Friday, December 26, 2008

On our own and free

I expected to spend Christmas curled up crying because we had no family around, just the pups, but it was surprisingly enjoyable. At one point, all of the stepchildren claimed they were coming to spend the holiday with us, but Gretchen and Ted couldn't get the time off or the money to pay for the trip, and Michael was snowed in. Due to my husband's illness, we couldn't go south to California to visit the family. Sad? I thought it would be, but it was great. Not that we don't love and miss the family. We did talk to them on the phone, but we were freed of the usual Christmas obligations. We got up late, opened our gifts slowly, then went out to eat at a fancy restaurant. Our table overlooked the ocean, and it felt very romantic. Plus I didn't have to cook or wash dishes. Later we played with our Christmas presents, just like we used to do when we were kids and had no obligations.

Friends braved snow and ice to get to their kids and grandkids. They spent a fortune on gifts and worried about getting it all done. It we had children, we would have done likewise. Like my friends, nothing would have kept me away from my offspring. But we put everything in the mail early and relaxed.

I noticed a lot of people with white hair at the restaurant. I guess by not having kids around, we jumped a generation to do what seniors do. It's not so bad.

The only negative: One of the dogs' collars lay in the grass, chewed in half,when we got home. Where is the other half? Did his sister eat it? I looked for an hour and didn't find it. It's a lot like leaving toddlers at home alone. So today we're buying Chico a new collar and a spare for Annie. Meanwhile both dogs are running around naked. From everything I hear about small children, there isn't much difference between them and puppies, except you can't leave kids out in the back yard with bowls of Puppy Chow.

However you spent your holidays, I hope they were peaceful and full of blessings. If you are grieving over a lack of children, try to live in the moment and enjoy the good things you do have. What is, is. I wish you a fun New Year's holiday and a happy 2009.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Can you talk about it?

Tiffany Lee Brown wrote a great article for Oregon Humanities about how her friends and relatives don't seem to want to talk about childlessness. It stops a conversation cold. Meanwhile, they flaunt their babies and children and grandchildren without realizing that it's hard for people who can't have kids to be around them. This is a great piece which you may identify with, especially at this time of year. Try for more information on how to find a copy.

While we're on the subject of writing about childlessness, I'm currently reading What, No Baby? by Australian author Leslie Cannold. I'll give a fuller report when I'm finished, but this is a good look at women who are childless by circumstance. They grew up thinking they would have children, but ran out of time, picked a man who didn't want children or couldn't figure out how to combine babies with their careers. It's a bit on the scholarly side, footnotes and such, but it's a very good study of exactly the kind of women I'm writing about. We are not infertile and we are not exactly childless by choice. It just happened. For some, it's a tragedy, while for others, it turns out to be a relief. Ask for a Christmas gift certificate to buy a copy.

Enjoy the holidays. No matter what your situation, there's surely something to be glad about. Don't worry about what might be or might have been; just enjoy what is.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Tidbits for the Christmas stocking

The holidays can be tough for folks dealing with childlessness. We're surrounded by advertising showing happy families with lots of kids around the Christmas tree and all the great gifts we can buy them. Other people's children are putting on their Christmas pageants and making little gifts. I suppose they're using computers instead of construction paper and paste these days, but I don't have kids, so I don't know. Anyway, I found a couple things online I thought you might enjoy.

On the serious side, Carol Caldwell offers thoughts about being childless in a church full of moms at her blog, No, I Did Not Forget to Have Children. She has some good ideas for coping during the holiday season and throughout the year.

And for fun, one of my childless friends, Tiffany, is offering gift certificates for the tarot readings she gives as Miss Magdalen. Says Tiff, "A number of my tarot clients are specifically dealing with biological clock, baby, and infertility issues. Wouldn't you or one of your loved ones simply adore getting a genuine, proper Tarot reading as a holiday gift? Why yes, you would! My psychic powers predict it. Readings may be redeemed in person or over the phone.

"I've been reading Tarot for nearly two decades and I'm now applying my spooky powers toward fundraising purposes. all proceeds benefit the non-profit arts and literary organization 2GQ -- specifically, computer related expenses -- and my work-in-progress, The Easter Island Project -- specifically, expenses for related travels to San Francisco, Seattle, and of course, Easter Island, Chile, in the South Pacific.
Please see for more info & to purchase your gift certificate. Let the mystical mayhem begin!"

So, hey, if you're wondering whether the future holds the pitter-patter of tiny feet or puppy paws, check it out.

Christmas is two weeks away. Enjoy all the good stuff and let the rest go.


Friday, December 5, 2008

I Didn't Know How

My stepdaughter Gretchen took offense at recent postings referring to her. She was hurt that I didn't use her name, although I was simply trying to protect her from embarrassment. Then she went on a rant about how I wasn't involved enough with her and her children, especially when the kids were young. She talked about how her own mother took the kids home with her for long periods and spent lots of time with them. When I explained that her father was an obstacle to me being a hands-on mom/grandma, that her mother had first dibs, and that the kids were often with their own father, she said I could have worked around all that. As I pondered this, my own feelings greatly hurt, I began to realize that perhaps I didn't become one of those huggy grandma types because I didn't know how to interact with kids. Not only have I never had my own, but I haven't had much opportunity to be around children. Mine has always been an all-adult life. Dogs, I get. Children, not so much. So if I didn't charge in and create a close relationship, I'm sorry. I thought I did pretty well, considering. I do know this; parenting is tough, and step-parenting is even harder.
One of my missions in this blog and my other writing is to make people understand that women who don't have children miss a lot in life, including learning how to take care of them. Sorry, Gretchen.

A while back, I talked about men's views of childlessness. I just finished reading a book called Nobody's Father: Life Without Kids, an anthology edited by Canadians Lynne Van Luven and Bruce Gillespie. It's a good book. I can recommend it, although I'm not sure it gets to the heart of why so many men don't want to have children. Among those writing here, quite a few are gay or were in marriages where they couldn't conceive or carry a baby to term. Only a few say they just didn't want to have kids. Men don't seem to talk about these things with the same emotion that women do. The general view is, "I didn't have kids because of X. Next subject."

There, now I have probably offended Gretchen and any men that might be reading this blog.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Holidays and stepchildren

Another Thanksgiving survived. This year, instead of driving to California, we stayed home. We truly expected it to be just Fred and I and the dogs eating casually in front of the football games on TV, but at the last minute, youngest stepson Michael, whose camping trip was snowed out, informed us that he was coming--and yes, he wanted the whole turkey dinner. My initial reaction was anger, but then it started feeling like a real Thanksgiving and oh, what the heck, we got a free turkey from the grocery store and Michael offered to help with the cooking, so we did Thanksgiving, white tablecloth and all.

It was exhausting but fun.

Between cooking chores, we telephoned the relatives back in California, including Michael's brother and sister. They were gathered with their mother and the rest of their family in Newark. Apparently they had a huge feast and a great time--as it should be. I am not their real mother and we live 700 miles away. A couple months ago, the daughter said she would bring the whole family here for the holidays, but I never really expected it to happen. That's how it is when your husband has children and you don't; the real mom will always get first dibs, and you're lucky to get a phone call.

My goal these days is to become more accepting and content with life as it is. So, how was my Thanksgiving? Just fine. And yours?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanksgiving looms

We had a nice visit last week with Michael, the stepson who lives in Portland. It was brief, and he got off work too late to make it to my reading at the Krakow Koffeehouse. But we met afterward at a little place called Pix, a delightful combination of art, liquor and designer chocolates. Michael is the one who usually comes to the rescue when I need someone to care for his dad while I go off on writer jaunts, so I'm glad we had a chance to visit him in his world. It felt really good.

Now, however, Thanksgiving looms, and everyone I know seems to be leaving town to visit their kids or preparing a feast for their kids and grandkids coming here. We have no such plans. Yes, the stepdaughter said a couple months ago that she'd bring everyone here for the holidays, but I haven't heard a word from her or her older brother since then. I'm assuming they'll be with their mother and grandmother in the Bay Area. And yes, my brother invited us to his house near Yosemite. I really want to see him and my dad, but Fred's health makes the trip too hard for both of us.

I'm thinking it will be just me and Fred and the dogs. Michael might join us; we won't know till the last minute. We did get a free turkey yesterday because we bought more than $100 worth of groceries. But if nobody comes, I may make enchiladas instead. What do you think, chicken or beef?

Monday, November 17, 2008

The phone sits silent

"Hi Dad, how are you doing?"

Tonight, as I do every week between dinner and "Dancing with the Stars," I will call my 86-year-old father and ask that question. God willing, his answer will be mostly positive. Yes, his leg hurts, his back hurts, he's tired from working in the yard, and the idiots at the banks are driving him crazy, but he's mostly okay. I always hold my breath until I hear his response, fearing—no, knowing—that one day his answer will be much more frightening or he might not answer at all. Sometimes I just listen to the sound of his voice and try to drink it in.

