So Many Moms and Babies Out There!

Dear friends,

I was supposed to be in San Antonio, Texas today for the giant AWP writer’s conference, but so many writers, editors and publishers cancelled due to the coronavirus fears that I decided not to go. It no longer seemed worth the time and effort. Judging by the photos published this morning of empty spaces where thousands of wordsmiths would normally be, I’m sure I made the right choice.

I made this decision on the road to the Portland airport, where I had a hotel reserved for their “park and fly” program. I was already on the fence when the friend in Texas I had planned to visit called to tell me not to come. That cinched it. Not going to Texas, but I already had a room in Portland. Might as well spend the night there, right? I had a house/dogsitter taking care of Annie. I had scheduled the week away from all my usual activities. Instead of seeing San Antonio, I would create a vacation right here in Oregon. I would read, write, shop, and visit local attractions.

The Grotto in Portland was beautiful and inspiring as usual. It’s a Catholic shrine and botanical garden full of statues commemorating the lives of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, with a meditation chapel, a church, and a gift shop. No kids, just adults seeking spiritual connections. There was one bump: a plaque on the path to the meditation chapel extols the glories of motherhood. Even here, I thought. But it’s a Catholic place; of course moms are honored. In the gift shop, I saw many books about being a parent, not one about not being a parent, unless you count the biographies of the various saints. I’m pretty sure a lot of the martyrs never had a chance to have children.

Sad, but then again, I was glad not to be Mary and watch my son die nailed to a cross.

It wasn’t until I got to Salem that I became fully aware of how different life is in my Oregon coast town where the average age is well past menopause. Suddenly I was surrounded by young people and their kids. At lunch, a mom sat at the table next to me with six kids. She did a good job of keeping them under control. I watched her show her son how to eat his massive German pancake and felt a little twinge as I ate my BLT alone. I’ll never be surrounded by kids who look like me and whom I can teach everything I know.

Salem, an hour south of Portland, has a wonderful waterfront park that includes miles of walking paths along the Willamette River, plus a playground and a carousel. I watched a father walking with his tiny daughter, so cute. I watched a teenage couple holding hands. I smiled at a guy playing bongo drums. All good, but at the playground, I felt like an outsider. There were all those young moms and all those kids, and it was like I came from foreign country. I had never been part of that group, never would be.

When I was their age, I was a newspaper reporter, walking around in a blazer, carrying a notebook and a camera, watching, never part of the group. I was never the mom pushing her child on the swing. I thought about taking a picture, but these days you can’t take photos of a stranger’s kids without the parents thinking you’re a stalker. I walked past them like a ghost and continued past the indoor carousel, where I didn’t feel the right to go inside since I had no children and I didn’t want to ride the horses myself.

It was still beautiful out there. I had a lovely solo dinner in the hotel restaurant where I watched a group of young men order beers two at a time. No kids. But I still felt the loss. If only . . .

Now, I know if I had children with me, I’d be staying someplace cheaper, if I could afford to travel with them at all, and we’d be eating at the greasy spoon across the street, but there’s no avoiding the feeling of being left out, of having missed something. At home, with most of my friends older than I am, I can avoid it more than you probably can wherever you live. Do you see women with baby bumps wherever you go? Are there parents and little kids everywhere? That makes it ever so much harder.

Is it some kind of blessing that we don’t have kids to worry about during this coronavirus scare? The parents I know always seem to have colds they caught from their kids. Are we safer because of our childless status? Would we rather have the sniffles than be childless?

I’m rambling. I need to get my hotel breakfast before I plunge back into the world of parents and children. Stay well.

 

Movies Don’t Reflect our Childless Lives

annie-9314I’m falling asleep at my computer. The needy dog kept me awake last night. She is still unnerved by the wild thunderstorm that rumbled our houses in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Poor Annie was so frightened she squeezed up against the bed, trembling like crazy. Her aged knees, both held together with plates and screws, wouldn’t let her jump up on the bed, and she’s too heavy for me to lift so I leaned over and held her.

I never heard thunder like that here on the Oregon coast before. Lightning flashes pierced my shade, immediately followed by thunder that shook the walls and windows and rattled the roof. It went on and on as I held my dog, saying, “It’s okay. It’s okay.” She disagreed, still shaking. Eventually I got up, stuffed a sedative into a doughy pill pocket and gave it to her. The thunder subsided and we both went back to sleep.

