Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Dog trouble

More dog tales, you say? Sorry. It will be over soon.

I brought my dog Chico back from the kennel last Tuesday. He and his sister Annie did not get along at first, but within 24 hours, they were best friends again. Worse, I fell in love with the big lug all over again. He kept jumping the fence, but he kept coming home, too, and I loved greeting him at the back door.

Over Christmas, I took him back to the kennel because I knew I'd be gone most of the time.

I knew I still needed to find him a new home. People who had seen my flyers or the ad in the paper called about Chico. One woman was so eager she agreed to drive over an hour round trip to meet Chico at the kennel. Well, he got so excited he almost pulled me down the hill, and the poor woman, who was grieving the loss of her Yorkie, decided he was too much for her. Oh well. Since I was there, I brought him home.

This time we all made friends much more quickly. I started thinking maybe I ought to keep my dog. But I don't think that anymore. Not after today.

Today a prospective new owner showed up around lunchtime. I had both dogs in the house and didn't have time to stash them outside or in the laundry room. When the door opened, both dashed out and ran away. This kind man actually cleaned part of my clogged gutter--in the rain--while I tried to get the pups back. Finally he said he'd come back later. It didn't bother him that Chico ran off or that he jumped as high as his head in his excitement. He seemed like the kind of man who could handle a big dog.

It took me an hour and a half to find my dogs and get them into the car. Both were covered with mud. All three of us were soaked. About 10 minutes later, the man returned with his dog, a slightly smaller Chico lookalike. Same breed even: half Lab, half pit bull. Chico almost tore my arm off trying to get to the door. The man and his dog came in. Once the door was shut, I let Chico go. Mistake. He went after that dog with every intention of killing him. He latched on and wouldn't let go as the dog screeched. Somehow I got bitten on the leg in middle of the action. It took forever for Chico to let go. The man quickly removed his dog, saying he was sorry. Crying, I exiled my dog, cleaned my wound and considered taking him to the animal shelter immediately. Who is going to want a dog that attacks other animals and may attack people, too? He even scared me, even though now he's as loving as ever. When he pulls with all his strength, I can't hold him. He still jumps the fences, and if he bites someone, I'm in trouble. So Chico has to go. I called the shelter, leaving a message that I needed to "surrender" my dog.

My baby has to go to jail, unless some strong, easy-going person with no other pets and a fence that Chico can't jump or climb steps forward this week. Damn. Sometimes being the only human in the house stinks.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

He's baaaack

More dog tales. What does this have to do with being childless? For some of us, our dogs are our only children.

I was right about not bringing my exiled dog Chico back home. He immediately jumped the fence again, shaking off his sister's eager gestures to stay and play. I left the gate open and he eventually came back. Now I've got both dogs in the house, but they aren't getting along. I don't know what Chico told his smaller sibling in dog talk, but first she was hiding in the kitchen while he took up all the warm space in front of the pellet stove. Then, while I practiced piano music for Christmas, she disappeared. I found her on my bed in the dark. Hiding. Suddenly my alpha dog, the one I intend to keep, is slinking around the corners with her tail tucked between her legs.

The two used to be inseparable, but the bond seems to have broken during their time apart. Chico, distant with me at first, is now following me everywhere. I find myself suddenly defensive of Annie and anxious to ship him off to somewhere else. I have no more motherly feelings for him. He's an animal and a problem. They still have room for him at the kennel, and I'm thinking of taking him there for Christmas Eve and Christmas. After that, I hope my prayers for a new owner are answered. He can't live at the kennel forever.

On the way home from the kennel, we visited one woman who was interested. She had an old black Lab and four cats. I had my doubts. As soon as I opened the car door, Chico jumped out and pounced on the Lab. That was the end of that.

Folks at the kennel tell me that aside from destroying his blanket, Chico behaved well. He even took his first bath peacefully.

Now he's sleeping on the floor next to my desk. Annie is still on my bed. What will happen when I try to feed them? Dare I leave them together in the laundry room tonight? What about tomorrow, when I have to go out?

Ring, phone, ring.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Now it's just Annie and me

My family has boiled down to just my dog Annie and me. Think of us as a cautionary tale for those considering marrying an older man and not having children. Someday he might be gone, and there is a chance his children--if he has them--will no longer consider you part of the family. Or perhaps you and Mr. Right moved far away and now you don't have the means to move back to where they live.

Last week, I told about how I need to give my other dog, Chico, away. I have not found a home for him yet. He is still in the kennel. But I do have lots of people looking, so I'm hopeful. I really don't feel that I can bring him back to the house. He's too much for me to handle alone. When I started this particular dog-journey, I had Fred here to help. For those who haven't been following along, my husband is in a nursing home with Alzheimer's Disease. Who could have predicted that when we got married almost 25 years ago?

Meanwhile, Annie and I have really bonded. Through an artic freeze and through the current barrage of rain and wind, we have spent most of our time together. We walk together, we eat together, we sleep together. When I cry, she licks my face. When she wakes me up in the middle of the night, I stagger down the hall to let her out. Sometimes she just wants company. I understand. We have both lost our partners. I no longer feel like her mother; we're companions, housemates. We take care of each other. With luck, we'll grow old together.

At least I'm not the weird old lady with a dozen cats. I'm too allergic to them!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Minus one baby dog

Last weekend, things reached a crisis point with my dog Chico. He not only can jump the outer four-foot fence in our yard, but he learned on Saturday how to get over the six-foot fence (the one the fence guy said no dog could escape). The minute I let him out, he was over the fence and gone. Often I could see him roaming just beyond the fences, but he wouldn't come and he wouldn't stay. Meanwhile, I was getting reports of Chico terrorizing my neighbors' pets. Some of them have guns and are not afraid to use them. Of course, anyone could sue me or get me in other big trouble if this giant black lab/pit bull mix went after them, their children or their pets.

I hobbled him with a harness while I went to church Saturday evening. Two hours later, nothing was left but the metal rings. Chico and his sister Annie ate the harness. They're equally good at destroying any kind of collar.

People have suggested new fencing, keeping him on a chain, or putting a weight on his collar. I can't afford a whole new fence, and I can't abuse him just to keep him here.

Crying hard, I took him to a kennel to stay for a while until I can find him a new home. I still have Annie, who is smaller and has not learned to jump the fences. Yet. I will selfishly hang on to her as long as I can. I raised both dogs from eight weeks to 21 months. I took them to school, walked them, kept their shots up to date and made sure they stayed warm and safe. I love them both. But with my husband gone to the nursing home, I'm on my own, and I can't handle both big dogs. These are the first pets for which I actually called myself their mom. I talked about them all the time, loved to show them off, sent their pictures all over the Internet. But they are dogs, not children, and reality must prevail.

I put an ad in the paper today to find a new home for Chico. It was hard not to cry. I raised him to almost two years old. Except for his need to run and terrorize other dogs, he's the sweetest pup. He'll be a great companion for someone. In dog years, he's a young adult. Time to send him on to his next adventure.

This would be a good time to have human adult children and grandchildren to help me, keep me company and put things in perspective, but I don't have them. Now that my husband isn't here, my stepchildren have chosen not to contact me. So it's just me and Annie now. She's the cute puppy in my photo, except she's all grown up.

Is there a conclusion to this story? I suppose the moral is that no matter how much we love them and treat them as our children, they are still dogs, and sometimes we have to let them go.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Holiday orphans

Most childless women fear being alone in old age. Yes, sure, many tell me they have good friends or siblings who will care for them, but it's not the same as having grown children who feel some obligation to you.

