Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Childless Dog and I

You can tell I'm tired and overwhelmed when the blog is this late and I take to writing about my dog, but I'm still here. Keep those questions and comments coming.

I live with a dog named Annie. She's almost 4 1/2, half Lab and half Staffordshire bull terrier. We started with two dogs, Annie and her brother Chico, but Chico got a little crazy and had to go live somewhere else. Losing my little boy broke my heart. But that's not the main topic today. The subject is how my dog and I are both childless.

As soon as Annie was old enough, we had her spayed, vet talk for a hysterectomy. We didn't ask her if she wanted to have puppies. Nor did we ask the two female dogs that preceded her in our lives. We just did it. We didn't want to acquire a houseful of puppies, and I never wanted to face the heartbreak of giving them away and separating them from their mother. I know that's the way it goes, and the dogs are probably fine. Annie's mom seemed relieved when the puppies were gone. When Annie met up with her mother more than a year after we adopted her, they fought, and we had to pull them apart.

We hear a lot about the need to spay and neuter our pets to keep from having too many unwanted animals, and most of us do it because we really only want the one dog or cat and we don't want the hassle of dealing with baby animals. We only allow our pets to mate when we want them to have babies. Otherwise, we strive to keep males and females apart.

Some advocates of the childfree lifestyle argue that we ought to do the same for people because there are too many of us. They fight for the right to have their tubes tied, often encountering doctors who refuse to do the surgery because they might change their minds.

Me, I never got spayed. I still have all my parts, but I never used them to make babies. Now Annie and I hang out together, two childless females mothering each other into old age.


Ellen Walker, author of Complete Without Kids, interviewed me about my book recently for her Psychologytoday.com blog, and it was published Sunday. Give it a look at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blogs/complete-without-kids/2012-7/are-you-childless-marriage. You might want to subscribe to her blog. It's full of good things, and we're all sisters in this childless game. Annie, too.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

We are entitled to grieve for the children we never had

In nearly 300 posts at this blog, the one that has engendered the most comments is is a two-paragraph entry I posted in 2007. Titled "Are You Grieving Over Your Lack of Children?" it quotes a newspaper article about a woman dealing with childless grief, then asks the readers, "Have you come to terms with not having children?" We're up to 98 comments so far, with new ones coming almost every day.

Clearly grief is a big issue for us. People who are not in our situation don't seem to get it. They'll tell us "oh well, you can adopt" or "the world has two many people in it anyway" or "get over it" or even "sometimes I wish I didn't have any kids."

It's not that easy, is it? When we want children and we don't get to have them, we have lost something huge. In some ways, it's like a death. We have lost the children we would have had, along with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. If we hang up stockings at Christmas, there will be only two--or one if we're single. When we see someone cuddling their new baby, we feel pain. At all the times when our parenting friends celebrate the milestones in their children's lives, we feel left out.

Yes, there are advantages as well as losses to life without children. We are free to do things we couldn't do if we were raising children. We miss a lot of heartache and frustration along with the good times. And yes, we can be beloved aunts or uncles, teachers or friends to other people's kids.

However, we have a right to grieve. And the grief will come back again and again, like any big loss. Does it get easier with time? Yes. Being past menopause has helped a lot. But the grief never completely goes away. Just last night, I found myself crying over a TV show where a baby was born. Again!

All I'm saying is we're entitled to feel the loss of the children we might have had.

I welcome your comments. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Childless by Marriage the paperback is here

Dear friends,
Copies of the paperback edition of the Childless by Marriage book are in the house. All over the house actually. After more than a decade, the book is complete and, for better or worse, it's in print. If you want to help me pay for them and clear up the house by buying many many copies, I'd love it. If you decide not to, keep coming back to the blog anyway.

It's a beautiful book, which I can't believe I'm holding in my hand. In a way, it's my sixth child, following The Iberian Americans, Stories Grandma Never Told, Azorean Dreams, Freelancing for Newspapers, and Shoes Full of Sand. (Info at http://www.suelick.com/Products.html). As the baby, it will require extra care until it can stand up on its own.

I have begun to realize that this book, which is very personal, may also be controversial. There isn't one chapter that people couldn't find something to argue about. If you don't have children in this world full of parents, you know that some people just don't understand. They may get angry when I talk about the "mom club." My chapters on step-parenting might set them off. The "childfree" crowd may object to my pro-child stance, might rage about my Catholic orientation, might take offense at what I say about the angry minority who call women who want children "breeders." I'll get guff from people who refuse to admit there are any psychological or physical differences between mothers and women who have never had children. I'll hear from people who believe old age is no different without children than it is with them. I've been in the writing business long enough to know that I'll hear objections about things I never suspected would irritate people. The reviews will probably be either five stars or no stars, love or hate with nothing in-between. Writing is easy; this is the scary part.

