Thursday, November 18, 2010

More to Life.

This question was sent to me several days ago during a Q & A session, and I thought I'd reap the greatest benefit from it by replying not only to the asker, but to The Empty Cradle in general. I've altered very little from the original response, because it was already an acceptably tidy explanation of where I stand on the issue, but it needed expansion and touching up.

"I read your blog regarding choosing to be childless. What advice would you offer those women who are having trouble coping with being childless not by choice?"

Firstly, I would tell them that it's all about perspective - I am not childless. I am childfree. "Less" implies that I lack something I want, "free" implies that I'm free of something I don't want.

Secondly - if you have explored all reasonable options to conceive/have a child in your life and, for whatever reason, it just can't happen, then I would encourage you to look past the posed holiday photos, cheerful toy commercials, and those picturesque family moments that parents shrink down to wallet-size for proud accessibility during office conversation.

Those are part of parenthood, but they are not the bulk of the deal. Look.

Look at the fresh crop of suddenly-serious arguments that appeared in the marriage of your best friends when they added another baby to the equation.

Look at the lamentations of parents to their friends that, no, they can't join you for lunch/dinner/dancing/gym/class/a play because they can't find a babysitter/their spouse refuses to watch the kids.

Look at the mess that some people's houses are because they can't stay on top of both children and housekeeping.

Look at the drained, embarrassed faces of parents in Wal Mart whose kids are on the floor, beating their little fists against the tiles and wailing because they are upset, sometimes at an age that's too young to explain why, sometimes at an age that's damn well old enough to know better. Look at them, drawing annoyed glances from other shoppers, being judged, sometimes fairly, sometimes not.

Look at the constant struggle to balance rising costs of raising a family with lessening quality of sleep.

Look at the heartbreaking cases of empty nest syndrome and the quiet depressions that occur after some children move on, in people who thought that kids were all they could ever want in life, but are now realizing that wasn't true, but now they feel too old/broke/sick, etc to find out what was missing.

This is not the experience for all parents, and some who do experience it say that it's a small sacrifice for the love they find in return. But these scenarios do happen, and often, and not everyone who's had children is happy with their decision.

I'm compelled to repeat that - not everyone who has kids is happy about it. It's only fair to combat the constant recitations that are leveled at me yearly that "so-and-so didn't have kids and regretted it when she was fifty." Yes, some childfree people change their minds. So do some parents.

So, my advice is to look. Really look. There's a risk you take in this endeavor that it won't turn out to be that enlightening, life-perfecting thing you've always imagined. Not everyone is cut out for it; personally, I think more people aren't than are, but they've decided that it's their right to have a baby, because they want a baby.

If you've considered all of that already and still find yourself unhappy and "childless," then I truly feel for you, and I hope that you're able to conceive one day and live out your dream.

But if it doesn't happen, or in the meantime, do many, many, many other things! If you're involved, wake your partner up at midnight on a Tuesday and go for a long, long walk - without calling a sitter. Spend every ounce of your disposable income one paycheck just on yourself! Have sex on the living room floor at 2 pm on a non-school day; loud, raunchy, hands-in-every-crevice kind of sex. Take up a hobby that's a little bit reckless, because you don't have to worry about what you'd be leaving behind.

Enjoy your oneness. If you're part of a couple, enjoy your twoness. Life as a twosome has been the most rewarding, indulgent, beautiful adventure I could have ever imagined. Maybe children will happen for you one day, but I've yet to understand those who rush toward parenthood. Enjoy you. Enjoy JUST you, the spectacular individual that you are, the layers and layers of you there are left to peel open.

There is more to womanhood, to romance, and to LIFE, than devoting your every waking moment to the maintenance and upkeep of your offspring. There is more to life than marching down that pre-determined path of school, marriage, pregnancy, PTA. There is more to life than parenthood, even for the best and happiest of parents.

There is still much more to life.

Monday, November 15, 2010

All The World's Love Couldn't Satisfy You

Walked but forgot it was Sunday; the city was half asleep and the buildings were empty. Found only one open door. An old woman shuffled busily in and out of it, creating a display on the sidewalk that might entice weekend treasure hunters to stop by.

