Who will we teach our favorite songs?

I lay awake half the night trying to figure out how to write this without seeming totally sorry for myself and bumming you out. How do I put a positive spin on it, show how you and I can make the best of our childless situation? I can offer some suggestions, but you and I know anything we do as a substitute for what we might do with our own children is just a . . . substitute.

Friends had been urging me for months to play at a local open mic that happens on Friday nights in a nearby small town. I finally hauled my guitar down there. It’s in the former cafeteria of a former middle school that got moved up the hill due to tsunami worries. Now a program for the poor uses the building.

When I walked in, a man I knew stood at the mic with his three-year-old son next to him pretending to strum a yellow ukulele with a smiley face on it. I have watched this child, Evan, grow from a swaddled blob to a boy who can walk, talk and sing. His dad, Tom, a banjo player, has brought him to song circles and open mics and always included Evan in the act. Evan still can’t really play, but he knows all the old folk and bluegrass songs that Tom plays.

Shortly after Tom and Evan, Tony, a man my age, took the stage with his grown son. I didn’t even know he had a son, but there he was, handsome, with a good voice, singing in harmony with his dad. That’s what got me.

I have been a solo act forever. My parents didn’t do music, rarely came to hear me perform. I became a musician in spite of them, not because of them. When I hear about families that do singalongs in the car or go caroling at Christmas, I am so jealous. I always thought if I had children, I could share my love of music with them. We would do the singalongs. I’d pay for whatever lessons they wanted, teach them all my songs, and create my own little band.

I had a taste of it when my husband was alive and my youngest stepson spent time with us. Fred and I sang with a vocal ensemble. For our Christmas gigs, Michael would put on a white shirt and a red bow tie and join us, singing next to me, his little-boy voice higher than mine. Oh, that was sweet. I tried to teach him a little piano, but his mother didn’t agree that he needed lessons.

Oh, and there was the Christmas when the step-granddaughters sat with me at the piano to do the “Little Drummer Boy” and other carols. They were as enchanted by the music as I was. It was heaven. I don’t know where either of those girls is now, but I’m lucky we had those moments.

Back at the open mic, watching Tony and his son, I wanted to cry, even though overall I enjoyed the evening and plan to go back this week. I will continue to be the solo act.

I know children don’t always share your interests. They might reject them altogether. And I might not have the patience to deal with little kids spoiling my act, singing off key, and repeating the same phrases over and over while they learn. They might be more interested in their smart phones than in anything I wanted them to do. But how sweet it would be if we could sing in harmony together.

I would also want to share my religion, my politics, and my ways of doing things. But children are their own people. You hope that a little rubs off, but there are no guarantees.

Enough fantasizing, right? We don’t have children, but we can share our talents and our joys with other people’s kids. It might not be music; it might be football, classic cars, art or graphic novels.

For me, it’s music. This school year’s religious education program begins tonight at our church. I will lead the singing and teach the kids some songs that are new to them but were old when I learned them. I didn’t learn them from my parents but from the nuns at St. Martin’s Church.

We can pass what we know to unlimited numbers of children and young adults by teaching, leading, coaching, and being their older friends. They won’t be our own, but it’s still our legacy, and it still counts.

I thank you for being here and welcome your comments.

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Book Takes the Worry Out of Aging Without Children

Essential Retirement Planning for Solo Agers: A Retirement and Aging Roadmap for Single and Childless Adults by Sara Zeff Geber, PhD. Mango Publishing, 2018.

Oh boy. I have a lot of work to do. But this is a clear-cut guidebook to getting things in order for old age, making sure you have enough money, good health, good friends, a happy retirement, and a plan for what to do when a crisis hits. These are not cheery topics, but Geber, a certified retirement coach, gives you all the facts, everything from how to retire in another country to “green” burials, along with charts and questionnaires to help you get organized. She includes the success stories and the less-than-successful stories of seniors who faced the challenges of aging. It’s all well-written, sympathetic and realistic.

