Sunday, May 7, 2017

An Open Letter From a Childless Adult to Those With Children

Her hair was windblown, the color of sand, and slightly stiffened by the salty tears that she'd shed just hours earlier. It felt so brittle as I gently brushed it to the side of her face, knowing that the frailness of her tear-stained hair matched the current state of her heart. After fighting in the foster system for longer than she could remember; after time and time again suffering the disappointment of hoping for a child and feeling the anguish of that dream being ripped from her hands, she found herself retreating into the safety of a hobby. A place where she could let her heart grieve and also allow it room to mend. In what felt to be her safest space, a friend stopped by, and after a quick "hello", made an exit with the phrase, "it's so great that you have time to do these things because you don't have kids. That's awesome!" In that moment her heart silently shattered into a million pieces.

Everything in me wished I could take that pain away. And everything in me wanted to shout, "WHY?" from the rooftop nearby.

If only this were a one-off thing..

"You're lucky that your car is so clean! It's because you don't have kids."
"You must have so much free time because you don't have kids."
"You have no idea what it's like because you don't have kids."
"The kids kept me up so late last night. You must love not having to deal with things like that!"
"If you had kids you'd understand."

All are things that have been said to me and/or childless friends of mine. One of the harshest things I had to witness was at a church retreat over a decade ago where I was sitting with a friend around the campfire, someone who I knew had just found out she would be unable to have children, and through a series of events a random person calls over to her across the fire, "Thank GOD that YOU don't have kids!" I didn't even know what to do or say for fear of revealing my friend's hidden battle. It was as if I could audibly hear her heart being stomped on by someone who made a flippant comment - not at all intending the pain that it unknowingly had inflicted.

And so I pen this: an open letter to all parents

 
At one point you, too, were single, or even married, without a child of your own. Maybe you used to ride bikes with your friends as a kid; showing off your skills by jumping "so high!" off of the apron at the end of the driveway - staying out till the streetlights came on or someone called you inside. Those summer nights passed, and you grew. Friends of yours fell in and out of love, eventually finding themselves on a new track for their lives. The day came when you did to. Whether planned or not, another life began to grow and you were part of it. That joy and nervousness of finding out morphed into days, weeks, and months of monitored growth on every level. You may have documented every appointment, every sickness, every craving, until one day you finally held the reward of your labors. Your child. Yours. Once a child yourself, you now found yourself in a new stage of life; caring for another human who was entirely dependant upon you. One of life's greatest rewards.

Not everyone has that same story. Some are penned differently. Plot twists are thrown in and decades pass.
 
 
Granted, not all women want to have kids. To those who know with complete certainty that they do not - more power to them! There is no shame in knowing what is right for you. And if you know that about a person, then by all means feel free to joke about it if you know they are alright with it. But, just know, that those people -women especially - are few and far between.

In my circle, I can easily say that most of my single friends have more experience working with, and caring for, children than a lot of new parents. So many of my childless friends would give everything they had for the opportunity to be called, "Mommy" by a child of their own (whether by blood or through adoption), but for whatever reason, even though they've "offered themselves as tribute", the odds have been anything but "ever in their favor". 
 
To the surprise of some, I want to assure you that those of us without kids of our own are actually very self-aware people. We realize that children can be a handful. We know that their demands are time-consuming and, well, ALL encompassing of your life the majority of the time. It's no surprise to us that you nurse through times when you'd rather be asleep and you're constantly needing to lay down your own wants and needs to tend to the ones who depend on you for theirs. Even if we slept 8 hours the night before, and you slept 3, it doesn't mean we have no idea what that is like. For some childless women, they'd give up sleep for years just for the *chance* to be "inconvenienced" by someday caring for a child of their own.
 

There's no doubt that childless friends - the ones who honestly LOVE kids - make some of the best aunts, uncles, and god-parents that ever walked the earth. Their ability to change their schedule to help you in a bind is, at times, life-saving. In turn, for them, the love and involvement of participating in the life of a family is both healing and important, when healthy boundaries are established. It's a powerful expression of community in every sense of the word!

But everything encouraging and life-building that happens in those relationships has the option of being crushed by a single, off-the-cuff, remark about their childless state. You see, what people don't stop to think about is that childless people are rarely unaware that they are. We don't need to be reminded that we have a lot of free time, or that our cars don't have handprints on their windows. Our hearts and minds know that truth very well. Our refrigerator doors are covered with baby shower announcements instead of fingerprint paintings and report cards. We don't really need that fact pointed out to us by others as well.

