Tagged childfree

My Mother’s Day Wish: Being Childfree Accepted as a Cultural Norm

It was Mother’s Day, 2003. On the Sundays when I was at home, I attended the Episcopalian church where I was trying to rebuild my faith and connect to a spiritual community as I had as a kid. I was newly separated, working as an adjunct professor at a prison college program in the evenings after my full-time grant-writing job was finished.

Ushers walked through the sanctuary with flat florist boxes filled with carnations, as the priest, Mother Claire, invited all of the mothers to accept one. I sat in my usual aisle seat, distracting myself with the Book of Common Prayer during this part. When an usher stopped, I shook my head to indicate I was not a mom.

Instead of the moment passing unnoticed, Mother Claire strode over, took a carnation, and thrust it at me.

“But you do mother,” she said. “You are a teacher. You mother your students. You deserve this.”

I was too embarrassed by the attention she drew to me to refuse. The priest had counseled me when my marriage started to dissolve, and she knew that I had been poised to shift my thinking and try to have kids. Her insistence felt like salt in the wound of my failures made more upsetting because I have never believed teaching to be a form of mothering. I took the flower, put it down next to me. Later I shredded the petals, threw them on the ground.

There are so many ways for humans to hurt each other, so many ways for women to undermine each other. This moment seems petty to me when I’m in full buck-up-I’m-a-stoic-New-Englander mode. Other times, though, it enrages me. Once in awhile, it saddens me.

I’ve never been clutched by the all-consuming need to have children; during the times I have wanted them, the prospect was like considering a long-term adventure, one that I felt more confident about with my new husband as my partner in parenting. Ultimately, my husband and I decided not to have children. Even though we consciously came to this decision together, I grieved for months. Once the possibility of motherhood was foreclosed, Mother’s Day went from being neutral to being charged, as it had been that day in church. The year we decided to not become parents, I could not even bear to go to the grocery store for fear of being stung by an innocent cashier wishing me what I would never have. Every time I have to respond to someone that I do not, in fact, have kids–whether I am grieving the decision or not–I am reminded that I am not the norm.

I delight in fixing a festive brunch for my mother and mother-in-law to celebrate them on Mother’s Day. Most years, I can keep my focus on the women most responsible for the life I have now. Most years, I can smile when a cashier says “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Even during those times, though, I chafe at the cultural norm that means a woman of a certain age is assumed to be a mother. A common reaction to my being childfree is pity. Mother Claire’s insistence that I take a flower upset me not only because it felt like betrayal of my trust; her pity was as unwanted as the flower. When a friend who had been trying to conceive shared the good news that she was pregnant, I could see her concern as she told me. She wanted to be kind, to be sensitive, but those well-meant feelings translated into pity, which was far worse than my feeling a moment of remorse that I would never have such news to share. Her pity made my sincere good wishes ring hollow.

I’m an anomaly, though the tide is shifting. By choosing not to have kids, I have chosen, unwittingly, to leave myself open to unsought opinions, bromides, observations, and advice offered, usually, by women who have had kids. Little thought is given to whether I might have wanted kids and couldn’t or if I might have lost a pregnancy or if I weighed the trajectories, considered what I know about myself, and made a decision that allows me to be the human, the woman I want to be.

Let’s start with Mother Claire’s comment that as a teacher, I am a mother. I suppose, seen through the triple goddesses as a lens, a teacher can nurture, and as a childfree woman who seeks knowledge as we–some of us who have been called selfish for pursuing our educations–teachers do, I should accept that title. But I work with young people a few hours a week, sixteen weeks a semester. I’m not guiding their lives. I’m not imbuing them with my core values. I’m teaching revision strategies and passion for communication at best. I would never claim to understand the bond of a mother to her child based on the relationships I have with even the dearest of my students.

When I asked a group of childfree women to tell me what kinds of comments they had heard, one of the common ones, and one I have been told myself, was this: you’ll never know love until you look in your newborn’s eyes. Take your own variation on it.

It’s hard to respond to a statement like that when you aren’t a mom. Maybe I won’t know what love is, or I won’t understand real love, or I won’t ever feel deep love. Since I won’t be a mom, I can’t argue. I can, though, consider what I believe love is, and I can determine if I have felt such a thing for another and from another.

When I was a girl, I once asked my mom how you know you love someone. My mom is not a person who waxes eloquent on such things–I come by my stoic-New-Englander persona honestly. But that day, as we sat at the kitchen table, she patted the two hand towels in front of her. See, every day my mom washed my dad’s hair in the kitchen sink and then washed her own. The towels would wrap their heads until they dried their hair.

“Every day, I put out the towels, and I put the nicer one on top for daddy to use,” my mom said. “And every day, when my hands are wet and I grab a towel for him, he’s moved the shabbier one to the top so I’ll have the nicer one. That’s how you know you love someone.”

That daily moment between my parents echoes what the founder of Mother’s Day in the United States wanted to celebrate. Ann Jarvis’s intent was to honor the sacrifices a mother makes for her child. Ultimately, it is this willingness to help another person be their best, to give them our own best, that makes me believe I do know what love is, even without a child.

I am not opposed to Mother’s Day. The shift I long for is not simple. It isn’t that I want people to avoid the sentiment of celebrating mothers as a way to avoid hurting women who aren’t mothers. True, I, and many of my childfree friends, have often been made to feel uncomfortable, like something apart, something not normal because of our choices. Rather, I long for a shift where the decision to not have children is considered as valid as the decision to have children.

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My Brood is a Bike Team

From the editors: Writer Bridget Crenshaw Mabunga chronicles her transition from childless to childfree and shares how she funnels her nurturing energy into an at-risk youth bike team.

The doctor says if we conceive naturally, “You’d better name the baby Jesus, cause it’ll be a miracle.” We laugh, an authentic response to a good joke. I don’t feel the bruised ribs until later.

No IVF: I don’t want to shoot myself in the ass, nor do I want to see myself hopped up on hormones. Even for the chance to feel it flip inside my belly. No Donor: I cannot find anyone good enough in the pages and pages of bios though there’re plenty with straight black hair, sepia skin, smarts like his. I can’t find one because the only one I want is sitting next to me. He holds my hand as I search and feels more disposable with each click. No Adoption: I peruse sites and blogs languishing over all I’ve got to learn, all I’ve got to earn in order to make one of these unwanted babies mine. Forty thousand and a high risk of drug addiction in utero. I put the computer to sleep.

