05 December, 2023

Adjusting expectations


About a month ago, I invited my sister, her husband, and daughter to spend Christmas with us. After only a day or two, they enthusiastically accepted. I was excited. I’ve hosted Christmas dinners here fairly often to take the responsibility off my elderly in-laws. Sometimes it has been a small gathering – the smallest was my husband’s father and uncle three years ago (dare I say it, the most depressing!) – and the largest was when a couple of my husband’s brothers and their families returned home for the holidays. Not huge gatherings, but big enough for my small kitchen and fridge! Lol Once my in-laws were gone, I’ve spent the day with my one or both of my sisters and their families – in the south, and the north for a change of scenery. Last year, there were just the two of us here at home, and it was quite lovely, even though I had faced it with some trepidation.

But this year I was ready for a few more people, and I was really looking forward to it. My niece is now 15, and my sister and brother-in-law share our interest in wine and good food. It was going to be a lovely adult celebration, with the things we love. I was keen to use some things I have stored away to make the house seem more festive. I was going to dig out the beautiful tablecloths and candlesticks and serving crystal bowls I’ve inherited. I also thought it might be fun to use some spare Christmas stockings I still have. (I gave a number away once I knew I wouldn’t have children, and wrote about it here.) Especially as, cleaning out a drawer, I found some things that could be slipped into a stocking, along with some baking or chocolate or something fun, just to make it an occasion. After all, I’ve never been able to do this for children, and my husband and I don’t really “do” gifts, because we don’t want clutter of unnecessary gifts. But also I guess because The Husband gets stressed out. I’d already started meal planning, and activity planning, and cleaning out the freezer so I can freeze meals or pizza doughs etc to make hosting easy. For once, I was actively looking forward to Christmas.

Then I got a phone call. Someone close to us had asked to join us for Christmas, and my sister had accepted on my behalf. She texted me saying she hoped it was okay, following up before I even had time to respond to the text with a face-to-face call. (Note: Things I have always hated include: surprise phone calls, face-to-face calls when I am unprepared, and having to deal with surprise news in front of others. Argh.) So, I had no time to process any of it. And in honesty, I was so soooooo disappointed. Even though I knew I could never have declined the request, and understood the reasons for it.

So I was going through the logistics of it all, processing my thoughts out loud in front of her. Of course, all the negatives came up first – how to squeeze everyone in to our house, nothing to amuse a three-year-old, all the food/sleeping in/adult activity plans going out the window, our house and garden (is a deck a garden?) unsafe for a little one, etc. The degree of cleaning/sorting/decluttering I will have to do to squeeze them in.

My sister is a different personality to me. She loves being surrounded by people. The more the merrier. For her it’s probably a bonus. But not for me. I tried to explain it to her, but I don’t think she gets it. Yes, I have reclaimed the season and do it my way. Yes, I love my tree, and certain parts of the day – the croissant breakfasts, champagne, the desserts, the beautiful table! Yes, I like hosting a group at Christmas lunch. But yes, I still breathe a sigh of relief after everyone has gone home and we get the evening to ourselves, or at the very least on the next day when all the pressure (external and internal) is somehow lifted. I had looked forward to showing them <Mali’s> Christmas <Mali’s> way, and anticipated a fun, relaxed day. Now, it will by necessity be different.

My emotions are confused. I feel selfish for feeling disappointed, when the circumstances around the request are so much worse. I feel annoyed that I didn’t get a chance to process the change in circumstances in my own time. I assume (although this could be all in my imagination - those inner critical voices we all battle) that my sister will judge me and think that a) that I am selfish, and inflexible, and b) I am <fill in the blanks with any other pronatalist stereotype> because I don’t have kids. I feel empathy and compassion for the person making the request. And for the child who will be coming to strangers. As I said, I would never have declined the request. But time to breathe would have been nice.

