TIME women

I Don’t Want to Have Children and That’s OK

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There are as many reasons to not have children as there are to have children

I have known that I didn’t want to have kids for a long time. Like, a long time. My determination to eternally keep my womb as empty and barren as the surface of the moon predates the birth of both of Britney’s babies, the premiere of Gilmore Girls, and the entire existence of nearly-adult human being Elle Fanning.

But I never felt like not wanting kids made up the core of my identity or anything — it was just a thing, like enjoying The X-Files or having an strong aversion to mayonnaise; a small aspect of my overall self. I never felt the need to consult with other women who didn’t want kids because, well, who needs a support group for not liking mayo?

That was, until I hit my 30s — a time when many of my peers were, if not already actively reproducing, at least engaging in some extremely focused pre-planning regarding the wee people who would eventually come sliding out of their lady parts. What had been a small element of my personality was suddenly in the foreground, simply because it was different than most other people’s choices. I was suddenly, shockingly, in need of a support group.

And so, I just as suddenly became obsessed with reading anything written by women who had also made the choice to skip having kids. Sure, we’re an increasingly common species — 19 percent of American women are childless by the end of their reproductive years, a massive jump from decades past — but women in their 30s without kids still get such a hard side-eye from the culture at large, that I felt desperate to learn how other women had dealt with it.

I loved the variety of voices in these pieces, the rainbow of reasons given for deciding one’s own reproductive fate. But even in the essays that I’ve loved, I noticed that many of the authors made a point of specifically noting that they’re not skipping out on having children because they themselves had a bad childhood.

In comedian Jen Kirkman’s amazing book about being childfree, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself, she notes that her decision has nothing to do with her childhood, which featured loving, supportive parents. A 2009 Maclean’s piece on the growing phenomenon of childfree women noted that assuming a “bad childhood” was to blame for a woman’s decision to not bear children is an old-fashioned explanation, one that barely plays a role today compared to factors like increased educational opportunities for women. Lilit Marcus, a fantastic writer who frequently comments on issues relevant to child-free women, even wrote an entire essay about her own ”idyllic childhood,” in response to those who assumed her reluctance to breed must have had to do with some deep-seated childhood trauma.

On one hand, I am thrilled that so many writers are challenging the assumption that the only women who chose to take a pass on motherhood are “damaged.” Many people instantly make a lifetime’s worth of assumptions about you the second that you mention that you aren’t having kids, and the biggest of those is often that you have “problems” — problems that keep you from functioning like a normal (that is, child-bearing) member of society. I understand, and support, the fight to normalize a childfree life as something that any person, with any kind of background, might choose for herself for any reason.

And yet, as a woman who chose not to have kids for those very “old-fashioned” reasons —I had a bad childhood, and boy howdy, do I have problems because of it! — I sometimes feel like I, and women like me, are being written out of the new narrative of healthy, happy childfree womanhood.

I want to make clear that I’m not blaming any of these writers, or any other woman, for being honest about her happy childhood, or any other aspect of her life. I am, however, blaming a society that is still so absolutely suspect of childfree women, that we often feel that we need to develop airtight, logical, precise arguments for why we don’t want to have kids — arguments which we can efficiently whip off at a moment’s notice to parents or friends or some busybody who sits next to us on the train.

The typical airtight narrative goes a little something like this: I never liked dolls; I adore children but don’t have the temperament to be around them all the time; I have never felt the tug of my biological clock; I’m not having children because I like my life as is, not because I’m afraid of them or avoiding something larger.

This script is similar in my mind to how, if you have an abortion, convention dictates that you’re supposed to express some half-hearted regret about how it wasn’t “the right time,” but then confirm that you have never faltered from believing that it was the right decision in the end. It places your experience firmly inside the walls of “normal,” and proves that nothing extraordinary or weird led you to your decision — that it’s a decision anyone could make.

I understand the need for these scripts. A woman’s right to bodily autonomy is still under constant fire — legally and socially — and there is a feeling among childfree women like we need to circle the wagons, to protect ourselves by agreeing to tell a story about our choices that doesn’t make us seem like damaged wrecks making the only choice we could handle, but rather cool, smart, dispassionate thinkers making an informed decision.

I wish I was a cool, smart, dispassionate thinker in any aspect of my life — but I’m not. I do love my life the way it is, but that isn’t why I decided not to have kids. I didn’t look at life’s bountiful options — all the possibilities that are supposedly open to me as an educated, middle-class woman — and choose the one that was most sensible and seemed like it would benefit me the most. Figuring out my life choices has not been like purchasing a pair of hiking boots. I am definitely not having kids because I am avoiding something. I am a wreck, making the only choice that I can handle.

On my mother’s side, I’m the end product of at least three generations of child abuse (that I know of) — abuse that tapered down from booze-fueled violence a hundred years ago, to just the intense verbal abuse, mood swings, and gaslighting that I grew up with as my mentally ill, untreated single mom’s only child.

I did not articulate my decision to not have kids until my late teens, but long before then — before I realized that you were allowed to go through life without procreating — I knew that any talk I engaged in about my future offspring was just going through the motions, trying to keep people from thinking I was even weirder than they already did. When people asked what I would name my kids, I always made something up on the spot, because I had spent zero moments daydreaming about being a mother, and thousands of moments gritting my teeth at the idea of eventually having to become one. The day that I realized that women were allowed to choose to not have babies, I literally wept with joy.

