Gnawing on Childless Thanksgiving Leftovers 

The night after Thanksgiving, my father and I watched “Entertainment Tonight” on TV for lack of anything better to watch. The show was obsessed with babies. They profiled five celebrity couples enjoying their little ones this Thanksgiving. Then they featured two “Dancing with the Stars” pros who are dads now. Then they talked about how Blake Shelton and girlfriend Gwen Stefani can’t wait to have children. Is there no other news to report?

I wish people would stop asking how my Thanksgiving was. They expect glowing tales of happy family gatherings. In truth, I feel almost as bad as the turkey. “Complicated,” I say. “Great food, problematic people. How was your Thanksgiving?”

There was the whole family feud business where only half the usual folks showed up. That had nothing to do with babies, but it hurt.

A family member told me she doesn’t want to exchange Christmas presents with me anymore because she has to focus on her grandchildren. She went on and on about the joys of grandmotherhood, implying that I couldn’t possibly understand and that I was an idiot for never having children. She’s wrong. I know what I’m missing, and it hurts.

I didn’t get to see my great-niece because her parents have gotten divorced and she was with her mom. The child was only a few months old when I saw her last Thanksgiving. Now she’s walking and talking and has no idea who I am.

Meanwhile, I was taking care of my dad round the clock. At 95, with numerous problems, he needs a lot of help and resents every bit of it. My mother didn’t nickname him “El Groucho” for nothing.

On the happier side, we all spent Thanksgiving focused on the antics of my niece’s nine-month-old foster child, whom she is in the process of adopting. She’s hoping by April he will be hers. At 30, my niece does not foresee marriage in her future. My father keeps asking why she became a mother this way, but I think the answer is clear: she wanted to have a child and wasn’t willing to take a chance on it never happening. She has a lot of support from her parents and brother, but it’s still a challenge being a single parent. I am so proud of her. I’m not sure I could be so brave.

Being a foster parent isn’t easy. It took a couple years to get to this point, going through an extensive approval process, waiting for a child, and taking in an older boy who proved too troubled and too violent for her to handle. And of course, the child can always be taken away. But now, fingers crossed, the little blond munchkin eating his first stuffing and pumpkin pie last week will soon be a permanent member of the family, and I will be his great-aunt, aka Super Tia.

So that’s how my Thanksgiving went. It’s a great relief to be back home. How about yours? Report in the comments, then tighten your seat belts. Christmas is coming.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Learning how to be a Great Aunt Sue

img_20161124_1624254311
Riley’s parents prefer that she not be shown on the Internet, so this is her “cousin” Hazel

Riley was the star as soon as she arrived at my brother’s house on Thanksgiving. Mike grabbed her right away. He is the sweetest grandpa, holding her while he sits in his big recliner, feeding her and talking to her.

At five months, she’s just beginning to tune in to her surroundings. She can sit up. She watches everything and responds with squeaks, laughs and cries. She’s definitely more interesting than she was when I first met her in September.

Before Mike’s kids arrived with the baby, I had spent considerable quality time with Hazel, my niece’s dachshund, hugging her up against me, petting her, and talking to her, much like a baby. Hazel was jealous of Riley on Mike’s left knee. She jumped up and claimed his right knee.

Mike passed Riley to Susan, Sharon’s sister. Mother of four, also a grandmother and aunt, she seemed blissful holding the baby, watching her suck on her bottle. If Susan didn’t have to go to work, she probably would not have let her go.

After burping the baby, Mike brought her to me next. “Go see your great aunt Sue.” I mumbled about not necessarily being “great” just mediocre as I struggled to get her into a comfortable position, aware that everyone was watching me and I was the only one who didn’t know how to hold a baby properly. Riley whined and stiffened up in my arms until I finally got her into a sitting-up position facing away from me. I kept rubbing her fat, full belly. Only later did I realize that’s what I do with Annie, my dog. Anyway, we got comfortable. She gripped my big wrinkled fingers with her tiny smooth ones. So smooth, not a dimple or mark on the white, white skin. I replaced a sock that had fallen off her little foot. I kissed her downy head. So hot, I said. Normal, Riley’s mom, Courtney, said. Like all the grownups, I talked to the baby. Quietly, like sharing secrets between us.

While I was holding Riley, she made some grunting sounds and Courtney asked, “Are you having a bowel movement?” She instructed me to smell her. I leaned down and sniffed. Nothing. But my sister-in-law picked her up, smelled her butt, and nodded. I felt a rush of panic. Who was going to change her? I had no idea how to do it. To be this old and still not know how to change a diaper . . . Courtney did it. Soon we heard shrieks of baby laughter from the bedroom.

Courtney brought her back out and changed her into soft flannel pajamas. It was like dressing a doll, a warm, soft, pudgy-bellied doll.

