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