She lamented to me with her eye turned down the street toward a row of 'sorry, we're closed!' signs, "A bunch of the other owners told me they'd start opening up on Sundays, too, but nobody has."

Inside, I touched everything. I am now a part of the history of those items, another pair of hands that have held them over the years. Whoever goes home with a certain antique sideboard will be taking a piece of me along. When a young woman maneuvers carefully around in those 30-year-old silver slingbacks, I'll be a shadow in her step.

I don't know how else to leave myself behind, but I know that's what I'm always trying to do. I remember being 12, stuffing glass Coke bottles and my mother's empty wine containers with notes, letters, poetry and short stories. I would take them, one by one, to any body of water I happened to be near - Sloan Lake, the struggling puddle of ducks in Holliday Park, even the Florida shores during a visit I don't remember the circumstances of. I spent hours of my youth fantasizing about the lives of those who might find them - what they would think, and what they would go on to do once they'd dropped the bottle and returned to their lives.

Maybe that's where I began my love of characterization.

But I think that, more than anything, I wanted to get a response. I don't know how I imagined they would know who I was or how to get in touch with me, but what I wanted most was to be communicated with by the recipient. I was such a strange child. I reached out in a hundred different ways to a hundred different types of people; I was socially inelegant and unable to harness my emotions when they left me, it's no surprise I was so often spooked from.

It must have been the natural progression, necessary but subconscious, for me to eventually give up and find other methods of connecting. Leaving messages in bottles in the lake. Writing things in the bathroom stalls that were heartfelt and sincere, rather than aggressive or insulting. Sneaking behind a computer screen to create a world I could live in unseen, through characters more interesting, enjoyable and lovable than myself.

13 years later, thirteen, that little mass of years, and even with my advancements through awkward, lonesome, stifled and silly youth, I see I'm still the same girl - though settled and in love, surrounded by the brilliance of others and finally part of a family, a network of affectionate people, I'm still sending messages in subtlety out of habit; still stuffing my notes into bottles, so to speak. Still thinking that if only I put my hands on something old, then I, too, will be old, then I, too, will become part of the lives of whoever purchases that thing I've touched.

I took my chances on the pleasant feeling of nostalgia the whole scene gave me and asked the old woman, now bespectacled and sitting primly behind the counter, if they needed any part-time help. She took down my information to give to the same woman who sold me my polka-dotted dress from 1964. "You have perfect timing," she said, licking her finger to thumb through a notepad for something blank that I could write on. "She was just saying to me last night that she wanted to hire somebody to help out with new items and arranging, and the register when she's making a sale."

It will not swell my bank account, be sure, but how settling and satisfying it should be to spend a few weekdays there, surrounded by homemade or decades-old decorative clutter and helping cheerful old women rearrange furniture.

I want to be a part of what's around me.

On my way back I passed a funeral parlor, watched from across the street just long enough for an Autumn gust to ghost through and shake loose a hundred burnt golden leaves or more on the roof of a single white hearse.

I thought of how to work the scene into a story and walked home.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


With such sudden enthusiasm, I want to travel everywhere, pack myself a suitcase full of precious, comfortable things and watch the scenery shift underneath me. I've learned that the sun feels different on your shoulders depending on where you are at the time; I want to feel the sun on me in Jamaica, looking down from an ornate balcony in Paris, sampling unusual delicacies on the streets of Thailand.

The anonymity of travel is so appealing. I used to disparage my fellow American for entering another country on holiday without knowing the language, but imagine the freedom this affords you - to spend those quickly slipping days obligated to no one and nothing, the complete removal from social situations you aren't prepared for - imagine knowing only enough of anything to get exactly what you need, and then spending every other second in blissful, left-alone ignorance. You become another part of the scenery. And how much more important is the companion you travel with ever going to be than during these stranger-in-a-strange-land exercises in emotional surrealism?

Lover and I were discussing just yesterday, with an attitude that swung between realistic and playful, how we will soon shun all responsibility and take to the streets, walk from one end of the country to the other as hobos and document the experience. I can't help but to romanticize the whole thing, to think, almost as if I'm intoxicated, that this is how it should be. That we would be discovered, that we would be so perfectly undone in a life without luxury.