Driving by my neighbors' house yesterday, I saw their son putting up their Christmas lights. Oh, how I envied them. This year my husband is gone, and I'm not even sure I can get the lights down from their high perch at the top of the garage. At least not without falling off the ladder or dropping the boxes so hard everything inside breaks.

Whom do I call for help? Yes, I have friends, busy friends who work all the time, elderly friends with physical limitations, and grandmother friends who leave town to spend the holidays with their families. I have a brother who always welcomes me to his home, but he lives too far away.

This Thanksgiving, my first year without my husband, I spent the afternoon with friends. We had a wonderful time full of good food, music, and laughter. Then I came home to an empty house. And I cried.

Women become widows whether they have children or not. Most of us choose men who are older than we are. At some point we lose them and end up alone. But if we have children, we can hope for a telephone call or a knock at the door. We can envision a younger person who looks like us wrapping us in a big hug and filling our homes with life.

Childless women without husbands or partners are holiday orphans. That's what my yoga teacher called the singles she invited to her dinner. Yes, I was invited, too. In fact, I had several invitations to spend the day with other people's families. Poor Sue must not be alone. But it was not the same.

How was your Thanksgiving experience without children? And how will your childless state affect your Christmas? It's okay to whine, like me. You'll never find a more sympathetic audience.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thank you for being here

It's Thanksgiving. I'm not about to say I'm thankful I don't have children. I'm not. I wish with all my heart I had children and grandchildren to spend the holidays with, especially because this will be my first Thanksgiving in 25 years without my husband Fred. He will spend the day like any other day at Timberwood Court Memory Care Center, a nursing home for Alzheimer's patients.

I feared I would be alone, but I have lost count of the number of people who have invited me to spend the day with them. I have a lot of good friends, and for that I am grateful. Perhaps this is a day to put away thoughts of who we don't have and appreciate the people we do have. Tomorrow, thank someone for being in your life.

I am also thankful for my dogs. I am glad that I still have both of them, even though Chico the fence-jumper keeps running away. So far, he always comes back. He and Annie are giant dogs who sit in my lap, lean against my legs, and lick my face when I cry.

I'm thankful for my house, my health and work that I love. I'm thankful for little things like poppyseed muffins and Red Zinger tea and big things like sunshine and having the ocean nearby.

I'm very thankful that someone else is cooking the turkey tomorrow.

If you're feeling particularly childless during the holidays, make a list of things you're thankful for. They can be as silly as pink shoestrings or as serious as a cancer scare survived. We could all make long lists of complaints, but this week, let's be grateful for the good stuff.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Words to Ponder

I'd like to share a couple quotes from the book 365 Reflections on Marriage, edited by Eva Shaw (1999, Adams Media Corp.).

"Making the decision to have a child—it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." Elizabeth Stone.

"Romance fails us and so do friendships, but the relationship of parent and child, less noisy than all others, remains indelible and indestructible, the strongest relationship on earth." Theodore Reik.

I find these very powerful statements. How do they make you feel when you read them?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I didn't give them grandchildren

My father has a soft spot for small children. When I called him after Halloween, he told me about a little girl he described as really cute with "a little skirt and blouse." I don't know what kind of costume that was, but that wasn't the point anyway. Unlike all the other kids who grabbed their candy and hurried to the next house, this child walked right past him into the living room and sat down. Dad, who doesn't laugh much, chuckled at the memory. She just made herself at home until her father forced to come out. However, that wasn't the end. She snuck into the house one more time. Dad thought that was the cutest thing. I teased that she wanted to become his new roommate.

It was a sweet story, but it brought home to me again how I could have made a visit from a little girl or boy a regular thing. If I had had children, I would never have moved to Oregon. I couldn't break up the family that way. Instead, I imagine I would have brought them to my parents' house often. Certainly I would have brought them over to show off their Halloween costumes. My mother and father would have loved it. Now I remember my niece, Susan, on my mother's lap. It was the most beautiful picture. I also remember my dad and grandpa taking my brother and my nephew William fishing. I can picture that line of Fagalde men lined up along the shore. Unfortunately my brother lives far away, so my folks didn't see his kids much when they were young, but they did have those moments.

By being this lone writer with no children, only dogs, I not only deprived my parents of the joy of grandparenting; I missed the pleasure of seeing my kids and their grandparents love each other.

For people who never wanted children and didn't feel that close to their parents, I suppose this is not an issue, but for me, it's one of many little hurts that will never completely go away.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Here we go again

I was sitting at dinner with three other women all talking about writing. Soon they were comparing numbers of children. One had four, one had three, one had two. I have dogs. In the context of the conversation, I felt lucky to have more time to write and freedom to travel. With my husband in a nursing home, I don't need to rush home anymore. But once again I felt left out of a very important part of life. I also felt it more important than ever to write about what it's like to be childless, especially in a situation where if I had chosen a different man, I could have been a mom. I have to live with that fact forever, and I have to live with those moments where I'm the only one without children.

On Halloween, I played piano for the 5:30 p.m. Mass. Attendance was light. It never occurred to me until someone mentioned it afterward that folks would be busy escorting their trick-or-treaters around the neighborhood. I have never had to costume a child and worry about whether he would be spiderman or a pirate or some critter I don't even know about because I'm not up on kid culture. After Mass, I went to a grownup party with grownup drinks and no kids, just dogs. Sometimes it feels as if children exist in an alternate universe.

Know what I mean?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Here's an author who gets it

Readers have complained, as I have, that most novels about childless women end happily but unrealistically with a surprise pregnancy or adoption. They don't show what it's like when the dream of motherhood never comes true. I will admit straight out that the author sent this book to me in the hope I would include it on my site. If it didn't work for me, I wouldn't include it, free book or not. It does, so here it is. Note that the publisher is in Australia, so finding a copy may take some hunting.

Swimming by Enza Gandolfo
Vanark Press, Victoria, Australia, 2009

Kate didn't think she wanted children, but in her 30s, she changed her mind. Her husband Tom, a sculptor, didn't care much for kids but was willing to go along to make her happy. Unfortunately, her body didn't cooperate. After four miscarriages, as she moved into perimenopause, she gave up trying.

This is one of the few novels I have read that deals realistically with the pain of childlessness. Childless readers will recognize the obnoxious questions people ask and the left-out feeling as one's friends devote themselves to their children. Kate also suffers through a divorce and struggles to find her place in the world. If she is not a mother, what is her role?

The novel has two main threads, Kate as she is now and the novel she is supposedly writing about the child she might have had. The latter tells us the story of her life, and I honestly disliked the breaks where she dithered over her writing project, but the stories come together in the end, and it did turn out to be a very engaging novel with characters so true I halfway expect to meet them on the street.

This book grew out of Gandolfo's PhD thesis. A lecturer in Professional Writing at the School of Communication and the Arts at Victoria University, Gandolfo lives in Melbourne.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A lego in the dirt

I found a red Lego toy piece in the yard yesterday. It's a small plastic rectangle, its holes crusted with dirt. Where did it come from? My life with Fred has never included Legos, although I have played with them in doctors' waiting rooms and other people's houses. I have always liked toys with which you could build things. But how did a Lego get here? We haven't even had any young children visit us in the 11 years Fred and I have owned this house. Our house is surrounded by trees, no other house close enough for toys to wander our way.