Of course, almost immediately I started coming to terms with the change, and adjusting plans. Since then, I keep seeing the perils of my house for a young child, and what I will need to make it safe, and how impossible that will be in a house with four separate staircases, no lawn, and a rickety dangerous outdoor staircase that is on our to-do list to fix later this summer. I am thinking about activities – the playground down the road, the zoo that will be open, the beaches that might be safe, the walks we could do that aren’t too onerous. What we can put in the little one’s Christmas stocking (that is not too onerous for the person to take home). Whether I will need to rent a car seat, pushchair/stroller, other things to make the visit easier for our two new visitors. Not the thoughts of a selfish person, I would think, but no-one sees that. We’ll make it fun, and it will be a nice time together, and won’t last forever, and we will ease the troubles of someone we love for a few days. And I’ll be okay. We will have to do a fun, more adult, celebration some other year.

But as a childless person who has been through the painful process of learning to embrace the joys of an adult Christmas, and for years has successfully done this,  I’m now going to be reminded, closely and intently, of what I will have missed. Maybe that’s what has been hard to adjust to, just as I enter this awkward anniversary season of two pregnancy losses (the first anniversary begins today/tomorrow), and the end of my fertility journey. I don’t know.

Now, some days later from that first explosion of words and feelings above, I think I’ll be fine. I don’t want a three-year-old now, after all. And my expectations for the time have adjusted. I've had to do that before. I will have to do it again. I can do it now. After all, it is a privilege that we were chosen as the most desirable option for these two over the holiday period. It will be a privilege to share these days with them, and to brighten their time (we hope). I’m fine with it now. I have a couple of weeks to prepare the house. And I just have to think about what dishes I have in my repertoire that might be okay for a three-year-old; almost everything I cook is spicy. Maybe we’ll just barbecue every day and eat leftover ham sandwiches – it is summer after all!

27 November, 2023

Grief and gratitude


I often comment that I am inspired by other blogger’s writings. Sometimes I’ll say, “I’m off to think about that more now,” and I make a note of it in a file. I might think about it and respond within a week or two. But it’s not unusual to take a bit longer. Or even five years longer!

Mel’s post about grief here popped up for me today. It’s a great post, and I’m linking it here because I know not everyone reads her blog, especially if you are triggered by mention of children.

There were two ideas from her post that I loved, and want to discuss. The first was the idea that “you are not your grief.” It is part of us, but it is not us. I really like that. It’s the same with having no children. Sure, that created grief for many of us. But we are so much more than our ability or not to have children. We are so much more than people who grieved that loss. And we are all so much more than childless or childfree or any combination of that. I like that reminder. We’re whole people. Everything we go through is just part of us. It might take time for us to get to that understanding, as initially it feels like it is everything. But we come to realise – some of us sooner than others – that we are so so much more than one thing (however huge) that we’ve been through. It doesn’t define us. We are more.

Secondly, Mel made this comment,

 “… it helped me to realize grief for what it is; something that is doing its hardest to help during a time period that only hurts.

That sentence blew my mind. Grief, as discussed in her post, is a way to get through something we are experiencing. It was an amazing idea that grief might actually help us. But when I think about it, it actually does. It helped protect myself, in terms of exposure to others or other situations that might be upsetting, but also in terms of allowing me to actually experience the feelings of grief, and to deal with them. It let me feel the grief itself, and mourn what I had lost. That was honouring my loss, my husband’s loss, and my losses themselves. It was an important ritual to go through, because I could then begin to recover without feeling guilty about not being sad enough. I’d been sad enough, but it became time not to be.

In dealing with those feelings of grief, I was able to work through each of them in terms of understanding what were rational and what were irrational or based on assumptions or stereotypes. That helped create resilience. I was able to learn what I actually thought about my situation. The grief I felt taught me more about myself, and that was really valuable. It definitely helped you.

Of course, I wouldn’t or maybe couldn’t have appreciated this at the time. But so many years later, I can see the truth of it. And even be grateful for it. Thanks, Mel.