All my friends get pregnant. My sister first, in fact she announces just after I’ve learned I can’t. Her belly bubbles up expanding every month until I can no longer enter the room. I neglect calls, texts, visits. But I host the shower at my house, fill it with baby blues and ribbon. Family gathers and swoons as she thanks everyone for welcoming her into the world of motherhood. I sink behind my camera.

Each month I wonder, will we get a baby Jesus? If we do, I’m not naming it Jesus. I am not religious, don’t look to a book or a prayer, just wonder if I’ll ponder this same question until my body no longer releases, until after all the petals drop. Boobs swell so heavy, so sore I know this time might be it. My period’s late, so I look for swollen nipples, glowing cheeks, stomach gurgles. This happens so many times I think I might become hysterically pregnant like Percival Everett’s protagonist’s mother, only she actually gave birth.

My mom and his mom envelop me with words: it’s best; you’d never write; your relationship will change, maybe get ruined; you’ll never have time for him. My sister, bouncing on yoga ball, eye bags practically resting on shoulders, sweet crying baby boy thrashing in arms: You’ll be the one to help all of us struggling moms; we’ll appreciate it so much; besides, there’s your writing. And my husband: I’m fine with it; I don’t even want kids, too much responsibility; we can travel, take off whenever we want; besides, we have Maverick. Not one person pressures me to procreate in whatever fashion necessary; in fact, they all seem to think it’s better I don’t. Which makes me worry.

Bellies swell and swaddled babies land in my arms almost weekly, it seems. Friends try IVF, miscarry, try again, succeed. I re-consider, refuse again. Friends get pregnant naturally and miscarry; part of me feels vindicated. They want it more than I, so they try until they succeed. But seeing the struggle keeps them in my corner until they enter the land I never will, the club outside which I’ll always sit waiting until they’re ready to play again.

It takes four years to settle into a regular thought: I’m glad we don’t have kids. This is not an angry thought. It’s an honest one. Too many nights I’m home alone. Who would save me from the tantrums? Too many evenings I settle into the computer, create worlds. Who would put the kid to bed? Sometimes I can barely remember to feed Maverick.

Then, my ten year-old nephew passes away, and my family spends a week in a house together, calling friends, planning the funeral, sleeping on air mattresses, huddling in one room so none has to be alone. After the funeral, Bob and I return to a too-empty home. I see Thomas in my dream; he stands next to my bed, reaches out. I try to go back to work but have to walk out of class during a lesson, tears spilling over. My students give me an air plant and a card. I try not to cry again. When the quiet becomes too much, my husband volunteers us to help with the floundering Sacramento Police Department bike team, which serves teenage racers cold cereal for lunch while the wealthier kids, flanked by parents and well-paid coaches, walk by in matching jerseys eating multilayered sandwiches.

I become the mother of nine all at once. Nine teenagers, all boys but one: the princess my husband had always hoped for. I love the girl like I love the boys; though none seem particularly fond of me. Yet I’m more than fond of them because I know their struggles, recognize their emptiness as familiar. At-risk they call them; help support, mentor, keep active, keep out of gangs, expose to new possibilities. I write these words over and over as I seek money, hope they grant my kids bikes, helmets, socks. The other kids ride $10,000 Specialized; ours ride Frankenstein bikes that break down causing DNF’s and tears.

Sometimes I feel crushed by the gaps: money, poverty, drugs, gangs, holes in shoes. Some days I want to quit because I can never do enough. But then another race looms on the horizon and I rally. I assign duties, quiz them on the big three, tape Goos to handle bars, give pep talks and push-ups. But mostly, I make lunch. I chop and slice and lay out massive quantities of fruit and turkey burgers. I promise turkey tastes just like beef, hide the cookies until they’ve raced and push oranges over extra cheese. They do not seem to care. They barely look me in the eye, ignore me until I stand in front of them.

But when they fall, I’m there. And they do fall; they crash, flip over bikes, slam helmeted-heads into trees, collect rocks in knees, slice arms and fingers. On the way to the hospital, I have to call their mothers.

Yet, every other Sunday throughout the season, I am their mother. I know who’s been to prom; I know who wants to sit next to whom in the van; I know who likes grapes; I know who really wants to finish the race and who’s being too easy on himself—and I call him out.

I also protect them. When she crashed and it came through on the radio, I ran half way around the eight mile course to find her. I didn’t find her, but something told me to turn my head at the exact moment she came racing down the hill through the finish. I saw that green blur and knew she’d recovered, faced her fear.

I cheered him on as he shot down the hill—before the rock. He tumbled over and slammed down, got back up and raced away. I ran to the other side of the course to capture his arrival. Instead, he stumbled off his bike, face sheet-white. I called for a medic, followed him to the tent, patted his leg and pretended not to notice the tears.

Now, I occasionally wonder if by some bizarre chance, I might get a baby Jesus. Mostly, though, I’m thankful I don’t; if I did, I’d no longer have time for the team. Who would notice the slight intonation of an argument about to begin? When they call each other names, who would challenge them to appreciate difference, to work as a team, to be better than they were last week?

Working with these kids has allowed me to nurture in a way I never imagined possible, filling a gap in me and a gap in them. I’ve discovered parenting is more than birthing and raising a child, and that’s gratifying. So to those who continue to ask when, not if, we’ll have kids, I say: Let that miracle baby grace someone else’s nest, for mine is chock full of teenagers.

 

 

BridgetMabungaBridget Mabunga earned an MA in Creative Writing from Sacramento State, where she won a Bazanella award for graduate creative nonfiction, and her work has appeared in Under the Gum Tree and Kartika Review and is included in the 2012-2013 Kartika Review anthology. She’s been a featured reader at True Story, Sacramento and Assistant Editor for Narrative Magazine for over four years. She’s currently a Writing Specialist at UC Davis and recently finished her first novel manuscript.  

Photo credit: Madeloni Photography

 

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Ambivalent and Grieving

From the Editors: We recently received this letter about the complications the writer faces in her ambivalence towards motherhood (what Catherine has coined bambivalence). It evokes so many of the reasons we started MotherShould? that we asked if we could publish it. The writer agreed, but she asked to remain anonymous, in part because of the micro-aggressions she describes in her letter. We were deeply moved by how universal her experiences are among the bambivalent, yet how alone she feels. 