But this morning at 3 a.m., there she was again. “Hey, hey, comfort me.” Sigh. I kissed her nose and tried to go back to sleep, but all the things swirling around in my mind crowded out the fascinating dream I’d been having earlier.

My dog is not my child, but I imagine if I had a child, I would have been awake comforting her in the same way—except she wouldn’t have had to stay on the floor.

I can’t help thinking about that scene in “The Sound of Music” movie where there’s a big storm and all of the kids come piling into Julie Andrew’s bedroom. They climb onto her bed and everybody sings “My Favorite Things.” And then they’re all happy. They weren’t even her kids, although they were destined to become her stepchildren and they would love her completely because their own mother was dead and they desperately needed a mom. In real life, after they escaped the Nazis, Maria and the captain–who was 25 years older than she was!–had three more children together, bringing the total to 10. It was just one big happy family.

Ah, fairy tales. Okay, this really happened, minus the singing and dancing with perfect hair and makeup in the middle of the night, but it was a long time ago. Now I laugh as I imagine the captain’s more realistic response when Maria says she wants a baby of her own. “Are you freaking kidding me? I have seven already.” But he didn’t say that. We don’t know what he said in real life.

I was brought up on movies like “The Sound of Music” and countless other films where the happy endings always included marriage and babies. No wonder some of us feel ripped off now. What the heck happened to our happy endings?

Movies are different today. The characters shoot and swear more than they sing. But they still don’t often give us couples who disagree about having children or just plain can’t have them. Can you name any movies–or TV shows–that do? Let’s try to make a list. Carrie and Big on “Sex and the City,” Bob and Emily on the “Bob Newhart Show.” Who else?

You can find a list of movies and TV shows that include struggles with infertility here at mothermag.com. But there sure are a lot more listings for movies about pregnancy. In movie situations where a couple finds they can’t have children for some reason, either they seem to miraculously get pregnant anyway or they adopt a child, easy peasy. Hey, Hollywood, not everybody gets to have a baby.

It’s twilight-dark at 10 a.m. Another storm is coming. The dog is barking. Must see what’s bugging her now. She is not my child, but when she comes to me in the night, I need to mother her anyway.

Let’s talk movies and TV shows. Have you seen any that reflect our childless by marriage or by circumstance situations? Or is it babies, babies, babies?

 

Surviving the Mom and Dad Talk

Well, miracles can happen. I went to a party last night with my church friends, men and women in their 60s and 70s. They spent at least an hour talking nonstop about children and grandchildren, and I didn’t mind.

Maybe it’s because I know and love these people so much. I was truly interested in their stories: the grandson who was expected to read in kindergarten, the adult daughter who has finally gotten pregnant via in vitro, the adult son who got hooked on drugs, the foster children struggling in high school. We talked about some of the kids we knew from religious education at church, kids we all care about. I contributed tidbits about my stepson and about the new baby the postmistress is bringing to work with her, and I did not even think about my own lack of children. Nor did anyone mention it.

I think they all knew I don’t have kids. It was just not an issue. I’m the writer, the choir director, the one who made the heavenly salad, and the one whose father recently died. I’m just Sue. Not classified by my not-mom status.

Maybe that delicious glass of Cabernet Franc helped, but I was okay. So I’m telling you that if parent talk is unbearable now, someday it will be okay. God knows I couldn’t deal with it in my 30s and 40s. I was hurt, sad, and angry. But I’m okay now. Do I wish I had grown children and grandchildren of my own? I sure do, but last night I felt like we all cared about all the kids.

It was also nice to be with these good people who really care about each other instead of at home with the dog in a house with no heat. Yes, the pellet stove died again. It has been that kind of week. Check out my Unleashed in Oregon blog for more on that.

I almost didn’t go to the party. I made an emergency visit to the eye doctor in the afternoon. On Monday I started seeing flashes of light that weren’t supposed to be there. After a few hours, I saw black blobs and what looked like a Halloween spider hanging from a black web. Not good. This being a small town where the doctors visit from larger cities only on certain days, I couldn’t see a doctor here until yesterday and not even my regular eye doctor.

