Do Your Childless Christmas Your Way

Dear friends,

Christmas is tough. If any time of year rubs our lack of children in our faces, this is it. Our friends are making themselves crazy buying gifts for the kids and grandkids. Facebook is full of babies and older children posing with Santa Claus. You find yourself trapped at holiday gatherings with people who keep asking when you’re going to have children. I know. It’s rough. You just want to run away to a tropical resort or a distant mountain until it’s all over and people regain their senses. You can’t even take solace in TV because it’s all holiday specials and Hallmark movies in which everybody is one happy family at the end. You try to get into the spirit. You buy treats for the dog and try to get him to pose with reindeer antlers, which he shakes off and uses for a chew toy.

I know. I spend a lot of Christmastime weeping. No kids, no husband, no family nearby. I started to decorate this year, then said no, I can’t. The lights didn’t work on either of my cheesy fake trees, the roof was leaking, the pellet stove wasn’t working, and I probably wouldn’t get any presents anyway, so forget it. Oh, woe is me. But I woke up the next morning feeling like it was a new day. I dealt with the roof and the stove. I went to the local Fred Meyer store and bought a much nicer fake tree. I spread Christmas decorations throughout the house. I did it all my way, with no one to consult, no one to say, “That looks stupid.” My decorations make me happy.

I hadn’t left any room for presents because I didn’t expect to get any. Then a package arrived at my front door. “Secret Santa,” said the return address. Inside, I found seven gifts from this secret Santa. I don’t know who it is. I know only that it was mailed in Newport, the town closest to where I live. This Santa knows I have a dog named Annie. She got a toy from Rudolph. I cried for the next hour, a blend of gratitude and embarrassment at seeming pitiful and lonely to someone. But I am so glad those gifts are there. I made room for presents under my tree.

I don’t have many people to buy gifts for. I’m thinking next year I’m going to put some energy into being a Secret Santa for other people, both the kids for whom we get requests at church every year and older people who might be feeling alone. Did you know that approximately one-third of Americans over age 65 live alone? I can buy them presents because I don’t have children and grandchildren to buy for, cook for, and worry about. I put a few doodads in the mail, and I’m done with the family Christmas. But I’m free to do more.

People are more generous than you expect. This old guy at church, Joe, stopped me after Mass on Sunday. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. Oh God, what, I thought. The man is a little loud and crude sometimes. Then Joe, who lost his wife a few years ago, handed me a framed poem, “My First Christmas in Heaven.” Tears blurred the words as I read them. The frame is beautiful, the words even more beautiful. At home, I hung it under my husband Fred’s picture and above the collection of wedding rings and other keepsakes I keep on his nightstand. So sweet. You can read the poem here.

Joe has about a dozen kids, no exaggeration, and countless grandchildren. They will probably take up two or three pews on Christmas Eve. They will probably talk while I’m singing my solo. But he misses his wife, Carmella, and I miss Fred. Having children does not make up for a missing spouse. Joe will be with his kids on Christmas. I will play and sing at four Masses over three days, then come home to Annie and a long nap. I will treat myself to a ravioli and meatballs dinner. Who says it has to be turkey or ham? I can eat whatever I want whenever I want, and I like raviolis. I will open my gifts from Secret Santa, take Annie for a walk, duty-call the family in California, and be glad Christmas is almost over.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful for all of you who read and support this blog, for everyone who has read my book, for all those people who love me and don’t care whether or not I ever had a baby. I’m even grateful now for a chance to hold someone else’s baby once in a while. And I am so, so grateful for dogs.

I have said it many times. It gets better. It gets easier. I swear to you that it does. The hardest time for me was when I could see my fertile years slipping away and didn’t know what to do about it. So I did nothing. I cried. I drank. I over-ate. I over-worked. I barked at anyone who expected me to enjoy their children, and God forbid anyone wish me a happy Mother’s Day.

Sometimes I let people think I had a medical problem that kept me from having babies. Sometimes I blamed my husband. Sometimes I just said, “Not yet.” And sometimes I told people who asked about my children that God had other plans for me. I think that’s true.

I wish you happiness and peace this holiday season. As much as possible, do it your own way. If that means running away, fine. If you can’t run away, be honest with your loved ones about your feelings. It’s okay to tell them that it makes you sad to see their babies when you may never have one. It’s okay to answer persistent questions with, “I don’t know. Please stop asking. It’s a sore subject.”

Worst case, do what I do when I’m in a tough place. Think about how in a few hours or a few days, this will be just a fuzzy memory.

Love to all of you. Feel free to cheer, whine, or rant in the comments.



Writers tackle misunderstandings between those with and without children

Dear readers, I’m feeling a little brain-dead today, so I’m sharing these links to articles about being childless.
In this BBC piece, the writer discusses how hard it is for parents and non-parents to understand each other sometimes. “A Point of View: Can Parents and Non-parents Ever Understand Each Other?”
Then Dear Abby tackles those stupid nosy questions people are always asking us. You know the kind: Why don’t you have children? Don’t you like kids? Why don’t you adopt? Etc. Dear Abby: Nosy Questions Hurt Childless Woman
And finally, if we can laugh about this, we’re on our way to healing. Marion L. Thomas’s new book Living the Empty Carriage Way of Life will have you nodding your head, saying, “Yes, yes, that’s how it is.”
Happy reading.
Please keep commenting—unless you’re one of the dozens who write about spell casters and magical potions. I will continue deleting your comments as the spam that they are.

TMI? How Much Should We Tell People?

A male friend of mine is reading my Childless by Marriagebook. Once planning to be a priest, he has never married or had children. He’s still very religious, and I expected him to be shocked. I mean, the man is shocked when I say something as innocuous as “That sucks,” and he won’t watch movies with cursing or sex in them. 
The early chapters of the book are quite open about my sex life, about losing my virginity to my future husband, my experiences with birth control, and my post-divorce experiences with other men. Maybe, after reading all that, he would not want to be my friend anymore. So, the next time we talked after he started reading it, I held my breath.
“Well,” he said the first day, “You’ve had quite a lot of experiences, haven’t you?” Um, yes.  “I can’t believe how open you are.” I guess. “You’ve been through so much.” It’s just life.
I told him I was worried about him not liking me anymore, but he said, “Nothing you could do would change how I feel about you.” Now that’s a friend.
The second day, he talked about feeling left behind. He didn’t become a priest because he wanted to marry and have children, but he never found the right person, “the one who rang my bell.” Now, in his 60s, facing open heart surgery in the near future, he knows he can never get those years back.
That “wasted years” feeling is one many of us share. What did we do with those years when we might have been with someone we loved and/or with those years when we might have been raising children? What do we tell people when they ask, “Why?”
Do we give them all the gory details about infertility, birth control, miscarriages and misgivings? Do we talk about how our partners don’t want kids—or we don’t, how the stepchildren have messed up our own chances, how we fear passing on mental illness, addictions and other problems, or how we just don’t have enough money? What do we say? How much should say?
In casual conversation, I usually just tell people, “God had other plans for me.” I believe that, but there’s so much more to the story. Just saying I don’t have kids tends to bring conversation to a halt. No kids? No grandkids? What? How much should I share?
What do you think? How much information do you need to give when people ask why you don’t have children? Do you tell all, give a vague answer, or change the subject? Is it none of their business? Do you turn it around and ask why they DO have children?
Please share in the comments. And, if you’ve read my book, did I say too much?
Thank you all for being here.