Sunday, March 31, 2013

May the happy moments outweigh the sad

 In my last post, I talked about not letting Easter get to you with its emphasis on children. Well, Easter got to me, but not in the way I expected. There were children around, and they were as adorable as expected. Children with their choir-singing parents, children getting baptized, tots trying to sing in the back of the church, pictures all over Facebook of families with kids. That was fine. But there came a moment last night in the third of the four long services that I sang and played for when we were once again remembering our loved ones who had died. I fixed on my mother and felt a connection. I felt as I often do that I am a direct continuation of her too-short life. Not only do I look like her and carry on many of her beliefs and ways, but I’m taking her life force beyond what she was able to do, in my work as a writer and musician, in my life with my dog here in the woods, and in the adventures I go on.

That’s when the sledgehammer hit me. I have broken the chain. I am not carrying that piece of my mother and her mother and her mother into the next generation. It dies with me. And that sucks. I want to wail. I want a do-over. Give me another chance; I’ll have children. I’ll do whatever it takes. But it’s too late. I can tell myself all kinds of positive things about how God has given me other work to do in this life. I can love everybody else’s kids. But it’s not the same, and that pain will always be there waiting to catch me at a vulnerable moment.

I can still enjoy days like today, Easter, when after church I went out for a very adult brunch with friends (who have lots of kids and grandkids but none of them here). Afterward, I came home, telephoned my family in California, changed into my sweats and set to work cleaning up my back yard. Nobody to worry about. Totally free. Tonight I’ll watch a movie, share a bowl of popcorn with the dog, and maybe soak in the spa under the stars. My life is good. In the middle of Mass today, I felt so blessed I could barely stand it. I was surrounded by friends, playing the music that I love, and yes, Jesus has risen from the dead. The sun was shining in, we were all dressed up in our Easter finery, and I wanted to hug everyone.

Most of the time I can accept that I will never have children, but there will always be those moments when it just plain hurts. Know what I mean?

May we all have more happy moments than sad. Thank you for being here. Keep coming back.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter doesn’t have to be all about kids

It’s almost Easter. You know what that means. People with children are going a little crazy filling baskets with candy and toys, buying cute little Easter outfits, dyeing hard-boiled eggs, and organizing Easter egg hunts. They might be attending events in which somebody shows up dressed in a bunny costume. If the kids are in school this week, they’ll be making things like Easter cards and papier-mâché eggs. If they’re out of school on spring break, they’ll be throwing their parents’ schedules into a tizzy, making it difficult to work or do their usual activities.

All of this is a big deal to those who have children, and a lot of it is fun. When I was kid, I would wake up on Easter morning to find big baskets of goodies on my dresser. I believed the Easter bunny had brought them, although of course they really came from my mother and grandmother. We got dressed up and went to church, but for us kids, Easter was about candy and presents. I guess it still is.

That might make people without children feel a little left out, but hey, Easter is not really about bunnies and baskets of goodies. It’s about the resurrection of Christ from the dead. And you know what? Jesus didn’t have any kids. It’s fascinating to think what might have happened if he did, but he didn’t. He devoted his life on earth to his ministry.

Not everyone reading this is Christian. Maybe you’re just celebrating the arrival of spring. We can all believe whatever we choose to believe. I not only believe the Jesus story, I work as a music minister for a Catholic church and will be immersed in church music for the next five days. In our nightly services, we will take the story from the Last Supper to the crucifixion and on to the resurrection. My only connection with children will be watching a couple of the kids I’ve been singing for all year be baptized into the Catholic church. I may pick up a chocolate bunny along the way, but it’s all about religion for me and not about kids. It’s about my faith and my ministry.

