Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Free to Be Aunt Sue

Published in the Oregonian 12 years ago. William is an adult now. He’s going to law school. Although he loves his Aunt Sue, he is currently entranced by a girl named Andrea.

“Aunt Sue, Aunt Sue!” says the little boy in the man’s body, urgently seeking my attention. I seem to be the one person in the family who doesn’t answer his persistent attempts to join the conversation with an annoyed, “William, be quiet!” His words are the chorus of a sweet song to me.

I actually want to hear what William has to say. I enjoy listening to him fumble through questions and statements that fall easily from the lips of adults. He’s 17, heading for college next year. The world of grownups is just beginning to open up to him, and he is anxious to leap forward feet first, even though he doesn’t know where he might land. He resents not being able to taste beer, play Keno, or try a slot machine. He fantasizes about his first romance and his first apartment. He has his first car and his first job. He wants to try out all the other perks of adulthood. Now.

William, a giant at 6 foot 4, is impatient, hyperactive, always saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Teenage girls enter the room and he gawks in a way that will cause them to laugh at him rather than date him. He eats four times as much as anyone else and still claims to be hungry. He mopes when he doesn’t get his way.

No matter. I love being Aunt Sue. I’m the one person who will let him play the same passage of “Fur Elise” on the piano 50 times and let 20 times go by before I make him correct the wrong note he keeps hitting.

William is full of questions, goofy ones and smart ones. “How come you look so much like my father?” I explain genetics. “How come it’s okay for Uncle Fred to be 15 years older than you but I can’t date a 25-year-old?” I tell him that the differences level out in middle age. “Why haven’t your novels been published? You’re a good writer.” I can’t answer that one.

In the pocket of my red jacket is a red plastic parachute man, a treasure. My nephew won it at the casino in Lincoln City. While his parents gambled, I accompanied him to the arcade. I dropped quarters in all sorts of machines, so baffled by the games that I often ran out of time before I figured out how to play. William confidently cashed a $5 bill and went from game to game, fighting monsters, driving a race car and a space ship, catching a bass. When it was time to go, he had a fistful of blue tickets to trade for little-kid prizes. He picked three parachute men, said the red one was his favorite and then gave it to me. Outside, we tossed our parachute men into the wind, running after them as they crashed into the dirt, then letting them fly again. For a few minutes, I was not 47; I was 17, playing with a friend.

It’s a special thing, this aunt-nephew bond. William is a kid with an insatiable need for love. Because I have no children of my own, I have plenty to give to him.

Perhaps someday he will find a wife who will love his dimpled face and smile at his idiosyncrasies, but just as his parents have standards they demand of their son, she will have unspoken rules for what a husband should be. Not me. All I need from William is to be himself and call me “Aunt Sue” once in a while. That’s enough.

Do you have a special relationship with a niece or nephew? Feel free to share.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pregnant Dreams

Before menopause hit, I often dreamed about being pregnant. Here is a typical dream:

I dreamed I was six months pregnant last night. Another woman in our group was farther along and her big belly poked out under her green maternity blouse like a beach ball while mine was not as obvious. I held my big white shirt tight against me to emphasize my condition because I wanted everybody to know I was not fat; I was pregnant.

Pregnancy puts a woman into a special state of grace. It brings her acclaim and privileges. She’s “queen for a day” for nine months, the immature young woman turned Madonna. It’s the ultimate achievement. She has not only caught a fellow, but she’s having his baby.

Old people, priests and mothers see the swelling up front and nod; this woman is fulfilling her proper role, she is healthy and fertile, she is partnered with God in the miracle of giving birth. People bring her gifts, pink, blue, yellow, and green blankets and booties and bottles and all manner of baby carriers. They throw her baby showers, at which she sits in all her swollen glory receiving more presents, hearing baby stories, playing games, and eating chocolate cake.

The pregnant woman is eating for two. Barring doctor’s restrictions, she can eat whenever she is hungry and indulge in whatever sweet, fattening, sinful food she craves, be it pickles and ice cream or maple donuts with custard filling. She can get fat; she is supposed to get fat. When she gets so fat her rings don’t fit and her belly button pops out like the indicator on a Thanksgiving turkey, people just smile. After all, she is pregnant.

Pregnant. Blessed. Privileged. I want to be that. In my dream, I wanted to shine a spotlight on my belly so the whole world knew. Look at me! I’m pregnant!

In reality, I know it’s not all smiles and blessings. Some pregnancies are horrible from beginning to end, but this is the fantasy of a woman who dreams about being pregnant.

My period is coming. I’m swollen with water weight, achy and expectant, constantly checking for the first blood and the first cramps. That’s when the dream usually comes, when my subconscious plays what if. What if this were a baby instead of PMS, what if I had nine months of sanctified pregnancy instead of nine more periods? What if this buildup of blood and tissue in my uterus, this baby nest, wasn’t wasted this time?

