Are You a Parentless Parent, Too?

May I have a drum roll, please? Maisie is going to be a big sister! That’s right. I’m expecting a baby in July. Wa-hoo!!! See me doing the Snoopy dance?

I’m very excited to have another baby. We went through a lot to get here, being that this was our tenth (and final) round of fertility treatments. Maisie came with effort number eight. So obviously, this is a wanted child.

Even so, there’s a whole mixed bag of emotions when you find out you’re pregnant, no matter how much you want a baby. Two kids? Twenty-three months apart? What the heck was I thinking?! I don’t want to get fat again. I have to wait how long to dye my roots? God, I miss coffee. Are you sure I can’t have just a slither of blue cheese? Can Maisie be potty-trained by then? The list goes on.

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I think the biggest thing for me is that my parents aren’t around to celebrate with me. My mother died of emphysema in 2001. Alzheimer’s took my dad in 2007. I don’t think a day goes by when I don’t find myself wanting to tell my mom something Maisie did or wishing my dad could mystify her with a magic trick.

Luckily, I know Allison Gilbert, a friend of mine who lives in Irvington. Allison and I along with three others worked on a book about September 11th (Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report 9/11). Since then, Allison has started a movement called “Parentless Parents.”

Allison first told me about the Parentless Parents project before I had a daughter. I remember kind of rolling my eyes thinking, “So what? How hard can it be to raise a kid without your parents?” Even though my parents were both already dead, I almost had the attitude of “Get over it. Life is hard. Move on.” Now that I’m in the same boat, I’m eating my hat. Turns out, I’m pretty darned grateful for her work.

The movement sprang out of a book Allison wrote called Always Too Soon: Voices of Support For Those Who Have Lost Both Parents about living life without your parents. The strongest response she got was from the first paragraph of the book, a paragraph about her first parentless Thanksgiving. That led to a book she’s soon to release called Parentless Parents. She also launched support groups all across the country ( <>). They meet to mark special dates by doing things like having your kids release balloons or make frames. The first and largest group is right here in Westchester.

Parentless Parents helps me figure out ways to teach my kids who my parents were and to find ways to make them matter. Mostly, it makes me realize that I am not the only one who feels a big hole in my heart, missing my parents and wishing they could be here to celebrate Maisie’s little triumphs.

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Of course, my children will never have the same feelings for my parents as they do for their living grandparents who can bounce them on their knee and bake them cookies. But through scrapbooks and stories and many other devices, Allison’s group teaches, my children will at least begin to understand who my parents were. And I believe—I have to believe—that my parents know Maisie, too—and are just as excited about the next one as I am.

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