Lost in the Baby Section at Christmas

I did something crazy yesterday. I let the checker at Fred Meyer think I had a close connection to the baby for whom I was buying a Christmas present, a piece of clothing I hope his foster mother, my niece, will like. And please God let it fit. We joked about how he was too young to be “running around” in it, and he wouldn’t be able to speak his objections because he doesn’t talk yet. Ha, ha. Happy grandma me, right? The checker doesn’t know me. I could be a loving grandmother happily buying gifts for my little guy.

As if. I am so lost in the baby section. I don’t know what sizes to get, what’s easy to put on and what’s not, what will last and what will fall apart or be outgrown in a month. I bought some books for my great-niece because my sister-in-law says she’s a big reader, but I don’t know what books she already has. I don’t know what books are appropriate for a two-year-old. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m about as comfortable in the baby department as I am at the hardware store. In both places, I’m sure somebody’s going to figure out I don’t belong and chase me away.

Baby stuff is cute. All those tiny outfits and all those clever toys. I was charmed by a big rabbit with buttons all over. When you push each one, it says something different: “Ouch, my ear.” “Rub my tummy. Etc.” I was sure the baby would love that, but he might already have one or somebody closer might already be buying him one. Plus it was expensive.

In past years with other babies, I have given books, crocheted animals, cuddly toys, rattles, little outfits . . . I have never been the one at Christmas or at baby showers to give the “big gifts,” the strollers, high chairs, christening outfits, stuff like that. No, that goes to the moms, grandmas, and godparents Nor do I give the useful gifts that only moms seem to know about, that lifesaving cream or the only toy that stopped their baby from crying.

Once, back in the hippie days, I made this wild-colored onesie thing out of granny squares that the child, who’s about 50 now, probably never wore. It was probably terribly uncomfortable, and it probably never fit. One spit-up, and it would be ruined. I didn’t know. I saw a crochet pattern and went for it. I’m like the character in “Gone with the Wind” who shrieks, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout babies!”

A lot of you probably do know babies from babysitting jobs, taking care of siblings, or helping with the babies of friends and family, but somehow I never spent much time around babies once I stopped being one myself. So now here I am about to start collecting Social Security and I’m still clueless about little ones. All my references are from my own childhood.

Even if you do know about babies, how do you negotiate the gifts for other people’s kids without buying something the parents will hate, something the child already has, or something that is totally inappropriate? Is it okay to just send money and let somebody else pick out the gift?

Let’s talk about this in the comments. Share your experiences and suggestions for dealing with the Christmas gift dilemma.

I await your comments.

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Christmas and a new year still childless

Another year is ending. Time to look at where we have been and where we are going. I’m going to repeat some of my words from last year because they still apply. I’ll just change the date. If we didn’t do it in 2016, 2017 offers another chance.

Let’s make 2017 the year we don’t waste a minute with what ifs, the year we live each precious moment consciously and with gratitude for the gifts we have right now, whether it be a person, a pet, a job, a home, or coffee and donuts.

I’m excited about a new year. I hope you are, too. I ask two things of you all in 2017. First, if you have been dithering for years about the whole baby-partner thing, resolve it this coming year. Talk about it, pray about, think about it, make a decision and move on. Might you change your mind later? Of course. But for now, stop torturing yourself. Either accept your situation or make the leap to a new one.

Second, tell us what happened. We get so many comments here from people who are in crisis, who don’t know what to do, who are considering leaving their partners, who feel like they can’t bear their grief, but we rarely hear the rest of the story. Please, if you have commented before, send us a follow-up. We want to know how things turned out. If you would like, I can offer you the whole blog space to tell your story.

That’s what I said last year. Of course saying and doing are two different things. I also promised myself that this Christmas I would not get depressed, I would not get myself worked up over not getting presents, I would not weep over the family I don’t have. Well, I’ll try again in 2017. I spent most of Christmas feeling ridiculously sorry for myself. There were some good reasons: the pellet stove that heats my house died on Dec. 22 and is still sitting there like a cold lump of metal, awaiting parts; my financial situation is not great; my aunt sent fruitcake when I was hoping for a real present, and my brother’s present got lost in the mail; as choir director, I had to sing the Christmas Day Mass alone because my singers were off with their kids and grandkids; and I got a flat tire on Christmas Day. Dead husband, disowned by the stepkids, far from my birth family celebrating together in California. I stared at my pitiful little fake tree and sobbed. Poor me.

