Life Without Baby

Filling the silence in the motherhood discussion

Chero: Gloria Steinem March 9, 2012

Photo curtesy Gloria Steinem

Last year I was fortunate enough to see Gloria Steinem speak at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles.

Steinem is the founder and former editor of Ms. Magazine and a tireless advocate for women’s rights. She is also childfree (although at 66, she married for the first time and became a stepmother to then 26-year-old actor, Christian Bale.) 40 years later, Steinem is still as vivacious as ever, and her work is still relevant.

It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century women around the world are still fighting for basic human rights, and that women in supposedly developed countries, such as the U.S., are still fighting for their reproductive rights. But here we are.

The governor of Virginia thinks we can’t be trusted to make a decision about motherhood, the Pope calls infertile couples who use reproductive technology “arrogant”, and radio talk show personality Rush Limbaugh apparently has a very low opinion of women who want to choose when, or if, to bring children into the world.

So, in honor of National Women’s History Month, here’s to an ageless Chero: Gloria Steinem.

 

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss March 2, 2012

Courtesy: Dr Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden

I couldn’t let today go by without giving a shout-out to Dr. Seuss, who would have celebrated his 108th birthday today.

Dr. Seuss penned such children’s classics as The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, and The Lorax. His jaunty rhymes educated and entertained, and most of all, they encouraged children to read.

Dr. Seuss knew how to communicate with children. Maybe it was a natural talent or a thought-out method, but either way, he respected children and treated them as people.

I don’t know why Dr. Seuss and his wife didn’t have children of their own, and the reasons don’t really matter. But for anyone who says that it takes a parent to really understand children, I have two words: Dr. Seuss.

 

Chero: Juliette Gordon Low’s Fifty Million Daughters February 24, 2012

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

If Girl Scout badges had been available in the late 1800s, Juliette Gordon Low would have a sash full. She would have earned Drawing and Painting, Swimming, Pet Care, Theatre, Traveler, Books, and even a badge for humor. She would certainly have earned a badge for Citizenship and Caring for Children. But those badges hadn’t been invented then, because Juliette hadn’t yet founded the organization that awarded them.

Born Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon in Savannah Georgia in 1860, “Daisy,” as she was affectionately called by her family, was known for her love of the arts, her sense of humor and her athletic stunts. Her favorite trick was standing on her head, which she performed at parties, and once a year on her birthday, just to prove she still could.

Juliette had suffered chronic ear infections as a child and had lost most of her hearing in one ear. On the day of her wedding to William Mackay Low in 1886, a grain of “good luck” rice became lodged in Juliette’s good ear. It punctured her eardrum and she suffered total hearing loss in that ear. It didn’t seem to slow her down much.

Shortly after the wedding, the newlyweds moved England, and Juliette continued her passion for travel, visiting Europe, Egypt and India, as well as returning to Savannah for her annual visit. Juliette and William never had children. William died in 1905 and Juliette remained in England, forging a life for herself. It was there that she met Sir Robert Baden-Powell, former Lieutenant General of the British Army and founder of the Scout Movement. Inspired by B-P, as he was known, Juliette poured her energies into the fledgling youth movement.

The following year, when she returned to Savannah, Juliette made an historic phone call. “Come right over,” she told her friend, Nina Anderson Pape. “I’ve got something for the girls of Savannah, and all of America, and all the world, and we’re going to start it tonight!”

On March 12, 1912, Juliette gathered 18 girls from Savannah, and the American Girl Guides was born. Juliette’s niece and namesake, Margaret “Daisy Doots” Gordon, was the first registered member. In the spirit of self-reliance and resourcefulness encouraged by Juliette, the girls voted the following year to change the name of the organization to The Girl Scouts.

A century later, with 3.7 million members, the organization still embraces the values Juliette supported. She encouraged the girls to pursue non-traditional careers in the arts, science, and business, and to embrace environmental and community citizenship.

Juliette has been honored numerous times for her work. In 1948, President Truman authorized a stamp in her honor; a Liberty Ship, the SS Juliette Low was named for her, and in 1979 she was inducted into the national Women’s Hall of Fame. Prior to her death in 1927, she helped found the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, which now boasts more than 10 million members in 145 countries.

In the U.S. alone, an estimated 50 million girls have been impacted by the work of a childfree woman with a passion for life…Juliette Gordon Low.

