When people assume we have children

I sit in a windowless conference room at a Doubletree Inn listening to yet another speaker talk about finding time to write. Children, especially little ones, seem to be the biggest obstacle for most. So needy, so 24/7. You can get up before sunrise or write late at night. Write while they’re at school or napping. Write in waiting rooms or on the bleachers during their sports events. Hire a babysitter for an hour. Steal whatever time you can.

My mind wanders off. I know all that. I just never needed to worry about it. I never had a baby to take care of. By the time my youngest stepson moved in, he was old enough to take care of himself—and he preferred it that way. In one of my favorite memories, Michael trooped through the house with his friends. As they passed my office, where I was writing, he said, “There’s my mom. She’s a writer.”

Sure, there were school activities, Boy Scouts and such, but they were no big intrusion on my work. I wrote for three different newspapers and worked on the novel du-jour unfettered. Ironically, the walls of my office those first few years of full-time step-motherhood were wallpapered with Care Bears. I suppose the room was intended as a nursery. I enjoyed looking at the bears while I nurtured words instead of babies.

Husbands can be a bigger interruption. They need attention, too, but for me, husband number one was never around, and husband number two found it amusing when I raced off to throw words on paper. He had his own work during the week and on weekends, it was football all day long. When he got sick with Alzheimer’s Disease, finding time was more difficult. I wrote after he went to bed, while he was watching football, or while his caregivers took him to lunch. I talked my stories into a voice recorder in the car. I got it done.

Back at the Doubletree, the speaker drones on and on. He assumes we all have children and spouses to care for, that we are all just like him, but we’re not. We might wish we were, but we didn’t ease into a “normal” family situation like he did. We don’t have family dinners, soccer games, and trips to the beach. We don’t buy school clothes, throw kid birthday parties, or nurse children with chicken pox. It’s just us, writing, and we’d like him to please change the subject.

People assume. A childless Facebook friend recently told about how an older woman started talking to her at a coffee shop. The woman gushed about her six grandchildren, then asked the writer how many grandchildren she had. She had to admit she had none, which brought the conversation to an awkward halt. She found the encounter terribly unsetting. You all would understand. But the grandmother didn’t mean any harm. She just assumed that all women of a certain age have grandchildren.

We don’t. With one out of five of women not having children, there are a lot of us who don’t have grandchildren either. Hey world, stop assuming.

A few days before Easter, I made the mistake of going out to lunch at one of our most popular local diners. It was spring break, and people were lined up waiting for tables. Lots of kids. So many kids. When I went to the restroom, I found myself waiting with a woman in her 30s. We could hear a mom in one of the two stalls talking to her kids. We heard yelling and whining. It took forever. When they came out, the other woman and I stared. She had three girls under the age of four in that little stall.

When the door shut behind them, the woman said, “My worst nightmare.”

I nodded. “Really.” This was not the time to explain my childless situation.

We rushed to use the empty stalls. She probably assumed I was a mom. I assumed she didn’t want children, but when I came out, her husband and son were waiting for her.

Never assume.

The good news is I’m free to write here in my bathrobe for as long as I choose and then share it with you while my dog takes a nap . . . Oops. Here’s the dog, needing attention. Yesterday she chewed half a pen, and I still don’t know where the other half went. Gotta go.

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A Safe Place for the Childless Not by Choice

Dear friends,

Lately in the comments, a few people have been sniping at each other. That’s not good. We get enough of that in the rest of the world. As childless people, we face questions, disapproval, accusations, and folks who can’t resist giving you unwanted advice. Right? Let’s not do that here.

Last week we talked about how some of us—maybe all of us—sometimes keep quiet about our childless status because we don’t want to deal with the reactions. We’d rather blend in and let the parent people think we’re just like them. We don’t want them coming at us with why, what’s wrong with you, etc. Most of us don’t know how  to explain or justify our situation because we’re not sure how it happened or what to do about it. We’re still trying to figure it out. There aren’t any easy answers.

Of course, I’m talking about those of us who have not chosen to be childless, who are hurting over their childless status. The childless-by-choice crowd sometimes gets pretty militant about their choice: Never wanted kids, happy about the situation, feel sorry for you breeders who want to waste your bodies, money and time adding to the world’s overpopulation. Get over it, and enjoy your childfree life. But how can you when you feel a gaping emptiness inside?

In an ideal world, we would all accept each other’s choices, but the world is not ideal. We feel left out, guilty, ashamed, angry, and hurt. We need a safe place. Let this be one. If someone asks for advice—and many readers do—chime in, but we need to support each other’s decisions once they’re made. Don’t add to the hurt. And if a certain gentleman wants to leave his childless older wife for a young, fertile woman who will give him a family, ease up on him. We women might resent some of his sexist comments, but we don’t know what it’s like for him. He’s aching for children just like we are. And sir, don’t be knocking older women. Some of us take that personally. 🙂

Let’s try to be kind here. I am grateful for every one of you. Hang in there.

P.S. Easter was brutal for me. All those kids in Easter outfits. All those happy families while I was alone. Luckily I spent so much time playing music at church that I was too tired to care by Sunday afternoon. How was it for you?

Bye-bye, Baby Pictures

Does seeing baby pictures all over Facebook and other social media drive you nuts? I often read comments here and elsewhere from childless/childfree people who can’t stand looking at other people’s baby pictures. Either they don’t enjoy babies or looking at these photos hurts because they can’t have them.

It’s not just online, of course. We can’t do much about our friends and relatives who insist on showing us pictures of their children and grandchildren. These days, they don’t need actual photos; they just click them up on their smart phones and make you look. Then of course, you feel pressured to say something complimentary about the wee one. Is it only me or are some babies plum ugly?

Sometimes friends start to realize you don’t want to see their baby pictures, but they get all huffy about it. Don’t show it to Sue. She’s not interested. Or Don’t show it to Sue. She hates babies. Not true. Babies are amazing, but I admit that I get more of a warm squishy feeling looking at puppy pictures.

Anyway, in some online situations now, you can get rid of the baby pictures. At http://www.unbaby.me, you can download a program that replaces baby images with dogs or a tropical beach or whatever makes you happy. Apparently it only works for the Google Chrome operating system so far, but it might be worth a try if you can’t handle anymore baby pix. Go to the website and try it just for giggles.

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Dame Helen and me:

I woke up to a pleasant surprise the other morning when Sarah Rainey, a writer for the UK’s Daily Telegraph, e-mailed me for an interview. She had 20 minutes before deadline, and by the miracles of the Internet, I was able to receive her questions and send back answers in time to be included in her article. That article, which focuses on childless actress Dame Helen Mirren, is now online, titled “Helen Mirren confronts the final female taboo.”  I’m so flattered to be in such elegant company, and I think you will enjoy the article.