My mother’s mothering was like a hurricane, knocking me every which way during the years we lived together, and once I left her, I knew I was going to have to devote the rest of my life to trying to feel like I was standing on solid ground. Raising kids didn’t mesh with the idea of trying to give myself a sense of constancy — hell, when I first moved to New York, I didn’t leave the city proper for two years straight, just because I needed that feeling of consistency, that feeling that I wouldn’t wake up to a new world with new rules that I could barely understand and had already somehow broken, as I had so often in my mother’s house.

I didn’t want to be a mother because I had seen motherhood in one of its darker iterations, yes, but that wasn’t the only reason. I knew that, should I be so lucky to rebuild my life into something that eventually felt stable under my hand, there would never be any room in it for midnight feedings and tantrums and a person who couldn’t always explain themselves and their actions to me in clear, well-reasoned English.

It was as surely as if my womb had been taken out of my body and placed on a shelf. I had never even bothered to spend a moment contemplating whether I felt that maternal tug these writers were always talking about, or if I liked kids but didn’t have the temperament to be around them all day. My childhood had already made the decision for me. I would never have children. And I felt fine about it. It was a fact, just as true as the color of the sky or the temperature outside.

The urge to distance childfree narratives from the “bad childhood” explanation isn’t just because it’s “old-fashioned” and invokes a lot of ugly, publicity-unfriendly emotions — it’s also because it’s the one reason for not having kids that even people who believe that all women should bear children understand. Those who spend their free time obsessed with the contents of strangers’ wombs give women who grew up with maternal abuse something of a pass — often a pass with a comment like “But you could learn from her mistakes!” but a pass nonetheless.

They are the same kind of people who believe in anti-abortion rules with clauses for rape victims only. They want women who don’t have children to have really suffered for it, to be so potentially deformed by trauma that they are bad risks for motherhood. Older women who would otherwise talk my ear off about how I should freeze my eggs shut down when I casually mention having spent my own childhood alone with a mother who picked fights with strangers, who suspected that she was under secret surveillance, who believed that if I was not in the room and listening to her I did not love her. It gets me off the hook.

I do not want their pass. I want all reasons for being childfree to be respected, not constantly interrogated and undermined. I want to make sure that, as the public conversation about childfree women rolls on, we who have chosen the childfree life because of abuse and trauma don’t get left behind, as “old-fashioned” examples, people who have nothing to in common with the cool, independent, modern role model women who are choosing to not have kids.

Not only because child abuse will always exist, even among elite Millennials (and to pretend that it’s an outdated as a history textbook is insulting) — but because we need to show how many reasons there are for women to pursue childfree lives. It was never exclusively about bad childhoods in the past, and it isn’t just about being happy with your life and loving your disposable income now. It’s always been both, plus a million more narratives. There are as many reasons to not have children as there are to have children — and just like the decision to have children, sometimes the decision to not have children comes from a place of joy, and sometimes it comes from a place of trying to correct trauma. And we need to open our arms up to all of them.

This article originally appeared on Bustle.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME politics

Oh, Brother: Jeb Bush and the Problem With Siblings

Psst, look behind you: George and Jeb in 2006
Jim Watson—Getty Images Psst, look behind you: George and Jeb in 2006

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

The comparisons are inevitable when you're running for a job your sib once held

Welcome to the NFL, Jeb Bush. It’s nasty out there on the presidential campaign trail, isn’t it? You shake hands you really don’t want to shake, make speeches you really don’t want to make, and get asked all kinds of questions you really don’t want to answer. And if you’re feeling especially picked on, well, you’re right.

That, like it or not, is part of a contest you’ve been involved in a whole lot longer than you’ve been a sort-of, kind-of, not-quite-announced presidential candidate. It’s the siblings war, and as with any other person with a brother or sister who ever ratted you out to mom or clobbered you in the playroom, it’s a battle you’ve been fighting for as long as you can remember.

The problem you’re facing at the moment—as every news outlet in the country has delighted in reminding you—concerns the Iraq war, which started and unraveled on your big brother George W.’s watch. Last Saturday, you taped a segment for Fox News—hardly an unfriendly outlet for a Republican—and Megan Kelly asked you if, knowing what you know now, you’d have authorized the 2003 invasion. You answered with three words I bet you’d really like not to have said: “I would have.”

Never mind that you later backtracked, saying you’d misheard the question and thought Kelly was asking you what you’d have done if you’d only had the flawed intelligence that was available at the time. And never mind that the rest of your answer to Kelly seems to support that. “I would have,” you said in full, “and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would have just about everybody that was confronted with the intelligence that they got.”

But that didn’t stop Politico from asking “Will Iraq take down another Bush?” That didn’t stop the New York Times from declaring, “Brother’s Past Proves Tricky for Jeb Bush.” And it won’t stop virtually every other sentient person on the planet from connecting you to George W.—for better and for worse.

That’s the way it is with sibs. Part of the problem is the glib association people outside the family make about brothers and sisters. Teachers, camp counselors, coaches, all assume that if your big sib was good in math or sports you will be too—and if you’re not, they’ll want to know why. And if the same big sib was a lousy student or a behavioral handful you have to overcome the assumption that you’ll be the same.

But a much bigger problem is the dynamic that unfolds within the sibling brood itself. Think of a family as a corporation. Mom and Dad are co-CEO’s and the kids are the products. George W. was the first one to come down the assembly line, and like any sole product in any start-up company, he was the exclusive focus of the bosses’ time, money, energy and attention. By the time you came along, those early resources had gone into the ledger as what the MBAs call sunk costs—investments that can never be gotten back. So if the company has to choose between Bush Son V.1 (that’s George) and Bush Son V.2 (that’s you), it’s usually not even close.