I'm really worried about what my father and my church friends will say, but our stories need to be told, and I could not go to my grave without publishing this book. I hope you all will continue to support me in this Child by Marriage life we share. Thank you, all you anonymous and named readers, for all of your love and support. It means a lot to me.

See you Thursday.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A few lines send me over the edge

I'm deep into the novel I'm reading, an engrossing tale of life on the Oregon trail, when a paragraph hits me so hard I'm jolted back into real life as if I just fell off a cliff onto the rocks below. I lie there bruised, looking up at the sun and wondering how this happened to me.

The book is A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher. We're in the mind of James McLaren, a trader and guide who finds himself alone in the mountains where his children died and his wife has gone missing. He is thinking of the old Indian woman friend who is dying nearby. She used to tell him, "A home has stories. Each hill, each river's bend, takes its name from something long ago."

Well, he thinks. His home would span a continent, by that measure. But someone had to care. Someone had to know it. It took someone else to name your life and keep it. Stories that your children told their children after.

That's when I suddenly thought: Who cares enough to name my life and keep my story? I have no children. My husband is gone. My mother is gone. My father is still alive but very old. My brother is far away, but I don't think he really understands who I am. Does anyone? I have friends, but how will they remember me when I'm gone?

At least as a writer, I can write my stories and save them in books. I know that's a blessing. But who else will name my life after I die?

It was a perfect afternoon. After a good morning's writing and a long hike with my dog Annie through a gorgeous trail laden with ferns, skunk cabbage and red alders, after seeing a bald eagle fly overhead, and now being free to laze in this blessed sun that we haven't seen here all week, it only took a few lines in a book to send me over the edge.

That's how it is. It's always there, isn't it? I have managed to smile at the photos my stepdaughter posts of her granddaughter--she's adorable, but I'll probably never meet her--and I have managed to read 300 pages of a book where the main characters' children are a constant factor, but these lines did me in. Luckily, I can tell you about it and move on. After all, this is a good book, and I'm anxious to find out what happens.

Can you remember times when some little thing made you more aware than ever of the children you never had?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

"If I don't get babies . . . "

I always had this dream of being a mother who was also a professional writer. When I married Fred, it seemed as if at least half this dream might come true. When he proposed, my first reaction, after saying yes and crying happy tears was to announce that finally I could freelance. Hold on a minute, Fred said. He was counting on me adding to the family income. I tried hard, but the newspaper business was tough even back then. With a book contract and regular outlets for me work, I moved into full-time freelancing in 1987, two years after we were married. 

Then, four years into our marriage, Fred's youngest son, Michael, moved in with us. What follows is a brief passage from my Childless by Marriage book. 

We rented a house up against the south San Jose foothills. Moving into a suburban neighborhood full of young families, we paid our $1,200 a month and tried to save a little here and there. I was fully committed to freelancing, not even considering looking for a job, and now I had a live-in son. It seemed that I had finally realized my dream of being a stay-at-home mother-writer.

In January 1989, my book money ran out, and my two main article clients both went bust. Our expenses had gone up. Fred was the kind of guy who liked to stay out of debt and have a comfortable cash cushion in savings. A barely employed freelance writer wife did not add much to the bank account.

By March, Fred had begun suggesting that I get a job. I wanted to stay home and write books. Over the years, we have rarely fought, but I held my ground this time. I had been working as hard as I could to earn money with my writing, plus I was helping to raise his son without being able to have my own children. After many more years of the ups and downs of the writing business, including a couple more full-time jobs, the memory is blurry now. But back then I was very clear about it in my journal. “If I don’t get babies, I’m damn well going to get books.”
So I continued to freelance, and I did not have a baby with Fred. 

So there. The e-book is already available at Amazon.com, and the paperback is being bound right now. I should have copies to mail next week. Remember, if you order directly from me at sufalick@gmail.com before Aug. 1, you can have the book for $15, with no shipping charges. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Look how much money you're saving

I just got home from my trip to eastern Oregon, so I'm going to cheat a little and let other people entertain you today.

First, I received an email telling me about this graphic full of statistics about having children and how much it costs. You may read it and decide you don't care about any of that, you just want to have a baby. But maybe you'll decide to take all that money you've saved and do something special with it. (There's a great house for sale down the street from me, if you need a suggestion. Two blocks from the beach) You can see the graphic at http://www.earlychildhoodeducation.com/cost-of-a-child.

An article in the Bangor Daily News called "Childless and loving it: Not being a parent has advantages for families and kids" talks about how many adults without children are forming meaningful connections with young people. The author, Amy Blackstone, maintains that in this busy world, we need folks who are free to interact with other people's kids.