Meanwhile, I immediately started thinking what if I go blind? I won’t be able to live here alone. Who will take care of me? Will I have to go to a retirement home? Oh God, oh God. I had to keep reminding myself that I could still see; I just had these spooky additions to what I was seeing.

I’m not going blind. I have a “posterior vitreous detachment” in my left eye. I had one once before, but this time it’s worse. What happens is pieces of the gelatinous fibers around the retina break off and cause “floaters,” those dark spots and streaks I’ve been seeing. It’s a common part of aging. In time, the flashes stop and the black things become less noticeable. That’s not so bad. The danger is a tear in the retina itself, which the doctor did not see. However, he did see some hemorrhaging (bleeding) in that eye, so he is having me see a retina specialist next week. It’s probably no big deal. Right?

But it’s hard not to think about what happens if something in my health changes and I suddenly can’t live on my own. Maybe I should be grateful I don’t have children who will insist on putting me in a nursing home. But I certainly need to be prepared, just in case.

My dilated pupil was close enough to normal by 6:00 that I could drive to the party, and I had fun with my friends, even though we talked about kids a lot. The stars last night were amazing, and I was grateful I could see them. The spider in my eye is just one more Halloween decoration.  

I got my first copies of my poetry chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead, yesterday, and I have been busy packaging copies to send to people who helped me with it or were kind enough to pre-order them months ago. You might say I have another book baby. Number nine. I’m Catholic, you know.

So that’s why the blog is a day late. Thank you to those who added to my “If you are childless, you will never . . . list from last week.

Keep ‘em coming.

We talk a lot about how uncomfortable being with the mom and dad crowd can be, but do you sometimes find yourselves in situations where you actually enjoy it? Please share in the comments.  

Babies? Today yes, tomorrow no, the next day ?

I have been editing past posts in preparation for compiling them into a “Best of Childless by Marriage” ebook (maybe a paperback, too). It’s slow work because I’m checking almost 700 posts and thousands of comments for typos and bad links. We have some serious disagreements about commas, periods and capital letters, but I’m surprised at how many of my own errors slipped by in my responses to your comments.

I am not changing the content of your comments, even though every now and then someone blasts me for my opinion or for seeming to contradict myself. They’re probably right. I may very well have said X in one post and Z in another. My feelings and opinions change with time and circumstance. Not everything. Murder is always bad, love is always good. But what about abortion, birth control, marriage, and babies? Depends on when you ask.

For example, someone scolded me back in 2014 for saying I was grateful for my stepchildren when I said the opposite in a previous post. Ask me again, and I’ll give you another answer. Today I regret that Fred’s kids and grandkids are not in my life anymore. I feel guilty for not reaching out when I could. Another day, I might turn it around and ask why they didn’t reach out to me while I was taking care of their father. Depends on the day.

I’m not the only wishy-washy one. Many readers have commented about how they or their partners changed their minds about having babies. They wanted them before; now they don’t. They had no interest in being parents; now they do. This is rarely a black and white question (physical problems aside). You see someone loving their children and think I want that. You see a couple having a miserable time trying to control their screaming, food-throwing offspring in a restaurant and think I do not want that.

Maybe a loved one dies, or you suffer a health scare, and everything suddenly looks different. You realize that you really must have children—or that you never will.

It doesn’t even need to be a big moment, just a sudden stirring of regret.

Sometimes getting pregnant is part of a conscious plan, but I wonder how often it happens that couples are cuddling in bed, full of hormonal happiness, and one says, “Let’s have a baby.” The other says, “Okay!” In the morning, when egg and sperm might have already gotten together, one of them thinks, Wait, what happened? I’m not sure . . . .

For some couples, it’s not so easy to get pregnant, so they have to decide whether they want to try fertility treatments, use donor sperm, or try to adopt. Again, they may change their minds every other day. It’s difficult and expensive, and the child would not be biologically related, but oh, they want a baby. Don’t they?

I have said before that things were less complicated before the 1960s, when people had fewer choices. No birth control, no legal abortions, fewer career opportunities for women. They grew up, got married (once) and had babies if they could. And they probably did it in their 20s when they were most fertile. Did people have doubts before? Did husbands and wives want different things? I’m sure they did.

Our thoughts are not like the ones and zeros that run computers. People don’t run on microchips; they change their minds.

I know this for sure: I’m glad you are here. Also, we all need to proofread what we write.

