Childless photographer asks: What Will Your Legacy Be?

Dear friends, 

This week I have asked my friend Kristin Cole to tell us her story and discuss and the Legacy Project she is working on. Says Kristin: “There are many reasons women have children. There are even more reasons why women do not. I’m interested in focusing on one aspect of not having children, either by choice or circumstance, and that is the concept of legacy. What legacy do childless women leave behind? I want to explore this subject and facilitate the creation of legacy through the sharing of women’s stories through images and words.”

Kristin is childless by choice, but her words about what we will leave behind certainly apply to all of us, whether or not we chose to live without parenting. 

Kristin on beach

What will Your Legacy Be

By Kristin Cole

I began to think about my life and the larger impact it could have in my mid-twenties. Through my role at the National Credit Union Foundation in Madison, Wisconsin, I met people from all over the world who were living both big and small, yet passionate and meaningful lives. They had the most inspiring stories of travel, volunteerism, cultural experiences, and good will. They were affecting real change in real people’s lives.

It was difficult not to take a hard look at my own life at that point and see that I had been going down a rather insignificant path, that there was so much more I needed to do.

I first considered the idea of “legacy” a few years later. Keeping true to my new vision of what I wanted for my life, I started a new career as the manager of a small animal shelter. Because I had never done this kind of work before, I reached out to other shelter leaders. One of them asked me something that has stayed with me ever since: “What do you want your legacy to be?”

The dictionary defines the term “legacy” as “a gift or a bequest that is handed down, endowed or conveyed from one person to another. It is something descendible one comes into possession of that is transmitted, inherited or received from a predecessor.”

There are all sorts of ways one leaves a legacy. Some people do it through their children by passing down traditions, history, and values. Loudon Wainwright III did an excellent job of portraying this type of legacy through a recent Netflix special entitled Surviving Twin in which he intertwined his music with his father’s writings and letters to show the story of four generations in his family.

Others may leave their legacy through their careers or political work and some by their societal contributions or art. Think of women like Eleanor Roosevelt, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Emily Dickinson, Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Harriet Tubman, Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, and Jane Goodall.

Kristin and Cole
Kristin and her pug on the road

I can’t help but wonder when I’m gone, what my life will have meant, if anything at all? I hope that I am remembered as someone who was passionate and who unapologetically lived her dreams. I’d like to be known as the kind of person who wasn’t afraid to take chances, who lived boldly but was also compassionate and honest.

I hope that I will be remembered as someone who inspired others to explore, create, and follow their own curiosities down whatever path they took them on. I would like my life to have been one of authenticity and that it be known that my most valuable gift was the time I gave others. I hope that my photography and writing will help carry my legacy forward. I don’t know if any of these hopes will come to be known after I’m gone, but one thing I do know for certain is that whatever my legacy will be it will never be carried on through my children, for I am someone who chooses to remain childless.

Choosing not to have kids is often considered selfish in our society, and I suppose that is true in the literal interpretation of the word, but we only get one life, after all, and who else do we owe to live it for other than ourselves? Doesn’t it make the most sense to live it in our own way on our own terms? And so, I have.

I have purposefully kept myself free of long-term commitments such as owning a home or having children. I try to keep my debts and possessions minimal. Doing so has given me the freedom to take risks in my career and the ability to live wherever I want. It’s how I find myself living in Oregon right now.

I fell in love with the area when on vacation eight years ago. A few years after that vacation, I found my life in an interesting place. I was still living in Wisconsin but losing the passion I once had for the work I had been doing for a farm animal sanctuary. A romantic relationship that I thought was going to last a long time ended unexpectedly. Shortly after that, my grandfather lost his battle with Alzheimer’s. It became painfully clear to me, as I stared at a photo at his funeral of his younger self in front of some mountains in Colorado, that life is all too short. I remember saying to myself, “What are you waiting for?!?” Before long, I found myself saying farewell to Wisconsin and moving across the country to Oregon to pursue my passion for photography.

I’ve been living in Oregon almost five years now and it has been a truly transformative time. From the places I’ve explored to the people I’ve met, I’ve learned so much about myself and what I’m capable of. I’ve also clarified further what is most important to me as I quickly approach the next phase of my life.

Kristin's lady
Legacy Project: Jean Rosenbaum

In the past year or so, I’ve been thinking a lot about the variety of ways childless women contribute to the world and what sort of legacies are being born from their journeys. I suspect there are many inspiring and interesting stories of seemingly ordinary women just waiting to be told. That realization leads me to pursue my latest photo essay project, Legacy. I started searching for childless women aged 65 and older who, through interviews and photographs, share their life’s story to show us what a life, despite or because of being childless, can look like when it is well-lived. The essays not only include their reflections on the subject of legacy and childlessness but also on all the events that make up the sum of their lives to date as well as their thoughts about what the future holds.

In our digital age, for better or for worse, it is possible to create something that lasts forever, which is why I believe a photo essay is a perfect medium for this project. Even when I think about my own great-grandmother, I have little understanding of who she was and what her life was like. There is so much we can gain from one another, so I hope this project helps facilitate a more lasting form of legacy. I view it as an opportunity for women, regardless of the reasons behind their childlessness, to tell their stories and let their lives speak.

Through sharing their hopes, failures, accomplishments, regrets, and lessons learned, they can impart wisdom to others. They can assure us that sometimes it’s acceptable to walk away or to change our minds. That we don’t have to have it all figured out all the time. That a meaningful life does not always come in a perfect package or with a happy ending but that above all else, our lives are valuable, and our stories are worth sharing.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Let your life not only touch others in a way that is difficult to forget, let your legacy live forever through images and words that will reach countless generations to come.