But with a little perspective, I can see that I spent most of the weekend with friends at church or at their home, I got some nice gifts from my church buddies (and a boatload of chocolate), my Christmas tree is cute, and I’m better off than a lot of people I know. I do not have cancer. I have a good house, plenty of food, steady income, work I love, and a fabulous dog who adores me. I also have all of you.

I can see that I need to work a little harder on bringing people into my life and including them in mine. I tend to be a workaholic hermit, but that’s not healthy. When people have spouses, children and grandchildren, they have a built-in family and community with which to share their lives. But when we’re on our own, we need to build our own communities or get used to the solitude.

Having children is no guarantee of Christmas cheer anyway. My closest friend’s kids were not available for the holidays and one didn’t send a card or gift and was not answering his phone. My physical therapist who just moved here from Utah was on her own because she’s divorced and her kids were with their dad. She said she valued having time to herself, which doesn’t happen very often. Another friend was snowed in with his dog, couldn’t get to his family.

You make the best of what you’ve got. And if you have to cry a little bit, that’s okay.

So how did you make out this Christmas? And what are your plans for the new year? Let’s talk.

 

 

It’s not easy being childless at Christmas

Christmas! It’s almost here. Grownups are driving themselves crazy buying gifts, sending cards, and cooking for parties while kids act like my dog just before she goes for a walk: unbearably hyperactive, following me everywhere, barking at me, and even nipping at my hands because she just has to go for her walk RIGHT NOW.

As for the birth of Jesus, oh yes, that too.

If we have no children, it would seem to be less stressful. Stepchildren may up the anxiety, requiring you to act like a parent when you aren’t, but they might also be spending the holidays with their other mom or dad. So no problem, right? Wrong. If there was ever a time of year when our childlessness is shoved in our faces, this is it.

I stared at my little fake Christmas tree last night with exactly one tiny gift under there for me and felt so sorry for myself. If I had kids, if I still had a husband, I would have presents. I would have somebody making sure “Mom” or “Grandma” wasn’t alone. The kids might be coming, or I might be going to where they live.

I remember my own grandmother, whose birthday was on Christmas Eve. Everyone gathered on Dec. 24 to honor her with gifts, cake, and Portuguese food. The next day, Christmas, everybody came our house. Nobody was alone, and everybody had presents.

Yes, I know, it’s all about Jesus being born.

When I was looking at my tree, I happened to be sitting in the hot tub in my back yard looking through the window. The hot water soothed every joint and muscle. The stars twinkled bright above. The dog puttered around in the yard. Afterward, I put on my nightclothes and watched the Tony Bennett birthday special on TV. It was wonderful. Then I slept and woke up to a fresh new day full of possibilities. Nobody bothered me about anything. Hard life, huh?

I know I am blessed in so many ways. I just found out another friend has been fighting breast cancer all year. That’s a real problem. Looking at that little tree, realizing what I could have had, not the presents but the people, the pain was excruciating. But as my father often says, it is what it is. You curse a little and go on.

And yes, Christmas is about Jesus. With most of our choir spending the holidays with their kids and grandkids, we’re short of singers. I will be singing and playing at two Masses on Christmas Eve and another one on Christmas Day. Afterward I’ll have dinner with friends whose kids are far away. We will exchange grownup gifts and probably watch TV or a movie. I will cry at some point, but it will be fine. Next week, when we meet again, it will be over.

Dear friends, how are you dealing with Christmas this year? What’s the hardest part? What advice do you have for others who don’t have children and wish they did? Please share in the comments.