I’m a 41 year married women, who has been with my husband for 20 years and switched from being vehemently childfree to now being ambivalent about motherhood, I am now feeling confused, lonely, and just plain lost. My husband has never been paternal, and I was never particularly maternal, partly due to my own upbringing with an emotionally detached mother and father. My mother died December 2014 from mouth cancer, so I’m going through a very difficult grieving process of sadness and also relief to be free of a toxic mother, but also broken that I will now never have the relationship that most normal mothers have with their daughters. I’m having counseling to cope with this and also to explore my grief and confusion around motherhood ambivalence. I do have three brothers and only one has had a child, so maybe our childhoods have greatly influenced us, but my two childfree brothers are very content, probably because they are male and emotionally different to me.

Over the last 5 years, I have been struggling with my choice, and I just can’t tell if it is a social and pronatilist drive and because I am the only person out of all my friends who does not have children or if hormones are tricking me into that final opportunity to enter motherhood. All of my friends with children have forged new relationships with mothers, and I’m feeling very isolated. The constant photos on Facebook and comments on how their lives meant nothing until they had a baby leave me feeling I don’t know anyone who is like me. Most women who are married at my age have children or are desperate to have them and cannot, which is so sad, and I really do feel for these ladies.

I sometimes feel like a failure for choosing not to be a mother and often beat myself up for throwing away 20 years of my life when I should have raised a family like all of my friends. For me, I feel like I’m suffering in the way that a Gay/Lesbian does when they know they are different but cannot express this for fear of persecution and just not being “normal”.
There is also the fear of regret. I’m clearly peri-menopause at 41 and have been told by several friends over the years that I will regret my childfree choice when I’m 50. Now I’m taking their comments as gospel. One old work colleague told me that I’m not a proper woman until I give birth and this comment is still imprinted in my mind. But I always question: is the fear of regret a reason to take a leap of faith and create a person?

It doesn’t help that my job is very intermittent as a Sports Massage Therapist, so I am wasting time scouring the internet reading blogs, trying to find answers to quell my ambivalence and instead I come across articles like the one written by Kate Spicer in the Daily Mail saying that no women is happy to be childfree and that childfree women are full of remorse and regret. I know I shouldn’t read crap in the Daily Mail and particularly the comments section, but I’m like an addict, drawn to them and believing every word written, even though we all know that people are very brave behind a computer screen and there are of course those internet trolls. Even James O’Brien on LBC Radio has hosted a couple of shows based on the childfree and he thinks that all childfree people are secretly wishing they had children. He of course is a parent. Plus, parents will want to justify their choice to have a family and may also feel that childfree people are missing out on a unique life experience or denigrating their choices, which I am not doing at all.

I can’t even go to social events or family events anymore because I have lost my confidence and hate admitting that I chose not to have children. My husband doesn’t feel the same way at all and just fits in where ever he goes. It’s funny how men never receive comments about not being a parent, yet women have to give reasons.

The last social event I went to was a 40th birthday party two years ago for my bridesmaids who are twins. Their cousin and her husband were at the party, and they have one daughter. He asked me if I had a child, and I was brave enough to say that I don’t want children, and he called me odd. I let his comment hurt me even though I refrained from hurting him with a horrible personal comment. I guess I didn’t want to stoop to the same level and his wife did suffer with severe postnatal depression, hence an only child, but equally her body, her choice.

I think the role of a parent is hugely important and not one to be entered into without due thought and care. I have digested and regurgitated the pros and cons of being a mother versus not, and I cannot seem to find a happy path to follow. I have driven myself into a state of despair, which is zapping my energy and enthusiasm for life. It’s the first thing on my mind when I wake up and the last thing on my mind before I go to sleep. I just want my life back and to be free of the turmoil I am putting myself through. Maybe I’m just not into being a mother, but I can’t accept it and others in society seem to have the same issue. Or maybe I do regret my choice and need to deal with that and move forward. I always thought I was very self-aware but alas, seem to to be judging my self-awareness eternally.

I really don’t know if I’m grieving my childfree choice or if I’m grieving not having an identity/purpose in society because I’m not a mother.

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Choosing Under Pressure

From the editors: Shoshannah Flach explores the circumstances of the “terrible and tough choice” she made to end a pregnancy, a choice she does not regret.

I stared at the plastic wand in my hand. It confirmed what I’d suspected for the last week since my reliable period hadn’t arrived and my body had been vaguely “off.”

“fuckfuckFUCK!” I screamed a string of involuntary expletives. Why don’t they show scenes like THIS in those pregnancy test commercials? Surely they are just as common as the couples sharing a moment of joy.

After a few rounds of deep breathing I faced my next hurdle. I had to call my boyfriend and break the news to him.

After a decade of disappointing dating, I was ecstatic to have a boyfriend. When we became a couple I made it clear that I didn’t think that having kids was for me. He acknowledged that he was unlikely to ever be financially stable enough for a family.

A year into the relationship, a romantic getaway weekend led to sloppy contraceptive practices. I absolutely did not want the responsibility of a child now. I’d moved into my own apartment a few months before, right after moving my mother into a care facility where others would be responsible for her advancing Alzheimer’s disease. I needed some freedom. When I told my boyfriend that I thought it was best for me to have an abortion, he was upset, but I didn’t realize how upset.

At my boyfriend’s house—my stomach clenched, expecting an uncomfortable conversation. He handed me a bag with my personal items and a lengthy “Dear Jane” letter explaining why he couldn’t be with a woman who would have an abortion. I was stunned. I implored him to reconsider. He was adamant. Presented with his ultimatum I said I’d consider other options to try and preserve my connection with him.

Was it in my nature to not want kids?

I once asked my dad if he felt like he was missing out on grandchildren. He assured me he didn’t mind, but his follow-up comments surprised me.

“I never thought you’d have children anyway. You never played with dolls. Other girls your age did, but you didn’t like them.”

That rang true. As a child, I was a tomboy with interests in nature and science. My main playmate was a boy with snakes and iguanas as pets. Our games involved Star Wars action figures, Dungeons and Dragons figurines, and (despite my peacenik mom’s strenuous objections) realistic toy firearms.

I became sexually active early in my teen years but fortunately I was as diligent about birth control as I was about maintaining my 4.0 GPA. College was a dating dead zone until I met my first Serious Boyfriend in my third year. He was from a “normal” middle class family with four older siblings—all married with kids. We stayed together for most of my 20s and when friends started to get hitched and have kids I panicked at the idea of following this path and we split up.

My 30s were a time of exploration and acceptance, both in relationships and (mostly) out of them. As I developed my own pursuits and interests, I made friends with a wide variety of women, many of them childless by choice. Some had partners, some did not. Even the women with children were following varied paths. It was easier for me to accept that having kids wasn’t important to me as I saw how important it was for my friends who did want them. Dating was even more frustrating for them as they raced against the reproductive clock.

