Childless watching children open presents

Am I a spoiled brat or do I have a point? Read on and let me know.

At Thanksgiving, we watched old home videos from the 80s, back when my niece and nephew were toddlers and my husband and my mother were both still alive. I braced myself, expecting a flood of tears, but mostly I was fascinated—and horrified–watching myself. I liked the 80s look with the big hair, big glasses and preppy vest outfits, but did I really talk like that? Do I still? Yikes.

It was hard seeing my very old father watch the younger version of himself. It was shocking to realize my parents were younger at that time than my brother and I are now. I watched my mother playing with my niece and wished that I had more time with her and that I had given her grandchildren. She loved little ones so much.

But most of the videos seemed to be of children unwrapping Christmas presents. I do not find this entertaining. I have been watching other people’s kids unwrap gifts all my life, starting with the early days when my parents, my brother and I spent Christmas Eve watching my cousins open their presents while we had to wait to open our own at home on Christmas morning after church. Sure, there would be one or two things for us, but mostly we sat and watched as they ripped the wrapping paper, tossed aside gifts they found boring, and screamed as they unwrapped the good stuff.

In later years, I have watched my friends’ children and my step-grandchildren open their presents. I find it hard to sit benevolently smiling, especially when they give nothing in return. Couldn’t they at least offer a crayoned card or a Popsicle-stick reindeer? Something cheesy from the dollar store, so they know they need to give as well as receive? Sigh. If you’re watching your own children or grandchildren unwrap the gifts you chose for them, it might be wonderful, but I’ll never know. Don’t rub it in by making me watch.

I know my brother and I were equally spoiled. Our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and godparents showered us with gifts. By the time all the packages were opened, you could barely walk through the living room for all the toys and wrapping paper. But these days, Santa is mighty stingy with me. The little girl in me feels deprived already. I don’t need to watch someone else’s kids opening one gift after another.

I know Christmas is not all about presents. It’s about the birth of Jesus. With Christmas falling on a Tuesday this year, I’ll be at church four days in a row, doing music for the regular weekend Masses and then for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I’m looking forward to it. On Christmas Eve, I will enjoy the choir’s goofy gift exchange, then go home exhausted to my quiet house, my dog, and my tiny artificial Christmas tree. All good.

I know you’re not all Christian. Maybe you don’t exchange gifts at all. In that case, you probably can’t wait for the madness to be over. Me too. I love Dec. 26. I’m a big fan of ordinary days.

So there it is. Am I a rotten person? I hesitated to post this, but here it is.

I hope this time of year is good for you, however you celebrate it. Your presence is an ongoing gift to me.

My gift to you: my post at Unleashed in Oregon on why dogs are more fun than children.

Merry Christmas, dear friends. Let us know in the comments how you’re doing.

 

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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

The Childless Christmas Gift Dilemma

The first Christmas commercials showed up on TV before we finished with Halloween. The stores were already putting out the decorations and cheesy gifts in mid-October. You can’t get away from it. Even if you’re not Christian and don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s hard to escape the whole Santa Claus business.

So much of what is offered is for children. After all, who gets the most and the best Christmas presents? Kids. When there are kids around, almost everything under the tree is for them. It has always been that way. When my brother and I were little, our parents, grandparents, godparents, and aunts brought in armloads of gifts for us. We’d crawl around under the tree, prodding and shaking the packages, trying to figure out what was inside, dreaming of the possibilities. On Christmas morning, it felt like we were unwrapping presents for hours. It wasn’t until my teens that I realized Mom and Dad received comparatively few gifts. They would nod and admire our bounty while itching to get on with preparations for the company coming soon.

I have spent plenty of time at other people’s houses watching the kids rip paper off packages while I sipped my tea or slowly unwrapped my one present, fancy soaps, chocolates, or another coffee mug. It was worse when those kids were my stepchildren, surrounded by so many parents and grandparents, step and bio, they couldn’t even keep track. My husband’s ex always knew exactly what they wanted and needed because she was the real grandmother, the one who was around all the time. I was this weird Grandma Sue person who knew nothing about children.

We can say Christmas is not about the gifts, but in some ways it is. All the advertising showing perfect families with two happy parents and at least two beautiful children doesn’t mirror our own reality. If only advertisers would try to understand that. Sure, we might have stepchildren, nieces and nephews, or our friends’ children to buy presents for, but we have to exercise some restraint because they have their own parents who want to give the biggest and best things.

Christmas gifts present a dilemma for many of us without children. If you’re like me, you don’t hang around kids that much and don’t even know what they want or need. I haven’t been to Toys R Us in at least 25 years. What are the popular gifts this year? What do you get for a two-year-old? What does a 12-year-old want? Are you obligated to buy presents for kids you barely know? Do your friends and siblings expect you to shower their children with gifts when you can’t afford them or when even walking through the toy store at the mall makes you feel bad?

I’m afraid I sound sorry for myself. I don’t get a lot of Christmas presents these days, and I open them alone. The joys of being a widow far from family. I have been buying gifts for certain young people for years and never gotten anything in return. But that’s not what this post is about.

I want to know what it’s like for you. Does Christmas fill you with dread because of all the gifts you have to buy or the gifts you don’t get to buy because you don’t have kids? Do you enjoy buying or making things for the children in your life? Or are you relieved because not having children means you don’t have to spend the money or deal with the crowds? What’s your game plan for Christmas presents this year? Do you have suggestions for surviving the Santa Claus side of Christmas? Please share in the comments.