Lessons I Learned From My Father (Part 1)

American River,   March 2015

Self-Actualization. Sacramento River
March 2015

Last night, I hung up the phone with my father, and began to silently debrief the whirlwind conversation we’d just had. Anyone who has ever engaged in a discussion with my dad will know exactly what I’m referring to. He has this tendency to barrel his way through an issue in a no nonsense kind of manner, and then quickly switch to another idea before you’ve even have a chance to formulate a response to the first topic. Sometimes I feel like I’m performing verbal acrobats when I’m talking to him, although no manner of appropriate pause or clever interjection will ever make communication with him any smoother. It’s not that he’s insensitive or dismissive. Not in the least. It’s just that his thoughts are almost always two steps ahead of his words, so much so that he’ll literally hop up mid conversation and leave everyone rushing to finish their closing statements.

The question of “Where’d Dad go?” has become a running joke in our household, because if  family conversation or household activity pauses long enough, he’ll just quietly excuse himself to a more productive venture. Sounds peculiar, I know. But I promise you, his loved ones find it one of his most endearing quirks.

I used to be embarrassed of my dad. In retrospect, I see that it’s normal for children to be ashamed of their parents at one point or another as they are growing up. But my embarrassment had less to do with who he was, as it did with how I feared his uniqueness would reflect upon me, especially growing up in a neighborhood that had yet to know diversity.

My childhood was spent in a suburban utopia, complete with wide tree-lined streets, top-notch public schools, and neighbors that brought homemade cookies each year during Christmas time. My parents sacrificed many things to ensure that my sisters and I were raised in the neighborhood that we grew up in. I see that now. We often have gain clarity  as seasoned adults that we lack as carefree youth.

I was embarrassed of our old LTD cars, and dad’s hobby of tinkering with them incessantly. And I’m not talking about souping them up, lowrider fashion. I’m talking about FIXING them. They were constantly breaking down, and dad would patiently put them back together, garage door open, tools strewn across the driveway for the world to see.  “Why can’t you just buy something NEW?!” I’d complain, glancing enviously at the shiny station wagon my classmate was dropped to school in. But dad wasn’t about new. Nope. In fact one of my earliest memories is of our weekend trips to thrift stores, where my sisters and I happily pick out bags of mismatched toys from the 99 cent bin. That is until I was old enough to realize that my classmates ruthlessly bullied any kid that dared to wear threads bought at a second-hand store (This was all long before hipsters & Macklemore made thrift store shopping a trendy activity).

What I didn’t understand then, was that my dad’s own childhood profoundly impacted the way he operated as an adult. Though Sacramento was a long way from the dingy garage he lived in in East L.A., and even farther yet from the Texas cotton fields he played in as the toddler son of a migrant farm worker, he brought the principles of poverty with him even as he purchased his first home in Sacramento’s coveted Pocket area. Principle 1: Don’t buy new if you don’t have to.

I didn’t understand a lot of things back then. Like the fact that my dad was right when he told me to be proud of my beautiful brown skin, even as some of my peers were poking fun of my pigment and my surname. I couldn’t comprehend why my parents took it so seriously when, later, I reported that there was a severe bullying problem going on in the upper-grade classrooms of my elementary school. A problem that had all the tell-tale ugliness of race and class discrimination. When my dad insisted upon meeting with the teachers to bring the issues to light, I remember wondering if my folks were overreacting.

Back then I couldn’t make sense of why my father felt the need to repeatedly recount to my sisters and I, the lessons he’d learned as a young boy in East L.A. And why his standards for us were so high, in regards to both education and personal conduct. Or how he’d often sit at the dinner table after a full day’s work, starring into space at some far away memory that we were not a part of. On those nights, sometimes I’d catch glimpse of a tear sliding down his cheek. I didn’t understand that either.

A few weeks ago, my dad celebrated another birthday. He talked about the accomplishments in his life, as well as the struggles. And, like always, he ended the momentary bout of reminiscing on a high note with an optimistic tribute to all the blessings in our lives.

My dad has never been one to purchase frivolous things. New cars, designer clothes, custom accessories…they aren’t alluring in his eyes. Because of that, he isn’t much of a gift giver, not in the traditional sense, anyway. Birthdays and events roll around and it’s likely that he won’t go out of his way to buy something just for the sake of marking the occasion. Someone asked me recently if I’ve held onto any of the jewelry my dad bought me as a child. I laughed.

