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.

 

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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