So You’re Childless; What Else are You?

Happy New Year! Hallelujah, the holidays are over.

As we start a new year, I want to share a quote that set me thinking about all the things we are besides childless.

In the book Motherhood Missed, which I reviewed here last month, one of the anonymous women included there wrote this: “I don’t want to identify for the rest of my life as a childless woman. I want to be something else.”

That really struck me because we are more than our status as parents or non-parents. We have other gifts to give to the world. We might wish with all our hearts that we had children, that we could proudly boast of being mothers or fathers, but there is more. There’s always more.

So I want you think about what else you are. If you were writing a Facebook profile or a bio to put on the back of your book and you were not allowed to say anything about having or not having children, what would you write?

For example, the bios at the bottom of things I publish usually say something like “Sue Fagalde Lick is a writer-musician-dog mom living on the Oregon Coast.” I go on to name my books and other publications and mention my job as a music minister. Am I also a mother? Readers don’t need to know; it’s irrelevant, just like my age or my shoe size.

Childlessness does not define me, except in particular situations, such as this blog. If I find myself at a school or other child-centered place, I can focus on my reason for being there. Perhaps I’m volunteering, giving a talk, or offering support as a student’s aunt. It’s about what I AM, not what I’m NOT.

So what is your gift to share with the world? If you had a child, what would you be looking forward to doing once they got old enough to leave alone. You are free to do it now. That’s no small thing.

The arts are not the only way to contribute to the world. You can keep a business running, share your faith, teach, train dogs, keep people safe, help the sick and injured, or provide food, homes, clothing, and other necessities. Are you a gardener, an athlete, a chef, or masseuse? You have way more to offer than just eggs or sperm.

At my 50th birthday party, which turned out to be the last event my mother attended before she died, she gave the most beautiful speech about how proud she was of me. She mentioned my writing and my music, but she said the best part was my loving heart. She didn’t talk about how I had failed to have children; she focused on what I had accomplished. So should you.

I know this is hard, especially if you’re in the throes of your baby-no baby crisis. But let’s give it a try this year. What else are you besides not someone’s mother or father?

Here’s another New Year’s resolution for you: If you’re on the fence because of your partner’s refusal to commit, let them know that it ends in 2019. If they refuse to give you a definite answer, you will take their non-decision as a no and act on it. No more waiting around. No one has the right to hold your life hostage.

So that’s my New Year’s sermon. I started the new year by being up all night with stomach troubles, followed by a migraine. Yesterday my dog swallowed a guitar pick which I pray will come out the other end and not kill her. But today we’re both okay.

Parenting is no guarantee of happy holidays. My brother’s kids and grandkids are all sick. My best friend had a fight with her grandson, who says he will never speak to her again. At least we don’t have to deal with that.

I feel good about 2019. Let’s try to see the bright side. Tell me in the comments: What else are you besides a non-mom or non-dad?

 

Crazy Christmas for this Childless Writer

IMG_20181226_094611724_HDR[1]It was a crazy Christmas. I spent the night of the winter solstice in the ER with stomach pains and a doctor obsessed with the possibility I’d had a heart attack. For women, it sometimes manifests as stomach pain. My heart was fine, but it was a surreal night spent tied to an IV and heart monitor in a cold little bed watching feet move beyond the yellow curtain that divided my cubicle from the rest of the emergency department.

As the pains subsided into my usual gastritis-acid reflux-IBS-too much stress gut ache, they gave me something called a “GI cocktail” and sent me home at 4:45 a.m. I drove myself both ways. It was a clear night, bright under the full moon, with no other cars around. I turned on the radio. NPR’s nighttime jazz came on, and I felt glad to be alive and free.

Later, standing outside in the dark watching Annie relieve herself, I cried from the fear I had felt and the emptiness where a loved one should have been, waiting and worrying, keeping me company as I have done so many times at so many hospitals for my husband and our parents, as my children might have done if I had them. I had texted a friend from the hospital, but I didn’t tell any of my family until it was all over. They’re too far away to help.

That was the Saturday before Christmas. Christmas is a marathon for church workers. With the holiday falling on a Tuesday, that meant four days of Masses in a row with many hours at the piano leading our tiny choir through oh-so-many songs. If I don’t play “Away in a Manger” or “The First Noel” again for a while, that will be okay. My hurting stomach made it more challenging this year.

But here’s the weirdest thing that happened. Halfway through the early Christmas Eve Mass, our priest got sick. Stomach sick, the kind where you can’t stop throwing up. He left during Communion and came back to wrap up the Mass in a hurry. As we headed out to dinner, we all wondered what would happen with the “midnight Mass,” which happens at 10 p.m. at our church. Anyone who has had the stomach flu knows that when it hits, you can’t do anything until it subsides.

We found Father resting on the floor when we came back to church. He crawled to his feet, started to discuss options with my friend Sandy, our director of religious education, then broke off to run to the restroom to throw up. Nope, he couldn’t do the midnight Mass. What would we tell the crowd gathering in the sanctuary, many of whom only come to Mass on Christmas and Easter? This is a small town on the Oregon Coast. There are no other priests to fill in, especially on short notice. It would take a substitute priest at least an hour to get here, and they were all busy with their own parishes on Christmas Eve.

