28 January, 2013

When summer gets in the way ...

I have been sadly absent from my blog and much of the blogosphere lately.  And I apologise!  I have excuses though:

  1. Summer has arrived.  Really.  We are having day after day of warm, sunny weather.  We didn't get any of this last year, so we're really making the most of it.
  2. Home maintenance and construction projects.  We're building a new deck (and given that part of our property is about 5-6 metres above ground, this isn't an easy process), and each new metre of decking needs to be celebrated.  And of course (given the aforementioned good weather), cocktails must be mixed, and barbecues consumed, sitting on said deck!
  3. Barbecues on friends' completed decks, watching the harbour lights twinkling as the sun goes down and moon rises.
  4. Quality time with my niece.  Yes, I have a number of nieces, but there is one I've always been closer to.   Sadly, for so many years she has lived overseas, so I have felt spoilt the last few months, as she's returned to NZ for some gap year touring, and has passed through Wellington several times, each time managing to get her staying with us to both give her grandparents a break/give her a break from her grandparents, and to get some chores done (visa applications/wardrobe shopping for new job) together.  It's been lovely.  We bond over old West Wing episodes, and explore issues of being a young woman in 2013.  
  5. Oh yes, and the need to explain to the niece that 1998 was not in the dark ages.  And that it was my generation and the generations before mine that "invented" feminism, and that she can't teach me anything about feminist theory.  "Slut walk?  Way ahead of you, kid!"
  6. Transferring all my files from old laptop that is about to explode, to new laptop that has very frustrating Windows 8.  Sigh!  Configuring files, trying not to lose all bookmarks, keeping email yet changing email clients.  It's enough to drive me bananas!
  7. Summer reading.  Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies has kept me intrigued, and now I'm onto The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst, a recommendation from one of the guys at my favourite brunch place.
  8. Of course, having brunch at my favourite brunch place.
  9. Reading blogs then forgetting to go back and comment on them when I'm not on my iPad.
  10. Thinking of new blog topics.

18 January, 2013

Grey lives of continual sadness

It is surprising how one simple blog post can raise so many issues for me.  The exchanges and issues raised as a result of Mel’s post about Befana reaffirmed for me why I love blogging.  We were all able to have a dialogue across posts and in comment sections, coming from very different perspectives, often agreeing and sometimes disagreeing.  I completely agreed with Mel’s approach to the punishment/reward attitude towards infertility.  It is something that is so hard to deal with at times, especially when you are one of the ones who were never "blessed."  I found support and understanding amongst some of the commenters on Stirrup Queens who shared their thoughts on the use of this word.  I won’t go on about this, the worthy/reward/punishment issues,  because I’ve written about them before, in many different posts, but perhaps particularly when trying to address the question “Why?

But we’re not a one-opinion group and we all see things from different perspectives.  And this is evident by Mel’s comment that she was  "not too concerned that (her daughter) believes that all people without children live grey lives filled with continual sadness."  (And yes I understand that this was perhaps in comparison with the more sinister punishment/reward issue.  This is in no way a criticism of Mel,who has always included the No Kids group in her community.  It is really more a case of me going through a thought process from a different point of view).

I guess, being without kids, we find ourselves so often stuck in the middle - we want and seek empathy for our losses, for what we can’t have that so many take for granted, but equally we don't want pity. The thought that people think we live grey lives filled with continual sadness hurts.  And it hurts because we know that people do think this.  And perhaps it hurts here particularly because we know that the others in the the ALI community, those either celebrating (sometimes smugly) that they managed to get their children, or those still praying that they don’t end up like us, probably lead the bunch in assuming that we live lives filled with continual sadness.  After all, they’ve been through the fears we’ve been through.  They’ve endured sadness and loss and fear of their own.  They recognise that we have endured a loss.  As the no kidding amongst us often say, we know that we are the their worst nightmares.  We know therefore that there are those amongst them who must think we live grey lives filled with continual sadness.  And of course, there is the general population, who tend to believe that our lives are sad and unfulfilled and selfish if we don’t have children.  And if people feel this way, then they are pitying or judging us.  They are unable to see that in time we are able to walk in the sun again.  That we can still make valuable contributions to society.  That happiness does not equal children.  But it means too that we are often left walking this path alone.  

