Off The Record: On Religion, Politics & Equality
Child on the left, Mom on the right
I remember the night I got pregnant. It was 1988 and Jim and I were doing it in his parent’s living room on Grant Street, just down the way from where my Grandma used to live. It was Christmas. His dad was asleep downstairs. I was 17.
I just begrudgingly turned 40. My beautiful kid is 6 feet tall, gorgeous, 22 years old, gainfully employed, in a stable relationship with a young man I adore (and he is going to be a history teacher!) and she is currently child free. I consider this to be my greatest accomplishment: that I am not yet a grandparent. I have congratulated her several times for making it out of her teen years without an infant. We laugh our asses off about this – saying babies are gross!
The fact that she turned out so well is not something I can’t take full credit for – not by a long shot. Being a teen parent – and in my case struggling with a nasty case of alcoholism that waxed and waned (now recovered almost 10 years) – wasn’t easy. I did a messy then at turns, spectacular job as her mother.
My entire family (especially my mom) – and my daughter’s for the most part – deserve credit for who the fine young women I carried around in my womb turned out to be. I make sure to remind my child that she lived inside me for two weeks beyond the promised 9 months, typically in front of her friends, to properly embarrass her. She makes a dry heaving sound and again we laugh like mad.
Believe me, I considered abortion. But over a spaghetti dinner one night at the fanciest place in Ames, Iowa, her dad talked me out of it. He was going to be there and he wanted this kid. I admit to romanticizing the notion, some kind of fairy tale was about to unfold. I think we both did.
My memories have faded a lot from that time – it has been over 22 years. Jim and I started out trying to be responsible – getting married, buying a condo with some money he inherited, I tried to stay in college, he got a job in Des Moines – but we couldn’t hold it together.
He started drifting – he turned to driving a truck – the family business. He would confide in me years later that he did it to stay away from my daughter and I and not because he didn’t love our child – he adored her. In retrospect, I don’t blame him, though I did for many years. We didn’t have any money, we hated one another, and we had a wailing infant who threw us into a life we didn’t plan. I would have considered leaving too.
Then, I became a single mom. I got a job as a secretary in an office building where you could smoke cigarettes in your office. This was all terribly glamourous to me at the time, very Mary Richards somehow.
I began the routine of dropping my daughter off at day care – a place ridiculously named ‘Le Petite’ just of I-35 in the middle of Iowa – heading to work, picking her up at the end of the day, sleeping, rinse, repeat. It went well for a while, then the reality of single-motherhood started to set in.
Here is an example of what I mean, something that can haunt me to this day. I was getting my daughter ready one morning before work. She was warm. I knew she had a fever. She even threw up. But I was so scared to call in sick (she had had several nasty ear infections – I had already called in a lot) I couldn’t lose my job. My concern about my job security was not without merit. Another woman I worked with caught hell for missing days due to childcare issues. So I dropped her off at day care and went to work.
The call came within an hour of my arrival at the office: come pick up your daughter she has a temperature. In my head, this at least showed to my bosses I had the willingness to show up and that some how my kid got sick within the hour she had been at daycare.
When I went to pick her up, the woman minding the babies handed her over to me saying, “she smelled like vomit when you brought her in.” I knew this must have been true. I made some excuse or acted like she didn’t know what she was talking about and left. I may have cried when I got home.
I say my biggest accomplishment with respect to my parenting skills is that I am not yet a grandmother. I mean that in all earnestness. I didn’t want my daughter to go through the same things I did. I wanted her to be able to be a kid, go to college, enjoy her twenties and then make a decision about having a baby or not.
I have friends – some in their late 30s, others early 40s – just now becoming mothers. My friend Kristin is expecting her second child this spring. She has a beautiful little boy with blue eyes the size of Kennedy half dollars. I want to eat him alive. We talk often about this motherhood thing. She marvels at my teen motherhood: how did you do it? The truth is I don’t know how she does it – late thirties, just having her second child, not a life for me.
My friend Christina – 41ish – has a six year old and a three year old. When we see each other at barbeques she openly wishes for my life. She tells me this nearly every time she sees me. Dripping with her pawing adorable (red-headed) children she looks at me (perhaps a bit misty eyed) and says something like: you are so lucky you are done with all of this, could we trade places?
The life she is longing for without realizing it is that of a once-teenage mother. Though this is not an endorsement, for all the challenges of being a teen mom I wouldn’t change at thing. And, I am thrilled – thrilled I tell you – to be over the child raising years. So much so I am practically giddy as I type.