Authors: Cynthia Ruchti
Love isn’t Silly Putty,
it stated emphatically.
Even when it has to stretch far, it holds together
Really? Feels like ripping.
Stiffer house rules meant a sullen Lauren. Becky could take it. They’d been through that stage when Lauren moved from twelve to thirteen. And thirteen to fourteen. But babies have radar that responds to sullen with a dose of cranky. Jackson deserved all of Lauren’s heart, all her love, not just when it was convenient or when she was in the mood to parent. Moms are always on call.
Few things about mothering are convenient, Becky thought as she filled out the parent section of Lauren’s financial aid application for Westbrook’s community college.
Her fingers hovered over the computer keyboard. The cursor waited for her to enter a response to “Gross Income.” Grossly inadequate since she’d had to quit work to care for Jackson while Lauren finished high school.
Not just when it was convenient or when she was in the mood to parent. Always on call
“What?” The girl didn’t look away from the television. She sat on the floor, bent over with her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands. So like she did at ten. Her son lay on the floor next to her, chewing his fists.
“Come here a minute. Please.”
“I just changed him.”
In the mood to parent
. Becky moved to the couch. “I know you did.” She patted the cushion beside her. “I want to talk to you.”
“So, talk.” Still no movement.
In the mood
. . .
Lauren turned while seated, break-dance style, and faced Becky. “Sorry, Mom.” She joined her mom on the couch. Her eyes glistened. “Even I don’t like me lately.”
Becky reached to draw her into her embrace. Lauren still fit. A too-young mom, but she still fit in the valley of Becky’s heart. Her hair, as silken as Jackson’s, smelled of mangoes. Sweet as a kiss of summer.
Oh, my baby!
“Everything okay at school?”
“What do you mean?” Lauren pulled out of the tight embrace. “I’m doing as good as I can.”
Becky considered correcting her grammar, but restrained herself. “Are you getting along with your teachers?”
“With the other kids?”
Lauren pointed at Jackson. “
a kid. Nobody knows what to call someone like me.” She twirled a hank of hair that had flopped out of her pseudo-ponytail.
“The other students, then.”
“You mean, the other teen moms? Or did you mean normal students?”
“Lauren . . .” Should she whip out the consequences lecture? The “well, you should have thought about that before” PowerPoint presentation? The remedial health class DVD? Becky forced an empathetic smile. “Even I don’t like me lately.”
They sat side by side on the sofa, watching the only happy person in the room wiggle his baby toes.
“Mom, I don’t know what I’m doing.” The confession was accompanied by a sob that Becky felt down to her toenails.
“Neither do I, honey.”
“I don’t know how to be a mom.”
“I don’t know how to mother a teen mom.”
Lauren laughed at that, the kind of laugh that acknowledges the sometimes comic alter ego of pain. “You weren’t supposed to have to.”
“What do you see for his future, Lauren? For your futures?”
“I’m not planning a future. I can’t think past today.”
“I don’t know the difference between a breast pump and a sump pump! What if I can’t even keep him alive?”
I’ve wondered the same thing
They held each other until Lauren pushed away and said, “Mom, you’re burning up. Do you have a fever?”
So that’s what a hot flash feels like
Jackson rolled over for the first time that night. Lauren didn’t
the proud parent. She
a proud parent. The video of the event hit all her social networks.
She flunked her French quiz the next day.
Monica’s voice mail messages to Becky remained unanswered for three days. It felt like the emotional vacuum between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Sunday. How was Becky going to avoid Monica at church? Avoidance hardly seemed a Sunday thing to do.
Gil’s plane landed at 9:03 Saturday night. Becky pulled the Civic to the curb outside Baggage Claim the moment he walked out of the terminal. Jackson slept slumped in his car seat, unmoved even when Gil slammed the trunk shut. Gil whispered an apology when he slid into the passenger side. “Didn’t know Jackson was coming along.” He leaned tentatively toward Becky, as if testing the “It’s appropriate to kiss in front of a sleeping baby, right?” waters.
She grabbed him by the shoulders and leaned in to his lips. The cars in line behind her wouldn’t wait for much more than one kiss, so she put the Civic in gear, pulled into traffic, and repeated, “I’m so glad you’re home,” as if they were the only words she knew.
“How’s he been?” Gil nodded over his shoulder at the still-sleeping child. “Where’s his mom? And I use that word loosely.”
Becky’s heart clenched. “Homecoming.”