That’s at least part of the reason that even though George had the rep of the dilettante and layabout and you were thought of as The Serious One, he got the first shot at the presidential cookie jar and you’ve now got to work with the crumbs that are left. That’s at least part of the reason too that in 2013 even your Mom, who surely loves you like a son, was dismissive of your presidential prospects, telling Matt Lauer that you’re “by far the best-qualified man,” but that, “there are other people out there that are very qualified, and we’ve had enough Bushes.” That couldn’t have felt good.

You made the inevitable comparisons to your big brother much worse by going into the same line of work he and your father did. Family psychologists call this—straightforwardly enough—identifying. Your big brother or big sister gets all kinds of family attention for, say, starring in school plays, so you start going to auditions too. The problem is, the goodies start to get spread a little thin. No matter how many starring roles you land, you’ll still get only 50% of the parental applause for being the family’s performer. Better then to choose a different route—what the psychologists call de-identifying—play sports or join the chess club and get 100% of the laurels for those achievements.

But the most powerful—if least quantifiable—sibling dynamic you’re struggling with now is the business of love, loyalty and guilt. Take that nasty moment on May 13, when you were at a Reno, Nev. town hall and a 19-year-old college student said to you, “Your brother created ISIS.” Did you need that headache? No you did not.

You could have answered that charge by disavowing your brother—a simple, “Yeah, can you believe the mess he made?” would have done it. Certainly that’s the way any Democrat would go, as well as some Republicans trying to get a little distance from the serial messes of your brother’s two terms. But you can’t do that—not if you want to feel comfortable at the Kennebunkport Thanksgiving table next fall.

So you hedge and you elaborate and you decline to answer hypothetical questions—even if they’re fair and entirely predictable questions. And you sometimes get sick of it all and say, as you also did in Reno, “First and foremost, I am proud to be George W.’s brother. I can’t deny the fact that I love my family.”

No one doubts that that second statement is true. As for the first one? Well, only you know. But get used to the questions, get used to the problems, because they’re not going away. Presidencies are short; campaigns are even shorter. But the wonderful, awful, loving, vexing job of being a sib is forever.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Pets

5 Ways Fido Is Costing You a Fortune

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Vikki Hart—Getty Images

You can't put a price on love -- but you can budget for unexpected pet expenses

A few months ago, I brought home a ridiculously energetic black lab mix from the local humane society. While the other dogs quietly waited by the desk to have their adoption papers stamped, my new doggie friend strained at the end of his leash, barking and howling and jumping as my partner dragged him to the car.

That’s the dog you picked?” an older man asked me with incredulity, as his dog sat stock still, panting at his side. What I’m getting at is that my dog — I call him Peanut — is quite a handful. But the joke’s on you if you pick out a pet and think being its owner will be a piece of cake. If you love your pet, you will rush him to the vet in the middle of the afternoon when he gets a swollen paw. You will make him special food when he has a tummy ache. You will spend countless hours walking and entertaining him. And, when he steals a cinnamon bun off the counter and then — out of fear of being caught — loses all control of his bowels and leaves a smelly mess in the basement, you will clean it up without being too mad. And, finally, when he needs something, you will pay for it with lots and lots of your hard-earned money.

Of course, when you bring a pet home, you probably assume that you’ll have to buy it a few basic things. Food. Some toys. Treats. A bed. According to the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent more than $55 billion on their pets in 2013. But for many pet owners, that’s just the beginning. Here are a few unexpected expenses to budget for.

1. Stuff You Said You’d Never Buy

I always assumed I’d be one of those pet owners with a stiff upper lip. I wouldn’t be spoiling my dog. Oh no. Not me. But suddenly, when you love your pet, you’ll probably find yourself rationalizing all kinds of (highly overpriced) pet paraphernalia. If you’re able to steer clear of the temptation while you’re picking up your standard pet food, more power to you. The line at my local pet shop (and my own experience) suggests that most people cave.

2. Less Dirty/Damaged Versions of Things You Already Have

Whether you have a cat or a goldfish, pets have a way of making a terrible mess of your house. So far, Peanut has destroyed: one running shoe, a picnic chair, a garden hose, a sprinkler, a dog bed, and a Persian rug. And, while replacing those things posed a significant expense, I actually think I’ve gotten off quite lucky. I mean, have you ever seen dog shaming? Or cat shaming? When you get a pet, expect to replace a few things. It’s a given.

3. Vet Bills — Big Ones

Perhaps before you had a pet, you thought you had limits. You thought if your pet required medical care to the tune of thousands of dollars, you’d decline. After all, it’s just a pet, right? And then you met Mr. Fluffypants, the pet extraordinaire who kept you company when you were sick. Or made you laugh. Or helped you through tough times. Chances are when it’s your pet, you’ll be willing to shell out just about anything to save its life. If that means emergency care, medication, or surgery, that can get very, very expensive. According to the American Pet Products Association, surgical vet visits cost dog owners $621 and cat owners $382 on average in 2013. If you have an accident-prone pet or are really worried about unexpected pet expenses, consider getting pet insurance.

4. Vacation Costs

While a winter vacation in Hawaii might be really relaxing for you, most pets don’t travel especially well. Airline travel is expensive for pets and can be very traumatizing and stressful. Plus, many hotels prefer that you leave your fluffy family members at home. When you get a pet, consider who will take care of it when you’re away — and how much that’ll cost you.

