Maybe I shouldn’t have used my real name

Dear friends,

I have been reading old posts and your wonderful comments in the hope of bringing everything up to date and putting together a “Best-of” Childless by Marriage book. So many of you say nice things about my blog and about me. I am so grateful. You have no idea how much your support and your comments help me. We’re all in this situation together.

I wish I could be anonymous like you. Some members of my family have taken great offense at my posts. Maybe I should have chosen a pen name, ala Dear Sugar or Dear Abby. Too late now. To all of them, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Please don’t hate me, but you who have spouses and children and grandchildren have no idea what it’s like for those of us who don’t. Lucky you.

Enough. Read the Dec. 10 comments on my Nov. 29 post if you are curious about what inspired this.

Meanwhile, I want to pay homage to some of the people who have been commenting here for years. Anon S., SilverShiloh, Candy, loribeth, Tony, Marybeth, Crystal, Mali, Jenny, and so many others, including many Anonymouses whom I can tell apart by the way you write, a million thank yous. To those who have bravely used their real names, you rock. To those who have just started reading, welcome. Let’s take a minute to picture ourselves in a big room together and thank each other. C’mon, group hug. Pass the hot toddies around. Ooh, and the fudge.

Ah, yum.

Can you all come to my house next Christmas?

***

So, the old church choir director job is gone :-(, and I have moved to a new church, where I can sing, play guitar and tambourine if I want, and shout “Hallelujah” if I feel so moved. 🙂 There’s no pay, and I’m not in charge of the music, but I feel welcome there. Like my old church, this one is also Catholic, but it’s a less repressive version which most of my friends escaped to before I did.

Joining a new parish means filling out a registration form for my “family.” That paper is going to have a lot of blank spots. Spouse? Employer? Children? Yikes. However, on the other side is a list of tasks people can volunteer to do. I can check off a whole bunch of them—music, bulletin, stitchery, bazaar–maybe more than others because of all those blank spaces on the “family” side. Something to be grateful for.

Just like I’m grateful for you.

Hang in there. Christmas will be over in two weeks. In three weeks, we get a bright shiny new year. And a new decade. Isn’t that amazing? We are already 20 years into the 2000s. And we’re still here.

 

Surviving the Mom and Dad Talk

Well, miracles can happen. I went to a party last night with my church friends, men and women in their 60s and 70s. They spent at least an hour talking nonstop about children and grandchildren, and I didn’t mind.

Maybe it’s because I know and love these people so much. I was truly interested in their stories: the grandson who was expected to read in kindergarten, the adult daughter who has finally gotten pregnant via in vitro, the adult son who got hooked on drugs, the foster children struggling in high school. We talked about some of the kids we knew from religious education at church, kids we all care about. I contributed tidbits about my stepson and about the new baby the postmistress is bringing to work with her, and I did not even think about my own lack of children. Nor did anyone mention it.

I think they all knew I don’t have kids. It was just not an issue. I’m the writer, the choir director, the one who made the heavenly salad, and the one whose father recently died. I’m just Sue. Not classified by my not-mom status.

Maybe that delicious glass of Cabernet Franc helped, but I was okay. So I’m telling you that if parent talk is unbearable now, someday it will be okay. God knows I couldn’t deal with it in my 30s and 40s. I was hurt, sad, and angry. But I’m okay now. Do I wish I had grown children and grandchildren of my own? I sure do, but last night I felt like we all cared about all the kids.

It was also nice to be with these good people who really care about each other instead of at home with the dog in a house with no heat. Yes, the pellet stove died again. It has been that kind of week. Check out my Unleashed in Oregon blog for more on that.

I almost didn’t go to the party. I made an emergency visit to the eye doctor in the afternoon. On Monday I started seeing flashes of light that weren’t supposed to be there. After a few hours, I saw black blobs and what looked like a Halloween spider hanging from a black web. Not good. This being a small town where the doctors visit from larger cities only on certain days, I couldn’t see a doctor here until yesterday and not even my regular eye doctor.