At 39, faced with this unintended pregnancy, I paced the floor, agonizing over the decision during phone calls with patient and supportive friends. I knew that giving up a child for adoption had emotionally wrecked my mother and others I’d talked with.  Nor did I want to have a baby with a man with dubious capacity for responsibility. I could potentially end up relying on my own extended family for help raising the child—a pattern I did not want to replicate.

Or was it nurture that led me to not want kids?
Despite my maternal grandmother’s oft-stated belief that single mothers were the bane of society, three of her four daughters ended up having kids without establishing family units of their own and stayed at home to raise their kids as single moms.  My mom chose not to marry my father and I was collectively raised by my aunts and grandparents. We eventually moved out, but always lived close by. Two of my aunts raised children in the house at various times, and later on, my older cousin escaped an abusive marriage and relied on the family for supporting her children. While there were wonderful things about being raised by my extended family, the situation had a lot of dysfunctional elements.

When I was 8, my mother got pregnant by a different person than my father and chose to give this baby up for adoption. She was able to maintain limited contact with the child and adoptive family but this decision haunted her forever.

My disinterest in having children could have also stemmed from being my mother’s emotional caregiver. She struggled with depression and other mental health issues, exacerbated by unhealthy romantic relationships. From a young age, I was her emotional support system.

In her late 60s, my mother was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s dementia. My care-giving role became more tangible and pronounced. She had lived with my aunts at my grandparent’s home for the last several years and family conflicts became even more frequent as her disease progressed. I was regularly called in as peacekeeper and her physical care needs increased too. A couple of years after her diagnosis, I was fortunate enough get her into an excellent care facility. For the first time in my life I felt free of worrying about some facet of my mother’s well-being.

A wise friend said, “If you have this baby—either keeping it as a couple or adopting it out—you have to want that for YOU or the baby. It can’t be to somehow save the relationship.” So I made the terrible and tough choice to end the pregnancy and at the same time end a loving relationship that meant so much to me.

The one-two gut punch of loss and grief crushed me, but with hindsight I can see how this dramatic ending might have been necessary to shove me out of a comfortable but potentially unhealthy relationship. I have never regretted my decision. I am grateful every day that I have my own apartment in a city where housing is expensive and the freedom and flexibility to stay involved with my many interests and friends.

I’m sad and frustrated that a healthy partner relationship has been hard to find but I’m grateful that the biological clock component isn’t a factor of that longing. I’m making the most of my choice—embracing new experiences, nurturing existing friendships, and being open to building new relationships too.

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Shoshannah Flach is a San Francisco native who has written film and music reviews, published her own zine, Cat Butt, and more recently, Crosswalk Confidential, stories from the streets of her city. After fifteen years in the marketing department of an environmental nonprofit, she is now poised for new adventures that may or may not include some of her diverse interests in martial arts, air guitar, and playing rock songs on the ukulele.

 

 

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“Natural” vs. “Unnatural” Women: Motherhood as Woman’s Duty

From the editors: Dr. Shoba Sharad Rajgopal explores cultural expectations of motherhood she faced and resisted with the support of her mother (pictured with the author). 

I do not have children of my own, and, in fact, prefer the company of the young of other mammals, such as puppies and kittens. That may not sound unusual out here in the U.S, but it was seen as extremely odd when I was a young woman growing up in India, as most countries from the developing world tend to be extremely supportive of women as mothers, and dismissive of those women who are “barren,” and either unable, or unwilling, to produce offspring.

It is a far cry from the sane attitude of some other animal species such as elephants, where the role played by “aunt” elephants are as critical for the wellbeing of the herd as those of the mothers.

The good side of traditional societies is that no eyebrows are raised if a woman decides to discreetly feed her infant in a public place, and women there are adept at doing so. Here on the contrary, it is astonishing to see the brouhaha over this very natural act of a mother. Society appears to have forgotten that the function of the mammary glands are not to titillate the male species, but to feed the infants of the species.

But the bad side of traditional societies is that women are expected to yearn to become mothers from the time they are little girls. They are gifted little dolls for this very purpose, which they proceed to treat as their own infants. This is of course, a worldwide phenomenon and not just specific to my culture. However, what is specific to my original culture is the obsession that families have with parenthood. The pressure placed upon young couples by the husband’s parents is astonishing. From outwardly innocuous remarks like the jocular “Any good news? “ (accompanied by a knowing smile) to the more obvious and semi reproachful query, “When shall we hear the patter of little feet?”

In fact, young couples are pressured to feel that it is their duty to provide children / grandchildren for the aging parents and grandparents. This attitude leads to immense psychological pressure upon couples who are unable to perform their duty and produce offspring upon request. And of course it is expected in most communities, regardless of religion, class or caste, that the first born be a boy.

No doubt all these attitudes led to a reaction on my part as a rebellious young woman not to have children of my own, or rather, biological offspring. Any man I chose to spend time with would therefore be regaled with this decision. Small wonder then that most took to the hills. After all, who would want a wife who was not just an “uppity woman,” but “an unnatural” one, to boot?!

I recall the very hurtful comments made by a close male friend back in the days when my biological clock was supposed to be ticking: “You are an unnatural woman!”

I managed to cover up my feelings of hurt with a sharp quip, “And you, being a man, know what it feels like to be a woman?!”

But deep inside, I was hurt, very hurt. At weak moments I even asked myself, was it somehow strange of me as a woman not to feel this apparent universal urge to produce offspring? Did it even, in some way, make me a bad woman? When I came upon Simone de Beauvoir’s ruminations on the societal construction of womanhood I began to feel much better about my decision. But how many women of my generation back then had access to such literature in the first place? Most have access only to the sexist dictats of Manusmriti, the infamous Codes of Manu, the Lawgiver of ancient India, which were enforced by society in general, through the entire extended family, teachers, astrologers, the works!

In my case a casual visit to the family astrologer ended in disaster when the man concerned pronounced judgment upon my decision to stay single with a sneering accusation,”how selfish of you! You do not care for the suffering of your aging parents!”

My polite response that the parents concerned were not suffering but in fact were quite content to let me make my own decisions was met with horror. What kind of woman would behave this selfish? And how dare I wait so long and refuse all these offers of (arranged) marriage that had come my way? A sure sign of great arrogance! As to the lax attitude of my parents, no doubt this poor upbringing had contributed to my willful behavior.

