Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Family Branch

My mother has come over to Scotland on holiday, bringing a tin of homemade cookies, vegetable shortening, Tim Horton's coffee and my best red suit, which I fit into once again. Today she has a refresher driving lesson, so as to get the hang of driving on the left side of the road. This is a brilliant idea.

Yesterday we dressed in our best Ladies Who Lunch outfits and went to the Caledonian Hotel (officially now the Waldorf Astoria, as it is called by nobody in Edinburgh) for afternoon tea. My mother loves hotel teas. But it's not the tea or the food as much as the ambiance, really, that is so romantic to my mum. And "Peacock Alley" is certainly an impressively grand space. (I suppose it could be described as romantic, only this time I was there with my mother, and the one time B.A. and I sat there we were with Polish Pretend Son, and PPS looked like he was about to stab the tardy waiter with his pen knife, which is romantic only in songs.)

Tea, you should be warned, is 25 squid per person. But you do get some very yummy things: sandwiches with the crusts cut off, two kinds of scones with clotted cream and two kinds of jam, slices of chocolate jelly roll, several petites fours, and an extra plate of cookies and lemon loaf, plus multiple cups of your chosen tea. My mother and I munched our way through the plates of goodies discussing family news.

I had the vaguest sense of being a British colonist somewhere in Africa in the 1950s, hearing about home. Canada seemed very far away, and yet the snazzy afternoon tea ritual is as familiar to Canadian hotels as it is to Scottish ones. The King Edward in Toronto, for example, has an absolutely splendid tea and an equally grand hall to consume it in. And I asked eager questions of sisters, brothers, nephews and niece.

Peacock Alley was mostly populated by women, mostly slender, with excellent hair and expensive business suits. A few women had a man (and at one table a child) with them, but more often than not the tables were woman-only spaces. Afternoon Tea is a more feminine meal in Edinburgh than it is in Toronto--which I first discovered when Benedict Ambrose baulked at attending my own tea parties at home. I offer the idea of Afternoon Tea to single female readers as an excellent social activity for women, single and otherwise.

On Sunday night, B.A. and I went to the birthday dinner of a dear friend, and as usual we were the only married couple there. There were eight lifelong Singles and us--ten childless people. It was all great fun, with piano duets and singing in the sitting-room afterwards. And naturally I would have rather have been home with children because, whatever anyone says, the crown and fulfillment of married life is children.

I know that there are women with children who, being very bored and lonely, would have swapped places for me for an evening to go to a party with a lot of Single people and listen to piano duets. However, I also know that they would hasten home to their children feeling terribly glad that they had them.

Fortunately for me, one of my brothers and one of my sisters HAVE had children, so I don't have a totally "child-free" existence. I have three childish personalities to ponder, especially in the run-up to their birthdays and Christmas. And I look forward to the day when they are ready to be dumped on their Edinburgh uncle and aunt for a month in the summers while their parents see what a holiday from parenting is like.

When in Poland this year I talked about being married-but-childless, a lady asked "What about adoption?" "What about adoption" is a very painful question to the childless, particularly now that adoption is so expensive and wound with red tape. It is also wrought with bad feeling as Catholic parents lose battles to place their children with other Catholics, or even with a traditional married couple. Personally, I would have taken the Slovak Roma children in a heartbeat--although in the next heartbeat I would have remembered that I should have asked B.A. first.

I mentioned to highly politically-active friends that I would quite happily take in Christian Syrian refugee children, just as the British took in refugee children during and after the First and Second World Wars, and that I was rather surprised nobody has asked me to do this. This led my neighbour to decry the racism of the UK government and the fact that only 24 Syrian refugees have been allowed in--something like that. This confused me as Syrians are white and Christians are, er, Christians, so I don't know what racism has to do with it--other than that "race" is a highly social construct and changes from society to society.

And so this post, which begins with a delicious and expensive afternoon tea at a prestigious Edinburgh hotel. ends with the reminder that hundreds of thousands of fellow Christians are suffering horrible privations, massacres and homelessness. And I with my cash-poor but certainly circumstance-rich lifestyle am vaguely wondering why nobody has asked me to help take care of them. Oh, sure, I do get emails from a Catholic relief agency asking for money, but I don't have money: I have time, a love of hospitality and a desire to help fellow Christians. During the Second World War, I wouldn't have had to go looking for children to help; they would have been billeted on us already. What has changed?


Leah said...

Haha. I was just saying to my husband a few days ago that I wish they would bring back the Orphan Train. :) (In America)

At least in my case, I've noticed the 'Why don't you adopt?' people are usually have children of their own and not a moment's difficulty in getting pregnant. I know they are well-meaning, but I wish everyone who has impulse to say that would squash it immediately. And then stomp on it to make sure it is really dead.