Dad never bought me jewelry, but he’s decorated my life with a thousand pearls of wisdom. I wear them proudly every day, head held high and the confidence  of knowing that I am equipped with the skills needed to gracefully navigate through life and all of it’s thrilling complexity.

Eighteen.

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Elijah,

I promise you I won’t launch into a big sappy monologue, because I know how that bugs you. Also, I certainly don’t intend on writing you a letter on each and every anniversary of your earthly debut. This is your last public birthday post (I reserve the right to pen a few sentimental words every now and then in years to come, but I’m sure you and your siblings should be used to “mom’s birthday musings” by now).

The purpose of this letter, is to formally write down an account that I’ve told many, many times aloud but as of today, have yet to immortalize through written word. It is the story of how I chose your name.

When I was about 3 months pregnant with you, and just beginning to remerge from the hell that was hyperemesis gravidarum (aka severe morning sickness), I had a vivid dream.

Life during that time, was odd. Our family was going through some difficult times, completely independent of our circumstances. Things were challenging- for everyone. I felt like I was in the eye of a storm…watching all the chaos around me, yet grounded in a sort of calm certainty. I knew we were on the path we were meant to be on.

Anyway, one night, I dreamt I was at Nana & Tata’s house. The mood was still, almost too still, in the surreal sort of fashion that only comes in dreams. I walked into the back hallway toward the bedroom, and paused outside the door. There was an unearthly light radiating from the window facing the backyard. It brightened the entire room…Nana’s bedspread, the wooden dresser, the crucifix on the wall…all of it was illuminated in a glow that I can only describe as warmth. I walked into the room. And there you were. 

At the time, I didn’t even know you were going to be a boy. I didn’t know you at all. But in my dream, there you were…a boy. A child. You extended your arms toward me. I tried to remember every detail of your face at that moment. Your eyes, nose, mouth…

Your mouth. It was upturned in the sweetest smile. You opened it to speak….and this is what you said:

“I have come to save my people.”

I woke up.

Upon waking, I remember being filled with an incredible peace. The kind that comes with knowing that everything is going to be alright.

I knew, from that moment on, that you were going to be a boy. There was something else I knew: That when you mentioned “your people,” you were referring to your family. Long story short…your birth did save us. Your presence in our family healed many rifts. It brought us together in the ways that only a child can. You reminded us of what matters.

So what’s this got to do with your name? Well…upon waking from that prophetic dream, we knew you needed an equally fitting name. And so, it was decided. Elijah.

A simple story really, but significant to me. Just as all our moments together have been simple, really…but they all add up to an incredibly significant life.

Yesterday, I stayed up all night with you following your birth, my face against your tiny face, amazed that we were finally breathing the same air. Yesterday, you were clinging to my leg as we walked into new places together. My little sidekick. Yesterday, your nose was pressed up against the glass window of the preschool, watching a hail storm with the wonder of a small child. I stood on the walkway for a moment in the rain, and waved at you. Yesterday, you giggled in delight when I showed you that if you stir syrup into warm milk, you can make hot chocolate….you fell asleep on my lap, stuffed animal tucked under one arm, hand in my hair. Yesterday, you skated away from me at open house to join your peers, only glancing back to tell me you’d meet me in the parking lot when the festivities were over. Yesterday, I walked up to DMV with you so that you could obtain your license, and your newfound freedom. Yesterday, you texted me late at night to tell me not to wait up. I did anyway…  

Yesterday, you fell in love. Yesterday, you planned a post-graduation trip with your buddies, sans adults. Yesterday you applied for colleges, some of which are far away from this little house you call home.

Today, you are 18.

I am proud. I am honored. I’m in awe.

And because I feel a major bout of sappiness coming on, I’m going to leave you with the words of a book that we’ve read together many times. A perfectly reasonable book to revisit on a day like this. A book, called Someday….