The only answer is that the dogs dug up a piece of history from the family that lived here before, the Fends. They had four children, two sons and two daughters. Big pictures of them hung on the living room walls. Their oldest daughter was living on her own. The younger daughter, high school age, had cerebral palsy. We met her crawling from her bedroom into the hallway the day we took our second look at the house.

The room I use as my office belonged to the boys, who slept in bunk beds and left color crayon marks on the walls. While the older boy worked at his computer, the younger boy showed me his craft projects sitting on the windowsill. Now the walls have been repainted, the windows replaced, and the closet turned into a file room. My desk, shelves and writing paraphernalia fill the room where the boys used to sleep.

The Fends fell on hard times and had to leave the house that was probably the only home their children had known. Now it is a home where all signs of children have been erased. Souvenirs from our travels and our collections of ruby glass and shot glasses decorate the living room and den. It is definitely not a childproof house. But why bother? Children don't come here.

I don't want to throw the Lego piece away. It's as if I have found one piece, and now I need to find the puzzle to which it belongs. I think that's how it always with childless women. Something is missing. We've got one lost Lego and we don't know what to do with it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Dog motherhood is tough

I'm typing this with a sprained wrist. The other day the dogs and I had a disagreement and I wound up flying through the air straight at the back wall of the house. I hit with my right hand, right knee and the left side of my glasses. This isn't the first time the dogs have caused me to fall. I can remember sitting on the beach a few months ago wondering if I'd ever get up after little (70-pound) Chico got scared by the waves coming at him. I had some major bruises, but I walked away. This time I got a trip to the ER, a splint, an enforced vacation from my music and a major slowdown in my writing. I am not supposed to be typing, but this hurts a lot less than doing dishes.

Anyway, Chico and Annie, 19-month-old lab-bull terrier siblings, have never and would never attack me. They're just big, and they play rough. Sometimes they're stubborn. Many of my friends, my father, my pastor and others are recommending that I get rid of the dogs. Only one friend, who is childless by marriage like me, insists that I can't possibly get rid of my babies. They are my babies, having arrived in my arms at 8 weeks old, when they were 8 and 9 pounds. I have certainly considered looking for a family to love them. They are good with other people, including children, but a little scary with other dogs. Still they are the only company I have in this house these days, and the quiet would be unbearable. Right now they are sleeping in the living room, but any minute, Chico or Annie could come into my office and lay a warm nose in my lap. I would miss that.

These being the only "babies," I'll ever have, I feel an obligation to care for them as long as I can. Maybe I can't keep them forever, but I intend to try. I'm still training them. They have already learned so much. They knock me down, but they also make me laugh and give me someone to hug when I need it. And these days, with no kids and my husband in a nursing home, I need it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Is he worth it?

By the time Fred let me know that he didn't want any more children, I was in love with him and we were planning to get married. That left me with a difficult choice: stay with the man I loved or leave him in the hope I would find someone else who wanted children. I chose Fred.

It's a terrible choice to have to make. I interviewed another woman last week who found herself in a similar predicament except that they were already married. At first, neither she nor her husband had much interest in having children. However, she gradually changed her mind. He didn't. In fact, when she confessed her desire for babies, he stood firm, telling her that if she couldn't live without being a mother, she would have to find someone else. She chose to stay with her husband. Not having children causes her great pain, but she's certain she made the right decision.

Another woman told me she had left her home in another country to be with the man she loved. Only after she had said goodbye to home, family and job did he inform her that the daughter he had from a previous marriage was all the children he wanted. When I talked to her,she was still trying to decide what to do, knowing she was running out of time if she wanted to conceive a child.

Every woman I know who is childless by marriage has heard the suggestion that she forget her birth control accidentally on purpose and get pregnant. Once that happened, he would come around. But we all know that's not necessarily true. Besides, how could you trick someone you love on a matter that is so important?

Women are not the only ones in this predicament. Sometimes it's the man who wants children and finds that his wife/partner does not. So how do you decide? What do you think? Is it worth dropping an otherwise wonderful partner to look for someone who is willing to have children?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

..."childless author" Sue Fagalde Lick says ...

Hey! How come every article about German Chancellor Angela Merkel has to mention that she's childless? Does every article about President Obama mention that he has two kids? No. Does every mention of media billionaire Oprah Winfrey preface her name with the word "childless"? No, and why should it? It's irrelevant. Surely Merkel has other qualities. When she was running for election the first go-round, women protested that she couldn't possibly understand the needs of families--couples with children--because she didn't have any of her own. Come on. She doesn't live in a bubble. Do the women on our U.S. Supreme Court have children? I don't know. I don't care. What matters is their ability to do the job. So let's leave Angela alone. Besides, sticking an adjective in front of a name is just bad writing.

I discovered the Childless Stepmums Forum, an online group based in the UK for women who have stepchildren but no biological children. Check it out for some fun chatter. Two other groups have grabbed my attention: Stepdivas and the Childless Stepmoms forum at the SecondWives Club. It's tricky raising someone else's kids when you've never had your own, but it helps if you can share your thoughts with someone who understands. Take a look.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Don't Hate Kids

My sister-in-law thinks I don't like children. Not true. If I flinched or made a wisecrack whenever parents and small children invaded our space during our recent visit, it wasn't the kids that bothered me. Most children are charming when they're not shrieking. I love their freshness, the way everything is new to them, the way they seem to learn and grow so quickly. No, it's how their parents behave around them that drives me nuts.

Having been surrounded by wee ones and parents on my trip to California this last weekend, I saw a lot of behavior that made me grit my teeth. Why do some parents feel the need to narrate every moment while others let their kid kick the back of my airplane seat all the way from Sacramento to Portland? Why would a mother bring a noisy toy to a restaurant and encourage her to use it, oblivious to the other customers' growing annoyance? Of course, I saw good parents, too. On the way home, I sat behind a couple with the world's most attractive little boy. They did an excellent job of teaching and disciplining him and supporting each other without being obnoxious.

No, I like kids and wish I had one or two. And yes, I would probably be one of the most annoying parents on the plane instead of the grumpy grownup I appear to be.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Gladiola among the poppies

Gladiola bulbs in my front yard shoot up green spearlike leaves every summer, but they don't bloom every year. Many years, the leaves are all I get. But when they do bloom, the tall salmon-colored flowers outshine everything in the garden.

We childless women are like those gladiolas. Unlike the poppies that consistently fill my garden every summer and fall and are now blooming from the cracks in my driveway and hanging out over the sidewalk, the gladiolas rarely reproduce. Perhaps it's because I'm a negligent gardener or because the weather is too intense here. I get one bloom per plant and then it disappears, but oh that flower is special.

Maybe the book I'm reading, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha, has influenced my thoughts today, but I find myself content with things as they are. My life, although different from that of most people, a puzzle to my family and friends, is exactly what it was meant to be. I have never followed the usual path, and that's okay.

Instead of bemoaning our lack of children, let us consider that you and I are gladiolas, unique and glorious all by ourselves.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I Know the Feeling

Yesterday at the post office, I met a woman I interviewed years ago when she was the single, carefree skipper of a charter boat in Depoe Bay. At that time, Shelly only had to worry about her perfectly behaved German Shepherd. Last year, we met again at dog-training class, where she had a new Shepherd and I had my two giant lab/bully dogs.

Much has changed for both of us over the years--and not just dogs. My husband lives in a nursing home, and I'm alone with the dogs. Shelly is married and has two little boys. She has given up her fishing business to be a wife and mom. Alas, sometimes children can be as exasperating as puppies. When I entered the post office, Shelly and one of the boys were on the floor under the mail deposit box. The boy was having a tantrum while his brother leaned against the counter laughing, showing his tongue and two missing teeth.

