“Back to school:” What does it mean if you don’t have kids?

Once upon a time, September brought golden leaves, new clothes and the first day of school for my brother and me. While the dew was still wet on the grass, we posed on the front sidewalk for pictures in our new school clothes. Then we kissed Mom goodbye, picked up our sack lunches and shiny new binders and walked the three blocks to Cypress School, excited to meet our teachers and reunite with our friends.
Many years have passed. For people who went on to have children of their own, September is a time of getting ready for the new school year. The moms who were once the children now buy clothes and shiny new binders for their own children. They kiss them goodbye, send them off to school and sigh in relief that their kids are taken care of till 3:00. In the evenings, they help them with their homework and prepare lunches and clothes for the next day. The cycle of life goes on.
But what does the beginning of school mean for those of us who don’t have children? Some of us are teachers who say they have hundreds of children from September to June and love them all.
Some of us are students ourselves, taking college or university classes in preparation for new careers or just to learn. For many years, I was one of those students. I earned my bachelor’s degree before I got married, but I kept going back to school, studying photography and then taking three tries at a master’s degree in writing before I succeeded. If I had had children, I probably would never have earned that degree or spent those earlier years going back to school. College costs so much these days. It’s a luxury that parents struggle to provide for their children. No way can they pay for more education for themselves at the same time.
I dropped out the first time because I was getting divorced and couldn’t afford school anymore. A few years after Fred and I got married, I went back to school. I spent two years taking classes to qualify for the master’s program and was just starting to take master’s-level courses when my stepson Michael moved in with us. I was delighted to have him, but I was working for two newspapers and now I had a child to take care of. I never got to my homework before midnight, and my professors seemed to think school was the only thing we had to do. I reluctantly dropped out.
It was only after Michael grew up and we moved to Oregon that I had the time to finish my degree. I enrolled in a low-residency program and pushed on through the deaths of my mother-in-law and my mother and the beginning of my husband’s illness to finally achieve my goal of a master of fine arts degree in creative writing. I’m still paying on my student loan at an age when lots of people are retired.
I’m not telling you this to boast. I’m trying to make a point. If Fred and I had had children together, we would have spent all our money on their education. My education would be over. Being childless allowed me to focus on my own career and education, and that has been a blessing. When you get to feeling down about not having children, especially in times when so much attention is placed on the kids going back to school, think about how you are free to do things that moms can only dream about.
Is there something you would like to do and can do because you don’t have children to take care of? Why not do it?

Lost in the Land of Kids and Mommies

I taught a writing workshop last night at the local intermediate school and found myself in a foreign country. Having never had children, I didn’t spend my younger years taking my kids to school and attending school events. I’ve done a few interviews at schools, but even those were a long time ago. It felt strange from the get-go. For one thing, I was old enough to be the mother of all the adults present. When did that happen?

When I arrived, the doors were locked. Even during the day, they’re locked for fear of dangerous strangers. When I was growing up in California, our schools couldn’t be locked. The halls were all outdoors, but this place is like a prison, all indoors with very few windows.

A knock on the door got me in. Immediately a loud-voiced woman who looked too young to be a mom or a teacher started yelling that I had to sign in. Another young woman announced that she was the assistant superintendent of the school district and demanded to know whether I was a teacher or a parent. Uh, writer.

They brought me recycled paper, and we used recycled napkins to eat boxed pizza that could only be served by someone with gloves and a food handler’s license. What happened to moms bringing cookies and punch?

Attendance was poor; apparently last night was a big night for school concerts and sporting events, none of which I knew about. Luckily I didn’t pick the date, and someone else will have to recycle the leftover pizza and handouts.

As I began my talk, I realized the kids were barely paying attention and many of the words I used were probably too sophisticated, especially for the younger siblings who came along with their parents. I don’t know what kids know at various ages these days, and I haven’t developed that way of relating to children that some people, parents, seem to have.

I’m grateful that when I asked them to write, they did. A couple got so into it that they didn’t want to stop, and they were happy to read their stories out loud when they finished. The event was a success because they did write.

But all night, I felt as if I was speaking in a foreign language, the language of someone who doesn’t know how to act around children and their parents.