When I started writing my novel Up Beaver Creek, I did not intentionally make my heroine childless. She just came out that way, probably because I don’t have children. Her non-Mom status has not changed in the sequel, Seal Rock Sound, which has just been published.
I don’t automatically give my characters the full family package because I have never had that. A writer whose main identity is Mom might create people who either have children or are planning to. Often the happy ending includes a pregnancy announcement. My girl PD Soares will never be pregnant. In her case, she suffered through a bad childless first marriage, infertility with her second husband, and then widowhood when he died. Now 43, she’s sure she’ll never be a mother. But the question keeps coming up, as in these excerpts from Seal Rock Sound:
On a date:
Arlo delivers a basket of warm bread. Donovan grabs a slice and slides the basket over to me. “Did you ever want to have kids, PD?”
Yikes. I should have known this question would come up. Everyone expects a woman my age to have children. I nudge the breadbasket away, trying to resist the temptation. “Yes, we tried to have children. My husband and I could not seem to get pregnant. His sperm and my eggs just wouldn’t do the job. We were starting to look into adoption when he got sick.”
“It’s not too late.”
“Yeah, I think it is. I’m 43 and single. That ship has sailed.” Change the subject before you stress-eat all the bread in that basket. “How about you? Any children?”
“Well . . .”
Talking to a friend:
“It all washed away in one night. Now I have to support my family. Maybe in 20 or 30 years, I can paint again.”
I picture her in a bright room overlooking the ocean, painting on silk with delicate brushes. Her painting was like my music. Because I have no husband or children, I’m free to keep doing it.
“Helen, I’m so—”
She holds up her hand. “Don’t say sorry again. I know you are. But you don’t know how it is when you have a family to take care of.”
Ouch. But it’s true. “Can I buy you a blueberry scone and another cup of tea?”
She checks her watch. “Yes. Thank you.”
I return to the counter, order and top off my coffee. It’s time to change the subject.
I sink onto the black leather. I’m up higher than in my old car, but this one is considerably smaller than the rental I’ve been driving. I study the dash.
“They went for the whole package. It’s got Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, backup warning system, the whole shot. Plus four-wheel drive. The back seat folds down if you need to haul stuff. Do you have kids?”
I look at this cookie-cutter white guy in a suit. “No. It’s just me.”
“It’s great for dogs, too. I’ll bet you have a dog.”
I’m not in the mood to tell him the story of my life.
At work helping a frightened teen who just got her first period:
I escorted her to the restroom and closed us up in the handicapped stall. It was crazy intimate for someone I had just met, but I got her “bandaged” up with a maxi pad and retied her sweatshirt around her waist so no one could see the drying blood on her pants.
As we washed our hands, she smiled at me. “I guess I remember some of my friends talking about this.”
“Sure. We all get our periods. Even me. It’s normal. You’re just becoming a woman. Soon your breasts will grow, and you won’t be a little girl anymore. It’s actually pretty cool.”
“You’re welcome.” I hugged her and returned to my desk.
I couldn’t help thinking about how I could have had a girl that age if nature had cooperated. An ache bloomed inside me. I was never going to be the mom giving her daughter “the talk.” I would never see my little girl grow into a woman. Never send her off to school dances, help her with her spelling, attend her graduation and her wedding, or cuddle her babies in my arms. I blinked back my tears. Not here, not now. Just do the job.
I forced a smile at an old woman in pink sweats. “Hi, what I can do for you?”
Will I ever write a novel about someone who has children? Probably. The majority of adults are parents. Just as I used to do when I was writing articles for parenting publications, I’ll do my research. All of my characters can’t be just like me. If I want them to be doctors, police officers, or truck drivers, I have to find out what that’s all about. Likewise, if I want to create fictional moms. Meanwhile, I have added my books to the limited number of stories about people who don’t have children.
Do you have some favorite childless heroines from books or movies? Do you think we’re seeing more characters without kids these days? As always, I welcome your comments.