Kristin Cole is Midwest transplant currently living in Portland, Oregon. She enjoys road tripping with her pug sidekick and sharing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest through her photography and in her blog, Misadventures of a Nature Junkie. More information about her Legacy project can be found at http://www.KristinColePhotography.com.

***

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ONE AND ALL! DON’T LET THE CRAZINESS GET YOU DOWN.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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?

Not having kids means I’m free to be me me me

Let’s talk about the selfish side of not having children. I hesitate to do that because then people will think I didn’t want them. I don’t want to reinforce the false stereotype that all people without children are selfish and immature. They’re not. But maybe I fantasized my offspring would be like the dolls I played with as a kid. My dolls sat quietly on a shelf or in a box until I wanted to play with them. The rest of the time I was free to ride my bike, read until my eyes hurt, or eat cookies without anybody grabbing for a bite. I may be confusing children with dogs in that last bit, but you know what I mean. No need to share my food, my stuff or my time unless I wanted to.
When I was  a child, Mom took care of everything while I just had to do my homework and a few easy chores. Once they were done, I was free to do anything I wanted.
As an adult, especially one without a husband, I have my work and more time-consuming chores, but I am still free when they’re done. I spent years with a live-in stepson. I know what it’s like to have to think about the child’s needs in everything you do. Salad for dinner? He won’t eat it. Want to rent a movie? It has to be PG. Let’s go away for the weekend? What about the boy? I didn’t mind most of the time. I was happy to live some semblance of motherhood.
But I do understand why the childless-by-choice crowd choose to be “childfree.” Kids don’t sit quietly in a box. They cry, complain, get sick, need help, need love, need to be fed, cleaned and taken to the orthodontist. You can’t do whatever you want when you’re a parent, at least not until the kids grow up. Then you can buy an RV and tour the country, start a new career or write a novel.
Speaking of which, November is National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo. During this month, writers pledge to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. That’s a lot of writing. To devote that kind of time and concentration would be very difficult with children around. I have signed up before but haven’t followed through. This year, I have signed up for NaNonFiWriMo or National Nonfiction Writing Month. I plan to do some marathon writing for the book I’m working on.
There are other month-long challenges, a poem a day, a blog a day, a short story every day. They’re great for producing a lot of work in a short time, but I don’t think I could do any of them and keep up with my regular work if I had kids around.
We spend a lot of time here grieving our lack of children. The grief is real and it never completely goes away, but look at the other side of it. What are we free to do because we don’t have children? Even if you’re still trying to figure out if and how you’ll become a parent, what can you do right nowthat you couldn’t if you were a mom or a dad? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

No Kidding: The book, the club, the goats?


Book review: 
No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing Parenthood, edited by Henriette Mantel, Seal Press, 2013
When I started working on my Childless by Marriage book, nobody was writing about being without child. It was almost a taboo subject, but now the shelves are filling up with books about not having kids. Most of them, like this one, are about the joys of being childless by choice. In this case, 37 women writers in the entertainment business tell the story of how they ended up not being mothers. Although a few did try to have children and learned that they couldn’t, most never wanted them in the first place. They were too busy with their careers and not interested in the sacrifices required to raise a little human being.

The writing here is good. Many of these women are comediennes, and they know how to put together an amusing essay. But after a while, all the stories blend together in my mind because they are so similar. Some of the names are familiar. Most are not. It is an entertaining read. Readers in the childfree-by-choice crowd are sure to enjoy it. Perhaps those who are childless not by choice will find some encouragement and see that life can be wonderful without children. At least that’s what these women tell us.

The club: 
In addition to being the title of a book, No Kidding is the name of an international club that provides opportunities for members to make new friends whose lives are not wrapped around their children. Members are all ages, married and single, and lack children for all kinds of reasons. You can find chapters all over the world or start a new chapter if your area doesn’t have one. Many of the people who comment on this blog and at other childless sites describe how uncomfortable they are at gatherings where everyone else seems to have kids. This is a chance to find friends with whom you have more in common.

The goats: 
When I was young, people who used the word “kid” were quickly corrected and told that a “kid” is a baby goat. Well, we humans have stolen their word and often use it to describe our own offspring. Funny we don’t call them calves or puppies. Unlike humans, goats don’t use birth control. If you put a he-goat and a she-goat together at the right time, they will have baby goats. Believe it or not, there are actually goat mating videos on YouTube. I don’t want to get in trouble for recommending goat porn, but they’re pretty funny.

No kidding. The word “kid” applied to a child apparently traces back to the 13th century with Olde English and Norse origins. But how did the word kid come to be used also as a synonym for joking? Beats me.

Have a happy day.

 

No Way Baby!

Karen Foster, a Portland, Oregon counselor and speaker, has published a new book called No Way Baby! In it, she offers people like herself, whom she calls “childfrees,” information to refute the dumb things people say to them. We’re all heard these things: “So, you don’t like kids?” “It’s your duty to go forth and multiply.” “But I want grandchildren.” “Who will take care of you when you’re old?” and “You’ll regret it.” Sound familiar?

Of course, those of us who are childless by marriage or otherwise not by choice might have different answers from what Foster offers. She does acknowledge the difficulty of being in a relationship where one person wants kids and the other doesn’t. There is no way to compromise on this issue, she says. One person always loses.

Foster is not anti-child and applauds people who consciously choose to be parents, but you get a little taste of her attitude when she talks about being “child-burdened” vs. “childfree.”

There’s a lot of good information in this book, although it sometimes wanders off course. For example, we don’t need the whole history of Social Security or a rehash of the feminist movement. We can, however, find lots of useful information and encouragement for enjoying life as non-parents in this book.