As the years went by and I focused on my career and took up what appeared to be a permanent abode on the proverbial shelf, my mother stopped collecting items for my “Hope Chest,” (Or trunk, if you will, where jewelry, crockery and sundry other items would be collected by mothers for their daughter’s marital homes). The aforementioned “Hope Chest” became the family joke as “The Hopeless Chest!” Any conversation about my getting married or having a child was long dropped, to my great relief.

My mother even reassured me once, when I was in my late 30s with a pithy comment: “Marriage is not the be-all and end-all of life, my dear!”

It is only now, looking back on it, that I realize what an unusual woman she was of her generation, or even of generations to come, to possess such an unorthodox attitude towards life. For women in traditional South Asian society are usually led to believe that it is their bounden duty to get married and then produce children, preferably male.

I did eventually fall in love with a man who I went on to marry, once I had finished graduate school in the U.S. But we chose not to have children, partly because both of us travelled a lot, and rearing children under those circumstances would prove difficult, and partly because we were not eager to become parents. I am fortunate to have been born into a liberal and supportive family where a woman’s life is not equated to motherhood, but it is not the norm in my society even today.

However, I will add this caveat: I have discovered that society’s expectation of women is not that different even in the “modern, progressive West,” and not just in the developing world. Let us not forget that it is not just in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR that women were forced into motherhood, to produce good Aryan babies for God and the nation. That was the case in the U.S too, where, forget abortion, even contraception was banned right into the second half of the 20th century. The position of many world religions too has been that woman’s duty is to become a mother, and produce as many offspring as possible at that.

We do live in a brave new world where women are not forced into motherhood, overtly, that is. But what about the covert message of the mainstream media? Indeed, as numerous television serials and Hollywood films continue to show, women who are content with their careers and other pastimes rather than yearning for motherhood are portrayed as unnatural (yes, that word again!) Yet, somehow the most unnatural woman is redeemed eventually when she goes ahead and births a child. Although there is little support for either the mother or the child once she has gone ahead and had it, with working mothers reporting huge levels of stress trying to juggle work and home without much access to childcare in most jobs. But that is a different story.

Women who have abortions are still represented in a negative light in Hollywood films in this day and age. Candice Bergen’s Murphy Brown may have incurred Dan Quayle’s wrath in the 1990s, for being a single mother. But she was a mother nevertheless, not a woman who had resolved to remain childless, and, moreover, a content childless woman at that. Even films that masquerade as progressive such as the Indie film Juno (2007) have a dark side when they enforce the hegemonic view that woman’s natural calling is to be a mother. And God forbid that a popular television series show a woman reject the role of motherhood and get an abortion.

We may seem to have come a long way since the dark days of The Feminine Mystique (1963), when Betty Friedan wrote of the oppressive standards that women were expected to uphold within American society. Women in this part of the world today can do anything, take up any profession, be whatever they want to be. And yet, as our television serials never cease to remind us, the one thing we deeply yearn for, regardless of all our outward posturing, is to be mothers. Small wonder, then, that women who have postpartum depression or parental ambivalence even years later feel abandoned by society, as they are made to feel they are not “normal.” Because, isn’t it “normal” to feel complete as a woman only when one has become a mother?

Perhaps East and West are not so different after all…

Shoba Dr. Shoba Sharad Rajgopal x received her Ph.D. in Media Studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Spring 2003. She moved to the East coast to take up a position as the Coordinator of the then Women’s Studies Program at Westfield State University and is currently in charge of the Women and Gender Studies Minor in the Department of Ethnic & Gender Studies, where she teaches courses that focus on gender issues and religious extremism in South Asia. She has worked with colleagues across campus and helped develop an Asian Studies Minor at the university. Dr Rajgopal traveled widely across Asia and Europe in her previous avatar as a broadcast journalist and reported for the Indian networks and for CNN International from various international locations.

Three Poems

 

From the Editors: Poet Leah Nielsen explores the tension between being childfree and childless.

 

 


Pantoum on the Children We Never Had

Maybe it was the hand of some god,
or maybe the stars could not
get it together, maybe in deciding
to postpone the decision we made a decision

or maybe the stars could not–
who knows if my body could.
We postponed the decision, made a decision.
Maybe we never wanted to anyway.

Who knows if my body could
have handled it. Maybe it couldn’t.
Maybe we never wanted to anyway.
Maybe I never. Maybe we could

have handled it. Maybe not.
Maybe there was a point at which.
Maybe I never, maybe we could.
The door was just shut–

maybe there was a point at which
we decided separately–unspoken–no.
We just shut the door.
I don’t know anymore. I don’t think

we decided separately, unspoken. No,
maybe at some point someone said maybe someday.
I don’t know anymore. I don’t think
it helps to think on it.

Maybe at some point someone said someday
when we get it together. Maybe in deciding
it helps to think on it.
Maybe it was the hand of a god.


 

The Poem I’ve Been Writing for 10 Years Finally Speaks Up

What if I was just wrong from the get go.
What if you go two more decades without
getting me right. What if that fat fuck
of a proctologist was right. What if that spot
on your liver was a thing to think of as a thing,
not a freckle as the second opinion said.
What if it’s not very nice to call people
fat fucks. What if your birth control pills
were causing the liver spot. What if it’s a matter
of meter or just a word choice here
or there when you’ve been toying
all these years with scene and voice.
What if you had it right two drafts ago. No,
I agree. It was too peopled, too plump
with intent, no room for words to work,
no happy accidents, no happiness. Yes,
you have a point in that I am about a doctor
questioning what he should not have questioned
in a manner he should not have employed.
How much happiness can happen. So what
if he said, Maybe you haven’t thought about this.
Maybe you really do want kids. So what if he questioned
what your husband might want, questioned
if you’d bothered to have a conversation
about him, checked your chart and mentioned
the phrase geriatric pregnancy. So what of the Bible
on his desk, the cross on his wall. What were you
to do beyond tears. Write a poem about some woman
being stupid enough to wed that Weeble.
Some woman wanting a Sak’s card and a Benz so badly
she’d have five kids. Some woman who fucked him
at least five times. Who is she. You couldn’t
write that poem. You shouldn’t write it now.
You were wrapped tight in manners and billboards
about damnation.

Try beginning this way:

Nothing was wrong. Nothing but a freckle on your liver.
Nothing came out but nothing when the clinic assistant
asked what was wrong as you paid your bill through tears.
Nothing happened but your words failed you
and there’s nothing you hate more.