Geber does not talk much about childlessness. When she does, she emphasizes childlessness by choice, not by marriage. Her couples are happily dancing through life without kids. But she makes it clear that with or without children, with or without a spouse, sooner or later most of us will end up alone. Especially women. Almost half of women over 65 live alone, she says. While 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, 2,000 of them don’t have children.

Although we all know having children is no guarantee you’ll have someone to take care of you in old age, Geber writes that blood relatives have always been the only source of “morally obligated support in later life,” and most do get involved. Lacking offspring, we need to seek other options.

One thing that struck me was the set of diagrams near the beginning of the book that show two types of networks readers might have. One, for parents, shows the parent in the middle, with circles branching out listing children and grandchildren and their spouses and in-laws, siblings, nieces and nephews, and other family, with just a few other circles for friends. The network of a “solo ager” (does anyone else hate that term?) has far fewer circles for family, most of the circles occupied by friends and community. In my heart, I immediately wanted the parent network, but that’s not going to happen.

Geber stresses that if you don’t have a lot of people in your circles, you need to get some. They should be younger than you are so they’ll still be alive and well when you need help. She offers suggestions for connecting with new people. It sounds crass, like purposely networking to recruit helpers, but I guess we need to think about it. If we have a handful of friends who will take care of things for us, who needs children?

I know. In a perfect world, I’d have children and so would you. No amount of retirement planning will take away the sting of times like the funeral I attended yesterday where the widow sat with her beautiful children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, enough to fill three pews in the church. Who will sit at my funeral? My friends, that’s who.

I know most of you are much younger than I am and don’t even want to think about this stuff yet, but someday you’ll need to. This book can help you get everything set up so you don’t have to worry about aging without children. As you struggle to decide what to do about babies, this can be one less thing to worry about.

As always, I welcome your comments.

I also really thank you for the great comments you have been submitting about my last post, “Would Just One Child Be Enough?” Follow the link to check out what people have been saying and keep the discussion going.

 

Would Just One Child Be Enough?

Something has been niggling around in my mind this week. So many times here, we talk about having “a child,” about trying to get our partners to agree to have one baby, or about struggling with IVF to have “a baby.” But when we were young and dreaming about having “a family,” didn’t that include multiple children? Don’t most people who want to be parents have least two? We didn’t fantasize about being a mother duck with just one duckling swimming along behind us, did we?

What if, God forbid, something happens to that one little duck?

While many of us are just trying to deal with the fact that we’ll never have children, others are fighting to have at least one child before they’re too old, with partners who are reluctant at best. I started this at 3 a.m., but now in the bright morning light, I’m thinking this is nonsense. How can we stay with someone who has such a drastically different view of life? But maybe that’s just my lack of sleep talking.

Think about it. If we succeed in squeezing one baby out of this relationship, that child will be an “only child.” Much has been written over the years about the disadvantages and advantages for children with no siblings. Experts warn they may be selfish and self-centered loners who identify more with adults than with other children. Others say it’s great because they get all of their parents’ attention, and there are plenty of other kids in the world to hang out with.

I have one younger brother. He drove me nuts when we were growing up, but he’s a treasured friend now—and the person I have entrusted with my care and finances if/when I become disabled or die. He has carried a lot of the burden of caring for our father. I wish I had more siblings, especially a sister, but my parents felt their family was complete once they had one girl and one boy. My brother is the only person in the world who shares the same history and the same family, and I can’t imagine life without him.

So why are we weeping and grieving as we try to convince our mates to have just one child when what we really want is at least two? Often the discussion is happening so late biologically that our only hope is to have twins.

In “The Case Against Having Only One Child,” Elizabeth Gehrman, herself an only child, reports that the percentage of mothers who have only one child has doubled, from 11 percent in 1976 to 22 percent. She credits dual-career couples, the cost of raising a child, and having only one child becoming more accepted. But she advises parents considering having just one not to do it. There is no relationship like the one has with siblings, and it can be a lonely life with no brothers or sisters.