I am so ready for an adventure. I have felt for years, even in moments so blissful they were obscene, that my life still hasn't begun; that I've been stranded in this outdated and malfunctioning version of myself because I haven't heard the gun go off yet, because the race simply hasn't started. I am so ready for an adventure.

I am so ready to Begin.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

In My Skin.

Okay, I say. Okay, I'm beautiful. Okay, okay. It's okay.

Because my eyebrows do not arch, clever and feminine, across my brow; no, they slope and sag, and hover flatly over my eyes, one cocked a little bit higher than the other no matter what expression I'm making.

Because my lips are not plump and voluptuous, they do not beckon men to fantasize, instead they disappear at the edges and smudge in pixel dots of purple skin, they dip to different angles on either side.

Because my breasts are not full and proud, because my stomach is not flat and firm, no. No, where one should've had more, there is less, and where one should have had less, there is more.

Because my skin is not creamy, because it won't hold a tan, won't conceal its slithering little blue veins; instead it blotches and breaks, dries up and leaves me itching.

For these things, in spite of them, because of them, I am beautiful, I see where it is.

I see it in pictures. I have a crooked smile, not because my mouth twists, but because my teeth don't seem to sit still. I guard it when I think about it.

But in pictures, in happy, candid little snapshots, I'm not thinking about my mobile teeth. That, the candid smile, is something sneaky, it becomes shameless. I see the beauty in myself when I'm happy. I could fall in love with that girl whose face is squeezed up with wrinkles that form puddles under her eyes, I could fall in love with that girl surrounded by her friends, making a silly expression, bottle in hand, concerned with nothing but how good she feels in the moment.

I could fall so hard in love with that girl. And I think it's the love she's got already that makes her suddenly stunning.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pretty Old Smile

With powerful clarity, remembering Grandpa and I in front of the deep, white farmhouse sink in Cheyenne, the Christmas he and Grandma visited us in that ugly little blue apartment on 20th street, where he taught me how to properly hand-wash dishes. It was more common not to have a machine in Cheyenne at that point than to have one, and back home in Florida, dishes were his nightly chore. One of the many things he took pride in.

We were side by side, our hands pruning, his unusual accent instructing me about why we always used the hottest water we could stand, and I'm barely listening, because he's Grandpa, and everything he says makes you want to look at his face and get lost in the map of the long, strong life he's lead.

He saved silverware for last, and by the time we got around to it, I was desperate to impress him.

"Now, you don't just run these all under water, wipe 'em with a towel and call it a day," Grandpa said, because that's exactly what he'd seen me do the night before, and had prompted our lesson. "You've gotta soap and scrub each one."
So, I picked up one single piece of silverware at a time, worked it over with a sponge front and back, rinsed it, dried it, put it on the rack.
He waited for at least three cycles of breath to say, ". . . well, for God's sake, girl, you can do a handful at once, I DO have a program to watch."

If you could've heard the lightness in his voice, and seen that pretty old smile, I swear you'd know exactly why this is one of my favorite memories.

Every so often, when I'm feeling nostalgic, I'll hand wash each piece of silverware in my sink one by one, just to drive him a little bit crazy n the back of my mind.

February 3rd, 2008

Digging up old writing.

Sometimes, I wish that you could see me when you're not here, when I'm dancing in the kitchen with a broom and I'm careless and uninhibited and loud, when I'm delighted, when I'm alive and drunk with gratitude. I can tell that I'm sexy, that I'm someone worth loving.
I think that if you knew what I was like, when fear of disappointing you didn't cripple me into stupidity, you'd love me even harder than you already do.

March 29th, 2008

Digging up old writing.

Drowsily leaving a situation where I felt I could look nowhere for support, I'm mourning the inevitable end of my personal institutions, things that once felt so indestructible; the small and mighty collections of loved ones I've had rotate through my life in shifts and phases. It seemed insignificant at the time, but looking back, these phases feel warm, golden and glowing.

It's hard to accept that at various times in the last several years I've been A Part Of things, different things, which is all I've ever wanted, and none of those things stand up today. I have kept, where possible, a face from the crowd, endeared to me, sewn to me, but that certain kind of laughter that touches many people at once, the fluttering feeling in my stomach that says "I belong, I am home," they're both gone. Now, I live in my cold stone house, and when I want a friendly face I have to leave, and go knocking one at a time on doors as gray and chill as my own, one at a time, one at a time, exhausted by the end of the run but never fulfilled.

