‘You can just adopt’ and other childless ‘bingos’

I have just returned from the land of many babies, where I heard so many childless “bingos,” I need a new card. “Bingos,” if you haven’t heard, are the clueless comments people make about childlessness. If you’d like a good list of the typical ones, visit https://bingobaker.com/view/496736, where you will find a full bingo card of remarks such as “Don’t you like kids?” “Who will take care of you when you’re old?” and “Children are a woman’s greatest achievement.” We have heard a few of those, right?

Last weekend, I was in San Jose, California, for the Dia de Portugal festival, the first one since the pandemic began. I was there to see friends and family and sell books. It was incredibly hot, noisy, and crowded. The most popular booths were the ones selling beer and water.

At my table in the Portuguese authors section, I spread out my books: two on Portuguese Americans, two books of poetry, and my two books about childlessness, Childless by Marriage and Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both.

People walked by. Some paused to flip through the pages of my Portuguese books, then walked on. Some bought copies. Some said, “Oh, I have that book. It’s good.”

We traded a few words in my limited Portuguese. “Bom dia” (Good day), “Obrigada” (Thank you), “Faz calor.” (It’s hot). A parade circled the plaza at the History Park San Jose where the festival was held. Singers sang, and folkloric dancers in red, green and yellow costumes danced. People passed by wearing the Portuguese flag design on shirts, scarves, hats, and even Covid masks. I said hello to Portuguese people I hadn’t seen in years.

Here’s the thing. I knew it was a Portuguese festival and most interest would be in the Portuguese books, but I didn’t expect some of the reactions I got to my childless books. Most who looked at them didn’t understand the concept of being childless by marriage. When I tried to explain, a woman early on responded, “Well, that’s no problem. You just adopt.”

“It’s not that easy,” I began, but she was gone.

A couple of the men snickered at my Love or Children title. “I choose love,” said one well into his beer ration. “Children?” He made a disgusted face.

The younger women all seemed to have children and/or be pregnant. The woman sharing my table, Higina da Guia, a nice writer originally from the Portuguese island of Madeira, was selling children’s books. Most of the books were bilingual, in Portuguese and English, intended for parents wanting to teach their little ones whichever language they didn’t know. Swell. But time after time, a woman would be looking at my books, and then her husband or friend would nudge her to look at the children’s books. They totally forgot about my grownup books.

I should note they showed no interest in my poetry either. Oh well. When I try to sell my Portuguese books in Oregon, people pass right by them. It’s all about context.

Higina’s daughter and granddaughter joined her. I watched as Higina wrapped the little girl in a red, white and black costume from Madeira. She was so excited to see the little girl in the skirt and vest passed through the generations of her family. “She will remember this forever,” she told me as the child posed for pictures. It was sweet, but it made me sad. I will never get to do that.

My brother came with his daughter and granddaughter, my niece and great-niece. I was so glad to see them and to have the validation of family sitting with me for a while. I love being Aunt Sue. It’s not the same as being a mom, but it helps. I don’t see them often enough. I shed a few tears when they left.

Helping me in my booth was my sister-friend Pat, a mother and grandmother whose claims to anything Portuguese are that she grew up in Massachusetts with lots of Portuguese people and that she once dated a Portuguese guy. She had a great time talking to everyone and people-watching. I noticed she reacts to children the way I react to dogs, as if they are magic and she has a special connection with them. It’s one of many things I love about her.

But I learned a lesson. When I take my childlessness and my childless books out into the world, I can expect many bingos, especially in an old-country culture where not having children does not seem to be a “thing.”

Living in a retirement community where I don’t see many kids, I forget how it might be for you where you live, especially if you’re at an age where your friends and family are busy with babies and growing children.

Where do you hear the most bingos? Is there a situation where it’s especially hard to not have children? Let’s talk about it. I welcome your comments.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Money or family? Which Would You Choose?

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

At church last Sunday, Father Joseph posed a question: If you could have $10 million or a happy family with a loving partner, kids and grandkids, which would you choose? While some of the parishioners hesitated or sheepishly said they would take the money, I knew I would choose the family. I have enough money, but I don’t have the family. Just last night, I had a meltdown because I felt so alone. I have no family anywhere nearby and those from afar rarely connect with me in any way. I have great friends, a church family I treasure, but people who look like me and come from the same roots, not so much.

I’d take a little of that $10 million for security in old age, but what would I do with the rest of it? I’d probably give it away, either in life, or in my will after I die. Show me the money? No. Show me the family.

Which would you choose? Is there a possible compromise? Give me just one million and a couple of children? That would be good, wouldn’t it?

A while back on Facebook, someone asked: What is the most precious thing you have in your life? What is more valuable to you than any amount of money? One person after another named their children and grandchildren. Many cited their husband or wife. What would I say? My piano? I could always get another one. My dog? There will never be another Annie, but I could go to the shelter and adopt another dog right now. My work? It’s hard to hug a computer or a book.

Father Joseph would say his most precious thing is his relationship with the Lord (And then his dogs Ally and Bailey). He would like us all to say the same thing. I’m trying to get there. Religion aside, I have my life, health, work, Annie, friends, and that extended family I see once in a great while. My memories are precious, too.