Everyone wanted to hold the baby. With Riley in their arms, each person turned soft, kind and playful.

I wanted that, too. I want to watch Riley grow and know me and smile when she sees me, but I live so far away. It will probably be many months before we meet again. She won’t remember me. Do I wish she was mine? I don’t think so. I want to be one of the older people with grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy and hand back to their parents. I want that big wonderful family to celebrate holidays and birthdays with, to help when things fall apart.

It’s like some people say they hate writing but love having written a book. I don’t want to be raising a baby or small children now, but I wish I had done it when I was young, so I could be holding my own granddaughter on Thanksgiving, keeping a crib and toys at my house for when she visits, and buying Christmas presents for my granddaughter.

Being my age and no longer having a husband, I didn’t have to deal with anyone asking when I was going to have children. I remember how hard that was, and I know many of you are going through that. Nobody asked how many children I had or why I didn’t have any. A few asked about my stepchildren and were surprised I hadn’t heard from them. I didn’t expect to.

I was just Aunt Sue, who comes all the way from Oregon to hang out with her elderly father. Nobody understands that I’m still figuring out how to interact with live babies instead of with my Chatty Cathy doll. There’s a magic in those tiny people. I want a share of it, but it has only been a few years that I could be around other people’s babies without crying. Know what I mean?

Riley has two older half-sisters who were with their dad on Thanksgiving. Will I ever be anything to them but a stranger? We’ll see.

I’m never going to be “Mom,” and that hurts. I’m still figuring out how to be Aunt Sue.

So, how did your Thanksgiving go? Feel free to share in the comments.

 

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?

Grumping into the holidays again

I’m in a bad mood. Maybe it’s all the gray, rainy days we’ve been having here on the Oregon coast. I like the sun, and I get bummed when I can’t feel it shining on me. But it’s also  being alone. There are times when I like it, but today, not so much. Before breakfast, I had to get down on the floor and clean out the pellet stove that heats our house because I waited too long and it quit working. Again. The whole time, I was thinking about how my husband used to take care of things like this. He was good that way. He kept the car running. Cleaned out the gutters. Maintained the yard. Watched over the dog when I had to go out of town.

He was good for a lot more than chores, of course. He was a friend, companion, and partner for all the good and bad things in life. And now that I’m going into the holidays without him again, I just want to fast forward into January.

I’ve been thinking about how things might be different if I had children. I suspect I’d still be alone a lot. If I had had children in my 30s, they would be adults by now, maybe with their own kids. They might live far away. They would certainly be busy with their own lives. They would not be here cleaning out the stove at 7 a.m.

If I did have children, maybe I wouldn’t have to drive 800 miles to my brother’s house to see family at Thanksgiving. I would never have left California if I had children living there. Maybe everybody would come to my house. I would love to sit at a big table surrounded by my family like my mother did year after year. Not gonna happen.

This year my nephew will be bringing his new stepdaughters and his pregnant wife. I’m happy for them and for my brother and his wife, who are becoming grandparents. I won’t be the only one without a husband, but the others have kids. I don’t have either one.

I should be cheering you on, saying it’s okay, be thankful for what you have. Yes, we should all try to do that. I know my life is full of blessings. I will be with my father, who’s still going at 93. How amazing is that? I have a home, car, enough money to get by, relatively good health, work I love, and good friends. I have my dog. I have an aged pellet stove that is pouring out warmth right now.

But here’s my point. Readers keep commenting about how they don’t know what to choose, the partner or the children they might have with somebody else. I’ve got to tell you I’d forgo the offspring in a heartbeat to have my husband back again. Not just to clean out the pellet stove but to share life, to make decisions together, to snuggle together on a cold night, to sing all the way to San Jose, and whisper wisecracks about the family between football games. What’s right for me might not be right for you, but think hard before you bail out of an otherwise good relationship.

My dear friends, holidays are hard. Kids, kids, kids in our faces everywhere. But we will survive. Here’s my prescription for you. First, go ahead and rant about all the things that you hate about being childless during the holidays. Write it down, post it in a comment if you want. Then, I want you to make a list of all the things you have to be thankful for because you do have them. And if you have a partner you love, just give him or her a big hug and tell them you love them. Okay?

I may or may not get the blog done next week. Dad doesn’t have WiFi. Like I said, he’s 93. But I’ll try to keep up with your comments. Thank you for being here.

 

 

 

Should I feel bad that I don’t feel bad about not having kids?


