Monday, October 20, 2008

These are C's hands on the bass he built himself, from a kit, playing at the party.

My friend Marci and I dancing at my 50th. She's the gorgeous brunette on the left.

Above are pictures from my birthday party, about which more later.

The next few days after the trip home I cried as the glow wore off. I miss my nephews and nieces. I miss everyone of course, but the kids grow so fast. Noah is almost as tall as I am, and he's "beginning to smell himself," as G puts it. An exactly perfect description for a thirteen and a half year old. My biggest regret in life is not having had children, but there was never a time when it felt possible. My first husband Alan was sick for years before we divorced, and we were struggling so much in our relationship then it would have been insane to get pregnant. And afterwards there was no responsible man showing up to partner with me, and the jobs I held had no benefits and did not pay particularly well.

I tried to make up for it be being auntie to the neighborhood kids, by taking in a teenager for a year, and now by being a Big Sister. It's not the same. It's not at all the same. But it is what it is. At fifty, it's the biggest thing I have to accept.

"Why don't you write about it?" C suggested at the kitchen table. I almost bit his head off. "Write about it? I can't!" Because there's everything and nothing to say. I was lucky enough to be of a generation of women who had a choice, and I took my choice and it hurts. I don't know that it was the wrong choice--when I look at how hard my sister works to be a good mother, how much brute endless labor is involved, day in and day out, no real breaks, I know that the other side of the coin is that I was always afraid. Afraid I wouldn't be able to put in the amount of work it really takes and would be consumed with guilt. This is not a job you can do half-assed (although plenty of people do.) But I would rather live with the regret of not having had children than with the regret of having had them and not done right by them.

Carla says "It's not the worst thing in the world not to have had children." I know she is always honest with me, and means it, and I also know that she would say that having had Maclen is the best thing she ever did, her proudest accomplishment, her greatest joy.

I think most women instinctively understand that it's an impossible equation. If you have had kids it's impossible to think of them not being here, or to reckon who you might have been or what you would have done without them. If you haven't had kids it's kind of the same thing. The path not taken always remains a mystery. I hope there's reincarnation so that I will get another chance at that crossroads. Meanwhile I know I am awash in blessings: good health, good family and friends, good partner, good life. And there may be a reason I was meant to be childless in this life.

C gave me a wonderful bicycle for my birthday--just what I wanted--simple enough to be ridden by a wobbly person who hasn't been up on a bike in decades, with a big cushy seat for my big cushy behind. We packed his new bike and mine into the car and went down to Alameda, which is relatively flat and less trafficky, and wepracticed. I didn't fall off or veer into a car, even though I was scared I might. Rding into the sunset (literally!) was beautiful.

We spent the first part of the weekend cleaning and shopping, and had a great party here for my fiftieth. Nothing overly fancy--I made chicken mole, baked a bunch of potatoes and had salad and cake. Other guests brought food, presents, music. The house was full of jazz, C on his bass, and piano, other friends sitting in on piano, organ, sax, flute and drums. I read a couple of poems at the mic, and there was some singing. I love to gather the tribes, watch them interact, and meet each other. New friendships forming. I was so happy! What wonderful people I am blessed to know!

I don't feel fifty--I don't know what fifty is supposed to feel like. This chronology thing is bogus. Some days I'm eighteen, other days I'm ninety and I'm sure that's true for everyone else as well. But I'm here! And there's so much love, more than I can even take in, and so much beauty.


Carla Zilbersmith said...

There's always your inner child - plus I understand you're going to learn how to lift me - and ultimately there may be diapers so I'll be your gigantic, foul-mouthed baby.

You've given birth to many great poems, nursed a lot of rich grief and spread a lot of love in 50 years so that has got to count for something, baby.

Alison said...

I'd be so happy to have you as my gigantic red-haired foul-mouthed baby! I can handle everything except pureed bananas. I love you tons, thank you for your big far-reaching vision and huge spirit.


Anonymous said...

When people say there must be a reason what they usually mean is there must be some mysterious, supernatural reason that something is the way it is. But the fact is there's no mysterious or supernatural reason why you have not had children. You know the reasons, you've listed them here, and they make perfect sense. No need to second guess yourself. Just keep on living, and enjoy the life you have.

Suzanne said...

Might I suggest changing the frame? Perhaps the choice was not to not have children, but the knowledge that the circumstances were not right.

For most of my life, I thought I would be a mother. When I was ready physically, I didn't have the right partner or financial circumstances for it to be feasible. It would've been wrong—not to mention selfish and irresponsible with long-reaching, irrevocable consequences—for me to have had a child, for both me and the child.

So many people say there is never a "right" time, or that you're never truly ready or prepared to have a child. That may be true, but it's also true that there are definite "wrong" times. Choosing not to have a child at the wrong time is not at all the same as choosing to never have a child.

Don't regret not having a child when you knew it wasn't the right time or situation. Your life just happened to take a different direction, as has mine. But I still don't think of it as having chosen not to have had children. There just wasn't a time when it would've been possible to consider.

You have so much love to give and such a big heart. You have given so much to so many, and you continue to give—with your writing and your teaching and your friending and your aunting and your loving.

Happy, happy 50th, Alison! Many happy, healthy, loving, joyful returns of the day! The next 50 years are going to be incredible!

(Though I thought your b'day was in early December, and you were Sagittarius...)

Anonymous said...

A dear friend once said to me that the most beautiful relationship is an aunt with her nieces and nephews. No strings attached, completely able to give of yourself, no need to try to be the "perfect" parent, just the ability to be the person you are. The kids love you for it and will always be there for you. From what I read you are the perfect aunt. Who knows if parenting could have been as rewarding.

Anonymous said...

alison - you are a good 'mother' - no matter that you never pushed a baby out of your body. feel GOOD about yourself and all that you have given to this world.