What does this have to do with childlessness? Simply this: I would give anything to have a son or daughter call me every week and ask how I'm doing—and really care about the answer. I may not have mentioned here that my husband has Alzheimer's disease, but now that it has been published in The Sun and in the new book A Cup of Comfort for Families Touched by Alzheimer's Disease, it can't remain a secret. This is a horrible disease that takes a person away a little more every day. Increasingly, the burden of his care and the care of everything in our household falls on me. I can't handle it all. Our family is far away. I depend on a network of friends and paid helpers, but it's never enough. Every day is a marathon in which I fall farther behind.

People in this situation who have children can sometimes call on them to help or even take over when the caregiver can't do any more. Even if that doesn't happen, a simple telephone call or even an e-mail saying, "Mom, how are you doing?" would help so much. When you don't have children, well, the phone doesn't ring very often.

I'm sorry to be so gloomy, but that's how I'm feeling today and why I'm doing last week's post today. One aspect of being childless is that when your spouse gets sick, you're on your own.
I'm intent on finishing my book soon and getting it out next year. People need to understand what it's like to be childless. Your encouragement helps.
On Friday, let's talk about Thanksgiving. Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Comforting or just weird?

More about those dolls that look like real babies. I watched a clip from the BBC video (and 3 minutes was plenty). You can watch it too at the Reality Blurred website.Those babies look very real, but the thing that is missing is life, that spark that makes us human and alive. In fact they look like perfectly preserved corpse babies to me or zombie babies come back from the dead. They weird me out. I agree with the husband who saw his middle-aged wife pushing a stroller with one of these babies and said, "I don't like it. I just don't like it."

As an adult, when the line gets blurred between a doll and a real baby, it's pretty unnerving. How sad that some people are so desperate for something to hold and love that they carry a doll around the grocery store. There are plenty of alternatives in the world; pets often serve the purpose. But women who need to be with kids can also adopt, become teachers or volunteer to help with children at church or the many charities aimed at kids. You don't have to have the real thing to know they're a lot of work and every Mom could use an extra set of hands. Volunteer to babysit for a friend or relative. They'll love you for it, and you'll have a chance to bond with their kids.

On a totally different note—or not, depending on how you take it—I and all other employees at the Catholic church where I co-lead the contemporary choir are required to take a course this month in how to protect children from abuse. We'll learn what kinds of touch are acceptable and what are not and what to do if a kid appears to have been abused. I don't really work with children, unless you count the teen offspring of choir members who hang out with us sometimes. But we've got to do it every year. Should I report one of our members, a childless woman who hugs all the choir kids so hard they can't breathe? She occasionally takes them on outings "because all the kids, they love me?" It's perfectly innocent. She showers them with gifts, and their parents welcome a break, but technically it's against the rules. Craziness. But not as crazy as a 50-year-old woman pushing a stroller with a baby doll inside.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Glad I Don't Live in Chad

An interesting Newsweek article talks about how badly infertile women are treated in some third-world countries. It's quite horrible. In "What It Means to Be a Woman," Karen Springen wrote about a Mumbai woman who was ostracized for 13 years before fertility treatments allowed her to become a mother. But it gets worse than that. Quoting various experts from around the globe, she talks of how infertile women are shunned from gatherings such as weddings because they are believed to carry a curse that might be contagious.

In Chad, if woman doesn't bear children, her husband has the right to leave her or take a new wife. Springen's story also reports that in the Hindu religion women without children can't go to heaven because they have no sons to perform the death rituals. Some Chinese and Vietnamese believe the souls of childless people can't rest after they die, and in Muslim cultures women without children sometimes aren't allowed to be buried in graveyards or sacred grounds.

Compared to that, our situation is easy. We can even joke about it because we have choices. We can choose whether or not we want to be mothers. If we are infertile, we can try medical treatments or adopt. Either way, we aren't punished, well, except perhaps for the mothers who can't get past not becoming grandmothers. At worst, we feel left out of the Mom Club and lonely in our old age. Of course those who want children and can't have them grieve the loss of the babies they never had, but thank God nobody says they can't go to heaven or be buried wherever they want.

In discussing our childless state, we need to remember different cultures have different ways of looking at it and do our best to promote understanding. Let's hope that as the world grows smaller, more tolerant ways will spread and women who don't happen to be mothers will be honored for their value as individuals.

Do you like the new layout? Suddenly the old one seemed too . . . something. Enjoy.
My November newsletter will be out today, too. See

Friday, October 24, 2008

No Heirs?

A childless Washington couple recently left 1.1 million to the children's hospital in Portland, OR. They had lived a frugal life and managed to save enough to give $5,000 each to a nephew, three nieces and four non-relatives. The money from their house and everything else went to the hospital. Hospital officials told the Columbian newspaper it's not unusual to receive bequests from childless donors. It's certainly a worthy cause.

If you don't have children—or you do and you don't like them--you're free to leave your worldly goods to whomever you choose. In my case, there probably won't be much money. I have already named libraries for the books and needy music students for the instruments and sheet music. But it's fun to think about where you might spread your life savings. Favorite relatives or friends? The humane society? The Friday-night-beer-and-Pizza-Group? I made that one up.

Think about it. Nobody wants to ponder their inevitable death, but if you've got to go and you can't take it with you, who should have it? It's your money. You can be as generous or as selfish as you choose. Maybe you want to blow it all on the grandest funeral the world has ever seen. Go for it. Or maybe you want to help the homeless, victims of abuse, or folks with incurable illnesses. It's your choice.

Whatever you decide, just make sure you put it in writing or the government will dole it out to the closest relatives they can find.

Friday, October 10, 2008

That baby's a real doll!

Readers may or may not remember how I explored the toy section at Wal-Mart to find out what dolls girls were playing with these days. I'll admit that I wanted to play with some of those dolls. The baby dolls were so realistic I wanted to free them from their wrappers and hug them against my barren breasts. But I didn't. It's a small town and I don't want people to think I'm nuts.

However, it seems some women actually do buy baby dolls as substitutes for real babies. They're calling them "reborn" babies or "memory" babies. For the whole story, read "Fake babies ease women's anxiety, sadness," published last week at Author Dr. Gail Saltz explains the therapeutic value of dolls for empty-nesters, women whose babies have died, and childless women. Unlike real babies, dolls never cry or need clean diapers, but in some odd way they provide some of the same positive feelings as real infants. "It fills a place in your heart," doll-maker Lynn Katsaris told Lauer.

The link will lead you to a seven-minute video from the Today Show about a British documentary called "My Fake Baby: New Life with Reborn Dolls." Matt Lauer interviewed three women holding their dolls, which each cost more than $1,000. A clip from the film shows a woman carrying her "baby" around a grocery store. People who stop to admire it are amazed to discover it isn't real.

Now, I'm ready to call this just plain nuts, but then again after my dog Sadie died, I purchased a dog statue made of stone. It's about a foot and a half high and sits on my hearth gazing up at Sadie's picture. I call him Stoney and make jokes about how he's such an easy dog to care for. The idea was to purchase a memorial to my beloved pet, but before we got the new puppies (agh, wild mudballs!), I sometimes talked to Stoney and thought of him as my dog.

So who am I to say we're too old for dolls, especially as Chatty Cathy looks down on me while I type?

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Male Point of View

My youngest stepson says he will never have children. He's been pretty consistent about that, although he doesn't give reasons.

Last weekend in Georgia, I talked to two men who were very open about their reasons. Alek, who runs a bookstore, is 40, unmarried and childless. He doesn't want kids because he doesn't like them, he says. I asked him what he'd do if he hooked up with a woman who wanted to be a mom. He replied that no woman who wanted children would want him. "I'm married to my work and I'm difficult," he said. Okay.

Then I ended up in a cab driven by Massoud, with his wife Puran riding shotgun. They're from Iran. Massoud has two daughters from a previous marriage and had a vasectomy eight years ago. Puran, who wanted children, had to have a hysterectomy four years ago, so they are childless, but seem very happy together. Why no more kids, I asked Massoud. "They take all your money and they're nothing but trouble," he said. I wonder what his daughters would think if they heard that. Anyway, biology has sealed the deal for them.

I know men who have agreed to fatherhood despite age differences, offspring from another marriage or misgivings about the whole deal, but I'm always surprised when a man states so definitely that he is not having any children, period, end of discussion.

