Gnawing on Childless Thanksgiving Leftovers 

The night after Thanksgiving, my father and I watched “Entertainment Tonight” on TV for lack of anything better to watch. The show was obsessed with babies. They profiled five celebrity couples enjoying their little ones this Thanksgiving. Then they featured two “Dancing with the Stars” pros who are dads now. Then they talked about how Blake Shelton and girlfriend Gwen Stefani can’t wait to have children. Is there no other news to report?

I wish people would stop asking how my Thanksgiving was. They expect glowing tales of happy family gatherings. In truth, I feel almost as bad as the turkey. “Complicated,” I say. “Great food, problematic people. How was your Thanksgiving?”

There was the whole family feud business where only half the usual folks showed up. That had nothing to do with babies, but it hurt.

A family member told me she doesn’t want to exchange Christmas presents with me anymore because she has to focus on her grandchildren. She went on and on about the joys of grandmotherhood, implying that I couldn’t possibly understand and that I was an idiot for never having children. She’s wrong. I know what I’m missing, and it hurts.

I didn’t get to see my great-niece because her parents have gotten divorced and she was with her mom. The child was only a few months old when I saw her last Thanksgiving. Now she’s walking and talking and has no idea who I am.

Meanwhile, I was taking care of my dad round the clock. At 95, with numerous problems, he needs a lot of help and resents every bit of it. My mother didn’t nickname him “El Groucho” for nothing.

On the happier side, we all spent Thanksgiving focused on the antics of my niece’s nine-month-old foster child, whom she is in the process of adopting. She’s hoping by April he will be hers. At 30, my niece does not foresee marriage in her future. My father keeps asking why she became a mother this way, but I think the answer is clear: she wanted to have a child and wasn’t willing to take a chance on it never happening. She has a lot of support from her parents and brother, but it’s still a challenge being a single parent. I am so proud of her. I’m not sure I could be so brave.

Being a foster parent isn’t easy. It took a couple years to get to this point, going through an extensive approval process, waiting for a child, and taking in an older boy who proved too troubled and too violent for her to handle. And of course, the child can always be taken away. But now, fingers crossed, the little blond munchkin eating his first stuffing and pumpkin pie last week will soon be a permanent member of the family, and I will be his great-aunt, aka Super Tia.

So that’s how my Thanksgiving went. It’s a great relief to be back home. How about yours? Report in the comments, then tighten your seat belts. Christmas is coming.

 

 

 

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Learning how to be a Great Aunt Sue

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Riley’s parents prefer that she not be shown on the Internet, so this is her “cousin” Hazel

Riley was the star as soon as she arrived at my brother’s house on Thanksgiving. Mike grabbed her right away. He is the sweetest grandpa, holding her while he sits in his big recliner, feeding her and talking to her.

At five months, she’s just beginning to tune in to her surroundings. She can sit up. She watches everything and responds with squeaks, laughs and cries. She’s definitely more interesting than she was when I first met her in September.

Before Mike’s kids arrived with the baby, I had spent considerable quality time with Hazel, my niece’s dachshund, hugging her up against me, petting her, and talking to her, much like a baby. Hazel was jealous of Riley on Mike’s left knee. She jumped up and claimed his right knee.

Mike passed Riley to Susan, Sharon’s sister. Mother of four, also a grandmother and aunt, she seemed blissful holding the baby, watching her suck on her bottle. If Susan didn’t have to go to work, she probably would not have let her go.

After burping the baby, Mike brought her to me next. “Go see your great aunt Sue.” I mumbled about not necessarily being “great” just mediocre as I struggled to get her into a comfortable position, aware that everyone was watching me and I was the only one who didn’t know how to hold a baby properly. Riley whined and stiffened up in my arms until I finally got her into a sitting-up position facing away from me. I kept rubbing her fat, full belly. Only later did I realize that’s what I do with Annie, my dog. Anyway, we got comfortable. She gripped my big wrinkled fingers with her tiny smooth ones. So smooth, not a dimple or mark on the white, white skin. I replaced a sock that had fallen off her little foot. I kissed her downy head. So hot, I said. Normal, Riley’s mom, Courtney, said. Like all the grownups, I talked to the baby. Quietly, like sharing secrets between us.

