loaded with photos of people celebrating their children. As if Mother’s Day and Father’s Day weren’t bad enough. I had to look away.
It’s not just hard on childless people. What about those who have kids but not of that gender? Or worse, whose children have died or whom they never see?
I understand why parents take and post lots of kid pictures. It’s the same thing that makes me focus my camera on my dog all the time. They’re cute. They’re ours. We’re proud of them. We want to show them off. We want to mark the milestones and the changes as they get older. I get it. I just can’t look at it too much before I start feeling sad.

Big yellow dog with white face seen in profile in passenger seat of a car in front of the vet's office.

Photography has changed drastically since I was young, back in the days when people picked up their photos at the pharmacy or photo store, showed them to their friends, then put them in albums, labeling each picture with names and dates.

My dental hygienist, whose life revolves around her kids, said no one does photo albums anymore. True? I hardly ever print out my photos. I stopped doing albums ages ago. My pictures are not even well-organized on my phone and my computer. No one looks at them but me.

Do people still display family photos in their houses? If I had kids and grandkids, I suppose I’d have their pictures all over the place. Instead, I have paintings, knick-knacks, wall hangings, and pictures of relatives who are no longer alive.

I do have a growing accumulation of photos of my great nieces and nephew on my computer, but that’s where they stay.

For generations, my family collected photos and put them in albums. I have inherited pictures from my parents and grandparents, most of them attached to black pages with white or gold stickers slipped over the corners. They’re falling apart. I also have my modern color photos on sticky pages. Those are fading. I have scanned some of the most precious photos to share online because that’s the only place I share pictures these days.

I don’t know where my photos will go when I die. Honestly, I don’t think anyone in my family will want them. But what a tragedy to throw them away. It’s like throwing away a life.

What to do with the photo albums and other family heirlooms is one of the sticky things about not having children. If we had children, I’ll bet we would still be preserving their photos in some way, whether in a traditional album, a Facebook memory book, or a fancy scrapbook. We’d be making virtual slide shows and videos. We’d want to save all those memories and pass them down. But without children, is there any point in doing it?

When my husband died, I mailed lots of family photos to his brother and his kids. But I still have many pictures of precious times I spent with him, including those days when I felt like kind of a mom with his children around. I’m keeping those pictures for me.

Life is so transitory these days. You take a picture, post it online, get some likes and comments, and move on. Is that just the way it is now? Should I stop living in the past? Does it matter that Facebook and Instagram are bound to disappear as technology changes?

What about you? Do the happy family photos online bother you? Do you save your photos in albums or hang them on the wall? Most of my pictures are scenery, dogs, or selfies. Without kids, what do you photograph? Do you have a photo collection? Where will it go when you’re gone?

I look forward to your comments.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.