On the heels of these conversations, I was thrilled to discover a new book, Nobody's Father: Life Witout Kids, has been published in Canada. This collection of essays, edited by Lynne Van Luven and Bruce Gillespie, is a followup to Nobody's Mother. Amazon has it for $16.95. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Childless men out there, I just have one question? Why?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Uh-oh, the stepkids are reading this

I have recently become aware that my stepchildren are reading this blog. Oh my gosh. I have been honest, even occasionally catty. It's as if they have been reading my diary or listening in on my phone calls. I know this blog is public and I also know I am blessed to have Michael, Ted and Gretchen in my life. They have grown into interesting, loving adults. Maybe a little too interesting sometimes, but who isn't?

Gretchen says I can say anything, that she has nothing to hide. Okay. The other night, when we were on the phone for 90 minutes, she told me she had always hated me because she thought her father was cheating with me while her parents were still married. What made her think so? Well, she had come upon a necklace that he gave me early in our relationship. I assured her I didn't even know her dad when he was still married. I was dating someone else. I met Fred seven months after his wife asked him to move out. He had told me he had bought the necklace for someone else. I assumed that was his wife. Well, Gretchen was flabbergasted to hear that. Twenty-five years of wasted hate. It explains a lot.

We get along all right now, even though we have nothing in common but her father. Gretchen gives the best hugs, second only to her dad, except that she usually smells much nicer.

Unfortunately, Gretchen, Ted and Michael will never be my own children. They have a perfectly good mother back in San Jose. But if they need one in Oregon, here I am. And Michael, who was just here visiting, if you're reading this, I hope you're over your stomach flu. Ted, congratulations on your engagement to Shelly. She's terrific, and it's about time.

Dear readers, how about you and your stepchildren? Do you feel totally comfortable with them, hate them, or wear yourself out trying to win their love because they aren't yours? Let's talk about it.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Free to Bequeathe

Without children to be our natural heirs, we childless folks may struggle with what to do with our worldly goods when we shuffle off to heaven. To whom do we leave our photo albums? Who will care about my collection of antique ruby glass? But we are also free to do whatever we want with our stuff. As an old text called Family Systems and Inheritance Patterns notes, childless people often name outside beneficiaries and really tick off their families.

Many childless people leave their estates to good causes, such as scholarships, charities, animal shelters, medical research, etc. That's pretty much what I plan to do.

But some folks go a little farther outside the norm. For example, an AOL page on wacky wills notes that George Bernard Shaw bequeathed millions to anyone who could devise a new alphabet that made more sense than the one we have. Louis da Camara, a Portuguese man with no family, picked strangers out of a Lisbon phone book to be his heirs. Ed Headrick, perfector of the Frisbee, asked that his ashes be moulded into memorial discs to be sold, with profits to be used for a Frisbee museum. My favorite: Ruth Lilly, an amateur poet, left $100 million to a poetry magazine that had repeatedly rejected her work.

Another good one from the UK on the site: A Mr. F left several relatives each "one penny as that is what they are worth as members of my family." Show of hands: how many of us are tempted to do that? Me too.

How about you? Have you made a will? Who will inherit your earthly wealth? Did you know that in some states, including Oregon, where I live, stepchildren are not considered your legal heirs unless you write them into your will? What unusual bequests have you heard about or considered doing? Without children--and assuming the spouse goes first--we are free to bequeathe as we please. Any thoughts?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Three points of view

Some interesting things on the web this week.

A recent report from Korea shows that childless couples are more likely to divorce. The author gives as the most likely reason that people with kids feel tied down by their offspring and worried about the financial consequences. I'm sure there's some truth to that. It's also interesting that the childless rate among 40-something women is about the same as in the U.S., approximately 20 percent.

A writer for The Times of India argues that it's no longer necessary to have a child to feel complete, that attitudes are changing, especially among professional women. Among the women I interviewed was an Indian professor who said her family was making her life a misery because she had no children. Whatever she accomplished meant nothing to them. Let's hope people everywhere are becoming more open-minded. Whether by choice or circumstance, some of us are never going to have children.

And then there's "Childless Bitch," with a humorous rant on the craziness that accompanies the back to school season. Now for Pete's sake, this is meant to be funny. Don't jump on me or CB for being mean, rotten people. Admit that at least some of it is true. For example, she talked about "the return of the midget panhandlers," kids selling candy bars and other things for school causes, and mothers going overboard trying to prepare their children for every possibility. "Hand the kid a ruler and push him out the door," she says. Check it out and add a comment if you feel so moved.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mom writers everywhere

I was relaxing in the lounge before teaching my second class at the East of Eden conference last weekend. A tall young woman with bobbed hair sat down beside me. I glanced at her nametag and said, "Oh, I have your book." I didn't tell her I got it because I failed to return the book club card on time; you know how that goes. She smiled at hearing I had bought her book, then told me it was her first time being away from home since her baby was born.

Ah, babies again. She said she was glad she had gotten the book done four months before she got pregnant. Now she can't remember anything about it. Everything that happened pre-baby is lost in a fog. The baby has changed her life completely. And I thought, wow, this is the deal, the life change that never happened for me. Having someone you're completely responsible for gives you a whole new perspective.

At this point, I figured mentioning how I missed my puppies would have been too trivial. I did mention the husband with Alzheimer's. She nodded. "So you understand." But I probably don't. It's different. She asked what I was working on. "I'm writing a book about childless women." Thud.

In line at lunch, I mentioned my topic to a slender woman with the most gorgeous curly black hair. She hadn't planned to have kids, she said, but when her father died, she changed her mind. At 33, she asked herself, "What am I doing?" Now she's a mother.

Looking around the conference, many of the women were my age or older, having waited until their children were grown to start their writing careers. But it doesn't have to be that way. We had two speakers Saturday night. The first started writing late, realizing that when her kids grew up, she ought to "get a life." But the second, Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley, never let her three children and three marriages stop her from earning a Ph.D. or writing more than a dozen books. In fact, when asked how the prize for A Thousand Acres affected her, she laughed. "I was four months pregnant. I was sick the day before I won the Pulitzer Prize, and I was sick the day after." She already had a 14-year-old daughter, whose reaction to the award was typical of teenagers. "Huh. Cool." You know how it is, Smiley said.

Do I?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Showing Off My Baby--I Mean Puppy

The other night I took my puppy Annie to church choir practice. We have a small informal group and these were the same people who threw me a puppy shower when we adopted two-month-old Chico and Annie in April. Now six months, Annie had just been spayed and we needed to keep her from roughhousing with her brother. Those two play hard, gnashing their teeth and tossing each other on the ground. Too much for a girl with stitches in her belly. Chico had spent the day at Dogport daycare, but they close at six and I needed to keep them apart, so Annie got to go for a ride.

She's not the first dog or cat to visit the chapel, but I was glad to see Father Brian heading off on a walk toward the beach as I arrived. I doubt he would approve.

We practice in the chapel. I introduced Annie to Jesus, hanging on the big crucifix and let her make the rounds of all the women gathered in a semi-circle to sing. Before we started singing, I put her through her paces: sit, stay, down, come. Then Mary Lee, our director arrived. When she played the first chord on the piano, the dog stared in astonishment at all this sound coming out. I sat in a chair at first, then slipped to the floor to get closer to my dog. She seemed to like our singing. I laughed so hard I almost cried when Annie started singing, too. Punctuating our practice with "sit" "down" and "shh," I sang my solos holding my music in one hand, petting the dog with the other.

Eventually I took her out to the car, but it was only the next day I realized how much I was acting like a typical new mom. I didn't have to bring Annie into the chapel, but I wanted to show her off. Wasn't she smart? Wasn't she beautiful? Wasn't she big? I had left my guitar at home so I could hold onto Annie. Annie, Annie, Annie. The whole practice revolved around my puppy. Is that not the same thing as a woman with her human child?

Friday, August 22, 2008


After yoga class yesterday, three of us got onto the topic of children. Nancy and I don't have any offspring. Lynne has two. Do you have any regrets, asked Nancy as she smoothed her wild hair. Well, said Lynne, if I had it to do over, I don't know. She explained that once you have kids, you always feel responsible, always worry about them. Her daughter is 40, and she still worries about her all the time.

Nancy, the only one of us still ovulating, said she really does not regret her decision to remain childfree, except once in a while when she sees a little brother and sister together. Then she feels a twinge of emotion--but not enough to change her mind.

How about me? I looked up from tieing up my mat. Well, yes, I have often regretted not having children. But lately, dealing with my six-month old pups, not so much. They laughed. I went on to detail some of the dogs' recent exploits, including shredding the hot tub cover, destroying the screen door, eating the paint off the walls in the laundry room, and smearing mud all over everything while it was raining and they got bored.

However, I noted that I did wish I had adult children to hang out with and to help me with things. Nancy rapidly reminded me that many children don't get along with their parents, aren't around to help, live far away, etc. I know, I know, I know. But if I had children, they might be worrying about me the way Lynne worries about her kids.