Easter isn’t half as bad as Mother’s Day, but it has its pitfalls for those who don’t have children and wish they did. You may be attending a family dinner in which everything seems to revolve around other people’s kids. You may meet up with people who keep insisting you need to get pregnant ASAP. You may just feel left out of the conversations. I hope you don’t. I think we all have our roles to play, and there’s no reason you can’t dive into the festivities along with everyone else. Just enjoy the fact that you won’t be bringing home a child who is wired on sugar and whining about not getting as many presents as his cousin. You can relax into your childless life and maybe enjoy a chocolate egg and a glass of cabernet in peace. 

I wish you all a peaceful and blessed Easter. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Faking It in Momland at the mall

When we went shopping yesterday, I'm sure my friend had no idea she was taking me places I had never been before. I'm used to her chatting with everyone she meets and showing them all pictures of her grandchildren. I'm happy for her. At the clothing store where she talked me into a new Easter outfit, I smiled and nodded as she talked about childbirth with the store manager whose second child is due next month. It was hard not to stare at the woman's "baby bump" in her snug knit ensemble and to wonder who would take care of the store when she left on maternity leave. But hey, whatever.

Then my friend took me someplace that hadn't been on our agenda. Suddenly she had to buy her grandsons Easter outfits. We entered something called The Children's Place. Oh my gosh. Miniature clothing everywhere. Tiny shirts, tiny argyle vests, tiny bow ties, onesies, twosies, threesies, I don't know. If I had a child to shop for, this would be Disneyland. The sales prices were amazing. The merchandise was in disarray, as if a herd of rabid monkeys had come through, but my friend quickly hit it off with the clerk. Out came the baby pictures again as they compared babies and sizes and family situations while I wandered around feeling like a visitor from another planet. I have never seen so many children's things in one place. For me, it was like a whole store full of doll clothes and I wasn't allowed to play. Not only will I never have children or grandchildren, but nobody in my life is having babies these days. They're either too old or they have put off marriage so long they may never get around to it. My friends' grandchildren all live far away, so I'm not like to ever seem them except in photos on the smart phone or iPad.

I didn't say much at that store. I let them talk while I looked at things and made color suggestions. As they continued to talk while my friend signed up for their rewards club, saying she would definitely be back, I rested on a chair near the cash register. I couldn't say anything about my own children or grandchildren, and there seemed no point in telling them I didn't have any kids. I just waited until they were through and we could go on to the Nike store.

I love my friend, and I'm grateful she includes me in her life, but when I mentioned that I had never been in a store like that before, it just didn't register. Her mind was busy thinking about her babies. So I pretended I belonged, just like the other women.

Have you had an experience like this?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mothering my husband instead of my kids

           Perhaps I was spared caretaking in my earlier years because I was destined to do it in the later years. I'm like the last runner in the relay race, the one who takes the baton home.
           All my adult life, other women gathered to talk about their children. Having no offspring, I could only offer a few memories from my own youth or a borrowed observation about my stepchildren and slink off to hang out with the men. But when I was 52, I discovered a whole new cluster of women with whom I shared a genuine sisterhood. We could talk for hours about our joys and frustrations, offering helpful hints, trading visits over coffee.
            I had never realized this group existed, and I would never have willingly joined. I'm talking about the sisterhood of Alzheimer’s wives, women who find themselves mothering the men they had hoped would take of them. Whatever their relationship before, now they must watch their husbands as constantly as they would a child. Turn away for a moment, and he might hurt himself or wander off.
            At first, it was a matter of filling in missing words and prompting him to get dressed, take his pills, and go to his appointments. His wife served as navigator on the road and interpreter at the movies.Later she would scold him when he turned on the stove. “No! Hot!” she said. And still later, she would feed him, diaper him, and clean him like a baby. Where once there were two potential parents in the house, now there was only one.
           I had been exchanging notes on the Alzheimer's online message board, becoming friends with women nicknamed Emmie, Twiggy, Fortune Cookie and Sooze. We had talked about doctors, diapers, depression and more. But sending e-mail messages is different from meeting face to face, as I discovered one Sunday shortly after Fred’s diagnosis.
            We three authors were sitting in the library at the historical museum selling our books when Suzy, the take-charge 50-something beside me, asked Carol, fuzzy-haired with a wide mouth and deep dimples, if her husband's "cognitive" powers were still working.
             Cognitive. Oh, I knew that word. They use it a lot in Alzheimer's Disease books. A few more lines and I knew they were talking about AD. When they paused, I said, "My husband has Alzheimer's, too." It was strange to hear myself say it out loud. Mostly we weren't telling people yet.
            Well. I was in. Not only did Carol's husband have it, just a little farther along than Fred, but Suzy's mom had it, too. We talked about lawyers and homecare and tips for getting our loved ones up and dressed and out the door. Suzy tsk-tsked over how young my husband was. He seemed handsome and loving and helpful that day--until he came in to report that he had locked his keys in the truck. 
            One in 10 people over the age of 65 had Alzheimer's Disease. The numbers were growing as the baby boomers approached senior citizen age. In every gathering, someone's mother, father, brother or husband had AD. At last I belonged.
            It didn't matter how old I was or whether I had ever given birth. I was welcomed into the caregivers' club. We all loved someone who was not what he or she used to be, and we were not giving up on them, despite their imperfections, their sometimes bratty behavior and their constant demands. Just like mothers with their children, we loved them, no matter what. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Review: Baby or Not?