On the positive side, Carol Burnett, Laura Bush, Chelsea Clinton, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Charles Lindbergh, Joe Montana, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Frank Sinatra, and Robin Williams were all only children, and they turned out pretty well.

So I have to ask. Maybe one child works for you, but is it fair to the child, especially in these days when couples are waiting longer to have children, which means their offspring will lose their parents at a younger age and may not have a chance to know their grandparents at all? Who will they turn to?

Perhaps this is a non-issue. Perhaps some of you reading this are “only children” and glad about it. I’m just saying it’s something to consider when you’re struggling to get acceptance of even one child. What would it take to have more than one? Is that even an option? And if you have to beg your partner, why are you with him or her? We come back to the essential question: which do you want more, him/her or children? We shouldn’t have to choose, but sometimes we do.

Remember Heavy Heart, the reader whose comment we discussed a couple weeks ago? She had decided she would ask her husband one more time if he was willing to have a baby, and if he said no, she was going to leave. Well, she reported that he “wasn’t 100 percent,” but he agreed to start trying to get pregnant. So that’s good news, but I think her situation is what got me thinking about this only child business.

So it’s your turn. What do you think? I know many of you are thinking you would be over-the-moon just to have one baby, but would you feel bad about not having more?

Please comment.

Here are some more articles on only children:

“Raising an Only Child”

Thirteen Things Everyone Should Know About Only Children”

“A Note to Mothers of Only Children–from an Only Child Herself”

 

 

 

Can a not-mom get teenagers singing?

I’m in big trouble, I thought. As part of my job as a church music minister, I was asked to lead “campfire songs” at a bonfire party Sunday night for the teens in the religious education program. “You know, campfire songs,” I was told. But I had no idea what to sing. Not only had I not gone to camp as a kid or as a parent chaperoning kids, but I had no idea what songs young people sing today.

I had only a brief mothering experience back in the ‘90s when my stepson and his friends wandered in and out of the house. I visit the middle school only for the annual quilt show and haven’t been in the high school since I stopped teaching adult ed writing classes there a decade ago. I knew I couldn’t do the little-kid songs I sang with the kindergarten-fifth-grade group, and they probably wouldn’t like the old folk songs I did with my grandparent-age friends. They’d be looking for something off the radio, and I’d be offering “Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley.” Did they know “This Land is Your Land” or “Funiculi Funicula”?

If I had teenagers in my life—they’d probably be my grandchildren at this point—maybe I’d know what songs they sing. I might even have taught the songs to them. But childless as I am, I was screwed.

Wrong. It was a blast. (Do kids still say that?) It wasn’t quite a bonfire. It rained, unexpected on the Oregon coast in August, so we met indoors in one of the church classrooms, sitting in a circle. I had brought my Rise Up Singing songbook with a long list of possibilities to try, and one of the tech-savvy teachers projected the words on a screen. It turned out this group, all boys, was willing to try anything. I may not have known them, but they remembered me singing to them when they were little. They knew some of the songs, but sang along even with the ones they didn’t know. They were horrified at the violence in “The Cat Came Back,” slogged through all 12 verses of “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” slaughtered “La Bamba,” and cracked up at “Drunken Sailor.” We simmered down with “Prayer of St. Francis.” The time flew by. My face hurt from laughing. I never once thought about being childless.

After the music, it was time to make S’mores on a barbecue grill under the overhang outside the building. The boys walked around with flaming marshmallows and competed to make the tallest, most outrageous combination of graham crackers, chocolate bars, and marshmallows. Did I need to chide them about fire or the mess they were making? Heck, no. I’m not their mom.

They don’t know I don’t have kids, nor do they care. I’m just Sue, who does music. I don’t mind that at all. In fact, I want to do more of this.

I share this story because I know we all worry about what we’re missing, how we might have regrets, and how we might end up being clueless around young people. Don’t worry. It will work out if you let it.

