Childless or not, Easter comes again

Dear friends,

How do I make this blog relevant in these days when we’re all thinking about the coronavirus, COVID-19, and its effects on our health, our finances, and our whole lives? I mean John Prine died yesterday, they’re running out of places to put the bodies in New York, millions of people have suddenly lost their jobs, and we’re running around wearing masks. It’s a strange world. When I look around my community, it seems that the Rapture (all the good people taken up to heaven) has happened and we were left behind with no jobs, a massive recession, and constant fear that we or someone we love will catch this disease from a friend, off our groceries, or in the wind and die. How on earth can we even think about childlessness and whether or not to have a baby?

At least that’s how I feel—and that’s on the good days when I’m not so depressed I think about drinking my way through the liquor cabinet. (I’m not. There’s green tea in my cup.)

But it’s Easter. For Christians, this is Holy Week, celebrating the events leading up to Jesus’s death and resurrection. For Jews, today is Passover, when God saved his people from death. For all of us, it’s spring, the sun finally coming out, tulips and daffodils blooming, buds on trees and shrubs promising flowers and fruit. In spite of all the craziness, spring is still happening.

Spring is a time of fertility, of birth and rebirth. Easter is a time of families celebrating together. Last year, I watched my cousins’ kids hunt for Easter eggs as we gathered in the sun for a barbecue at my aunt’s house. There were at least 25 people there. This year, we’ll all be separated. We can’t even go to church.

You might see sheltering in place as a blessing for those of us who find family gatherings painful. This year, for once, you can stay home without excuses or guilt and do Easter your way–or ignore it altogether. Will you dye eggs, pig out on candy, put bunny ears on the dog, sip wine on the porch, make love, or watch videos? Will you “Facetime” or Skype with family, including the little ones? Me, I’m planning to attend church online and then have myself a picnic in the back yard. We can do whatever we want. We still have options; they’re just different.

I hope and pray that you and your loved ones are well. Whether you have COVID-19 or something else, it’s a terrible time to be sick, with access to health care so limited and people not allowed to bring anyone with them for support. I read online about a pregnant woman who is terrified to deliver her baby in the midst of this crisis. We’re all kind of scared. Most of us believe we would survive if we got the virus, but what if we don’t?

What is my point today? We all have to survive this time in our own way. When I told my brother it is difficult being alone, he replied that it is also difficult being at home with three grandchildren under age 5. I’m jealous that he and his kids and grandkids are together but grateful I can read and write and sleep in peace. Meanwhile, this is an opportunity to try new ways of being and thinking and doing.

How are you managing this Easter week? How are you feeling about being childless now? Has the COVID-19 affected your relationship with your mate? Has it changed your thoughts about having or not having children?

Please comment. I’m here. We’re all here. You are not alone.

 

 

 

You didn’t give me any grandchildren!

Merry Christmas! Or if you don’t do Christmas, enjoy whatever you do celebrate. Why am I posting on Christmas? Am I not busy? Well . . . not so much. The bio family is far away. The friend family is busy with their kids and grandkids. I’m having dinner with friends later, but now, I’ve got time.

Are you making yourselves crazy by reading all the posts online about everybody’s family Christmas celebrations? Well, turn it off. Go for a walk. Right after you read this, of course.

For parents and grandparents, Christmas is exhausting and expensive. I visited with a friend the other day who said he had something like 35 kids and grandkids to honor for Christmas. He married into most of them.

My husband’s cousin met her current husband after both of their longtime spouses died. He came with a huge family, too. She was planning to feed 30 of them on Christmas Eve. This morning, she and her husband planned to fly to Denver to visit her one daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. I’m tired just thinking about it.

I’m not complaining about getting to stay home and cook only for me while the family celebrates far away and the friends do their own family thing. Sounds selfish, but it’s true. But maybe, if I had kids and grandkids . . .

I see all those pictures of my friends cuddling their little ones, I see all the great things in the stores that I could buy for my grandchildren, and I imagine all the family events that won’t be happening—Christmas, First Communion, graduation, weddings, babies–and I feel a little ripped off. Annie the dog and I are good, but imagine how much fuller our lives could be.