5. Your Time and Energy

If you have never owned a pet, you will drastically underestimate the amount of time caring for it will take out of your day. No matter what kind of pet you have, it’ll need some combination of exercise, training, entertainment, care, and clean-up. If you have a dog, you will (or should) invest plenty of time in working on obedience. (Otherwise, you’ll spend lots more time chasing after your dog and posting photos of half-eaten couches on dog-shaming sites.) And, just when you think you have things under control, your adorable fluffy will remind you just who exactly is in charge.

You can reduce some of the potential expenses you might incur by ensuring that your pet is vaccinated, gets all the required preventative care, and is well cared for on a daily basis. But no matter how healthy your pet appears to be, you should always be prepared for the unexpected. Animals are full of surprises. Fortunately, many of them are the kind that make your day, rather than empty your bank account.

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TIME Holidays

3 Historical Arguments Against Mother’s Day

Anna Jarvis
FPG / Getty Images A portrait of the founder of Mothers Day, Anna Jarvis, circa 1900

In its 101 years as a national observance, Mother's Day has made its fair share of enemies

Campaigning against Mother’s Day is a surefire way to sound like a grouch — but that didn’t stop Anna Jarvis.

That’s because if anyone could get away with it, she could. After all, Jarvis invented the whole thing, and then it ballooned far beyond what she had been imagining. As TIME wrote in 1938, it was May of 1907 when Jarvis persuaded a church in her hometown, Philadelphia, to hold a special church service on the anniversary of her mother’s death. The next year the governors of Florida and North Dakota issued special proclamations inspired by the service and it went national in 1914 when President Wilson made one, too. It wasn’t long before businesspeople across the country figured the day could be a great way to sell the nation on flowers, cards and other tokens. Jarvis, the article explained, was not amused:

Anna Jarvis is the 60-year-old Philadelphia spinster who invented Mother’s Day. Whenever she thinks of what the flower shops, the candy stores, the telegraph companies have done with her idea, she is disgusted. She has even incorporated Mother’s Day to help keep unscrupulous florists and confectioners from using her patented trademark for commercial purposes. But “nobody,” she says, “pays any attention to law any more.”

Once she was arrested for disorderly conduct for interrupting a Philadelphia meeting of American War Mothers, whom she accused of profiteering on Mother’s Day carnations. In 1934 she kept James Aloysius Farley from putting “Mother’s Day” on his special 3¢ Whistler’s Mother stamp, which she said was just another racket. Last week on Mother’s Day she contented herself with denouncing a Manhattan “Mother’s Peace Day” parade and a “Parents’ Day” meeting in Central Park. (One of her current slogans is “Don’t Kick Mother out of Mother’s Day.”) Then she dedicated an eternal light to the Mothers of America and went to a service in her honor at the Church of the Saviour.

It didn’t stop there. TIME reported that Jarvis sent violent telegrams to President Roosevelt and mostly shut herself inside her house–emerging only to hand out flyers about the evils of commercializing Mother’s Day.

But rampant commerce wasn’t the only objection to the way Mother’s Day was celebrated. In that same TIME story, Eleanor Roosevelt urged that Mother’s Day also be turned into a public awareness event about the maternal mortality rate, which was 14,000 deaths a year at the time. That idea was an echo of an earlier campaign by physiologist Thomas Wilcox Haggard, who in 1934 reminded the world that “lives of mothers can be saved only by facing gruesome realities, not by holding out the promise of a potted plant.”

And finally, history has seen its fair share of those who believe that Mother’s Day is all well and good, but doesn’t go far enough. In 1950, TIME wrote about Miss Dorothy Babb, an advocate for a National Old Maids’ Day. “Many spinsters, she pointed out, don’t even get birthday gifts, so eager are they to avoid the subject of age,” the magazine reported. In the ’70s, that cry was picked up by the National Organization for Non-Parents, which advocated for Non-Mother’s Day to be a holiday.

Read the whole 1938 story about Mother’s Day and Anna Jarvis, here in the TIME Vault: Mother’s Day, Inc.

TIME Family

What It Is Like To Be a Single, Widowed Mom at 28

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

My husband had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. He was 31 years old

xojane

When I was 22, I met my husband, Pete. I was immediately drawn to his quick wit, his passion for life, and his ability to do anything he set his mind to. He seemed invincible.

In the years that followed,we would share many memorable experiences. We spent our time together hiking and backpacking, exploring foreign lands, and daydreaming about the future.

In the midst of it all we exchanged wedding vows and welcomed two precious babies to the mix, while vowing to never allow the expanding size of our family to interfere with our plans to seek adventure.

Along the way, we developed a grandiose vision for our lives both independently and collectively and lived a life free of fear. We believed that as long as we had each other, all would be right with the world.

That is, until one fateful day in December 2011.

Pete had been feeling unwell for some time, but naively believed it wasn’t anything serious. After all, he was invincible. While I was visiting family out of state with my mother and our children, I received the call that changed my life forever. Pete had been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. He was 31 years old.

There is absolutely no way to give voice to exactly how I felt in that moment. The easiest way to describe it would be to say the world stood still. While everything around me continued to buzz with life, my own had begun crumbling before me.

We started out strong and brave. I was convinced God would save him and was unwilling to accept any other way. But as the weeks and months progressed, we realized claiming victory wasn’t as easy as giving God an ultimatum. With each chemo session, each new set of scan results, and each dose of pain medication, we realized we were losing the battle.

