Not Mama Not Dad
Not Mama Not Dad. Okay — here’s the deal. I’m not Mama and Scott is not Dad, which is one of a thousand ways to say we don’t have children. And there you go. That doesn’t mean I didn’t dream of having twelve children, including two sets of twins and a set of triplets, because I did. It doesn’t mean that we didn’t write down a list of names that we loved for the children we anticipated we would have, because we did.
It simply explains why people have only ever seen the two of us in family pictures.
Except for that one time that Charli and Owen said we could “borrow” little Alice for a picture.
This is the adorable Alice Palace.
[Remember that the adorable little isn’t our little. She’s Charli’s and Owen’s.]
You may or may not find it interesting to know that we don’t wake up every morning and remind each other that we don’t have children.
Morning, Handsome Dude.
“You remember that we don’t have children, right?”
What?! [slapping my forehead] ~sigh~ Does that mean I’m still not Mama?
“Yup. Not Mama. Aaaand [pointing to himself] not Dad. Thought I’d better remind you before you started making breakfast and sack lunches for 12. Again.”
We’ve never had that conversation.
A year and a few months into our marriage, we moved to a new city. After living there for almost six months, the local church leadership came to pay us a visit. A few moments of pleasantries and then a question.
“Do you have any children?”
Well, maybe it is possible to attend church meetings and have children go completely unnoticed and stuff and things. Feeling a bit mischievous [that’s the very best word I can think of right now],
“You’ve seen us at church, right?
And you’ve never seen us with littles?
Again they nodded and added that they thought there might be extenuating circumstances which affected us bringing our children to worship services. Fair enough, but still. ~grin~
“Well, as a matter of fact [think of that bit of mischievous part I mentioned before], there were extenuating circumstances.”
After properly clearing my throat, “the reason we don’t bring our children to church–the reason they’ve never been seen in public–is because they are hideous little creatures. Hideous. We’ve hidden one in the fireplace–I pointed–which isn’t a real fireplace at all. Its the perfect size for the ugliest one who happens to be the middle child. She’s behind the styrafoam facade. I’ll thank you in advance for not directing any of your comments to her. The other two have been asked to stay behind the couch [directing their gaze with a wave of my hand] until you leave.”
There was a meaningful pause before I finally explained, “We don’t have children.”
My earliest recollection of someone assessing our lack of immediate posterity happened three months into our marriage.[That’s why I mentioned “immediate.” Three months. By the way, I’m a human and not a gnat. Three months is insufficient time. Three whole months before someone came up to us, shook my hand and blurted out an assessment of my childlessness. And it was a punch face.
“I know why you don’t have children.”
[Ah. This could be helpful. We’ve been married for three months and were puzzled about why we didn’t have a babe in our arms.]
What do you mean?
“I know why you don’t have any children.” [I know my eyes were wide because I pretty much can’t stop my face from saying what I’m feeling.] “You care too much about things.”
Wait. What? — Have you — seriously — I mean why would you even want to say something like that?
“Because you’re wearing a dress I’ve never seen you wear before.”
Ohhhhhhh. That explains it. Thank you, thank you so much.
Of course, that’s not what I said. All my language skills had left the building. I couldn’t think of a thing to say. I just stood there with snot running down my face, a little bit shaking, and feeling slightly broken.
I have officially exceeded any personal expectations I might have had about using the word “snot” — or some variation of it — in a blog post.
I’m not one who asks people about the number of children they have or don’t have or why their children aren’t farther apart in age or closer together in age or why they didn’t start having children earlier or later or anything like that.
Why aren’t you married? Are you even dating? Your prince will come. Are you pregnant? [Let me introduce you to one of the most awkward questions on the planet.] Are you trying? Why are you waiting? If you had more faith, you would be able to have children. Maybe if you weren’t so stressed about things, then, you know, maybe nature would take its course.
FYI — those are things that people have said to me.
I needed to figure out what to say to people when they asked personal questions — and how to say it. The process of finding a voice hasn’t been a simple one. I’ve learned a couple of things during the process that may or may not help a single one of you. But maybe they will.
Here are a few of the things I’ve learned.
— sometimes people care more about information than they do people — they just do
— I won’t know what to say every time
— every question doesn’t need an answer
— mean is mean whether it’s coming out of my mouth or theirs — we give ourselves a multitude of free passes when it comes to expressing ourselves because we feel justified, indignant, or think that our own personal cause is worthy of the bite in our words.
I didn’t want to misrepresent our lives and have people feel sorry for us. We have been extraordinarily blessed — just not with the things I listed in my journal as a 16-year-old girl.