I was reading an article about “grandchildlessness.” That’s such a long word. How about NonGrammas and NonGramps? Here’s the link. The author is writing about Australia, but one could tell a similar story almost anywhere these days. All of us who are not having children are also not giving our parents grandchildren. Our parents don’t have much control over that.

If we’re lucky, our siblings fill the gap. If not, well, think about how lousy we feel when people start hauling out the baby pictures. When you get to be my age, it’s the grandbaby pictures. You can counter with pictures of nieces, nephews and cousins, but we all know it’s not the same.

How do we help our parents to understand and accept what’s so hard for us to understand and accept? My parents kept quiet on the subject. They had my brother’s kids, and they knew being childless was a source of pain for me. My second husband’s mother said she had so many grandchildren from her three boys already that she had no need for more.

If I had stayed married to my first husband and remained childless, I can imagine it would have been different. His mother really wanted grandchildren. She was all about her Catholic-raised kids following the standard program. She had already bought a few baby things in the hope of prodding us into parenthood. I do not believe she would ever have a found a way to let it go if we said, “Nope, not having kids.” In fact, she might have nagged us enough that my ex would have given in. But if he only agreed to have children because everyone was ragging on him about it, what good would that be? She never had any grandchildren. That makes me sad. But it’s a trend, and it’s growing.

Has anyone nagged you to make grandbabies? How do you feel about not giving your parents grandchildren? Are they bugging you about it this Christmas?

How are your holidays going? Are you with the stepchildren or your bio family or on your own? Is it a happy day or a fighting-tears kind of day? Feel free to share in the comments.

Merry Christmas, hugs to all of you. See you next year!

 

 

Here comes Thanksgiving again–and pie!

Thanksgiving is almost here again. Do you dread it? Me too, probably for different reasons. I’ll be in California, taking care of my dad and driving him three hours each way to my brother’s house, where I will be surrounded by in-laws I barely know and oodles and boodles of kids. I’ll be the odd widowed sister/aunt hanging with her father while the men watch football and the women gather in the kitchen.

I’m sure you have heard about the fires blazing in California. Horrible. Whichever route I take from Oregon, I’ll be driving through smoke and devastation. I feel a little guilty for everything I still have, and I feel that I have no right to whine about anything, so I won’t. Instead, I’m going to be grateful. I urge you to do the same.

I know how hard it is being surrounded by children and their parents who don’t understand why you aren’t parents, too, who don’t get that it’s a painful subject which may be far from resolved. You’re likely to hear clueless comments about how you’re rich because you don’t have kids or how you’d better get pregnant soon because you’re not getting any younger. You may be dealing with stepchildren who don’t seem to enjoy your company.

And don’t get me started on the TV commercials with all those happy families.

I urge you to read the comment that came in recently from the woman who worries about finding a man who will understand that she can’t give them children because pregnancy makes her horribly sick. You think you’ve got troubles?

No matter what our situation, we do have things to be thankful for, such as:

  • The people we love
  • Our homes and everything in them
  • Our health, if we have it
  • Food
  • Clean water
  • Heat
  • Our beloved pets
  • Our work
  • Our hobbies
  • Books, art, music
  • God, if you believe
  • Each other
  • A chance to start fresh every morning

We don’t have everything we want. Nobody does. But think about the people of Paradise, California. They have lost their homes and their whole town. At last count, 50 people had died, some of them incinerated in their cars while they were trying to get away. In Southern California, others are going through the same thing. They have a right to mourn this Thanksgiving.

We have an obligation to help however we can and to celebrate the lives we still have. If you’re surrounded by babies, grab the nearest one and marvel at the miracle of this tiny person with her tiny toes and her toothless smile. Maybe you’ll have one of your own, maybe not, but this baby is here right now, grabbing onto your finger, snuggling against your chest. Enjoy.

