Who will we teach our favorite songs?

I lay awake half the night trying to figure out how to write this without seeming totally sorry for myself and bumming you out. How do I put a positive spin on it, show how you and I can make the best of our childless situation? I can offer some suggestions, but you and I know anything we do as a substitute for what we might do with our own children is just a . . . substitute.

Friends had been urging me for months to play at a local open mic that happens on Friday nights in a nearby small town. I finally hauled my guitar down there. It’s in the former cafeteria of a former middle school that got moved up the hill due to tsunami worries. Now a program for the poor uses the building.

When I walked in, a man I knew stood at the mic with his three-year-old son next to him pretending to strum a yellow ukulele with a smiley face on it. I have watched this child, Evan, grow from a swaddled blob to a boy who can walk, talk and sing. His dad, Tom, a banjo player, has brought him to song circles and open mics and always included Evan in the act. Evan still can’t really play, but he knows all the old folk and bluegrass songs that Tom plays.

Shortly after Tom and Evan, Tony, a man my age, took the stage with his grown son. I didn’t even know he had a son, but there he was, handsome, with a good voice, singing in harmony with his dad. That’s what got me.

I have been a solo act forever. My parents didn’t do music, rarely came to hear me perform. I became a musician in spite of them, not because of them. When I hear about families that do singalongs in the car or go caroling at Christmas, I am so jealous. I always thought if I had children, I could share my love of music with them. We would do the singalongs. I’d pay for whatever lessons they wanted, teach them all my songs, and create my own little band.

I had a taste of it when my husband was alive and my youngest stepson spent time with us. Fred and I sang with a vocal ensemble. For our Christmas gigs, Michael would put on a white shirt and a red bow tie and join us, singing next to me, his little-boy voice higher than mine. Oh, that was sweet. I tried to teach him a little piano, but his mother didn’t agree that he needed lessons.

Oh, and there was the Christmas when the step-granddaughters sat with me at the piano to do the “Little Drummer Boy” and other carols. They were as enchanted by the music as I was. It was heaven. I don’t know where either of those girls is now, but I’m lucky we had those moments.

Back at the open mic, watching Tony and his son, I wanted to cry, even though overall I enjoyed the evening and plan to go back this week. I will continue to be the solo act.

I know children don’t always share your interests. They might reject them altogether. And I might not have the patience to deal with little kids spoiling my act, singing off key, and repeating the same phrases over and over while they learn. They might be more interested in their smart phones than in anything I wanted them to do. But how sweet it would be if we could sing in harmony together.

I would also want to share my religion, my politics, and my ways of doing things. But children are their own people. You hope that a little rubs off, but there are no guarantees.

Enough fantasizing, right? We don’t have children, but we can share our talents and our joys with other people’s kids. It might not be music; it might be football, classic cars, art or graphic novels.

For me, it’s music. This school year’s religious education program begins tonight at our church. I will lead the singing and teach the kids some songs that are new to them but were old when I learned them. I didn’t learn them from my parents but from the nuns at St. Martin’s Church.

We can pass what we know to unlimited numbers of children and young adults by teaching, leading, coaching, and being their older friends. They won’t be our own, but it’s still our legacy, and it still counts.

I thank you for being here and welcome your comments.

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What’s the big deal about childlessness?


What is it that makes people feel bad about not having children? That’s what the young man interviewing me over the phone yesterday wanted to know. I struggled to find an answer that he would understand. It became very clear that men and women have different ideas about this stuff, especially when they come from different generations. His questions showed he really didn’t get it.
Is it that everybody else is doing it? Are we looking for a sense of accomplishment? Do we want to leave something behind? Does it help to be around other people’s children?
Well, I could answer that last one. No. When you are hurting over your own lack of children, it does not help to be surrounded by everybody else’s. It just makes you more aware of what you’re missing. I don’t think he understood that either.
I tried to explain that it’s all of the above and more, that we’re missing a major life experience, that we have no younger generation to replace the old ones who are dying, that we have no one to inherit our keepsakes, and that for some people children are their only legacy, but none of that was really getting to the heart of it.
Why does it hurt so bad to realize we may never have children? Is it a deep-down physical need to reproduce? After all, every living thing on earth is designed to reproduce. Some can’t for various physical reasons, but reproduction is the plan. Humans are the only ones who can say, “No, we’d rather not,” the only ones who mate and don’t procreate. So maybe it’s just a basic biological need. But then why don’t some people feel that need?
Almost a quarter of women are not having children these days, and a lot of them don’t feel bad about it. They choose to be childless, preferring the unfettered life. Why do the rest of us grieve the loss of the children we might have had?
The young man segued into a discussion of social media and wouldn’t I like my blogs to be reposted in perpetuity if some company offered that service. No, I don’t think so, and was he actually scamming me to sell a product? I don’t know. But his questions about childlessness linger. What’s the big deal? Why do we feel so bad?
What do you think? Help me find answers? Why do you feel bad about not having children? Please share in the comments.