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.