I wake up rubbing my belly and feel it shrinking under my hand. No, I am not pregnant. Never will be.

Have you had dreams like this? I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blame the childless adults?

A couple recent articles have got my teeth gritting and may do the same for you.

First, apparently, the problems with the economy are partically our fault because we don't have children. Say what? A recent article in the Washington Times titled "Modern Economies 'Rise and Fall' with Nuclear Families" talks about a study by the Social Trends Institute that implies we need more people to marry and have children to keep the economy going. Essentially what this study says is that married men work harder and earn more money and couples with children consume far more goods and services. The fact that so many people are not getting married or having children is hurting the economy. Therefore, governments should encourage marriage and procreation.

Unfortunately, the story has been removed from the Washington Times website. I wonder why. I also wonder whether the numbers are really that different or whether parents and non-parents just spend their money on different things. What do you think?

Another article, published at VDARE.com,is headlined "Childless Adults, Unsurprisingly, Don't Understand Children." The author calls her/himself Anonymous Attorney. She (I'm guessing) raves about how children are being diagnosed with ADHD or bipolar disorder and put on medication unnecessarily by psychologists, social workers and other professionals who don't have children and therefore can't understand them. If they did have children, they would know these kids are behaving normally. She concludes, "We don't actually have an epidemic of mentally ill children. We have an epidemic of childless professionals."

If that doesn't make you grit your teeth, I don't know what will. True, we don't have children of our own, but we don't live in isolation. We once were children, we have been around children, and the folks who work with kids have lots of training.

What do you think?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

If you don't have children, who is your family?

These days, I wince when people talk about family activities. They always seem to have all these people around, a spouse and children and maybe grandchildren, to do things with. Since my husband passed away, I just have a dog.

If you're teetering at the point of deciding whether or not you can be happy without children, think of this as a cautionary tale. I have been married twice to men who didn't want to have children with me. Husband number one just didn't want them. Fred, number two, already had three kids and didn't want any more. He backed that up with a vasectomy long before we met.

In that second marriage, I gained three stepchildren, so in some respects I was not completely childless, but trust me, for most of us, having stepchildren is nowhere near the same as having your own. There are those lovely families that blend so well the "step" disappears, but they are rare. Like most stepchildren, mine have their own real mother, and now that I'm not linked with their dad, we have no connection at all. No, that's not true. We're Facebook friends. But so are lots of other people.

Meanwhile, my real-life friends are busy with their kids and grandkids. Some even have great-grandchildren. Yes, I have some terrific friends, and I have a shrinking family of older relatives and cousins. I won't be alone on the holidays and I can get a lunch date if I want it, but on a day-to-day basis, it's not the same. Mostly, I have my work and my dog.

I wince when people talk about families.

If you're 30-something and have a choice, think hard before you volunteer to give up having children. If you really want children, fight for it.

Sorry for bumming you out, but that's how I'm feeling today.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Are educated women more likely to be childless?

“A College Degree as Contraceptive,” published on the Discover Magazine site, includes some interesting statistics. A study by the Pew Research Center found that about one quarter of all women with bachelor’s degrees and higher in the United States never have children.

The rate of childlessness among professional women is also higher than average. A Center for Work-Life Policy study showed that 43 percent of the women in their sample of corporate professionals between the ages of 33 and 46 were childless. Among the Asian American professional women in the study, the rate of childlessness was 53 percent.

Many studies have shown similar numbers. It appears that the more education a woman has, the less likely she is to have children. Also the more money she has. The same article reports that poor women in the U.S. are five times more likely than higher-income women to have an unplanned pregnancy, and six times more likely to have an unplanned birth.

Interesting, yes? There is speculation that poor, uneducated women have less access to information, contraception, and health care. Maybe they simply don’t see as many choices for their lives. When I was finishing high school, it looked like my family would not be able to afford to send me to college. The theory was that I would just get married and have children anyway, so I didn’t really need a college education.

As it turned out, I did make it to community college and then to a university, and I did not have children. I wound up divorced and grateful I had a career to support me. When I remarried, I continued to work, and I still did not have children. My dad is probably still trying to figure out how he wound up having granddogs instead of grandchildren.

My best friend and I were the only young women on our block who did not get pregnant out of wedlock before the age of 21. We were also the only ones who went beyond high school degrees. Is there a connection?

Perhaps those of us who go to college delay childbearing during the years when women who aren’t in school are starting their families. Or maybe there’s some truth to the cliche that “career women” are too devoted to their jobs to deal with babies. Of course this doesn’t even address the issue of husbands who can’t or won’t father their children.

Why do you think more educated, professional women are childless? I’d love to hear your comments.
Just for fun:
Remember the Savvy Auntie? We have talked here before about the “Savvy Auntie” book and website. Author Melanie Notkin has a fantastic article on the subject in today’s Huffington Post. If you’re feeling blue about not having children, read this and give yourself a boost.