A year from now, I’ll be lounging on the deck of a luxury sailboat, soaking up one last ray of sunshine as a warm Aegean breeze hangs in the air. My new company designed for adults without children, Light Traveler Adventures, will kick-off its first excursion. And as I do that, I’ll be reflecting on my life, expressing gratitude for everything that conspired to bring me to that moment, including, ironically, the part of my life that has caused me way too much misery over the last few years.
I guess you could say I’m childless by happenstance. Lately, though, it hasn’t been a very happy happenstance. I always imagined I’d have kids. I just didn’t feel any pressure to do it right away, and without that pressure, it didn’t happen for me.
Like so many women, I dedicated my twenties to my education and my career. I was just beginning to understand feminism and I didn’t want to be tied down by an archaic notion of what it means to be a woman. Even though I had married young, I was determined not to act like someone’s wife. I was proud of the fact that I was a terrible cook. I vowed I would never own an apron. (I still don’t, although I’m no longer completely incompetent in the kitchen.) By then I was fielding a lot of questions about when I was going to have kids. My stock answer, which I continued to spout until my early forties, was “I’m far too young to be someone’s mother.”
Today’s Guest Post is by: Deborah Melman-Clement, a communications professional in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
In my late twenties, I quelled my maternal longings by becoming a dog mother. I was 28 when we got Rudy, our first golden retriever. He was five. His first owners had to give him away because he had made a habit of growling at their newborn son. Rudy liked to be the baby, and he wasn’t happy being displaced. It turned out we were great dog parents. We spoiled Rudy like a couple of grandparents. He was happy. We were ecstatic. When Rudy died in December of 2000, we were devastated. We waited seven months and got another golden retriever, Frannie. Raising a puppy was a new experience, but we dove right in. It was full-on domestic bliss.
I was 36 at the time. I suppose we could have had a child then, but Frannie wouldn’t have been happy with that. And since most golden retrievers live to be 12 or 13, we were content to play out our parenting fantasies on her.
Unfortunately, Frannie didn’t live that long. A couple of months before her seventh birthday, she died suddenly from an undiagnosed tumor on her spleen. Again we were devastated. My husband, Tim, was ready to repeat our old routine: wait a few months and get another dog. I wasn’t so sure. Another dog seemed like a step backward. As horrible as Frannie’s death was, I felt like we’d been given a chance to correct our mistake. By this point I was 43. Tim was 48. Technically we were still able to have kids. And I finally felt ready.
Thus began a four-year odyssey that has included long, costly explorations of all forms of adoption, and fertility treatments. The deeper we explored, the more desperate I became. My desperation was hard on me and on those who were close to me.
Last spring I realized that the only escape route from the vortex of my despair was to accept my childlessness for what it is and live my life fully, fearlessly and joyfully, while wholeheartedly enjoying the benefits of life without kids. Sounds healthy, right?
Of course it’s healthy, but that doesn’t mean it’s been easy. Most of my friends have kids and can only sympathize in theory. Even among my childfree friends, the topic is difficult to broach. I suppose some subjects are easier discussed among strangers.
And so I launched my search for a childfree community. What I’ve found has been discouraging. There have been some half-assed attempts to build a childfree community in my hometown. And yes, I guess I could have initiated another one, but I have a feeling it would have been doomed to the same failure.
Besides, I had this nagging sense that I was destined for something bigger. But what on earth could that be? I had no idea, although I had a few of the criteria figured out: It had to have the power to consume my life the way a child would. (I mean in the good way, of course.) It had to be able to expand my community the way a child would. And most of all, it had to be something I would never be able to do if I’d had kids.
There was a phrase that I’d been turning around in my mind for a while: Light Traveler. That’s what I am. I prefer it to conventional terms like childless and childfree. I don’t like childless for the same reason most people don’t like it: It defines us in the negative and assumes that we have less or are less because we don’t have kids. Childfree is better, but I think it belongs to the By Choice types. Light Traveler works for me. It describes the best part about life without kids. Our lives aren’t defined or confined by anyone else. We can pick up and go anywhere at a moment’s notice. We travel light.
The summer of 2012 was our summer of traveling light. Tim and I went away almost every weekend. We got in the car and followed our bliss. Most of the time, we didn’t even bother telling anyone where we were going. It was exhilarating.
It was also the start of something bigger – the same something bigger I had been searching for. In the fall I founded Light Traveler Adventures, a company dedicated to keeping the spirit of that magical summer alive. The idea was to build a community of Light Travelers and share a series of adventures together. We’d explore the world, expand our horizons and celebrate our freedom.
That was it. I was inspired. There was just one problem, though. I had no idea how to put something like that together. Fortunately, I realized I didn’t have to know everything. I just had to know someone who knows everything. I found an experienced travel agent and he took care of the details.
It took only a few months of planning for my dream to become reality. The first ever Light Traveler Adventure is planned for March 30th to April 11th of next year. We’ll spend 10 days cruising the crystal blue waters of the Turkish Riviera on luxury wooden sailing vessels, swimming, snorkeling, island hopping, exploring the ruins, experiencing the night life, soaking up the culture and enjoying life. We’ll top that off with three days in Istanbul. And we’ll do it all in the company of fellow Light Travelers from around the world.
And when we do, I’ll be right where I was at the start of this post: relaxing on deck, the salty sea breeze blowing through my hair, and a wave of gratitude washing over me for every moment that made this unlikely journey possible.