Meanwhile, I immediately started thinking what if I go blind? I won’t be able to live here alone. Who will take care of me? Will I have to go to a retirement home? Oh God, oh God. I had to keep reminding myself that I could still see; I just had these spooky additions to what I was seeing.

I’m not going blind. I have a “posterior vitreous detachment” in my left eye. I had one once before, but this time it’s worse. What happens is pieces of the gelatinous fibers around the retina break off and cause “floaters,” those dark spots and streaks I’ve been seeing. It’s a common part of aging. In time, the flashes stop and the black things become less noticeable. That’s not so bad. The danger is a tear in the retina itself, which the doctor did not see. However, he did see some hemorrhaging (bleeding) in that eye, so he is having me see a retina specialist next week. It’s probably no big deal. Right?

But it’s hard not to think about what happens if something in my health changes and I suddenly can’t live on my own. Maybe I should be grateful I don’t have children who will insist on putting me in a nursing home. But I certainly need to be prepared, just in case.

My dilated pupil was close enough to normal by 6:00 that I could drive to the party, and I had fun with my friends, even though we talked about kids a lot. The stars last night were amazing, and I was grateful I could see them. The spider in my eye is just one more Halloween decoration.  

I got my first copies of my poetry chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead, yesterday, and I have been busy packaging copies to send to people who helped me with it or were kind enough to pre-order them months ago. You might say I have another book baby. Number nine. I’m Catholic, you know.

So that’s why the blog is a day late. Thank you to those who added to my “If you are childless, you will never . . . list from last week.

Keep ‘em coming.

We talk a lot about how uncomfortable being with the mom and dad crowd can be, but do you sometimes find yourselves in situations where you actually enjoy it? Please share in the comments.  

Can we stay happy without kids or spouse?

“I’m in My 40s, Child-Free and Happy. Why Won’t Anyone Believe Me?” by Glynnis MacNicol, July 5, 2018 NY Times

Dear readers,

The article listed above that appeared in the New York Times last month shows how differently people can feel about living a life without children, and in MacNicol’s case, also without a husband. At 40, she claims she loves the freedom of being single and has plenty of connections with other people, including many children who think of her as “Auntie Glynnis.” Yet when she dined with a famous author, hoping to discuss literature, he couldn’t get past the fact that she was alone.

Other women a little older warn her that she’s going to change her mind and dive into fertility treatments in a few years. She will regret her choices.

Go ahead and read it now if you want. Then come back here.

Ah, regrets. People ask here all the time whether they’ll regret it if they never have children. I can’t answer that question. Maybe, like MacNicol, they will relish the freedom to travel, work, socialize, and never have to order a “Happy meal” at McDonald’s or pay for someone else’s college education. Maybe in the case of people who are childless by marriage, they will be forever glad that they chose their partner and look forward to growing old together. Or maybe one day they’ll wake up sobbing because they missed their chance to be parents. I don’t know. We’re all different. And I think we experience different feelings at different times. I know sometimes I’m relieved I don’t have children, while at other times, it breaks my heart.

How do you know when you’re young how you’re going to feel after decades more of life? This may seem off-topic, but I watch “The Bachelorette,” “Bachelor in Paradise” and all those trashy shows. God knows why. It seems like someone is crying in every episode. After two dates, they’re in love, and if they don’t get a rose, they’re heartbroken. They’re ready to devote their lives to people they barely know. Most are in their 20s and early 30s. I think about the people in my life who are that age, and I think, “They’re so young. They have no idea what they really want.” Actually, I believe what most of the people on these shows want is simply to be on TV and all the finding-someone-to-love business is a sham, but you know what I mean.

Now, if you’re that age, don’t be insulted. You do know a lot, and I wish I still had your energy. I’m just saying you’ll know more later. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I felt wise and grown up, even though I looked very young with my long hair and miniskirts. People I encountered in my work as a newspaper reporter often questioned whether I was old enough to do the job. I’d plant my hands on my skinny hips and assure them I was a college graduate, I was married, and I was a professional journalist.