One day I counted your fingers and kissed each one. 
One day the first snowflakes fell, and I held you up and watched them melt on your baby skin.
One day we crossed the street, and you held my hand tight. 
Then, you were my baby, and now you are my child.
Sometimes, when you sleep, I watch you dream, and I dream too…
That someday you will dive into the cool, clear water of a lake. 
Someday you will walk into a deep wood. 
Someday your eyes will be filled with a joy so deep that they shine. 
Someday you will run so fast and so far your heart will feel like fire. 
Someday you will swing high – so high, higher than you ever dared to swing.
Someday you will hear something so sad that you will fold up with sorrow. 
Someday you will call a song to the wind, and the wind will carry your song away. 
Someday I will stand on this porch and watch your arms waving to me until I no longer see you. 
Someday you will look at this house and wonder how something that feels so big can look so small. 
Someday you will feel a small weight against your strong back. 
Someday I will watch you brushing your child’s hair. 
Someday, a long time from now, your own hair will glow silver in the sun. 
And when that day comes, love, you will remember me. 

– alison mcghee

Happy 18th Birthday, son.

Love, Mom

Identity Foreclosure

26 years old, attending to my 3 children. Monterey Bay, California. 2006

26 years old, attending to my 3 children. 2006. Monterey Bay, Ca.

During my 12 years in college, I sat through many courses and took part in countless academic discussions. There are a handful of classes I remember quite vividly, including one particular child development course  during which I had a profound epiphany about my self-identity. I can recall the moment rather clearly, right down to the outfit I was wearing and the classmates who were sitting around me that morning. The course content we were reviewing was Erik Erickson’s developmental stages, which describe human development as it occurs throughout the lifespan. I was tired beyond belief that morning…my second son was suffering from yet another ear infection, and I had spent most of the night cradling him in an upright position, as that was the only way he was pacified.  That would have been fine, if I were a horse. But sleeping upright is not my normal mode of op, so by the time the alarm clock sounded, I was seriously hurting. Somehow I managed to drag myself out of of the house, assignments in hand, and drop my oldest off to kindergarten before battling the mess of morning traffic, darting across campus in search of the shortest coffee-house line, and into my seat at the lecture hall all before 9 a.m. One of my single, childless classmates began complaining to me about how hard it was for her to balance college social activities with school work and  I resisted the urge to drown myself in coffee to escape her petty complaints, or at the very least inhale  caffeine into my lungs to resuscitate me from my zombie state. Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary because we immediately launched into a debate that brought me out of my sleep-deprived stupor. That morning, my professor introduced us to the concept of identity foreclosure. In short, people in identity foreclosure have committed to an identity too soon, without ever having thoroughly explored their other options. We usually think of identity foreclosure in a negative sense; as in, the person who has settled for less than they might have been. We assume that this clipping of the wings is something unnatural and restrictive. But that day, as I wiped the sleep from my eyes and glanced around the university campus, I realized that for me (at the time, anyway), foreclosure was my biggest asset. 

According to Erikson’s theory, my life was foreclosed upon the day my son was born. Gone were the days of normal adolescence, typical high school life, and the freedom of youth. I was a mother. And though I was also still daughter,  sister,  friend, and student, it was motherhood that consumed my every waking minute. There was no time for youthful exploration…heck, I could barely find the time to shower. And when I did get a moment of “me” time,  it just wasn’t the same. I realized this the first time I tried to leave my infant son at home and go for a girls night on the town. While everyone around me carelessly laughed the evening away, I found my thoughts were with my baby. Was he eating okay? Would he fall asleep without me? Did I pack him enough diapers? Did I remember to leave an extra set of clothes? During a bathroom break, the girls  around me were busying themselves in front of the mirror, reapplying lipstick and whatnot while I quietly dipped into a stall to make sure my nursing pads were still in place. I just couldn’t quite bridge the gap between normal “social” teen, and young parenthood. So I kinda skipped out on it altogether. The social teen thing, that is.

For the remainder of my high school years, and most of my undergraduate college life, I threw myself into role of mother, student, and significant other. There was little room for anything else. But you know what I realized that day in class? That wasn’t necessarily a negative thing.  It allowed me to focus strictly on my family & studies without being distracted by the enticing “what-ifs” we sometimes get caught up in when we allow ourselves to wonder what might have been. You see, unlike some people who have children later in life, I never struggled with the feeling that motherhood cramped my style. Motherhood WAS my style. I owned it. I thrived in it. and I’m certain my children have benefited because of it.