On March 18, 2013 the unthinkable happened when my husband closed the chapter on his earthly life — leaving me a widow at 28 years old, with two young children.

Leading up to his passing he had received hospice care in our home for five excruciating months during which I witnessed cancer strip him of every last human ability he possessed. During that time I was forced to face the facts, he was never invincible, and neither was I. Unfortunately the same is true for every one of us — life is fleeting.

There is a distinct feeling of surrender, laced with anger and sadness, which envelops a person when they realize their life is out of their control. It is a feeling I now know too well — one that has continued to befriend me, even still.

Fortunately when I have been unable to carry myself due to the weight of the burden of loss, family and friends have come alongside me to bolster me up. Before loss I didn’t fully understand the necessity that is human relationship, but now I know I would never have survived without it.

In the wake of my loss, I felt bereft. For years I felt I had a purpose that was bigger than my own vision for my life — I was my husband’s wife, his lover, his friend, and in the final months of his life, his caretaker.

During his battle with cancer, each day had been lived with a newfound urgency. When he was no longer present, I struggled to identify my purpose and questioned every reality I had ever known. I wondered who I was without him by my side.

Steeped in the pain of my loss, each day felt weighted with the emotions of the day before and as they piled on top of one another, the muck and mire of such intense feeling seemed too much to navigate on my own.

There were days I cried incessantly. While other days I felt an overwhelming desire to tell everyone about what had happened to me — to us. I felt as though the word “widow” was etched into my forehead.

On those days I told my story so stoically, oftentimes to absolute strangers, that it made me wonder if they questioned its authenticity.

Even still, there were days I escaped in an effort to connect with him. I longed to revisit the places we enjoyed together. While in those familiar places I felt at peace knowing I could cry uninhibited without feeling pressured to conform to society’s made up grief timeline.

Slowly but surely, I began making a concerted effort to confront my grief and loss and eventually it became more natural to move forward. Still, there is not a day that goes by that I do not look at my children and wonder, “Why them, why me?”

While the pain of loss remains so raw, at this point there is no other way than to accept that it will always be this way. There is absolutely no explanation and no justification for what has happened — it simply is what it is.

Fortunately, acceptance does not mean apathy. Acceptance simply means my energies are better spent elsewhere. I am proud to say that where I am now is a place of identifying the lessons learned through my trials, recognizing the beauty in the day-to-day, and expressing gratitude for the time I did have with my husband. Through my loss I have become a stronger, more impassioned woman who is slowly coming into myself, recognizing my own needs, and pursuing my own future.

As for our children, they will continue to work through the loss of their father — as will I — but they will take their cues from me. I must continually remind myself that they will mimic the way I grieve. The last thing Pete would have wanted is for us to stop living, which is why I have made a genuine effort to put one foot in front of the other no matter how intense the pain may be.

Because our youngest son was only 2 years old when Pete passed away, I feel it is especially critical to speak of the sacred memories we shared while their daddy was with us in the flesh.

However, I feel confident he is with us in spirit, so I guess, in that way he was invincible, its just not the way I ever would have imagined.

Alysha StGermain wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

Why I Called Maya Angelou ‘Mother’

Smiley is host and managing editor of Tavis Smiley on PBS and author of My Journey With Maya

She opened her heart and her home to me — we are who we are because somebody loved us

We are who we are because somebody loved us.

It might not have been the person who should have loved you, but you are who you are because somebody chose to love you.

I feel blessed beyond measure to have a mother, Joyce Smiley, who loves me unreservedly. A mother who has sacrificed for me in myriad ways, and yet tells me all the time how blessed she is to be my mother, how proud she is to be loved by me.

How fortunate am I? Good Lord.

If being embraced by a love this rich and deep wasn’t enough already, later in my young adult life I had the good fortune of calling Maya Angelou “Mother” as well.

When we met I was in my twenties and Maya was almost 60, a strong and vital presence. I had suffered a crushing defeat in my campaign for Los Angeles city council, trying to fulfill my desire to be a public servant. I felt a sharp sense of rejection.

“Perhaps because of my long history as a dancer, actress and writer, rejection is something with which I am all too familiar,” Dr. Angelou said to me.

“Your accomplishments in those fields and beyond, though, are legendary,” I responded.

“Yes, but for every accomplishment there were twenty rejections. A dance company thought my style was incompatible with theirs. A casting director found me lacking. An editor considered my writing too fanciful, or too plain, too abstract or too concrete. I could go on for hours. In the end, though, only one attitude enabled me to move ahead. That attitude said, ‘Rejection can simply mean redirection.’ To cite an example from your life, Tavis, you could easily postulate that without the rejection you experienced at the polls, you would not have been redirected to join me for this trip here to Accra, Ghana. Do you find my reasoning at all plausible?”

“I do.”

“Well, if that’s the case, then it’s not silly to see rejection as a gift whose contents and character may not be known until a later time. But that doesn’t mean that the gift isn’t real. It doesn’t mean that the gift isn’t precious. And it doesn’t mean that the gift isn’t helping us to subtly shift our thinking from willful expectation to grateful acceptance. We want our journey to be directed by God, not our adamant insistence that things go our way.”

The chance to travel to Africa with Maya Angelou, my very first trip out of the country, was a life-affirming and life-altering experience. Almost 30 years later, I still don’t quite know what to make of the fact that the opportunity of lifetime happened at the very moment that I was trying to find my voice, my place in the world, by reclaiming my name from the lost and found.