I am not an audience, and I am not a solitaire. I am not even an entertainer, though god knows I wish I were.

I am a family member. That is what I'm meant to be. Not one of the many, but one of the few, one of the happy, loving few who radiate light absorbed by those who surround them.

But I am not a family member for my -own- family, there are obstacles standing in the way. Instead I fashion sub-families with my companions, and without those sub-families, no matter how many people I love who love me, I will always feel inexplicably lonely. I need my loved ones to know and love each other, so we can all congregate in one spot and share each other when judged, mocked, ignored or harmed everywhere else.

And when I find them, without fail, they dissipate.

Letter to My Unborn Child

I have wanted, at different times and stages in my life and marriage, to meet you when you were born, watch the very beginning of a brand new personality that I would help create, whose wit and charm and stupidity and clumsiness and potential and spirit and laziness and compassion I would all be responsible for.

I imagined it would happen in the morning, at my favorite time of day, when the dawn is sure coming, but still imperfect, a fuzz of blue. I imagined you would be a winter baby.

I thought of your face, soft under my hand, and how your first laugh would sound through my ribs and get caught in my heart. I've felt you, small but heavy in my arms, holding your head because you're so fragile, because it could break at any moment, and have dressed you for school a thousand times or more in a fantasy. I have imagined, in fault, the strength of my love for you, how it would demolish and refresh me, how it would awaken me, how it would open up a door in my heart I never knew was there before.

I thought about the things that I would tell you - that your aunt Tiffany was wonder woman, that she was fearless and powerful and the role model I wish I'd noticed more growing up, that your uncle Nathan had a good, loyal heart above everything else he tried to show you of himself, that your grandmother was crazy and had done things you would never experience, but that she always loved her children even when it wasn't obvious, and that she had never grown out of being one herself (sometimes to amazing, special, hilarious results; the young at heart make fascinating parents). I would tell you about your grandfather's worst habits with care, avoiding, at least until you were older, the ones I wouldn't want to darken your outlook forever. I would caution you around his mistakes, use them to introduce you to the charisma in him that makes an entire room orbit around even his oldest jokes and stories. Somehow, no wrong he has ever committed against me or my mother has stood up to the power of his presence, the warmth of his humor.

These are beautiful people, I would promise you, but in family, like in every other part of life, you would have to take the bad with the good and decide if your heart was big enough to love someone that you didn't always like. Sometimes it isn't possible. Sometimes we can't even love a member of our own bloodline, I would tell you, and point to a great Uncle in Wisconsin or whomever else had sacrificed their family for their impulses.

I would tell you that love is not something you give to everyone, not a word you say because you're supposed to, that it's a gift from each person to the next and if you give it, you should expect it to be cherished and respected, and that you would be justified in your anger and refusal to forgive if it was ever betrayed. I would tell you never to be afraid of love, afraid to use it, more importantly, afraid to -accept- it.

I always knew how I'd talk about your father and our love. I would want it to be the inspiration in you when you had your heart broken, and the thing that you resented when you gave in to the bitterness we would both have inadvertently passed on to you. I saw him holding you when you were hurt, chasing you from room to room, dissecting his clever electronic inventions and explaining to you, regardless of your gender, how they worked inside. I thought more often than I can express how, if you could take the -best- parts of the both of us and become yourself with them, no one in the world would be more creative, caring, understanding, loyal, witty, strong, capable, dependable or noble. And if you got the worst of us, we'd know that we had put it there, and try to coax it out of you.

I wanted to be an example for you, of things to do and not to do, of things not to avoid, of things not to pursue. And I wanted to be there with you, wrapping you in a blanket and inhaling your clean hair on cozy, idealistic Christmas mornings to watch your face put the lights on the tree to shame, the tree we'd decorated together as a family, likely after an argument over where it should go and how to move the furniture without breaking anything.