 

So the yard storing old toys

from the kids who used to
live there– a naked Barbie
with a butch haircut, a few
chewed army men the dog
dragged in. Was that all.
What about the tree fort
zip line into the camellias.
About the tire swing swung
over an old oak limb. What
about the neighbor’s grandson,
the only one who swung there.
The two lion statues guarding
the drive that that kid broncoed
when he was tired of the swing.
About the porch swing so right
for watching azaleas light the street
on fire. About the two dogs. One
we chose. The other chose us.
Who chose the herniated disk.
Who chose chronic and Percocet
and clean baseboards and pressed
shower curtains. Did someone
choose words. What words were
there. Did we choose a commuter
career. What was a gift. What
did we make into one. What was
a curse. How do we mold it now.

 

LeahNielsenHeadShotLeah Nielsen earned her M.F.A. from the University of Alabama. Her first collection of poems, No Magic, was published by Word Press. Her chapbook, Side Effects May Include, which examines the state of permanent patienthood, was published in 2014 by The Chapbook. Among other places, her poems have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Indiana Review, and Rattle. She lives and teaches in Westfield, MA.

 

The featured image is “Reclining” by Karen E.D. Peterson, who received her BFA in Studio Fine Arts and Art History from Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Richmond, VA.  You can find more on her work at kedpeterson.com.

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Let’s Be Friends! Maintaining Relationships Between Women Who Mother and Women Who Don’t

Recently, a friend of mine, who has no children, mentioned that she was reading a book in the middle of the day. When I pictured her reading by a fire curled up on the couch drinking tea in her peaceful home, I was engulfed with envy: I want to read a book in the middle of the day in a quiet house! As this image solidified in my mind, my impulse was to say: “you don’t know how lucky you are!” but I managed to catch the words and swallow them. This friend could not have children and this would have been a cruel thing to say to her, but I realize now that it’s not really a nice thing to say to any woman because either way it is tinged with an underlying resentment, not an emotion I want to aim at my pals.

Since my friends started having kids, I began noticing how easy it is for tensions to surface between moms and the childfree/childless. Moms might think the root of the problem is that childfree women don’t know what we’re up against, but there’s more to it. In a recent “Dear Sugar” podcast, Steve Almond, father of three, admitted to, on occasion, resenting his childfree friends. Resentment is a strong and ugly emotion, but thinking back on some of my interactions with my childfree friends, I realize, reluctantly, that Almond is right on. If you miss your freedom at all, and what parent doesn’t, then your friends’ tales of independence or peace can make you feel taunted, even though they are just living their lives.

On the other side of the same coin, after I had kids, I noticed how easy it is to connect with women who are moms. Even with  drastically different beliefs and interests, mothers always have something to talk about: their kids’ potty training, sleep habits, eating preferences, first days of school, etc. Because, as we know, there’s no manual for having kids, and because most of us don’t live with our extended family, we often need to rely on friends and Google to figure out how to tackle the challenging moments of parenting. Friends and Google are the village.

Not only can moms rely on each other for problem solving, mom friends just get the struggle of motherhood. It doesn’t require explanation. This is comforting especially when you don’t have the energy to explain what it feels like when your child is waking up every two hours and not napping.

Pregnancy and motherhood do create a bond between women, but the opposite also tends to be true: a chasm forms between moms and not-moms. As a woman who had her kid late, I’ve been on both sides of that chasm. When I was childfree, I am sure I provoked resentment among my friends with young kids; I likely complained about a bad meal at a restaurant or being tired (and hungover) after a late night dancing. Now, I have an idea of what they might have been thinking in those moments: “quit your complaining, at least you can go out without spending a bazillion dollars on a babysitter and you can sleep through the night or take a nap–a nap!”

If my mom friends resented my freedom, I resented their lack of freedom and how our relationships changed when kids arrived on the scene. My mom friends couldn’t listen the way they used to or sustain a meaningful conversation. Kids affect individual relationships but there’s also the cultural weight of motherhood, which can make women who are not moms feel like they are not part of the club.

The term “the mommy wars” originally described the clash between working moms and stay-at-home moms, but now that there are more women choosing not to have kids, a new war is brewing. But a war between moms and the childfree/childless will not benefit anyone, so how do we stave it off?

Here’s my plan: I will resist the temptation to surround myself with people just like me; I will make a conscious effort to keep old and make new friends who are not moms. Part of making this effort means that I’ll need to notice and tamp down negative feelings that surface when a childfree friend talks about exercising, eating a delicious meal at a restaurant, seeing a movie in the theatre. I’ve traded in my freedom for a while; it was a choice I made, and I’ve gotten a lot in return. Truth is, I’m probably going to feel a little sad when I start to get my freedom back and my son needs me less.

I will also work on being a good friend to my friends without kids. To this end, I’ve fallen into a pattern of calling my friends with kids when my kid is around, but I try to call my friends without kids when my son is asleep or when I’m in the car alone so that I can give them my attention.  I want to be able to genuinely listen to the stories from their lives and I want to share mine. This is how friendships are maintained.

My friend and co-editor of this site, Beverly, does not have children, but we have made it our project to listen to and be candid with each other. Here’s a tiny example: typically, I would reserve the messy details of potty training my son for my mom friends, but I decided to tell Beverly, and she listened and instead of offering me a list of things I should(ve) tried, like most mothers do, she offered me something I actually needed more: a “wow, that must be really hard.”

Bearing

From the editors: we are delighted to share this piece from poet Jessica Temple. 

 

 

 

 

My favorite part of baking is before:
the batter dripping from the paddle,
or the yeasty dome rising in the metal bowl.

*

Last week my aunt called to tell me
it’s alright that I’m not pregnant.
I started to think maybe it’s not.

*
Once, as warning, grandmother told us about
her first husband – married because they had to.
Miscarried after a fall. Said she’d prayed for it.

*

One of those summers when heat
came early, a goat returned from the woods
with only one newborn. From the bulge

her belly had been, I knew that she
should’ve had two. I found the missing
by smell, just far enough in to stay shaded.

When I came back from shoveling,
it was already just a mound of fur,
wriggling as maggots danced inside.

*

My youngest sister asks me for recipes,
help with grammar. And when her doctor
said the pregnancy wasn’t viable

she called me first, disquieted.
I could not say to her This
is how to lose your baby.

*

Both my sisters now busy themselves
with the making of people. I’ve seen
the work of it, the pulling back

from the edge. One kept it covered
for months – hidden like shirt stays
under starched white trousers.