 

 

 

Christmas without kids: fantasy vs. reality


I was blow-drying my hair this morning when my mind conjured up a fantasy: My doorbell rings. I open the door to my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren saying, “Hi, Mom” and “Merry Christmas, Grandma.” Their arms are full of gifts and contributions to the dinner I will be serving at my dining room table on the good china. I can smell the turkey baking, the meat and butter mingling with sage and rosemary. The Christmas tree lights glow red, green, yellow and blue, and Bing Crosby sings “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” on the stereo. Soon my son will arrive with his kids.
Nice, huh? Oh well. I had a taste of this when my husband was alive, and we still lived close to his kids. Of course, we had to share the kids and grandkids with Fred’s ex-wife, but it was something. Now it’s just me and my dog Annie. Nobody is coming.
Am I trying to make you all feel bad? No. I’m saying we all have fantasies, fed by what we see other people doing as well as what we see on TV. And yes, it’s hard to be alone. It hurts to see everybody else with their children and know we might never have any of our own. It takes a major act of will to set those aside and enjoy the holidays that we have, however we celebrate them. But we can do it.
I got a major wake-up call this last week after several days of moping. I wrote about it at my Unleashed in Oregon blog, which begins:
“I was going to write a whiny post about not having any Christmas presents. It would start, “The only gifts for me under my Christmas tree are the ones I bought and wrapped for myself.” I would explain that the main gift-givers in my family have all died, my remaining family lives far away, I have no kids, the younger folks in my family don’t seem moved to send presents to good old Aunt Sue, my friends are all traveling this Christmas, etc. Woe is me. While that’s all true, I have realized I’m an idiot.” [click here to read the rest]
The idea is that I don’t have the traditional Christmas, but I do have a LOT to be thankful for, so I need to quit whining and enjoy what I have.
A Facebook friend suggested something we can do for the new year. Find a big jar. Decorate it if you want to. Every day write on a slip of paper something good that happened that day and put it in the jar. When you’re feeling bad, you can go back to that jar and remember the things that made you happy. It doesn’t have to be anything earth-shaking, maybe just something that you made you smile, a hug, a cookie, a joke, a special moment, a new pair of shoes, the moon, a walk on the beach, a cuddle with the dog . . . I’m going to do it. Will you join me?
This Christmas, I wish you all a holiday full of peace, love, and acceptance. I love you all for sticking with me here at Childless by Marriage and look forward to visiting with you in 2015 (next week!).
How are you doing this holiday? Please share in the comments.

Ease your grief by helping parents at Christmas


It’s the Christmas season. Our friends and relatives with children are going nuts with everything they have to do: buying presents, decorating, baking, attending Christmas concerts, getting their little ones ready for holiday gatherings and maybe arranging visitations with ex-wives and ex-husbands. Soon the kids will be home from school all day on Christmas vacation/winter break/whatever-the-politically correct term is. They’ll need full-time care along with entertainment when they get bored. Moms and Dads may be wishing they could clone themselves or at least grow a couple extra hands.
That’s where we come in. I know some of us want to run away from everything child-related because it reminds us of what we don’t have. Been there, done that. But maybe we should stick around and offer to help.
Instead of whining and resenting, pitch in. It will help you to feel included instead of left out. It will give you a chance to connect with children, if not as a mom or dad as least as a favorite aunt or uncle. Offer to spend time with the kids, to babysit, to help with presents or cards or baking. Take them shopping for gifts for their parents or help them to make them. Read them a Christmas story or watch a movie together. They may not be your own biological children, but there is nothing to stop you from loving them–with their parents’ permission, of course.
I still remember when my childless step-grandmother sat at the piano with me and taught me her favorite Christmas carols. I have no idea where my parents were at that time. I just remember how fun it was and how special to have that time together. Decades later, I had a similar experience with my own step-granddaughters. It was my favorite Christmas. Kids love the grownups who love them and pay attention to them. You can be one of those grownups, and it will help ease your pain.
If you don’t have any friends or family with children nearby, volunteer for a children’s charity or buy gifts for needy kids.
I know it’s hard. You may be worried sick about how or if you’re ever going to be a mom or dad, but right now, this holiday season, you don’t have kids, so love someone else’s. It’s the next best thing and their parents will be grateful.
Take a deep breath. Make a phone call or send a text. Make a connection. 
Do you have suggestions for surviving the holiday season? Please share them in the comments.
Peace, my friends.