While I was holding Riley, she made some grunting sounds and Courtney asked, “Are you having a bowel movement?” She instructed me to smell her. I leaned down and sniffed. Nothing. But my sister-in-law picked her up, smelled her butt, and nodded. I felt a rush of panic. Who was going to change her? I had no idea how to do it. To be this old and still not know how to change a diaper . . . Courtney did it. Soon we heard shrieks of baby laughter from the bedroom.

Courtney brought her back out and changed her into soft flannel pajamas. It was like dressing a doll, a warm, soft, pudgy-bellied doll.

Everyone wanted to hold the baby. With Riley in their arms, each person turned soft, kind and playful.

I wanted that, too. I want to watch Riley grow and know me and smile when she sees me, but I live so far away. It will probably be many months before we meet again. She won’t remember me. Do I wish she was mine? I don’t think so. I want to be one of the older people with grandchildren and great-grandchildren to enjoy and hand back to their parents. I want that big wonderful family to celebrate holidays and birthdays with, to help when things fall apart.

It’s like some people say they hate writing but love having written a book. I don’t want to be raising a baby or small children now, but I wish I had done it when I was young, so I could be holding my own granddaughter on Thanksgiving, keeping a crib and toys at my house for when she visits, and buying Christmas presents for my granddaughter.

Being my age and no longer having a husband, I didn’t have to deal with anyone asking when I was going to have children. I remember how hard that was, and I know many of you are going through that. Nobody asked how many children I had or why I didn’t have any. A few asked about my stepchildren and were surprised I hadn’t heard from them. I didn’t expect to.

I was just Aunt Sue, who comes all the way from Oregon to hang out with her elderly father. Nobody understands that I’m still figuring out how to interact with live babies instead of with my Chatty Cathy doll. There’s a magic in those tiny people. I want a share of it, but it has only been a few years that I could be around other people’s babies without crying. Know what I mean?

Riley has two older half-sisters who were with their dad on Thanksgiving. Will I ever be anything to them but a stranger? We’ll see.

I’m never going to be “Mom,” and that hurts. I’m still figuring out how to be Aunt Sue.

So, how did your Thanksgiving go? Feel free to share in the comments.

 

Stepchildren and holidays always a tricky mix

Thanksgiving is next week. Christmas follows shortly after. Will your stepchildren be with you or their biological parents? Holidays get tricky when two sets of parents claim the kids, shuttling them back and forth according to the terms of custody agreements.

I feel for the children. Back in the days before Fred’s youngest turned 18, he was always coming or going. For years, his mother lived in Texas and we were in California, so he flew back and forth, often arriving with headaches and an upset stomach from the stress of traveling alone and facing a different family.

When he came to San Jose, we would take him to my family’s holiday gatherings, but the poor boy didn’t know half those people, and suddenly he was expected to call near-strangers Grandma and Grandpa or Aunt and Uncle. Here are your cousins, kid. No, they weren’t.

If he stayed with his mother, then he had to deal with her boyfriend’s people and he didn’t get to see his dad. After he moved in with us, his mother would take him away just when he probably wanted to stay home with his friends and his toys. She and the kids partied together while Fred and I cooked a turkey for just the two of us.

Meanwhile, looking at it from the view of the childless stepmother, having Fred’s son with us at family parties gave me a certain legitimacy, especially if his older siblings joined us. See, I’ve got the whole package, the husband and the children, just like everyone else. When they were with their mom, we were the childless ones who didn’t fit in. Sometimes we all got together, bio- and step-families. That was weird, all of us making nice and pretending we were family.

The best Christmas of my life was the one where somehow we had all the Lick children and grandchildren, plus my parents, at our house. I don’t remember why, but nobody had to leave for another party that day. I remember music, laughter, wrapping paper and ribbons everywhere, and smells of turkey and pumpkin pie. I remember little ones calling me “Grandma” as we sat at the piano singing “Rum pa pum pum.” It never happened quite like that again.

When I was growing up, everyone came to our house, both sets of grandparents, my aunts and uncles and their kids. No one was divorced. Nobody had anyplace else to go. My mom said grace and thanked God for everyone being there. Dad plagued us with the bright lights of the movie camera, and we celebrated as one happy family. Things are so different now. Complicated.

