I woke up one morning at 8:15am. Disoriented and in a mild panic, I realize that my normal alarm clocks (#2, #3, #4) are all still sleeping and my electronic alarm clock had the volume turned down. I race to wake up #1, start to rummage through my brain for possible lunch options for her, and try to decide if I should wake the other 3 up to drive #1 to school or if I should let her walk this morning. I get to her room and her bed is empty. Now in total confusion, I wonder if she had slept with her sisters in their bunk bed but then I hear some faint shuffling coming from downstairs. #1 is fully dressed, has made and packed her lunch, and has already arranged a ride with her dad who is coming home from an early client to take her to school. She says, “I’m OK Mom, go back to bed. Really, I’m OK.” I hug her tightly and make my way up the stairs with a heavy heart that is breaking just a little. I am bursting with pride because of her independence and yet so sad that she needs me a little less. As I lie back down, on orders from #1, I try to figure out how it is possible for time to have flown so fast.
In less than 48 hours, my oldest daughter will turn 11 years old. This is no simple and straightforward milestone. This date celebrates an event that not only includes the birth of my first child but also the birth of myself. As we approach this date, Ever-Patient and I annually reflect on where we were and who we were when she was born. This is an important ritual for us because we often get caught up in our lives and when we stop and remember where we’ve come from and how much we’ve built, we gain so much perspective.
I want to take this opportunity to recognize all young mothers. It is tough enough to be a mom, but add youth and all the stereotypes that accompany it, and it is an uphill battle. The rest of this post is dedicated to the young mothers expecting and with young children.
You will always be a young mother. I was 19 when she was born. I was a young mother and relatively speaking, I will always be a young mother. I was reminded of this the other day when I went to watch her volleyball match that was being held at a local high school. Not knowing the way to the gym, I stopped by the school office to ask for directions. The secretary abruptly said, “Only parents are allowed to watch the game.” At which point, I abruptly said, “I AM a parent. My daughter is playing in the match.” My mother was also a young mother and we still get looks from strangers when I call her “Mom” in public. Despite how old your children get, you will always be the “young mom”.
You will encounter such unfair prejudices and the harshest misconceptions and there will be no relief. Your self-confidence will constantly be tested. Whether you go to the playground, ride the subway, or wait at the doctor’s office, people will look for that ring on your finger, treat you as if you are on financial assistance, and underestimate your intellectual capacity. At first, you’ll feel ashamed, but then you will get angry and frustrated. Don’t internalize it, use it. Use it and prove to the world that you are more than they expect you to be.
One day your first-born will turn 11. You will still get glances from other parents and the occasional ignorant remark. But the difference now is that you are more confident in your ability as a mother. You’ve made it through 11 years and you have watched your child grow into a happy, thoughtful, and compassionate pre-teen. All those sleepless nights spent studying, feeling overwhelmed with a newborn, or worrying about the future are distant memories but are vital experiences, nonetheless, that have taught you more about your own personal strength and perseverance. Although you may have more children, your first, the one who threw you off course but changed your life, the one who kept you moving forward against all odds, the one who will never know the full extent of your sacrifice and your absolute willingness to do it, this one, will always be a constant reminder of who you really are. You will find yourself looking at this one a little differently, always wondering if they’re really ok…and as you wonder this, you admonish your hesitancy at baking 36 cupcakes for her class and start lining those cupcake tins at 11pm with only joy in your heart.