As I read through past posts, I see a lot of good stuff, especially in the comments, and I see some readers who have continued at Childless by Marriage for years. Their comments are as good as any of my posts, and I thank you all.

The ebook won’t include every post, just the ones that sparked the most interest. Some have gotten more than 250 comments! Top topics include: couples disagreeing about having children, abortion, grief over never having children, worrying about old age, and pets as child substitutes.

Keep reading, keep writing, and I’ll keep editing. If you or your partner change your mind from day to day, don’t panic. It’s normal.

Motherhood Used to Offer a Way Out

I was sorting through old papers and came upon this piece I wrote in 1995 when I was just beginning to compile thoughts for my Childless by Marriage book. It feels so dated now.

I know most of you come from a completely different world from the one I grew up in. I was raised in the 1950s and 60s in a Bay Area housing tract where most of the homes were occupied by WWII vets, stay-at-home moms, and their children. But in this piece, I describe how I really wanted the life my mother had. A full-time housewife, she never had an outside job after she became pregnant with me. Her days revolved around taking care of us kids, my father, and the house. She may have wanted more out of life, but she didn’t push for it, fearing my old-fashioned father would not like it.

I know, I know. Who these days would let a husband determine what they do with their lives? Not me. Both of my husbands watched me go back to school for more and more education while working one job after another and writing and playing music on the side. I got the household chores done, too, but they were not top priority. We needed the money, but even if we didn’t, no man was going to tell me to give up my career.

What if we’d had children? My only reference is my youngest stepson, who lived with us for eight years, from age 12 to 20. I worked. His bio mom worked, too. He was pretty self-sufficient and didn’t expect a whole lot of parenting from me. He didn’t mind if I was watching him and making notes for an article at the same time. He could cook his own macaroni and cheese while I ran off to take a class or cover the school board meeting.

Anyway, here’s some of what I wrote 24 years ago:

Before women’s liberation, life was so simple. Not necessarily ideal, but simple. Women got married, had children and stayed home caring for them while their husbands worked.

Only those who didn’t have husbands and babies had jobs. As soon as they got married and got pregnant, they were released from the paid labor force. Many a mother of baby boomers quit working before the first baby came and never worked for money again. She had earned her discharge by producing children.

(Let me stop to note that in some families, the mother had to work because they needed the money. My husband’s mother always had a job. She sold Avon products on the side. Her husband and sons survived, but it was common for the stay-at-home moms to believe working moms could not possibly be good mothers.)

Full-time motherhood wasn’t a bad life—once the kids were old enough to go to school. An efficient housewife could get all her chores done before lunch and spend the afternoon knitting and watching soap operas until the kids came home from school. Or, if so inclined, she could volunteer, sew, shop, write books (my dream), or hang out with her friends as long as it didn’t interfere with picking up the kids after school and having dinner on the table at 5:30.

These women were financially dependent on their husbands, of course, and that could be difficult if the men weren’t generous, but during their prime years, they had their days to themselves.

Women who wanted careers could not also have the husband, kids, and home with the white picket fence. It was assumed the old maid schoolteacher and the lonely librarian had failed to find husbands, and the stylish woman running the Macy’s dress department had lost her true love to another woman.

(Note that I paid no attention in those days to same sex couples, single parents, or blended families. I also didn’t mention couples who disagreed about whether to have children. It wasn’t up for discussion in those days.)

Today things are more complicated. You can have a husband and a career at the same time. You can have the home and the kids, too. You can have everything—and take care of it all. But what if you don’t want the career? What if you’d like to stay home? You need the children as a way out. I’d never dispute that motherhood is the hardest job in the world, and the most important one, but there’s no commute, no dress code, no set hours, and no boss. It’s real life.

There’s no law against staying home without children, but is it fair to let the husband bear the whole financial burden? Non-mothers have no excuse for not working. So you slog off every morning, crawl along with the commute traffic, do your job all day–often with no contact with the natural world for eight or more hours–then join the commute again until you arrive at home and start your other job by making dinner. Is this our punishment for not having babies? Couldn’t we just have the time off anyway?

Oh my God. Did I really write this? I was really brainwashed to be just like my mother. I thought I’d stay home and write books between chores while the kids were at school, and all would live happily ever after. Life is a lot more complicated than that. I’m pretty sure it always was.