I was chatting with a couple of mothers the other day who had their children later in life, and they were reminiscing about “the good ol’ days,” you know, the ones where they got to sleep in till noon, take off on spontaneous weekend trips, never worrying about babysitters or child-imposed curfews. The days before the tiresome task of care-taking for little children became the center of their universe. My “good ol’ day” fantasies circulate around the years I had only ONE child to manage, as opposed to four. There were never any weekend whims or lazy mornings to look back on longingly.  Since 16 and on, my life was about compromising my needs to meet those of my child’s.  And for me, that’s okay. You see, when my other children came along, I never felt suffocated, or resentful, or nostalgic for easier times. Does that mean I never get stressed, or weary of the day-to-day demands, or frustrated when my kids do things like pee their pants in the middle of a crowded department store on the day that I happened to forget  to bring a spare change of clothes? Absolutely not. I’m human, after all, and parenthood is not for the weary. I have my moments of impatience, and exhaustion,  and maybe even the occasional meltdown. But it is always with the underlying understanding that this is who I am. This, is who I was meant to be.  Did I mention that my other job is that of teacher? Yeah. I’m in my element when I’m nurturing children.

So here’s my latest realization: Someday my children will all be grown, and when I am retired, I will no longer be in the classroom with students. Which is why, I’ve just recently embarked on a new kind of soul-searching. One where I define myself apart from the role of mother, and teacher, and baby whisperer. It’s been a little over a year now, and I’m beginning to see glimpses of who I am during moments of quiet solitude. When I’m alone and free to do whatever I please. When no one is tugging at my pant leg begging for a juice box, or shouting across the playground, “MomMomMomWatchThisWatchThisWatchThisMooomAreYouWatching?!?”

I’m reveling in the fact that I’ve got a new lease on life, and the possibilities are endless. Whoops. Did I say lease?

What I meant was, I’m about to own this sh*t. 

 

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Road Trip

Elijah, age 2

Elijah, age 2

When Elijah was 3, I took a job at a private day care nearby in an effort to gain some experience in the early childhood field and earn some money for college. The added perk was that this particular center offered free tuition to its employees, so Elijah was able to attend preschool a few rooms down from the class I was assisting in. It seemed like an ideal situation. My first day of work, I got us both up bright and early and dressed Elijah in a brand new red & cream outfit complete with matching kicks, scarves, and gloves. I wanted to make a good first impression. After getting myself presentable, we hit the road. I was nervous, as one would expect me to be, but my toddler’s carefree chattering lightened my mood a bit. I remember that his favorite CD was playing, a little album I had picked up during one of our trips to the Sacramento Railroad Museum. Elijah was in one of his fixation phases and loved anything remotely related to trains, including music. This CD contained a nice score of railroad themed songs, however there was this one track that had nothing to do with trains from what I could tell, but ironically, it was his favorite on the disc. It was a folksy little acoustic tune about growing up.

That morning, as we rolled along the freeway, I recall tearing up as I watched my son in the rearview mirror, kicking his legs in time to the music, singing, “Hey little boy, you’re acting kind of old, you’re just a little child today…hurry not, don’t rush your days, the time will pass away….slow down, little boy slow down, little boy I said slow down. Before the twinkle of an eye, your time will come around…” His little voice was so sweet then—I wish you could have heard it. Small, yet deliberate, he could carry a tune like  no other toddler I knew and he’d belt out songs as if he were singing to the heavens themselves. By the time we made it to the new school, I was feeling more at ease. But that was only temporary. The first day was rougher than I’d expected. The classroom I was working in was small and stuffy and filled with restless, rowdy two-year-olds. To top it off, the teacher I was working under seemed more interested in sharing the details of her personal life than focusing on the management of the little toddlers in our care. By the time I got to Elijah’s classroom to pick him up, I was feeling ambivalent about the center as a whole. That’s when I saw my son. He was off in a corner, eyes downcast, lip trembling. I glanced at the floor to see what he was staring at, and saw that he was standing in a puddle. He’d had an accident, but in the chaos of the room, no one had noticed. I swept him up, and quickly got him in a fresh set of clothes. He had been potty trained for months and had not once had an accident, until then. As we drove home that day, I knew I would not be returning to that job. Experience and money aside, my little boy was not going to be little for very long and I was not going to have him attend a preschool where he was not being attended to.

I wish I could tell you how fast time passes. It seems everyone tells you so from the day your baby is born; “Cherish these moments, they go so fast… They grow up so quickly.” We politely nod our heads in agreement while admiring the tiny features of our newborns and secretly tell ourselves things will always remain as they are. Those little eyes forever looking to us for guidance, the fingers clutching ours for comfort. And then they are 1, and take their first steps without your help. Then they are 3, and run into a wide open space without once looking back to see if you are there… then 5, and the door to the kindergarten room closes behind them as you stand on the outside wondering how it all happened so quickly. Then 10, and their social life begins to circulate less around you, and more around their peers. Then 16, and you receive an official letter in the mailbox one day with the license that allows them to roam further away from you than was ever before possible.

