I was sitting at the corner table at the Portland airport Radisson’s Lakeside Restaurant yesterday, devouring my pancakes, eggs and bacon when I saw someone who looked familiar a few tables down. As the woman and her companion got up to graze at the buffet, I realized I knew them from church. I had traveled across the country and was still 150 miles from home, and there were Ron and Sandi from Newport. After we all had a chance to eat our last pig-out meals before heading home to real life and diets, I joined them for a wonderful visit.
Ron and Sandi had been to Colorado and New Mexico. They were very interested when I told them I was returning from the NotMom Summit in Cleveland, Ohio. Sandi’s situation is similar to mine. She’s a stepmother, but never had her own children. I shared some of what I had learned.
It was a long and expensive trip, but worth it. I returned feeling stronger, prettier, and far less alone, with my notebook full of writing ideas. The high is fading a bit now in the rush of mail to read, bills to pay, clothing to wash, and work to get done. Rejections and deadlines loom, and I’m in charge of choir practice tonight. When I called Dad, he was full of the usual complaints—but he’s okay, and he was glad I had a good time.
This morning, the dog greeted me with kisses as I finally stirred in my warm, soft bed. Out the window, I saw evergreen trees and gray sky. No more big-city views of downtown Cleveland and Lake Erie out my window at the Hilton. What a beautiful city it is, full of old buildings and fascinating public art.
There was a scary moment when I went walking Friday night. I was crossing a street at a crosswalk with a blinking warning light for oncoming cars. I walked right into the side of a car that had failed to stop. It took the breath out of me, but I was not injured. The driver apologized, and I staggered back to the hotel to sit shaking for a few minutes. It could have been all over in Cleveland before I even had a chance to give my speech. The picture above could have been the last one ever taken of me. But no, God was watching out for me. I took some deep breaths and went back to the conference.
This was not like writers’ conferences, where everybody is trying to get published. There, it’s all about what we do. But here, it was about who we are and how we live. I made about a hundred new friends as we sat around sharing how we happened to not have children. We came from as far as New Zealand and as near as Cleveland. I shared my session on aging without children with Gisele from Montreal. I met the fabulous Jody Day from the UK. Our accents varied, but we had this giant thing in common: we were all “NotMoms.”
God, how we talked. We discussed our families, our periods, our friends who are obsessed with their kids and grandkids, the stupid things people say to us, and so many other topics that we don’t usually feel we can talk about with other people. All the workshops were really discussions, with the women in the audience offering as much as the women up front.
We got drunk. We wore our pajamas to watch a documentary film called “To Kid or Not to Kid.” We ran around with giant bingo cards looking for women with various qualities to fill in the squares. I was the NotMom who played an instrument. Our keynote speakers taught us and inspired us. They made us laugh, and they made us cry. We talked about the hard stuff, the tragic stories of trying and failing to get pregnant or trying to get people to understand why some of us never wanted children. We asked each other whether having stepchildren means we’re not childless/childfree. It’s not the same as having our own, we agreed.
We gave standing ovations to Karen Malone Wright, founder of the NotMom organization, and her assistant Laura LaVoie, who made the conference happen. It was top-notch all the way. We pledged to come back next time and stay in touch in-between.
I also happily signed copies of my Childless by Marriage book and met readers I previously only knew online.
The hardest part was saying goodbye and walking out with our suitcases at the end. But I was blessed to spend the first leg of my trip home with Audrey from Olympia, Washington. We had met at dinner the first night, and now we discovered we were seated next to each other on the plane from Cleveland to Houston. I am so happy to have her as a new friend, along with so many others.
From Houston, I was finally on my own for the four-hour flight to Portland. That was a long one, with a lot of turbulence and a crying baby. But back in Portland, there were Ron and Sandi from Newport, making me see how the circles of my life intersect. I am so blessed.
In a bit of ironic timing, my step-grandson Brandon and his wife Ashley gave birth to a baby boy early this morning. Welcome, Kayden. I wish Fred were here to share the news.
Thank you all for being here.