My nephews will be born
in Indian summer. One
will have dark skin, dark hair.

The other will be fair and
fearless. Both will grow tall.
They will not look like me.

 

JTempleJessica Temple earned her PhD in poetry from Georgia State University. She writes and voices shows for the syndicated poetry college radio program melodically challenged  and teaches at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. Her work has recently appeared in Aesthetica; Blast Furnace;Canyon Voices; and Stone, River, Sky: An Anthology of Georgia Poems from Negative Capability Press, among others. Her chapbook, Seamless and Other Legends, is available from Finishing Line Press. Find out more at jessicatemple.com.

 

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Dear Pope Francis, I’m Not Selfish

From the Editors: Writer and Professor Lisa Whalen shares her response to Pope Francis’s declaration that the decision not to have children is selfish. Continue the conversation in the comments!

I didn’t want a kitten. I made that clear when I began volunteering and fostering for the Animal Humane Society (AHS) years ago. Contrary to predictions by everyone who knew me, I had no problem returning the kittens at the end of their foster period. In fact, I often found myself relieved, even though I’d grown fond of them. I preferred adult cats.

When I agreed to foster a two-month-old stray, Ziggy, and continued saying I didn’t want to adopt a kitten, everyone assumed that it was grief talking, that I’d change my mind. The recent death of my 17-year-old orange tabby sucker-punched me. From the moment he entered my life as a six-year-old, we simply “got” each other. I could predict his moods and movement; I always knew what he was thinking. I often worked from home, so he and I spent most waking hours together. I spoiled him as if he lay at the center of my life. So, yes, I mourned. But that’s not why I remained reluctant to adopt Ziggy.

I knew from experience that kittens are far more like human toddlers than most people would like to acknowledge. They demand 24-hour attention. When they don’t get it, they misbehave. They don’t understand boundaries and don’t care for rules. I knew I didn’t have it in me to give a kitten what he needed long-term, so I avoided adopting one.

My husband, Chad, along with everyone who met Ziggy, grew enamored. Chad wanted to adopt, but since I do the care-taking, he left the decision to me. I watched Chad bid Ziggy a sad farewell the morning I was to return him. Then I caved.

I regretted it. And didn’t. Then did again. Now I ping-pong between amusement, protectiveness, irritation, affection, and anger from hour to hour. I try to work; Ziggy chases my fingers across the keyboard. I wash dishes, he climbs my leg and bites my ears. I set the table, he jumps on my feet and trips me. I lie in bed and he . . . curls up on my chest. I smile at his tiny white paws, his gray stripes that expand and contract with each sleepy breath.

Then he pounces and bites my feet through the bedspread.

I glimpse a fantastic companion hidden beneath his frantic exterior, but it lies at least 18 months in the future. I worry impatience will push me to return him. I wonder if that might be better for him. I’ll wait and see how things go, I decide. Then I’m ashamed. That’s not the kind of pet owner I want to be.

My ambivalence toward keeping Ziggy confirms doubts I’ve long held about my suitability as a parent, which is why I’ve chosen not to have a child in spite of conflicts that decision generates with my Catholic faith. Catholic doctrine contends that sex between married couples must remain open to procreation because God and nature have selected procreation as the purpose of marriage. The Church bans all contraception except natural family planning (i.e., the rhythm method). Since I don’t intend to have a child, I’ve ignored that ban.

From the moment Jorge Mario Bergoglio selected “Francis,” patron saint of animals and the natural environment, as his papal name, I felt a stirring of hope. His choice reflected a focus on compassion for all living beings. It also hinted at a willingness to buck authority and flout rules when conscience demands it, for his namesake defied parental mandates to work in the family business, rejected familial wealth, and spent the majority of his adult life living out a vow of poverty and serving the poor. Perhaps Pope Francis would lead the Vatican away from its obsession with “the letter of the faith”—rule, ritual, and papal infallibility—and toward “the spirit of the faith”: love, service, forgiveness, and inclusion.

My initial hope seemed well-placed. In addition to eschewing the trappings of his office and seeking personal connection with society’s least fortunate at every opportunity, Pope Francis upheld the primacy of conscience, asserting Catholics’ right to do what their inner relationship with God tells them is right, even if that conflicts with Church doctrine. Like his namesake, Pope Francis recognized that practicing selflessness and love sometimes requires breaking rules. I took comfort. He seemed to assert that Church doctrine was not infallible or absolute. Perhaps he and the Church might recognize my decision not to have a child as one based on careful reflection, on a desire to do what was right not only for me, but also for any child I might have as well as for the society that would educate and employ him/her.

I grew even more hopeful when, in February 2015, Pope Francis declared that Catholics need not reproduce “like rabbits”. He urged them to space out children’s births by a few years. I took these comments to mean Pope Francis acknowledged the value of self-awareness and the ability to make individual moral decisions, that he didn’t share his predecessors’ disdain for contraception. I dared think he might change Church doctrine. But two days later, he walked back his initial comments, upholding the ban on contraception.

Worse, Pope Francis claimed that not having children is “a selfish choice”. I disagree. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. My conscience tells me that every child deserves to be raised by a parent who cherishes him/her; who can provide for his/her physical, emotional, and spiritual needs; and who relishes the opportunity to do so. I don’t meet those qualifications. Self-awareness leads me to that conclusion; primacy of conscience tells me that given what I know, to try and fail would be irresponsible, regardless of Church doctrine. Putting the child’s needs ahead of my own desire to leave a part of myself behind after I die is decidedly unselfish. Chad and I risk having no one to care for us when we’re old; therefore, we save aggressively, unselfishly wanting to avoid becoming a burden on the rest of society’s children.

According to Pope Francis, having children is not “an irresponsible choice” because births enrich rather than impoverish; that’s why all Catholic married couples are to have them . That may be true in many cases, but not all. Put bluntly, children are expensive. Many suffer the effects, through no fault of their own, of being born into families or societies who can’t—or won’t—provide for their needs. That seems a more irresponsible choice than using artificial contraception. And testing, measuring, and documenting in an effort to manipulate the body’s reproductive process, as is required for natural family planning, strikes me as anything but “natural.”

Even as Pope Francis urges us to care for our planet by combating climate change, he seems, at best, ambivalent about unchecked reproduction—one of the greatest threats to any ecology. More people consume more resources.