"How are you?" I asked the beautiful blonde, freckled mom.
"I've had better moments," she said, struggling to hold the wild-eyed child.
I nodded and went on to my P.O. Box to collect my junk mail. I could hear her saying some of the very things I might say to my dogs: Stop it, sit up, keep still, be quiet. But in the middle of a tantrum it doesn't work any better with kids than it does with dogs--and I have the cuts and bruises to prove it.

Parenting is tough. I'm not equating dogs with children. Kids grow up, but both take a lot of energy when they're young and early training is vital. I wonder if sometimes Shelly remembers those days out at sea on the Lady Luck and wishes she were still there. Maybe she does at times like the one in the Post Office, but I'm sure there are other times when she looks at her sons with love and pride and wouldn't trade them for all the crab and salmon in the sea.

I attended a party the other night with people from church whom I don't know very well. Somehow we split up into women around one table and men around the other. I soon found myself the alien in the group. Not only did I not have a husband to bring, but I don't have children. All of these women seem to have grown children and grandchildren to talk about. It was a long evening. The division between the Mom Club and those of us without children never ends.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Paradise, Piece by Piece

I just finished reading a book by poet Molly Peacock called Paradise, Piece by Piece. Her first foray into prose, it tells the story of why she decided not to have children and how that decision has played out in her life. It offers some touching insights, plus it's a wonderfully written memoir about a child who had a terrible childhood and struggled to find her way as an adult. I had a hard time putting it down. It has been out since 1998, so you can probably find a used copy. Highly recommended. Read more about Peacock at www.mollypeacock.org.

Peacock maintains that although women who don't have children do seem to miss a stage in growing up, other life experiences, such as the deaths of their parents, will bring them to full maturity in time.

She also notes that several other famous female authors, including Louisa May Alcott, have been childless. She raises the question of whether one can be dedicated to both one's art and the many challenges of being a parent. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

We've got to talk about it

I wound up childless because I didn't have THE CONVERSATION with my husbands-to-be before we got married. I did not tell them I definitely wanted children and make sure they wanted them, too. I just assumed. It's always a bad idea to assume anything. You might be wrong.

I get lots of e-mails these days from women, and a few men, who are in the same position. They thought they'd have children. They married or entered long-time partnerships, discovering later that their mates did not share their desire for offspring. I have heard stories of hidden vasectomies, forced abortions, and, most often, partners who just refused to discuss having children. My friends, if they refuse to talk about it, they are probably also going to refuse to parent--or maybe they have concerns that can be worked out. You'll never know for sure if you don't put it in words.

In my own situation, I have come to realize that if I had communicated how important it was for me to have children, my husband would have cooperated. Yes, he said he didn't want more children, and I know he meant it, but I also know after all these years, that he loved me enough to do it to make me happy. I didn't say the words. I was afraid I'd lose him.

We also need to talk about it with our friends and relatives. One man recently told me he's afraid to say anything to his childless friends about the fact that he has children and they don't. That's how friendships end and the world divides into parents and non-parents. Sometimes it hurts not to have children. Let your friends know that, but know they don't have to hide their kids from you either. Talk about it. It will make life a lot easier.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Few Men Finally Get It

...Recently in the gynecology waiting room, I seemed to be the only one who wasn't pregnant or accompanied by children. When one new mom was called in, her husband took over care of their baby. Oh, how tenderly he touched that soft skin, how gently he lifted his daughter out of her carrier and cradled her in his arm. Why did I not marry a man like that, I thought. A few minutes later, I was in the examining room answering questions: How many children? None. How many pregnancies? None. Post-menopausal? Yes.

This is the final paragraph of a section of my Childless by Marriage book that I read at an open mic last night. The audience was so silent I thought I had bombed, but afterward, many people came up to tell me how moved they were by what I had written. Most of them were men. In fact, one began by asking, "Are you all right?" My words had been so emotional he thought I must be in terrible pain. I assured him I was fine. The men, all about the right age to be my husband if I weren't already married to Fred, said they admired me for saying such private things out loud, that they didn't realize how a woman might feel about not having children, and that most people are afraid to talk about the subject with their childless friends and relatives.

It was encouraging and enlightening. I have always thought my main audience was women. But perhaps men will read more to find out what we haven't told them.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

And the ducks go quack, quack, quack

This fall I'm going to be leading and playing piano for children's music at church. They sing simple little ditties accompanied by gestures. Until last week at our late music director Catherine's funeral, I hadn't seen it done, and I didn't know any of the songs. I struggled to find a key that fit the kids' monotone voices, and people kept telling me to go faster.

Catherine had eight children and oodles of grandchildren, but it's all foreign to me. All the kids and their parents know the songs from having gone to religious education classes, but I have to learn them from sheet music. I'm going to be the only one who doesn't know the songs already because I wasn't part of that world. I could have taught religious education classes and joined that world, but I didn't because I didn't know anything about children, and I was too busy singing with the adults. When I was a kid, we sang songs like "Holy God, We Praise They Name," not "The Ducks Go Quack, Quack, Quack," complete with wing-flapping. Wish me luck.

This brings back the time when I sang at a birthday party for a friend's 5-year-old son and I bought this Raffi book and did my best to cram the songs because I didn't know any kid songs then either. They wanted the same songs over and over, and they sat so close, touching me and my guitar, that I couldn't wait to get away. I'm not used to having children invading my space. It was one of the hardest gigs I ever did.

It's just another side-effect of not having children. You don't know the songs. And the kids think you're an idiot.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Where does religion fit in?

Hi all,
I'm pushing ahead with my Childless by Marriage book, and I'm in the chapter about religion. I'm Catholic. Using any kind of artificial birth control is a sin. I didn't know that back in the years when I was using it, and now I wonder what I would have done if I did know. In my research I'm reading figures ranging from 60 to 95 percent of Catholic women who use birth control these days. We're supposed to accept all the babies God gives us, but is that realistic, and what if our mates disagree?

In an era where sex seems to be everywhere, kids are still being taught that abstinence is the way to go. It's a nice idea, but in a competition between a holy idea hormones, hormones will usually win.

In my research, I found that only a handful of women said religion was a factor in their decision to remain childless, even though many faiths stress the need to procreate. So my question is: how about you? Where does religion fit in your childless life?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Childless women cold and odd???

Do childless career women suffer because their co-workers think they're cold and strange? According to the May 18, 2009 Daily Mail online site, that's what Dr. Caroline Gatrell found in researching her book Embodying Women's Work. Gatrell, from the Lancaster University Management School in the UK, reported that women without children are often seen as lacking "an essential humanity." Plus, if they're of child-bearing age, their bosses don't promote them because they might still get pregnant.

Okay, but how about all those moms trying to juggle child-care and work and getting turned down for promotions and dissed by co-workers because they can't work late and have to dash out to pick up the kids at pre-school?

It appears to be a damned if you do and damned if you don't situation, doesn't it?Whether you're a mother or not, ownership of a working uterus appears to make you suspect. If you've got children, you can't be totally loyal to the company. If you haven't, either you're going to spring a baby on them one of these days or you're just plain weird. Is this the 21st century or not?

Personally, I have certainly experienced sexism and ageism, but I don't think I have missed out on anything at work because I did not have children. I did have some moms drop their work on me because of their mothering needs. But I also saw moms who worked more hours than I did.

