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 tiscali.money 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?