Besides the fact that no infertile couple ever has not thought about adoption, adoption is NOT a magical cure for infertility. Biology does matter. Being able to create life with your husband and carry that life inside of you does matter. Not being able to is a heavy cross childless women have to bear, and even if they do adopt, is not something that's just going to go away. (In fact, the infertile women I know who have adopted children actually found themselves at first mourning their fertility even more after they adopted than before.) Insinuating that one shouldn't be so upset about not being able to have children because one can just run out and raise someone else's child (And after all, who cares if they don't have your nose?), is a terribly hurtful thing to say, even if you mean well.

Anyway, rant over! I'm not trying to say adoption is bad or that childless woman should be miserable all the time (You are my model in this regard, Auntie-you are such a lovely example of what it means to be a Seraphic Childless Woman.), but just that I really wish well-meaning people would limit themselves to "I'm so sorry, I'll be praying for you."

Seraphic said...

"I'm sorry. I'm praying for you" is indeed the only and best thing to say to a woman who mentions she's sad she can't have a baby or that she has embraced the opportunities this sad situation brings with it.

Maybe one day we'll become foster parents. However, the state may take issue with church-attending Roman Catholics fostering children. Still, I think at this point the state is pretty desperate, and we would make it clear that we are opening to foster children of whatever ethnic background (a big deal here, where Poles are considered a different RACE)as long as they come from Catholic families. I'm happy to raise other people's children as Catholics, and encourage them to learn about their own ethnic heritage, but I will not raise children in a way against my own religious believes. The official state church of Anglicanism is one thing, but the unofficial state church of sexual identity is quite another.

Seraphic said...

Oh, and I'm glad reading my blog helps you! I'm so used to thinking about the Single experience, that I forget that other Married-but-Childless people are reading me, too!

Sheila said...

I don't know how things are in the UK, but here at least it is very easy to foster. Especially if you are okay with troubled teenagers rather than adorable toddlers. My husband and I have thought about doing that when our own kids are grown -- fostering teens before they age out of the system and are quite literally turned out on the street when they turn 18.

And they don't care if you raise them Catholic or Protestant or Hari Krishna, so long as you agree not to hit them. Which really is not a problem, and I'm glad they have that rule because the last thing those troubled kids need is anything smacking of harshness. In some cases they also ask you not to homeschool, which I find too bad but not a dealbreaker.

The only thing to do, if you are curious, is to call up a social worker and ask about it. Or even poke around and see if you can find someone blogging about it! There is a blog about just about everything, which is how I know everything I do about fostering in the US. I found a lady who had fostered SEVENTEEN children (not all at the same time) blogging about the challenges and blessings of it. Totally overwhelmed me, but also inspired me to think about trying the same someday. There are so many kids who need help.

Now fostering, again, is a totally different calling from adoption, just as adoption is a different calling from biological parenting. It can be heartbreaking. If a couple doesn't feel capable of it or called to it, they'd best not do it, and people oughtn't to suggest it as if it were just the same. It's not.

TRS said...

Leah, I agree that adoption is no cure for infertility, and as a single woman, certain not for bearing, nursing and raising a child....
But as an adopted child myself, I have to say that matching noses really do not matter.
In fact, the world has tried to declare that it is my fathers nose, and my mothers eyes on my face. Many people insist that my brother and I look alike!

I'll admit that I've considered that it may have helped my own acceptance of my appearance if I'd seen any of my features on anyone I know... But really that's just an excuse. I didn't even think of that until I went to college and noticed how much my new friends looked like their parents and siblings.

But I get the same suggestions as a single woman over 40... " but you could adopt!" And even worse, "but you could still have children!" Despite the fact that I have no husband, a terribly small income, and am underwater on a tiny one bedroom condo.
Yes, I know about adoption. I AM adopted! But that doesn't quench the desire to stretch my own womb with life!

Leah said...

I agree, Shelia!

And TRS-I wasn't trying to say matching noses do matter! :) It's just an example of a comment that I've gotten that trivializes my desire to, as you put it so well, fill my own womb with life. I really couldn't care less whether my children looked at all like me or not, it's just painful to have a very real and natural desire treated as though it's shallow and meaningless.

Personally, I think adoption is wonderful, if you have the desire for it/are called to it and you are in the situation to do so.

And Seraphic, it does!! Whenever I'm feeling particularly low I read a few of your back blogs posts. :)

TRS said...

