Mother’s Day: Another Stab to the Heart

I thought I could deal with Mother’s Day by now. I mean, I’m 13 years past menopause. It will get easier, I tell my young readers here. Most of the time, it is easier, but not always.

As you may know, I play the piano and lead the choirs at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Newport, Oregon. I share the job with another woman who never had children. For her, it was a conscious choice. I wonder if our not having children gave us both a better chance to pursue our music. Probably.

My friend was scheduled for the Sunday Mass, which got me off the hook for the actual Mother’s Day, but I played the Saturday vigil Mass. It also happened to be First Communion. The church was packed with boys and girls beautifully dressed in white, along with their parents, godparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. It’s a big deal and an honor to be part of it. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. If only it weren’t Mother’s Day weekend, too.

No problem, I thought. Even when a friend wished me Happy Mother’s Day at the Sign of Peace then started to correct herself as I hastily wished her a Happy Mother’s Day and hurried back to the piano, I was okay. In fact, I was proud of how I had evolved.

But wait.

We have this relatively new and uber-conservative pastor. We got our previous pastor enlightened to the point that on Mother’s Day he honored all women for their nurturing, caring, etc. It was nice. I didn’t feel excluded. But this priest went old school. He asked everyone to sit. Then he asked the mothers to stand. All the women around me rose. There I was, right in front, sitting as the priest stared at me, no doubt thinking I was a big sinner for not having children. He knows nothing about me, has no idea how painful it was as he blessed the mothers. Like a knife, I swear.

It could have been worse. Nobody handed out flowers. Many a year I have played with a misguided carnation on the music stand. But it hurt.

Normally on my Sundays off, I would join friends at another Catholic church and go to brunch with them afterward. Not this week. I couldn’t go through another mother blessing. As for eating out on Mother’s Day, I’m not suicidal. Restaurants would be jammed with mothers and their loving offspring. Everyone would be wishing me happy Mother’s Day. I’d rather eat dog food. I stayed home, washed clothes, did yard work, read, walked the dog and baked cookies—for me!

It’s safe here at the end of the road in the forest. The three houses clustered together are all occupied by people in their 60s and 70s who never had children, just dogs, cats, and a parrot.

So that was my Mother’s Day. Several of you have commented on my last post. How was your weekend? Let us know.

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A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Sally Carr, who died surrounded by friends because she had no family. It turns out some of the facts I reported were wrong. She did have some family, cousins in Philadelphia who were shocked when the State of Oregon contacted them about Sally’s estate. Sally’s parents did not die in a car accident when she was young. They lived to old age, but she chose to separate herself from them. I doubt we’ll ever know why, but this makes the story even sadder. I regret publishing what wasn’t quite true and hope those who knew Sally better than I did will forgive me.

Keep the comments coming and feel free to correct me when I get it wrong.

 

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Childless and Keeping My Secret

So, we’re at this restaurant, sitting outside, a big happy group of writers attending a workshop at the University of Arizona. Each of us submitted a prize-winning essay to get here. All day, we have been discussing the craft of writing and the writing life. We feel like equals despite varying ages and the fact that we come from all over the U.S. But now, the workshop on break, cocktails in hand, I realize that everyone is talking about their children. They’re talking schools, toddlers vs. teens, funny and frustrating things their kids do. They’re showing pictures on their phones. Suddenly I don’t fit in.

Seated in the corner, I smile and nod as if I too left a house full of kids at home. I do not want to confess that I am different, so I eat my salmon and cornbread and pretend I’m not. I also don’t admit that I do not struggle to find time to write. I struggle to fill the bottomless well of time I have at home when it’s just me and the dog. They know my husband died because that’s what my essay is about. Bad enough that I’m a widow and I’m one of the oldest people here. I am not going to tell them I don’t have children.

After dinner, I volunteer to walk the two miles back to the campus with the young, fast-walking group. I struggle to keep up, but I’ll be damned if I say it. I can do this. I can fit in.

Are you ever embarrassed because you don’t have kids? Do you ever pretend you do? It’s easy when you’re among relative strangers. Everyone assumes people of a certain age are parents until you tell them otherwise.

I’m not proud of being childless. I feel like I messed up. Truly. I didn’t make motherhood happen. No matter how successful I might be otherwise, there’s this moment when a colleague asks, “How old are your kids (or grandkids) and I have to admit that I never had any. I’m not one of the childless-by-choice people who boast about not having children, who say, “I never wanted any, and I’m happy with my life.” With the implied if you don’t approve, that’s your problem.

To be honest, most people don’t react much when I tell them. They go back to their own conversations, and I go back to smiling and nodding. I can share a little bit in the conversation. I helped raise my stepchildren, I do have a niece and nephew, and hey, I was a kid once. But it’s not the same.

As I was getting on the plane to come home to Oregon, I overheard a conversation in which two strangers discovered they were both going to Portland to welcome new grandchildren. Sigh.

Do you ever feel like you need to hide the fact that you don’t have children? When does this happen? Have you ever pretended to be a mom or dad and gotten caught? Please share in the comments. Let me know I’m not alone.

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In spite of a few awkward moments, I had a wonderful trip to Tucson. The weather was perfect, the workshop was wonderful, and I got to spend time with my husband’s cousin Adrienne and her husband John, delightful people I look forward to seeing again soon. They gave me a room, a car, and food and let me bask in the sun after months of Oregon rain. For more about my Arizona adventure, visit my Unleashed in Oregon blog.

Thank you to Lisa Manterfield for enriching the blog last week with your great post about aging without children. Let’s all support Lisa by following her Life Without Baby blog and buying her book. I’ll be posting a review soon and adding it to our resource list.