What I do know is that Maya Angelou and I went on to share a friendship for 28 years. A friendship that I count as one of the great blessings of my life. She appeared — and kept appearing — exactly when my spirit required repair. I do not consider those appearances coincidences, but rather divine encounters.

Although I still don’t exactly understand why, I’m eternally grateful that Maya didn’t allow the gulf in our age, experience, intellect or worldview to stop a friendship waiting to happen. A friendship that over time grew into a loving mother-son relationship.

I still don’t have a language to describe how it felt the day Maya said to me, “I know your parents raised you to respect your elders, Tavis, but this ‘Dr. Angelou’ business has gone far enough. At this point we can afford to be less formal.”

“Well,” I said, “I’m not sure what to call you. Is ‘Sister Maya’ all right?”

“Sister?” she asked. “When I think of you, son, I think of myself as more of a mother than a sister.”

That statement melted my heart.

With some hesitation, I forced the words out of my mouth. “Mother Maya.”

“Son,” she said, “that sounds mighty good to me.”

I called her ‘Mother Maya’ until she passed away last year.

She opened her heart and her home to me. She let me be me in her presence— without judgment.

For a young black man trying to find his voice and make his way in the world, that’s the most precious gift of all: unconditional love.

Tavis Smiley is host and managing editor of Tavis Smiley on PBS, and author of My Journey With Maya

Read next: Tavis Smiley on Baltimore

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

7 Mother’s Day Crafts for Kids to Make From Family Photos

These personalized crafts can get the whole family involved

  • 1. Tote Bag

    tote-photo
    Emily Kinni

    1. Choose photos of your family, print them on transfer paper, and cut out just the heads. You may want to use one piece of paper per photo so that the heads are large enough.

    2. Use an iron to transfer the photos onto a plain tote bag.

    3. Have kids use fabric markers to finish their bodies and decorate the bag.

  • 2. Candle Holders

    votive-photo
    Emily Kinni

    1. Print photos in black and white on vellum paper, which you can find at your local craft store. The paper will give the photo a frosted finish.

    2. Wrap around a glass cylinder (you can choose the size), and secure with double stick tape.

  • 3. Cookie Tin

    tin-photo
    Emily Kinni

    1. Use the lid of a cookie tin as a stencil around a family photo.

    2. Use glue or double stick tape to adhere a circle-shaped photo to the lid of the tin.

    3. Embellish the edge of the photo with a colorful or textured ribbon.

    4. Bonus: Bake her favorite cookies to store inside!

  • 4. Embellished Frame

    frame-dots
    Emily Kinni

    1. Paint a wooden craft frame a solid color.

    2. Use a circle punch (or any other shape or symbol) to create a template out of construction paper. Trace circles around the frame.

    3. Use paint pens to color in the circles.

  • 5. Potted Flower Photos

    flower-photos
    Emily Kinni

    1. Use a circle punch to cut out faces from family photos.

    2. Cut out colorful flower shapes from construction paper and glue family faces to the center of each flower.

    3. Then, glue a pipe cleaner onto each flower to create the stem.

    4. Place a Styrofoam ball into a pot, and secure pipe cleaners into the ball.

    5. Cover the Styrofoam with shredded paper.

  • 6. Dry Photo Snow Globe

    globe-photo
    Emily Kinni

    1. Cut out a family portrait, but just include the bodies and none of the background scenery.

    2. Create a background illustration and tape it to the side of a clear mason jar. This will be the back of the snow globe.

    3. Create additional trees and cut them out.

    4. Tape the trees and family portrait to the inside of the lid. Secure the lid onto the jar, and turn it upside down.

  • 7. Matchbox Album

    photo-book-1
    Emily Kinni

    1. Cover a matchbox in decorative paper—like wrapping paper scraps or craft paper.

    2. Embellish the front with a “Photos” label.

    3. Cut a long strip of construction paper to the height of the box, and accordion fold it a few times. Make sure the folds are thick enough to accommodate small, wallet-sized photos.

    4. Tape one end to the inside of the box.

    5. Use double stick tape to secure a few photos to the folds.

    This article originally appeared on Real Simple.

    More from Real Simple:

TIME World War II

How Eisenhower’s Granddaughters Learned About WWII

The former Commander in chief of the All
Al Muto—AFP/Getty Images Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower poses happily on October 14,1956 in the White House gardens on his 66th birthday for a family portrait with (from left) his wife, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, daughter-in-law, Mrs. John Eisenhower and the Eisenhower grandchildren Mary Jean, 10 months old, Susan Ann, 4, David, 8, and Barbara Ann, 7.

70 years after V-E Day, Mary Jean and Susan Eisenhower remember their grandfather

Correction appended, May 9.

Plenty of Americans have grown up hearing their grandfathers’ World War II stories. But, for Mary Jean and Susan Eisenhower, those stories could have—and actually have—filled many books.

That’s because their grandfather was Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during the war and later President of the United States. Not that he told many war stories to his granddaughters when they were young, though Susan does remember him showing her a large photograph of the invasion of Normandy in his Gettysburg College office when she was 8 or 9 years old.

Mainly, Mary Jean and Susan learned about Eisenhower’s war experience through books—especially his own. They both read At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends when it came out in 1967 (Mary Jean was only in about the fifth grade), and they learned many of his WWII stories in its pages.

Both women went on to work in professions related to their grandfather’s legacy; Mary Jean at People to People, an organization he founded, and Susan in national security, an arena where “many of the issues that are front and center [today] are impacted by decisions he made during his presidency,” she says. Their work gave them a deeper familiarity with his experiences during the war and beyond.

