28 March, 2022

Monday Miscellany: No Kidding style

I baked the bread, and it was easy and delicious. I have now got several new recipes I want to try. (There’s a Roquefort/blue cheese and walnut loaf that sounds to die for!)And thanks to Elaine for the (very logical) suggestion that I slice up the bread I haven’t eaten and freeze it. I’m going to do that in the future. If I make rolls or buns etc, I’ll give them to neighbours. Especially as Easter is coming up, and I want to try to make Hot Cross Buns again.

I became aware too late that this last weekend was the Day-that-shall-not-be-named in the UK. I hope my readers there passed the day peacefully, and took a little time for themselves, and to exercise some self-care. Sending hugs. I’m hoping by now you can recover and dismiss thoughts of the day for another year.

If you are on Facebook, the page for World Childless Week is reposting all the submissions from WCW last year. There is some wonderful thought-provoking material there that is, I have to say, much more digestible when it is drip fed to us at a slower pace. I'm enjoying reading individual's thoughts, and having more time to think about them. It’s well worth a look!

Speaking of Facebook, there is a (recently discovered) feature that allows you to stop notifications for particular dates – if there are dates/events/posts that are painful, or you’d prefer to forget, you can opt not to see these in your reminders. 

Finally, if you have followed my Insta page (@nokiddinginnz), you’ll know how completely slack I have been at posting links to my posts recently. Apologies - I’m planning to do better.



21 March, 2022

Putting our yearning on a shelf

I saw a graphic this morning that I really wanted to share with you, but it wasn't credited, and had been copied and edited, and I'm uncomfortable with using someone else's work Effectively, it was about acceptance, in an entirely different context. 

It comes down to the simple idea that acceptance is not fighting against the facts of our lives. Acceptance is simply recognising what those facts are. Then getting on with life.

That's the first step. For many of us, acceptance then takes a further step towards embracing our lives as they are, and seeing what they can be. And as we know, they can be beautiful. 

I'm really sorry - the graphic would have made this point much more succintly, and would have made you smile!

But in a previous post several years ago, a commenter (and former blogger) Jamie, summed it all up rather beautifully as follows:

"Sometimes it's hard to let go and you have to do so on your own timeline. However, happiness is what you miss out on when the yearning is too big. I think that is why I took a break. While the yearning was lessening, it was far too present. I needed to put it up on the shelf to allow myself to be more than and to make more space for happiness."

14 March, 2022

Bread and childlessness

I had an urge to bake this morning. Bread, specifically. I enjoy the way the yeast and water react, froth, the way the dough texture changes after kneading, or when it rises, and the smell of the bread as it is cooking. The kneading is not my main pleasure. Instead, I am fascinated by the different textures of the bread-making process. I think all baking is like that - from the creamed butter and sugar, changing when you add eggs, changing again with flour, and then heat. I remember one of the first things I learned to make at home with my mother. Hokey pokey, the kiwi word for honeycomb toffee. It was so exciting adding the baking soda to the sugar/golden syrup, and seeing the ingredients explode into a magical frothy mixture. It was the chemical reaction I found fascinating, as much as the taste of the end result. I feel the same way about bread.

I could get all philosophical and say that life is like that too. Put different ingredients together, or leave one out, and see what you get. But that isn't the point of this post. Today, I just want some room to complain a little. I wanted to bake bread. But I still had some of my favourite bread (Vogel's spelt and flaxseed) left, and don't like throwing it away. DH was out playing golf, so wouldn't be home for lunch. And there was no-one else to help me eat whatever I was going to make. So it would be a case of making something simply for fun. Which maybe would have been fine, though I was taught not to waste food (even though these days I do my fair share). I have the same quandary when I bake anything, but with the added issue of how unhealthy will it be. Maybe that's another reason I like baking bread!

That's the thing, isn't it? Even decisions over which bread am I going to make are influenced by the fact that I don't have children. Okay, I know realistically any kids I might have had might not be living at home any longer. But I could have had years of baking bread for them or with them before they set off for university or careers or travel or love. It makes me feel a little sad.

And right now, I'm allowing myself to feel that regret. But what I won't do is allow myself to stay sitting in it. So this afternoon or tonight, I'm going to prepare the no-knead bread that needs to sit for at least 12 hours overnight, and will bake it tomorrow for lunch. I've only made it once, so I want to try it again. It will be nice in a sandwich with tomato and salad and cheese, or maybe some ham, or perhaps with some soup. I'm sure my husband will want to toast it. And over a few days, I'm pretty sure we will be able to devour the loaf. If it comes out okay, that is. Of course, there's no reason to assume that it won't. And there you have it - maybe bread-baking is a metaphor for life after all.

07 March, 2022

"Do you have children?" - how parents might react

Further to my post last week, this week I want to talk about the perspective of parents, both in asking this question, and their reactions to it.

From the perspective of the majority, the people who have children, the question* “do you have children?” seems perfectly reasonable. For them, it is an easy topic of conversation, an easy way for them to find things in common to talk about, with lots of follow-up questions (how old, what schools, etc). It breaks the ice, and allows people to bond quickly when they don’t know anything about each other. “What’s wrong with that?” they think, not allowing themselves to answer their own question. So I'll answer it for them.