Some Tidbits for Your Childless Christmas Stocking

I’ll bet most of us are going a little crazy with Christmas only a week away. I was out of town for my dad’s surgery in early December (he’s doing great), so I got all off schedule. To catch up, I decided to do everything in one day: shopping, cards and decorating. For those inclined to try it, take my advice and don’t. About a third of the way through the decorations, I started sobbing. It was just too hard with no kids, no husband, and no family nearby. Why bother? The dog hovered around me, trying to lick my face as I dove deep into my pity party.
The next day I was over it and finished what I could, deciding I didn’t need to do everything I had done every year before. To be honest, not having children or grandchildren meant a lot fewer gifts to worry about. I had my presents in the mail before the post office closed at noon. Now I’m done decorating and almost finished with the cards. I’m finally able to listen to Christmas carols.
As we established in last week’s post, I don’t have any young children in my life. Everybody’s kids have grown up. But that’s not the case for lots of childless people. This time of year, they find themselves surrounded by people obsessed with making Christmas special for their kids. I’ll bet some of you can identify with this reader’s dilemma over the family gift exchange in the Ask Carolyn column. I like Carolyn’s answer. Do you?
In lieu of any brilliant thoughts of my own today, I offer two additional articles that I think you’ll find worth reading. In the first one, Jody Day of Gateway-Women offers a powerful essay, “Childlessness is a Political, as Well as a Deeply Personal, Issue” on the difficulties of being childless at Christmas  and throughout the year.
This piece, “I’m So Glad I’ve Frozen My Eggs,” linked from the Have Children or Not blog, offers a fascinating look at one possibility for women who are worried about not being able to have children until after their eggs are too old.
Happy reading, and please try to enjoy all the good things about the holidays and let the rest go. As always, I welcome your comments.

Don’t let Christmas without kids get you down


“Do you have children?” I was selling books at an author’s fair earlier this month when a children’s book author asked me the question, hoping to sell me some of her picture books.

“No, I don’t,” I said.
“Grandchildren?”
“No.”
“Nieces and nephews?”
“All grown up.” I couldn’t wait to get away from her and move on to books for grownups.
It’s hard for people whose lives are immersed in children to understand people who have no little ones in their lives. At this time of year, most of my friends are busy buying Christmas presents for their kids and grandkids. They jam the toy aisles at the stores looking for presents that will elicit squeals of joy on Christmas morning. Meanwhile I’m looking at calendars, candles, books, and scarves because everyone on my list is an adult. Even the “kids” in our family are over 21 at this point, with no babies on the way.
Lots of people say Christmas is for children, with all this business about Santa Claus and presents. For those of us without kids, it can be a difficult season. Not only do we not have kids to shop for, but we’re thrown into situations with friends and family who are obsessed with their children.
I could preach about how Christmas is really about the birth of Jesus and how the focus should be on Him. For me, it is. It has to be. He’s the only baby coming to me this Christmas. Plus I work at my church as a music minister. But I know not all of you are Christians, and I’m not here to convert you.
No matter what you believe religion-wise, there are lots of good things to appreciate at this time of year: the food, decorations, gifts, time off from work or school, and time to spend with loved ones. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, you might want to get involved in one of the charities helping others during the holidays.

 

People will ask about your children. People will try to sell you toys. Tell them the truth, that you don’t have any kids, but you do have a dog or a cat or a hamster. Or just change the subject.

 

You could even run away for the holidays. A friend of mine who has three grown children and several grandchildren is renting a timeshare at the beach far from any of them this year because some are going to their in-law’s home in the Midwest and the others drive her crazy. She and her husband plan to spend a quiet day sipping hot toddies and ignoring the insanity of Christmas.
If the holidays bring you nothing but pain, you might want to follow her example and run away until it’s over. Why not?
How are you surviving the holidays? Please share in the comments.