Some really monumental things took place in 1994. The TV sitcom “Friends” debuted, Kurt Cobain died, The O.J. Simpson white Bronco chase had us all glued to the TV, Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa, Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction were released, and I became a teenage mother. Sometimes I feel so far removed from all that has happened in these 25 years it starts to feel like it’s someone else’s story. But it’s not. It’s mine. It hasn’t always been glamorous or easy, and there are many things I wish I would have done differently. There are also many things I am very proud of. In the spirit of keeping it real, allow me to share some of the highs and lows with you.
The first day…
September 20, 1994. Small Town, Upstate NY.
I woke up from an emergency c-section not knowing where I was, where my baby was, if it was a boy or a girl or if he or she was even alright. I was so relieved when the nurse came in and told me it was a girl and she was just fine. But then she wheeled a baby over to me and I couldn’t believe my eyes. In fairness, I had never actually seen a brand new baby before. She was purpleish and wrinkly and had cheeks so chubby she couldn’t even open her squinty eyes (which had a thin layer of something gooey and shiny over them). And she had a full head of crazy black hair that was sticking straight up. “THAT can not be MY baby” I thought. “This is NOT at all the way I had imagined this day going.” I guess I expected the baby was just going to…come out… and would be tiny and magazine cover beautiful, pink and cooing and would make all of my worries about being a teenage mom melt away. I never anticipated days of uncomfortable labor, a baby in distress and counting backwards from 10 in an operating room just to wake up and be handed (fingers crossed) the wrong baby… Ahhhhhhh yes, my first moments of motherhood…
That chubby little face grew on me very quickly. Within minutes, actually. Once the shock (and anesthesia) started to wear off and after she opened her eyes and looked at me, I became absolutely smitten with her. And so did my entire family, her father and his family as well. She was the first grandchild. The first great-grandchild. The first niece. And so the world began to revolve around her that very day. Taylor Rene had everyone wrapped around her wrinkly little purple finger.
The early years…
While all of my friends were enjoying their senior year of high school, decorating for homecoming, getting drunk before dances, planning senior skip days, and making college plans, I was busy changing diapers, mixing stage 1 rice cereal with applesauce and rocking that chubby little baby to sleep for hours every night. She was so sweet and easy and made being a first time mom seem almost simple. I did join my friends when I could and I did enjoy my senior year but it was on a completely different level. I was a mother. Still a child, but also a mother. It was a very strange time in my life, but I remember it as a happy time.
We lived with my mother for the first year, so I was able to finish high school. Taylor and my mom developed a very tight bond during that time. I remember feeling jealous back then. I was too young and immature and didn’t understand the importance of that relationship or the role my mother would play in Taylor’s life. It’s a relief to me now when I allow myself to think back on some darker times during my young-single-motherhood-days to know that Taylor always had the comfort and stability of her grandma when I wasn’t able to give it to her myself. And y’all, I was a train wreck on and off for a while.
We had a couple dinky apartments and I worked a couple crappy jobs, but then at 21 I settled down with a steady full time job. At 23, I bought us a cozy little house. It was like a doll house with wall to wall pink carpeting throughout the living room and dining room, a tiny kitchen with a REALLY tiny breakfast nook that barely fit our kitchen table and 4 chairs, 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 2 enclosed porches and a big backyard. We LOVED that house. Taylor made friends at school and in the neighborhood but she hung out mostly with my friends and me. She was more mature than us even back then, so it’s no surprise she grew into such a serious young woman. She used to make up games and force us to play them with her and would get so mad if we said no. She was very bossy and we were all a little scared of her. But she was the center of our tight little core group. We spent our Sundays with family and friends gathered around our second-hand dining room table, filling our tiny home with love and laughter, pasta and wine. I miss that little house with pink carpeting and I hope Taylor remembers those afternoons with as much joy and happiness as I do. Especially since there were many days that were not as happy as those peaceful Sunday afternoons there.
At 24, I was blessed with my second daughter, Summer. An unexpected surprise. And so our family of 2 became a family of 3. Being a single mom was hard enough without the added stress of unnecessary drama, which I kept finding myself in the middle of. Nothing changes if nothing changes though so I decided that we needed a brand new start and it could not be in that town. It was unbelievably hard to leave the people and comforts of the only home we ever knew. It was especially difficult to imagine life without the daily help and support of my mom and it broke her heart to watch her grandchildren move away, but I knew (and she knew) that the only way I would ever be able to really put the past behind and give my daughters the kind of life they deserved was to get out.
I sold the house and moved 750 miles south to the coast of North Carolina. I rented a little 2 bedroom apartment there. I used the money I made from selling the house to pay for a few months rent and to hold us over until I found a job, which I did quickly. Taylor started school, cheer and dance. She made friends, did well in school and rarely complained- which I don’t think I ever even thanked her for. She helped me with Summer too, who at 2 was quite a handful. Looking back, that move could have been a disaster, but I sometimes think I was on autopilot, just going through the motions and doing what I had to do.
I never really felt at home there. The best part (my favorite memory) was our early morning drives to the beach on the weekends. I would sip coffee while Taylor and Summer searched for seashells and other ocean treasures. The ocean was so big and beautiful, but living there was sad and lonely and harder than I ever imagined, especially during the holidays. A part of me wanted to pack up and run back home, but a bigger part of me kept pushing forward.
After about 9 months of living there, I met my husband, which in a strange twist of fate and a whirlwind of events brought us back up north to New Jersey. Taylor was 9, Summer was almost 3 and they were on their second big move in only 12 months. But this time we were finally on our way “home” and we were finally becoming a real family. It was all so obvious from the very beginning. THIS was where we were heading the whole time, even when it seemed like we were just drifting. Pieces that were missing from all of our lives were starting to fill in.
Unfortunately I had to drag my children along on my chaotic journey (my biggest regret in life). Fortunately, we came out the other end intact (my biggest blessing).
We planted roots in suburban New Jersey and never looked back. We were married in 2005 and then in 2009 we were doubly blessed with 2 more daughters. We were now a family of 6. The twins connected us all and were the finishing pieces to our puzzle.
Taylor and Summer were fortunate enough to go through an excellent school system where they both excelled. Taylor broke me in easy during the teenage years, never really getting into much trouble at all. Maybe the occasional eye roll or snarky comment and argument over a messy bedroom, but minimal drama. I was all “Look at me, I raised this perfectly behaved, respectful, successful teenager. I’m awesome. #1 Mom right here.”… aaaaand then that second one put me right back in my place. It’s always the second one, isn’t it? Turns out, my mom-abilities strongly depend on the child at hand, and in our family, we are a mixed bag. We have 2 very easy daughters and 2 very… -let’s go with- feisty daughters. All very different and all loved completely and uniquely.
Now living in Delaware with her college sweetheart, Taylor has her masters degree in Speech Language Pathology and continues to impress us every day with her drive and success. She has earned me many bragging rights over the years, but I’m not sure it’s even fair for me to accept credit for anything she has accomplished. She was born ready to take charge and I actually joke that she raised me.
Summer, who was so little during the chaotic years, and the twins have never known anything other than the sweet life. Summer just graduated high school and is enrolled in a 3 year certification program for ultrasound technology. She is a hard worker, a leader, an amazing big sister to the Ella and Layla and can throw shade like it’s her job. Ella is spunky, adorable and very friendly, but she’s also a wild child and my biggest challenge to date, God bless her heart. And then there is my sweet little Layla who is kind, easygoing and loyal to a fault. Blessed, I am.