Tag Archives: Facebook

What, no “Aunties Day”?!? Hallmark! Por quoi?

Botanics BreakSomeday, I hope Hallmark or some entity of equal authority and importance declares an official Happy Aunties Day. Think of the revenue to be generated, the mushy commercials hawking tchotchkes, the poets plucked from the ranks of the unemployed, all penning tributes to the woman with all the disposable income. She’s been focused on spending it on the progeny of her siblings all these years. Why does no one pander to the PANKs, I wonder? Oh, that’s “Professional Aunt, No Kids” but I can’t take credit for it. I just can’t remember where I read it.

An aunt is not quite a mother, not quite a sister, not quite a friend. An aunt is an aunt. My definition of “aunt” is about refuge and breathing room.

  • If I see you maybe heading the wrong way, I won’t continually harass and try to bend you to my will. I’ll just make my point and then leave you alone. You’ll give my opinion more weight because it was delivered without the dynamics of control.
  • I won’t let you pay for anything; if you pick it up and admire it, I’m buying it for you.
  • When you come to visit me, I’ll do your laundry, twice – once when you arrive with it dirty in your suitcase, and once just before you leave, so you don’t have to do it when you get back to your crazy life.
  • I will let you sleep as much as you want. It’s your vacation.
  • I will cook! I will serve only high nutrition, low-fat food but you will not notice that it’s not junk because it’s delicious.
  • I will set a good example for you by running on the treadmill in your presence, expressing my hard-won, middle-of-the-road values through actions and by never putting up with a selfish man’s bullshit. Also, by demonstrating that life can be fabulous with or without marriage and children. Your life, your choice, nobody else’s.
  • I will hand you the car keys sans safety lecture; if the good Lord and the State of New York both saw fit to grant you a driver’s license, who am I to doubt your abilities behind the wheel?
  • I will encourage you to be better than everyone at what you do best.
  • I will make it clear to you what information I will and will not divulge to your father, BEFORE you tell me.
  • I won’t embarrass you on your Wall unless you flat out deserve it. And you know what you have to do to deserve it. So if you don’t want to be embarrassed, either block me or don’t behave that way in public! Your choice. I still love you. <3

There. Don’t aunts deserve their own official Hallmark occasion?

And don’t you wish I was YOUR aunt? 🙂

The choice to be childless

Niece No. 2, aka my God-Niece, updated her status on Facebook this morning and has not been back to elaborate. Her status currently declares that she “never wants to be a parent”.

Never is a pretty long time. I’m intrigued, and looking forward to asking her what brought this on when I see her next. She’s coming to spend a week with me “doing nothing” on the beach next month. I’m sure it will be an illuminating conversation!

It started me thinking, though, about all the reasons I’ve had over the years for not wanting to have children. All these years, I’ve given the impression that it does boil down to that simple, declarative statement – I never wanted to be a parent. But in reality, nothing is ever that simple.

Growing up, my dolls were never really my babies – they were my friends. I never clamored to be the mother whenever the kids in my neighborhood played “house”. I just never had the drive toward motherhood when I was little.

I was babysitter of choice in my neighborhood when I became a teenager.  The kids adored me, and I them.  I wrote fabulous tales of adventure and heroism, and put them in starring roles in these epics.  I played the best games, and kept their secrets while still keeping them out of harm’s way.  I was their friend and guide – but NEVER their mother-figure.

In my late teens, I indulged in a little pipe-dreaming with a particular boy (yes, THAT boy) about “some day” and how it would be when we established our home and our family together – right down to “two cats in the yard”.  The scenario included a vague quantity of children, at least two judging from a sketch he drew for me one time.  At this point, though, I feel it fair to point out that for me, it really WAS dreaming; I felt very little real identification with the possibility that it could actually come true.  At 17-18 years of age, I’d already had a number of experiences that taught me the rug would be ripped out from under me as soon as I became comfortable and happy, so I don’t think I ever actually believed that “some day” would manifest into reality.