 

National Women’s History Month: Cheroes February 10, 2012

Next month is National Women’s History Month and last year we celebrated by featuring profiles of some inspiring Cheroes (childfree heroes.) Marilyn Monroe, Mary Cassatt and Billie Jean King were among some of the famous favorites, but we also had profiles of lesser-known cheroes, such as Lucy Hobbs Taylor – America’s first female dentist – and Dorothy Quintana, a local community crime fighter who passed away last year at the age of 101. If you weren’t here last year, you can check out the profiles here.

Many readers commented how inspired they were by these extraordinary women who left behind (or are working to leave behind) incredible legacies, so I thought I’d run a new series this year.

But I need your help.

If you have a favorite chero, if there’s a well known woman you admire who didn’t or doesn’t have children, or a local chero who’s making a difference in your community, let me know about her. Send me a short profile (doesn’t have to be in-depth or great literature) and a short two-sentence bio about yourself (even if it’s a made up bio about your online alter-ego), and I’ll add it to the line-up for March. You can send it to me through the contact page or email it to me at: editor [at] lifewithoutbaby [dot] com.

I’m looking forward to hearing about the women who inspire you. For now, here’s a little encouragement: Lillian Wald

 

A Very Special Chero December 22, 2011

Filed under: Cheroes,Childless Not By Choice,Children,Fun Stuff — Life Without Baby @ 6:00 am
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I’d like to give credit to a very special Chero.

This woman works tirelessly behind the scenes, offering her support to her husband, his work, and his faithful employees. She lives in a harsh climate, cut off from the rest of civilization, but she doesn’t complain. She never seeks credit for her contributions and dedication, but instead allows her husband to bask in the spotlight.

This couple never had any children of their own, and yet, they’ve chosen to bring joy to millions of other people’s children throughout the world.

So today, I’d like to raise a glass of whiskey and a mince pie (or a glass of milk and a cookie, for my U.S. friends), to that wonderful Chero: Mrs. Claus.

 

Cheroes: Children’s Authors Who Didn’t Have Kids December 16, 2011

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It takes a mother to truly understand children, right?

WRONG!!

Next time someone tells you that, whip out this handy dandy list of cheroes. All of these wonderful women wrote books that have resonated (in some cases for over a century) with little tykes all over the world.

Louisa May Alcott – Little Women (1868)

Beatrix Potter – The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1900)

Kate Douglas Wiggin – Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903)

Eleanor Hodgman Porter – Pollyanna (1913)

Margaret Wise Brown – The Runaway Bunny (1942), Goodnight, Moon (1947)

Tove Jansson – The Moomin Series (1948)

Dodie Smith – 101 Dalmatians (1956), I Capture the Castle (1949)

Anna Sewell – Black Beauty (1957)

Louise Fitzhugh – Harriet the Spy (1964)

Penelope Lively – The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973), A Stitch in Time (1976)

Ann M. Martin – The Baby-Sitters Club Series (1986)

Gail Carson Levine – Ella Enchanted (1997)

Kat DiCamillo – The Tale of Desperaux (2003), Because of Winn-Dixie (2000)

Meg Cabot – The Princess Diaries (2000)

Holly Black – The Spiderwick Chronicles (2003)

 

The Night Watcher December 12, 2011

This weekend I went to see Charlayne Woodard in her one-woman show The Night Watcher. The play is a made up of a series of short stories about the relationships she shares with the many children in her life, and it was fascinating.

Charlayne “missed the small window of opportunity” she had to have children of her own and chose not to adopt. She makes no bones about the fact that she and her husband (and dog) can spend Sunday mornings in bed reading the newspaper and drinking Bloody Mary’s because they don’t have children, but also that she is able to play an important role as auntie and godmother to a lot of other people’s children.

It was  so refreshing to see this point of view in a public forum and I laughed out loud at some of her scathing observations, and blinked back tears at others. Charlayne touched on many of the subjects we’ve brought up on Whiny Wednesdays – how when you don’t have children, someone is always trying to “fix” that; how she’s judged as being something less than a woman; and how her opinion is so quickly dismissed, even by a mother who is all but absent from her own daughter’s life. I related to her experiences and appreciated her frankness.