If a man was saying all this, people would call him lazy, worthless, a slacker. But why can’t a couple reverse the roles and have the father stay home with the kids? Does any of this make any sense in 2019?

How about you? Did you ever wish you could have children so raising them could become your full-time job? Did that always sound more appealing than anything the outside world had to offer? Or do you worry about how you would handle motherhood and a job at the same time?

Check out this article. Turns out a lot of people these days think stay-at-home moms are lazy while others think kids do best with Mom at home. https://www.verywellfamily.com/research-stay-at-home-moms-4047911

What do you think?

******

In the past, I have mentioned that I’m open to guest posts that fit with the mission here, and I still am. Contact me at sufalick@gmail.com if you have an idea to propose. We’d need about 500 words. No pay, just lovely readers who care.

Did They Stay Childless Together or Split?

I have been editing old posts and their accompanying comments. (Please proofread, friends.) I’m dying to know what happened to all of those people whose partners said no to kids and put them into a tizzy of should I go or should I stay? There were so many. Today I was reading some of the 245 comments on a 2013 post titled, “If You Disagree About Children, Is Your Relationship Doomed?”

Anonymous: Hi, … I got engaged six months ago to my on-off partner of three years. We had been all off, and he said he wanted to get married and have kids. He had not said this before so I felt something had clicked for him and us. He was so up for it he even got me to add pregnancy coverage to my health care immediately. I have just turned 42 and we got married a few months ago. Our finances have been tight and we also weren’t getting on great, but I thought kids would be in the mix when we got things sorted. We have just had a chat and my husband has changed his mind about having kids. He says he doesn’t want them anymore, and it is not and will not be open for discussion. I am devastated. I would not have gotten engaged had I realized this truth, as I always have wanted kids and would not have entered into a relationship with someone who wasn’t open to trying. This is very real and raw for me, as it was only a few hours ago. I feel it’s my calling to be a mother.

 My response: Anon July 15, I’m so sorry this happened. I find it amazing how many guys change their minds after the wedding. Have another chat and let him know how hurt you are. I pray you can work this out.

By now, surely the issue is settled one way or another. They broke up or they stayed together. They had a baby or they didn’t.

If you have been in that situation, please tell us what happened. What did you decide to do? Does it feel like the right decision now? It will help those coming behind you to figure out what to do.

I’m relieved to know that I still agree with the advice I gave back then. Also embarrassed that I needed to proofread, too. I hope the typos are all gone now.

***

I leave tomorrow for my father’s funeral. I know that I will be sitting on that front-row pew as a party of one with my brother’s tribe: wife, children, grandchildren, in-laws, with other families nearby. Just me. For years, it has been me and Dad, but he’s the guest of honor this time. Damn.

So there’s that. If you don’t have children now, the loss compounds in the future because you will also not have your children’s partners and children, and your grandchildren’s partners and children, and everyone’s in-laws. The loss just expands. Like an earthquake that starts out small then blows the world apart. They say each higher number on the Richter scale is not just a little bit more but exponentially more (WAY more).

Something to think about.

Thank you all for being here. I treasure you.

 

How do we decide about motherhood?

In this sheknows.com article by Marshall Bright, “This ‘Motherhood Clarity Coach’ Helps Millennials Decide Whether to Have Kids”, she begins by noting how everyone you talk to will give you different advice. You know how it goes: You’re better off without kids, I didn’t know love until I became a mother, of course you’re going to have children, having a baby will ruin your marriage, you’ll change your mind. . .

Right? Everyone has words of wisdom for you. But are they the right words? How do you know? Your friends and family are all biased. They want to be grandparents, aunts or uncles, godparents, or babysitters. They are happy or unhappy with their own choices and advise you based on their situations.

Enter the unbiased “motherhood clarity coach.” Ann Davidman, a Bay Area psychotherapist and the coach featured in the article, helps women to figure out not only their feelings about having children but the practical side as well. Does having a baby really fit into their lives financially and professionally? Are they healthy enough? Can they cope if the child turns out to have special needs? Not everyone who decides they want children actually has them, Bright notes, but at least they’re clear about how they feel.

I just googled “Should I have a baby?” Try it. All kinds of lists come up. “15 Things You Should Know About Having a Baby,”  “50 Reasons Not to Have a Baby,” “How People Decide Whether to Have children” –Oh my gosh, too much input.

