I was 22, and housewives at St. Paul mahjong tables gossiped at my brazenness. I came from a middle-class home but was taking a less culturally traditional route to adulthood. I had dropped out of college, lived in Mexico under precarious circumstances, knocked around Europe, had no idea how to contact my nomadic boyfriend and no expectation of a wedding should he turn up.
My casual fertilization was not an accident but the result of an insanely naïve notion: I wanted a companion, a small clone who would be my sidekick and best friend.
When I landed back at my horrified mother’s house in St. Paul, I was in my sixth month. She begged me to consider adoption, asked me not to embarrass my grandmother by visiting her high-rise apartment building unannounced, and warned me that I was ruining my life (oh yes, and that of my unborn, “out of wedlock” and “illegitimate” child).
She was wrong. My life did become more stable and my daughter, who was well loved (especially, it turned out, by her reluctant grandmother) thrived.
But I was, nonetheless, way over my head. I was clueless about parenting and still shudder when I think of the careless risks and unrealistic expectations the hapless hippie mommy I was then visited on my tot’s tiny curly blond head.
When she was almost 4 and enrolled in a California Montessori school, her teacher told me my little girl had been telling classmates her daddy was “on an airplane.”
Driving down the 405 Freeway, on the way home to our furnished apartment, I spelled out that no “daddy” would be arriving at the door fresh from a business trip. The man who was technically her father was never going to be in our family, I told her.
It was just the two of us, but I would never leave her. I hoped one day I would find her a new daddy, but for now, that was the deal. We were both crying and, as she climbed onto my lap at 55 miles an hour, I focused on not crashing our rickety Chevy Vega (seat belts were not routinely installed in those days). To be honest with your child, you have to be honest with yourself.
I made good on my promise. I married a good man when she was 13, and he has been a devoted father to her. Although my former child is nearly 40, an excellent solo mother herself, and would tell you her life has been quite fortunate, I nevertheless worry deeply about young teen and 20-something women today raising a generation of fatherless children.
Even when the children really will be fine, this parenting thing is hard and is forever. I want to tell each woman to give herself a chance to gain equilibrium. As much as we love them, 2-year-olds need to be constantly fed or changed or watched or chased.
A schoolchild needs homework supervision and a regular bedtime. Parenting is difficult, expensive, energy-sapping and full of unexpected challenges. To do it right it takes (at least) two.
Despite the happy ending to my impetuous choices, I would encourage every single fertile young woman to wait, finish school, start a career that will fulfill her, find a loving partner and give herself a chance to grow up before she has to manage the very complicated development of her own child’s tiny existence.