Later in life, I had what turned out to be an ill-fated marriage, to someone else.  But in the beginning, when I still had every intention of going through life with him, I picked out names; Julie for a girl (Julianna, actually, like the queen of the Netherlands) and Jordan for a boy. This was a nod to the name of the female lead in the musical Carousel. It was my first role after starting to study with Gloria, a radical departure from the roles I’d been playing – I’d learned how to sing like an ingenue.  I thought it was neat that “Julie Jordan” had two first names instead of a first and a last.  Anyway – eventually, I accepted that I was married to the wrong person, and actively sought to prevent the manifestation of children. I believed he would not pull his weight as a parent; he wasn’t pulling his weight as a partner, and I saw no reason to believe a baby would change any of that.  I already felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being an adult, having a household to tend to along with a full time job and a budding stage career.  I felt responsible for everything, and I didn’t see the sense in adding to those responsibilities.

I recognized, fortunately, that many men want children for the same reason they’d like a Porsche in the garage.  They love being able to brag about having one, but they want nothing to do with the maintenance.  I further recognized that a woman who is married to this sort of man is in for 18 years (minimum) of indentured servitude, self-sacrifice and subjugation of all her wants, needs and desires, always putting the needs of the children first, never getting an assist.

I grew up in a very restrictive environment.  I didn’t get to make the simplest of decisions for myself; everything was controlled to the nth degree.  I had no say in the clothes I wore, the way I styled my hair, the friends I was allowed to have…. no freedom of choice at all.  I was tired of external sources dictating every little detail of everything for me.  I wanted freedom.  The idea of living under restrictions again was not at all appealing.

I feared that, under virtual single-parent conditions, I would become resentful and miserable. This would leak over onto the children. I’d been on the receiving end of something similar. I knew what it was to really hate being treated that way.

Bottom line: I knew it would break my heart to have any child of mine hurt so badly that they would come to hate me.  I could not bear the thought of it. I’d been trying to prepare myself for a long time to not make the same mistakes my parents did. I started a diary at age 13 or so, for the express purpose of never forgetting what it is like to be a kid. I thought that would help me to be a better parent. Probably, it would have.  Definitely, under the “some day” scenario, with the right partner, it would have worked.  But once I piled the wrong partner on top of my fears that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree… there was no way I was going to introduce children into the scenario.  They would only suffer for it.

So, all these years, many of you reading this have had the understanding that I didn’t WANT children.  That is not necessarily the whole truth.  As is typical for me, I knew far better what I didn’t want.  What I didn’t want was to feel used and trapped.  What I didn’t want was to make children who were destined to suffer and to resent me for it.  What I didn’t want was to gift someone with a Porsche that I would then be forced to maintain solo. 

God is good.  Some women who go through chemo lose their ability to reproduce.  I was 33 when they finally decided that those episodes whereby my head felt like it was spinning into orbit were actually hot flashes, and that meant I was entering menopause.  I was not a candidate for estrogen replacement, because that’s what my tumor ate for a living – estrogen.  Therefore, I believe that God picked the right person to visit with this condition.  It would have been a real tragedy if God had picked a woman who would have been devastated by infertility.  From that perspective, I’m glad God chose me.  And it really kind of settled the question once and for all.  Want or not want, it was moot – “can’t” was now the operative word, and aside from a mild twinge now and then, I’ve really been ok with it, with the finality of it.

All of this led to my ability to focus some individualized attention (not to mention disposable income) in the direction of my nieces.  And now I’m wondering if it also led to an example being set for them of an alternative option.  Even growing up in the 60s and being exposed to media coverage of “women’s liberation”, Gloria Steinem, fish having no need of bicycles, etc., I still had some notion that one grew up and got married and had children because that’s what one did.  I’m sure the extremely conservative way in which I was raised contributed to that; my parents often said that a young woman did not leave her parents house unless it was to move into her husband’s house. 