I'm a clock-watcher. I admit it. What employers really needed to worry about with me was that I would always rather be doing my freelance writing and music than working for anyone else. In essence, my books are my babies. And if I was in the middle of writing a song when it was time to go to work, I was going to be late. The song took precedence.

What do you think? Do you believe employers see childless women, especially those who are childless by choice, as heartless and odd? Have you experienced moms slacking because of their kids? Have you noticed women getting stuck in their careers because they carry ticking time bombs in their bellies? Let's talk about it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Say it, sister

One of the workers at the care home where Fred lives now has been reading my blog and finding it pertinent to her situation. Her situation is the opposite of ours. She's 45 and has two sons. Recently divorced and stop-traffic gorgeous, she finds herself dating younger men or even men her own age who still want to have children. She believes she could get pregnant but worries about the risks of pregnancy so late in life. Plus, she has done the math. She'd be over 50 when the child started kindergarten, in her 60s when he graduated from high school, in her 70s when he finished college and/or married and had children . . . No. She doesn't want to do that. Nor does she want to cheat her dates out of something they really want. So, she says, "I gently set them free."

She wanted to know how I came to be childless. Fred was sitting there with me as I explained that I had married two husbands who wouldn't or couldn't father my children. "I was one of them," Fred piped up. She turned to me. "How old were you when you got married?" "33." And then she gave Fred such a look, a look that said, You dog, you bastard, how could you do that to her? I wanted to jump up and hug her.

Where was she when I was 33?

You're on your own

It has been almost a month since I blogged here, so I'm doing it twice today. I have been in the midst of finding a new place for my husband, who has Alzheimer's. The home where he had been staying was not working out. He was so miserable he tried to run away. So now, with help from a great organization called A Place for Mom, I have moved him to Timberwood Court in Albany Oregon. It's a lot farther from home, but a much better place.

What does this have to do with childlessness? Mainly that I wouldn't have been doing all this alone if I had children or if his children really understood how hard this is. There's the physical part of it: Fred's room came unfurnished, so I had to buy furniture and get it to Albany. I carried a carload of stuff when we moved and last week, I single-handledly shoved two heavy easy chairs into the back of the car and drove them over. This week I'm getting a phone hooked up. I'm dealing with insurance and doctors and staggering bills. Perhaps worst is the strain of making all these decisions on my own. Fred can't help anymore, and no one else is here.

If you're considering a marriage without children, especially to a much older man, think about the possibility that he will get sick and suddenly you'll be handling everything alone.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We have a Google group now

I don't know why I didn't do this a long time ago, but I have set up a "Childless by Marriage" Google group. There's not much in it right now, but judging by the number of e-mails I get on this topic, it will grow quickly. Access the group at http://groups.google.com/group/childless-by-marriage. Come one and all. We have a lot to share.

As you probably know, I'm a writer working on a book and articles about childlessness, but I promise I will never quote you without asking for your permission, so have at it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Share childless feelings in Exhale zine

My Google alerts brought me to an interesting zine called "Exhale," which is subtitled "A literary magazine for intelligent people who have lost a baby, or can't figure out how to make one in the first place." You can get it in print or online. My friend Tiffany Lee Brown won an award from Exhale for her piece "The Kitchen Sink." It's available online and definitely worth a read.
Bravo, Tiffany.

I also discovered an interesting article called "The Men Who are Desperate for Kids," published April 19 in the UK's TimesOnline. So often, we only look at the woman's viewpoint, but men have strong feelings about childlessness, too. They may not show it, for fearing of appearing "soft," but writer Nirpal Dhaiwal tells how men who wanted children and don't have them can feel the loss just as much as woman can.

As all the advertising media won't let us forget, Sunday is Mother's Day. I'm planning to duck and cover till it's over. Someone already wished me a happy Mother's Day yesterday. I just said "thank you" and moved on. I didn't have the energy to set them straight.

Happy whatever, my friends.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Running Free

Following up on yesterday's post, I've noticed something interesting. Today, with my father and brother gone back home, I'm feeling amazingly freer and younger than I did when they were here. I danced to regae music last night, I had cake for lunch today, and just now I was outside running with the dogs. It felt good. Not having anyone to please or to care for can be awfully lonely, but it is also freeing. You become ageless, not pigeonholed into the role of daughter, mother, grandmother, or wife, just yourself, running in the unmowed grass, the breeze blowing your hair around and making the wind chimes sing.

There's a lot one can regret about not having children. God knows I have shed an ocean of tears, but there are advantages, too. As the Mother's Day ads threaten to drown us in our childlessness, try to remember the good parts. If there's a mother in your life, celebrate her. If not, just tune out the ads and go run with the dogs.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Always the daughter, never the mother

The men in my family have been visiting. They put me right back in the role of the daughter. My brother insists on driving. My father insists on paying for my meals. I'm physically much smaller and more agile than they are, and I'm riding in the back seat again, wishing I had my MP3 to entertain myself. The one time I jump ahead to the cashier, at the air museum, my father drops 20-dollar bills on my table that night to reimburse me. To them, I'm the one having financial trouble, husband trouble and emotional trouble, so they assert their authority trying to straighten me out, not letting me explain how I'm taking care of things in my own way.

Being a wife and mother makes you look like an adult to the rest of the world. With Fred in the care home and no children of my own, I'm always the weird kid, not Mom, not Grandma. In the eyes of my family, I'll never move up into that "we're all adults with kids" role.

Do you ever feel that way?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Childless at the funeral

If you want to feel alone, attend a funeral with your widowed father. The husband is in a care home and he has virtually no family, except his children. They didn’t know the deceased, my 100-year-old Great-Aunt Edna, anyway. Cousins your age are accompanied by their grown children, talking about an upcoming wedding, to which you have not been invited.

You look up at the front row and see Virginia, 92-year-old sister of the deceased. She is wearing a neck brace and hiding feeding tubes under her clothes, reminders of a near-fatal fall a few months ago. As everyone visits after the formal rites, there are times when she sits there alone. I hasten to keep her company. Virginia never married nor had children. Her sister Edna was widowed for 44 years, and she never had children either. They were each other's partners in life.

The priest, Father "Jo-Jo", says Edna, though childless, adopted her husband's family, became the matriarch, etc. That's true, but still the church is troublingly empty. You know that this 100-year-old woman, who outlived most of her friends, could have had children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and maybe even great-great grandchildren who would have filled the sanctuary with their own spouses and children. But no. So many seats are empty.

In contrast, the priest at my mother's memorial service kept referring to her as Mother Elaine. At least with Aunt Edna, he spoke at length about the things she had done, her volunteer work and her travels, her full life. But Mom had more people.

I can see the generations slicing off. We're coming closer to mine all the time. I have one niece and nephew to whom I feel close and a bunch of cousins I'm starting to talk to on Facebook. I do have good friends, but sometimes I feel awfully alone. When I commented that I would be alone when I was old and dying, my remaining aunt-by-marriage grabbed my arm and fiercely insisted that that was not true, that people care. Yes, but they die and they get busy. If I'm still living in Oregon, we'd better reserve the little chapel.

If my husband was around, it would be different, wouldn't it? And didn't I trade it all for him? It's a gamble we women who are childless by marriage take.

