Friends make the best kind of family

Hey! We survived the holidays. I spent most of mine either at work or alone at home, so I didn’t have much opportunity to be bothered by people who are obsessed with their kids. By maintaining a sort of tunnel vision, I could ignore all the images of happy family gatherings that did not include me. I dared not dwell on the sadness of not having anyone to kiss on New Year’s Eve and opening my Secret Santa gifts alone—and yes, those presents that showed up on my doorstep in a priority mail box a week before Christmas were the only ones I had to open on Christmas morning.

I gathered a few other gifts along the way from friends at various holiday gatherings, and I am grateful to them, especially to my friend Pat who had earrings custom-made for me on her trip to Mexico and Sandy who welcomed me to her early family Christmas dinner, where I received several wonderful gifts. I got a check from my dad, Portuguese food from my aunt, and Amazon gift certificates from my brother’s family. But nothing under my little tree to unwrap. And the beautiful Christmas stocking my godmother made many years ago remained in the box with the other unused Christmas doodads.

I think I have figured out where the Secret Santa gifts came from. I wasn’t involved in any organizations that did secret gift exchanges, so it was a mystery. None of my friends admitted to it. It had to be someone who could mail the box from Newport, Oregon, just north of where I live. It had to be someone who knew I had a dog named Annie . . .

The senior center. A few months ago, I attended a meeting there for people living alone and concerned about getting the help they needed. We filled out forms that told about our pets, our hobbies, and our interests. We talked about getting together again, but we haven’t so far. I think that list triggered the Secret Santa packages. I’m not going to ask; I want to leave the identity of the gifter a secret for now. If the staff or regulars at the senior center were the ones, I’d like to help next year. It means so much to have someone notice you’re alone and send you gifts without asking for anything back.

This reminds me of the couple from church who used to give me chocolates for Valentine’s Day and Easter because they knew Fred wasn’t around to do it. Ann and Dick. They were in their 80s then. Dick has since died. Ann is disabled now and needs a lot of help, which her neighbors provide. They care for her like family. She has a son somewhere, but he’s not around much.

Friends. The family you create. I think that’s the key to surviving in this world where families are so spread out and so complicated and where it can hurt so much to be the only ones without children. Many of the singers in our church choir went off to see the grandchildren for Christmas or hosted family for the holidays. God bless them. At my house, it was just me and Annie. It was okay. We read, watched videos, walked, ate too much, and relaxed.

When people have children, their holiday activities are pretty much set. They know who they’ll be with and what they’re going to do, whether they want to or not. Those of us who are childless get to choose, and that’s good.

So how were your holidays? What are you looking forward to this year? Have you already blown your new year’s resolutions like I have? Stay on the diet, do yoga every day, practice the piano for an hour . . . Right. Feel free to whine, complain, celebrate or commiserate in the comments. I’m anxious to hear how it’s going.

I leave you with a gift: Jody Day’s anti-New Year’s rant on her Gateway Women page. Read it. I think you’ll identify with some of her feelings.

Hang in there. We’re going to have a good year, in spite of everything.

 

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It’s not easy being childless at Christmas

Christmas! It’s almost here. Grownups are driving themselves crazy buying gifts, sending cards, and cooking for parties while kids act like my dog just before she goes for a walk: unbearably hyperactive, following me everywhere, barking at me, and even nipping at my hands because she just has to go for her walk RIGHT NOW.

As for the birth of Jesus, oh yes, that too.

If we have no children, it would seem to be less stressful. Stepchildren may up the anxiety, requiring you to act like a parent when you aren’t, but they might also be spending the holidays with their other mom or dad. So no problem, right? Wrong. If there was ever a time of year when our childlessness is shoved in our faces, this is it.

I stared at my little fake Christmas tree last night with exactly one tiny gift under there for me and felt so sorry for myself. If I had kids, if I still had a husband, I would have presents. I would have somebody making sure “Mom” or “Grandma” wasn’t alone. The kids might be coming, or I might be going to where they live.

I remember my own grandmother, whose birthday was on Christmas Eve. Everyone gathered on Dec. 24 to honor her with gifts, cake, and Portuguese food. The next day, Christmas, everybody came our house. Nobody was alone, and everybody had presents.

Yes, I know, it’s all about Jesus being born.

When I was looking at my tree, I happened to be sitting in the hot tub in my back yard looking through the window. The hot water soothed every joint and muscle. The stars twinkled bright above. The dog puttered around in the yard. Afterward, I put on my nightclothes and watched the Tony Bennett birthday special on TV. It was wonderful. Then I slept and woke up to a fresh new day full of possibilities. Nobody bothered me about anything. Hard life, huh?

I know I am blessed in so many ways. I just found out another friend has been fighting breast cancer all year. That’s a real problem. Looking at that little tree, realizing what I could have had, not the presents but the people, the pain was excruciating. But as my father often says, it is what it is. You curse a little and go on.

And yes, Christmas is about Jesus. With most of our choir spending the holidays with their kids and grandkids, we’re short of singers. I will be singing and playing at two Masses on Christmas Eve and another one on Christmas Day. Afterward I’ll have dinner with friends whose kids are far away. We will exchange grownup gifts and probably watch TV or a movie. I will cry at some point, but it will be fine. Next week, when we meet again, it will be over.

Dear friends, how are you dealing with Christmas this year? What’s the hardest part? What advice do you have for others who don’t have children and wish they did? Please share in the comments.