This hasn’t been true for my nieces, thankfully.  They actually get to leave the house and go away to college – without first having to get married!  Although I would never want to discourage them from having a family if that’s what they wanted, I do hope that my life has somehow served to let them know that a person can be legitimately productive and happy leading an alternative lifestyle, that there is another choice besides wife and mother.  There’s the choice to be childless.  When I ask about the mysterious Facebook status update, I might find that this is the case, or I might find that she was just in a very bad mood.  Either way – it’s satisfying to know that there are children in this world whom I love, that I’ve not made them suffer and they don’t hate me 🙂  So maybe it was the right choice after all.

Forgiving Salinger

catcher-coverJ. D. Salinger used to be my favorite author. I first read Catcher in the Rye circa 1973-ish, when I was in 7th or 8th grade; my science teacher was actually loaning it around to people in my class, and I got on the list and read it and loved it. I loved it so much, that by time I got to 10th grade and we were actually reading it in English class, I swiped a copy. I still have it. Ancient, tattered, it bears the stamp on the inside cover, “MARTIN VAN BUREN HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH DEPARTMENT” (watch me get fined now or something – arrested, even!). It’s well-worn because it has been read a bazillion times.

A few years later, someone loaned me a copy of Nine Stories and I fell in love. With Salinger, too! 😉 I liked “For Esme, With Love and Squalor” best, but his favorite was “Teddy”. If I recall correctly, he had to beg me repeatedly to return the book to him. I think eventually I must have, because the copy I have on my bookshelf now is a mass-market paperback from 1991, and my introduction to Nine Stories was circa 1978. I also have a paperback copy of Franny and Zooey on my shelves.

Still more years later, there came unto us the internet, and Salinger was one of the first of those seemingly day-long searches I used to conduct back then with my CompuSpend oops I meant to say CompuServe account. I found out lots about him that day. He was reclusive. He refused interviews. He’d published short stories prolifically, in such prestigious publications as Colliers, Good Housekeeping, The Saturday Evening Post and The New Yorker, to name a few. There are many pages on the internet devoted to lists of Salinger’s “uncollected works”, nearly all of them mentioning that he doesn’t want them “collected”.

And then came that fateful year I picked up a copy of Dreamcatcher, Margaret Salinger’s memoir of growing up in the orbit of her famous father. Ah, FINALLY, some good and detailed information about my favorite author! I took the book with me on vacation to Sanibel Island and devoured it. After finishing it, this is what I had to say about it in my trip journal:

“I have to say that up until finishing this memoir, J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” was my all-time favorite novel. However, now that I know that he was such a pitiful excuse for a husband and father, my enjoyment of his writings has become tarnished. This man and his wife were classic examples of those who should not breed, for they steadfastly failed to comprehend their responsibilities as parents. If even half of what Peggy Salinger has written is true, both parents needed institutionalization followed by a swift kick in the pants to straighten their sorry asses out.”

Yes, the bloom was off the rose. I’d spent happy decades revering the man whose mind invented Holden Caulfield, only to discover that he was a whacko. No wonder he was hiding. He might be sick, but he’s not stupid. If a life-long fan can become turned off by the truth about him, think what would happen with casual readers. Think of all those unpurchased paperbacks. Think of all those 10th graders whose parents are having a hard enough time with the fact that they’re reading a book spattered with the F word and various other expletives. You wanna see books burning? Just wait until they find out what a horrible father he was!

And so, for the last 6 years, I’ve sulked, refusing to do the annual pilgrimage into the mind of the teenager that is Holden Caulfield. A few of those 6 years, my books were in storage, anyhow, so I didn’t really need to sulk those years, but probably did anyway. I did lay hands upon my Salinger paperbacks, though – twice. I’ve moved twice in that time period, and so I actually touched them without reading them, once to pack them up into storage, and then again when I got to the new house and unpacked them.