Gil nudged her leg. “Oh, you guys. I’ve only been gone three weeks.”
homecoming, Captain Important. The football game homecoming night.”
“I know. I could have said she couldn’t go.”
“If she were an adult single parent, we’d have no say on choices like that.”
“If she were an adult, she wouldn’t be playing in the band for homecoming. What do you call this netherland?”
Almost a mile ticked by. “My fault. I call it my fault.”
Becky took her eyes from the road long enough to glance at his shadowed face. “
fault? What are you talking about?”
“I read a lot on the plane. And on the layover. One article,
New York Times
if I remember right, gave stats on the number of women who are reproducing without the ‘nuisance of a spouse.’ ”
“You’re not a nuisance, Gil.”
You’re not home enough to be a nuisance
He shrugged out of his suit coat and tossed it into the backseat, barely missing his grandson, and then rebuckled his seat belt. “And I read an editorial about teen mom reality shows.”
“Did either of us encourage her to watch those? No.”
“And I got partway through an essay about the importance of a dad’s relationship with his daughter. It’s my fault.”
“You’ve always had a great relationship with Lauren.”
“It didn’t stop her from . . . from this.” He gestured again to the backseat. “It didn’t stop Mark from going to Iraq.”
No. We’re not talking about Mark today. Not today
. Becky flicked the turn signal and changed lanes. She pointed over the seat with her thumb. “
is our amazing grandson. Ten years from now, we won’t remember this part.”
“Yes, we will.”
“You’re right. We will.”
Silence drove them the rest of the way home.
“I wonder how much money the church spends on cleaning up the debris from other people’s mistakes.” Gil’s low voice rumbled, even in whisper mode. He pointed to the overhead digital screen’s preservice messages with announcements
about a variety of addiction recovery programs, divorce care, get-out-of-debt classes, and Teen Mothers of Preschoolers.
Becky leaned toward his ear. “I signed her up for that.”
“Your tithes at work,” he whispered back.
“Lauren won’t go. Too stressful to fit that into her homework schedule. And her social life.”
“Which is why teens shouldn’t get preg—Hi, Lauren. Is he all settled in the nursery?”
Lauren slumped into the padded chair beside Becky. Talking without unclenching her teeth, she said, “Why does everyone else think they know what’s best for my kid?” She crossed her feet at the ankles, legs extended far under the row in front of her, flip-flops flapping, and folded her arms over her chest. “That Cramer lady said, ‘Just go. He’ll be fine.’ She insisted.”
“Sophie. Sophie Cramer. Nice lady.”
“Whatever. ‘Just go,’ she said. ‘He’ll stop crying as soon as you’re out of sight.’ Like
supposed to make me feel better.”
Becky reached an arm around Lauren’s shoulders. She would have said something comforting except she’d been told the same thing and felt the same way the first time she took Lauren to the nursery seventeen years earlier.
Becky glanced around the sanctuary. How many other people in the room had to work up the courage to walk through those doors today? Different problems. Different consequences. Different reasons for sleepless nights.
. Brianne was on the worship team this morning. Brianne with the flat stomach and no stretch marks. Brianne with the angelic face and no residual diaper odor clinging to her skinny little sweater.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned and hath coveted my best friend’s daughter’s regret-free life
“What’s she doing up there?” Lauren’s tone dripped with the jealousy Becky felt. Like mother, like daughter.
“Monica said she sings on the youth worship team now,”
which you would know if you went to youth group
. “I imagine they needed another backup singer and she was the logical choice. Lauren, we’re standing. At least lip-synch the words to the songs, okay?”
Becky turned her attention to the lyrics on the screen. The letters blurred. Church used to be a sanctuary. Now it felt like an exhibit hall with their family on display in the “What Not to Do” section. The section with the broken people.
And she couldn’t even whine about it to Monica.
Lauren’s exterior posture more closely matched Becky’s internal posture than Becky wanted to admit. Great day for a sermon about the Bible’s Rachel, who “refused to be comforted” over the loss of her child. Even Lauren seemed to soften a little, brushing at a tear when the final song started with something about mercy finding people at the side of a broken road and lifting them out of the debris of their failings.
Who said an out-of-wedlock pregnancy was no big deal anymore? Twenty-first century and all that? Cultural acceptance. Reality shows spotlighting teen moms notwithstanding. Regret still destroys futures, changes relationships, rewrites dreams.