Teen Mom

My Facebook news feed is filled with the gummy smiles of infants and the bizarre over-sharing that is a relative stranger’s sonogram (oh, thank the stars there was no social media in my day!)

My friends are all having babies at the appropriate time. In the NorthEast, that means our 30s. . . .Whereas I had mine at eighteen.

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The girls I grew up with, and women in my adoptive family, were decidedly not teen moms. College and career came first. My birth mother, though, had my brother when she was seventeen. I was with her in New Mexico for four of my five “formative years” (if the psych textbooks are to be believed), so maybe a part of me was stuck back in a place where it’s fairly or even perfectly normal to get married and have babies (or have babies and not get married) right out of high school.

I had some major complications during my pregnancy, so after I was a week in the hospital in Florida, where I was living, my estranged family had me med-flown back up to Boston (just me, the pilot, and my two cats, who had followed behind the ambulance in a taxi) so I could be treated at Brigham & Women’s. If you’re going to be dying having a baby, it’s a good place to be.

I was followed closely there, and every week when I entered the OB/GYN unit, I felt the stares. Stares from suburban women in sensible haircuts and their corpulent, balding husbands, and stares from pairs of sixteen-year-olds with slicked-back ponytails and braces and bright blue eyeliner who were on their way to their special teen wing, which I no longer qualified for. I was stuck in between two demographics: certainly not the typical “teen mom” with my prep school education and Brahmin upbringing; but lacking the requisite years behind me to be anything but a pariah to the pregnant ladies of “proper” age.

As I planned my wedding in summer school (after missing part of my senior year), my algebra teacher got wind of it and laughed, “well, everyone needs a first!

We got married (in retrospect) mostly so that I could prove to my family that I was right and going to have a fairytale life despite my flouting of their (clearly old-fashioned!) traditions.

I shopped for “mom clothes” that I hated– a pale yellow crew-neck blouse and a navy skirt with a dainty floral print to match, rather than my velvet and fringe-y Stevie Nicks ensembles– hoping to be taken more seriously; and signed up for a new mom’s group in my town, wanting to meet women with kids my son could grow up playing with since none of my own friends had babies.

With their Baby Christian Dior layettes and their frosted $200 haircuts, these post-career, stay-at-home moms looked straight down their noses at me. When talking about their husbands they would gesture toward me and say “and your. . . whatever.” They sneered at me for not having a car (there was a bus down the block which went directly to my house. . . it would be different in New York, surely?), and they whispered plans for meeting up to one another to ensure I wouldn’t participate in their clique beyond the prescribed hour a week.

At playgrounds, too, I was typically shunned. Although I found it insulting, it was fine because I was the only mom who seemed to care to actually play with my kid. (He’s pretty cool).

Many years later a friend told me a story of being at the same parks in Cambridge where I found the mothers particularly unfriendly. She looked quite young when her daughter was pre-school age, although she was in her late 20’s. She tried to join a circle of woman chatting while watching the children play, and was stunned when one of the other mothers turned, narrowed her eyes, and spat “excuse me, we don’t speak to nannies.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

My son missed out on having kids he was always with because the parents are best friends. He also has no close cohort of cousins, as I did, because my cousins are having children now, in their 30s, and he’s a teenager. This is one of the sadnesses I harbor for my choice, because for me they were the closest thing I knew to sisters. I hope he will have that closeness with my niece, at least, although they are seven years apart.

It is difficult, too, that we are in an affluent area, especially his father (we’re long-since divorced, unsurprisingly): my son’s friends have media rooms and playrooms and basketball courts and koi ponds and sixty-inch televisions. . . Of course I wish we’d been more financially stable when we had him, and could have bought a big house with a beautiful yard instead of a small condo. But I don’t think that having everything handed to you builds any character, anyway, even if it were an option. I do believe in spending on the things that matter, like music lessons and instruments and great summer camps and art supplies!

Even if my son hasn’t had the Caribbean vacations and palatial playrooms we both envied as children growing up with wealthy peers, he, like me, has been raised to believe in the importance of education, art, family, and home-cooked meals, and in embracing peoples’ differences rather than denigrating them. It’s what’s inside that counts (although if the outside is Stevie Nicks, that’s cool). After all of these years I’d still rather hang out with my kid than those catty women, anyway.

Are We Talking About My Mother Again?

My mother is eccentric but old-fashioned, kind-hearted but not warm, crunchy but Catholic.

I was the last of three rather difficult children, and we haven’t ever related particularly well.

Here we are about to attempt an embrace after my (very ’90s) wedding ceremony. Look how excited she is for me, right?!

mommewedding

(Let’s pause to look at that again and laugh, with just a tiny bitter edge.)

Enigmatic and dichotomous, she was a rebel in the strangest of ways. . . Her family’s secular humanism felt lacking and so she found the Catholic Church at fifteen. She adopted three older children as a single woman in her thirties (back in the ’70’s when they apparently allowed that kind of thing), and never married. She preferred classical music to the Beatles in the ’60s in college. She taught in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Chicago, New York, and Phoenix in her twenties, each time moving alone. There is a great deal I admire about her, but you wouldn’t exactly say that we have a close relationship. She has difficulty appreciating my musical taste; parenting; spirituality; tattoos (they actually make her physically ill, I believe: she’s said she has “a hard time looking at them”); and general lifestyle. She’s a teetotaler and I named my blog Drinking Wine in Yoga Pants, for example.

I spent many years “in therapy” — I prefer “seeing a counselor,” myself– and with disturbing regularity I would find myself halting mid-sentence to vocalize my horror that “I’m talking about my mother again, aren’t I?!”

My undergraduate major was psychology. I do believe that talking about our past helps us to process it and overcome the difficult times while learning to appreciate the good. I wonder if I had pursued clinical work how often I would smile to myself that my clients, too, kept exclaiming to themselves “are we talking about my parents again?!”

We don’t seem to be able to avoid becoming our parents, either. No matter how different she and I may be, I catch myself imitating my mother’s habits. They’re so deeply ingrained that I often don’t notice, until I get an “easy, Sally” from the peanut gallery as I start freaking out about how there’s still a drop of sauce left in this jar, you know; just use a rubber spatula!

I pull recyclables out of the trash and chastize the misguided toss-er. I wash out plastic bags and re-use them. Despite my youthful conviction that as an adult I would keep my apartment balmy as a Bahamian breeze, I pinch the heating pennies and tell my son to put on a dang hoodie. I present gifts in re-purposed, often entirely inappropriate wrapping that I’ve saved from previous holidays. My years of haughty pre-teen disgust at the idea of secondhand clothing have long passed. My refusal to learn to knit and sew properly (“you’re sexist, ma!”) haunts me as I wish for little as much as her seamstress and sweater-creating talents. . . but I make earrings, now, and would scarcely be caught dead without a pair: another subconscious acquisition of habit. Although she rarely wears makeup and cares little for fashion, she used to say she felt naked without them. Me, too.

“I Am My Mother’s Daughter: Making Peace With Mom Before It’s Too Late” was a helpful read for me and may be if you, too, feel like your mother just never understood you (even as we’re more like them than they suspect) and you don’t have that “best friends” kind of relationship with her. The author charges you with remembering that your mother was affected by her own parents’ failings. And that you are the one with the flexibility and capacity to forgive her her crazy ways rather than trying to change them at this point.

If I have to turn into my mother, I suppose that having my heart in the right place, caring deeply about the state of this world, possessing an independence of spirit, and finding utmost pleasure in music and giving to others aren’t awful traits to carry on. Thanks, Mom.