Elijah earned his right to drive recently. He diligently studied his driver’s education book, persuaded various family members (including myself) to take him out for impromptu driving lessons, scheduled all the necessary appointments with drivers’ training and the DMV, and in the end, was rewarded with his drivers licence nearly a month and a half after his 16th birthday. This has allowed him to drive himself to and from his many baseball games during the week when no one is available to take him. It permits him the freedom to visit friends in nearby neighborhoods on the weekends… neighborhoods he previously could not venture into because they were too far to get to on skateboard or bike. It affords him the feeling of freedom, yet at the same time saddles him with a great deal of responsibility. And it has prompted me to, once again, loosen up my psychological reigns a bit as we inch our way toward his 18th year…

I tell him, the rules of the road are much like the rules in life: be courteous and cautious but confident in your abilities to manage difficult situations as you encounter them. Trust your instincts. Always refer to your rearview but don’t fixate on it. Don’t be ashamed to ask for directions. Even in the age of MapQuest, you may still need to seek out the direction of someone who knows the area better than you. And above all, never forget the way home. There is nothing like the comfort of your loved ones when you grow weary of traveling or need a place to refuel.

16 Candles & Other Musings

IMG_20130127_104042                       Well. The big birthday has finally arrived. My baby boy is turning 16. I feel as if I’ve been anticipating this milestone since the day he was born. Remember the Disney film Sleeping Beauty?  Princess Aurora’s parents spend years anxiously awaiting their daughter’s 16th birthday because it has been proclaimed that, before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic…and I’m pretty sure my son wasn’t cursed at birth, and even if he was, I’m confident that there are no spinning wheels in the nearby vicinity. So, we’re safe in that sense. However, I do feel a teensy-weensy bit apprehensive about this upcoming birthday. Why? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I am seeing him now at the age I was, right before he came into my life. I’ve heard other young moms talk about the coming of age of their children and how their up most concern is that their child doesn’t share a fate similar to their own. In other words, they wouldn’t want their child’s potential to be cut short by an unplanned pregnancy, especially in the teen years. I can relate. A few months ago my son’s (then) girlfriend called me unexpectedly in the wee hours of the morning. The second I heard her teary voice on the other end of the line my mind reeled with hypothetical questions…”Had my continued contraception/sex talks been adequate enough? Had I been too lax on my monitoring of his comings & goings? How far can a parent go to prevent their teen from becoming a parent?” Thankfully, a pregnancy was NOT the issue she was calling about, but in those few seconds I realized how fast our lives could change. I’ve been there before, of course, but not as a parent. That morning, after hanging up the phone, I gained a new sense of appreciation for my mother, and the grace with which she handled herself when I came to her with my news 16 years ago.
                       Anyhow, it’s a peculiar thing to watch my son, as he meanders through the kitchen in the morning in search of a bite to eat…as he curls up on the couch doing normal teenage things like watching movies, texting  friends, or catching up on required reading for school. In the past, these little moments haven’t caught my attention as they do now. But now….now, I am seeing my son as I was, 16 years ago, pre-parenthood. It’s impossible for me to watch him swoop his little sister up for a piggy back ride, kneel down to un-tuck the pant leg that’s caught in her boot, or coach her to take that last bite of oatmeal, without considering that I was more or less his age when I was doing all these things for him. Its humbling in a way that takes my breath away.
                    I think its safe to say that every mother who has ventured into parenthood as a teen hopes that their child will not follow in their footsteps when it comes to early parenthood. I’ve heard others say they would not want their child to repeat their mistakes. That always gives me pause.  For  mistake is not quite  the way I would describe my eldest son. Yes, his birth changed the course of my life, but not necessarily in a negative way. My stating this is in no way an endorsement of teen parenthood. It is a difficult road to travel. Isolating, at times frustrating, and some would say limiting, especially in regards to mothers. But consider this: Parenthood at ANY age can be described as such, and all the while there are countless wonderful aspects to it as well. There is hope in our story, and as his 16th birthday approaches, I want my son to know that. 
                 Yes, my options were limited because I was raising him. I didn’t get the chance to experience college in the traditional “move away from home, live in the dorms, join organizations and party” sense. I didn’t travel the world. I couldn’t take part in many of the twenty-something rites -of-passage that our culture deems so valuable. But what I did do, was help guide a precious little soul into adolescence. And I stand back now, in awe of the person he is becoming. Mark my words; Elijah will a leave positive imprint on this earth. Perhaps not with fanfare and wide-spread recognition, though if he sets his mind to that he is perfectly capable of it. More importantly, with his gentle, thoughtful, old-soul of a spirit, he leaves, and will continue to leave subtle but significant impressions on the lives of all he touches. Beginning with me. As January 27th approaches, I’ll be contemplating new beginnings, a supportive family network, strength in the face of adversity, relentless hope, and the beautiful little baby that made all these concepts a reality in my world one winter night, so many years ago. 
                                                                                                                                                            Happy 16th Birthday, Elijah. I love you with all my heart.

