"Any plans for Mother's Day?" the supermarket cashier asks cheerily.
My reflexive answer is well-practiced: "Well, who knows?" I reply, smiling mysteriously. "I'm going to lie low and just see what happens."
She smiles. "Me, too," she says. "Though I'm hoping for a surprise from my kids."
"I hope you get a good one!" I say, turning to leave.
I know surprises are quite unlikely for me this Mother's Day or any other. I am a childless 67-year-old woman and my own mother has been dead for more than three decades.
It was a radical thought back in the Fifties when just about everyone was married with children -- with a few notable exceptions -- including my beloved Aunt Molly. But I always considered her our third and best parent. And, for many years, especially after our parents died, Mike, Tai and I honored Aunt Molly with a special outpouring of love, affection and an excellent brunch at her favorite restaurant on Mother's Day.
I remember seeing "Three Coins in the Fountain" as a child and being greatly affected by a scene where one of the female characters weeps because she'll never have a child. I cried myself to sleep that night -- knowing somehow without knowing that this would be my own fate.
But things just didn't seem to work out with parenthood.
I had an unplanned pregnancy with Dr. Chuck ---- thanks to a malfunctioning IUD. Though it was unplanned, it was far from unwelcome. Chuck, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist, loved and wanted children. But the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage shortly before our relationship began a seismic shift. At age 30, Chuck came to terms with the fact that he was gay and we veered away from romance, marriage and children and continued on as friends and professional partners instead, producing several classic books instead of babies.
But being childless hasn't meant that our lives are closed off to children.
In particular, we both love Ryan immensely and forever. He became Bob's third and last Little Brother as a small child more than 20 years ago and is the closest we'll ever have to a son. He calls us on Mother's Day, Father's Day, and many other times during the year to say "I love you!" and to share the adventures of his young adult life. And we'll be headed back to Los Angeles soon to share his joy as he receives his Master's degree in social work -- a major step toward his goal of becoming a psychotherapist.
Then I would host a parent fleeing from the stress of adolescent parenting for a week, or watch a toddler meltdown in public and think that being childless had its advantages.
But still, I've never identified with the militant "child-free" folk.
But perhaps it was simply my destiny to fall in love with Ryan and with my nieces and nephew-to-be, to give warm support and guidance to children and teens with my books, and with my college admissions work instead of being a hands-on parent.
I love reading stories to Maggie and encouraging her to talk. I love sharing the insights and adventures of young adults I first met in the college admissions process as they venture out into the post-college world. I love hearing from long ago readers. I still sometimes get emails of thanks via my website from middle-aged adults who recall my 'TEEN articles or growing up with one of the seven editions of "The Teenage Body Book." It warms my heart to know that what I've written over the past 44 years has been helpful.
Sometimes warm feedback can take me by surprise.
I got an email on my birthday a few weeks ago from a high school friend Suse Harper-Yates, whom I haven't seen in nearly 50 years. She reminded me that we had played mother and daughter in a school production of "I Remember Mama" late in our senior year.
Her email read, in part: "For 'I Remember Mama' on her birthday! Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with another person, having to neither weigh thoughts nor measure words...I love you! Suse."
What a gift Suse's words were to me: both bringing back wonderful memories and letting me know as yet another Mother's Day approaches, that I had been a temporary mother, a source of comfort to her, all those years ago.
The memories flooded back. I had played Mama and Suzy had played Christine, the middle daughter. I remembered being delighted by the warm chemistry I had with her: it felt natural onstage to snuggle with her, to admonish her firmly but with affection, to meet her smile with my own.
What a blessing this was to hear and to know that these feelings had stayed with her all through the years.
Maybe my dear, long-deceased college friend Lorraine was right all those years ago: my life has been wonderful, indeed, turning out the way it was always meant to be....just right.