But as for little ones? I think I've grown out of it. While we were doing our final relaxation, I heard the gym owner's tots chattering in the other room. At that moment as they interrupted my meditation, I wanted to vaporize them. :-)Then I put them into the background with the potato chip delivery truck outside and went back to pretending I was a rock in a river on a sunny day.

Whatever we feel about childlessness, yoga tells us to focus on our breath, live in the moment and find that calm, peaceful place in our hearts. Breathe in, breathe out with a nice long ommmmm. What is, is.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Does It Take a Village?

I've been working on a chapter about old age without children. Who does one turn to for medical care, practical help, and emotional support? If we had children, we would hope to get help from them, but since we don't, who will take care of us?

Some childless folks really aren't worried about it. They've got siblings and nieces and nephews to help them. Others count on church groups or friends. Still others say they have set aside enough money to pay for their care. But some of us just don't know what we're going to do if we end up old and alone. I think we all agree we want to stay out of nursing homes if we possibly can and we want to be self-sufficient. It would be nice to have adult children to take care of us, but there's no guarantee that they would be willing or able. Nor would we want to burden them with our troubles. So what should we do?

An increasingly popular option is to hook up with other aging men and women to take care of each other. This could be an informal arrangement: I'll be your emergency contact,and you'll be mine. It's important to make sure someone you trust has power of attorney and the legal right to make medical decisions if you can't. See your lawyer to set this up. A point to consider: If you're both the same age, one of you might become disabled and not be able to help the other. So cultivate some younger friends as well as your peers.

Some people are participating in a more formal arrangement. Have you heard of Beacon Hill Village? I hadn't either. It's actually a neighborhood of people over 50 who pay to join and share all kinds of services. The idea is to allow people to live in their own homes with dignity and the help they need. It sounds pretty good. Read about it. A couple other similar communities are Dupont Circle Village and Kalorama Village, whose link at seems to be one of those that won't let you leave that page, so proceed with caution.

I think the most important thing is to have some sort of plan. Nobody really wants to be alone, unwell and unable to get help. That applies no matter what age you are.

Stay well!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Mom Club strikes again and so do the dogs

My puppies are in timeout right now. They were so cute sleeping together atop the spa cover--until I looked out the window and saw them shredding it. I took a cue from Supernanny and shut them in the laundry room, not so much to think about what they did--they're dogs--but to give them time to find something else to chew up and me time to stop being angry. Think they'll get through the duct tape I used to patch the cover? You bet. And wait till their father gets home.

Still on the dogs, Chico literally chewed off Annie's collar day before yesterday and chomped it into little pieces. I saw it hanging from his mouth, ran out and gathered the bits of cloth. I thought I got them all, but yesterday morning, I discovered that during the night he had barfed up the rest of the collar, including a plastic clasp. Yikes. I hear they calm down after the first year. I hope so. At least human babies don't have teeth.


I opened my blogger screen this morning and what did I see? Baby pictures. Come on, Blogger, some of us don't want to see babies right now.

At last weekend's conference, I was having a fine time at the bar with a bunch of other writers when suddenly the conversation turned to children and I found myself sitting alone with my beer and basketball on the overhead TV screen while the others were huddled together talking about school, obedience, shots and other kid topics. Once again, the Mom Club had gathered and I was left out. Ever feel that way?

I did meet with agents and editors about the Childless by Marriage book at the conference. No good news yet, but it's coming.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Brilliance will be delayed

Dear friends, I'm heading off to the Willamette Writers Conference tonight, and I have yet to find just the right inspiration for the Friday Childless by Marriage blog, so rather than bang out something worthless, I'll get back to you next week.

Meanwhile, I don't have children, but I do have dependents: an ailing husband and two high-maintenance puppies, so I know what it's like to try to get away when you have people depending on you for everything. It's almost impossible. For all those who kvetch about "breeders," get off their backs. They're doing a hard job, and if nobody had children, we wouldn't be here.

Have a great weekend. I'll be meeting with editors and agents, and I hope to report good news about the Childless by Marriage book when I return.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Who will inherit my stuff?

I am the keeper of the family heirlooms. I have my maternal grandmother's silver tea set, handwritten recipes from her notebooks and her diamond engagement ring, my stepgrandmother's poetry, both grandmothers' china cups and saucers, and craft supplies and clothing from both my mother and my mother-in-law. In fact, I'm wearing my mom's blue knit shirt right now.

Many mornings I sit in Grandma Avina's wooden rocker softened with the pillows I crocheted for it and rock as I write in my journal. Occasionally I wonder what will happen to the many volumes of my journal after I die. Should I burn them to hide my secrets? When? Or should I keep them for future biographers, in case I became famous?

I recently worked out my will, and frankly the extra notes are more important to me than the standard bits about money and things like the car and house. I never had much money, so we'll be lucky if I come out even in the end, and I'm happy to give wheels and lodging to whoever needs it. What I worry about are my writings, my musical instruments, my jewelry, my photos, my books, my quilted wall hangings, the desk that Grandpa Al and Uncle Tony made for my mother's brother long before I was born, the bookshelves that used to be in Grandpa Fagalde's house, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima that my late godmother bought for me when I was a religion-crazed little girl, crazy things like that. What about those miniskirts I saved because they were so cool? Or the photos from my first marriage? What will happen to these things? Who will sort them? Who will give a sh—?

It's not really just a childless thing. If you're lucky enough to have a son or daughter who understands and cares about the same things you care about, you might hope they treat everything with respect. But they might not. And with stepchildren, they really might not.

The truth is everybody's stuff is up for grabs. Grandma Rachel never had kids of her own. Grandma Ann had two children and six grandchildren, but both ended up with young folks plowing through their things, throwing gobs of it away and offering the rest to anyone who wanted it. That's how I got the china cups and a turquoise necklace that Grandma Ann probably never wore.

That's how I got Mom's clothes. I bagged the ones that fit and brought them home. My father, distraught from his loss, just wanted them gone.

Nobody cares about your stuff as much as you do.

Many of the women I have interviewed don't worry about their stuff. When they're dead, they're dead, they say. How do you feel about it? If you don't have children, who will sort through your stuff? This is a morbid subject, but having sorted too many dead relatives' things, I know it's an important one. How does the woman without children make sure someone cares her treasures when she's gone? I'd love to hear your comments, especially if you know of some particularly creative things women have done with their worldly goods.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Births are Up--In Some Places

A report released yesterday on AOL by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that a record number of babies, 4.3 million, were born in the U.S. last year. That's a lot of diapers. It was the largest number of births reported since 1957, the middle of the baby boom.

People have been talking about a baby "boomlet" for a while, but it's not the same as in the '50s when all the moms were about the same age, in their 20s, living in suburbia with their post-military husbands who were employed in the economic boom. On my street, every family had children about the same age. Not any more.

Demographer Arthur Nelson of the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, is quoted in the AOL report as saying that this boom won't be nearly as big as the 1950s version. It can't because so many of us remain childless. Plus the babies are coming from different groups, primarily immigrants, professional women who waited until their 40s to have children, and the 20-to-30-year old children of the original boomers. It's just happening all at the same time. In a few years folks may wish they hadn't turned so many schools into senior centers and shopping malls.

Although the numbers are up in some areas, it's important to look at WHO is giving birth. Another report this week, coming from Melborne, Australia notes that the rate of childlessness among 20-to-44-year-old professional women is up to a whopping 62.5 percent. The overall childless rate among Australian women of that age group is 40 percent.

My point to this meandering wash of statistics? Having children in your 20s or 30s is not a given anymore. Although the overall birth rate may rise and fall, now that we have legal abortion and birth control, there will always be a segment of the population that does not have children, and we are too big a group to be ignored. People cannot assume that women of a certain age are mothers and grandmothers. They must consider the possiblity that all we have raised are puppies and goldfish.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What is Our Cancer Risk?

I have been doing research lately on the risk of certain cancers for childless women. I have now read dozens of times that childlessness increases the risk of breast, ovarian and uterine cancers. Apparently pregnancy offers some protection by giving us a break from nonstop estrogen onslaughts every month, and there are other hormonal protections that develop. There's a trick to this. In order to reap the benefits, you have to give birth before 30 or 35, depending on which expert you ask, and you have to carry the pregnancy to term. Abortions and miscarriages do not help; in fact, they may increase the risk.

What I'm finding frustrating is that so far I can't find out how much risk we're talking about. In the U.S. the standard is that 1 in 8 women will have breast cancer. But if we haven't had children, what is the ratio? 1 in 7, 1 in 6, worse? Or is the risk so small there's no point in worrying about it? That's what I'm trying to find out.

It does appear that having a family history of cancer is much more likely to be a problem, and of course if you've had suspicious mammograms or biopsies before, the odds get really scary.