The most comfortable moment of the trip: the day after the funeral, sitting on the ground in the sun next to the grave where the workmen had tossed the pink bouquets over a layer of gravel in the not-quite-filled opening. I could finally breathe. And I didn't feel so damned alone.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter sans children

Well, it's the season for little girls in frothy dresses, boys with their hair slicked back and dress shirts buttoned to their necks. The store aisles are loaded with Easter baskets and candy and toys to put in them. I remember those great baskets my mother used to sneak into our rooms during the night. Magic. The Easter Bunny had been there. And then Grandma would show up with another basket the Easter Bunny left for us at her house. We believed it for a long time. My brother and I used to compete as we ate our chocolate bunnies. I got the ears and the nose. How about you?

I also remember what fun we had dyeing eggs. I can still smell the vinegar as Mom set the little bowls with red, blue, orange, yellow and purple dye made from those little tabs that come in a kit. They still sell them. You dunk the eggs, let them dry and write on them with crayon or a white wax pencil.

Many years later, I pass those sections of stores thinking maybe I should buy myself a chocolate bunny or a filled Easter egg because the Easter Bunny doesn't come to my house anymore. I look at the lilies and wonder if anyone will think about buying me one. Not that I like lilies. It's the symbolism, the honoring-Mom-with-a-flower thing.

People with kids get involved with all that Easter Bunny stuff, putting together baskets, dying eggs, setting up Easter egg hunts, cooking a ham or lamb feast for the family. Maybe they even go to church. Our church is always jammed that day with lots of parishioners who only show up for Christmas and Easter. For my family, that was part of the tradition, the reason we got all dressed up.

But with no children, the traditions fade into memory. We're not teaching another generation how to carry them on, unless we're close to other people's children. It's a good job for an aunt or uncle, doing the Easter thing. If you've got a kid around, drag out the eggs.

On Sunday, I'll be singing at church and possibly going to a restaurant to eat. Maybe I'll watch a video later, glad to relax on a Sunday afternoon.

How about you? Does Easter push the childless button for you? How will you celebrate the holiday?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Babies, babies, babies!

At a party last week, one of the women brought her six-week-old son. He's a cute little critter, but I had no experience to share, and I was not one of the women reaching out to hold him. People's cats always wind up in my lap, but babies, nope.

A few nights later, I had dinner at a home of a woman in my church choir. I had already seen her personalized "Nana" license plate, but when I walked in the door, her walls were so plastered with photos of her children and grandchildren it made me dizzy. The other guest, who always brings her granddaughter to church with her, cooed appropriately, but I immediately knew we wouldn't have much to talk about. As she gave the tour of the house, we had to hear who was in each picture and what they were doing, and I began to regret turning down the glass of wine she had offered. It's a lot like those folks who send Christmas newsletters telling all about kids we've never met and never will. When we finally sat down to chat, I summoned the calico cat to sit in my lap. I loved the vibration of her purring against my thighs even as my sinuses clogged up with allergies. Thank God for cats.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'm childless and strong

I'm turned 57 years old last week. Don't panic, book editors. I look 47 and have the energy of 37, as you will see. My age is not the point—or is it?

If you had dropped by my house recently, you would have seen me shovel ice from the driveway and sidewalk, move 600 pounds of wood pellets, assemble and transfer a dog crate almost as big as I am from garage to car and back again, take the pellet stove apart and clean it, shovel dirt for two hours in my back yard, walk one big dog for a mile and turn around and walk the other big dog for another mile, pretzelize my body in yoga class twice a week, plant eight cement stepping stones in my back yard, scoop about a hundred pounds of dog poop, fix my own toilet, stand at the top of a ladder moving boxes, and arrange for construction of a new fence, plus all the girl stuff one would expect, the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.

When my mom, God rest her soul, was 57 or even 37, she could not do any of these things. She had no idea how, and she barely had the physical stamina to walk to the end of the block. My father and my brother handled all the "guy jobs." With all her needlework, Mom probably had the nimblest fingers in California, but she never exercised the rest of her body, never really took good care of herself. She was too busy taking care of Dad and my brother and me. It was what women in her family did. If Dad had died first, she would have had to call my brother or a neighbor to help the "poor widow."

I refuse to play that role, even though I'm alone now. My husband, who has Alzheimer's, is in a care home, and I don't have children because he had his share before I met him. When the job is truly too big for one person, I do call for help, but I'm smart, I have muscles, and I have no sons to call on. If I don't know how to do it, I can learn.

Part of this comes from being my father's daughter. At 86, he is strong and stubborn. But part of it comes from being childless. I think we have to be more self-reliant. Perhaps I have mentioned my Aunt Edna here before. She celebrated her 100th birthday on Dec. 29. She has been widowed for about 50 years and never had children. She was well into her 90s before she needed help from anyone, and she had already made arrangements to move into a senior residence. Likewise, her sister Virginia, who is 92, lived on her own until she fell last year and broke her neck, but darned if she isn't up and ornery as ever, even though she still has some health challenges to conquer. In Grandpa Fagalde's day, he would have called Edna and Virginia "tough old birds." Well, that's what I want to be, too. I want a big crowd like the one that gathered for Aunt Edna's birthday to talk about how strong Aunt Sue was, not about how sad it was that she never had children.

Now I'm not saying that moms can't be strong. Raising children is hard work, but some mothers just don't learn to be independent or physically fit. I have a close mom friend who is my age and can barely walk. She says she's "old." I'm just saying there might be a connection.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dogs too much for me?

I know this is not about babies; it's about dogs. Again. If I had children who turned big and wild right as I was becoming a single parent, I don't know how I would handle them. They might end up in foster care. Then again, I wouldn't be in my 50s, so I might have the energy to parent them properly. Perhaps if I had had children, I wouldn't have felt so driven to raise puppies. Anyway, that ship has sailed.

With my husband in a care home and his doctor confirming yesterday that he needs to stay there, I'm on my own. I'm grieving and trying to adjust to big changes in my life. I know I'm not thinking straight, but for the first time, I'm wondering if I should find another home for Annie and Chico. The dogs were in the kennel last night and this morning, and it was so peaceful.

When I went to pick them up, I was asked not to bring Chico back. He's too aggressive toward other dogs. I don't see him that way, but he and Annie are very rough with each other, clacking their teeth, throwing each other around, banging into the door, the furniture, my knees. I need to acknowledge their half pit bull-cousin ancestry. They love me and would never hurt me on purpose, but I can't handle them both at the same time. Chico can pull me right off my feet. I wish I'd had these thoughts before I approved a $2,000 fence and the posts were cemented in. I love my dogs. They're only a year old, and they will calm down, I hope, but maybe they're too much for me.

Of course I didn't expect them to get so big, and I didn't expect to be alone at this point.

Even as I pet these big dogs and hug them to me for comfort, they exhaust me. I wonder if I should give them away. I don't want to separate them. They're siblings who have always been together. Maybe the new fence, going up tomorrow, will make life manageable. But are they worth the effort now that my life has changed so dramatically? My father says I should get rid of them. He may be right.

Then again, he doesn't like my stepchildren either.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Dogs don't care why you're crying

I'm having a depressed day. It took an hour to pry myself out of bed, seeing little reason to do so. But for the dogs, I might never get up, and now I'm spending the day with these beautiful creatures whose only concerns are eating, sleeping, playing and peeing. My husband's condition is worse every day. I try to wall off my emotions, but it doesn't always work. Earlier I was sitting at my desk, crying. Human children would want to know why I was crying and demand that I fix them breakfast, but Annie just let me hold her. She and Chico both licked my face, and now they welcome me to their pack, no questions asked, no "what's the matter", no "snap out of it", no "I need . . ." You're sad; I'm here. That's it. You rarely get that from a child. Plus you have to suck it up so you don't worry them.

