Are children the ties that bind forever?

My mother never got over my moving to Oregon. Reading through old journals for an essay I’m working on, I read over and over about how depressed she was after we left, how she suddenly seemed old, how she spent half my visits in tears. If I had known she would die of cancer a few years later, would I have moved?

My father was devastated, too, although he expressed his feelings mostly by criticizing our decision to give up our good jobs and our nice house in San Jose to go live by the beach where we had no jobs and didn’t know anyone. The thing is, I didn’t know it would hurt them so badly, or that it would hurt me, the perpetual daughter with no kids, so much to be away from them. When we said goodbye, my tough-guy father sobbed.

I have never stopped feeling guilty. Every day. If my parents had been able to wish us luck and be happy with their own busy lives, it would have been different. But no, they made it clear we were fools who were breaking their hearts. I thought they would visit often. They didn’t. We visited them. I was just there two weeks ago. At the airport, my tearful father wanted to know when I was coming back. I walked into the terminal trying not to cry.

Why have I never moved back, especially after my husband died? Because it costs too much to live in the Bay Area, and because I like it here. I have built a life in Newport, Oregon that allows me to do the writing and music I have always wanted to do. The air is clean, the traffic is easy, and I meet friends everywhere I go. When I cross the Oregon border coming back from my visits to San Jose, I feel a burden lift. I honk the horn and shout because now I’m in my own place where I can shape my life the way I want to.

What does any of this have to do with not having children? Simply this: If I had children, even adult children, living back in the Bay Area, I would never have left. I would not want to be separated from my sons and daughters and grandchildren. The beach is swell, but they would be too important a part of my life to leave. At least I hope so. I have seen families in which the parents stayed for their children’s sake and then the children moved away. Heck, Fred and I were the kids who moved away.

I did not have children of my own, but I did have three stepchildren and two step-grandchildren by the time we left. They did not factor into our decision. I figured we wouldn’t see them much less than we already did because Fred was not involved in their lives. He had always been a hands-off dad. He didn’t seem to consider them at all in our decision. We did invite the youngest, who had been living with us until shortly after he graduated from high school the year before, to come with us. He declined. The older two offspring were angry at us, much more than they told us about at the time. But here’s the thing: The guilt I feel about them–and I do feel guilty–is considerably less than the guilt I feel about moving away from my parents. Is this because I never grew up and became a mom? Because I don’t know what it’s like to have your children live far away?

Most of my friends here are parents and grandparents. Nearly all of their children live somewhere else. In this rural area supported by tourism and fishing, you have to leave to go to a university or get a good job. So the kids move to Portland or Seattle or another major city. And the parents visit. Everything they do here takes a back seat to the kids and grandkids, and you can’t argue with that. But they have their own lives, too. They don’t pour on the guilt like my parents did. Fred’s parents never did that either. They were happy to send their three sons into the world and get on with their own lives.

How long do you need to stay near your parents? If you have adult children, is it okay to move away from them? If you don’t have children, does that make us wonderfully free to go wherever we want? Are you tied down by your partner’s children, and do you resent it? What do you think about all this? Please share in the comments.


I’m childless and widowed, but I’m free

Today I want to talk about freedom. You thought we were talking about childnessness? Well, we are. Hang in there.

I never envisioned myself becoming a childless widow. I don’t know how I wound up being 60 years old and having a dog as my partner in life, but on a day like today, I don’t mind.

I have another blog called Unleashed in Oregon, where I talk about my adventures as a California transplant to the Beaver state. In order to write about adventures, I need to have some. That means getting out of the office once in a while.

A tsunami evacuation trail has been created here in Newport, Oregon along Yaquina Bay from the Hatfield Marine Science Center to what is being called Safe Haven Hill. In the event of a tsunami, the hundreds of people working and having fun along the bay will be directed to take that trail to higher ground. I decided to try it before my monthly chiropractor appointment.

I parked at the marina and started walking. It’s a gorgeous day today, sunny, with blue sky, blue ocean, everything ready to burst into bloom. It’s Oregon Coast warm, in the 50s. I enjoyed the feeling of freedom, being able to walk anywhere I wanted. I walked past the marina, the RV park, and the Rogue brewery where they’re setting up the tents for this weekend’s seafood and wine festival. I walked past the guys cleaning fish and walked under the 75-year-old Yaquina Bridge.

Wherever I felt like it, I stopped and took a picture. I have always wanted to climb up the stairs to the bridge to see what that’s like, so I did. Up and down, taking more pictures. I didn’t make it to the top of the hill. Too much to see on the way, but that’s okay because I was free to do whatever I wanted.

If I had had anybody else to worry about, we would have had to schedule a time and plan lunch afterward. We would have had to walk all the way to the top of the hill, come hell or tsunami.

I felt young and free, unfettered, with nobody else’s needs to worry about, nobody to report to or explain why I wanted to do this. That’s one of the benefits of being on your own without dependents. I have always done this thing where I jump in the car and run away. When my stepson lived with us, I still escaped, but I was always looking at my watch, wanting to be back at the house when he got home from school.

When I lived near San Francisco, I would drive to the zoo and visit the nearby Cliff House and Sutro Baths. If you go to the zoo with children, it’s going to be all about them, pointing out things of interest to them, dealing with their needs for food, drink and potty stops, leaving when they get bored or cranky. It’s pretty much the same with a man. But alone, I can commune with the polar bears all day if I want to.

In San Jose, when I wasn’t working a 9 to 5 job, I would go hike in the foothills, sit on a rock and write, go to the beach, or travel back in time at the San Juan Bautista mission where some of my ancestors were married.

You can’t do that if you have other people depending on you.

Do I wish I had a husband and children? Yes. I miss Fred every day, and I do miss children and grandchildren I might have had. Yesterday when I was walking the dog, the school bus dropped off some kids and this adorable little girl went running toward her mother, hollering “Mommy!” like she was so glad to see her. It killed me.

Without children, you can enjoy the freedom of going for a walk, climbing a mountain, kayaking down a river, whatever you like to do without having to worry about anybody else. It hurts not to have children when you wanted them. It does. It’s my biggest regret in life. And you do feel different from everybody else when the world seems to circle around their children. You’ll never convince me you’re not missing something. But you do have freedom. Don’t ignore it. Enjoy it.