I wandered through the toy section, completely bewildered. Thanks to my nephew marrying a woman with two little girls and then having a new baby, this Christmas I found myself shopping for children, but I didn’t have a clue what to buy because I have no experience with children. What do they like? What do they hate? What would make them shriek with delight and send them running to show their gifts to their friends? I don’t know. The toy section of the store is even more foreign to me than the automotive section. I feel like any second I’ll be outed as an imposter. It doesn’t help that I have only met these girls once and I’m sure they have no clue who I am. But their parents know, so I feel obligated. Besides, it could be fun.
I wound up with an odd conglomeration of stuff that reminded me of the crazy gift boxes “Grandma Rachel,” my dad’s childless stepmother, would send us, miscellaneous stuff she’d picked up over the year. Now I understand that she really didn’t get the mom thing either, but I thought she rocked.
For the baby, I went with clothes, making a wild guess at the size. It’s like buying doll clothes, only more expensive. Everything is so tiny and so cute, and I feel bad that I don’t belong in this section like the other women. At the check stand, the older woman in line in front of me admired my choices and said she bet the baby who’d wear them was just as cute. “Oh, she’s adorable,” I gushed, as if I were a genuine member of the mom/grandma club. Nope.
It wasn’t much different years ago when I was buying gifts for my niece and nephew when they were little. Or for my stepdaughter’s children whom I rarely saw once we moved to Oregon. When you don’t live with children or see them very often, you don’t know what they need or want. Their mothers know. They can shop for children with the expertise I employ shopping for groceries or office supplies. But me, I feel like an idiot.
I won’t be receiving anything from these children in return. And I can’t afford any of the gifts I’m buying this year. So why do it? Because I think I should, because I want a connection with these children, and because I don’t want my sister-in-law saying, “Jeez, she didn’t buy them anything.”
When my brother and I got older, my maternal grandmother sent us $20 every Christmas. That $20 used to buy a lot back then. We loved it. My dad’s father always sent a check, but Grandma Rachel kept sending her packages of odds and ends, books, beads, shells, secondhand jewelry, newspaper clippings, and stuff she picked up at church bazaars and rummage sales, all smelling of the cigarettes she smoked in the kitchen when no one was looking. I loved that, too. The kids are too young for checks. I guess the new nieces are just going to have to deal with crazy Great-Aunt Sue. Crazy is all I’ve got.
How about you? Are you shopping for babies and kids this Christmas? Is it hard? How does it make you feel? Let’s talk about it in the comments.
How are you? I’m struggling a bit. So I offer a few random thoughts today.
1) Last week we were talking about workplace conflicts between moms and employees without children. (Why is it never about dads?) You might be interested in this article, “Four Things Your Childless Co-Workers Think About You as a Working Mom.” I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
2) Two of the three readings for this Sunday’s Mass in the Catholic Church are about widows whose apparently dead sons have been brought back to life, one by Elijah and one by Jesus. Religious considerations aside, in those days, when the husband died, the sons were expected to step in and take care of the widowed mothers for the rest of their lives. In fact, before Jesus died, he asked one of his friends to take care of Mary. I don’t have a son. My stepsons have stepped far, far away. While I’m a full-fledged adult and far from helpless, there are sure times when the idea that I could have had a son who cared about me and was available to help me just makes me want to sob because I’ll never have that. Know what I mean?
3) I’m an aunt, but I live far from my niece and nephew and don’t feel included in their lives. I don’t even know my late husband’s nieces and nephews. He didn’t know them either. We read a lot about how being an aunt can be almost as good as being a parent. Maybe in some families, but not in mine. Sure, we saw them at family gatherings and got presents from them. We were friendly enough, but extended hanging out or confiding in them? It didn’t happen. Are you close to your aunts? Or uncles? To your nieces and nephews?
4) I have just published new editions of one of my older books, Stories Grandma Never Told. The print version has a new cover, and the book is now available as a Kindle e-book for the first time. Read more about it at my Unleashed in Oregon blog. Working on this book again made me think about those stories Grandma never told. The book is oral history, with lots of Portuguese American women talking about immigration, education, work, family, ethnic traditions, and more. I never heard these stories from my own grandmother. She died before it occurred to me to ask. I frequently preach that we should not let our family stories die, that we should ask our elders to tell us what it was like when they were young because when they’re gone, who will be left to ask? I’m always coming up with questions I wish I could ask my mother, but she passed away 14 years ago. I grill my dad regularly.
But here’s the thing. For those of us who never have children, who will never be grandmas, who will we tell our stories to? Being a writer, I can share everything in my books, essays and poems, but what about people who are not writers? Where will their memories go? Suggestions? Maybe we could make a list of possible ways to leave something behind.
5) Enough depressing thoughts. Have any of you had trouble commenting here? What happens when you click “comment?” Are there too many steps to take to get in? Please me know. Sometimes I get emails (firstname.lastname@example.org) from people who have trouble with the comment function, and I don’t know whether the problem is them or the settings. I don’t want anything to get in the way of our conversations. If you can’t get in, email me.
Keep reading and commenting. I’m so glad you’re here.