I know. Easier to say than to do. If you need to take a time out, do it. Run away to nature, take a walk around the neighborhood, or excuse yourself for an emergency shopping trip. Don’t we always need more wine? Then take a deep breath, count the hours till it’s over, go back in, and pet the nearest dog.

And if you happen to be alone, put on your favorite clothes, treat yourself to a good meal, watch a movie, and enjoy the peace and quiet.

I am always grateful for you who read this blog. I might miss you next week while I’m in the land of no wi-fi, gorging on pumpkin pie, but I’ll be reading your comments. Can you add to the gratitude list? How about pie? I’m extremely grateful for pie.

Happy Thanksgiving.

P.S. We can do more than be grateful. We can help. Here’s some information on how to help the fire victims. 

 

 

 

 

 

Spending the Fourth with My Best Friend

annie-9314Happy Fourth of July, U.S. readers. Have fun and be safe. While you’re eating barbecue and watching fireworks, I’ll be home holding my puppy’s paw. The fireworks frighten her. Also, she’s injured. I don’t know if you remember last year when I wrote about her knee surgery, but we’re about to do it again.

I had not been home an hour from my trip to San Jose last week when Annie started limping. When she tried to put weight on her back left leg, she just fell down. Uh-oh. I hoped to find a thorn in her foot or some other minor problem, but I knew what it probably was. The vet confirmed it the next day. As often happens with Labs, after one knee goes, the other follows. She has a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and will need surgery. Here we go again.

When I told my father about it, I forgot that I never admitted how much it cost last time:  $4,000. My father was shocked. He noted that she’s an old dog and suggested I should just let her go.

Not a chance, no more than we should put him down because he has a bum leg. Annie is my person, my companion, and yes, my baby. I will spend whatever it takes to get her walking again. She is actually doing pretty well on three legs, but we’re doing the surgery. The last procedure worked well, and I’m confident that six months from now she’ll be walking on all four feet again. So what if I have to make massive payments to pay for it?

Would I do this if I had a human baby to take care of, too? I suspect I would, but I might have to debate that with a husband who disagreed, who had a more practical attitude toward money.

Meanwhile, I’ll be staying home with Annie tonight. I am going out to watch a parade with a friend this afternoon, but then I’ll scurry back in time to give my pup her dinner and pain medication. Maybe we’ll watch a movie and share a bowl of popcorn.

I know the parade will be loaded with kids. I know I will be torn between grieving over my lack of grandchildren and being glad I don’t have to deal with little ones who scream, whine, and dart out into the street. My friend, who is a grandmother, won’t have children with her either because they live far away. If you live long enough, you don’t have to deal with other people’s kids, although you might have to love their dogs.

What are you doing for Fourth of July? Does it bring up the childless miseries? Do share.

Easter is not just for folks with kids

12470942 - dog holding easter basket with colorful eggs“This Sunday is Easter,” I told my Dad on the phone the other day.

“Is it? Well, it’s just another day for me.”

I resisted the urge to explain the religious significance, which as a Catholic, he ought to know as well as I do. He says the same thing about Christmas and his birthday. Maybe it’s a self-protective mechanism. If he doesn’t expect anything, he won’t be disappointed.

Me, I expect everything, and I’m always disappointed. That’s why it felt easier this year to spend my March 9 birthday at a Best Western in Blythe, California on my way to Tucson. I ate leftover pizza in my room and chocolate lava cake at Denny’s. No candles, no singing, no gifts. Which is exactly what would have happened at home because I don’t have children and grandchildren to gather around on my birthday, just a dog who doesn’t do birthdays.

Anyway, Easter. For Christians, it’s the most important event of the year, commemorating Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. When I was a kid, our daily newspaper would print a full-page picture of a cross, a risen Jesus or a field of lilies with a headline like, “He is risen!” They wouldn’t dare do that now; religion is kept separate from everything else.