Without children, we don’t have that standard knee-jerk answer. Most precious thing? We have to dig a little deeper.

What would you say? What is the most precious thing in your life? If there’s time to change your situation and add children to the list, what are you going to do about it?

Please share in the comments. Let’s help each other work it out.

***

In the book I’m reading, Maeve Binchy’s Scarlet Feather, Cathy’s husband Neil just declared that children would ruin their busy lives and he has no intention of having any. What is Cathy going to do about that? Stay tuned. How refreshing to read a book where children are not assumed. Binchy was childless herself, due to health problems. I’ll let you know how she resolves the situation in the novel. It’s 501 pages long, and I have about 350 pages left to read.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

What Would You Change If You Could?

I have been watching a show on Amazon Prime called “Being Erica.” It’s about a young woman who meets this charismatic therapist who makes her write a list of all the things she regrets in her life and then sends her back in time to redo those parts of her life. Most of the time it doesn’t work out the way she thought it would, but it’s always fun to watch.

Erica is 32 years old, single and childless, and not doing well with her career. In the episode I watched last night, she throws a baby shower for her best friend but finds she is clueless about babies, and her friends don’t include her in that part of their lives. She does not get chosen to be godmother, which she really wanted, because she has never been a mom. Her friends think she should be happy being “wacky Aunt Erica.” Sound familiar?

In that same episode, Erica is sent back to her bat mizvah, a Jewish coming-of-age rite. Although she looks 13, she knows she’s 32, single and childless, but nobody else does. Her mother sits her down to talk about her future, which will of course include marriage and children. What if that doesn’t happen, Erica asks. What if I’m 32 and still single without children? Oh, don’t think such terrible thoughts. That will never happen, says her clueless mom. But we know it did. As it did for many of us

Of course, this is part of the stereotype of Jewish mothers, but in my generation, it was really all mothers. Of course you’re going to get married and have children. You might work a while, but your family will be the most important thing in your life.

Then there’s the book I’m reading by a much older woman, Sue William Silverman. In How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences, a memoir that takes us back to her early years—more time travel—she has no plan to have children. As for husbands, well, she’s had two so far, and I have quite a few pages left to read. But she never saw herself as the motherly type.

Here are two views of women without children and trips into the past to rethink their choices. So far, neither Erica nor Sue has changed the ultimate outcome for anything, only her attitude about it.

What about you? If Erica’s therapist, Dr. Tom, demanded you write a list of regrets, what would be on it? What would you want to go back and change? What would you do differently? Would it be worth it? Something to think about.

For me, everything I think about changing in my past leads to thoughts of what I would have missed, and I don’t think I want to risk that. How about you?

****

IMPORTANT NOTICE: As I have mentioned before, I’m putting together a “Best of Childless by Marriage” book from the blog. I am including many of your comments, all anonymous or by first names only. Many of you are better writers than I am. If you have any objection to having those comments in a book, both print and online, please let me know at sufalick@gmail.com, and I will remove them. I don’t want this to be an issue later, so please speak up by the end of June. Thank you. 

Sue has a new book, Up Beaver Creek

Up_Beaver_Creek_Cover_for_Kindle (1)People often say that for those of us without children, the things we create are our babies. For me, that would be my books. I have been making books in some form since I was an odd child wrapping my stories in cardboard covers and illustrating them with crayons. I keep promising myself that I will not produce another one without a six-figure contract and a big-name publisher, but oops, I have given birth to a new book, my eighth.

The idea just flitted by that I could do this like a baby announcement. You know: time, date, height, weight, a little picture with a pink or blue cap. Have you received as many of those as I have? Have they made you cry? So no, not doing that. Enough with the birth analogy. Although a friend and I had some fun the other day joking about how much it would hurt to actually give birth to a book, considering the sharp corners.

I hereby announce the publication of Up Beaver Creek, a rare novel in which the main characters do not have children and are not going to get pregnant in the end. In this story, P.D. Soares, widowed at 42, has gone west from Montana to make a new life on the Oregon coast, but things keep going wrong. The cabin where she’s staying has major problems, and the landlord has disappeared. She’s about to lose the house she left in Missoula, and her first gig in her new career as a musician is a disaster. What will happen next? Here’s a hint. The earth seems to be shaking.

Up Beaver Creek comes from my own Blue Hydrangea Productions. You can buy copies or read a sample via Amazon.com by clicking here. Click here for information on all of my books, a crazy blend of fiction and non-fiction, including Childless by Marriage.

A few of you served as Beta readers to help me with the final draft. You were a huge help. As soon as my big box of books arrives, I will send you your free copies. You’ll find your names in the acknowledgements.

Could I produce all these books if I didn’t have children? I believe I could. I might be fooling myself, but I’m always trying to live more than one life at a time. I succeed most of the time.

So, are our creations our substitute babies? Could they fill that hole in our hearts, the hole P.D. is trying to fill with music? Would it ever be enough? It isn’t enough for me, but it sure helps because my work connects me with wonderful people like you. I welcome your comments.