The sole purpose of organizations like the one I volunteer for (the Animal Humane Society) is to improve society by caring for its animals. Animal shelters witness every day how individual animals suffer because of overpopulation. Not enough caretakers exist to meet all animals’ needs, so many end up suffering neglect or living as strays despite having lost natural survival instincts through domestication. At some animal shelters (not AHS), unwanted animals are euthanized due to lack of resources. This is the result of unchecked procreation, not so different from what the Catholic Church seems to advocate.

Research shows the best way to improve animals’ lives is to prevent overpopulation, so many shelters spay/neuter pets before making them available for adoption. I would never advocate such practices for human beings, obviously, but I find it ironic that the Church won’t allow its members to prevent unwanted pregnancies with artificial contraception even as most of humanity agrees preventing unwanted pregnancies is the most humane and effective way to improve animals’ quality of life.

Ziggy dozes on my lap as I write this. I anticipate with a measure of annoyance the fact that he’ll soon wake and begin clawing at my hair, which reaffirms for me two important lessons: 1) I was right not to have children, for their sake as much as mine, and 2) I appreciate these sweet, serene moments all the more, knowing they’ll be rare for quite some time.

Lisa Whalen HeadshotLisa Whalen teaches writing and literature at a Minnesota college and volunteers for the Animal Humane Society. Her writing has been featured in An Introvert in an Extrovert World (Cambridge Scholars), Before and After the Tutorial(Hampton Press), WorkingUSA (Wiley & Sons), and several peer-reviewed journals. She is writing a memoir, currently untitled, set to be complete in 2016.

 

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Holiday Sparkle sans Kids

I cried myself to sleep Thanksgiving night.

There were no family fights, no drunken uncles or politically-charged conversations gone bad. The food was delicious, the company delightful. I made my Grandpa Davis’s turkey stuffings with a few adjustments for the vegetarians at the table. We sipped excellent wine, discussed education and societal trends, traded suggestions for movies worth watching.

It was a very adult holiday.

Yet when my husband and I arrived home, took care of the dogs, put our generous share of leftovers in the fridge, the click happened.

The click that reminds me the holidays of yore are, at best, rare occasions.

Thanksgiving and Christmas of my childhood meant generations of family together, older siblings willingly playing board games with the little ones, and singing along as my oldest sister played carols on the piano. During my 20s and early 30s, the holidays were marked by even larger gatherings as my siblings started their own families. The sweetness of wrapping my arms around tiny niblings as I read to them, of taking dictation as they composed notes to accompany the snacks left for Santa and his reindeer, of filling stockings after kids reluctantly went to bed–that sweetness remains unmatched and now seems unattainable.

Before it seems like I’m asking for pity, know this. I made the decision to be child free. The times when I have wanted children are minute compared to how often I have been content to be without them. The gut wrenching feeling of holidays without kids is a new phenomenon, starting around Halloween and lasting until my annual New Year’s Day hike. Maybe it’s because my not having children is absolute. Maybe because I am at an age when I once thought I might be a grandmother, or maybe because I no longer have little niblings to fill the wonder and delight gap.

This longing for past festively chaotic holidays–which is not a regret about being child free– gave me pause, made me curious about how others sans children view the holidays, and caused me to examine how I can work towards creating a new type of holiday season that keeps my tears in check, that feels as meaningful as they used to.

My child-free Christmas is not tradition free, nor am I alone in that. Writer and professor Marisa P. Clark told me how her holiday tradition developed. “I celebrated holidays with other gay friends who either couldn’t or weren’t allowed to spend that time with their families. It turned into great camaraderie among different groups of people. We saw movies, played games, put together pot-luck holiday meals, and just hung out and laughed, only sometimes exchanging gifts. This is now my favorite way to spend holidays–not to have too much of a set plan but to find out who’s around and wants company.”

My siblings are spread around the country, and it’s rare for us all to be together at any time of year, let alone during the fall and winter holidays when obligations make travel a burdensome prospect. My husband and I mix up where we spend our holidays. Some years we’re with his (very adult) family, some years with varied members of mine. I’m learning, though, that it isn’t so much where or with whom I spend Christmas day that matters to me, but how I have embraced what the season means in the weeks leading up to it.

Here’s an example. For the last twelve years, my dear friend Cheryl has spent a weekend in mid-December with us. We bake hundreds of cookies and box them up to distribute to colleagues, our favorite businesses, and friends. Cookie-baking day has morphed into an event—my parents always come by for samples, and we turn on Christmas music for the first time of the season. Cheryl and I spend about ten hours in the kitchen, but the good conversation makes it feel a lot shorter.

And this year, for the first time, my husband and I are making our holiday cards. He carved blocks and printed the cards while I mixed ink and addressed envelopes. While some people—my own mother included—dread writing cards each year, I welcome the chance to remind people I haven’t seen in a while that they matter to me.

A recent exchange with Samantha Hoyt Lindgren, a child-free-by-choice woman who has worked as a photojournalist, photo editor, and is the co-founder of Rabelais Books and founder of A Gathering of Stitches, examined meaning and the holidays for those of us who are not religious. Samantha writes, “Showering someone you love with gifts is a powerful action, one that can cause much joy. But at its core it is usually about the person giving more than the person receiving. If you don’t have that religious component to hang the whole season on, it is all about gifts. And certainly our culture emphasizes that with all the obsessive shopping, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and bargain hunting that seems to be the American way. So if you strip all that nonsense out, and you don’t have kids to indulge, then the season can be pretty hollow. At least for an Atheist. At this point the majority of the gifts I make are for the children within my universe. And that part is sweet and joyful.”

Like Samantha, one way I imbue the holiday season with more meaning, at least for me if not the recipients, is by making most of my gifts. I don’t stitch gifts as a form of Martha Stewartish showmanship. It is not that doing so is superior to buying gifts, but rather that handcrafting provides me with the opportunity to dwell on the recipient, to reminisce about them, about time we have spent together. And my hand crafting keeps me far from the crowds of anxious mall shoppers. The hours I might spend alongside the crowds are instead spent in joyful creating.

Some years, my holidays may be completely sans kids. There may be no marathon Monopoly games after dinner, no tribe of little ones putting on dance performances. Those adult holiday seasons may be as painfully sad as this Thanksgiving was. But in creating, in being self-aware, I may have found the poultice.

In the northeast where I live, our days are at their shortest, and our nights are at their darkest. It is all too easy to succumb to sadness. While I know the longing for kids to fill my house with their chaos may rear up every year from Halloween to New Year’s Day, the holidays can instead be a time for me to find sparkle and light, to find some optimism about this complicated world and spread it.

 

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