I would wake up to Easter baskets sitting on my dresser. The Easter Bunny came during the night! Of course it was my mother, delivering the goodies from herself and my grandparents. Those baskets were full of candy and toys. After a quick look, we all went to Mass, came home to a breakfast of scrambled eggs and linguiça sausage, and dove into the baskets. Soon we were eating the ears off our chocolate bunnies.

Grownups don’t get Easter baskets. If you’re not religious, it looks like Easter is for kids: making color-crayoned pictures of rabbits or papier-mache eggs at school, dyeing hard-boiled eggs, egg hunts at dawn, encounters with adults dressed in rabbit costumes. Candy, toys, parties. Fun!

It’s another one of those holidays that may sting if we don’t have children, especially if we desperately want to have them. Whether you spend a quiet day with adults or watch everyone else’s kids having fun, it can be hard. Hang on. It doesn’t last long.

But there is much to celebrate. Before Easter came about as the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, people celebrated the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It’s a time of rebirth. Out my office window, the robins and jays are back. Daffodils wave their yellow heads. The berry vines are loaded with new green leaves, and the trillium are blooming in the woods. The grass is tall and lush. People may disappoint you, but spring comes every year.

You can tell yourself it’s just another day and try to ignore the whole thing. But why not celebrate? Buy yourself a chocolate bunny. Dye some eggs. Go to church. Or go for a hike. Weep if you must, then go on.

Happy Easter, my friends.

For more information on Easter traditions, click here.

Being Childless by Unfortunate Timing

 

When I try to puzzle out why I never had children, I think the real answer is timing. The kids I might have had got lost in the crunch between my divorce and my second marriage. The first marriage fell apart—and probably should never have happened. The second husband was older and already had all the kids he wanted. End of story. Nobody in this story is evil. It just happened that way.

I honestly believe that if husband number one and I had had a better marriage, we would still be together and would have spent Christmas with our grandchildren. Sure, he was reluctant to have children, but I think he would have bowed to pressure from me and his parents eventually. Maybe not. Maybe I’m dreaming. He has had two other wives and didn’t have children with either one of them. But yes, I think it would have happened if not for the cheating, the booze, and the fact that he decided he didn’t love me. He would have been no help with the kids, but they would exist.

Also, my career would be toast. But that’s a whole other story.

One of the guys I dated between marriages was hot to have more babies to add to the two sons he had with his first wife. We were the same age. Our babies would have been beautiful. But that was not a good match either.

No, I immediately knew Fred was “the one.” I thought he was younger. I thought he was still fertile. I thought we’d figure it out . . .

Timing. In this age of multiple marriages, some of us just get caught in-between and lose our chance to be moms. It’s lousy, but it happens.

Have some of you fallen into this situation? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

***

My Christmas was good. I was busy with church music and friends. I missed my husband, but I honestly didn’t miss the children I didn’t have as I watched my church choir friends running around like crazy people trying to spend time with everyone and dealing with all kinds of family drama. My friends showered me with love, food and presents.

After Christmas Mass, Annie the dog and I read and napped, watched videos, and took a long walk, wishing Merry Christmas to the neighbor dogs. After four Masses playing church music, I played the piano some more just for fun. With no one else to please, I ate raviolis and Portuguese sausage for dinner, all in the glow of my tiny Christmas tree and the lights I hung around the house.

It was my first Christmas alone without a meltdown. It can be done, dear friends. We can be happy without children. The most important thing for me was to stop comparing my life with everyone else’s. That just leads to pain. So, don’t do it.

I wish you all the best of new years. See you in 2018.

 

Do Your Childless Christmas Your Way

Dear friends,

Christmas is tough. If any time of year rubs our lack of children in our faces, this is it. Our friends are making themselves crazy buying gifts for the kids and grandkids. Facebook is full of babies and older children posing with Santa Claus. You find yourself trapped at holiday gatherings with people who keep asking when you’re going to have children. I know. It’s rough. You just want to run away to a tropical resort or a distant mountain until it’s all over and people regain their senses. You can’t even take solace in TV because it’s all holiday specials and Hallmark movies in which everybody is one happy family at the end. You try to get into the spirit. You buy treats for the dog and try to get him to pose with reindeer antlers, which he shakes off and uses for a chew toy.

