Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Vanessa Says No Teen Mom Story #5 March 28, 2012

Vanessa Says No   

As a sixth grader, I felt incredibly good when I aced Friday’s spelling test for the sixth straight week. At recess on that same Friday, my new friend, Marcy, invited me for pizza and to spend the night.
            “I wish I could, Marcy, “but Friday nights my mom works the evening shift at the hospital and the deal is, I make dinner for the family an clean up afterwards.”
            “No problem,” Marcy said. “We’ll make it another time.”

            After I finished the dinner dishes, I disappeared into my room. Dad snoozed in front of the TV, his fifth beer still clutched in his hand. Jack, who was twelve, a year older than I, had just slammed out the door, headed for the mall with his grungy friends. Sara, a dreamy third grader with stringy hair, lay on the family room floor staring groggily into her constant companion, a hand-held Gameboy.
            Ready for some alone-time, I clicked on the boom box Mom had bought me for my eleventh birthday and settled stomach first onto my bed to write about this special day in my diary.
            “School’s good, I actually like it,” I finished up. “I hope we stay here for a long time.” Then I crawled under the covers, looking forward to finishing The Wanderer, the story of a girl about my age who learns lots about herself as she crosses the Atlantic Ocean in a small sailboat with uncles and cousins. But sleep snuck up on me before I could get her safely to shore. I heard to book fall to the floor as I dozed off. I let the radio play on, too sleepy to do anything about it.
            But consciousness returned quickly at the sound of my bedroom door opening. “Schleep yet, honey?” Dad mumbled as he closed the door firmly behind him. He clicked off my radio and the light.
            This wasn’t his first trip to my room in the evening when Mom was at work. Usually he sat on my bed, mellowed by too many beers, holding my hand and telling me how beautiful I was becoming. He always made me feel a little trembly inside. Even though I knew it wasn’t Dad, but the beer talking, his words made me feel proud. After a few minutes, he’d kiss me goodnight and disappear.
            But not this night. With the loud clunk of Dad’s belt buckle as his jeans hit the floor, I shot up, stunned. Without a word and before I knew what was happening, he climbed clumsily under my covers and pulled me roughly toward him as he slid his legs alongside my body. All I had on was a T-shirt. Dad’s breath, loud and raspy, stinking of beer and cigarettes, made me gasp. A tiny squeak was all I could manage to get out of my mouth before his rough hand clamped across my face. “Lie perfectly still. No noise,” he commanded. I obeyed.
            It was over quickly, painfully. Minutes later, as Dad left my bed and stumbled from my room, leaving his jeans crumpled on the floor, I heard Mom’s key in the front door.
             “You bastard,” I heard Mom scream. I lay in my bed, unable to stop sobbing, curled up in a little ball. “You’ve been drinking again, and where are your pants?”
            Then I heard Mom in the upstairs hall. Maybe she heard my sobs. She burst through my door, still open a little, and tripped over jeans that she had to know right away did not belong to me.
            I couldn’t move or say a word. I lay shivering and sobbing, still curled up. I felt as if I might throw up any minute.
            “What, for Christ’s sake, has happened?” Mom demanded, grabbing my shoulders and shaking me. I didn’t answer her, not then, and not later when the lawyer begged me, or when the therapist tried, more gently, to pry words out of me. No words would come.

            Dad didn’t spend the rest of that night, or any other night, in our house. Before the divorce was final, he left town and Mom sank into single parenthood. She began to work seven nights a week at the hospital. I made dinner every night now.
            School became a drag. I couldn’t concentrate for more than about two minutes at a time. I never aced a spelling test again. Marcy asked me to spend the night two more times before she gave up and lost interest in me.
            In a few months, Mom married Tony, a guy she met at the hospital when he came to get his leg sewed up from an accident he’d had on the air force base. I liked Tony, mostly because he made Mom happy. He made us feel more like a family again.
            It didn’t bother me much when Tony’s orders came and we left for Germany. A year later we followed him to Guam. Now Jack was in high school and had learned how to make friends fast. In a few days he was surrounded by a gang of chain-rattling-baggy-pants buys who thought they were real studs.
            Josh, one of Jack’s new friends, was at our house all the time. He was kind of cute, I thought, until he forced me to have sex with him on the couch in my own basement. He acted like he had a right, and the strange thing was, a part of me thought he did. I could have stopped him if I’d thought I had the right to say “no.”     
            Now when I look back, I realize that the experience with my dad had made me timid and passive. When a man asked something of me, I was helpless to refuse him, no matter how I felt inside. Right after that, the anxiety attacks began.

            When my PE teacher asked me to try out for the cheerleading squad, I refused. “You’re so athletic and graceful,” she said “Come give it a try.”
            I couldn’t think of a good reason not to. No one was more surprised than I when I made the squad. I was even more surprised when being a cheerleader opened the door to all kinds of friendships for me. By the time I entered tenth grade, I felt like the center of my group of friends. “Ask Vanessa,” she always knows what to do,” my friends would say.
            That year my friends began using drugs more than just now and then. It wasn’t possible to hang around with them and not know they were using, and using hard. Then one day I got called into the principal’s office. “I need your help, Vanessa. You and I both know who’s using drugs in this school, and I suspect you know where they’re coming from. But I need specific information to get this stopped. You going to help me?”
            “Squeal on my friends? I can’t do that,” I said, feeling my anxiety level rise.
            In ten days, the principal talked to me again, begging me to give him the evidence he needed to bust my friends. If he kept up the pressure, I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold out much longer. The anxiety attacks were coming regularly now and there were days when I could hardly get myself to school. I’d wake up in a sweat and have to force myself to get dressed and out the door.