When we do have a conversation with strangers, rather than ask the question bluntly, some throw in a casual comment or comments about their children that are often a seemingly natural part of conversation. This is perfectly natural – we talk about what we know. But it also might be that these comments are in fact a fishing expedition, a call-and-response process. Those making them might mention something as an aside, but they are also often testing the waters to see if there is a response that tells them whether they can continue to this line of discussion. It tells them whether they can delve further into the world of parenting and kids or not. I’m actually fine with this approach. It allows parents to choose whether or not they want to volunteer information about their children. And it is a much more subtle way of asking “the question,” and one which doesn’t require a direct response. It is more sensitive, and less intrusive, and allows me to show interest in their lives, without throwing myself into a whole “I have kids too” type of conversation.

We all follow this “fishing” technique in multiple ways – talking about work, or seeing if there is an interest in travel or sport or even politics or reading or gardening or any other topics of conversation – without directly broaching the issue which might cause conflict or make someone feel awkward. I, for example, am careful about talking about travel with people I don’t know (and people I do know) … though not so much on my blogs! I’m conscious that there are people who would love to travel, but can’t because of financial issues, fear of flying, child or parental care issues, health issues, work issues, partners who refuse to travel, nervousness, those who can’t travel because they don’t want to travel alone, or those who just aren’t interested! And so I take my cues from others. Just as anyone, casting out small comments about an issue to see if anyone takes a bite, needs to watch for those bites or their absence. Their absence is just as informative as a confirmation. People who are fishing like this need to read* the room, as do the others in the conversation. We all need to be aware.

To state the obvious, in a conversation amongst adults who have just met each other, if someone does not respond to a comment or several separate comments about children, or responds referring to their niece(s) or nephew(s), there is probably a very good reason for it. If anyone is not volunteering information about their children or nonchildren, then they are clearly not wanting to bring up the issue in that group. At that point, a tactful conversation can easily and gently continue in other directions, without making anyone feel awkward. It doesn’t even have to go as far as making anyone feel very awkward.

I’ve heard it suggested that asking "the question" allows shy parents to join in on the conversation, when otherwise they might feel excluded. In my observations, however, parents don’t generally hang back from mentioning their children, unless they don’t want to, and it is common for parents (even shy ones) to say, “mine too” or offer some other anecdote about their children, simply to establish a mutuality of experience, show that they understand, or that they are part of the club too, or to invite other conversation about kids. It’s an issue of where is the most or least harm. Parents who are shy about joining a conversation are rarely going to feel as excluded as those of us without children when asked a pointed question.

But those of us who are childless or childfree are not the only ones who might bristle at being asked this question, or feel excluded in a conversation. 

  • Perhaps they are trying to have them and struggling? 
  • Perhaps they have lost a child or pregnancy
  • Perhaps they just don't want to talk about their kids that particular day
  • Maybe they have special needs kids and so can’t join in on parts of the conversation and don't want to go through the explanation yet again
  • Maybe they have a difficult relationship with their children. 
  • Or perhaps they've just had a terrible day and need a break 
  • What if their children are really struggling at the time?
  • What if their kids have behavioural difficulties?
  • What if their kids are diabolical teenagers at the moment/the last two years? 
  • Let's not even touch on the conversations amongst women about vaginal births, breastfeeding etc which can isolate those with C-sections, adoptive parents, those who used surrogates, couldn’t breastfeed, etc.
  • Maybe parents don't feel comfortable sharing anything about their children to strangers
  • Some parents just don’t always want to talk about their kids all the time.
  • Maybe a mother is sick of being categorised as a mother before everything else. 
  • Maybe they want to be seen as a person in their own right at a particular event or in a business context
  • Maybe they're my SIL, who told me how a colleague used to discuss business or clients with her when they were on the same train commuting home, until she had her first child. Then she was only asked about her child, even though she was a new partner at their law firm. She was put in a box, and was not treated as an equal. It infuriated her.
  • Maybe parents go out to meet new people as an escape or break from parenting?
  • Maybe not every parent is ecstatic about their parenthood
  • Perhaps they don't want to be identified as a parent
  • Perhaps they lost custody of their children
I’m sure there are many other reasons why some parents might not want to be invited into a conversation about their children.

It’s a question, then, that people ask from a place of privilege. Not just the privilege of being parents, but of being parents who are happy to talk about their kids, to share with others the fun stories, or the details of where they go to school, or play sports, or how well they’re doing at university or in their chosen careers. I really wish parents would think about that. After all, they might be more compassionate to their fellow parents than they are to the No Kidding!

Of course, having said that, I do have to acknowledge that parents might be so busy parenting that there is little else that they think about, or even have the capacity to think about. When parenting is so all-encompassing, they may feel uncomfortable in discussions about other issues - they don't have time or energy to travel, or read the latest news or listen to music or watch the latest Netflix shows or see plays or play sports or eat out. Maybe they don't work, or work is just a means to an end. I understand that. And I could talk about that with them, or even about what they wished they had time to do/see/read etc. It's not as if I am totally against discussions about children. Of course, although I'm especially interested in my friends' children, I'm happy to hear about other people's kids. But not to the exclusion of all else.

So my point is that it should never be a one-sided conversation, ignoring those who can't or who are uncomfortable participating. Conversations should be an exploration of experiences, views, commonalities, information. They should invite people in rather than leave people out.  Some questions don't do that. "Do you have children?" might be one of them.

* Yes, I know, I’m in danger of mixing metaphors, and I hope this is not too obscure for my English as a Second Language readers.