As far as I know, I don't have any cancer, but I'm waiting for my pap smear results and having my mammogram in August, so I can't say for sure that I'm cancer-free. I'm surrounded by friends with cancer right now. Nobody can be smug about this stuff.

I'm still working on this project and when/if I get the numbers, I will share them here. Meanwhile, if you'd like to know more about female cancers, here are some sites to check out: National Cancer Institute, Cancer Answers, American Cancer Society, and the World Oncology Network.

If you have information on this subject or know someone good to interview, please let me know.

Stay healthy, okay?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Childless Fourth of July

It's a drizzly Fourth of July on the Central Oregon Coast, which does not bode well for the planned parades and fireworks, but I'm content to stay home and enjoy a good book, maybe watch a video. I do worry about the puppies not getting out to play, but they'll be all right.

If I had children around, it would be a different story. After all, aren't they the ones who get the most excited about Fourth of July? The food, the fun, the fireworks are all new and thrilling to them. We have something in the nearby town of Yachats called the La De Da Parade. Anybody can join in, the sillier the better. If we had kids, could we deny them the privilege? In a tiny town like Yachats, they might well be representing their scout troop, their school, their dog club, their swim team, whatever. I might even be walking with them in the rain from the Commons around the downtown streets and back. Rain or not, that's what moms do, right?

When my husband and I attend the parade, we watch from the sidelines, then skedaddle to a nearby restaurant for a romantic lunch for two, eating seafood croissants at a table overlooking the bay while all those parents and kids scramble to reunite and find something cheap to eat before dashing off to other holiday events, all of which will culminate in finally opening the big box of fireworks the second it gets dark.

As a non-mom, I can choose to stay home and do nothing special. I don't even have to watch fireworks. I can just close my eyes and remember the many fireworks displays I have seen before: at the Calgary Stampede, at Great America, at Disneyland, at the Bees Stadium in San Jose after the baseball game, and so many other places. I can even track back to my own childhood. We could see the big fireworks show from Buck Shaw Stadium from our driveway. Dad set off smaller fireworks from the red, white and blue box Mom had bought earlier in the week. My little brother and I watched, swirling sparklers around, painting pictures of light in the darkness. I can still smell the smoke, hear the crackle, whoosh and bang of the Roman candles and firecrackers, and see the bright colors flashing in the street. The whole neighborhood came out, the summer nights were deliciously cool, and it was so much fun.

If I had children, I couldn't deny these experiences to them—or to myself. It would be like getting a chance to relive my own childhood and share the best parts of it with a new generation. Although I'm not sad to stay in on this rainy holiday, I am aware once again that my life as a childless woman is different from the lives of those who have children and grandchildren, different from the life I could have had.

I'm wearing red, white and blue. Why not? It's Fourth of July. Have a happy holiday and do something to delight the kid in you.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

I get to keep my uterus

Whoa, there's a headline. I visited the gynecologist Wednesday, fully expecting that the two-years-delayed hysterectomy was about to occur. But no, she said things haven't changed since last year. Just keep doing my kegels. Wait, I'm doing one now.

The other good news was that I'd lost seven pounds since last year's exam, and my blood pressure was lower than ever, a good thing in a family that tends to stroke out.

But back to the uterus. I was quite nervous driving to Corvallis for my exam. There's always the awkwardness of showing your parts to the doctor and the fear she might find signs of cancer. Have I mentioned that childless women are more likely to get breast, uterine and ovarian cancers? We are. But I was also wondering how I was going to work surgery into my busy schedule. I pictured myself pleading, "Can I keep it until October? I have some time then." Shoot, I don't even know how to fit in my dog Annie's spay job before she goes into her first heat.

As I muttered to myself on the road, I finally said the words I've always shied away from: "I'm never going to have children." I heard myself and thought, whoa, I said it. Does that mean I've accepted my fate? Yes and no. With menopause, it's a done deal. I still have regrets, and those puppies I'm always talking about are not the same thing. They're dogs, not people. Cute, but really hard to call on the phone.

Part of me wants to get this useless uterus out. It's almost like the final stage of menopause. Take out the unnecessary parts. But it makes things so final.

Meanwhile, pregnant young women dominated the waiting room, their bellies sticking way out in front of them. I scanned the middles of every woman who came in, smiling at the ones with no "bump." My group. An older lady sitting across from me scanned the magazines, heavy on parenting, and chose a National Geographic.

As I waited in the examining room, wearing a gown that left half of me exposed, I scanned the walls. Everything was about having babies: pictures of babies, nutrition for a healthy baby, how to make labor easier. Can't they set aside an examining room for those who are never going to have babies and might be losing their uteri? Call it the Empty Womb Room? It would be the compassionate thing to do.

Anyway, I'm keeping my parts for now and hoping for happy test results. And I'm never going to have a baby.

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Friday, June 20, 2008

Learning mother lessons from the dog

I came home from church choir, weary and glad to finally relax. A soak in the spa would feel great. But it was not to be.

As I opened the door of the dimly lit laundry room/dog room, Annie jumped on me, smearing something dark on the left leg of my jeans from knee to crotch. Mud, I thought. The floor was also covered with black. What was going on? I turned on the overhead fluorescent lights and gasped. It was not mud. It was blood. Blood in the shape of dog footprints.

Where was it coming from? I lifted up the front end of each four-month-old dog, looking for blood. I checked Annie's mouth, feet and even under her tail to see if she had come into heat early. Then it was Chico's turn. Oh God. He was bleeding heavily from the little toe of his left front foot. It looked as if someone had sliced it down to raw, bloody meat. The nail was completely gone. It appeared some of the toe was missing, too, but it was hard to tell with so much blood.

The puppy resisted inspection, although he didn't seem to be in much pain and appeared to walk all right. I blotted with paper towels, one after another covered with blood. I had blood all over my hand in a minute, but I didn't care.

I needed a closer look. I tried to lift all 30 pounds once and failed, took a deep breath, gave it all my strength and hefted him onto the washing machine, "Mom's" examining table. Blood all over the white Maytag. It didn't matter. I looked at his wound, felt sick at heart, and set the dog back down. I cleaned the washer with a baby wipe.

Chico kept licking blood off the concrete floor as I tried to wipe it off with paper towels. Annie kept biting at the towels. With every step, Chico spread more blood. Oh my God, I thought, something has cut off his toe. My perfect puppy is maimed.

He was still bleeding. I took him inside, not caring about the blood dripping on the kitchen floor and the beige rug in the den. It was 10 o'clock at night. Sitting on the floor, holding Chico next to me with one hand, I dialed the vet's phone number and got the answering service.

"My puppy has hurt his foot and I don't think it can wait until morning."

The gruff woman said there were no emergency vets available that night. She could give me the number for a vet in the Valley . . .

"No, I can't do that." Not when I was too tired to drive an hour and a half of mountain roads, not when Chico was walking around just fine despite the blood.

"Well, Chico, I guess we're on our own till morning," I told the dog.

Back in the laundry room, I sank down onto the bloody floor. Chico walked over me, bleeding onto my bare ankle. It did not matter. All that mattered was that Chico be all right.

We sat vigil. Eventually the bleeding slowed. The puppies went into their crate, snuggling up together for the night.

I re-filled the water dish, put out the pee pads and locked the doors, saying a prayer that God take care of Chico.

Early the next morning, I dressed quickly and greeted the dogs. Chico's wound was dry, with a magenta hole in his toe. It was just the nail that was gone. Still, I skipped breakfast and called the vet as soon as they opened. I listened to the hold tape, Mozart, interrupted three times by "Your call is important to us . . ." before Denise at the desk listened to my problem and told me there was nothing they could do. I should watch it and put pressure on the wound if it bleeds again.

"Will the nail ever grow back?" I asked.

"Oh sure," Denise said.

The dogs, seeming to know that Chico was injured, spent the morning lying around on the deck instead of their usual roughhousing. I joined them, ignoring work and husband to snuggle with my puppies.

Mothers, even mothers of puppies, will do anything to keep them safe. If Chico had been hurt worse, I would have driven to the valley, arriving at midnight, probably getting lost on the way. I didn't care about the blood on me. Whatever I had to sacrifice—sleep, clothes, my spa soak, a big vet bill--I did not care. I just wanted him to be all right.

Of course I know these are dogs, but when your family consists of two adults and two puppies, that's your family, and you're the mommy.

The lesson that motherhood teaches is that we are not the center of the universe; if we don't have children, we must learn that lesson some other way or remain perpetual children. I may be late to class, but I'm learning more every day.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Suddenly they're everywhere!