Okay, let me state that I did want children and if I could go back and change things, I would have  a house full of kids and grandkids yelling “Mom!” and “Grandma!” “I’d take over my mother-in-law’s title as “Grandma Lick.” Maybe even “GG” as she asked her great-grandchildren to call her. I could spend my days making things for them all, saving keepsakes and pictures and family stories—aw rats, I do feel bad.
But not always. That’s the thing I want to communicate. Most of the time, I enjoy my uncomplicated life. I don’t go to a store, restaurant, church or anywhere else, see people with their kids and feel pain or sadness. I used to, but I don’t anymore. I’m content most of the time. I know many of you hurt when people in your lives have babies. I do, too. I even cry when characters on TV shows have babies. But when a friend welcomed a new granddaughter recently, I felt only happiness for her.
My life now is about other things, my writing, my music, my dog, my friends, my family. It’s about food, books, travel, art, and faith in a God who had a reason for making me childless.
I did do some weeping during the holiday season, but it wasn’t over my lack of children. I miss my husband, who died 3 ½ years ago. I feel his loss in everything. I ache when I see other women with their husbands. I hurt bad when I see couples kissing or holding hands. I go to a concert alone and realize most of the audience is grouped in twos. I look under the Christmas tree and there isn’t much there because most of the gifts used to be the ones Fred and I gave to each other.
It hurt more this last Christmas because the friends I usually spend the holidays with were all busy with their kids and grandkids. I didn’t want to be them; I just missed being able to spend time with them.
Do I wish I had kids? Yes, but I don’t feel bad most of the time. I have moved on.
So many of you are stuck in the don’t-know-what-to-do place. Stay with the mate who doesn’t want children or look for someone else before it’s too late? It’s a decision no one should ever have to make. But consider this. When you’re in your 60s during the holidays, which would you miss more, the children you might have had or the partner/spouse who is with you right now? 
Congratulations on surviving the holiday season with all its many challenges. Now we move on. I promise it will get easier.

Surviving our childless holidays

Halloween is over, thank God, but I’m still getting comments and private emails from childless people for whom it was a painful experience. Everyone else seemed to be having a great time with their children and grandchildren, but the holiday just reminded them they didn’t/couldn’t/probably never would have kids. Sucks, doesn’t it.

I spent Halloween here alone in my house in the woods, baking muffins for the church bazaar. I bought candy–little Hershey bars because that’s what my mother used to buy, and they made miss her even more than usual. I put up Halloween lights and waited for kids to come. But nobody came. Not a single knock on the door. The few kids who live nearby probably went elsewhere or stayed home, discouraged by the rain and the darkness out here. It was just me mixing one batch of muffins after another, and the dog watching in the hope that I might drop something delicious on the floor. By 9:00, I decided nobody was coming and turned off the lights. My legs were tired from standing at the kitchen counter, and I felt bad about missing another Halloween.

The very next day, yesterday, the Christmas TV commercials started, full of presents for little kids. I have no kids to buy gifts for, and no little kid will be wrapping a present for me.

Gosh, I sound sorry for myself. I’m just saying the holidays are hard when you don’t have children and you wanted them. But we need to get ourselves off our self-pity pots and do something positive. I could have invited people over or found a Halloween party to go to. I could have maybe helped with an event in town. I could donate my candy to a children’s shelter or send it to the troops overseas. I don’t have to eat those little candy bars one at a time and miss my mom with each fattening bite.

Now I can get myself busy with Christmas activities, with and without children, and make or buy gifts for families who can’t afford to buy their own. I can offer my company to lonely seniors. I can spend the holidays at a tropical island reading trashy novels and drinking pina coladas. Maybe find a handsome islander and make love all day long.

With advance planning, our holidays can not only be less painful but even fun. What other ways can we survive our childless holidays? Suggestions?

At least I didn’t put a Halloween costume on my dog.

Grieving over childlessness lasts a long time

Dear friends,
The holidays can be tough for a lot of reasons, but not having children–and wishing you had them–can make it especially difficult. Everywhere you turn, you see children. You attend family gatherings where everyone else seems to have kids, watch your friends going all out to make Christmas special for their children, and you get bombarded by child-centered TV shows and commercials.

If you are alone, it’s even harder. Comments on a much earlier post about childless grief have increased lately. I’m sure the holidays have something to do it. Some of the comments are just heart-breaking. Martha wrote to me yesterday. She didn’t marry until she was 40. She wanted children. Her husband said he didn’t. She hoped he’d change his mind, but then, only five years after their marriage, he died of a heart attack at age 48. Now she’s 45, still wanting children but beginning to doubt that it will ever happen. An only child, she has no nieces or nephews, and so many members of her birth family have died that she is in danger of being the last one left. It’s hard to know what to say except to urge her to build a family of friends who can help her move on.

Others wrote to me after Thanksgiving. Ericka, for instance, found it really difficult to be around her nieces and nephews this year. They just reminded her of what didn’t have.

The holidays are challenging, but if we can count our blessings and treasure the people we do have in our lives, we can get through this and maybe even enjoy it.

Don’t sit home and stew. Get busy. If you’re alone, call a friend. If you don’t have a friend, make one. Volunteer somewhere. Reach out, and someone will reach back.