Sandy saved the night. She put on a white cassock and pulled together a prayer service, offering the parts of the Mass that a non-priest is allowed to do. We sang, and she led us through the readings, a Christmas meditation, prayers and Communion, using hosts that Father had already blessed. It was short but beautiful. I loved that a woman, the same woman who had spent the day before baking nine kinds of cookies for Christmas, was leading us in the oh-so-male Catholic Church. She was the only one with the training and experience to do it. I’m calling her Father Sandy now.

Our priest was back Christmas morning, worn but capable, surely glad that Christmas was almost over. He told us he was about to drive himself to the ER on Christmas Eve but knew the staff at the hospital would scold him for driving himself. Maybe. I drove myself three days earlier, and they didn’t seem to care.

The choir family had a wonderful dinner between Masses on Christmas Eve. I joined Sandy’s family on Christmas Day. I got lots of presents, including ones from the family which I finally had time to open on Christmas night. This year, the niece and nephew added to the loot, which made “Aunt Sue” happy—and weepy. I now have a framed photo of my niece to put where I can enjoy her pretty face.

At the end of Christmas Day, I was back on the love seat with my dog Annie, making phone calls to family and friends, telling them about my trip to the ER, about the priest, and about the mouse who has moved into my kitchen and seems especially fond of dog treats. It even chewed through the empty Milk-Bone box last night, leaving little bits of cardboard on my counter. I’m buying traps today. Like the priest, I am celibate and childless, living this strange, challenging and wonderful solo life here in the coastal forest.

So that’s my Christmas story. Please tell me yours in the comments. Did your families drive you crazy? Was it better than you expected? Did you struggle with nosy questions and with being around other people’s kids? Did you run away for the holidays? Did something weird or crazy happen? Please share.

 

 

Antidotes to the Childless Christmas Blues

So, we’re drowning in Christmas. Even if you’re not Christian, it’s pretty hard to avoid the deluge of holiday music, TV specials, ads telling you to shop, shop, shop, and kids lining up in front of Santa to make their demands. The month is full of obligations. Send out cards; decorate; buy, wrap and send gifts; bake goodies for parties, gift exchanges, and bazaars; and do it all while the weather outside is just as frightful as it says in the song. Here in western Oregon, we’re underwater and getting battered by high winds, but the clock keeps ticking toward Dec. 25 anyway. I don’t know about you, but I just want to be teleported to another planet where it’s sunny and warm, and nobody gives a fig about Christmas.

What does all this have to do with being childless? I don’t know. Maybe that there’s no magic in the season without children, for whom all of this is new and exciting. Instead of a burden, it’s the most magical time of the year. Maybe Christmas shopping would be more fun if you were doing it for a child who will be ecstatic over his gift instead of aging adults who already have all the trinkets they can handle. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Yes, I have the Christmas blues. Too many rejections of my writing. Too many dark windy days with nothing to look forward to but a break in the rain to go outside to clean my gutters and pick up fallen branches. A sister-in-law who wants to stop exchanging gifts between me and her family. A step-great-granddaughter shown on Facebook praying to Santa, folded hands, amen and all, as if Santa were God. I can’t do anything to help her understand that there’s a real God and He isn’t Santa Claus because I have never met the child and probably never will. A wacko new priest who cancelled my singing with the kids at church tonight. The outside Christmas lights I was so proud of putting up not working now and I can’t figure out why. Daily pictures of my cousin with his wife and kids on a sunny beach in Mexico.

Maybe you feel the same way, but we have to find the light somewhere.  There’s this. My church, like many, puts out a holiday giving tree with tags for gifts desired by children and senior citizens who might not otherwise get any Christmas presents. Setting aside the whiny thought that my name should be on that tree because I may not get any presents, I perused the tags and chose an old lady named Gladys. I enjoyed shopping for Gladys yesterday. I avoided the kid tags because I was afraid I wouldn’t know what to buy. But next year, I think I should pick up a handful of them and adopt myself a family of poor children to shower with gifts the way I would my own if I had them. I’m not exactly overflowing with money, but if these children were mine, I would find the funds to make sure they had something good under the Christmas tree.

You can do that, too. Somebody somewhere is seeking gifts for poor families.

I think about my “Gramma” Rachel, who was actually my dad’s stepmother. His real mother died when I was a baby, so I don’t remember her. Rachel, who never had children of her own, was the only Fagalde grandmother I knew. She sent her seven step-grandchildren and four nieces and nephews packages of crazy gifts she had accumulated over the year: a sea shell, a book, a hair ornament, a coin purse, a cassette tape, a newspaper clipping with her favorite passages underlined. Not one thing advertised on TV or sold at Toys R Us, but all chosen with love and very little money. I loved these boxes, and I loved the fact that when she and Grandpa came for dinner on Christmas, Rachel went straight to us kids to see all our presents and talk about what was new in our lives. Mind you, our parents thought she was annoying and a little nuts, but we kids loved her, and I credit her with inspiring a lot of my writing and music today.