I'm on the road with my husband this week, and it seems as if everywhere we go, there are children, small children, oodles of them. Even Tuesday at orientation for dog class, the teacher had to talk over the chatter of little kids whose parents think it will be good for them to train the dog. At every restaurant, we get seated next to a table of little ones who seem to think the world revolves around them. They don't talk; they scream, and it gets old. But tonight while I gorged on a Denny's chocolate brownie with ice cream and hot fudge, I watched a new mother hold her baby. You could tell they had a special connection. It didn't seem to bother her when he babbled and squealed and grabbed for every condiment on the table. The mom ate a salad, probably trying to lose the baby weight and also not having time to eat much. The father blithely devoured a burger and fries.
Watching, I envied the closeness of mother and child and knew it would not last long before the child was too big to cuddle and would be demanding "Tacos!" or letting the world know they don't like peas.
Was I sorry I don't have children? Yes and no. It will always be that way.
I'm typing this in the lobby of our hotel. A woman checking in responded, "Thank God, no" when asked if she had kids or pets with her. As someone who left her puppies at home and can put my shoes on the floor without having them chewed up, I agreed. Love them, but sometimes a little grownup people time is good. I even got the pool to myself, except for a motel cat named "Mouse" who minded his own business. Bliss.
I have a time limit and this keyboard leaves out half the letters. Gotta go.
Your comments are welcome.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Sometimes even puppies are too much

Puppies! They're driving me crazy. Unlike human children, dogs move into the "terrible twos" by the time they're three months old. Mine, now one day short of 16 weeks, have already gotten too big to carry, and they are so tall they can reach things I never thought they could reach, like my favorite shoes. Yesterday I looked out the window and saw them carrying something big and white. Didn't take me long to figure out what it was. If they can reach that, they can reach everything on the tables in the back yard, so my ceramic frogs are doomed unless I figure out someplace higher and more stable—but not so high that the raccoons can get them.

They're not only tall but energetic. I remember tales of my young cousins found climbing on top of the dining room table and such. At least my aunt had a year or so to get used to having them around, feeding them and changing diapers and such, before they learned to walk.

Speaking of diapers, Chico is fairly well house-trained, but Annie either doesn't get it or chooses to express herself in the form of urine. The vet says she's marking her territory. Lovely. I cleaned up an ocean of pee this morning. When I went to feed them, I was so flustered I forgot to make the dogs sit and Annie knocked the bowl out of my hand. Puppy chow everywhere.

The fact that it has been raining all day (this is Oregon in June) does not help. When I bring them in, the dogs are so restless they go after every electrical cord, gnaw every wooden furniture edge, and even chew the nubs that stick up on the carpet. They grab tissues out of the trash and carry them under the bed, somehow making themselves flat enough to crawl around under there. We hear muffled barks and see the occasional face sticking out.

They accidentally got locked outside when we went to lunch. When they came in, they covered the floor and my jeans with muddy paw marks. I guess they finally got some exercise because both are sleeping now in the crate in my office. It took a lot of doing to get them in there. Two months and 40 total pounds ago, they went in willingly and fit easily. Now if I leave the room, they'll probably wake up and start gnawing on the door.

Whether you ever wanted children or not, you have to admire mothers. You can't lock human babies outside or toss them a rawhide bone to amuse them for awhile. It's a round-the-clock obligation for years. I don't know if I ever would have been ready for that, but the payoff would be grown children and maybe grandchildren in my life now.

The dogs are asleep, all wrapped around each other. One of them is snoring. Nap time is the best, whether you're raising children or dogs.

I'm heading out of town to sell books at a festival next week, so the next blog entry will either be early or late, depending on how the rest of my work goes. I promise to get back to serious childless issues.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

Does having a baby make you smarter?

Some scientists think so. Craig Kinsley and Kelly Lambert's studies with rats showed that the flush of hormones that comes with pregnancy, childbirth and lactation cause permanent changes in the learning and memory capacities of mother rates compared to "virgin rats." They were able to find food in a maze more easily, catch live food more quickly, and they seemed to have enhanced sensory powers. They're also braver. In other words, as Kinsley put it, the experiments showed "mom rats kicking virgin rats' butts."

These and other studies are detailed in the book The Mommy Brain by Katherine Ellison (Perseus Books, 2005). Overall, it shows that while mothers make think their brains turn to Jello when they spend all day with their babies, they're actually learning skills that will help in all aspects of life.

The experts theorize that these gains in brain power develop to help mothers protect their young and keep the species going. They may not seem to be learning anything, but the need to be constantly responsible for another being and learn on the job how to care for them not only makes them smarter but makes them better able to multi-task, prioritize and get along with other people.

Do you buy that? The general stereotype of a stay-at-home mom is that she's not as sharp as childless career women. A mother I talked with the other day just laughed when I mentioned this study and said, "Hah, where did you get that? My brain is mush."

About now, you may be wondering a) if this is all B.S. and b) if it's true, how can you catch up. Well, there's no way to get all those pregnancy and breastfeeding hormones without having a baby, but changes have also been found in rats—and people—who spent a lot of time with infants or caregiving in general. The intimate contact leads to some of the same changes in both mothers and fathers.

So, maybe mothering my puppies makes me smarter. It certainly makes me quicker on my feet. Maybe caregiving elderly relatives is teaching me lessons I might have learned as a mother. Or maybe those years I spent caring for a live-in stepson did the job.

What do you think?

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Puppies again

Okay, those last couple posts were too sad. So let's talk dogs again. The puppies are three months old and all legs. I swear you can see them grow as you watch. They can reach things our old dog never even though of reaching for. They're smart. They can open doors and get into covered wastebaskets. Swear to God. This morning, they tore their unused pee pad to smithereens and scattered white fluff all over the laundry room and back yard. It looked like it had snowed. What do you do? By the time you discover it, dogs don't remember what you're mad about. So you cuss a little and clean it up. The wisdom offered in the dog books is that if they tore something up, you should hit yourself on the head with a newspaper for leaving it in their path. I guess this is their way of saying they don't need pee pads during the day anymore.

But oh the joy of watching them run so fast they almost fly, the giggles watching Annie poke her head out of the tarp over the wood rack, the pure pleasure of sitting with one dog on each side sharing love, and the fun of watching them discover the world now that they've gotten over their fear of going for a walk. Everything is new and exciting to them. And if they greet me by jumping all me with muddy feet and nipping at my clothes, that's because that's how they greet each other, and I'm one of the pack.

I'm looking forward to starting doggy school next month. I want to get beyond come, sit and stay. I want them to really learn "Off!" When people ask how they are, the answer these days is always, "Big!"

It's like raising children on an accelerated schedule. They'll hit puberty at five months and be fully grown in a year. And eventually, please God, they'll calm down and we can trust that if we bring them in the house they won't bite through the TV cables or potty on the floor. Meanwhile, I'd better go see what they're up to now.

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Watching a family grow

Last weekend I attended a Celebration of Life for my aunt and uncle, who both died recently. In addition to feeling sad about losing these pillars of my family who have always been there, I was struck by the sheer number of people their union has created. My cousin put together photo collages of the five children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Many of them were there in person, astoundingly grown up. The photos included group shots of everyone together. It was quite a crowd.

I think the moment that sticks in my mind is when my cousin Denee, who is a year and half younger than I am, grabbed up her grandson, swung him around, bobbing for kisses on his pudgy cheeks, and shouted, "Grandma doesn't love you much, does she?" She laughed. Denee's a grandmother twice over. Her daughter's a beautiful 30-something school counselor. My cousin has extended the family tree and taken her place as a future matriarch. Her four brothers have done their part, too. There were far more photos than we could fit on the walls.

I came early with my dad to help set up. More and more, when it comes to family events, it's just the two of us, the widower and the childless cousin whose husband has Alzheimer's. Yes, I have stepchildren. I invited them to join us, but they didn't come or call. When it comes to hardcore family, they're not part of it. Eventually my brother and his kids came and I clung to them like they were water and I was dying of thirst. After they went home, I spent a few more hours with Dad, then flew back to Portland on the late plane, alone in a crowd of strangers.

Why am I bumming you out with this? Take it as a warning. Oh ye who are considering never having children, think about the long-term consequences and how you, too, could be the lone cousin when everyone else has created a tribe of their own. Perhaps you'll be fine with it, but I predict you'll wish you could cover the walls with pictures of your own tribe.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Who will organize my memorial service?

This weekend, I'm flying to San Jose to attend a "Celebration of Life" for my aunt and uncle, who both died recently. Their five children are organizing it. One is doing food, another is putting together a slide show, another is doing decorations, others will make sure everyone is invited. Ironically, it's being held in the multi-purpose room at my old elementary school, which is a senior center now.

It's a sad occasion that my cousins are trying to make less sad by remembering the good times. Meanwhile, they'll be cleaning out their parents' house and arranging to sell it. They'll also be handling the endless paperwork that follows someone's death.

I have seen my parents do the same for their parents, and my husband and I have done similar tasks for his parents and my mother. It seems a natural duty for the children of the deceased.