            My mom had complained about being tired for months. Finally she went to the doctor, and she wasn’t faking. She was diagnosed with lupus, a difficult to treat blood disease, and she had to quit work. We were badly in debt, mostly because of stupid spending in Germany where everything was expensive. Teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, and without Mom’s income, we were in big trouble.
            Sometimes a bad thing becomes an opportunity. I tried to turn this bad thing into something good for me, and for my family. I decided that if I quit school and went to work, I could help out with the family finances and at the same time avoid confronting the principal who kept pumping me for information about my friends and their habits.
            Now I know that was a dumb decision, but at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. And for a while, things went well. I found a part-time job as a housekeeper on the air force base and a second one as a food demonstrator in a grocery store. I didn’t mind cleaning and I worked fast, so that I could have my afternoons free when I wasn’t scheduled to demo at the Blue and White.
            At night I partied. I loved going to clubs with my friends. That’s what I lived for. I wasn’t the only tenth grader who’d quit school that year. I began to hang out with other dropouts, now and then raiding family liquor cabinets, begging cigarettes where we could, and smoking a joint or two when we could get them for free.
            Max was older than I and in the air force. He liked to hang out at my favorite club, a dingy little place with great music and a tiny square of a dance floor. We loved to dance, covering every square of the creaky floor, whirling and swooping, laughing at each other’s bizarre movements. Max didn’t seem to have a care in the world, and neither did I when I was with him. We weren’t ever what you’d call “serious.” We hung out together for a couple of months, and then Max’s orders came to go to Texas.
            By the time I drove myself to the public heath clinic two weeks after Max left, I had a considerable investment in drugstore pregnancy kits. I took about 15 tests. Most of them were positive, but now and then one showed up negative, and that gave me hope. But after the clinic test, I had to face the fact that I was pregnant.
            Back in my battered tan Escort, I scrounged through the overflowing ashtray for a decent-sized butt and sucked in the calming smoke. My mind raced as I pulled out of the crowded parking lot heading I knew not where. Gotta quit smoking, I told myself. Gotta quit drinking, and eating junk, and partying all night. If I’m going to have a baby, I want a healthy one.
            Looking back on that sweltering afternoon that I spent driving rutted country roads, I know it was then that the change inside me began. Later that same day, after three long hours on my feet passing out pizza samples at the Blue and White, I dragged my aching back and legs home and stuck my head in the family room. “Hi guys. It’s been a long day. I’m headed to bed.”
            Only mom responded. “Sweet dreams, honey. Glad you’re home.”
            Despite exhaustion, sleep did not come quickly. I lay on my back, rubbing my hands over my flat stomach, still trying to accept the fact that I was to be a mother at seventeen. Alone in the dark, I tried to imagine how the next months would play out. Would my family accept my determination to have this child? Would I feel good enough to work? Could I make the money I would need to support my baby? I shouldn’t have quit school. Maybe I should go back. No. Need money. Will they let me stay here? Some kids get kicked out when they turn up pregnant. Finally, I drifted off to sleep.
            Not my mother, but my grandmother, far away in South Carolina, insisted that I have an abortion. This was the grandmother who herself had become pregnant at seventeen, before she married. “Don’t ruin your life by having a child so young,” she begged over he phone. “You’ll never forgive yourself.”
            I listened to her words, but there was no way I could end my unborn child’s life. Mom was disappointed when I told her, but supported me in my decision. “Only you can decide what you must do,” she said.
            Tony had a weird reaction. “You’re going to be a mother? Hard to imagine you in that role, Vanessa. Don’t expect us to baby-sit when you want to party.”
            Tony had no children of his own. I think he harbored some deep down feelings of jealousy that I was having a child that would not be his and Mom’s. The fact that she couldn’t have any more children had always been hard for him.
            As it turned out, Mom became attached at the hip to her first grandchild, and Tony couldn’t get enough of him either. Often they begged me to go out so they could have Kevin to themselves. Most of the time, I didn’t even want to go.
            I gave birth to eight-pound Kevin a few weeks before we moved again, this time to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Not long after we arrived, Max came up from Texas to meet his son. He acted like a proud father and I laughed at the obvious likeness between Kevin and his dad. But when Max wanted to establish a relationship—just see where it might go—I couldn’t.
            “I have an education to finish if I’m going to support this baby,” I explained.
            “We’ll support him together,” Max said.
            “I’m not ready for a permanent relationship. Not now. Probably not ever. I don’t do serious, long-term boyfriends, and I have never been able to see myself as married,” I told him
            Max went back to Texas alone and I enrolled in classes to get ready to take my GED tests. For a while, I had an office job at the Red Cross, but I couldn’t listen to people’s tragic stories day after day. I couldn’t fix them, and that depressed me. After a few months, I quit and went back to work at what I know best—cleaning on an air force base.
            As long as I live with my family, the $10.15 an hour I earn is enough to contribute to household expenses and support Kevin and me. I dream of the day when I’ll be able to live on my own with Kevin, but for now, I know it is best for him and for me, to stay with my family.
            I dream of becoming a paralegal, and perhaps, one day a lawyer who specializes in working with abused and neglected children. To that end, I will enter community college this fall.
            I don’t party the way I used to. I’m still fun to be with, but the club girl I once was went underground and emerged as a mom. Sometimes I go to movies with friends. Now and then I go out with a guy. But mostly, I hang out with Kevin.
            I’ve learned to say “no.” I couldn’t say it to my dad, or to Josh or Max when we were I Guam, but now I can say it to anyone. Getting pregnant was the jolt I needed to realize I had to set boundaries for myself.
            I call it my “aha” moment. That was when I realized hat I could no longer be a doormat for anyone. I wasn’t going to let men—or anybody—make me feel like I was nothing and that I had no rights to my own body.
            I will never again be passive or timid. I am now the woman I always had inside but that was locked up with fear. Now I am free.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