I was all that, but looking back, I had a lot to learn about writing, and my first marriage was a mistake from the get-go. A wiser woman would have seen the warning signs. I would have been better off following MacNicol’s example, at least for a while. But we were at an age when society said we needed to get married, so we did. Did I worry about regretting it later? No. I was ecstatic. I expected our love to last forever.

I made my choice based on the information I had at the time. That’s all any of us can do. We’re not robots. We can’t program our feelings or predict how they might change. Maybe MacNicol will change her mind. But right now, she loves her life. For all anyone knows, she always will. Who are we—or that famous author–to say otherwise?

What do you think?

  • Do you worry about regretting your choices, especially about having children, when you get older?
  • Do people in your life warn you that you’ll change your mind?
  • Is there any way to guard against making a mistake?

I welcome your comments.

With friends, childless won’t die alone

Sally CarrSally Grant Carr seemed to be everywhere. If there was a gallery opening, a rally for peace, a singalong, or a poetry reading, she was there with her big glasses and fluffy white hair. So when about 30 friends gathered Sunday at Café Mundo to celebrate her life, it felt odd that she wasn’t among us.

Sun beamed through the big windows and skylights, lighting up the art on the walls and hanging from the ceiling as people from the various facets of her life settled at the wooden tables in the quirky tree house-like restaurant where Sally used to hang out. Many of us had not known that she died on April 1 until the notice for the Celebration of Life appeared online at newslincolncounty.com. What? Sally gone? No, where is she really?

But a small circle of friends who had sat by her hospital bed around the clock as she finally gave in to a lifelong lung condition were all too aware. Wouldn’t the hospital refuse to let you into intensive care, I asked. Wouldn’t they refuse to tell you anything? One of those friends, a tall woman with a booming voice, said she informed the hospital staff that Sally had no family, and her friends were coming in, whether they liked it or not. “They told us everything,” she said.

Sally’s parents died in a car accident when she was 18. She was married a long time ago, but the marriage ended. She left her home in Connecticut to start fresh on the west coast. She had no children, no siblings, no family at all. The people of Newport, Oregon became her family. That happened because she reached out. She cared. A graphic designer by trade, she got involved at local art galleries, worked with a local book publisher. She came to our monthly writers’ gatherings (and she bought all of my books). She got together with friends for a weekly happy hour party. If she was lonely, she didn’t complain about it.

Friends said she liked to go on late-night drives, loved to watch the moon and stars. She also loved to talk, a brief call or visit often going late into the night.

Perfect? No, she was goofy and sometimes annoying. But now that she’s gone, we miss her.

I last saw Sally at a meeting at the senior center for people who live alone. The object was help us connect with each other and with resources for help. I remember Sally being more concerned about other people’s worries than her own. I suspect that she was somehow involved in that Secret Santa box that arrived on my doorstep shortly before Christmas.

We talked about getting together, but we never did. We should have. I’m not good at reaching out the way Sally was. Now she’s gone. Lesson learned. Take a deep breath and call, text, email, something.

It was a cheerful gathering, full of love for Sally and for each other, now that she has brought us together. We shared our memories, ate cake, and took home photos. Sally was not religious, so there was no church service. I don’t know what happened to her body. I’m sure she had something arranged.

The one jarring note: Her will, written in the 1970s, did no good because everyone named in it died before she did. The state of Oregon is taking over her estate. Can they do that? Yes, they can. Read this. Get your paperwork in order, and keep it up to date. If you end up with no family, you can leave your money and possessions to friends or a favorite charity. Make your wishes known.

Those of us without children worry about ending up alone. That doesn’t have to happen. Not if you have friends. I recently read a book titled One’s Company: Reflections on Living Alone by Barbara Holland. This upbeat, often funny book published in 1992, offers everything from how to make a proper cocktail to how to attract lovers. One of the comments that sticks in my mind is about the value of friends. Children, she notes, are only with us temporarily. In the end, it’s better to have one true friend. Think about that. So often our friends are the ones who really know us, who show up when we need someone.