So the question on the table is, who does this stuff when you don't have any children, especially if you don't have a husband who can take charge and you're short on siblings? Can you really count on your friends? Even if they wanted to, they probably won't have the legal rights to pay for a funeral with your life insurance money, to dispose of your things, or to close out your bank accounts.

I have one brother whom I have designated to do everything, but what if he isn't able to handle it when the time comes? It seems the only answer is to make preparations for yourself. Even though we all think we're going to live forever, hire a lawyer and do the paperwork. Write down what you want and make sure the people who are close to you know what to do. Childless by choice or by circumstance, we may well find ourselves on our own at the end. If you want a Celebration of Life,either pay somebody to make sure your wishes are carried out or start getting closer to those cousins or nephews you don't know very well. Otherwise, there'll be nothing but a two-line death notice at the bottom of the obituary page.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day again

How many of us want to hide under the covers until this Hallmark holiday is over? I have no children of my own and my mother and mother-in-law are dead, yet people automatically wish me a happy Mother's Day. I got tired of correcting them long ago.

This morning at church, a friend started to wish a parishioner Happy Mothers Day, then stopped herself. "I'm sorry. You don't have kids," she said. I was aghast. Once you've started, you don't take it back that way, like sorry, you don't qualify.

Anyway, with the music director out sick, I led the choirs and played the piano through three Masses. Three times I stood up as Father Brian went through his Mother's Day spiel. Actually, it wasn't bad. He included not only birth mothers but foster mothers, caregivers, and any woman who nurtures somebody. Moms were supposed to bow their heads for a blessing. The first Mass I refused to lower my head, but this morning, after particularly difficult night caring for the pups and the husband and being reminded that I have had three stepchildren for 23 years, I bowed. I accepted the blessings and prayers. I need them.

It's about 2:00 our time, and I haven't heard a word from the stepchildren, not even an e-card. But the puppies love me.

I hate this holiday. After Mass, I went to McDonald's, thinking I might get a peaceful lunch there, missing all the Mom's Day brunch crowd. Wrong. There were dozens of little kids with their mothers and balloons and gifts and all that nonsense. Me, I got hit on by a crazy man from our church who decided to sit with me when all I wanted to do was read my magazine and enjoy my sandwich.

Ten more hours to midnight PDT. Then we'll be safe for another year.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Puppy update

For those who are sick of dog stories, you can skip this, but Chico and Annie have just about doubled in size in the five weeks since we brought them home. As of yesterday, Chico was at 21.5 pounds and Annie was up to 18. At the vet on Monday, we mentioned that the breeders had said they'd top out at about 35 pounds. The vet just laughed. No, they're going to be bigger, much bigger.

Fred and I kept looking at each other and the dogs on the way home. Oh my God! Forget buying that second medium-sized crate. We're going to need a large. Good thing we like big dogs. But that's a lot of puppy chow!

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When you're not in the Mom Club . . .

You don't necessarily make friends with the women who have children. That became very clear yesterday when I sang at a funeral for a 43-year-old mother who was very popular at our church. She died of cancer at such a young age, leaving a daughter about 10 years old and a husband who appeared sedated to the point of barely being able to sit up.

Nemia taught in the children's religious education program, so all the parents and most of the kids knew her. They sat there wiping away tears. Even Father Brian choked up during his long homily.

But I remained dry-eyed. I didn't know the woman, still don't even know what she looked like. I searched the old church directories when I got home, but she wasn't in there, and there was no photo with her obituary.

When you're not a mother, you have no reason to interact with the mothers, and most of the mothers are too busy to get involved in anything that doesn't include their children. It's a divided world. Mothers' lives revolve around school, sports, music lessons, pediatrician visits, religious ed, and other stuff I don't even know about. Not having children, I find myself hanging out with older people, other childless women, and the few parents who cross the divide to sing in the church choir.

It was a very odd feeling singing for a woman I didn't know in front of a church full of grieving people who looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn't tell you their names. It was the Mom (and Dad) Club, of which I will never be a member.

God bless Nemia; I wish I'd known her.

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

No one in line behind me

My Uncle Don, Dad's brother, died recently. I'll be heading to San Jose for a Celebration of Life for him and Aunt Gen later this month. Today I found myself inviting my stepson to join me. Not like it's going to be fun, but I suddenly really wanted a son or daughter keeping me company. You see, in the usual scheme of things, life goes in a circle. The old ones die, but young ones take their places. In middle age, we watch our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles die and we are sad, but there's a whole new generation behind us to give us hope for the future.

That's not the case for me. My family is shrinking. There's no one coming up behind me. I looked through our wedding album the other day and realized that many of the people who were there have died. So many. I look for the next generation, and no one is there because I never had children.

I didn't mean to make this so sad, but it's a sad time lately. Too many people in my life are dying or terminally ill. With no children to give me hope for the future, I turn to stepchildren and puppies. It's not the same, but it's something.

My uncle and aunt had five children and seven grandchildren. They created a small dynasty which will continue to grow. Fred and I have not done that. He had three children, but none of them are mine, and only one has ever had any children. The others don't plan to marry or procreate. It's their business, but they have no idea how lonely it will feel as they attend all those funerals and take up fewer and fewer seats.

Taking a deep breath, we have to accept that some of us are the trunk of the family tree and some of us are the ends of the branches. Most of us have a choice which we want to be. Choose carefully. You get more sun at the tip of the branch, but it's lonely out there.

BTW, my stepson said no.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Taking the dogs to work

I may be starting to get a handle on this dog-mom-as-pack-leader business. As you may recall, we adopted two Lab-terrier puppies earlier this month. Almost three weeks into it, I feel much more relaxed about the whole business. We're falling into a routine. I feed them breakfast, take them out, stash them in the laundry room while I shower and have my breakfast, then we all dash down the hall to my office, where they munch their rawhide chews and fall asleep.

Every hour or so we have to go out because their bladders are small. I still pack one under each arm to carry them out because I don't trust them not to pee in the house, especially when they just woke up, but that's 27 pounds of dog now. It's a race between housetraining and dog growth.

Eventually they have lunch, they potty, Fred and I have lunch, and we all go back to work, stopping every hour or so for a potty break and playtime. We repeat the routine until they fall asleep for the night and peace finally reigns over the kingdom.

As for training, it's coming along, most of the time. They sit, they come, they bite less, althought they're still better paper shredders than the machine in Fred's office. When they're not eating, excreting or sleeping, they're usually wrestling. It drives me nuts. But I think I had a breakthrough this morning. I actually got them to separate and sit perfectly still for at least a minute.

What's all this got to do with childlessness? Lots of things, actually. These are my baby substitutes. There is no denying it. I know they're dogs. I know they won't take care of me in my old age. I know they won't give me a party on my 80th birthday. I know they're animals that will kill smaller animals, given the chance. I know that all of our conversations are one-sided. They are not people.

I think the puppies become so significant because I don't have children. At 56, this is the first time I have ever cared for a baby anything longer than a couple hours. I am learning lessons that mothers of human babies learn much earlier in life, especially this: the child's needs come first. I'm struggling to spread my attention among the pups, my husband, and my work. I'm losing work time and spending tons of money on these little guys. These are all experiences that are familiar to women with children, but they're new to me.

Yesterday, when my husband and I had to go out of town, I took the puppies to daycare. I've never done that before. Our other dogs have stayed in the yard or gone to a kennel, but these guys are too small. They can squeeze through too many openings in the fence, they need to be fed often, and they wreak havoc in the laundry room when left there very long. At $20 a pup, it was worth it for the peace of mind. I'm assuming that within a few months, they'll be self-sufficient enough and big enough to trust on their own, but not yet.

Dogs are not children. But look back a post or two, and you'll see my friends gave me a puppy shower. Now I've taken them to daycare. And God help me, every friend who calls or visits gets called Auntie or Uncle so-and-so. I can't help myself.

I think the puppies fall somewhere between the dolls I used to play with and the children I never had. They're kind of like toys, but they're also live creatures for which I'm responsible.

Back in the real world, I'm working on my chapter about the psychological effects of childlessness. If we don't become parents, are we perpetual children? Opinions vary, but I'm leaning toward yes.

And now I have to go because the dogs are fighting again--just like my brother and I used to do. My poor sainted mother would spank both of us, saying, "I don't care who started it." Next time we got within punching or kicking distance of each other, we'd be at it again. Ditto for the dogs, except I can't spank them. Corporal punishment is no longer acceptable in dog training.

Have I lost my mind? Or are dogs a healthy substitute when you can't have children? What do you think?