So Much, So Soon

So Much, So Soon

Gail’s Story

A third unexpected pregnancy has kept my college dreams on hold, but not for much longer. My financial aid is in place and I’m enrolled in the community college in our town for the summer session. By fall, my daughter Sallie, will be old enough to attend the college day care center with her sister, Marie, and their brother, Jack, will enter Head Start.  I will begin the fall semester with a summer’s worth of college credits under my belt.
            Education is important to me. During the times in my life when I attended regularly, I did well and loved school. I still go back to my old hometown to visit favorite high school teachers. They gave me the kid of attention and encouragement I hope someday to be to give to my own students. Becoming a teacher will set an example for my own children, and, I hope, make a difference in the lives of those I teach.
            I grew up in a sea of chaos with only small islands of stability here and there. I learned to live with things as they were because I had to, but I never learned to like it. When I can bring myself to see the humor in my family, I’ve been known to describe them as a Jerry Springer bunch, but it hasn’t always been a barrel of laughs.
            When I was three and my brother Daniel, six, our parents divorced. From the little I know about the divorce, both my parents had been involved with drugs and with other people outside their marriage. When they split, my brother and I no longer had a home, and our lives fell apart. Convicted on drug charges, my mom went to prison. Unable to care for us, my dad began working for his father on the family farm. He saw us occasionally, but he wasn’t an adult we could count on.
            If it hadn’t been for my dad’s parents, Ruth and Pete, Daniel and I would have ended up in foster care. “These kids need a real home,” Ruth said to Pete. “We’re the ones who can give it to them.” Grandpa, who never said much, nodded his head. Daniel and I moved into the farmhouse and for many years, our grandparents treated us as their children.
            Now that I have a family of my own, I understand how difficult it must have been for my grandparents to jump into the parenting process all over again, not too many years after they had finished raising their own three children. At a time in their lives when their family responsibilities were over, they were looking forward to having time to travel and relax. Taking the responsibility for two young children changed all that.
            My grandmother was an amazingly strong woman, who became the first stable influence in my life.  My grandma loved parades. She used to dress me and my look-alike cousin as twins and enter us in every parade she could find. We loved it. A political activist, always championing one cause or another, she used to take me around town with her, getting petitions signed or knocking on doors to promote her favorite candidate for office.
            Slot machines were her secret weakness. I’ve never seen her as excited as the time she came home from Central City, Colorado, with a fistful of money she’d won playing the slots. “We’re going to Disneyland on me,” she announced proudly. “We’re all going.”
            That meant my cousins and a couple of aunts—a rowdy group of twelve who invaded the Magic Kingdom with Grandma in the lead. Grandma wasn’t well at the time, but that didn’t stop her. She skipped the scary rides that the cousins and I loved, and instead took the gentle boat ride through A Small World over and over. I took that trip eight times with Grandma. It took me weeks to get the Small World song out of my head. When the Disney characters paraded through the kingdom, we were all there with Grandma, soaking up every wonderful moment.
            Grandpa Pete, on the other hand, worked twelve hours a day on the farm and believed in old-fashioned discipline. He wasn’t as easy to et close to as Grandma. But he loved tractors. He never missed a tractor show and most of the time, he took us along. I learned more than I ever needed to now about tractors as I watched him checking out the newest models, kicking tires, and discussing with his farmer friends the pros and cons of this high-powered engine or that air-conditioned cab.
            Grandpa’s farm has always been a central focus for our family. It has provided a good living, and jobs for family members, sons, sons-in-law, and for a time, for my husband, Tom. In recent years the value of the land has risen astronomically. It is in the middle of a fast-growing area of Colorado and is considered prime residential land. There is no one to take over the farming operation so perhaps one day he will be forced to sell, and we’ll no longer that the farm as the anchor for our family.
            Education has always been important to me.  I was happiest when the circumstances of my life allowed me to attend school. “You have so much potential,” my high school English teacher said to me one day when I was close to quitting school. “I you hang in there and finish your education, there will be many paths open to you,” she promised.
            After a year in prison and six years of outpatient drug rehabilitation, my mother found a job and began a new life in a town about twenty miles from the farm. One day my grandma said to me, “It’s important that you and your mother develop a good relationship while you are still young, or it may never happen. What do you think about going to live with her?”
            That is how I came to spend my junior high school years living with my mother. I enrolled in an alternative junior high school so that I could work part-time and help with expenses. I missed Grandma and I missed the farm and my old school where my grades had been very good.
            The first six months that I lived with my mother went smoothly. My mom and I were getting to know and appreciate each other in a way we never had before. But gradually, she began to use drugs again, and then her using lead to dealing. I was still young and impressionable, and I loved my mom. Without even thinking about it, I began using right along with her. Both of us knew from experience the consequences of getting involved with drugs, but consequences were not part of my vocabulary back then. Only the present mattered.
            My mom grew up in a household even more chaotic than my own. One of nine children, she bounced in and out of one foster home after another while her parents were in prison—her mother for welfare fraud and her father for incest. Before she had time to catch up with herself, she married my dad and became a teen parent.
            When I reached the ripe old age of thirteen, my mother made sure I had birth control. I guess she knew that it wouldn’t be long before I became sexually active, and in that assumption, she was right. I was still thirteen when she allowed my boyfriend to move into our house. We al did drugs together.
            By the middle of my ninth grade year, my boyfriend was gone, and my life with my mother had become a nightmare. I was barely able to make it to school and my job. My mom had an abusive boyfriend who lived with u. When she went into the hospital for neck surgery, he took everything she owned and left.
            She came home to an empty apartment, unable to work. Bad became worse when she couldn’t pay the rent, was evicted, and ended up living in her car. I had nowhere else to go, so I returned to my grandparents’ farm. They welcomed me home and I finished my last year of junior high school back at my old school among supportive teachers.
            Shortly after I returned to live at the farm, I met Tom through mutual friends. He was five years older than me, but we were immediately attracted to each other and began spending lots of time together. I was fifteen, but I didn’t feel, look, or act that young.