Rachel was married three times, but she never gave birth. I don’t know why. I never asked. By the time she married my grandfather, she was probably too old. But I didn’t think much about it because she was my grandma. I didn’t care about anything else.

Of course Rachel didn’t have to compete with a living mother and grandmother. She took over where Grandma Clara left off when she died at 58 of heart disease. But maybe somehow, some way, whether it’s through helping underprivileged people or showering young family members and stepchildren with special gifts, we can make this holiday season easier for them and for us.

There’s a way to make this time of year easier, if we look hard enough.

Okay, I feel better. Maybe I can make a wreath out of those fallen branches. After all, my home is surrounded by real Christmas trees.

How are you faring this holiday season? Please share in the comments.

Did you whine over your wine at Thanksgiving?

Dear friends,

Last week, I advised you to reach out to other people to survive Thanksgiving. Offer an extra set of hands, I said. Talk to the teens and old people, I said. Do the dishes, I said. Don’t feel sorry for yourself, I said.

Easier said than done, isn’t it? I found myself wanting to weep over my turkey at one point. My father and I spent the holiday at my brother’s house with his in-laws. Everybody seemed to be obsessed with their children and grandchildren, except my niece, who is treating her dog as her child. I looked around and saw no one I could relate to except the three dogs that were there. I missed my husband. I missed my mother. I felt alone in the crowd.

Oh, yes, I admit it. I felt sorry for myself, even though I knew I was not the only widow in the room. My sister-in-law’s cousin lost her husband right after Christmas last year. The last family event he attended was Thanksgiving at my brother’s house. She had a lot more right to feel sorry for herself than I did. But all day, I watched her holding one of her four young grandchildren  and thought, wow, she’s surrounded by family, and I’ve got  a brother and father who are busy arguing finance with the other men while the football game plays on the big-screen TV.

At one point, I went outside where the big dogs were corralled. “Guys, I have nobody to talk to,” I whined. They replied, “Did you bring us any turkey? Can you let us out to play?”

Eventually, things got better. I talked to a young man who was the son of a cousin I had not met before. He’s newly in love, very happy in his life in California. And he actually asked me about my life and work. I made a new friend and it felt good. I talked with my sister-in-law’s aunt and uncle. I snuggled with my niece’s “chi-weiner” dog, who does indeed feel like a baby, especially wrapped in her pink “hoodie.”

I survived the hard moment. The baby got on a crying jag, the older kids got cranky and rude, and I was fine with them not being mine. I didn’t find out until the next day that the mother/grandmother/new widow was never able to have children of her own. She has one stepson who feels like her own, and the other three were foster kids whom she adopted. Some of those kids have had very troubled lives. It was not at all the fairy tale story I thought it was. She worked hard to get those kids, and she also has worked hard to build a successful career. And now when her kids go off to their own homes, she’s as alone as I am. Something to think about.

The day before Thanksgiving, I met my cousin’s one-year-old daughter, who is adorable. I think she decided she liked me. Interacting with her was fun. The house looked like a bomb exploded in it, and the child, who recently learned to walk, was constantly having to be chased and captured. Did I long to have a child just like her? I did. But then I looked at my other cousin’s hulking, sullen teenagers and thought . . . maybe it’s okay.

The day after Thanksgiving, my nephew arrived at my brother’s house with his pregnant fiancée and her two daughters, plus another dog. It was loud and chaotic. Dogs barking, multiple conversations, little girls needing attention. My father and I were both glad to get away from the commotion to the peace and quiet of his all-adult, no-dog house, where we could share tea and pastries and talk trash about everybody else.

One more note from my Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law’s uncle thinks I’m my 93-year-old father’s sister. I could not convince him otherwise. How’s that for an ego boost? Last Thanksgiving, a waitress at my brother’s favorite restaurant thought I was Dad’s wife. Either Dad looks very young for his age—he does—or . . . never mind.

I got propositioned online last night by a man who told me I was beautiful. I think it was a robo-email, not written by an actual person, but it’s nice to hear. He was very handsome. He said he didn’t have any kids. What’s the story behind that?

So that’s how it went for me. How did Thanksgiving go for you? Please tell us in the comments. We can all whine together here, then figure out how to grow up and get past it.

 

Offer an Extra Set of Hands on Thanksgiving

Holidays can bring on the blues for those of us who want children and don’t have them,  but let’s all try to think of it as an opportunity instead.

You can be the cool aunt to the teen whose parents are too busy to hang out. You can run the errand that’s difficult for parents tied down with kids–or you can care for the kids while they get things done. You can nip off to do the dishes, or you can help the old folks. You can put on an apron and help with the food, relax with the guys watching the game, or go for a walk and talk with a loved one. You can be the one who has time to play with Barbie or play Monopoly. I’m sure you can think of more ideas.

Envy and regret are not terribly useful. Being busy gives you less time to feel sorry for yourself–or mad at the world for your situation.

So, count your blessings. Your arms may feel empty, but you can use them. If you’ll try it, so will I. Let us know in the comments how it works out.