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Dog mom? Cesar says no

In trying to figure out how to handle these two pups we have adopted, I have been devouring dog-training books. See my May newsletter at for reviews. None of the ones I have read address how to deal with two puppies at once. I hope the next book coming from Amazon will give me a clue. As it is, every time I get one under control, the other pops out. This can go on for a long time, with the husband standing around saying, "What should I do?"

"Grab a dog or get out of the way!"

Anyway, I need to get control, preferably without screaming or having to lift these increasingly heavy dogs to get them where I want them to go. In his book Cesar's Story, TV's "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan insists that people who treat their pups as child substitutes are going to end up with dogs that are ill-mannered, disobedient and possibly dangerous. Why? Because dogs don't need a mommy; they need a calm, assertive pack leader. They need exercise, discipline and affection, in that order. None of this cuddling and baby talk all day stuff. If they haven't earned affection by their good behavior, we are supposed to snub them. Hard to do when they're wailing or staring at you with those sweet brown eyes. But Cesar says if their human owner appears to be all emotion and no authority, dogs will assume she's not a strong leader, and they'll take over.

I know he's right, but I am rarely calm and definitely not calmly assertive. I panic and wind up hollering things like "Quit biting me, you little brat." At least human babies don't have teeth at eight weeks. Do they? What I know about human babies could fit onto a 3 x 5 card, with room to spare.

So I'm trying. The dogs are in a crate near my desk right now, listening to oldies on the radio while I work. I'll let them out in an hour or so. All day long, it's work, dog, work, dog, work, dog. Once they go to bed at night, I leave them alone in their cozy bed in the laundry room, even though I'm finally done working and I really want to cuddle. Can I just hold them and rock them once in a while before they get too big? Just a little?

Most of the childless women I have interviewed have pets and treat them like their children. Would it be easier to treat them like dogs if we had actual children? We'll never know. One final note from Cesar: People need dogs, but dogs don't need people. Left on their own, they pick a pack leader from among themselves, find their own food and do just fine.

Now, has anyone got a baby gate I can borrow? The pups have figured out how to get up the steps from the den into the rest of the house.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

No, not dogs again!

Yes, dogs again. Sorry, but that's all I can think about these days. You see, Fred and I adopted two 7-week-old puppies last week, and it really feels as if I have two babies. They're the same weight as babies, have the same needs, and fill the same needs in my heart. Last night, my church choir surprised me with a puppy shower. There were two baby blankets, but of course no little onesies. I did get dog treats, chew toys galore, balls, weewee pads, and lots of advice. There was a gorgeous white-frosted cake with big red flowers on it. This may sound totally nuts, but it felt as if I had received something I'd been waiting for all my life. I sat on the floor of the chapel opening presents and soaking it all in.
As assistant director, I was surprised that there had been a wave of e-mail that didn't include me. Those sneaky singers.
Puppies are certainly not the same as humans. They won't take care of you in your old age. Conversations are rather one-sided. And they poop and piddle on the floor. But for the childless woman who wanted children and didn't have them, they're one way of filling that emptiness.
Has anyone else found that to be true? What other ways can you feed the maternal need? I'd love to hear your ideas.
And yes, I promise to get back to human issues next time.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Are childless women immature?

Does not having children cause a woman to miss an important stage in becoming a mature adult? Does she remain the perpetual daughter and never learn to put others' needs before her own?

I have asked these questions of many women. the answers vary. Some admit that yes, the childless woman misses some of the critical lessons that come with motherhood. In fact, a recent New Zealand study maintains that mothers have been proven to be smarter than non-mothers, possibly due to the hormonal changes that come with pregnancy or to the demands of motherhood.

Other childless women claim that that's ridiculous, that in fact in some mothers are less mature than they are because they have had less time to work on their own development. And many say that childless women learn the same lessons in other ways, perhaps by caring for other children, their own aging parents, a spouse or people they nuture in their jobs. I'll add taking care of animals to the mix. Of course it's not the same, but sometimes their needs do outweigh yours.

What do you think? This is the next chapter I'm planning to tackle in my book. I don't have the answers to my questions, only opinions. I'm sure that no one answer fits all. What have you seen or experienced? Does one need to have kids to fully grow up?

Monday, March 31, 2008

Uh oh, dogs again

I know I said I wouldn't mention the dog who came and went again, so I won't, but my husband and I just adopted two puppies. They won't actually move in until Sunday, but we're excited and scared. Just like parents of humans, I suppose. At this stage in life, I can live without a human baby, but I've just gotta have a dog to love and take care of. I'm a dog mom. How many of you feel the same way? Show of hands? That's what I thought.

We bought a boy and a girl, one black, one tan. They're a terrier-Lab mix and should be smaller than that other dog, and at 7 weeks they're already better trained than she was. I'll post pictures as soon as I can. Oh God, I'm a doting mommy already, and we haven't even named them yet.

Let's see, we need puppy food, a car carrier, toys, treats, collars and leashes, trips to the vet, training classes, oh my. What have we done? We're pregnant with puppies.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

How old is too old?

Once upon a time, I was married and got divorced without having children. I married again later and didn't have children, but that's not the point of this story. At the time I became a divorcee, or what my mother used to call a grass widow, I was 28 years old. That seems young now, but I was truly concerned about whether I still had a chance to have children. I even checked a book out of the library about childbirth over age 30. That was 1980. In those days, most women still gave birth before their 30th birthday. Things have changed a lot.

This came to mind this week because of a New York Times piece offering statistics about women and pregnancy. Most of it referred to the fact that majority of pregnant women work up to their ninth month and come back to work soon after the birth, but the stat that caught my attention said that the percentage of first births to women age 30 and older had increased from 4 percent in 1970 to 24 percent in 2000. They don't go into the reasons, but we all know that women are waiting longer. Many want to get established in their careers before they jump onto the mommy train. Back in 1970, being a mother was the career for most women. They went to college to earn their MRS degree and shortly after the nuptials, they were having babies.

Experts say women's ability to conceive starts decreasing in their mid-30s, but many women these days figure they can wait until 40 or even a little later to have children. For some it's no problem. A few get surprised by early menopause. Oops, game over. Others count on in vitro fertilization, surrogate mothers and other medical maneuvers to shore up their aging ovaries.

So, is 40 the new 30? Is there some wisdom to having children when you're younger so you have more energy to take care of them? Is it worth the risk of waiting until you're older and more settled in your life, even though it might be more difficult to conceive? How old is too old to have children? What do you think?

Bringing things back to the subject of being childless by marriage, if you're dating, engaged or married to a man who says he doesn't want children, do you have time to change his mind or should you move on because the clock is ticking?

Here's one more statistic to ponder from a collection of facts and figures posted online last month: of the nearly 1 billion women in the world aged 40 or older, 8 percent are estimated to be childless. That compares to almost 25 percent in the U.S. Hmm.

I'd love to hear your comments.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Bye bye, doggie

Alas, Halle the dog has gone back to the SafeHaven shelter. I guess I could say I failed as a dog parent, or perhaps she was a juvenile delinquent and I didn't have the strength to straighten her out. I feel terrible.

I wonder if I care so much because I don't have human children, only dogs. Without a dog, I feel lost. This dog was such a crazy, happy, loving creature, but I could not sit down or go to bed without having to constantly fight her off. When she wasn't chewing up my things, she was jumping on me and chewing on me. It was like trying to sleep with an alligator in the room.

I tried all the techniques recommended by the experts. Put her in the crate, send her outside, regulate her food, knock her down every time she jumps, ignore her when she misbehaves, and limit the cuddling time so that she knows who's "the momma dog." That's what the trainer who came to our house said I had to be, "the momma dog."

Well, this momma dog can't do the tough love thing.

My husband wants to get another dog right away. But like most dads, he wasn't the one dealing with the bad behavior, trying to get this crazed animal to settle down at night, worrying about her food, her health, her need to go outside.

I need a break, time to stop grieving for my old friend Sadie, time to accept that Halle could not replace her. You don't buy a new best friend for a hundred bucks and assume you'll have the same kind of relationship. Let's just think of this as a two-week visit by an unruly guest. We had some good times, but she had to go home. We were crying, but Halle actually seemed quite content back in her old cage.

By now, you're asking, "How does this relate to childlessness?" I think many of us who don't have children put all our parenting energies into our pets. But I can also compare this to trying to adopt a troubled teen without having raised a child from birth, without having had any input in his early years, without having the experience to know what to do when he turns on you.

A friend bought me an Easter lily because I was sad about losing my dog. Nobody has ever bought me a lily before. Lilies are what adult children buy for their aging mothers on Easter because they feel as if they have to buy them something. It makes me uncomfortable to see it sitting on the table.

This should be the last you'll hear of Halle Berry the dog from me. I'll get back to people issues next time, I promise.

But how about you? Have you put your mothering eggs in the dog or cat Easter basket, only to be disappointed? I'd love to hear your stories.

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