            I hadn’t been dating Tom for very long when I learned that my grandmother became ill. When she died of cancer when I was sixteen, I fell into a depression that sent me to bed for three weeks. I didn’t think I could go on with my life without her. I think she knew she was going to die, but she didn’t let on to any of us. When the end came, it was incredibly hard, impossible for me to believe. She had been my stability and support for so many years. Tom was a big help to me during this time.
            We became closer and closer, and during the summer between my ninth and tenth grade years, we married. I was sixteen and Tom was twenty-one. At that time in my life, it seemed the best thing for me to do. Looking back, I think Tom provided me with the support I had counted on my grandma to give me.
            By this time, my dad, who had been living close by, had been sent to prison on drug charges, leaving his house vacant. Tom and I moved in. I attended high school and worked as a waitress at a local restaurant. Tom worked on the farm with my grandfather. I completed tenth grade and began my junior year, but all was not well. Tom and I had started using crank and, little by little, had entangled ourselves in the drug scene. It’s hard to explain why this happened to us except to say that drugs are an easy way out, provide temporary pleasure, and are way too easy to obtain. I’d been around them since my childhood, often enough so that using came naturally to me.
            I have my son to thank for abruptly ending my drug use. I awoke one morning during my junior year so sick that I thought I might die before I got to the emergency room. Instead of dying, I learned that I was pregnant. At that moment I made the decision to quit drugs for good. Sick became sicker and shakier as I withdrew cold turkey. Drugs had become such a b part of my life that quitting was the hardest thing I’d ever done. But even when I felt the worst, I never wavered, even for a moment, from my decision to quit. I knew I wanted a healthy baby, not one damaged by my habits and lifestyle. Tom quit too, and drugs have not been a part of our lives since then.
            Perhaps I inherited strength from my grandmother that made it possible for me to get myself out of the druggie lifestyle. I don’t know. Wherever that strength came from, I’m thankful for it.
            From prison my dad didn’t hesitate to tell me what he thought about my pregnancy. “You’re way too young to have a child,” he told me. His attitude upset me so much that it was a year before I could speak to him again. I couldn’t continue to live in his house. Tom left his work on the farm and we moved to Pine Bluffs, Wyoming, where my mother was now living.
            My mom was a big help an support for me as I went through an extremely difficult pregnancy. The severe morning sickness that I experienced before I even knew I was pregnant went on for months. Then an ultrasound test showed a cyst on the baby’s brain. I began to hate myself, thinking that my drug use may have been the cause of it. “You have two weeks to decide whether or not to abort this child,” the doctor told Tom and me. Confronted with such an incredibly tough decision, Tom and I had to come down on the side of life. We decided to see this pregnancy through, whatever the outcome might be. Weekly ultrasounds monitored the cyst until it stopped growing.
            Eventually the morning sickness eased but at thirty weeks I went into labor. I was given medication and ordered to bed for the rest of my pregnancy. Six weeks later, Jack, a healthy six-pounder, arrived with no abnormalities.
            When Jack was six months old, we were surprised by a second pregnancy. I wasn’t as diligent as I should have been about taking birth control pills. Tom and I knew we wanted more children, so this time we managed the pregnancy more calmly. It was easier for me this time. Lucy arrived after quite a short labor that was without incident.
            When she was six months old, I was shocked to learn that I was pregnant again. Three children seemed like an overwhelming number, especially because by this time I had earned my GED and had college plans in place. I cried for thirty minutes outside the family planning office when I learned I was pregnant. I’d been so careful, making sure to get on birth control after Lucy’s arrival. What I didn’t know was the patch that I was using is not effective for women over a certain weight. That was information that was never shared with me until it was too late.
            Tom was as surprised as I was, but, as ever, remained supportive. He has always been someone for me to turn to, however hard the times. We agreed that a third child at this time was not what either or us would have chosen, but we also agreed that we’d find a way to manage.
            Sometimes it feels as if I’ve had a lifetime of experience, packed into a little over twenty years. A year ago, when my dad was killed in a car accident in Las Vegas, I drove to Nevada alone and pregnant, to retrieve his body. There was no one, not his son, his father, or ex-wife, who was willing or able to even go along with me. When I got home, I had the painful task of cleaning out his house, disposing of his things, and getting his house ready to sell.
            After that experience, I began to realize how often my family leans on me to do the tough things. To them, I appear to be the only responsible one around, the only one they can rely on. This isn’t self-praise on my part; it’s fact. I’m more responsible than my dad was and my brother is. Don’t ask me why or how this happened, because I don’t know. I’m not sorry I’m the responsible one, I just wish that once in a while, someone else might step up to the plate and help a little.
            My brother Daniel grew up to be a whole lot like my dad. Like my dad, he was put on a pedestal as the oldest and only male in the family. Neither of them could ever do anything wrong in the eyes of their parents, their mothers especially. They were seldom disciplined or made to assume responsibility as they grew up. They were both intelligent and come to understand, after a while, that it was easy for them to get away with behavior that others could not. Both of them had poor work habits, an attraction to drugs and alcohol, and both have done time in prison. While suffering the consequences of their actions has not been pleasant for them, prison time did nothing to change ether of them. Even today, Daniel talks about returning to his old lifestyle when he is released from prison.
            My mother still lives in Pine Bluffs, and now and then we see her. Tom and I gave her a small used car, hoping that would make it easier for her to visit us. She still has a tendency to disappear every now and then, and I sense that she may still be fighting the battle of the drugs.
            It’s interesting to reflect on the difference in personalities in my family. I can see it already in my two older children. Jack is restless and high-strung. Lucy, even at two, is an even-tempered, constant child. Sallie is a little young to draw conclusions about just yet.
            Because of the family I come from, and because of the behavior and events I’ve experienced, I have strong feelings about how I parent my children. Even though getting my own education is tremendously important to me, my children and their needs will always come first and I will adjust my schedule around what is best for them.
            Tom and I will have expectations of them, but no unrealistic one. We want to provide a continuing and loving presence in their lives. We want to be supportive without hovering. No doubt we still have lots to learn about parenting, but we’ll learn it together, one thing at a time, as the need arises.
            We’ve made certain that our family is now complete. Tom’s job provides us with a living and my pat-time income working nights and weekends as a waitress helps out. Life isn’t always easy, but we’re moving ahead and looking forward to the future.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Teen Mom Story-Waiting for Maria Feb. 21, 2012