Whether the parent of twelve or the parent of none, we'd all do well to be kinder and more considerate of the words we often dish out haphazardly. If you find yourself on the verge of saying something about not having kids to a man or woman who doesn't have them - maybe take a second to reign it in and find out *why* you want to offer that nugget in the first place. Maybe it's not out of gratefulness for their position in life at all.  Perhaps it's from a place of frustration or jealousy even.  These things can mask themselves in the sheep's clothing of our words, but can be recieved as the wolves they really are.
 
Love, your childless pal,
Simply Miss Taken
 





Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Single and Afraid

A friend of mine, another single girl, once waited for me after a meeting just to ask me if I was joking about enjoying going to the movies alone. I couldn't help but laugh. Then I realized that it wasn't funny to her. She wasn't kidding around.  Her face when I told her that it was "one of my favorite things to do" is one that I will never forget. She leaned in, almost as if to tell me a secret, and lowly said, "that is on my bucket list - to go to a movie alone. I don't think I'll ever be brave enough to do it though. You're so brave".

It wasn't the first, nor was it the last, time that I would hear something along those lines.


 
I wasn't always this way. As a child I was very independent when it came to nature. When we would go "up north" to visit the grandparents my Mom always said she knew where to find me; out on my "thinking rock". Time alone, in nature, fueled me somehow, even as a kid. But that didn't automatically translate into loving being alone. My family knew full-well that if I was left home alone (after dark especially) every door in the house would be locked and every light with a bulb in it would most definitely be turned on. My heart longed for time alone, yet needed someone there. Probably why, until I was much older, I always assumed that I'd get married and have a large family - thus ensuring the hustle and bustle of always having someone around.
 
But God had different things in store for me. He had different adventures for me to have. And along the way, the girl who would once be unable to sleep until someone came home and who would sit on the center of the sofa- clutching a knife- with every light on in the house, would eventually become the woman who rented a cabin in the middle of the woods, with (go figure) a broken lock on the door, and stayed there for an entire weekend, alone.
 
You see, as a woman, you grow up with a level of alertness that most men will never feel. The constant awareness of your surroundings, especially after dark. The discomfort of the eyes of that man watching you pump gas or walk to your car. The chill of fight-or-flight that rises from cat-calls out of car windows as you're walking somewhere, anywhere. All of these things grooming us by a young age to crave companionship of some sort - clinging to it as part of our identity and safety. And when I say safety I'm not referring to the safety that is actually wise - there are DEFINITE times where girls should NOT be alone. I'm not encouraging anyone here to be stupid. But in this sense I am referring to safety as in needed comfort.
 
I love camping. I love hiking. I love so many things like; nature, fresh air, raindrops falling on my skin, good food, adventure, movies... and at some point, early on in my sea of friends who got married and moved on from the life and friendships of singlehood, I learned that I wanted to live my life without care of what others think about it. If I want to see a movie, I'm seeing that movie. And I'm buying a kids meal, not for a child but for myself, and I'm enjoying it! If I want a meal at a new restaurant, well, I'm having a meal there and refusing to feel weird about it. I don't have time to worry about eyes on me because I'm *gasp* alone!
 

Listen, it's not easy to tackle fear. I get that. After years of not camping, because I had no single friends left who enjoyed it, a few years back I finally did it, alone, on my own, in a tent. Drunk people knocked on my tent to check that I was okay at some point in the night. A skunk sprayed somewhere nearby before the sun rose. I had my car keys on one side of me, ready to push the alarm button, my phone in a netted hammock above me, and my hiking knife near my other hand. I spent most of the night holding my breath and freezing in place at the sound of every twig crack....but I did it. I survived. I learned that I can camp on my own and power through the fear. Power and PRAY through the fear! And I also learned a little bit more about myself in the process.

My prayer for single people is not to become these independent women who don't need a man or something crazy like that. But do you? The older I get the more questions I ask myself. Like, "why am I doing (or not doing) this?" and, "what do YOU want to do?". I see couples doing awesome things all the time. I love it! I love seeing people enjoy life. In turn, I don't see why I need to wait (or be too afraid) to enjoy mine.

I realize that my life may not make sense to most people. Heck, I may be that weirdo, sitting at a booth in the local diner, writing away the hours next to tables filled with families and friends talking and laughing away. Actually, I definitely am that person. I'm cool with that. I wouldn't change it for the world. I don't have time to fit the mold of waiting for ducks to be in a row. Because you know what? Let's be real, I'll be lucky if my ducks ever end up swimming in the same pond!

My point is, don't waste time! If you are single, don't waste your time being too afraid to figure out who you are and what you like. Figure it out now and rock it! Refuse to live your life single and afraid.