Do some people just not ‘do’ children?

Thanksgiving had barely started when my sister-in-law told her grandchildren, “Don’t bother Aunt Sue. She doesn’t do kids.”
What?
I couldn’t let that ride, especially when I really wanted to get to know my great-niece and nephew better. I responded, “Just because I don’t have any of my own doesn’t mean I don’t like them.”
No reply.
But as much as I hate to admit it, she might be right. The little ones, ages 1 and 2, are a handful. Add four dogs, one of them a tiny pup that got attacked by one of the bigger dogs early on, a confused great-grandma, and my late father’s gaping absence, and things were a little hectic.
While I was there for Thanksgiving, I had a project: going through boxes of photos and memorabilia taken from my father’s house. Try doing that when a two-year-old thinks it’s fun to grab papers and rip them up. I was not amused when he tore a notebook with some of my grandfather’s writing. Or when he insisted I pick him up and kept launching himself at my back. It reminded me of the overgrown puppy my husband and I kept for only a few weeks before we took him back to the animal shelter. Too much energy! When I discovered the boy had a cold, I was even less appreciative. Dang it, I don’t want to get sick.
With the dogs, however, I felt comfortable. I could talk to them, pet them, hug them, slip them snacks, and take them out for walks. Even when I discovered one of them sleeping in my bed because that’s where she usually sleeps, and even though I knew her long fur would stir up my allergies, I was fine with it.
But the children. That was like trying to jump into a conversation in a language for which I only know a few words. I winced every time I heard something crash, begged off the third time the boy tried to climb on me because I have a bad back, and did not even think to offer to change a diaper or give them food. I’m not sure I know how.
I got scolded when I got my grandfather’s accordion out of the case, just to see what it looked like and maybe figure out how to play a few notes. “We have sleeping babies!” Oh yeah,  naptime. Now that everyone’s awake, I don’t know why the grownups still don’t want to hear me figure out “La Tarantella” on the old accordion that has been sitting in my dad’s closet for at least 25 years.
Maybe some of you have lots of experience with children, but I just don’t. I was terrible at babysitting, which I only did for a little bit. When my brother was a baby, I was too, and I have not had much to do with my stepchildren or their children. I never worked hands-on with kids—singing at them doesn’t count. I wanted to be a mother, and I think I could have learned to be a very good one, but all these years after I was fertile, maybe my sister-in-law is right; Aunt Sue doesn’t do kids. She does dogs. Parallel universes.
Why do I feel so guilty about it?
Eventually my niece took her kids home. My sister-in-law’s brother took their elderly mom home, and it felt like midnight when it was not even prime time yet. Holidays get my time clock all messed up. But the food was good, and we got to hang out together for a while. I’m sure my headache will fade eventually.
In the stacks of photos, I found a woman who apparently was my paternal grandmother’s aunt, whose name was Aunt Sue, and boy, she was ugly. I wonder if she had any children.
Who will spend Thanksgiving figuring out what to do with my old photos when I die?
I can’t worry about that today, but I am inspired to make sure my pictures have names on them. We have bags of photos of people whom we can’t identify. The last person who might have known who they were is gone. We’ll probably end up throwing them away. Label your photos, my friends.
How was your Thanksgiving? Please share. You are welcome to be as ungrateful as you want in the comments.

Childless and buying gifts for kids

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.

 

 

Pondering sons, aunts, and untold stories

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 (sufalick@gmail.com) 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.