My Life as a Parent Then and Now

In her words

I was 15 years old when I had my first Child.   We were a poor family and had just moved from Texas to Tennessee six days before Josh was born.  When I went into labor, we rushed to the local hospital, where they would not touch me because I hadn’t been treated by a local physician.

I was sent by ambulance to a hospital about 50 miles away, which caused a great hardship for my mother.  My stepfather, hereafter referred to as the Big Loser, was still in Texas pursuing one of the jobs he never seemed to be able to retain, so my mother packed up my brother and sister and followed the ambulance to the hospital.

Childbirth was relatively easy for me.  After my epidural I slept through the worst of my labor and delivered Josh at about 7:30 a.m., which my mother missed because she was sleeping in the car with my brother and sister.  After I had been moved to a recovery room, my family went back to the little Podunk town we now called home.

I shared a recovery room with another woman.  I remember hearing her vistors come in and hearing the joy and happiness in their voices.  It seemed that there was always someone by her side.  And here I was, all by myself, with no visitors and a child I had no idea how to take care of, let alone love.  After a couple days of sitting by myself and quietly crying, my mother came to retrieve me and baby Josh.  I had no clue what to do with a baby.

I spent endless nights sitting up with Josh, crying and wishing he would go to sleep.  Every time I would try to lay him down in the cheap little portable crib he used as a bed, he would wake up and we would start all over again.  It’s not that my mother refused to help me, she just wanted me to learn the hard way.  As parents are so fond of saying.  Eventually bed time became a little smoother, we settled in to a routine and I got to sleep a little.

At the time we had no running water to fill the tub or to use the toilet.  Bath time consisted of heating water on the stove that was donated from a local church and pouring it into a sink.  This worked fine for Josh, but was a little inconvenient for the rest of us.  You try climbing up on a counter after you just gave birth to get in a sink so you can take a bath.  Not fun!

We also had to wash out cloths in the sink and hang them out to dry.  After they were dry.  I would put Josh’s cloths away in the little cardboard dresser we used for him.

Food for Josh was easy to come by as I was nursing.  Keeping me fed was a whole other issue.  Until my mother started receiving food stamps and a welfare check, each week food would be donated from the same local church that we received our stove and refrigerator from.  Sometimes we would run out of food between donations.  For maybe a week all we had to eat were homemade biscuits.  All that is required to maek them is flour, wather, a little sugar and grease.

The biscuits were fine while we still had butter and jelly.  Eventually we ran out of jelly so we ate just biscuits and butter.  And later still we ran out of butter, so it was dry biscuits for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I remember a time after  the big loser lost his job in Texas and to my dismay, joined us in Tennessee.  We would make homemade bologna salad for sandwiches.  They might not sound too bad, but try eating them for weeks on end.  Or maybe plain corn flakes for breakfast for months and months.

Josh and I were on a program called Women, Infants and Children (WIC) which provided me with some basic food items.  When I stopped nursing to return to school Wic provided Josh with formula.  The WIC program would also give me packs of diapers.  I would have to assume the diapers were out of sympathy.  When we would come in for our check-ups Josh was usually wearing a sheet we had cut up and made diapers out of.  We couldn’t afford to purchase disposable diapers, and we certainly couldn’t afford  a diaper service.  So he was wearing the bed sheets on his butt.

In the fall I started attending the podunk school that served the county.  I didn’t stay for long, though.  My mother discovered that she couldn’t pay for child care so I could attend school and feed, shelter, and clothe us.  So education was no longer an option for me.

Instead I was requred to work full time.  My first job was at a garment factory.  I lied and told them I was 18.  It wasn’t a bad job as jobs go.  I received a pay check and made a few friends.

If you are a teenage mother, I suggest you have no friends.  For me, they only led to trouble.  I was young enough that I wanted to go and do what all teenage girls do; hang out with my friends and have fun.  sans baby. Of course this could not always be and led to a few fights with my mother that in turn led to me steaming out of the house with Josh in tow.