Waiting for Maria

Since the day of my birth, I’ve been waiting for Maria to start acting like my mom.
            I began waiting when Maria was 18 and I was born. I waited for her to take me in her arms and bring me home from the hospital with her. Instead she ran off to Jackson, Wyoming with a boyfriend, not my dad, and left her parents, Anna and Jake, to take me home and care for me. I guess she knew they would.
            Eleven months later, Anna and Jake had a son, my Ubncle Christopher. My grandparents had their hands full. They too were waiting for Maria to come home and be my mom, and one day she did. She found a place to live on her own. “As soon as I get on my feet, Lucy, you can come and live with me,” she said. But Maria never kept a job for more than a few weeks.
            When Anna was ready to return to her job at LaBelle’s Department Store, she asked Maria to babysit for Christopher and me. I was too small to remember the days when my mother took care of Christopher and me while her mother went to work, but I am glad to know that she did that for us.
            I remember thinking, when I was a little older, just how beautiful my mom was. I loved her creamy smooth skin, green eyes, and thick, flowing brown hair. My eyes are dark brown too, and people say we look alike.
            My grandparents treated me like their own child, and along with Christopher, I called them Mom and Poppa. No one ever kept from me the fact that Maria was my mother, but when I was three, I was confused about the mom word and what it meant. How many moms could a person have, I wondered? What made a mom a mom. I had to wait to find out.
            I’d been waiting for Maria to tell me it was time to come and live with her. Anna and Jake were kind and loving, but something inside me said I needed to be with Maria. I waited until I was five. Then one day I asked.  “Mom, is it time for me to live with you now?”
            She had to think about it for what seemed like a long time to me. Finally she said, “Yes. I think it is time.”
            And so, I moved in with her. I did lots of waiting when I lived with Maria. I waited for her to take me to school, and to pick me up. I waited for her to buy me clothes I needed, and to take me to the doctor when I was sick. Maria always said she’d do these things for me, but it was hard for her to get them done.
            I remember looking forward to visiting Anna, Jake and Christopher, and my great grandmother Melendez. My great grandmother took me to church with her on Sundays and she made sure I was confirmed before I was ten.
            Sometimes I didn’t want to go back to Maria’s house because of Tim. He and Maria lived together for a long time, but they fought, and sometimes he hit her. I hated it when that happened. As their fighting got worse, they would not let me go to my friends’ houses to play, I think they were afraid of what I might tell my friends.
            The longest time I ever waited for Maria was a few days before my tenth birthday. She and Tim had just had a huge fight and he left. This time he did not come back. I admit, I was glad. I thought that maybe now Maria would stay home at night and get up in the morning before I left for school. I hated it most when I was home alone at night.
            “Mom,” I begged. “Please be home when I get home from school. I hate being alone, and most of all, I hate going to bed when I’m alone. I know I’m almost ten, and it’s silly, but I’m scared of the dark.”
            “Okay, honey, I’ll be home when you get home,” she promised. But it hardly ever happened.
            That is why, when she disappeared, I didn’t even know it for two days. I got up in the morning, went to school, came home and went to bed. I kept doing that until the food ran out. Then I called my grandparents, because I didn’t know what else to do.
            Jake came over to our house with a bucket of spaghetti and I dug into it like I hadn’t seen food in a week. Spaghetti had never tasted so good.
            “Come on Lucy,” Jake said when I’d finished eating. “Pack up some clothes. You’re coming to our house.”
            Every day I waited for a call from Maria. In a week it finally came, and by then I had a hard time speaking to her. I could not imagine what she had been thinking. Didn’t she care about me, her only kid?
            I didn’t understand her behavior then, and I’m not sure I do now. But I do know that by this time Maria had developed a crack cocaine habit. I know that taking drugs alters people’s minds. That does not excuse her, but it helps me to understand a little.
            Maria did not come home. Instead she went I’m not sure where, pursuing her habit and the money she needed to maintain it. A year or so later my grandparents discovered that she had been withdrawing money from their bank account. She took so much that they had no choice but to press charges against her. I fell apart because I was so torn between worrying about my mom and loyalty to the grandparents who were taking care of me.
