Friends make the best kind of family

Hey! We survived the holidays. I spent most of mine either at work or alone at home, so I didn’t have much opportunity to be bothered by people who are obsessed with their kids. By maintaining a sort of tunnel vision, I could ignore all the images of happy family gatherings that did not include me. I dared not dwell on the sadness of not having anyone to kiss on New Year’s Eve and opening my Secret Santa gifts alone—and yes, those presents that showed up on my doorstep in a priority mail box a week before Christmas were the only ones I had to open on Christmas morning.

I gathered a few other gifts along the way from friends at various holiday gatherings, and I am grateful to them, especially to my friend Pat who had earrings custom-made for me on her trip to Mexico and Sandy who welcomed me to her early family Christmas dinner, where I received several wonderful gifts. I got a check from my dad, Portuguese food from my aunt, and Amazon gift certificates from my brother’s family. But nothing under my little tree to unwrap. And the beautiful Christmas stocking my godmother made many years ago remained in the box with the other unused Christmas doodads.

I think I have figured out where the Secret Santa gifts came from. I wasn’t involved in any organizations that did secret gift exchanges, so it was a mystery. None of my friends admitted to it. It had to be someone who could mail the box from Newport, Oregon, just north of where I live. It had to be someone who knew I had a dog named Annie . . .

The senior center. A few months ago, I attended a meeting there for people living alone and concerned about getting the help they needed. We filled out forms that told about our pets, our hobbies, and our interests. We talked about getting together again, but we haven’t so far. I think that list triggered the Secret Santa packages. I’m not going to ask; I want to leave the identity of the gifter a secret for now. If the staff or regulars at the senior center were the ones, I’d like to help next year. It means so much to have someone notice you’re alone and send you gifts without asking for anything back.

This reminds me of the couple from church who used to give me chocolates for Valentine’s Day and Easter because they knew Fred wasn’t around to do it. Ann and Dick. They were in their 80s then. Dick has since died. Ann is disabled now and needs a lot of help, which her neighbors provide. They care for her like family. She has a son somewhere, but he’s not around much.

Friends. The family you create. I think that’s the key to surviving in this world where families are so spread out and so complicated and where it can hurt so much to be the only ones without children. Many of the singers in our church choir went off to see the grandchildren for Christmas or hosted family for the holidays. God bless them. At my house, it was just me and Annie. It was okay. We read, watched videos, walked, ate too much, and relaxed.

When people have children, their holiday activities are pretty much set. They know who they’ll be with and what they’re going to do, whether they want to or not. Those of us who are childless get to choose, and that’s good.

So how were your holidays? What are you looking forward to this year? Have you already blown your new year’s resolutions like I have? Stay on the diet, do yoga every day, practice the piano for an hour . . . Right. Feel free to whine, complain, celebrate or commiserate in the comments. I’m anxious to hear how it’s going.

I leave you with a gift: Jody Day’s anti-New Year’s rant on her Gateway Women page. Read it. I think you’ll identify with some of her feelings.

Hang in there. We’re going to have a good year, in spite of everything.

 

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The Childless Christmas Gift Dilemma

The first Christmas commercials showed up on TV before we finished with Halloween. The stores were already putting out the decorations and cheesy gifts in mid-October. You can’t get away from it. Even if you’re not Christian and don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s hard to escape the whole Santa Claus business.

So much of what is offered is for children. After all, who gets the most and the best Christmas presents? Kids. When there are kids around, almost everything under the tree is for them. It has always been that way. When my brother and I were little, our parents, grandparents, godparents, and aunts brought in armloads of gifts for us. We’d crawl around under the tree, prodding and shaking the packages, trying to figure out what was inside, dreaming of the possibilities. On Christmas morning, it felt like we were unwrapping presents for hours. It wasn’t until my teens that I realized Mom and Dad received comparatively few gifts. They would nod and admire our bounty while itching to get on with preparations for the company coming soon.

I have spent plenty of time at other people’s houses watching the kids rip paper off packages while I sipped my tea or slowly unwrapped my one present, fancy soaps, chocolates, or another coffee mug. It was worse when those kids were my stepchildren, surrounded by so many parents and grandparents, step and bio, they couldn’t even keep track. My husband’s ex always knew exactly what they wanted and needed because she was the real grandmother, the one who was around all the time. I was this weird Grandma Sue person who knew nothing about children.

We can say Christmas is not about the gifts, but in some ways it is. All the advertising showing perfect families with two happy parents and at least two beautiful children doesn’t mirror our own reality. If only advertisers would try to understand that. Sure, we might have stepchildren, nieces and nephews, or our friends’ children to buy presents for, but we have to exercise some restraint because they have their own parents who want to give the biggest and best things.

Christmas gifts present a dilemma for many of us without children. If you’re like me, you don’t hang around kids that much and don’t even know what they want or need. I haven’t been to Toys R Us in at least 25 years. What are the popular gifts this year? What do you get for a two-year-old? What does a 12-year-old want? Are you obligated to buy presents for kids you barely know? Do your friends and siblings expect you to shower their children with gifts when you can’t afford them or when even walking through the toy store at the mall makes you feel bad?

I’m afraid I sound sorry for myself. I don’t get a lot of Christmas presents these days, and I open them alone. The joys of being a widow far from family. I have been buying gifts for certain young people for years and never gotten anything in return. But that’s not what this post is about.

I want to know what it’s like for you. Does Christmas fill you with dread because of all the gifts you have to buy or the gifts you don’t get to buy because you don’t have kids? Do you enjoy buying or making things for the children in your life? Or are you relieved because not having children means you don’t have to spend the money or deal with the crowds? What’s your game plan for Christmas presents this year? Do you have suggestions for surviving the Santa Claus side of Christmas? Please share in the comments.

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.

 

 

 

On our own and free

I expected to spend Christmas curled up crying because we had no family around, just the pups, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. At one point, all of the stepchildren claimed they were coming to spend the holiday with us, but Gretchen and Ted couldn’t get the time off or the money to pay for the trip, and Michael was snowed in. Due to my husband’s illness, we couldn’t go south to California to visit the family. Sad? I thought it would be, but it was great. Not that we don’t love and miss the family. We did talk to them on the phone, but we were freed of the usual Christmas obligations. We got up late, opened our gifts slowly, then went out to eat at a fancy restaurant. Our table overlooked the ocean, and it felt very romantic. Plus I didn’t have to cook or wash dishes. Later we played with our Christmas presents, just like we used to do when we were kids and had no obligations.

Friends braved snow and ice to get to their kids and grandkids. They spent a fortune on gifts and worried about getting it all done. It we had children, we would have done likewise. Like my friends, nothing would have kept me away from my offspring. But we put everything in the mail early and relaxed.

I noticed a lot of people with white hair at the restaurant. I guess by not having kids around, we jumped a generation to do what seniors do. It’s not so bad.

The only negative: One of the dogs’ collars lay in the grass, chewed in half,when we got home. Where is the other half? Did his sister eat it? I looked for an hour and didn’t find it. It’s a lot like leaving toddlers at home alone. So today we’re buying Chico a new collar and a spare for Annie. Meanwhile both dogs are running around naked. From everything I hear about small children, there isn’t much difference between them and puppies, except you can’t leave kids out in the back yard with bowls of Puppy Chow.

However you spent your holidays, I hope they were peaceful and full of blessings. If you are grieving over a lack of children, try to live in the moment and enjoy the good things you do have. What is, is. I wish you a fun New Year’s holiday and a happy 2009.