I just finished reading this short e-book which I think you would be interested in.

Baby or Not: Making the Biggest Decision of Your Life by Beth Follini, 2013. This 76-page Kindle e-book by the woman who writes the Baby or Not blog needs a little editing, but the content is helpful for anyone trying to decide whether or not to have a baby. Its chapters include: the effects of having children on career and finances, situations where one’s partner doesn’t want children, co-parenting and foster parenting, the decision to be childfree, and having a child as a single parent. Follini, who lives in the UK, is a life coach who specializes in helping people make the baby-or-not decision. This book offers solid information on the options and a step-by-step process for figuring out what you want to do.
Follini includes a whole chapter on what to do if you want a child but your partner doesn’t. Often it isn’t that the partner has made a clear decision against children but that he keeps putting it off or won’t talk about it. It may also be that the relationship has other problems. Or perhaps the one who wants children has not been clear about what she wants and needs. Follini asks questions to help people sort this out. Is he firm in his decision not to have children? Will you stay with him anyway or will you leave in the hope of finding someone else who is willing to be a parent? The answers may be difficult to face, but in the end, it might be better to know than not so you can make a decision and move on. 

I have long maintained that couples need to talk about this issue in depth, not in quick asides and assumptions. I didn't do that. Too insecure to stand up for myself, I let the men in my life make the decision by default. Don't do what I did. Figure it out before you run out of eggs. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Childless by vocation: a valid choice?

As I watched the naming of our new pope on the TV in the church office with our pastor and other members of our liturgy committee this morning, I got to thinking about people whose vocations require them to give up marriage and children. Whatever our new pope, Francis I, may be, he is not a biological father (although when he was a priest, people called him "Father.") About 50 years ago, when he was a young man, he took vows that required him to remain single and celibate for the rest of his life. Catholic nuns and brothers take the same vows. The idea behind this is that they can't devote themselves fully to both the church and the families they might have.

One might argue (I often do) that women should be allowed to be priests, and that priests should be allowed to be married. I don't see that happening anytime soon, and I do see some logic in total devotion to the church. In fact, a female Episcopal priest I interviewed for my Childless by Marriage is allowed to be married but says she decided she couldn't be effective as a priest if she was torn between church and family.

We're not all Catholic, of course, but let's think about giving up family for vocation. When priests or nuns vow to be celibate, nobody calls them selfish or deluded as they do with us lay people who announce that we're not having children. Nobody speculates about their fertility. Religion isn't the only vocation where it's hard to do one's work and raise a family, too. I know of many people in the arts and sciences, for example, who have decided to devote themselves to work rather than having children. When I had other people to take care of in my own life, I always felt torn between their needs and my desire to focus on work.