Life was simpler when we didn’t have birth control, and all married people had babies if they could. If you’re a follow-the-rules-Catholic, it’s still that way. Our visiting priest last Sunday came from a family of 12. But most Catholics don’t follow that rule because . . . 12???

Davidman and Denise L. Carlini published a book on the subject—cheaper than counseling—titled Motherhood–Is It for Me? Your Step By Step Guide to Clarity. Each chapter includes a guided visualization, an assignment, and stories from other women. I haven’t read it, but it looks good if you’re into that sort of thing.

Do we need to go to an outside source, even pay money to decide whether or not to have children? What if it’s not totally up to us, frequently the case here at Childless by Marriage, where one partner is not able or willing? Would you/have you asked other people to help you with this decision? Or is it ultimately something that only you and your partner can decide? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

***

Thank you for all your kind words about the death of my father. I truly appreciate it. I still have times when it’s just unbearable, but it’s getting easier every day as the pictures of the last few months fade and I realize my father is finally free of pain and suffering.

Parents and Non-Parents from Different Planets?

Last week, Annie and Winnie were buddies. When we passed Winnie’s house on our walks, the tan and white Corgi would waddle up to us. I’d pet her long soft fur while the two dogs sniffed each other, and then Winnie would walk with us a ways up Cedar Street. It was nice.

This week Winnie attacked Annie, barking, growling, biting. My pooch didn’t know what hit her. It was motherhood. Winnie gave birth on Saturday. The young woman who came out with her was holding a puppy, the only one that survived the troubled delivery. Now Winnie was in full mom mode. I can’t blame her. She has one tiny puppy, and she’s going to protect it with everything she has. She also probably feels sick and sore. But Annie, a spayed virgin at 11 ½, did not understand. Why doesn’t my friend like me anymore?

Ever feel that way around your human friends? They give birth and suddenly they’re not as friendly to you. It’s all about the baby.

Which brings me to the story that keeps popping up in my Google alerts. Brace yourself before you read “Childless millennials should be banned from Disney World, tired mom rants.” It seems this mother went on a Facebook rant about how childless people should be banned from Disney World, that the theme park should be reserved for “families” with kids. Say what? If I haven’t reproduced, I don’t get to have fun like everybody else? I know this mom was tired and frustrated, but we all need to think before we post.

Years ago, I wrote a post about LEGOLAND, which only allows adults without children on certain all-adult nights. I would LOVE to go LEGOLAND. So would the couple in this article who have been struggling with infertility for nine years. Come on, people. Aren’t these parks supposed to be happy places?

I’m not sure I want to mention this, but here goes. I was at a conference last weekend. I decided to duck out of one of my evening workshops to take a swim. I checked the pool on the way to my room to change into my bathing suit. Nobody there. I looked forward to peacefully gliding through the water. When I returned, less than five minutes later, at 9:30 at night, the small indoor pool was crowded with six kids under the age of six and three parent people. They took up the whole danged pool, splashing around, shouting, oblivious to this older person who needed to get down the steps and swim a few laps. Oh, I swam, but it was no fun, and I was soon back in my room, sinking into a hot bath where I could soak in peace.

Like that mom at Disney World, I was tired and frustrated. Things are not going well with my father, and I can’t do anything about it. My stomach hurt. I was tired of sitting in over-air-conditioned meeting rooms listening to people talk about writing. And now the pool was so full of children who should have been in bed that I couldn’t enjoy my swim. If the parents had thought to say something like, “Move over so the nice lady can swim,” that would have been different, but I seemed to be invisible to them.

If I were a mom person, would I have enjoyed paddling around with the little guys? I don’t know. Like Annie suddenly attacked by her former friend, I just know sometimes parents and non-parents seem to live on different planets.

Your comments, as always, are welcome.

 

 

 

Childless Fourth of July Needn’t Be Bad

Dear friends,

I’m writing this on the Fourth of July because I’ll be helping my dad in San Jose next week. I have actually been dreading this holiday because doing it alone is no fun, and I’m lousy at reaching out. Plus I don’t want to leave my dog Annie during the fireworks because the noise terrifies her. She’s already nervous, following me around everywhere. Of course if I had a husband and kids and grandkids, the whole day would be different. Parades, barbecues, fireworks, it’s all aimed at children. Right?