Birthdays, Re-Birth, and Other Tales of Redemption

The Journey Begins: January 27, 1997.

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of my oldest son’s birth. I have officially been a mother for 15 years now.  Truth is, if you had met me as a young teen,in my pre-parenthood days, there is a good chance you would not have liked me. I was rebellious, but not in a creative, productive way. My rebellion manifested itself in the form of showy mouthiness, disregard for authority, and of course, a tendancy to attend more parties than I did class. I remember being quite smug, thinking that my “me against the world” act would somehow mask the underlying issues that I didn’t want to face. Insecurities, selfishness,  & manipulation were constant themes in those days, and I really think I was on a self-destructive joy ride that had no definitive end until…it all came to a screeching halt. During those early days when I grappled with the daunting thought of bringing another life into my world, a world that was wrought with chaos & uncertainty, I recall a prayer spoken aloud in the wee hours of the morning, “God, send me an angel to tell me what to do!” The answer came instantly: “I already have.” My priorities changed literally overnight, and my old ways were quickly forgotten. This served us well, and though there were missteps and mishaps, I think I truly gave parenting my all. I wish I could say that with each subsequent addition to my family, I became a better person & parent. But that was not always the case. 
For some cultures, including our own, time is described as a highway stretched between past and future, and people travel along it like numbers across a number line. In other cultures, our lives are viewed as being stationary in time. Rather than marching in perfect evolutionary formation to a flawless end existence, the future advances toward us, instead of us toward it. And so it is with my life. I evolve, and regress, and then become inspired to evolve again. There is a Japanese proverb that wisely states, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” I assume that I will continue getting tripped up, and rising, until I leave this earth. 
After my first-born, time went on and my world expanded into a predictable circle of family gatherings, rewarding friendships, college, career, and other events. But a few years ago, I felt myself getting restless. I began wondering if my early journey into parenthood caused me to miss opportunities that I might have otherwise  enjoyed. I contemplated the possibilities that might have been. I wondered if it was too late to re-invent myself, as my 30th birthday was looming on the horizon. Developmental theorist Erik Erikson coined the term “identity crisis“, and describes a stage called foreclosure, in which a person has made a life commitment  without attempting identity exploration.  According to Erikson, a person must then undergo an identity crisis (also called moratorium) in order to achieve a genuine sense of self. My identity crisis came at age 30 in the form of -(drumroll please)- a positive pregnancy test. Again.
Prior to that, I had become quite comfortable with the thought of ending our family sentence with the birth of my 3rd son. Then life added one final exclamation mark, highlighted in pink. Enter: my daughter. I had literally JUST met with my OB to discuss more permanent methods of BC, when I found out I was expecting a fourth. To say I was ambivalent is an understatement. My youngest was getting ready to enter school in the upcoming year, and my husband I were becoming accustomed to a renewed  night life and the ability to sleep late (late being 8:00am- max) in the morning. Life felt somewhat spontaneous again. Then she arrived. A beautiful, humbling reminder of why it is crucial that we not become so tightly wrapped up in ourselves that we suffocate. Which is what I was doing by becoming consumed with the grass on the other side of the young parenthood fence. Regret, I learned, is a colossal waste of energy. You cannot build anything useful from it, but if you allow it to, it can tear down a strong foundation. I chose to let it go, and focus on the here and now. Here is the life we are living & now is the time to be grateful for it.
Life  has slowed down again. And it could not have come at a better time. These past two years I have enjoyed so many tender moments getting re-acquainted with the little things. Friday nights at home making forts, Sunday mornings sitting by the bay window with my early birds, watching the sun-rise and giggling over the comics… I want to thank my first-born, and my last-born, and all those born in-between,  for prompting me to reinvent myself, day after day. You little people inspire me, everyday, to evolve into a person who is worthy of being your Mommy. And of all the identities I have known in my 32 years- friend, student, teacher, wife, mentor- It is that of mother that has proved most rewarding, day after day after day…
 

