I’ve Got the Qualified for Medicare Blues

This morning, after I changed my calendars to the new month, I slipped my shiny new Medicare card and my new Blue Shield Medicare prescription card into my wallet. Although my birthday isn’t until next week, the change in health insurance starts today. This is not something I volunteered for. I was perfectly happy with regular Blue Shield. When you turn 65, the U.S. government requires you to switch whether you want to or not. Now I don’t know what is covered and what is not, and I’m not thrilled with the implication that as of today I am old.

Having no children or grandchildren, I don’t have the usual markers of aging. Surely experiences like raising children or watching your daughter give birth mark your progress along the track of life, but that hasn’t happened. No one is coming up behind me with my name and my DNA, nudging me into seniorhood. In many ways, I don’t feel grown up at all. When I see an accurate photograph of myself, I think there must have been a mistake. I get that I’m not the slim, long-haired vixen of 1972, but who is this motherly-looking person staring back at me? And why is she two inches shorter than she used to be? I can tell myself all day long that our bodies are just containers for our spirits, which are ageless, but it’s hard to believe when I’m pretty sure everybody else sees the old woman, not the young spirit. They also think I’m “retired,” but that term is meaningless in my profession.

My birthday, next Thursday, scares the hell out of me. Will I end up celebrating it alone? God, please, not again this year. When I was young and married to a man with a day job, I would typically run away somewhere for the day, a park, a historical monument, a zoo, someplace to explore on my own, then reunite that evening with husband and family for birthday dinner, cake and presents. If this blasted winter weather ever clears up, I could still run away for the day, but there’s no one waiting for me when I get home. That, my friends, is the hell of being childless, widowed and alone.

But nobody knows what’s going to happen in life. I could have had six children and 13 grandchildren and had none of them stick around. Fred could still be alive but not healthy enough to do anything. Or I could be the one who is not healthy and not able to enjoy my birthday. My father will turn 95 on May 1, two months from now. If my brother and I can’t get away from work to make the trip to San Jose, he might be alone, too, despite having two children, two grandchildren and a growing flock of great-grandchildren. You don’t know. Nobody knows.

One of the comments on my recent post about religion noted that the writer believes her life is turning out the way God planned it. I suspect mine is, too. And so will yours. I don’t know if you believe in God or destiny or anything that controls what happens in your life. (Do you? Tell us about it in the comments.) But nobody gives us a copy of the plan, the one that says, at 22, she’ll marry and at 28, that marriage will end in divorce, or at 33, he’ll announce that he doesn’t want kids and you’ll have to decide whether or not to leave him, and you will decide . . . what will you decide?

My therapist, who recently retired, urges clients to do what they’re “drawn to.” In other words, what feels right, what pulls you in, what does your gut say? People ask me what they should do when their partner waffles on the baby question. I really don’t know. I know what I did. Was it a mistake or was that the plan all along?

I know without question that God made me a writer and a musician. I was doing both from a very young age, even though I came from a working class family that did not understand or support the arts. I’m still a writer and a musician with a long history of achievements in both areas. I am not at all sure I could have done those things while raising children. Perhaps I am living the plan, and my solitude at 65 will lead to my best work yet.

Back to you. If you don’t have kids, you could wind up alone. Or you could wind up surrounded by friends, family, stepfamily, co-workers, neighbors, and fans, so many people you wish they would leave you alone. Nobody knows. However it turns out, you will deal with it. Will you regret it if you don’t have children? Yes, sometimes you will. But will there be other rewards? Yes, I’m sure of it.

Because it’s my birthday month, I’m offering you a present. A native American friend of mine has demonstrated the glory of the potlatch, where she showers her friends with gifts on her birthdays. I could never match her generosity, but I am offering a major book sale. For the month of March, you can buy paperback copies of Childless by Marriage, Shoes Full of Sand, Freelancing for Newspapers, and the original edition of my novel Azorean Dreams for $6.50 each, including shipping and handling. That’s less than half price. The first five people to order will also receive a copy of The Dog Ate It, a limited-edition chapbook full of poems and photos about dogs. To order these books at the special price, go to this page at my suelick.com website. Do not go to Amazon.com, where they are still charging full price. This does not apply to my e-books. They are already deeply discounted. Help me clear out the old books to make room for the new ones to come.

Thank you for being part of the conversation here. You are a wonderful gift to me every day of the year.

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Where have all the grandmas gone?


Last Sunday, I had one singer in my church choir for the early Mass. Everyone else had gone out of town to be with grandchildren. Cathy and I, not mothers or grandmothers, stayed behind. This is not unusual. Most of our singers are over 60, and most of them are grandparents. Although they like to sing and are devoted to the church, when it’s a choice between the baby and the music, the baby wins every time.
I can’t blame them. If my life were different, if I had children and grandchildren, I’d want to be with them, too. I might live somewhere else to be near them, and I might not have this choir director job that keeps me busy every weekend. I’d be busy with the kids. Or maybe not. Some families don’t get along, don’t live close to each other, don’t find time to be in each other’s lives.
I definitely see the charm of these new little people and feel left out sometimes. Monday was my birthday. I spent it alone. It was not terrible. I drove out of town, did some shopping, had an expensive lunch overlooking the ocean, sat on the beach, and hiked in a wildlife preserve. I got lots of calls and texts wishing me Happy Birthday. But if there were children or grandchildren, maybe I’d have been one of those moms at the restaurant surrounded by their family. I’d be the matriarch looking at the ever-growing dynasty that began with me and my husband: the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, their spouses and their in-laws. Heck, maybe we’d need a whole banquet room. But then I wouldn’t have been able to sit on the beach, write, take pictures and relax. Or enjoy my crab-stuffed salmon in peace. So don’t feel sorry for me.
You who are reading this are probably younger than me, so things may be different when you’re in your 60s. A recent AARP article gave statistics for what they see as “the new grandmothers.” They say 47 is the average age of the first-time grandparent and 62 percent are still working. Those numbers are bound to change with the next generation as they did for the one before me. My mother and my grandmother quit working paid jobs in their early 20s when they got pregnant with their first children. Honestly, at my age they were a lot older. They’d never run off on their own like I did.
Today many women don’t get pregnant until their late 30s or early 40s, so they’ll be much older if/when the grandchildren come. A higher percentage will be still working. And at least a fifth, possibly a quarter, of today’s young women are not having children, so fewer of them will be running off to hang out with the grandkids. People without children will feel less left out because they’ll have plenty of company.
Cathy and I, the non-moms, rocked those songs at church. One of the fussiest people in our parish sent me a note saying the music was just beautiful on Sunday. So there.