Finally, my dear friend Andi Cumbo, whom I never thought of as being childless, has written a great blog post about her own childless journey and how frustrated she gets when her church seems to consider motherhood the only path for women. You can read it at http://www.andilit.com/2012/07/14/childless-does-not-mean-incomplete.

Enjoy. See you Thursday.

P.S. I should have copies of my new book to mail next week. Wahoo!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Playing with the kids at camp

It's my last full day at Fishtrap, which one participant dubbed "camp with pencils." We're near Joseph in far northeastern Oregon, a land of high mountains and real cowboys. We live in tents and yurts, attend workshops, eat cafeteria-style meals, listen to readings every night, and finish off our days with music around the campfire or drinks at Russell's in Wallowa Lake. At any time of day or night, you can see people huddled over their notebooks or laptop computers writing. It's as if we have finally found people just like us. These people come in all ages and stages of life.

Fishtrap has a substantial youth program, so there's a large cadre of teens here. Some have come with their parents or grandparents, each participating in their own programs. Others are here on scholarship with adult chaperones. We also have college-age interns. I'm loving hangin out with the young ones. Last night a high school girl borrowed my guitar and played a great song. You could tell she's just learning to play, but I felt such a comraderie, as well as a little motherliness. I'm thrilled at the talent just blooming in these kids.

In my songwriting workshop, we have two college girls, a few baby boomers like me, and Alfred, who is 86 and amazing. We have different levels of life experience and musical training, but we're all trying to write good songs.

One of our assignments was to interview each other. I traded interviews with Ryann, a senior at Whitman College. She's beautiful, intelligent, talented and so young. I'm sure I'm way older than her mother, but it's never as if she's a kid and I'm an old lady. I'm proud of her and glad to claim her as my friend, and she's excited when my songs come out well.

There is a beauty in being able to connect with young people who are not our children. I have noticed that the folks who brought their own kids frequently had their writing and socializing interrupted by the needs of their offspring. I didn't have to worry about that, nor did I have to keep checking in at home.

Childlessness can be tough, but there are ways to bring young people into our lives as their friends, their mentors, their teachers, or their aunts. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lost at Multnomah Falls

So, it turns out I can get online at the coffee shops near where I'm staying at Wallowa Lake in eastern Oregon. I'm currently in the town of Joseph at the foot of the amazing Wallowa Mountains. The town is full of galleries, gift shops and places to eat. Joseph has developed a reputation for its bronze works, and there are bronze statues on every corner. The iced tea I'm drinking is an amazing blend of spices and teas called "Harmony," which is supposed to balance my chi and make me . . . harmonious. Very Oregonian. Art, soft music, wi-fi and air conditioning, it's all good.

The only wrinkle is the heat outside, but I can't complain too much. I'm grateful to have made it here in one piece. Maybe I'll tell about that sometime.

So what does this have to do with being childless? Well, on the way here, I stopped at Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. I had never seen them before. I waited a half hour in an endless line of cars before being able to park and join the throngs heading through a tunnel under Highway 84 to see the falls. At the base of the falls is a river and it was full of children swimming, accompanied by mothers, fathers, and grandparents. I wanted to be in that cool water splashing around, but I realized it would look weird for someone my age to go into the water without a child to watch over.

Everyone there, all those mobs eating gift shop ice cream and taking pictures, came with other people, and most of them had children. I had such a strong feeling of not knowing where I fit in the world. Not a mother, grandmother or wife, a mature woman traveling solo, I felt so left out. I decided I'm the observer.

As for the falls, they are spectacular, riveling any of Yosemite's falls. I'm glad I went, but out in the world, I am conscious of flying solo, of having no one to turn to and say, "Wow, isn't that beautiful."

Did you ever feel that way?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Traveling without children

Dear friends,
I ought to write something brilliant here, but I'm too busy packing for a writing workshop in Oregon's Wallawa mountains. Taking off alone is something the single, childless woman is free to do while her motherly counterparts have to either stay home or take the kids with them. So when you're feeling down about not having kids, consider the flip side, that you're free to do things, like travel. Of course, I'm not completely unfettered. In addition to untangling from work for a while, I had to find care for Annie, my dear dog. I can't stand the guilt of putting her in the kennel aka doggie jail again, so we'll have a dogsitter here to tend the house and keep Miss A. company. It's more expensive, but hey, it's Annie.

I might not be able to get on the Internet much while I'm gone, so please be patient if I don't approve your comments or respond to them right away. Maybe you can reread some past posts. As time passes, our perspective changes.

I have the proof for my Childless by Marriage book in my bag, and the printer will be printing it while I'm gone. You can pre-order it now at the childless website or at Amazon.com.

See you soon.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Who can you count on to take care of you?

Tomorrow would have been my mother’s 85th birthday. Unfortunately, she never got to be that old. She died of cancer six days after her 75th birthday. She was 15 years older than I am now.