I was sure you weren't fixated on matching facial features. I did just feel a need to clarify that. Hope I didn't offend you.
In turn, I was not offended, just wanted to share my thoughts.
A funny thing, it seems whenever someone I know adopts, it's amazing how much their child looks like one or both of them. I think it's a special gift that God gives some adoptive parents. He's pretty amazing like that.

But of course, the desire for physical motherhood is strong too. I certainly understand that, even in not having a marriage to lead me to step one.
My mother too, explained that even with adopting three pretty fabulous children, dealt with the agony of not experiencing pregnancy and nursing herself.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, ladies, for all your comments. I learn so much from reading about others' experiences.

I'm unmarried, and, as far as I know, fertile. But honestly, I fear marriage a little because I fear motherhood a little.

By way of explanation, I suffer from mild depression, and so I fear that I'd experience depression during pregnancy and after delivery. I've experienced low moods, mild depression and weak nerves since I was a child, and while it can be managed, it's not going to go away. It'll be with me my whole life, and I'll probably be on and off meds my whole life. My own parents have both suffered from depression, and I think that the demands of raising small children and juggling financial demands, work, and extended family obligations sent them both very close to nervous breakdown territory. I'm scared that that will be me. I'm not as strong as my mother.

There is also mild autism in my family. I myself am not autistic, but my two brothers are. I fear that not only might I pass depression on to any children, but also autism.

I feel quite conflicted. I'm a Catholic and I love and admire large families, but I feel, sadly, that I'd simply never cope with a lot of children. I'm quietly glad that I'm in my twenties and unmarried, because with every passing year it becomes less and less likely that I'll end up with eight or ten kids. I fear that this makes me a terrible Catholic. I'm pro-life and I love children, but how will I ever cope with motherhood when I'm so tired all the time and I can barely drag myself out of bed?

I'm honestly very thankful to God right now that I'm unmarried and childless, but also sad that I think that I'm just not cut out for motherhood.

Does anybody have any thoughts on this?

(I know you don't like anonymous comments, Seraphic, so delete this if you like. I don't mean to have caused any pain to anyone by this comment, and if you think I might, don't post this.)

Nzie said...

Hey Anon, I don't think this makes you a terrible Catholic at all. Mental health is a legitimate reason to be concerned, and I think (with consultation with your spiritual director, of course) it's probably a good reason to space and also to limit how many children you have through approved means (e.g. NFP). You shouldn't feel bad about that.

I can't speak to everything, but I don't think you should be hard on yourself for having these concerns. And if you become a mother, I think knowing that it may pose extra challenges for you will be a big help. My family has several members with mental health issues ranging from not so bad to quite severe, but we really didn't understand that until quite late, and didn't know how to address or manage them (we're still figuring it out). I don't think the defining factor in worse times versus better times was how many of us, but external stressors meeting unmanaged and not-understood mental health issues.

As for being cut out for motherhood, well, I'm also single late 20s, so maybe a grain of salt for an opinion, but it seems to me that not many moms feel particularly cut out for motherhood a lot of the time (otherwise we wouldn't have the best-defense-is-a-good-offense mommy wars) (I'm sure dads also feel inadequate a lot in their own ways). And that's true of people like me, who have a zillion sibs and have probably changed more diapers than people with 2 kids, just as much as it's true of people who had no siblings, never babysat, etc. You don't have to know everything, be perfect, never lose your temper, or never break down—which is just as well, because no one can manage that.


We're also an adoptive family and my adopted sibling is having some difficulties dealing with some feelings related to it (coinciding with teen years). I'm glad to hear what you said, TRS, about matching noses not mattering (although actually my sib does look a lot like the rest of us). Right now my main desire is that she comes to peace with it all - she will probably never get the answers she's yearning for. Adoption is a good thing, but it exists to give children parents, and giving people who want to be parents the opportunity is a secondary benefit (and not one that will ease every pain of infertility, of course). It also, we have learned, will not necessarily take away the pain of not being with one's own biological parents, and any feelings about why one wasn't wanted, or who one's parents were, whether they wonder about her, etc. (Btw, TRS, if you have any insights, I'm all ears, although I understand not wanting to share on a public forum.) It's good to remember that when what all those questions look like is rudeness, defiance, etc.

Anonymous said...

I so love your writing and could not agree more about being single and helping with the displaced children of the world. Same with me, much time.....not so much money.
I can identify often with your experiences. When I want to feel less alone in my singleness I check into our writing for a lift.

Leah said...

Oh no, not offended at all, TRS.

Leah said...

Oh, no. I'm not offended at all, TRS.