— there’s no need to justify, or defend any of the decisions we’ve made along the way. Yes, we know what orphans are, and what adoption is. We know what foster care is.
— some information shouldn’t ever make it to social media [Instagram, Facebook, a blog, Twitter]
— I’m not responsible for representing the way that every ‘Not Mama Not Dad’ childless person feels
Now, here’s where I share a story and two observations.
First the story.
A dear friend of mine once expressed some impatience with a group of women she had attended a baby shower with. “They talked about children and cuteness, crawling, and pooing in the potty. They talked about being pregnant and not fitting into clothes and what they could or couldn’t eat. How about we not talk about those things all of the time. I’m not pregnant. I’m not married. Why don’t they talk about something that matter to me?”
Were they being insensitive or unkind?
O B S E R V A T I O N #1
What they were saying could have mattered to her just because they were saying it. Her friends were sharing what was present in their lives and not trying to excluding anyone. They weren’t trying to go around or over or pretend she wasn’t there. They were sharing the lives they were in. She waited [as sometimes we do] for them to jump from their present lives to her present life and they didn’t. She translated that as insensitivity [been there done that] and began heaping evidence to support her feeling of being left out as they continued to talk.
Sharing what’s present in her own life — rather than waiting for them to stop sharing what’s present in theirs — would have put her inside of the conversation instead of outside sorrowfully taking mental notes about how much they didn’t care.
Differences in the way our lives are playing out shouldn’t mean a disconnect.
O B S E R V A T I O N #2
Feel joy/sorrow for someone because they feel joy/sorrow for whatever they fell joy/sorrow about — and not because you share the same experience. [I’m prepping you here, think Pirates of the Caribbean] Savvy?
You can’t have joy for that reason until I’ve felt joy for the same reason.
You can feel joy about dating, being engaged, planning a wedding, being married, or having children when I’m dating, being engaged, planning a wedding, being married, or having children. I’ll happily celebrate your pregnancy, feel joy about scholastic achievement, snagging that part in the play you auditioned for, and getting a puppy the moment that I’m pregnant, getting straight A’s, snagging parts and getting a puppy. I’ll skippity – do – dah about your new house when I’m not renting anymore.
Am I making a lick of sense?
Why can’t it just be a joyful thing because someone feels joyful about it? It’s not taking any joy away from me. There’s not an allotment of joy. When you see someone feeling delighted, it doesn’t subtract from a collective amount and leave less for you. And there’s something wonderful that happens to your heart when you rejoice with someone who is rejoicing.
And now for a brief thought about sorrow.
[I know sorrow — who in this world doesn’t know sorrow?]
You don’t need to be single to understand that there is sorrow connected to that. [And quite possibly for reasons that would surprise you — BUT you can listen to someone feeling something about the circumstance and mourn with them.]
You don’t have to have a miscarriage to know that there will be sorrow — or — have children to realize that it’s ridiculously hard to be a great parent.
I don’t have to have three children and be struggling to have a fourth one to know that heartache may be involved.
Maybe someone has been praying and planning for a child for six months and it’s not going as planned. That sorrow is real, and it’s in the present, and it’s their own. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been praying and planning for a child for six years. Her sorrow is not diminished by mine NOR is my sorrow diminished by hers.
It’s not a contest — it’s an opportunity for compassion. If we leave this planet with no greater ability to feel compassion than we came with it’s not because there wasn’t a chance in any given day to learn it. Mostly to feel it. To feel generously about others.
That felt a little bit like I was on a horse.
I saddled up a horse — a high one.
And now it’s out to pasture and I should probably sell it but I do enjoy riding it every once in awhile.
I learned a valuable lesson from a dear friend about joy/sorrow. I wonder if any have considered that a miscarriage might be a hopeful thing for a couple who didn’t think they could ever even conceive. Who would want to hear such a thing, though? I was surprised by the feelings she shared, but not horrified. And the surprise quickly gave way to compassion as I listened. Would people think she was insensitive because she shared that experience possibly in the company of someone who was grieving because of a miscarriage? She shared her experience with so few people and it breaks my heart that she has to keep her joy/hopefulness in check because of any concern she may have about judgement. But she may have been right. Would people allow her to feel the hopefulness she feels without being offended or horrified. I don’t know.
There is plenty of joy and sorrow to be had in this life. Plenty. No particular group of experiences/circumstances/situations corners the market on either.
And there you go.
All the while that I’ve been writing this, a snippet from a movie has been playing over and over in my head.
Well, except for this tee shirt idea I have.
This would be the back.