I know. I spend a lot of Christmastime weeping. No kids, no husband, no family nearby. I started to decorate this year, then said no, I can’t. The lights didn’t work on either of my cheesy fake trees, the roof was leaking, the pellet stove wasn’t working, and I probably wouldn’t get any presents anyway, so forget it. Oh, woe is me. But I woke up the next morning feeling like it was a new day. I dealt with the roof and the stove. I went to the local Fred Meyer store and bought a much nicer fake tree. I spread Christmas decorations throughout the house. I did it all my way, with no one to consult, no one to say, “That looks stupid.” My decorations make me happy.

I hadn’t left any room for presents because I didn’t expect to get any. Then a package arrived at my front door. “Secret Santa,” said the return address. Inside, I found seven gifts from this secret Santa. I don’t know who it is. I know only that it was mailed in Newport, the town closest to where I live. This Santa knows I have a dog named Annie. She got a toy from Rudolph. I cried for the next hour, a blend of gratitude and embarrassment at seeming pitiful and lonely to someone. But I am so glad those gifts are there. I made room for presents under my tree.

I don’t have many people to buy gifts for. I’m thinking next year I’m going to put some energy into being a Secret Santa for other people, both the kids for whom we get requests at church every year and older people who might be feeling alone. Did you know that approximately one-third of Americans over age 65 live alone? I can buy them presents because I don’t have children and grandchildren to buy for, cook for, and worry about. I put a few doodads in the mail, and I’m done with the family Christmas. But I’m free to do more.

People are more generous than you expect. This old guy at church, Joe, stopped me after Mass on Sunday. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. Oh God, what, I thought. The man is a little loud and crude sometimes. Then Joe, who lost his wife a few years ago, handed me a framed poem, “My First Christmas in Heaven.” Tears blurred the words as I read them. The frame is beautiful, the words even more beautiful. At home, I hung it under my husband Fred’s picture and above our wedding rings and other keepsakes I display on his nightstand. So sweet. You can read the poem here.

Joe has about a dozen kids, no exaggeration, and countless grandchildren. They will probably take up two or three pews on Christmas Eve. They will probably talk while I’m singing my solo. But he misses his wife, Carmella, and I miss Fred. Having children does not make up for a missing spouse. Joe will be with his kids on Christmas. I will play and sing at four Masses over three days, then come home to Annie and a long nap. I will treat myself to a ravioli and meatballs dinner. Who says it has to be turkey or ham? I can eat whatever I want whenever I want, and I like raviolis. I will open my gifts from Secret Santa, take Annie for a walk, duty-call the family in California, and be glad Christmas is almost over.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful for all of you who read and support this blog, for everyone who has read my book, for all those people who love me and don’t care whether or not I ever had a baby. I’m even grateful now for a chance to hold someone else’s baby once in a while. And I am so, so grateful for dogs.

I have said it many times. It gets better. It gets easier. I swear to you that it does. The hardest time for me was when I could see my fertile years slipping away and didn’t know what to do about it. So I did nothing. I cried. I drank. I over-ate. I over-worked. I barked at anyone who expected me to enjoy their children, and God forbid anyone wish me a happy Mother’s Day.

Sometimes I let people think I had a medical problem that kept me from having babies. Sometimes I blamed my husband. Sometimes I just said, “Not yet.” And sometimes I told people who asked about my children that God had other plans for me. I think that’s true.

I wish you happiness and peace this holiday season. As much as possible, do it your own way. If that means running away, fine. If you can’t run away, be honest with your loved ones about your feelings. It’s okay to tell them that it makes you sad to see their babies when you may never have one. It’s okay to answer persistent questions with, “I don’t know. Please stop asking. It’s a sore subject.”

Worst case, do what I do when I’m in a tough place. Think about how in a few hours or a few days, this will be just a fuzzy memory.

Love to all of you. Feel free to cheer, whine, or rant in the comments.

Sue