            I managed to graduate from elementary school and move on to junior high school. My attendance had never been very good, yet I was a good student when I was present. But now I felt a great anger inside and it had to go somewhere. I learned to fight and fight well. I fought for myself, and I fought to defend my friends. I fought so many times that I got kicked out of school permanently.
            Because I could not stay in the regular public school system, I attended a school at the Attention Home where classes were small and the staff watched over you as if you were a criminal. My grades were good there.
            By the time I was ready to enroll in Triumph, the alternative high school, Maria had finished serving time for her crime and was living at home with us. I’d waited so long for her to come home. By now I looked so much like her and she still looked so young, that lots of people thought we were sisters.
            We started going out in the afternoons, after I got home from school We drank, and partied, and got high together, and often we didn’t get home until the early morning hours. Even so, I’d get up at six every morning and go off to school while Maria slept. That routine didn’t last for long. My attendance, and then my grades, began to slip. I wasn’t fooling anyone. A school counselor asked Anna and Jake to come to school for a talk. Maria was not invited.
            “Lucy, don’t ruin your life,” Anna said to me. “There isn’t much I can do to help your mom to change, but I refuse to watch you follow in her path.”
            Grandma didn’t often talk like that. She gave me something to think about, and when I was through thinking, I told Maria that I wasn’t going to go out with her any more.
            “Okay,” Maria said. “I’ll miss you.”
            In a few days she was gone again, and in a few weeks, we learned that she was in California. By that time I had discovered that half the contents of my jewelry box had disappeared with her. Grandma understood. It wasn’t the first time Maria had stolen family jewelry.
            Now, while a part of me waited for Maria to come back, another, bigger part knew that I had to get on with my life. Louis and I met when I was 15 and he 17. It took a while before we realized that this was more than a casual relationship. I was the one who realized it first. He was the guy I wanted. I called his house so often that I drove his mom crazy. She made it painfully obvious that she didn’t like me hanging around with her son.
            By the time I was 16, despite the fact that I’d been careful and was on birth control, Louis and I had become parents. Little Juan became the light of our lives. After she became a grandmother, Louis’s mother softened up and decided I wasn’t so bad after all.
            I returned to school after Juan was born, but I soon got sick of hassling with the administration about my credits. I quit and decided to enter a program where I could work on my GED.
            When Juan was two, his little brother, Isiah arrived—a second testimony to failed birth control. I’d always said I didn’t want children, not ever, and now I had two sons. When Louis and I married last spring, we did so holding Juan and Isiah in our arms. Anna and Jake welcomed us all into their home where we lived until two months ago when we were able to move into our own town home.
            Louis has a good job driving a truck for the local Budweiser distributor. He dropped out of high school before I did, but he has plans to work on his GED. As I began to work on mine, I surprised myself with a perfect score on the reading test. I squeaked by the math test with a barely passing grade. I’m so proud to have my GED. In the fall, I begin college classes and plan to earn an associates’ degree in radiography.
            I’m nearly 20 now, but I still don’t like to be alone. At long last, I have given up waiting for Maria, but I’m still scared of the dark. The dark doesn’t scare my boys, though. They like to tease their mom for being a scaredy cat. Maria missed out on phase one of motherhood when she left me in the hospital hours after I was born. She didn't come back in time to catch up. I waited and waited for a mom she could never be. But Maria taught me to put my kids first. To give them unconditional love. To value and nurture my relationship with Louis.
         Because they are her parents, Anna and Jake will always be there for Maria, whatever happens in her life. They are the people who taught me what being a parent means. And that confusing mom word? Now that I am one, the meaning has become completely clear.   is home from California now. At age 38 she looks as young and beautiful as she ever did. But I don't wait for her any more.          

