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.

 

 

 

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Learning how to be a Great Aunt Sue

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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.

 

Don’t let Christmas without kids get you down


“Do you have children?” I was selling books at an author’s fair earlier this month when a children’s book author asked me the question, hoping to sell me some of her picture books.

“No, I don’t,” I said.
“Grandchildren?”
“No.”
“Nieces and nephews?”
“All grown up.” I couldn’t wait to get away from her and move on to books for grownups.
It’s hard for people whose lives are immersed in children to understand people who have no little ones in their lives. At this time of year, most of my friends are busy buying Christmas presents for their kids and grandkids. They jam the toy aisles at the stores looking for presents that will elicit squeals of joy on Christmas morning. Meanwhile I’m looking at calendars, candles, books, and scarves because everyone on my list is an adult. Even the “kids” in our family are over 21 at this point, with no babies on the way.
Lots of people say Christmas is for children, with all this business about Santa Claus and presents. For those of us without kids, it can be a difficult season. Not only do we not have kids to shop for, but we’re thrown into situations with friends and family who are obsessed with their children.
I could preach about how Christmas is really about the birth of Jesus and how the focus should be on Him. For me, it is. It has to be. He’s the only baby coming to me this Christmas. Plus I work at my church as a music minister. But I know not all of you are Christians, and I’m not here to convert you.
No matter what you believe religion-wise, there are lots of good things to appreciate at this time of year: the food, decorations, gifts, time off from work or school, and time to spend with loved ones. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, you might want to get involved in one of the charities helping others during the holidays.

 

People will ask about your children. People will try to sell you toys. Tell them the truth, that you don’t have any kids, but you do have a dog or a cat or a hamster. Or just change the subject.

 

You could even run away for the holidays. A friend of mine who has three grown children and several grandchildren is renting a timeshare at the beach far from any of them this year because some are going to their in-law’s home in the Midwest and the others drive her crazy. She and her husband plan to spend a quiet day sipping hot toddies and ignoring the insanity of Christmas.
If the holidays bring you nothing but pain, you might want to follow her example and run away until it’s over. Why not?
How are you surviving the holidays? Please share in the comments.

Are you a childless holiday orphan?

Holidays are tough. We often find ourselves surrounded by families full of parents and children and feel left out because we can’t share in the talk about kids and babies and pregnancies. We may come up against people who bug us about when we’re going to have children or why we don’t have them. They may even make wisecracks about us being the ones without children.

The only way around this is avoiding those people and either spending the holidays alone or spending them with people with whom you feel more comfortable. If you have to do the family thing, try as hard as you can to forget what you don’t have and enjoy the good parts of the festivities. You do have things to be thankful for, I promise. And hey, there’s pumpkin pie.

Another holiday challenge kicks in when your mate has children from a previous relationship. If they live with you, they will most likely be with the other parents for the holidays. If not, they may be with you, or their time may be split between parents so you only get a taste of parenthood. And sometimes, it’s harder being with the stepchildren than it is being without them. Hang in there.

In our situation, the older kids were on their own by the time we got married, but they mostly spent their holidays with their mother, and the grandchildren were hustled back and forth between Grandma and their dad’s family, so we didn’t see much of them. Michael, the youngest, lived with us from age 12 to 20. Before that, we got him on the holidays, but after he moved in, his mom claimed him. Most Christmases, we had limited kid time and felt pretty left out. Once we had all three and the grandchildren at our house. That was the best Christmas ever. Unfortunately, it only happened once.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are special days, but try not to dwell on what you don’t have or what doesn’t happen on those days. There are 363 other days in the year to do something special just for yourselves and invite whoever you want.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. I’m on the road this week, but I hope to post again on “black” Friday. I am thankful for all of you.