I’ll admit, though, that the show was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster to watch. I found myself flip-flopping along with Charlayne between lamenting the joys I was missing by not having children, and appreciating the life I have. And of course, it brought the subject of our own journey back up to the surface again, and got me and Mr. Fab talking about it, which isn’t always pleasant, but is nonetheless beneficial.

The Night Watcher closes here in L.A. this coming weekend, but if you get a chance, get out to see it. Don’t forget your chuckle muscles and your Kleenex, though.

 

Chero: Annie Edson Taylor December 9, 2011

I was skimming through a children’s book called Women Daredevils, and I came across some fascinating cheroes. One of my favorites was this woman, Annie Edson Taylor.

As a 63-year-old widowed schoolteacher, whose only child had died in infancy, Annie was facing a future of poverty. She needed to do something drastic in order to survive, so in October 1901, she decided to supplement her income by becoming the first person ever to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

Luckily, she survived to tell the story, but while her get-rich-quick scheme brought her fame, the money didn’t follow. She died in poverty at the age of 83.

Perhaps Annie isn’t exactly the kind of chero we want to turn to for inspiration, but for sheer guts and foolishness alone, I say, “Hurray” for the Queen of the Mist.

 

Chero: Nancy Wake, The White Mouse December 2, 2011

Filed under: Cheroes,Current Affairs,Fun Stuff — Life Without Baby @ 6:00 am
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Courtesy: New York Times, Australia War Memorial, via European Pressphoto Agency

The world recently lost an inspiring chero…and a force to be reckoned with.

Nancy Wake was a freespirit who enjoyed the odd drink and a good laugh. After working with the French Resistance to help shelter airmen and prisoners of war, she was recruited by the British Special Operations agent. Although it’s rumored that she requested face cream and silk stocking be air-dropped in along with grenades and Sten guns, and that her flirtatious nature and alluring good looks aided her in eluding the Gestapo, Nancy Wake was not to be trifled with.

In the weeks prior to D-Day, she parachuted into southern France blew up the Gestapo headquarters, bicycled over 300 miles to find a radio operator, and reportedly killed a German sentry with her bare hands. Not surprisingly, she became the Gestapo’s most wanted person. Her ability to avoid capture earned her the nickname “White Mouse” and her courage earned her honors from five nations, making her the most decorated female spy of World War II.

She once told an interviewer, “I don’t see why we women should just wave our men a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.”

Nancy Wake certainly didn’t do that. She passed away earlier this year at the ripe old age of 98.

 

It Got Me Thinking…About Connections November 21, 2011

By Kathleen Guthrie Woods

Marlo ThomasThat Girl, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and “Free To Be…You and Me”—is on my mind today. I just finished her most recent book, Growing Up Laughing. If you need a pick-me-up, I highly recommend you run out for a copy. It’s her memoirs of growing up with her famously funny father, comedian Danny Thomas, and his legendary pals, which include George Burns, Milton Berle, Don Rickles, Bob Hope, and Red Buttons. She also interviewed present-day stars, such as Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Tina Fey, and Jon Stewart, to get their thoughts on how they ended up funny. I laughed out loud at the many anecdotes and jokes, and I have a new appreciation for the hard work it takes to be a successful comedian.

But what struck the deepest chord within me was a brief story about when Gloria Steinem, founder of Ms., asked Thomas to speak to a group of welfare mothers. Thomas was unmarried at the time, and childfree (she later became a stepmother to husband Phil Donahue’s four sons), and wondered what in the world she could talk about. “Trust me,” Gloria said. “They’ll love you—and you’ll love them. You’re all women.”

And I thought: “That’s IT!” That’s the one message I want to get out to the world through our site and through how I live my life. We’re not mothers and non-mothers, we’re not breeders and infertiles, we’re not with child or childfree. We’re all women.

Thomas bonded by sharing family stories. We can all relate to the antics of the eccentric grandmother, the regrets of aunts who shelved their dreams for the so-called security of marriage, the sisters and friends whose talents were “dismissed because they were women.” With her stories, childfree Thomas had the audience of mothers laughing and crying along with her. “Gloria had opened my eyes and my heart to the connections that we women have with each other.”

It’s so easy for me to obsess over other women’s haves versus my have-nots—or to gloat over the freedoms I enjoy that they have sacrificed for family life. Enough. Let’s focus on our common ground and celebrate and support each other, as women, regardless of the paths we follow.

Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She celebrates Marlo Thomas for breaking down barriers to gender equality. 

 

 
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