Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Childless Can Enjoy Other People's Kids

Last week I expressed my discomfort around other people's babies. Lots of you agreed with me, but not every person without children feels that way. Many are fabulous aunts, godmothers and friends to other people's kids. Others are teachers, caregivers, music directors, or coaches who interact with children all the time. 

Yes, some of us are more at home around puppies than human babies, but a great article posted at Christianity Today called "I'm Childless, Not Child-Incompetent" tells the other side of the story. Please don't let the Christian setting scare you away if you're not religious. It's really about the divide between parents and non-parents and the misconception that all childless people are clueless about babies and don't want to be around them. Author Gina Dalfonzo talks about her relationship with her godchildren and about how people who don't have their own children have special gifts to offer those who do.

I know. Some of us have so little experience with children that we just don't know how to act around them. Others feel so bad about their inability to become parents that they can't look at a baby without bursting into tears. But many childless people jump in and help with kids, and I suspect doing so helps lessen their own feelings of loss or grief. Hey, how else can you get to play with Barbie, sing silly songs or watch the latest Smurf movie?

Read the article and let me know what you think. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Making faces at babies

I have a question. Why am I just plain silly over baby dogs, deer, quail, birds, anything but human babies? When I see baby animals, I hear myself talking in that high silly voice and melting in the way that other women melt at the sight of a human baby. But when I see a baby, I don't know how to act. Aren't they the same thing? So what if human babies have two legs and no fur? They're as small and cute as any puppy. And yet, I don't react the same way.

Last week, I was sitting in a restaurant in Missoula, Montana--Ruby's Cafe, great place--watching this little guy about a year and a half old a couple booths over. Unlike the crazed noisemakers that can spoil the eating experience for some of us, this baby in his blue and white striped onesie was quiet and charming. He was a busy kid, climbing around on the table, playing with the silverware while his parents basically ignored him. One time when I looked up, he had a plastic tub of creamer in each hand. But he was quiet about it.

I watched an older man approach him. The man made faces and waved at the baby as the child grinned. They interacted for several minutes before the man moved on and I went back to my book, thinking why can't I do that? Is it because I have no experience with babies? Am I protecting my heart from the pain of knowing I never will have them while I can have all the dogs I want?

What do you think? How are you around other people's babies? 

Friday, July 19, 2013

Grieving? Find Your 'Fishtrap' Experience

We sat on a circle on the deck, warming in the sun as we wrote poetry. Nearby, the river rushed noisily toward the sea. Squirrels chased each other down the spruce tree and across the deck while a doe silently watched from a few feet away. This was the scene during my mornings last week at the Fishtrap writers workshop in Eastern Oregon. Writers from all over the country gathered to study with experts in all different types of writing. I was one of a dozen in Holly Hughes’ poetry class, a wonderful blend of meditation, mindfulness and creative writing. We writers quickly bonded. There were young people here, too, participating in a program for teens. Young or old, parents or not, married or not, it didn’t matter because we had come together to do something we love. More than spouses or parents or grandparents, we were writers. And I did not feel bad even once about not having children.

In contrast, when I got back to the real world, I visited The Grotto in Portland, which is like a giant Catholic garden, with sculptures and paintings telling the stories of Jesus, Mary and Joseph amid the trees and flowers. Recorded music plays above an outdoor chapel as you walk through the gardens, pausing to think about the Bible stories depicted in the art. It’s lovely, but it’s also full of people with their kids. I was walking through the rose garden when I heard a child call “Baba!” I turned to see a woman about my age stop and hold her arms open wide as her granddaughter ran into her embrace. Suddenly I wanted to weep. I had been looking at religious scenes for 45 minutes, feeling nothing, but this I felt. It was one of those moments. If you’re childless, you know what I mean.