Until modern times, a woman's only acceptable role was to be a mother, but things have changed. The jobs of priest or pope may be not be open to us, but most other careers are and they might not mesh with motherhood. Is it valid to decide to give up family and focus completely on work? What do you think? Do know anyone who has done this?

There's a great photo collection on Pinterest of childless/childfree women who have achieved great things. Click here to see it.  

Saturday, March 9, 2013

My birthday wish and a poem

Dear friends,
Today is my birthday. I wish I had a big family to spend it with, but I don't. Instead, I have a wonderful friend who will join me for a walk along the beach then take me to lunch. Later I will lead the choir and play the piano at church. It looks like a sunny day here on the Oregon Coast, so I am blessed.

You know what would make me really happy? If lots of people would buy my books, not only Childless by Marriage, but also Shoes Full of Sand, Stories Grandma Never Told, Azorean Dreams, and Freelancing for Newspapers. These are my offspring.You can get them all at or at my online bookstore.

Finally, I'm going to share a poem with you. I have been working on various forms of poetry. This one is called a Triolet. It's eight lines in which you repeat the first line in the fourth and seventh line and the second line in the last line. The first, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh lines rhyme and the second sixth and eighth lines rhyme. It's like doing a puzzle with no clues. So here's one attempt:

Dog Mom
The dog is running in her sleep,
whimpering as she dreams here in my lap,
climbing a mountain rough and steep.
The dog is running in her sleep.
Chased by lions? Herding sheep?
I stroke her soft fur as she naps.
The dog is running in her sleep,
whimpering as she dreams here in my lap.

You are a great gift to me, not only on my birthday, but every day.  Have a wonderful weekend. Your questions and comments are always welcome.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Are we hurting the country by not having children?

Now the statisticians are saying we’re not making enough babies to keep the population going. We’re moving toward a situation where we have way more old people than young and nobody to take care of those old people.

An article called “Where Have All the Babies Gone?” appeared in Newsweek earlier this week. The authors suggest that choosing to be childless is bad for America. My favorite line: “Crudely put, the lack of productive screwing could further be screwing the screwed generation.” 

So next time you're arguing about whether or not to have children, suggest you should have a few for the good of the country.

As I’m sure I have mentioned here before, the percentage of people not having children is going up all over the developed world. Already, in the U.S. we have doubled the number of women who never have children from 10 percent in 1970 to 20 percent now, and the numbers are similar elsewhere. What’s going to happen in another 40 years? The article quotes a sociologist who says that more than one in three women in Japan will never marry or have children. That’s a little scary.

Even more frightening to me are the mean-spirited comments that follow the Newsweek article. Check them out. Prepare to be outraged and worried by some of the commenters who claim they're working so hard to keep their careers afloat that marriage and children are out of the question. 

In response to the Newsweek article, J.R. Bruns published a piece titled “Going Childless” at The problem is people who can’t make a commit to marriage or children, he says. Men and women need help building healthy relationships into which they can feel good about bringing children.

It’s all a little mind-boggling. We all have our own individual reasons why we may not be having children. I doubt that any of us are thinking about how it affects the population as a whole.

What do you think about all this?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Check out these childless/childfree links

Having written myself down to my last syllable this week, today I am sharing some interesting links about having or not having children. 

Get tired of people asking when you're going to have kids or failing to understand that the decision has been made and you're not? This fun article in Jezebel by Karyn Polewaczyk may give you some ideas on how to counter those nosy nellies. Thanks to Beth Follini for sharing this in her "Have Children or Not"  blog.

From a book called Why Have Kids by Jessica Valenti comes this excerpt reprinted in The Atlantic, titled "Not Wanting Kids is Entirely Normal." 

For a perspective on babymaking vs. careers, check out "I am More Than Just a Uterus" on the Road Less Traveled blog.

Finally, visit my friend Jody Day's Gateway Women blog to read "Healing the Friendship Gap Between Mothers and The Childless." 

Have a great weekend, dear friends.