Sally had friends.

Something to think about as you agonize over whether you’ll be alone if you never have children, especially if your partner divorces you or dies. You’ll be okay.

***********

We have gotten some great comments on last week’s post about foster-adoption. Keep ’em coming.

 

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.

 

Do Your Childless Christmas Your Way

Dear friends,

Christmas is tough. If any time of year rubs our lack of children in our faces, this is it. Our friends are making themselves crazy buying gifts for the kids and grandkids. Facebook is full of babies and older children posing with Santa Claus. You find yourself trapped at holiday gatherings with people who keep asking when you’re going to have children. I know. It’s rough. You just want to run away to a tropical resort or a distant mountain until it’s all over and people regain their senses. You can’t even take solace in TV because it’s all holiday specials and Hallmark movies in which everybody is one happy family at the end. You try to get into the spirit. You buy treats for the dog and try to get him to pose with reindeer antlers, which he shakes off and uses for a chew toy.

I know. I spend a lot of Christmastime weeping. No kids, no husband, no family nearby. I started to decorate this year, then said no, I can’t. The lights didn’t work on either of my cheesy fake trees, the roof was leaking, the pellet stove wasn’t working, and I probably wouldn’t get any presents anyway, so forget it. Oh, woe is me. But I woke up the next morning feeling like it was a new day. I dealt with the roof and the stove. I went to the local Fred Meyer store and bought a much nicer fake tree. I spread Christmas decorations throughout the house. I did it all my way, with no one to consult, no one to say, “That looks stupid.” My decorations make me happy.

I hadn’t left any room for presents because I didn’t expect to get any. Then a package arrived at my front door. “Secret Santa,” said the return address. Inside, I found seven gifts from this secret Santa. I don’t know who it is. I know only that it was mailed in Newport, the town closest to where I live. This Santa knows I have a dog named Annie. She got a toy from Rudolph. I cried for the next hour, a blend of gratitude and embarrassment at seeming pitiful and lonely to someone. But I am so glad those gifts are there. I made room for presents under my tree.

I don’t have many people to buy gifts for. I’m thinking next year I’m going to put some energy into being a Secret Santa for other people, both the kids for whom we get requests at church every year and older people who might be feeling alone. Did you know that approximately one-third of Americans over age 65 live alone? I can buy them presents because I don’t have children and grandchildren to buy for, cook for, and worry about. I put a few doodads in the mail, and I’m done with the family Christmas. But I’m free to do more.

People are more generous than you expect. This old guy at church, Joe, stopped me after Mass on Sunday. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. Oh God, what, I thought. The man is a little loud and crude sometimes. Then Joe, who lost his wife a few years ago, handed me a framed poem, “My First Christmas in Heaven.” Tears blurred the words as I read them. The frame is beautiful, the words even more beautiful. At home, I hung it under my husband Fred’s picture and above the collection of wedding rings and other keepsakes I keep on his nightstand. So sweet. You can read the poem here.

Joe has about a dozen kids, no exaggeration, and countless grandchildren. They will probably take up two or three pews on Christmas Eve. They will probably talk while I’m singing my solo. But he misses his wife, Carmella, and I miss Fred. Having children does not make up for a missing spouse. Joe will be with his kids on Christmas. I will play and sing at four Masses over three days, then come home to Annie and a long nap. I will treat myself to a ravioli and meatballs dinner. Who says it has to be turkey or ham? I can eat whatever I want whenever I want, and I like raviolis. I will open my gifts from Secret Santa, take Annie for a walk, duty-call the family in California, and be glad Christmas is almost over.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I am thankful for all of you who read and support this blog, for everyone who has read my book, for all those people who love me and don’t care whether or not I ever had a baby. I’m even grateful now for a chance to hold someone else’s baby once in a while. And I am so, so grateful for dogs.

