30 December, 2017

Being a childless aunt

I’m enjoying having our twin nieces and their parents in town for the first time in over eight years (see my post Scattered Families on A Separate Life). I’ve bemoaned the fact (many times!) that we have no siblings living in this town, and my husband has no siblings in this country. It makes it harder as we have sole responsibility for caring for his parents, we won’t have the companionship of siblings here when we age so will be faced with decisions (friends vs family – perhaps another post to come), and we lose out on relationships with nieces and nephews too.

I was keen to spend as much time with them as I can. And then got thinking the other day about the depth of feeling I have around spending time with and getting to know the girls during the all-to-brief time they’re here in New Zealand. Mostly, in the past, I’ve put this down to the fact that they live so far away. After all, missing them and wanting to see them is a perfectly normal emotion. It’s not just on my side either. I know they feel the loss of not having any relationships with their father’s side of the family. Aside from us and their grandparents, the girls have never met any of them, including their cousins, and I find that really sad.

Then I stepped back, and thought about it some more. Do I feel this way because I don't have children? Or because I don’t have the luxury of having many other children in my life? If I had children myself, would I feel this real need to get to know them, and for them to know me?

I know that I would always want to get to know them, to +an extent. But I doubt that the need would be the same. If I were a parent, my primary relationships with children would be as a mother. But my primary relationships – actually, my only relationships – with children are instead as an aunt through my nieces and nephews, and through a few children of my friends. (Though as friends’ children grow, their parents’ friends see them much less. With nieces and nephews, that relationship always exists.)

And so I feel the loss. I’m not so much mourning the loss of my own children, because I’ve come to terms with that. But I do feel the loss of the relationships with nieces and nephews. They’re my only connection with the next generation, and I value that, when I can get it. They’re the only people who will remember me when I’m gone. I’m not sure that worries me too much – being forgotten, I mean. But it is nice to know that there will be some people after I’m gone who might have valued having me in their lives.

Still, I can’t do much about it. And I know to try to fill that void by pressuring myself or the girls (or other nieces and nephews) to intensify our relationships wouldn’t work for any of us. The best is to take it naturally, and enjoy it when it happens. Which is what I’ve been doing over the last few weeks.

29 December, 2017

It was worth it

On Christmas Day, my husband’s childless/free aunt and uncle arrived at our house first. Almost as soon they arrived in the door, Uncle H noted that he had seen my photograph in the paper a few weeks ago, and complimented me on the article.

“It’s true, there is a stigma,” he said, in his thick Austrian accent. “Even if it is mostly unspoken, you know it is there.”

I agreed, adding that it's not always unspoken!

And now I wonder, how many times in his life has he been able to talk to someone about this? Knowing that the answer is inevitably "not very often, if at all"  has made all those nerves I suffered over the article and photo and video worthwhile.

25 December, 2017

Only one day

It is Christmas Eve here in NZ, and I am wrapping my final gifts, the dessert is in the oven, my husband is vacuuming the house, and before  I start another list of chores, I'm taking a break and feeling thoughtful, writing my Microblog Monday in advance.

On Monday, my house will be full of family - in-laws, but family nonetheless. I know I am lucky. The one person I know who won't be with family or friends tomorrow has declined an invitation to join us. Ironically, she is a mother, with four children and many grand-children. She says, though, that she will be okay on her own, and in truth, I know she won't be.

It does make me sad, though, to know there will be many lonely people tomorrow, and that's the part I dislike about these institutionalised family celebrations such as Christmas. So I spare a thought for anyone out there who is feeling alone, send my love, and remind them that it is only one day.

18 December, 2017

If we did photocards ...

I read Jess's thoughtful post (link here) about what to put on her photocard this year, and she got me thinking about what I would put on a photocard in the this-was-my-year style, if it were the practice in NZ.

I'd have some photos of the native birds that visit our trees; the regular tui, the rare but increasing less rare, and sometimes amorous, kaka (a native parrot), and the kereru (wood pigeon) pair who pay annual visits.

I'd include a photo from one of our visits up north to see my niece, probably one from when we took her for her riding lesson the weekend her parents absconded to Auckland and left us in charge.

Of course, I would include some of our travel photos, as our trip to Iceland, Scandinavia and the Baltic was undoubtedly the highlight of our year. You can find photos from this on my Instagram feed @travellingmali, but I'd probably include the only semi-decent photo of the two of us  (you'll note I'm abandoning all efforts to remain anonymous and invisible here) of the entire year, taken in Iceland, as well as a selection from the other countries, including perhaps the loo with a view (see the fjord from the pedestal!) in Norway.


And of course, it wouldn't be me if there wasn't a photo of some wine or cocktail (this one was the best I've tasted in years, thanks to some premium rum - apparently) being consumed somewhere.

Time with friends and family is important too, and although a feature of our year has been the dependence of my PILs, I don't think it would be kind to document that in a card, so I'd use photos from fun occasions, including our croquet game over the hill just a few weeks ago, or the return visit of some overseas siblings-in-law in August, when we partook of the offerings available in the Wellington on a Plate festival.

Finally, this was the photo I chose (from last year's seasonal baking) for the 2017 card I made and sent to a few selected, generally non-blogging non-Fb people, and to mark the season, I am pretty sure I would include that on my photocard too.

11 December, 2017

The surprising irrelevance of choice

When I was interviewed for the article that was published last week, the reporter and I had a conversation about labels, and I shared my view that I dislike both the childLESS and childFREE arguments, as I wrote here. Six years on, the No Kidding community adds the qualifiers “by choice” or “not by choice” much more frequently. So I got thinking about it again, concluding that - if I had to give myself a label - I am now childfree not by choice.

What I realised, though, and was even surprised by, was something much bigger, and that was how the use of this description now feels academic to me in 2017. I completely understand why others might want to use these terms, and I have done so when it felt right too, but now, when I have spent more time alive knowing without doubt that I would never have children than I did planning or hoping or grieving, the state of being without children is now my norm, regardless of how I got here.

Many years on now from my losses, the idea of choice (or not) no longer (or very rarely) enters in to how I feel about my life. I am a woman without children, and sometimes that's good and sometimes that's not so good, but most times it is irrelevant whether I chose to live this way or not; it is simply my reality, my life. I am pleased to say that the passing of time has therefore delivered a freedom from that pain that I could never have imagined back in those early days and years.

04 December, 2017

Our tribe isn't quite so invisible these days

The article came out on Saturday, both online and in the Saturday newspaper’s magazine, with photos and, gulp, a video of me speaking in the online version. So far I’ve avoided looking at the comments, and suspect that is the reason why I feel so surprisingly relaxed about it.

I loved the cover of the magazine, the words they chose and the question asked. 

The title of the article too, was The Invisible Tribe, although with articles like these, and with the publicity many of the No Kidding bloggers and websites (Jody Day’s Gateway Women was specifically mentioned in the article) are getting (it helps to have a No Kidding Prime Minister here), I hope we are becoming more visible. And most importantly, more accepted.

Finally, although the article was pitched to me to be about being childless at Christmas, I think that it grew from that, and in fact turned into something much broader and rather good, but didn't deal with the difficulties childless women/men/couples might face at Christmas. In my interview, I told the reporter that I had decided to ignore all the “Christmas is about children” hoopla, and that I had, over the years, reclaimed Christmas to be mine, but unfortunately, this encouragement to women without children that Christmas can indeed be for them didn’t make the final edit. So I’ve noted that again, and have linked to a more detailed, seven-year-old (to the day) Christmas/holiday post here, to remind us all to think about how we can make the holidays work for us.