But let’s get back to the joy of Fishtrap. If we immerse ourselves in things we love, we can stop dwelling on the children we don’t have and just enjoy being with people who like to do the same things we like to do. There were some people at Fishtrap who were not writers, who had come as chaperones for their teen-aged kids. And you know what? I felt sorry for them because they always had to worry about the kids. I didn’t have to worry about anyone but myself. I was totally free to write and think and make new friends.

The moral of this story is that you can find relief from your grief by immersing yourself in something you love. It doesn’t have to be writing; it can be anything that takes you out of yourself and into something that captures your mind and heart.

Is there something you can do, someplace you can go to give yourself that Fishtrap feeling?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fourth of July brings out the baby blues

It was Fourth of July. Everyone seemed to be gathered in family groups, and there I was with my dog Annie. My friends I had planned to spend the day with had suddenly gotten busy with visiting children and grandchildren, so I headed to Yachats, a small town to the south where the 1960s continue unchanged. They were having a street fair. After walking around a little bit, Annie and I settled in one of the plastic chairs near the stage where a group was performing music that seemed to be a blend of reggae, New Age and yoga chants. Annie leaned against my legs, nervous in the crowd, a little worried about the tie-die-garbed woman doing a hula hoop dance a few feet away, the lady doing henna tattoos under the canopy next to the stage, and the tiny human who kept asking if she could pet my doggie. Sure, I said and watched her pat Annie's broad tan back.

Next to me, the little girl's mom exposed her baby bump between her midriff top and long skirt. She had flowers henna-tattooed around and below her navel. I will not let this bother me, I told myself. I sang along with the music, I pet my dog, I stared at the blue sky and green trees rising up behind the stage. The temperature was perfect, we had nowhere else to go, nothing else to do. But there were kids and moms and dads everywhere.

The night before, watching fireworks in Waldport, I was surrounded by couples with children, little ones and big ones. I felt like I didn't fit in. And here, watching barefoot young women in flowing dresses dance with their children, I had to wonder how I missed out on something so natural and normal. Men and women come together and make babies. Isn't that the way it's supposed to go? Didn't I want that? Where did I lose my way? If I had stayed with my first husband, wouldn't we eventually have had children? Maybe I should have married someone else. But I was 22. I didn't know anything. I didn't know this could happen to me.

Annie was getting hot and restless. I was getting sad. "Come on," I said, and we went home to our big house and big yard with no children and no mothers.

Sorry. I'm feeling down today. You know how that goes. I hate holidays. They bring out the blues. Don't you find that's true? How was Fourth of July for you?

Starting Sunday afternoon, I'm going to be offline most of the time for a week or so. If I don't get to your comments or post something new, please be patient. I will seek out wi-fi as often as I can. Have a great week.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How old is too old to have a baby?

How long can you wait to have a baby? People toss all kinds of numbers around. Is 35 too late? Is 40 the absolute latest? How about 45? A recent article in the Atlantic, "How Long Can You Wait to Have a Baby?" offers some facts which may be especially helpful for childless readers who are panicking because they're afraid they're too old. Maybe not. Author Jean Twenge had all three of her children after age 35.

The article mentions two important points that aren't always included in the discussion: Are all the reproductive organs working properly, and are you having sex regularly, especially during the most fertile times? Answer those questions before deciding you're infertile or too old. If you have not tried to conceive before, it's possible there are previously undiscovered problems that might need to be solved before the baby-making commences. And some women do start menopause early. (Not me. When I was about 50, my doctor told me I could still probably get pregnant if my husband hadn't had a vasectomy.) But if everything is working, Twenge says most couples who do their homework will get pregnant naturally within a year.

Of course that doesn't solve the situation where your partner doesn't want to have children with you, but it might help you to relax a little.  

What do you think about this? How does your age fit into your situation? Are you afraid you're running out of time? Are you having trouble making your partner understand this? Do you know if you have any physical problems that might make conception more difficult? And of course the ever-popular question: Do you stay in a relationship where having children is getting more unlikely by the day or leave and hope to find someone else before it's too late?

I look forward to your comments.