I have said it many times. It gets better. It gets easier. I swear to you that it does. The hardest time for me was when I could see my fertile years slipping away and didn’t know what to do about it. So I did nothing. I cried. I drank. I over-ate. I over-worked. I barked at anyone who expected me to enjoy their children, and God forbid anyone wish me a happy Mother’s Day.

Sometimes I let people think I had a medical problem that kept me from having babies. Sometimes I blamed my husband. Sometimes I just said, “Not yet.” And sometimes I told people who asked about my children that God had other plans for me. I think that’s true.

I wish you happiness and peace this holiday season. As much as possible, do it your own way. If that means running away, fine. If you can’t run away, be honest with your loved ones about your feelings. It’s okay to tell them that it makes you sad to see their babies when you may never have one. It’s okay to answer persistent questions with, “I don’t know. Please stop asking. It’s a sore subject.”

Worst case, do what I do when I’m in a tough place. Think about how in a few hours or a few days, this will be just a fuzzy memory.

Love to all of you. Feel free to cheer, whine, or rant in the comments.

Sue

Childless or not, expect to take care of yourself

Lately I’ve been living a double life. On March 25, my 95-year-old father broke his upper leg, the same leg with the artificial hip from when he broke it in 2014. He wasn’t doing anything special, just washing dishes when the bone came apart and he fell on the floor, banging his head so hard on the wall he left a layer of hair behind. He was alone, just like he was with the hip. Luckily, he had his cell phone in his pocket.

Since then, I have been traveling back and forth between Oregon and California, trying to do as much as I can to help. I was there when Dad moved from the hospital to a skilled nursing facility, when he left there for a nursing home, and when he went back to his own house last week. In the last four months, I have spent 34 days sleeping in my childhood bedroom and hanging out with Dad.

But I’m not there now. A paid caregiver ($27 an hour) is there for three hours in the morning and three hours around suppertime. Sometimes people visit. My brother Mike drives seven hours every weekend to help him, but mostly he’s alone. My father has two children in their 60s, two grandchildren in their 30s, and three great-grandchildren under the age of 4. None of us are there. We live far away. We have jobs to do and lives to lead. And Dad wants it that way. When I suggested that maybe my dog and I should just move in, he said no.

Those of us without children worry about being alone in old age. I’m alone most of the time. It’s scary. But the truth is that for most families, even when there are children, there’s no guarantee they will be on call 24/7 to help. I do know people who devote their lives to caring for their elderly parents, but for most of us it’s a juggling act. If you have children of your own, you need to take care of them, too. Even you don’t have kids, you have other responsibilities.

You can’t be everywhere at once. Last week when I was moving Dad back to his house, my brother was in the middle of a wildfire disaster at his home near Yosemite. With fire all around them, his family was ordered to evacuate. From Merced, they watched the news and prayed their home and their town would still be standing when they went back. They were among the lucky ones. Their house and their town survived, and they were allowed to return after nearly a week. But during that time, Mike was not about to run to San Jose to load Dad’s wheelchair into the car.

People are always telling me about how having children does not assure that you won’t wind up alone. It’s true. Granted, my brother and I have done a lot for our father. We have paid his bills, mowed his lawn, and interacted with doctors, social workers, and nursing home staff. We arranged his transitions from one institution to another, and I sat with him at each of his appointments with the orthopedic surgeon. If there’s another crisis, we’ll get there as soon as we can.

I have no children. What will I do when it’s my turn? What will you do? So far, friends have helped me when I needed surgery or was stuck on crutches with a sprained ankle. I already have my legal paperwork in order in case someone else needs to make decisions for me. But I know I need to make more formal arrangements for the future. If I don’t acquire a new husband or a housemate, I plan to move into some kind of group living situation so there will be people around to help. I don’t want to live alone forever.

If I had children, would I want them to give up their lives to take care of me? No.

Ultimately we are all on our own. So let’s figure it out. Who will you call if you get hurt? Who will handle your bills if you can’t do it? Who will make phone calls and talk to the doctors? If you do end up having children, that’s a bonus. They’ll be glad you got yourself organized.

What do you think about aging with kids? Have you made any plans? Please comment.