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Teen Mom Story--You Can't Tell Me What to Do Feb. 15, 2012

Teen moms—You Can’t Tell Me What to Do
By Emily

I remember when I was five, slurping up the sweet milk left from my Frosted Flakes. I looked up when Dad came to the table, bent down and told me he’d be leaving for a while. ‘A business trip,” he explained. I started to cry. I don’t know why. There was no way I could have known he wasn’t coming back.
            Because of my dad’s out-of-control drinking, my parents divorced that year. My older brother and sister were seven and nine. Dad stepped out of our lives leaving Mom to explain to us what was happening.
            I have only vague memories of the years when Dad lived with us. My brother, sister, and I were raised single-handedly by my mom. She drove a Federal Express truck to support us. When I was seven, she was promoted to a management position and we moved from Boulder, Colorado to Lander, Wyoming.
            Up until that time, I had looked forward to going to school and always had lots of friends. In Lander my life changed drastically. I couldn’t settle down. I didn’t fit in. I had trouble making friends. During the six years we spent in that small town, I never felt at home. After a while, I gave up trying to make friends and learned to be content alone. I decided that I must be different from other kids my age.
            Eventually Mom met the man who is now my step-dad.  When they married, our family expanded. My step-dad adopted Mom’s children and she adopted his daughter, and we all lived together.
            When I learned that my mom had been made Federal Express manager for the state of Wyoming and that we were moving to Cheyenne, I cheered. I liked the idea of living in a bigger town where there would be more action and more opportunity to make friends.
            At age 13, my days of spending lots of time alone and feeling isolated were over. My social life blossomed and took precedence over everything else. I worked as hard as I could to keep up with my newfound friends and do everything they were doing plus a little bit more.
            There were other changes, too. As I grew older and became more assertive, I developed “an attitude.” I still have difficulty with authority figures, but back then I went beserk when anyone, especially a teacher, tried to tell me what t do.
            I know lots about the three junior high schools in Cheyenne because I attended them all. I’d get kicked out of one and then move on to the next.
            By the time I was an eighth grader, I’d become a committed smoker along with most of my buddies. I thought I was so cool. Smoking is an addictive habit I still haven’t been able to break, as hard as I have tried.
            At ninth grade parties, I willingly joined in with any drinking that was going on. At one of those parties, I met a guy—a 19-year-old high school dropout who showed an interest in me. Heady stuff for a ninth grader. My friends were experimenting with sex, and along came someone ready to experiment with me. I began having sex with him, not because I really wanted to, but because I was curious and I wanted to fit in—to do what everybody else was doing. At that time in my life, I didn’t see myself as an individual capable of making my own decisions and resisting the pressure I felt from my peers. Going along with the crowd was all-important to me.
            In the spring of my ninth grade year, a teacher caught me in the hall with a can of soda in my hand. “Emily, you know that’s against the rules. Throw the soda away.” I looked at her in disgust and instead of throwing the can in the trash, I placed it carefully on a shelf in my locker, slammed the door and walked away. The teacher glared at me.
            Without thinking, I raised my hand and hit her. With that defiant act, I closed the door on my traditional public school career. I was permanently expelled from school which meant that I would not be able to graduate from junior high school.
             Knowing that I had to have more education, I enrolled in a program at the alternative high school that required lots of individual study on a computer. While a part of me wanted to learn, I had very little self-discipline. The program demanded much more motivation than I had. I dropped out after a few weeks.
            I didn’t know then that I’d have more pressing issues to deal with than completing my education. I’d been responsible enough to get on birth control pills so it came as a shock when I learned that I was pregnant. I learned too late that birth control pills often become ineffective when they are used in combination with an antibiotic.
            It didn’t seem fair. I’d just been fooling around, the way everyone else I knew fooled around, and now there were huge consequences. All I’d ever wanted was to be like everyone else.
            We’ll manage somehow,” my mom said when I told her. But it took me a long time to adjust to the fact that I would be a parent before my sixteenth birthday.  I respected my mom for saying she would support whatever decision I made about my pregnancy, but she added, “I must remind you that whatever decision you make, this will not be my baby. It’s yours.”
            Unlike some grandmas I know, my mom has stuck by her statement. I have always had total responsibility for Maggie who will soon be three. I never considered an abortion. I knew in my heart that I had to follow through and deliver and care for the child I had conceived.
            Taking responsibility for a tiny new life at such a young age forced me to make radical changes in my behavior. At first, I continued to hang out with my friends whenever I could, but in time I realized that I had to move on with my life and I couldn’t do it with them.
            It hasn’t been easy. There have been ups and downs along the way. Every day I deal with the consequences of some stupid decisions I made without giving them any thought at the time. Someone once said to me, “What you do comes back to you by two.” I believe it.