I wanted to instill in you my love for fantasy, for daydreaming, for removing yourself from harmful situations into a happier thought for just long enough to rebuild and come back out and deal with things. I wanted to know you were down the hall from me every night, night after night, night after night after night. It wasn't always about the big situations. It wasn't always your first date or holiday dinners or attending your graduation. Most of the time, when I thought of you, it was an absent injection of you into my regular routine. When I cooked, I made enough for you. When I shopped, I thought about your vitamin intake. When I relaxed on the couch at the end of the day, you were next to me, playing with the toys I'd re-collected from my childhood to give to you. You sang with me in the car, dipped your finger in the cookie dough, lay against me with your hair wet while I watched reruns of Reba.

Because of all of this, how real you were to me, how much I know I would have loved you, I thought that you deserved to get a letter, informing you after all these years of happy, frustrated daydreams, after hours spent agonizing over how I'd get my body back, how much labor would hurt, how frightened I would be that you wouldn't make it through the delicate months of infancy, that I have decided not to have you.

I have also decided not to have your brothers, nor your sisters. I have made the decision, this is the best way I can put it, that I do not have room for you in my life or in my heart. I have other dreams, and other fantasies, and things I've looked forward to all my own childhood, and I can't give them up for you, not for the idea of you, certainly not for the reality of you. There's nothing about the way I live my life today that I would be willing to change just so I could say I experienced a new kind of love.

I don't want to love my husband less than anyone else. I don't want to spend every dime I ever make on keeping you alive. And perhaps it needs to be said above everything else: the reason I can't have you is that I know I would love you so much that you would ruin my life. That's how you should look at it. That's how everyone should look at it. I know that you would matter to me more than anything ever has, more than myself, more than him. You would matter more than money. More than my body. More than my health. More than the health of my marriage. My dreams, my plans, my ambitions, my future. My career, his career. I would not care what I lost for myself as long as I could react by giving something to you in its place.

You would overtake me, and that's how I think it should be.

But I'm just not willing to do it. I don't want to remember that the happiest days of my life were not as happy as the day you were born.
I love them too much.
I don't want wake up one day and realize that you aren't coming home after loving you and nurturing you and putting everything on hold for you for 18 years, and just beginning to realize how much of it I will now not be able to do because of my age, an age I reached in waste on your upbringing, unaware that it was a waste.

I am not that big of a person.

I think, if I'd had you, that you would have been.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Digging up old writing.

"Hobbes, what do you think happens to us when we die?"
"I think we play saxophone for an all-girl cabaret in New Orleans."
"So you believe in heaven?"
"Call it what you like."

- Calvin & Hobbes, Bill Watterson

I am another girl, today, I am a Her I've never met. I feel fabulous in a green velvet dress because it makes me look like a gypsy, and every morning I'm frustrated by my sunshine hair because it won't stay still when I tell it to. It curls and stretches, it bends away from me.

I live in a city of eroticism and liquor, and seizing life by the throat for experience's sake, in a city where there are gypsies everywhere, who are gypsies even without the green velvet dress. They live in different skins than mine, with different faces than mine; they move with a grace that can't be learned and a confidence that can't be taught. I am not one of them.

I've made my home in an old house that has charm instead of glory. I'm tucked away, all alone, intimidated and intoxicated by the fact that this city doesn't care for me, doesn't care whether or not I join the current of beautiful, independent bodies or remain hidden in my room, with its squeaking wood floors and antique tile in the shower stall.

I'm comfortable there, completely content with inferiority. Every night, when I lock my very old door with a rusting key, and walk lazily down the porch steps in high heels, I know that I belong in the place that has no place for me. I only want to be another anonymous mailbox, and a pair of earrings from the home-made gifts shop down the block. Another blonde girl in a gypsy dress at a coffee house with Cabernet colored tapestries on the wall.

Another girl enduring her job, paying her bills, and carrying on in the hiss of a city that's no heart and all soul, piling her purse and coat on a chair when she comes home from work and moving around her outdated kitchen to make a pot of late-night coffee, eating a TV dinner in a big blue bed with five fingers tangled in cat hair, watching a silent movie, windows always open, no breeze.

Being in New Orleans brings out the curious in me, and I think that blonde girl in the old house where all the doors are wood and make a satisfying noise when they close would be part of that cabaret, at least on Fridays, if she had the chance.