So Much, So Soon
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.