****

We have gotten many great comments on last week’s post in response to Heavy Heart’s struggle to decide whether or not to leave her husband after he changed his mind about having children. Please take a look and join the discussion. This is essence of what being childless by marriage is all about.

Should she leave her childless marriage?

Dear readers,

In response to last week’s post regarding regret if we choose our mate over having children, Heavy Heart wrote:

“First of all thank you for posting this as I would like to hear advice from the ladies who remained childless past their child bearing age. I am going to be 36 years old very soon, married to a man who has a 10 year old son. We agreed on having our own child when we first stated our serious relationship 5 years ago. Fast forward 5 years – Now married for 3 years, bio mom drama subsided, financials are more stable. My husband says his life is finally “good.” —– um…can we now start planning for our child?? My husband has been avoiding the conversation as much as he can. Excuses excuses and excuses. I am very close to asking him “YES or NO” and if the NO is the final answer, leaving him, but I can’t get to that final answer and I don’t want to hear that final answer…. He says he is on the fence because of the financial burden of having two children because he has to take care of his son first before having his second. He knows it’s “unfair” if he said no and he knows that I will probably leave him so he is avoiding the conversation all together.”

In responding to Heavy Heart, something suddenly clicked in my head. If they had the kind of relationship meant to last forever, she wouldn’t think about leaving. I know that for me, leaving Fred was not an option. He was my person, period.

So I ask you: Is the marriage already too shaky to last if one of the partners is thinking about leaving for any reason, especially if they’re giving their spouse an ultimatum: Say yes, I stay, say no, and I’m gone? And what about the husband in this case? People do change their minds, but they had a deal. Does he not love her enough to stick with that deal?

Heavy Heart, if you’re reading this, I hope it’s okay that I’m sharing your comment more widely. You are not alone in this situation. I hear variations of the same story all the time. One of the partners balks at having children, despite having agreed to them earlier, and now the other is thinking about leaving, wondering if they can find someone else who is more willing before it’s too late.

Me, I want to scream at Heavy Heart’s husband, and I want to go back to simpler times. I have asked my father about deciding to have children. His answer is always that, “You just did.” In those years shortly after World War II before birth control was easy to get, people got married and had babies, period.

So what do you think? What is your advice for Heavy Heart?

***

My dog Annie had her knee surgery last Thursday. I have been in full caregiver mode since then, doling out pills, watching to make sure she doesn’t tear up her incision, taking her on short, careful walks, and just sitting with her. Right now, she’s snoring beside my desk. You can read more about her situation at my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

 

 

 

Can we stay happy without kids or spouse?

“I’m in My 40s, Child-Free and Happy. Why Won’t Anyone Believe Me?” by Glynnis MacNicol, July 5, 2018 NY Times

Dear readers,

The article listed above that appeared in the New York Times last month shows how differently people can feel about living a life without children, and in MacNicol’s case, also without a husband. At 40, she claims she loves the freedom of being single and has plenty of connections with other people, including many children who think of her as “Auntie Glynnis.” Yet when she dined with a famous author, hoping to discuss literature, he couldn’t get past the fact that she was alone.

Other women a little older warn her that she’s going to change her mind and dive into fertility treatments in a few years. She will regret her choices.

Go ahead and read it now if you want. Then come back here.

Ah, regrets. People ask here all the time whether they’ll regret it if they never have children. I can’t answer that question. Maybe, like MacNicol, they will relish the freedom to travel, work, socialize, and never have to order a “Happy meal” at McDonald’s or pay for someone else’s college education. Maybe in the case of people who are childless by marriage, they will be forever glad that they chose their partner and look forward to growing old together. Or maybe one day they’ll wake up sobbing because they missed their chance to be parents. I don’t know. We’re all different. And I think we experience different feelings at different times. I know sometimes I’m relieved I don’t have children, while at other times, it breaks my heart.