The year Mom died was a hellacious one. In a year, we lost 13 people we loved, including my mother, my mother-in-law, and my ex-husband’s mother. Everyone I had ever called “Mom” was gone.

People who don’t worry about old age without children—because they have children--are always telling me that even if you have kids you can’t count on them to be there when you’re old and sick. I know that’s true in some cases, perhaps many, but that’s not how it works in my family.

When Fred’s father’s health started to fail, he and his mother moved from Las Vegas to Newport, Oregon to be close to us. She didn’t ask, “Would you like to take care of us?” She just decided they were moving to our town. Fred’s dad, who appeared to be in the early stages of dementia and had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, died suddenly of a massive stroke two months after they arrived. We drove Fred’s mother to the hospital in Portland, stayed with her through it all and took care of her for the next four years until she died of lung cancer.

A few months later, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. In those months when she went through chemo and repeated hospitalizations, I spent so much time in San Jose I never unpacked my bags. When she died, Fred and I were there with my dad and my aunt. You don’t say, “Well, I’m busy.” I was working and halfway through my master’s degree, but when your mother is sick, you drop everything and take care of her. If my dad, who is 90 but looks 70, needs me, I’m going.

When I hear people say you can’t count on your kids, I say, “Nonsense. You should be able to, and if you can’t, something’s wrong.”

Yesterday turned out to be an odd Fourth of July. My friends Carol and Jerry were coming up from California and stopping to see me on their way to Portland. We agreed to meet at the farmer’s market in Waldport. When I got there, I saw an ambulance in the parking lot and wondered who might be in it. I had no idea until I got a message from Jerry on my cell phone that Carol was inside. She had complained of feeling strange and nearly collapsed when she got out of the car. So they called 911.

Well, I had plans for the rest of the day, meeting other friends to see a local parade and have lunch after, but as I waited for the paramedics to check Carol out, I realized I had only one choice now. I would accompany my friends to the hospital and stay with them as long as necessary. After all, this was my town, they had never been here before, and they were my friends.

Carol was suffering from low blood sugar. After treatment with glucose and food, she was soon her chatty old self and able to laugh about reuniting under these crazy circumstances on Fourth of July. I missed the parade, but we had a good visit anyway, and I thank God my friend is all right.

Like me, Carol and Jerry are childless. Both wanted to have children, both were married before in situations where it didn’t happen, and now that it’s too late, they share life with three dogs, six cats, and Carol’s mother, who recently moved in with them.

As we talked about my Childlessby Marriage book, Carol admitted that she sees what she’s doing for her mother and wonders who will do that for her if her husband isn’t around anymore. Don’t we all?

I pray that when the need arises for her and for me, someone will be there. I believe a friend, a sibling, a cousin, someone will step up, but don’t tell me it doesn’t make any difference whether or not you have children.

What do you think about this?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Can we redefine marriage to become parents?

First, a book review: Marriage Confidential: Love in the Post-Romantic Age by Pamela Haag, Harper Perennial, 2011. In this study of 21st century marriage, Haag suggests that the old vision of two people falling in love, getting married and staying married for life, forsaking all others, is no longer the norm in the 21st century. Rather than being a lifelong love story, many marriages today are “semi-happy,” more of a childraising, home-maintaining partnership. This dense, heavily researched and fascinating book explores how marriage has changed with women joining the workforce and couples having fewer children. Haag looks at how today’s “helicopter” parenting styles can lead to divorce by moving the focus from the spouse to the children, and how monogamy may no longer be practical. “Monogramy is like marriage’s appendix,” she writes. It’s still there, a vestige of earlier imperative functions such as assuring paternity, but does it still serve these purposes?” Haag takes us into the worlds of Internet-based affairs and swinging couples and explores the idea of “ethical nonmonogamy,” where married couples agree that it’s okay to have sex with other people.

The whole thing makes me feel very old-fashioned because I still believe in romance and lifelong commitment. Am I fooling myself? Haag suggests creating new definitions of marriage and finding new ways to fill in what might be missing in our relationships. Not getting enough/any sex? Take a lover. Feeling lonely. Make a connection online. Still love each other but can't live together? Take adjoining rooms or neighboring houses. Haag doesn't necessarily endorse these things but notes that marriage is changing.

We were talking last week about how sometimes having children takes the romance out of a marriage. If we don't have children, the strong connection to our spouses should last longer, right? Or do the feelings still fade with our other responsibilities, such as work, taking care of the home, and caring for aging parents?

Now here's a crazy thought: If your spouse can't or won't have children with you, would it be okay to find somebody else to make babies with? Think of it as an extension of taking a lover. We're taking a baby-making partner while staying married to our non-parenting spouse. What do you think? Is this totally nuts?

P.S. Legally I have to tell you that the publisher gave me a free copy of Marriage Confidential to review. Make of that what you will.