So I was all woe-is-me yesterday. This morning, however, I woke up late to glorious summer weather here a block from the beach. I went out into my back yard, which is like a park full of birds, trees and flowers in bloom, and decided I would just enjoy being here doing whatever I want. I would dress in my favorite clothes, serve myself wonderful meals, and lounge as if I were at a resort far away, except with my dog at my side.

What do you do on the Fourth of July? Does it emphasize your childless status or are you able to just have a great time doing grownup things? Please share in the comments.

By the time you read this, I will be hanging out with my father at the nursing home, listening to his stories and his complaints, dodging questions about money and the future, and trying not to get killed in the terrible traffic. Also trying not to think about who will sit with me if I end up in a nursing home unable to take care of myself.

***

Lick_Sue_Fagalde_COV_EMI have a new book coming out. It’s not about childlessness, but all of my books are like my children, so maybe there’s a connection. It’s a poetry chapbook titled Gravel Road Ahead. The poems are about my journey with my late husband through Alzheimer’s Disease. The publisher, Finishing Line Press, is taking advance orders now through Aug. 16, and the number of copies they print depends on how many people pre-order the book. If you could help me out by ordering a copy, I’d sure appreciate it. It is not available on Amazon yet, so you have to order it from the publisher. For information on the book and how to order, click here. Or, if you’d rather not deal with the publisher, email me at sufalick@gmail.com and let me know how many copies you want me to reserve for you.

Here is the title poem to whet your appetite:

GRAVEL ROAD AHEAD

Where my husband lives now,
I don’t. Each day he forgets more
details from the house we bought
with his VA loan. I don’t. I tend them,
sort his papers, pay his bills,
dust his antique rolltop desk.

I linger in his swivel chair,
wearing his red plaid shirt, staring
at my small hands peeking out
from frayed cuffs with missing buttons,
toying with his ballpoint pen.

I straighten his paper clips, delaying
my drive up the steep winding road
to where my husband lives now
in a numbered room with an ocean view,
where the pavement ends, and I don’t.

***

Happy summer to all of you! See you next week.

 

 

 

Without Children, Is It a Family?

What is a family? Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines it thus:

A: the basic unit in society, traditionally consisting of two parents rearing their children

B: any of various social units differing from but regarded as equivalent to the traditional family

They list various types of families: single-parent, gay parents, step-parents, etc. They also mention a variation: a group of individuals living under one roof. And then they go on to things like plant families, i.e., plants all sharing common characteristics.

They do not list two loving partners sharing a home and life. They do not list childless couples.

Have people asked you, “When are you going to start a family?” Have you heard people say, “Without kids, you are not a family,” or, God forbid, “They’re not like you. They’ve got a family.”

We all have (or had) a birth family, consisting of our Mom, Dad, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. But can we form our own family without children? Is it not a family if we don’t have babies?

“Family” seems to be code for children. Family-friendly movies, restaurants, and TV shows are designed to amuse the little ones and keep them safe from grownup language, sex, and other dangers. I have learned to avoid these things because a) I don’t have children, so I’m not qualified, and b) I don’t like little-kid stuff.

As I write this, I keep hearing Sister Sledge’s song “We are Family” and seeing the last scene of that great not-child-friendly movie The Birdcage. (Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Calista Flockhart, Christine Baranski. Such a great movie) The only children there are the adult offspring of the main characters. As the movie ends, everyone is dancing with the female impersonators at the gay nightclub run by the Robin Williams. Their definition of family is just a bunch of people who love each other.

So what is a family? Let’s look again. The Urban Dictionary  lists some much more comfortable definitions. Says Lola5544 April 29, 2011, who wrote the featured definition, “family is a group of people, usually of the same blood (but do not have to be), who genuinely love, trust, care about, and look out for each other. Not to be mistaken with relatives sharing the same household who hate each other.”

If you scroll down, there are some really funny definitions of family by people who are clearly not enjoying their relatives.

I’m not the only one thinking about this subject this week. Check out this article from Nigeria. The writer insists that the second a couple get married, they are a family, kids or no kids. I like that.

So what is a family? Can it be me and my dog? Me and my church choir? You and your partner? Do you have to have children to be a real family? What have people said to you about this, and what do you think? I’m eager to read your comments.