How do you know when you’re young how you’re going to feel after decades more of life? This may seem off-topic, but I watch “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor in Paradise” and all those trashy shows. God knows why. It seems like someone is crying in every episode. After two dates, they’re in love, and if they don’t get a rose, they’re heartbroken. They’re ready to devote their lives to people they barely know. Most are in their 20s and early 30s. I think about the people in my life who are that age, and I think, “They’re so young. They have no idea what they really want.” Actually, I believe what most of the people on these shows want is simply to be on TV and all the finding-someone-to-love business is a sham, but you know what I mean.

Now, if you’re that age, don’t be insulted. You do know a lot, and I wish I still had your energy. I’m just saying you’ll know more later. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I felt wise and grown up, even though I looked very young with my long hair and miniskirts. People I encountered in my work as a newspaper reporter often questioned whether I was old enough to do the job. I’d plant my hands on my skinny hips and assure them I was a college graduate, I was married, and I was a professional journalist.

I was all that, but looking back, I had a lot to learn about writing, and my first marriage was a mistake from the get-go. A wiser woman would have seen the warning signs. I would have been better off following MacNicol’s example, at least for a while. But we were at an age when society said we needed to get married, so we did. Did I worry about regretting it later? No. I was ecstatic. I expected our love to last forever.

I made my choice based on the information I had at the time. That’s all any of us can do. We’re not robots. We can’t program our feelings or predict how they might change. Maybe MacNicol will change her mind. But right now, she loves her life. For all anyone knows, she always will. Who are we—or that famous author–to say otherwise?

What do you think?

  • Do you worry about regretting your choices, especially about having children, when you get older?
  • Do people in your life warn you that you’ll change your mind?
  • Is there any way to guard against making a mistake?

I welcome your comments.

‘Motherhood’explores childless questions

Motherhood by Sheila Heti, Henry Holt & Co., 2018

Should I have a baby or not? That’s the question the narrator asks in this new book which is billed as a novel but reads more like a 300-page essay. The unnamed narrator is divorced and living with a man named Miles, who already has a daughter and is not eager to have more children. But he leaves the decision up to her. If she really wants a child, he says he’ll go along with it.

So many readers here have partners who have stated very clearly that there will be no children with them. What if instead they said, “I don’t want them, but if you do, go ahead.” What should you do?

The woman in the book has always leaned toward not having children, so you and I may not identify with her feelings. But now, as she approaches 40, she asks all the questions the rest of us ask. Once I stopped thirsting for a story, I became interested in the narrator’s musings.

As a childless woman, I have asked these questions of myself. For example: What is a woman’s purpose if she does not have children? Is our work as important as having children? Will our lives be diminished if we never experience motherhood? Should the instinct to procreate overrule everything else? Why do we have uteruses if we’re never going to use them? Do I really want children, or do I just feel left out because my friends and relatives have them? Why is it okay for a man not to have children, but “the woman who doesn’t have a child is looked at with the same aversion and reproach as a grown man who doesn’t have a job. Like she has something to apologize for.”

The narrator seeks answers in dreams, psychic readings, talks with her friends and dialogues with the coins of the I Ching. She finds her answer in the end.

I don’t enjoy unusual book forms. There are places in Motherhood where I’m not sure what’s going on, and I personally hate that. I like my novels straightforward and easy to understand, but you might disagree. Heti has gotten as many five-star reviews as one-star ratings.  If you read it, please share your thoughts on this book.

Meanwhile, let’s consider just one of the questions asked here: What is a woman’s purpose if she doesn’t have children, if she doesn’t connect one generation to the next?

***

Last week’s post, which included the question of whether people who have children should be allowed to participate at Childless by Marriage, drew some heat. No way. Keep those mommies out of here, a few readers indicated. They feel this is our private space where we shouldn’t have to deal with people who don’t understand how we feel. You’re right. I don’t want to mess that up.

But I would counter that the woman who sparked the question was childless for a long time and does understand, that she didn’t forget everything when she gave birth. But I hear you. I approve or disapprove every comment that comes in. I will be very careful and aware of your feelings before I click “approve.” I treasure you all.