Get rid of the dogs? I can't. A lot of trouble? Oh yes. Expense? Wow. But they're what I've got now, and I'm glad to be in their pack. I took them from their mother; they're my responsibility. They're not like an old computer. They're living beings, looking at me with those big brown eyes, plopping themselves into my lap, welcoming me to their yard. As long as we all eat, sleep, potty and stay together, everything's cool.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Get rid of the dogs?

I'm having an $1,800 fence built for my dogs because they keep jumping over the exiting four-foot fence. Don't anybody tell my father--who believes computers are the work of the devil. He thinks I should get rid of the pups. My life is too complicated to deal with them now, he says. But these are my babies. I adopted them when they were 8 and 9 pounds. Now, at one year plus two weeks, they're about 65 and 70 pounds, but they're still my puppies, and they're the only babies I'll ever have. I can't just give them away. They're family.

Yes, they interrupt my work, my meals, my favorite TV shows. They have ruined the carpet and they're always chewing up something, but I'm proud of how beautiful they are and how much they have learned. When they smother me with kisses or fall asleep leaning against me, my heart melts. I have made a commitment to them, to love them and care for them for life. When they go, I'll get one small old lady dog, but Chico and Annie are family. Sorry, Dad. Maybe this is some of that immaturity that comes from not being a mom, but when you say get rid of the dogs, I'm more determined than ever to keep them.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dirty Dog Day

Those who are following my saga know that my husband Fred has Alzheimer's Disease and moved to a care home almost two weeks ago. We have no children together, just our dogs Chico and Annie, who turned one year old last Monday. It's a pretty lonely house these days.

Yesterday, it got even lonelier when Chico and Annie escaped out a gate I had left unsecure. After visiting Fred, I was just turning onto our street when my cell phone rang. My neighbor Carol wanted to tell me the dogs were out. She couldn't catch them, she said, but she left the gate open in case they wanted to go back into the yard. Uh, no.

I parked, grabbed two leashes and a pocketful of dog treats from the house and started walking and calling. My old dog always used to come home on her own, but these guys are young and crazy. They haven't had a walk in weeks. I was all dressed up from my visit to Fred, wearing new shoes and no jacket. The temperature was in the 40s. I walked and walked and walked, moving so quickly I got shin splints and barely felt it. Calling, "Chico, Annie, come, I've got cookies," I felt that the whole neighborhood could hear me, but saw no dog of mine responding. I ran into the man who walks his basset hounds every evening before dinner. He hadn't seen my dogs.
I had heard other dogs barking, but now I knew they were barking at the bassets.

The visit to Fred had been very difficult. At lunch, he had cried and said he wanted to come home. If you've ever been through this, you know how much it hurts. Now I pictured life without my dogs. I know that all those dogs on the posters are rarely found. They're usually dead or lost forever. I pictured myself sitting in that house all alone and fought to keep my composure and keep calling.

It was cold and getting dark. I walked through a construction site, muddying my new shoes, aching for a glimpse of a black or tan dog. Even if I could have just one of them back . . . I couldn't care for my husband, and now I had failed at caring for my dogs.

At the end of the road, I turned back toward home, thinking I'd put on a jacket and get in the car and drive farther into the wilderness area to the east. But as I came up the driveway, weakly calling the dogs' names, I suddenly saw a yellow dog emerge from the across-the-street neighbor's yard, soon followed by a black one. They zoomed past me to the door, tongues out, panting, filthy with mud. I grabbed them, sobbing.

What does this have to do with being childless? Nothing directly, but it's my life because I don't have any other relatives close by to help me or keep me company and because these dogs are the only things I ever have or ever will raise from infancy. I'll get back to my childless research soon, but this is the life I lead right now, sitting on the deck in the dark, hugging my dirty dogs against me as they lick my face until I get up and feed them.

Monday, February 16, 2009

One-year-olds, canine vs. human

Chico and Annie are a year old today. They're dogs. This is one case where things are definitely different between pets and children. I have a photo of my niece Susan covered in white frosting, her arms and legs chubby and tanned in her striped sunsuit. The whole family gathered at her maternal grandmother's house to celebrate the occasion. Another picture shows my brother cuddling her in his lap. You can see the resemblance, the same dark eyes and black hair, the lips so like my mother's. She's learning to walk and talk, and everyone adores her.

Folks adore my puppies, too. My church choir friends even gave me a puppy shower when I adopted them last April. But asking them to attend a birthday party would probably be pushing things, especially after all the support they have given me in other aspects of my life lately. So it's just the pups and me. I can't bake them a cake. Any gift I gave them would be shredded all over the back yard before the sun sank into the sea. All I can do is hug them and say, "Wow, you're a year old. We made it." They're housetrained, and all the odd things they have eaten and excreted have not killed them yet. They're a long way from becoming calm, mature dogs, But even when they grow up, they will never be like my niece, who is a young adult now, beautiful, smart and old enough to build a life away from her parents. Chico and Annie will be my cherished friends but never my children.

Nor are they Fred's children. My dear husband, who has Alzheimer's Disease, is living in a care home now after a series of falls that led to two days in the hospital and 14 days in a nursing home where he wasn't allowed to leave his wheelchair even though he could walk. He is in a good place now, a beautiful place in the hills above Newport where he is well cared for and loved for his sweet, easygoing nature. However, the dogs are not allowed inside, so I haven't taken them there. To be honest, he is already forgetting them. He doesn't even remember that he fell the first time trying to corral them after they escaped from the back yard. Why he fell two more times two days later, we don't know. Back spasms? A small stroke? Now he has Lucy, who roams the yard at Graceland and nuzzles against his pants and shoes when he ventures out for short walks on his unsteady legs.

Fred's son Michael has been here off and on during our transition. Everyone gets to know him quickly because he is six foot four, with a unique hairstyle, and he's usually the only person under 50 not wearing a nursing smock. Michael is good with his father, helpful and caring, thinking of just the right thing to do or say. His presence is a blessing to both of us. This crisis has brought us closer than we have ever been, with very honest talks, not so much as mother and son but as two adults hurting over someone we both love.

Everyone says you can't count on your children to help you in your old age, that that's not a good reason to have kids. True. In fact, on "family day" at Newport Rehab, I was often the only visitor. Grace, an immigrant from China who runs Graceland, shakes her head at this. "In my country, we honor our elders. I don't understand."

I don't either.

Anyway, happy birthday, Chico and Annie. Michael isn't too happy with them because they just woke him up. But when he's gone back to Portland, I'll have them to snuggle with, and that's something.

My thanks to everyone who has sent good wishes and prayers during this difficult time. Our troubles are not over, of course. Fred still has Alzheimer's, and now we're living in separate homes. I'm visiting every day and overseeing prescriptions, insurance, and countless other details, but God has taken Fred out of my hands and put him into the care of many capable hands, and that's a blessing.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Emergency time out

Dear friends,
My husband fell and has been in the hospital this week. He will not be coming home for a while if ever, due to a long-term illness that has gotten much worse. I have been looking at nursing homes. So I have not been able to post anything new this week, but I will as soon as possible. The newsletter will also be delayed. Thanks for your understanding. Please feel free to post your own questions, comments and ideas while I'm doing the hospital shuffle.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Those little things I missed

Yesterday my husband fell and hurt his back. Couple that with the fact that he is in the middle stage of Alzheimer's Disease and I have to ask and answer all the questions in the emergency room. In a sense, I have to play the mother role. The nurse insisted he needed a tentanus shot and quickly mumbled something about pain and possible fever, you know, just like with your children and grandchildren. And I thought, wait, I don't know, but then we were moving on to other things, like how to tend the big scrape on Fred's knee and how to handle the pain medication. I desperately hoped someone was writing it all down somewhere. People just assume that if you're my age and married, you're a mother and grandmother. Therefore you know all about wound care and shots and such.