Step-relationships are often troubled. Has anyone heard, “Leave me alone! You’re not my mother (or father)!”? Who hasn’t? Sometimes it’s easier to get through the holidays when the kids are somewhere else. Sometimes it just hurts. You buy presents and get nothing back. You watch the bio-parents get all the love. You hug the dog and wish the holidays were over. Right?

Of course sometimes, the holidays are great. The kids are great. You feel blessed.

So, how is it for you? If you have stepchildren, how do you handle the holidays? What are the best parts and the worst parts? If you were a stepchild, what was that like? Feel free to vent here in the comments.

Did you whine over your wine at Thanksgiving?

Dear friends,

Last week, I advised you to reach out to other people to survive Thanksgiving. Offer an extra set of hands, I said. Talk to the teens and old people, I said. Do the dishes, I said. Don’t feel sorry for yourself, I said.

Easier said than done, isn’t it? I found myself wanting to weep over my turkey at one point. My father and I spent the holiday at my brother’s house with his in-laws. Everybody seemed to be obsessed with their children and grandchildren, except my niece, who is treating her dog as her child. I looked around and saw no one I could relate to except the three dogs that were there. I missed my husband. I missed my mother. I felt alone in the crowd.

Oh, yes, I admit it. I felt sorry for myself, even though I knew I was not the only widow in the room. My sister-in-law’s cousin lost her husband right after Christmas last year. The last family event he attended was Thanksgiving at my brother’s house. She had a lot more right to feel sorry for herself than I did. But all day, I watched her holding one of her four young grandchildren  and thought, wow, she’s surrounded by family, and I’ve got  a brother and father who are busy arguing finance with the other men while the football game plays on the big-screen TV.

At one point, I went outside where the big dogs were corralled. “Guys, I have nobody to talk to,” I whined. They replied, “Did you bring us any turkey? Can you let us out to play?”

Eventually, things got better. I talked to a young man who was the son of a cousin I had not met before. He’s newly in love, very happy in his life in California. And he actually asked me about my life and work. I made a new friend and it felt good. I talked with my sister-in-law’s aunt and uncle. I snuggled with my niece’s “chi-weiner” dog, who does indeed feel like a baby, especially wrapped in her pink “hoodie.”

I survived the hard moment. The baby got on a crying jag, the older kids got cranky and rude, and I was fine with them not being mine. I didn’t find out until the next day that the mother/grandmother/new widow was never able to have children of her own. She has one stepson who feels like her own, and the other three were foster kids whom she adopted. Some of those kids have had very troubled lives. It was not at all the fairy tale story I thought it was. She worked hard to get those kids, and she also has worked hard to build a successful career. And now when her kids go off to their own homes, she’s as alone as I am. Something to think about.

The day before Thanksgiving, I met my cousin’s one-year-old daughter, who is adorable. I think she decided she liked me. Interacting with her was fun. The house looked like a bomb exploded in it, and the child, who recently learned to walk, was constantly having to be chased and captured. Did I long to have a child just like her? I did. But then I looked at my other cousin’s hulking, sullen teenagers and thought . . . maybe it’s okay.

The day after Thanksgiving, my nephew arrived at my brother’s house with his pregnant fiancée and her two daughters, plus another dog. It was loud and chaotic. Dogs barking, multiple conversations, little girls needing attention. My father and I were both glad to get away from the commotion to the peace and quiet of his all-adult, no-dog house, where we could share tea and pastries and talk trash about everybody else.

One more note from my Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law’s uncle thinks I’m my 93-year-old father’s sister. I could not convince him otherwise. How’s that for an ego boost? Last Thanksgiving, a waitress at my brother’s favorite restaurant thought I was Dad’s wife. Either Dad looks very young for his age—he does—or . . . never mind.

I got propositioned online last night by a man who told me I was beautiful. I think it was a robo-email, not written by an actual person, but it’s nice to hear. He was very handsome. He said he didn’t have any kids. What’s the story behind that?

So that’s how it went for me. How did Thanksgiving go for you? Please tell us in the comments. We can all whine together here, then figure out how to grow up and get past it.