I had to do a book purge when I got here. I don’t know what possessed me to own so many books, never mind pack them and pay to move them from Long Island to Florida. I knew it had to be done, but it still felt like an amputation. I posted the titles online to various forums and lists, and mailed out the ones that people wanted. The rest went to Goodwill in Lehigh Acres, where the manager of the place was grateful to receive them.

Interestingly, I gave away Margaret’s hardcover, but kept J. D.’s paperbacks. Oh, I was still mad at him, but somewhere inside, I was still deeply attached to ol’ J.D. and his stories. There are other items I’ve dragged with me from pillar to post over the years, items that I keep in a certain Box, items that I have not wanted to read but not wanted to part with, either. But that’s another post for another day.

My recent run-in with personal history, compliments of Facebook led to a raid on that certain Box… (when I can face The Box again, I’ll let y’all know). The raid on The Box led to remembering Nine Stories in ways in which I had not indulged in many, many years. And so I left The Box and proceeded to comb the bookshelves in my home office, whereupon I found the book, turned immediately to the last chapter where I knew I’d find “Teddy”, and read it through.

J.D. is a talented, sensitive, brilliant writer. These attributes coexist with ineptitude as a husband and a father. Margaret Salinger commented something to the effect that she’d expected the man who thought up the role of the catcher, the guy who keeps kids from running off a cliff, to be that for her. Given that she is his child, I’d say she had a right to expect that, and has a right to be disappointed about it. I hope writing the book has helped her to cope with that disappointment, at least somewhat. I know that such profound disappointment in a parent is not something you ever really get over, but you can’t let it cripple you for the rest of your life, either.

So I read “Teddy” and I enjoyed it. And remembered. And shed a few tears. I’m not sure I’m ready to forgive ol’ J.D. yet, just as I’m not quite sure that I’m ready to forgive myself. All this time, I thought I’d abandoned Salinger in solidarity with his daughter, because he was such a poor parent. But now… now, I think I realize that it may have less to do with his sins than it has to do with my own. Like a lot of things associated with that time in my life, J.D. now makes me feel like that 17-18 year old fuck-up I used to be, flailing around on the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy, so desperate to survive, so heedless of the wounds I was inflicting upon others. And, let’s face it – upon myself.

Clearly, I am in need of redemption. Got any ideas, anyone? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere between the covers of Nine Stories. Perhaps I should read the whole thing. Just to find out.

Why Facebook = suckage

There is someone who friended me on Facebook who is unfortunately associated with a period in my life that was characterized by emotional upheaval and bad decisions that amounted to bad behavior on my part. I have huge regrets about the choices I made back then, which resulted in pain for someone I loved, who loved me. Casual reconnection with this person on Facebook has also served to reconnect me with those emotions. I would have much preferred to keep them in the past.

I’m aware that this would have happened as the result of a high school reunion too, but there’s a major difference. This stuff was MEANT to fade, and if it surges to the forefront again briefly as a result of a class reunion, well that’s a finite event that has a beginning and an end. The end facilitates the fading of these feelings into obscurity once more.

Facebook, however, has become a 24/7/365 reminder that I’m not his forever best girl, that there will be no “some day” for me – he’s been having “some day” with someone else for lo these many years. And regardless of whose doing that was – or perhaps because it was my own damned fault – it still hurts. It hurts as much as it did one night in the summer of 1979 when I realized, too late, what I’d done and what it had cost us both.

Since I’m otherwise enjoying Facebook as a fun and efficient way to keep up with my posse, I am loathe to abandon it simply because this one thing about it sucks. An unfriending might cause drama, which I’d rather not do. Barring those two options, I don’t think there’s anything I can do, any action I can take, to alleviate the situation, to push back the flood of emotions and stuff them back into the dark recesses of memory from whence they came.

Maybe this is one of those things that I just have to let suck until it doesn’t suck any more.

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Listening to: Little Texas – What Might Have Been
via FoxyTunes