The other challenge, since Fred couldn't bend, was undressing and dressing him. My main experience in that area was with dolls and they didn't yelp if you moved them the wrong way. It is truly difficult to put on socks and tie shoes from the opposite direction. Ditto for buttoning shirts. I guess moms get so much practice they can do it without thinking, and I suppose in the coming months and years as Fred's illness progresses, I'll get plenty of practice, too. But kneeling on the floor in my brand new pants, trying three times to get the shoe strings tight enough showed me I have a lot to learn.

How did he fall? While I was out running errands, he was running after the dogs, who escaped while he was cleaning up the back yard. He tripped on a jagged spot on the sidewalk and went flying. I pulled into the driveway to find Annie zooming by in whoosh of blonde fur and Fred hobbling to the car in tears, saying, "I'm hurt." So add fixing that sidewalk, getting the dogs better trained to come when they're called, and putting leashes near the door to my to-do list. A fisherman down the road had tried to lasso the pups with boat rope. Fred got Chico home, but Annie slipped out of the rope. Luckily she came straight to me when I got out of the car and I hauled her into the house. And yes, I need to think about whether it's safe to leave Fred home alone for even an hour.

The good news: Fred is already feeling better, and he's a lot of fun on vicodin.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Grandmother Grief

You never know when the childless grief will hit. It's like a bullet lodged inside your heart. For a long time, you don't feel it, but then it shifts and hurts unbearably until it finds a new resting place. At least that's how it is for me.

The other night at a poetry reading, the group's founder brought her granddaughter. I had heard her say that she was "smitten" with this child, and now I could see why. About four years old, she looked like a tiny version of Grandma with the same curly hair and dimples. They spent all evening together, snuggling, looking through the camera, talking and laughing. My friend was in the throes of grandma love, something I will never experience.

Oh, I envied her for this love affair and for the easy way in which she handled the child, clearly well-practiced from her years of motherhood. Yes, the child disrupted the program; yes, her grandmother had to take her out, and yes, the venerable poet at the podium stopped reading to comment on their exit, but Grandma didn't seem to mind.

The poems I read at that night's open mike drew praise and applause, and I felt cute in my cap and vest, but that dislodged grief bullet still hurt.

I love my puppies, but it is not the same.

Someone commented here recently about the desire for children being driven by vanity. There's some of that. Babies can be something to show off and impress people with, but that's not all there is to it. The love between a child and a parent or grandparent is a special love and an extension of the family into the future. It's what every other species does naturally. Looking ahead, I see no one, just an aging poet growing old alone.

Side note: The featured poet was Carlos Reyes, and his poems are wonderful. Read more about him at www.writersontheedge.org/reyes.html and sample three of his poems at www.caffeinedestiny.com/poetry/reyes.html.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Toddlers, dogs, what's the difference?

I've been reading old journal entries about my experiences with my stepdaughter's children when they were young. On one particular occasion, I note that they ran screaming into the house and within minutes were into everything. Nothing was safe. In no time, Brandon, the youngest, had unscrewed the knob off the cover on my piano. As soon as I got that out of his sticky hands, he grabbed my stapler and refused to give it back. Meanwhile, Stephanie was rearranging all the papers on my desk.

How is that different from my 11-month-old pups, who have grown considerably larger than the puppy in my profile picture? They don't scream, but they do run full-out into the house, and within minutes they're into something: papers set aside to recycle, laundry that hasn't been folded yet, my husband's shoes, and their favorite, anything made of cloth or paper.

The other night, I came out of my office to find papers scattered all over the floor, giant claw marks in our new tablecloth, and Annie, the blonde, sitting on the big chair, with potholders and napkins spread out before her like a banquet. After screaming at the dogs, I hollered at the husband about how he should have been watching "the kids." He got mad and closed himself up in his office.

This, I imagine, happens in homes with toddlers, too.

I know dogs are not the same as children. They won't grow up, move away and hopefully take care of themselves when they reach adulthood. But at this age, they're both discovering the world and don't understand why I keep prying things out of their mouths.

Would I rather have children? Not at 56. I don't even plan to have puppies again. I just can't run fast enough. But a couple of grandchildren who actually look like me? I'd go for that in a heartbeat.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Grandma Sue?

In doing research for my book, I've been reading articles about stepgrandmothers. The articles seem to come from fairyland. I read about the wonderful things one can do with the offspring of one's stepchildren and think, yeah, right. Set up opportunities to get to know them. Take them out to the movies, have them stay overnight, telephone and write letters or e-mails, have long heart-to-heart talks, get involved in their soccer games, doll play, or whatever they're interested in.

It all sounds very nice, but it never happened for me. Not having been a mother or even been around children much, I had no idea how to go about courting my stepdaughter Gretchen's kids. Plus, we've always lived at a distance. Because Gretchen was divorced from the children's father when they were little, whenever we visited there was a good chance they were with their father. Or they might be with one of their real grandmothers. They had two grandmothers and two great-grandmothers when they were young. Grandma Sue was just the woman married to Grandpa Fred.

I was only 34 when Stephanie was born, 35 when Brandon arrived 14 months later. My training was in writing and music, not early childhood relations. I truly "didn't know nothin' 'bout babies." Maybe if I'd had those articles then, things would have been different. I could have been more like my Grandma Rachel, who was also a childless stepgrandmother. She married Grandpa Fagalde a few years after Grandma Clara died. Rachel dove into grandmotherhood full-force. She showered us with gifts, took great interest in our lives and made us feel loved to the nth degree. She was big, loud and eccentric, but we loved her. To us kids, she was our grandma.

I wish I could have been that kind of grandma. I know women who adore their stepgrandchildren. In fact, they never use that "step" word. But it's too late for me to start over. If I ran into my adult stepgrandchildren on the street, I'm not sure they'd recognize me.

How is it for you? Have you had the strange experience of becoming a grandmother without ever being a mother? Do you have a warm, fuzzy relationship with the kids or is it awkward and distant? I'd love to know.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Childless by circumstance?

In her book What No Baby?, Australian author Leslie Cannold maintains that many women are "childless by circumstance." They wanted to have children, but life worked against them. In today's world, says Cannold, young woman, and also men, are busy getting their educations and building their careers in their most fertile years. They believe that good parents spend time with their children, but if they take that time away from work, they will lose everything they have worked for and never achieve their career goals. Although women are the ones who are usually expected to stay home with the children, men worry about these things, too. In a world where people who work only 40 hours a week are considered slackers, who has time to parent? Although some men are merely selfish, many who decline to become fathers are afraid they won't be able to bear the financial burdens or that they won't be good fathers. If the wife quits to become a full-time mom, will the man be able to support the family alone in today's economy? What if he loses his job? What if they get divorced?

Cannold insists that people who are childless by circumstance, in other words who are not infertile and have not consciously chosen to be childfree, are not childless by choice. She suggests that major changes are needed in society's attitudes and in the workplace to make it possible for people to work and properly care for families, too. Otherwise, the numbers of people who never have children will continue to increase.

What do you think? Does everyone have a choice? Do you?