It’s not very much fun going to sleep over at a friend’s house with your 6 month old baby.  Eventually I settled down a bit and tried to be the best mother I could to my son.

As a teenage parent, there wasn’t really any parenting involved.  I went through the motions, and i’m sure it looked like I was a decent parent,  but  being a mother felt to me like someone had thrust my baby brother on me an dhe was my sole resposibility to raise.  I guess I was a little detahced.  There were no spontaneous hugs, no “I love Yous.”

When Josh was three, we moved back to Michigan.  The rest of my family stayed in Tennessee for a while.  I no longer had to tolerate the big loser.

The move was a new beginning for me.  At that point my life changed drastically.  I had obtained my GED as soon as I turned 18, so education was no longer an issue for me.  I joined the military and gained some confidence in myself and my abilities.  Joining the military gave me the opportunity to further my education in any way I chose.

I was still a young mother and had all the patience of a young mother, which is to say none.  I was quck to yell and just as quick to use my hands.  Until Josh was 3 years old, I’m afraid he had a rough time dealing with me as a mother.  Over the years I did a good job of pushing him away.  Nothing I did or didn’t do was intentional.

When I think back on those times I can’t remember one time I told him I loved him.  Don’ t get me wrong, I didn’t have the emotional closeness that a mother and son should have.  I owned my house complete with running water and a number of other luxuries.  I also had a fairly decent job at the time, so I knew I would not have to face any of the hardships I had in Tennessee.

We were financially stable and relatively happy.  I knew I would never have to see another homemade biscuits if I chose not to.  I would never have to make and consume bologna salad and eat plain generic corn flakes.  And to this day I haven’t eaten any of the three again.

I was definitely a little older and a little wiser.  I no longer felt an overpowering need to escape my parental obligations.  I still spent a lot of time out with my friends, sometimes with Josh along and sometimes not.

My two later pregnancies were completely different than my first.  For one, I was a little better educated about pregnancy and what caused it than I was with my first one.  I knew better what to expect.  I also knew immediately I was pregnant.

When I announced each of my next two pregnancies, the announcements were met with a little more enthusiasm than my first.  I was actually excited myself.  My family and friends were all elated.  Josh showed about as much happiness as a thirteen year old would ever show, which is not much.

I couldn’t wait to start going to doctor appointments.  When the actual births did take place, I was surrounded by friends and family who brought with them gifts and flowers.  I acctually held my children and hugged them.  I undressed each of them when they came and studied them.  I was fascinated.

When I took my second child, and later, my third home I had everything prepared ahead of time; the brand new wood crib I had purchased, no more cardboard dressers for my children, toys and stuffed animals of every kind.  I no longer felt I needed help from anyone.  I was perfectly capable of caring for my children on my own.

I loved being a parent this time around.  I couldn’t wait to feed, bathe and clothe my children.  I played with them, read to them, hugged them, kissed them and told them I loved them.

I no longer felt liek the big sister that was forced to care for the little brother.  Bed time was a breeze.  I wanted to spend every moment with them.  It was hard to leave to go out on dates, or even to go shopping or to a movie.  I didn’t want to miss anything they want to do.  There are spontaneous hugs and “I love yous”

We were no longer poor in my eyes.  We loved comfortably.  We might not have been financially rich, but we were rich in so many ways.  Our lives were filled with fun times, close quiet moments, and finally, laughter.

Today Josh is doing fine.  He had some rough years as all teenagers do.  He went through his “goth” stage, did a little shop lifting, but was never in any serious trouble.

He never finished high school, but he has a good job, a steady girlfriend and a handsome one and a half year lod son.

When I look back on my early parenting years, I can’t help but feel a little sad.  I took something from my oldest son.  And there is nothing I can do to give it back.  I would love to have the opportunity to go back and change the way I raised him; to have the chance to be the kind of mother to him that I am to his younger siblings; to give him what I so easily give his younger brother and sister-love.

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