An inscription from my mother, in the journal she gifted me 15 years ago

 

Forever Young

Being a young mom means we met a little early, but I get to love you longer. Some people said my life ended when I had a baby, but my life just begun. You didn't take away my future you gave me a new one. I am proud of being a young parent, and the person you helped me become...

Not long ago, I came across a thread on a teenage parenting board in which a former teen mother posted a message offering to share her story or advice with other young mothers on the website. Most of the replies were positive, however one snarky reply advised the helpful mommy to “Give up the ‘Teen Mom’ label, you’re 24 now. It’s not cool.”
I’ve thought about this quite a bit, as I think I may be guilty of holding onto the “Teen Mom” identity in more ways than one.  For starters, I occasionally lurk on the “pregnant teen” boards on the BabyCenter just to see what topics are being questioned & debated. I regularly  keep tabs on the latest trends & statistics regarding adolescent pregnancy & parenting. And,  in addition to the Colbert Report and Democracy Now, I religiously set my DVR to record each and every episode of MTV’s Teen Mom, 16 & Pregnant, and (I’m ashamed to admit) the dismally written, awkwardly casted Secret Life of An American Teenager, which seeks to portray the ups & downs of adolescent parenthood.
Since having my first at the age of 17, I’ve had three more children, my last of which was born when I was 30. I am by no means a “teen mom” anymore, yet the fact that my firstborn arrived before  I had graduated from high school seems to permeate my parenthood identity to this day.
When my baby was 18-months-old, I chose to pursue an education in the field of child development. Though I thoroughly feel that this was my calling, I can’t help but wonder if my motivation to do so was partly a subconscious effort to prove to the world that I was fit to be a parent. Oddly enough,  when you drop the fact that you have several degrees in early childhood education, people begin to assume you’re an expert on all things child-related (I’m not.) However, when you’re a high-schooler toting a baby on your hip, you are not likely to be nominated for any variation of the “Parent of the Year” award– And I wanted desperately to be recognized for the good parent that I was trying to be…
 I researched the benefits of breast-feeding vs. formula and chose to nurse. I made sure my diet was wholesome & nutritious. I all but abandoned my normal teenage activities (and as an unwanted result, my social life was abandoned as well), I read nearly every pregnancy and parenting book I could get my hands on…but, try as I might, I could not fit into the Mommy Club. It was as if there was an unspoken age requirement that I hadn’t quite reached. I signed up for a “Mommy & Me” group soon after my son was born, and found myself playing in the corner with my little guy—something we easily could have done at home—without the glances and whispers from the other mothers who were markedly older than I. While running errands, I was often asked if I was babysitting , and was met with looks of disapproval when I replied proudly, “No, this is my son.” Its a funny thing-being a young mom…you don’t quite fit in with your peers anymore, yet you are not likely to be accepted by the Gymboree play group crowd, either.
 My baby is going to start high school next week and I am 31. I still get “the looks”, when I first introduce myself to people as his mother. But it doesn’t bother me much anymore. My boy is academically at the top of his class. He is kind & empathetic, well-rounded,  responsible, and has a killer sense of humor. I cannot take full credit for all his accomplishments,  but I can’t help but feel proud every time someone comments on what a wonderful young man he is growing up to be. At 16, I could have continued along my wayward path of pseudo-rebellion; the drinking, the smoking, the mediocre school attempt, the self-created mini-dramas…instead I was given the inspiration for an instant life makeover. And that’s exactly what I did. 
The young mom stigma does not automatically leave you when you pass your mid-twenties. I will always be young in relation to my oldest son’s age. I am reminded of this each and every time I attend one of his school functions, and I am mistaken for his sister, aunt, etc….Often, when we are together, people will comment, “You look too young to be his mom!” I’ve learned to just smile, and nod. I may be too young to be his mom, but I sure feel blessed to have been bestowed with the honor.