Does Not Having Children Make Us Younger Than Our Years?

Today is my birthday. I’m 70 years old. OMG, right? What can I possibly share with readers so much younger than I am? But I don’t think or feel as old as that number seems to signify. I know I’m not young. I know I have lived many lives, but in my heart I start fresh every day.

My younger brother talks like he’s minutes from the nursing home and the grave. I adore my brother, but I want to smack him and say, “You’re too young to be so old!” Does he feel older because he has adult children and grandchildren? I have seen this in other parents, too. Are the rumors that childless people are immature true?

When I was researching my Childless by Marriage book, I asked people if they thought not having children made us less mature than parents. The answers varied from “They’re the immature ones” to “I refuse to grow up.” Having children is certainly not the only way to learn the lessons of life. By my age, most of us have experienced caregiving and loss with their parents and other family members. That stuff grows you up in a hurry. The grief of the growing list of losses, including the children we never had, can eat you up if you let it. All we can do is have a good cry and move on.

My childless friends seem more youthful and more active. Why? Is it that we have missed the milestones of graduations, weddings (and divorces), and grandbabies being born? Maybe we have simply had more time to take care of ourselves. Maybe we don’t have anyone to remind us that we’re the older generation and the kids are the new and improved model. What do you think? Does not having children make us less mature?

Another aspect of having a milestone birthday with no children or grandchildren is you may not have any family around to help you celebrate. When my aunt turned 70, her children threw her a huge party. I knew that wouldn’t happen for me this year. Even with kids, COVID might have prevented it. I have spent some sad birthdays alone, and I was determined not to do that this year. I stewed about this a lot, then woke up one day with a plan. 

I went to church this morning, Catholics offering Mass almost every day. I thought it was good to bring God into the celebration. Then I went on a hike on a section of the Oregon Coast Trail that’s known around here as the 804 Trail. It follows a rocky coastline with wild waves and stunning views. The path was muddy and the air was drizzly, but I enjoyed it, happily greeting the people and dogs I passed, feeling strong and free. 

Afterward, I parked by the Alsea River outside Waldport and played my recorder, badly, just because I wanted to. I followed that by having a 2 ½-hour lunch with friends whom I invited to the restaurant of my choice, the Salty Dawg. It’s downhome and friendly, and I like it. The waitress sang happy birthday, a friend gave me flowers, and I pigged out on a Reuben sandwich, fries, and chocolate lava cake. I had so much sugar and caffeine I may never sleep. But it’s my birthday, and I did it my way.

Back at home, I took the dog on a long walk, talked on the phone with family and friends and enjoyed an online poetry reading. You do you, the obnoxious saying goes. I did me. As a childless woman with no one taking over my day, I was free to do that. 

Do I feel 70? No. Well, my knees do, and my hair is graying very quickly now. But otherwise, no, I feel the same as I did at 40, 50, 60, and yesterday. 

Not having offspring to celebrate your special days is both sad and wonderful at the same time. Yes, it would be nice having a daughter bake me a birthday cake, maybe have grandchildren singing to me in their squeaky voices or helping me blow out the candles. But I was able to take charge of my own birthday and do it my way. I choose to be happy about that.

I welcome your comments. Know that I treasure your presence. 

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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.

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

My birthday wish and a poem

Dear friends,
Today is my birthday. I wish I had a big family to spend it with, but I don’t. Instead, I have a wonderful friend who will join me for a walk along the beach then take me to lunch. Later I will lead the choir and play the piano at church. It looks like a sunny day here on the Oregon Coast, so I am blessed.

You know what would make me really happy? If lots of people would buy my books, not only Childless by Marriage, but also Shoes Full of Sand, Stories Grandma Never Told, Azorean Dreams, and Freelancing for Newspapers. These are my offspring.You can get them all at Amazon.com.

Finally, I’m going to share a poem with you. I have been working on various forms of poetry. This one is called a Triolet. It’s eight lines in which you repeat the first line in the fourth and seventh line and the second line in the last line. The first, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh lines rhyme and the second sixth and eighth lines rhyme. It’s like doing a puzzle with no clues. So here’s one attempt:

Dog Mom
The dog is running in her sleep,
whimpering as she dreams here in my lap,
climbing a mountain rough and steep.
The dog is running in her sleep.
Chased by lions? Herding sheep?
I stroke her soft fur as she naps.
The dog is running in her sleep,
whimpering as she dreams here in my lap.

You are a great gift to me, not only on my birthday, but every day.  Have a wonderful weekend. Your questions and comments are always welcome.