Still, they continued to learn new things about their grandfather’s life throughout their adulthoods. When Mary Jean was in her 30s, she learned about a note that had been found in his trashcan the month after the invasion of Normandy that he’d written to take responsibility in case D-Day failed, saying, “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.” (He apparently carried similar notes during every major invasion he ordered.) “It turned my heart as soon as I saw it,” Mary Jean says.

When Germany officially surrendered on V-E Day, 70 years ago Friday, Eisenhower’s tone was not celebratory—the Pacific battle was not yet won, after all. “The strong overwhelming feeling apparently [held] by everyone at headquarters, starting with the Supreme Allied Commander, was one of exhaustion and a profound sense of sadness,” Susan says. She was moved when she read the statement her grandfather sent to George Marshall and President Truman, which simply said that the mission was accomplished.

“If you see pictures of granddad that day,” Mary Jean says, “and then see him 10 years later as president, 10 years older, he actually looks 20 years younger than he did on the day of surrender. Even thinking of this puts a lump in my throat, to think of what he went through.”

A new exhibit at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans—where the Eisenhowers participated in a panel on Thursday—called “Road to Berlin” highlights stories from the European theater in large part though personal effects, many from soldiers who died. Susan says this way of humanizing the war is “the greatest form of storytelling.” But when the women were children, their grandfather’s own personal effects from the war weren’t necessarily objects they were awed by, at least not much more than any other grandchild is awed by their grandparents’ household items.

They were aware, however, of the wartime connection the President known as “Ike” had to many of the men around him, including a chauffeur, Sgt. Leonard Dry (who had taken him to meet the 101st Airborne Division before the Normandy landings and airdrop) and his valet, Sgt. John Moaney (who was with him from the North African campaign until the end of both their lives). “We were very conscious of the fact that all these people went way back,” Susan says.

The women were taught to compartmentalize their views of their grandfather between the personal and the public. In fact, Mary Jean says she got to know four versions of Eisenhower over the years: “The military one, the presidential one, the knee-slapping one and the People to People one,” with the knee-slapping iteration being the warm man who made her count up coins in a piggy bank. In grade school when lessons about him came up, Susan says this compartmentalized mindset was especially important: “There was a period right after his presidency where his presidency was really misunderstood and getting torn down. He wouldn’t get up and brag and he didn’t draw attention to himself.”

As for Mary Jean, those lessons may have been a bit easier to brush off. “I have to confess I slept through most of my history classes,” she says. “I’d see the war pictures go up on the movie screen and it was like the sand man started beating me to death.”

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly described Sgt. Moaney’s role for Eisenhower. He was his valet.

TIME Family

What I Learned Living in a Tiny House With Two Children

red-house
Getty Images

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

I taught my children about privilege and made an extra effort to count our blessings

xojane

If ever I find myself in an awkward social situation, I feel confident knowing I can revert to one very surprising fact about my life that will enliven the conversation — I once lived in a tiny house with my two young children.

When revealed, most are shocked by my confession, because, “Why would anyone ever do that?” Besides, where would one go to escape one’s children?

Let me assure you, the transition to tiny house living was extremely purposeful for us. It not only brought us closer as a family, but it taught us many valuable lessons regarding our purpose as well as the falsely-inflated value we place on our possessions.

For us, it was far more than just the thought of reevaluating our lives that spurred our transition. It was the fact that we had experienced a significant life event that forced us to come face-to-face with the unpredictable nature of life — my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer and his life was eventually ripped from him.

After a long, hard struggle in which I was left emotionally and mentally drained, I knew tiny-house living was the most logical next step. It afforded us the opportunity to take a step back to reconnect with one another in the wake of such a devastating loss.

The reality is, tiny-house living taught us far more than we ever imagined it would. Here’s a little insight into the life-changing lessons that continue to remain with my family even today:

1. We have more than we need. And more.

It took me three months of almost daily work to sufficiently downsize our lives in order to move into the tiny house. The concerted effort I made to lighten our load had come on the heels of multiple moves over the course of a five-year period. You know what they say about downsizing — if you desire to lighten your load, MOVE. As a result we had already decreased our possessions numerous times before I set out to intentionally downsize once again, in order to live tiny.

Even after the transition to the tiny house, I maintained a storage unit, which I visited periodically in order to continue organizing and purging its contents. During that time I was consistently blown away by the amount of stuff we owned yet never used. I was also surprised by all of the possessions I just threw away.

There was no need to consider whether or not someone else might benefit from said possessions, they were simply useless. Such things included, but were not confined to: random bits of string, beads, scrap pieces of paper, extra pens and pencils, stray socks, etc … In essence it was just more stuff that was destined for life in a landfill.

2. We can live with a lot less than we think we can.

In an effort to live with less, I was forced to make many sacrifices. I pared down my clothing to 33 pieces, including shoes and jewelry (thank you Courtney Carver for the inspiration). As a result, I found that my self-worth was not defined by my appearance. I began to have more self-confidence, smiled more often, shopped less, and spent less time getting dressed in the morning.

I also reduced my children’s toy collection by approximately 75 percent. In the event they became bored with what they had, we made rocket ships out of boxes or went outside to explore. We also developed a rotation for old toys, which meant they instantly became new again when reintroduced into their environment.

And, we began to tackle the hard conversations. I said “no” more and I found myself feeling less guilty about it. I taught my children about privilege and made an extra effort to count our blessings. We also began to spend more time simply being together and enjoying each other’s company.

