I turned 22 recently, and a few days later I became aware of the song by Taylor Swift about this very age. After about three seconds into the song I realized that, at least by Taylor Swift standards, I have no idea what it means to "feel" 22. I don't have time to dress like a hipster or make fun of my exes...I'm too busy trying to get spit-up out of my clothes and learning how to communicate with my husband.
Many people from my class graduated this month, and it felt kind of weird because I was supposed to be among them. When I was a senior in high school and was flooded with inspiring "Follow your dreams" advice and speeches, nobody ever said anything about starting a family anytime soon. How many parents want their little girl to get married and pregnant her first year out of high school?
So I write this as a reflection on being a really young mom, in case anyone is curious what the past few years have been like.
Some moments are literally like this:
It's 7 pm. Peter should be home in 20 minutes---an hour and a half later than expected; I'm hungry---and there is much last-minute tidying to do. Piper is laying on her playmat and screaming, over-tired since I planned her naps poorly today. Stephen comes into the bedroom with a box of chocolate graham crackers---which means he went into the prohibited kitchen---and dumps out the entire box over his head onto the carpet. I put him in his crib and he falls apart emotionally. "I'm not mad at you, I love you, I just need you to sit still while I clean up the mess you made," I weakly reassure him. As I vacuum the seemingly ubiquitous crumbs, I wonder where he learned to be like this. Is it because I let him watch some TV today? Did Arthur teach him this? I then become aware that I am indeed allergic to my earrings, ouch. I check on Piper and she has snot all over her face from crying so much. While quickly trying to comfort her, I notice some liquid on the floor and hope it's water...but chances are good that this puddle happened during that period of time earlier today when Stephen removed his diaper and I turned a blind eye. Loud voices in my head faithfully remind me that I am a failure, and that plenty of other moms---mature moms---have more children than I do but their houses are cleaner and their meals are yummier and they lost their baby weight faster...This job is not for me.
Even besides moments like those when I'm battling my own selfishness, there has been a lot of socially-wrought pain in my asking God for children in this season of life. It's very counter-cultural in America for women to have kids at a young age, especially on purpose. In only one year, when I went from single to dating to engaged to married to pregnant in a period of only 8 months, I turned from a social homecoming queen to almost completely irrelevant to my friends and acquaintances. (However, many of the fizzled friendships were my fault, and there were a handful of truly supportive friends and grown-ups whose encouragement meant the world to me! You know who you are!)
More than one person said that I can no longer be a role model for their daughters.
One relative told another that I should get my tubes tied.
My parents had to defend me to one concerned adult after another as they asked personal questions about me and made all kinds of assumptions about my life choices.
The bitterness and pain have died and I've been trying not to consider too deeply what others have to say about me, but from what I've been told, a lot of people who heard about my marriage and pregnancy at 19 think I really went off the deep end. It breaks my heart that getting married young and being blessed with a child shortly after was cause for my whole reputation to be marred.
I say all this not to pity myself but to mourn over our culture's sickeningly condescending view of families...even "Christian" culture (though I have found nothing but encouragement and support from Covenant Life.) Ambitious people aren't supposed to start families first thing. I think that's extremely ironic, since I can think of nothing more ambitious than creating a legacy that will last beyond one's own generation...by raising children (through pregnancy and/or adoption.) I'm not saying everyone needs to get married and ask God for babies right out of high school. But I do wish to challenge the stigma that this kind of trajectory is a pitiful or irresponsible one.
Here's another glimpse into my everyday:
It's 7 am. The morning sun is shining through the window just right as Stephen and I are snuggling on the couch reading a particularly enjoyable Curious George book. I love watching his eyes scan the page. I love how he answers my questions and predicts what will happen next. He reminds me---in his own language or through sound effects---of an inside joke we had from over a month ago, and I just look at him and marvel. After we finish, I teasingly ask him if I'm supposed to hold him by his ankles (which I then do) and through cackly giggles he says "Nooo..." "Oh, am I supposed to carry you around like a log?" I ask as I grab him by the torso. Same tickled response. Then we hear a sound from the other room and we look at each other with a smile. We run into Piper's room and see her laying on a blanket on the floor and kicking her feet in that energetic way only babies can. I pick her up and lay her on the bed, and when she sees Stephen and I, her eyes dance. Stephen scrambles on top of the bed, nuzzles into her and makes high-pitched baby sounds, which is so cutely ironic since he's only 20 months older than her. I make up a song called "We Love Piper", and after I'm done Stephen imitates me as best as he can, singing sweetly with incomprehensible words and sporadic hand-claps. Piper's mouth is wide open and her face is shining as she receives all the attention. I just glow. My children are worship leaders, I think as I praise God for these sweet gifts. I love this job.
So yes, my life is messy. Yes, sometimes there is nothing I would rather do than pick up a backpack and sit in a classroom, forgetting everything but my friends and my studies. I love school, I am so happy for all my friends who are in school or have started careers, and I do hope to go back someday. Yes, I was really sad to be in my early twenties to find my body permanently wrecked in some ways by two pregnancies. Yes, sometimes I feel shame---misplaced shame---for how my youthful years have turned out.
But I could not persistently entertain dreams of trading anything in exchange for my kids. And for my kids right now. There is no way I would rather spend my youthful energy than in giving piggyback rides or reading Amelia Bedelia books. There is no way I would rather use my rapidly-processing 22-year-old mind than in figuring out how to best nurture and discipline my children. This is the prime of my life, and there is no way I would rather spend it than with stinky, sticky, silly, surreally sweet little ones.The cost is great but the reward---real, live, human beings who think and feel and create and grow and love---is immeasurably greater.
I don't know about you, but I'm feeling 22. And I love it.
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a rad guy, and raising three little people ages 1,3, and 5...and I'm now expecting my fourth. I like chartreuse, calligraphy, Coke Icees, childbirth, crocs, Studio C, and...alliteration.
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today