Facing the children we don’t have

Kids, kids, kids! I made a quick trip to San Jose this week for my dad’s 96th birthday. Everywhere I went, I saw children. In the small town where I live, the average age is over 60. Not having any reason to hang out at schools and other places where children congregate, children are mostly an abstract concept, someone my friends leave town to visit. But wow, get on a plane for San Jose, and you will see children. They were in the airport pushing their tiny pink suitcases, they were on the plane, and they were in the shuttle bus to and from the parking lot. They were also at my aunt’s house, where we gathered for cake with my cousin, his wife, and their little girls age 1 and 3.

I will never know how to relate to children the way my mother did. She had years of practice, and I’m a lot more comfortable with dogs. But I’m getting there. For those readers who can’t bear to be around children because they don’t enjoy them or because they remind them of what they don’t/can’t have, I want to assure you that it gets easier. It’s not the child’s fault that we have this giant baby-sized hole in our heart.

Kids can be annoying. They clamor for attention. They whine. They break things. They disrupt your grownup life bigtime.

But there’s nothing like a little-girl hug. Seriously. And babies are fascinating. They learn and grow so quickly. When they look at you and smile, come on, that’s magic.

On the shuttle to the parking lot back in Portland, I watched a young family board with a ton of paraphernalia and three kids, a baby girl, a boy about 3, and a 13-year-old girl. They all looked just like the mother. At first I was annoyed when they piled their stuff on top of my bag and sat across from me. Then I was amused watching the dad holding the baby, who was just starting to talk.

Then I felt the pain, you know the one, the pain of not having a family of my own. I wanted to weep for lack of those grown children and grandchildren. Why couldn’t’ I have that? I’m sure they had no idea I was going through a whole range of emotions as I sat there holding my purse waiting to get to the W7 section of the parking lot.

Being around kids can be challenging for us. It can cause real pain, but if we stick around, it can also bring joy. We need to be open to that joy.

And then be relieved to walk to the car alone with just one bag and nobody clamoring for food or needing a diaper change. Ah, freedom!

It was a short trip filled with emotion. I hate leaving home, and I hate leaving my dad. I know I’m blessed to still have him. And I was lucky to see my little cousins as well as the big ones. Now it’s just me and Annie again.

Families stir up all kinds of feelings. How are you when you’re around kids? Do you enjoy them, or does it make you feel bad? Do you avoid them? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

For another view of my encounters with children on this trip, read this week’s Unleashed in Oregon blog.

 

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