            I knew from the early days of my pregnancy that that I would not continue in a relationship with my baby’s dad. He hadn’t finished school, was not working, wasn’t interested in finding a job, and lived at home with his mother. Three years later nothing has changed for him. Even at age 15, I understood that he could not be part of the life I wanted for myself and my child.
            Soon after Maggie was born, I swung into action. I enrolled in a teen parent program that made it possible for me to complete Certified Nursing Assistant training and pass the state licensing exam. That qualified me for a job that paid enough to support me and Maggie.
            When I was 17, I returned to the young parent program and earned my GED. I am especially proud that I received a perfect score on the reading section of the test. Soon I will be a college student beginning work toward a degree in physical therapy.
            My interest in this field comes directly from personal experience. I received treatment for a back injury from a therapist at the nursing home where I work. She contributed to my recovery from a painful injury in a way that made me feel valued and cared about. I want to be able to do the same for the population I work with.
            I am a person who has always liked my work and taken it seriously—well—almost always. Last summer I took a little time off from my new responsible self. For whatever reason, I got sick and tired of behaving like an adults. It felt so good to just forget about money and go wild I began eating out all the time with friends and buying expensive clothes and other stupid stuff. Like a car that cost too much. The bills piled up and I didn’t care. I called work to say I wouldn’t be coming in so many times that they had to fire me.
            Things were going from bad to worse when the opportunity arose to rejoin the teen parent program That decision helped me come to my senses and realize that it was time to get control of my life again. I found another job and used my tax refund to get my finances under control.
            Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a little wild at times. I love to shop and, you know, it costs money to look good. I still have my nails done and my hair colored. But these days I’m happy to shop at Wal-Mart. No more $70 jeans for this girl.
            As I get older, I’m finding more positive ways to deal with authority. I still have a problem at work sometimes, but now my reactions are more calm and reasonable. Recently I became frustrated with the administration at the care center because they place more importance on the bottom line that on the residents. They’re not available after hour and on weekends when crises arise. Instead of exploding about this issue, I found myself able to express my feelings in a rational way and avoid what would in the past have become an unpleasant confrontation.
            I’m becoming more mature in other ways as well. A few months ago I met Tad, a sophomore in college, and we developed a close relationship. He was the kindest and most considerate guy I’d ever dated. For the first time in my life, I felt good about my relationship with a man.
            Except for one problem. Tad had to know where I was and who I was with every moment of my life. He had to be in control of my life as well as his own. I’m a person who must have my own space. Even though I cared a great deal for Tad and I still have feelings for him, I had to let the relationship go. I couldn’t meet his demands, and I knew it. The relationship was a learning experience for me and I don’t regret it.
            The next few years of my lie will be busy, with school, raising my daughter, and earning a living for both of us. Perhaps there isn’t time in my life for a man right now. I think I have the experience now to recognize the right one when he comes along.
            He’ll have to be pretty special. And he’ll have a good job, a dependable car, a love of kids, and a desire for some of our own. His standards will be high and he will have a commitment to family life. I know, I expect a lot. But I’ve learned the hard way that to expect less is to ask for trouble.
            I’m kind of a bossy person. I admit, I’m not always easy to live with. I know what I want, and I speak my mind. I make my own decisions and I don’t accept much in the way of input from other people.
            Do I have regrets about my life so far? I do.
            “Hi Daddy,” my daughter said to a friendly man sitting across from us at McDonald’s the other day. He looked a little surprised, smiled back at her and said, “Hi. What’s your name?” It makes me sad when I hear Maggie call every adult male she meets “Daddy.” She doesn’t understand that kids have a dad, one person in their lives to whom that name applies, and for that I’m sorry. She’s too young to explain to right now, but I’ve decided that as she grows older, I must be absolutely honest with her about who her dad is and why he doesn’t live with us. If the day comes when she wants to meet him, I will encourage her. But for now, it’s Maggie and me.
            These days I see my own dad occasionally. He lives in the mountains of Colorado and has a successful contracting business. “Too bad you didn’t make it through high school and get a diploma,” was his only comment when I told him about earning my GED.
            That took the fun out of sharing my good news with him. My brother and sister haven’t finished high school and nether of them have much interest in earning a GED. I thought perhaps Dad would be proud of my accomplishment. But he’s a perfectionist, as hard on himself as he is on others. Whatever I accomplish, will never be good enough for him.
            But I have learned that the only person I really need to measure up to is me.