17 Again: I Was A Teen Mom
There I was again at another one of those social functions that I dreaded so much. The ones where people sat around complaining about their lake houses, luxury cars and other rich people problems that I couldn’t possibly relate to. I stood there sipping on a glass of wine that I couldn’t pronounce, shifting uncomfortably in my shoes as everyone started to reminisce about their high school days; about school pranks, spring breaks and graduations — all things that I never experienced myself. I smiled and nodded as they each told their prom stories, remembering my own, where I’m pretty sure I was the only girl there wearing nursing pads under her gown. Noticeably quiet, someone finally turned to me.
“What year did you graduate,” she asked almost accusingly. “Wait, don’t tell us; we don’t want to be depressed.” They all laughed as I forced my lips to curve into a weak smile. One by one they started throwing out numbers– 89, 88, 91! Really? I started regretting my decision to pass up that anti-aging serum at the drugstore the day before.
“Ninety-eight,” I said in almost a whisper, bracing myself for the barrage of questions I was sure would come my way once they did the math.
“You’re just a baby!”
Here it comes….
Suddenly I felt 17 again; scared, alone…ashamed. I felt like they were all standing in that circle judging me, looking at me like I was nothing more than some silly whore. I knew what they were thinking: 34-years-old with a sixteen-year-old son? I immediately wanted to tell them the rest of my story, but I couldn’t choke up the words. I wanted to stave off the stereotypes associated with teen moms and tell them how I had gotten a job, got married, bought a house…all by the age of 22. I wanted them to know that I too had that picture perfect American family; that I too was a grown-up. Because even though most of us had gone through the same experiences as first time parents together — from potty training to pimples — I still didn’t feel like their equal, and I wanted to– desperately.
Maybe they were just being polite, or maybe they just weren’t that interested in my life. The point was, they had moved on. So why couldn’t I?
After the party I walked into my house, calling to the kids that I was home as I let out a huge sigh. I had made it through another function unscathed…for the most part. But I couldn’t let go of that one thought. Why couldn’t I move on? Why did I feel like I’d have to spend my life walking around wearing the label of “teen mom” like a scarlet letter?
I was stuck at 17, trying to reconcile with the guilt, the shame and the stereotypes. I held myself to such a higher standard and put so much pressure on myself — on my son — to be perfect because I was forever seeing myself as a 17-year-old mom. In all the years that I spent running from my past, I had grown up. But because I was so obsessed with trying to prove myself “worthy” to other people, I missed out on all of the exciting twists and turns. It never occurred to me that I should just accept who I was and what I was dealing with.
I was a “teen mom.” Emphasis on was. I became a parent at a young age. (Okay– a very young age). I own that…now. That doesn’t mean that I’m downplaying anything that I did. That doesn’t mean that I take pride in my actions, but what it does mean is that I can’t and won’t keep shaming myself for them. I don’t owe anyone any explanations on the who, what, where, when, why or how I became a parent. None of that really matters. And I definitely don’t need to spend my life battling anyone’s perceptions of me. Being a “teen mom” didn’t define me then and it certainly doesn’t define me now. It did, however, help to shape the person that I am today. It’s only a small part of my life– my crazy rollercoaster ride of a life–and I can finally move on to the next exciting twist or turn, having come to terms with the teen that I was and proud of the grown up — the mom that I’ve become.