And so once again, I put this out there to reinforce the fact that society in general needs to stop making so many assumptions about what we must have to be happy.  The perfect job, the big house and the fancy cars are not important to me, but I know that there are plenty of people who think that if we have that, we should be happy.  I have a brother-in-law who once told me that his definition of success = money.  (I laugh at that now, and feel quite sad for him that his definition of success is so narrow.)  And there is of course the general assumption that to be happy, we must also have the perfect partner, and 2.2 kids.  But I’ve met plenty of people with the “perfect” partner and 2 kids, who have been miserable inside.  I think we all know, people are happy and fulfilled living a wide variety of lifestyles.  Recognition of that, furthering awareness of the reality of our lives, and acceptance of people who take different paths, is one of the reasons I blog.

14 January, 2013

Regular women: a follow-up

Conversation about the use of the term regular women got me thinking. First, it became evident that the description regular woman had at least two interpretations.  One was that it simply meant a woman (ie normal human) compared to a witch. This is perhaps what young ChickieNob meant.  After all, wise as she is, she is only eight! 

The second interpretation was my assumption that it was assumed that a regular woman was one with children. I find it interesting that my mind still automatically went to the “regular woman = woman with children” interpretation, with the other side of the equation obviously that those of us without children are irregular, abnormal even. Why did I automatically think this?  Well, first because I’m not eight and don’t believe in witches!  

The fact that I immediately went to this interpretation seems to bely my own insistence that I see myself as a regular woman.  Perhaps I don’t.  After all, too often I have discovered that the way we interpret others’ comments is often the way we think about those issues ourselves.  I see it often – the slights we see mirror our own darkest thoughts and biggest fears.  

Do I think I’m a regular woman?  I’m not sure now.  But I know that I want to think of myself and all my readers without kids as regular women.  Because if we think of ourselves as regular women, then hopefully others will be able to do so too.  And if that ever happens, then we’ll no longer feel quite so isolated, quite so irregular, so abnormal, so different.  And I have a very strong desire to be freed of that stigma, of that ostracism.  I have a strong desire to feel accepted and legitimate.  Perhaps that’s why the words struck me so strongly.

07 January, 2013

A Regular Woman

Mel, on Stirrup Queens, quoted her daughter thinking about Befana. Italian legend says the childless witch distributes toys and candy to children who believe in her at Epiphany - read this to learn more

This very wise and compassionate little girl said
"It must be very hard for Befana to go into the toy stores to buy children presents when she can’t have a child of her own.  We may have even seen her in disguise when we’ve been in a toy store, pretending that she is just a regular woman and looking very sad."
That simple paragraph really affected me.  I wanted to hug her.  I marvelled that a child could show so much more empathy than so many adults, who never think about what it might cost us (and I'm not talking in monetary terms here) to buy or make gifts for the children in our lives, the children of other people.  I've written elsewhere how it bugs me that I make the effort to buy things for nieces and nephews, but - because they live so far away - never get to see them with the gifts, and rarely see photographs or often even any acknowledgement that the gifts were received at all.  I don't want effusive praise.  I just want to know the gifts arrive!    (I will note though that my sister (who reads this blog) - mother of Charlie who features on A Separate Life from time to time -  is very appreciative!)  In those initial years after I ended my efforts to have a child, it was extremely difficult and often painful to buy those gifts, so the lack of acknowledgement was particularly painful and lacking sensitivity or compassion.  It was never easy to enter into a toy store, or walk into Pumpkin Patch or Just Kids.  This young girl understands that, yet adults who knew what I'd been through didn't.  (Or perhaps they did, and never acknowledged it?  And that's a different post.)  Once I made it across the threshold of the toy or clothing store, the questions at the till - "Are you on our mailing list?" and "Would you like to be?" - always made me feel as if I needed to explain why I was there.  Now though, I usually just say "No" and "No" and feel much less bothered.  Yet I feel the questions, in a way that I don't feel those same questions at any other store.

But yes, in those early days I did feel like a fraud.  Like Mel's daughter, I didn't feel as if I - a childless woman - was a regular woman in any way.  Time passes though, and now I do feel like a "regular woman."  I go to the toy stores quite happily, sometimes even gloatingly, as I can go during school hours, when they are peaceful and empty!   As an aunt, I have great fun looking at toys and not worrying where to store them or how much noise or mess they will make.  I'm also the aunt who has bought (and buys) cool clothes for so many of my nieces. I enjoy doing that.  I used to feel a fraud, as if I had gone into these stores in disguise, and used to feel sad, but no longer.  And that is because, in my own head I have redefined my view of who is a regular woman.  I know now that so many of us go through infertility and loss that it is an integral part of being a woman.  A regular woman.  Like me.  Like you.  Like all of us.