Downsizing our possessions so drastically was certainly new territory — for us as well as many others who were following our journey. During our downsizing process, people often wondered how I would get by with less once we moved into the tiny house — specifically in the kitchen. I found it was actually a lot easier than I had originally anticipated. Instead of a coffee pot, I began using a French press to make my morning cup of coffee. I had one spatula instead of three and owned only four sets of silverware and plates.

While these don’t seem like huge sacrifices, I encourage you to go count your coffee cups — I think you’ll be surprised by how many you actually own.

3. We live in a culture that is obsessed with useless crap.

It seems that everywhere we go, we are given a parting gift. For example, upon attending a workshop it is not uncommon to leave with various pens that have random business names etched into them, refrigerator magnets, business cards destined for the trash can, and other odds and ends. It’s a never-ending revolving door of useless crap we cannot avoid.

This practice did not bode well for us as tiny house dwellers, as there was only so much space to store all those “extras.” Even after moving out of the tiny house, we continue to prefer the human connections we make with others over those cheesy bits of advertisement.

Just consider the lesson we all teach our children through overeager gifting practices. It’s as if we are thanking them just for being alive.

4. Cold showers are good for the complexion.

While the tiny house had most of the amenities of a “normal” sized home, all of them were pint-sized in comparison.

The miniature bathtub came in handy almost daily for bathing my children. However, there often was not enough hot water left over for me to enjoy my own hot shower. On days when their bath time routine was followed up by my own, I knew to brace myself for a cold one. I just made sure to remind myself that cold showers are good for the complexion.

5. Living tiny will force you to reevaluate your life.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, living tiny is bound to encourage you to reevaluate your life and reconsider what is most important to you. We live in a culture that is driven by consumerism and comparison. We are constantly bombarded by the next big thing and made to believe we cannot live without it.

Living in a tiny house will convince you that more doesn’t always mean better, that it’s the simple pleasures in life that really count, and that it’s the connections with others that feed your soul. Lastly, it will allow you to align your thoughts and actions, by providing ample time to evaluate who you are and who you desire to be. There is no hiding in a tiny house, especially from yourself!

Although my family no longer lives tiny, we still speak fondly of the time we spent in the tiny house and the many lessons we learned in the process. Our experience will forever remain close to our hearts, as well as serve as a dependable fallback for dinner party conversation — if ever I am in need.

Alysha St. Germain wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

These 5 Hero Moms Will Give You Extra Reason to Celebrate Mother’s Day

From saving a drowning couple to rescuing kids from a bear

It’s true that every mother is a hero, which is why we have Mother’s Day. It’s just one small day of the year for people to appreciate everything mothers do for their families. But it’s also true that all acts of maternal heroism are not created equal. Dealing with the daily challenges of raising kids is one thing, but saving children from a bear is quite another. So here, in honor of Mother’s Day, we present five hero moms of the year.

  • The Mom Who Rescued Her Kids With a Pizza Hut Order

    Cheryl Treadway was being held hostage with her children in Florida and figured out how to escape—using an order from Pizza Hut.

    With Treadway’s boyfriend holding her and her children their home at knifepoint this week, Treadway ordered from Pizza Hut on her phone and asked in the comments section for someone to call 911.

    Thanks to Treadway’s creative thinking, an employee at Pizza Hut called the police, who then rescued the family.

  • The Triathlete Mom Who Saved a Drowning Couple

    Tamara Loiselle almost drowned six years ago, so she became a triathlete: “I resolved I was never going to be that weak and out of shape again,” she said.

    That resolve ended up being life-saving when she saw a couple drowning off the coast of Cancun last December. There was no lifeguard on duty, so Loiselle , a single mother of two, dove in herself, swam out and brought the couple safely to shore.

    “Words cannot describe my gratitude but I’ll try,” the man said in an interview. “You saved my girlfriend’s life and most certainly mine too.”

  • The Mom Who Got Her Family Out of a Burning House

    Morgan Stone, mother of five, had only seconds to spare to get her entire family out of their Indiana home before it was engulfed in flames last December.

    “It took me a second to really realize what was happening. When I opened the bedroom door and it was full of smoke, it took me a minute to grasp that this was a serious house fire,” Stone said.

    She sprang into action and got her five kids, her father-in-law and her pets out of the house before the whole structure burned.

    “He says I’m a hero,” Stone said of her fiancé, “But I don’t think I’m a hero, I’m just a mom who got my kids out safely—nothing means more to me than them.”

  • The Mom Who Saved Her Neighbor’s Kids From a Bear

    Candace Gama saw her neighbor’s 6-year-old sons waiting for their school bus. Then she saw the bear.

    The black bear was about 20 yards away, so Gama drove her car between the bear and the kids and yelled at them to get in the car. Then to speed things up, she grabbed the boys by their backpacks and dragged them inside.

    According to a local Montana newspaper, Gama’s 5-year-old daughter said her mom was the hero of the day.

  • The Pregnant Mom Who Saved Her Family After a Terrible Car Crash

    Erika Grow’s car hit black ice on the road in Wyoming last November and flipped three times, throwing her husband and sister from the car and leaving her two young children trapped in the back.

    Even though she was eight months pregnant, Grow was able to clamber to the backseat and unbuckle her children, ages 3 and 21 months. She put them in suitcases to keep them warm in the freezing Wyoming weather.

    Grow’s husband and sister went to the hospital, but her two children and unborn baby were unharmed.

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