Telling Mom The Truth
My mom had been calling a lot lately. It probably had more to do with the fact that she knew I was living alone in a strange city than that she suspected that I was pregnant. Moms have a special brand of spidey sense though, so I tried to change the subject any time a conversation made me think that I might spill my guts.
Mom: Did you hear that Kelly from church is having a baby?
Me: Wow. Cool. When is Grandma’s half-birthday?
Mom: Have you thought about what to get your one-year-old niece for Christmas yet?”
Me: Christmas is such a Hallmark holiday. What a racket.
Mom: I found a cassette tape of you reciting “The Three Little Kittens” when you were a toddler. Want me to play it for you?
Me: Mom? Mom? Are you there?? I …eem… oooo… ave…ost…u… Click.
Mom: The leaves are starting to change colors here. What has your weather been like?
Me: Oh gee, look at the time. I have to go to work.
Mom: Really? Because it’s 10 p.m. your time.
Me: Yeah, I’m filling in for someone… who… works the overnight shift. You know the newspaper biz, it’s 24/7.
Mom: Are you okay?
Me: Okay? Me? Always okay.
Mom: Because you can talk to me if you need to. I know you have been under a lot of stress lately with working two jobs and breaking up with Brian…
Me: Nah. I like working two jobs. Keeps me out of trouble, hahahahha.
Mom: Okay. Well get to work. I’ll talk to you soon.
Me: Work? Work. Yes. Right. Better head out. Good night Mom.
Phew. That was a close one. How dare she try to weasel my secret out of me! Maybe I should just stop answering her calls until my son’s first little league game. Or my daughter’s first piano recital. She would surely become suspicious by Christmas though.
My mom and I had never had a close mother-daughter relationship, in fairy tale terms. No talking about boys. No weekend shopping excursions. No Christmas cookie baking sessions with matching aprons. I bought my prom dress after school one afternoon with my own money.
We went on a weekend trip to Indianapolis when I was 13 where we visited museums, stayed in a fancy hotel and ate at a quaint Italian restaurant. It was a memory that stuck with me and one that my Mom had no recollection of when I brought it up as a college student.
But I liked my Mom. I always had, but since graduating college and trying to “make my way” in the world I appreciated her even more. She was a writer too. An aspiring journalist who dropped out of Indiana University one year into her studies to marry my Dad. She wouldn’t end up finishing her degree until I was in middle school. By that point journalism looked a lot less attractive, so she settled on Criminal Justice.
As a bride of 20, my mother traveled the country for nine years with my dad before they decided it was time to become parents. They were part of an evangelical Christian group that led them to witnessing to non-believers in cities like Dallas, Nashville and Washington D.C. They hitchhiked when they needed to. Slept on the couches of complete strangers if it was offered. They learned about the Bible and preached the saving message of Jesus to wealthy Texas oil tycoons, co-workers and strippers.
I grew up in a household where slurs were absent and gossip was non-existent. Everyone deserved the benefit of the doubt. Everyone was someone who deserved to be saved.
I was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan. My brother was born there less than two years later. The Christian group my parents still had ties to built a community in New Knoxville, Ohio where my dad was offered a job as Head Groundskeeper. While I don’t remember the physical move, I remember being sung “Happy Birthday” to by a room full of strangers in a community cafeteria the day I turned 4. This was just days after we landed in Ohio.
Life consisted of worship services on Wednesdays and Sundays and small group home meetings throughout the week. Even as a Kindergartner, I could sense hostility toward our group from outsiders. The school bus would regularly miss our combined community stop, saying we weren’t close enough to the curb. When a few other neighborhood kids and I joined together to sing “God’s Blessing on You, God’s Blessing on You, God’s Blessing on You Dear Sarah, God’s Blessings on You” (the second verse of Happy Birthday, of course), our Kindergarten teacher told us never to sing those words again – that we would be sent to the principal’s office if we did. This same teacher sniped at me regularly to color in the white spaces of my crayon pictures or to just throw it away and start over. I usually threw it away and started over as I lacked the ability to discern sarcasm as a 5-year-old.
I came home from first-grade one day to find half-filled brown boxes all over our house and my Mom sobbing.
“What’s wrong Mom? What are you doing?”
She attempted to choke back the tears that she had clearly meant to stash away before 3:21 p.m.
“Well Honey. We are moving. That’s what is going on.”
“Moving?! Where? Why? And why didn’t you tell me before?”
“Well we just decided today and we are going to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s Stoli’s house in Indiana. Doesn’t that sound fun?”
“No. That sounds stupid. I like it here.”
“Well we are leaving baby. Go say good-bye to your friends if you want.”
I was probably too young to be told the truth. But I was old enough to put a few pieces together over the following months.
I knew there was had been new leadership in the community. I knew my Dad had challenged a leader and been asked to leave. I knew we had nowhere to live. I knew we had no money.
So after nearly two decades away from their hometown, my parents landed back there with three kids and not much else.
From our darkest circumstances, however, rise our greatest selves.
By the time I left home for college, my parents were eleven years into a mortgage; had paid for three kids to go to Lutheran school; my Dad had a successful, if spotty, general contracting business and my Mom was a college graduate and full-time juvenile counselor for the great state of Indiana. They had even managed, in many ways mind-baffling to me, to find a church to be involved with. I went to dance classes. My brothers took swimming lessons. We unwrapped electronic gadgets for Christmas and got new clothes and Trapper Keepers for school each year.
They still read their Bibles each morning. They still prayed for their kids and reminded us to be sure to pray for someone other than ourselves when saying our own. They never abandoned their beliefs. They just found a realistic balance between the demands of parenting and living a life of Faith.
I was mulling all this over on a walk to Starbucks from my one-bedroom apartment off of US-192 when it occurred to me that maybe telling my Mom about the mini-me craving a decaf latte would actually make me feel better. It might not be the exact same situation she had found herself in at any point in her life – but if anyone could see the bright side of a seemingly blight situation, it was Mom.
A few more phone conversations came and went without me coming clean. I was 8 weeks along and still a few weeks from needing a definite decision on whether I wanted to have this baby or not. I googled “abortion” and discovered there was a pill version that would mean I could avoid the scary vacuum-cleaner procedure of high school lore. There was the chance of hemorrhage, of course, which made me wonder if figuratively “losing my life” was worse than actually losing my life.
I hadn’t exactly bonded with my tiny bump yet, though I had wandered into the baby sections at Wal-mart and Target over the past few weeks and found that bunny-rabbit feety pajamas held a soft spot in my heart. I hadn’t mentioned my pregnancy to a soul at the newspaper. If I didn’t take a maternity leave, would I really have to tell anyone?
There were my coworkers at the restaurant, of course. They all knew about my delicate condition.
The girls operated under the assumption that I was having him or her, and gushed about how I was glowing and my hair was going to be the healthiest of my life. The guys carried trays of food for me. The manager asked me if I’d feel more comfortable working as a hostess. Everyone cared about the well being of my baby – except for Tim. He texted me every few days to find out if I had “made a decision” yet. He never offered to pay for an abortion, or hold my hand through it. But he encouraged me to make what he believed was the “right choice.”
On a Tuesday afternoon in October my Mom called. She woke me from a catnap I was attempting before a shift at the restaurant. I had worked a 4 a.m. shift for the newspaper and needed a few minutes of rest before hawking fried onions.
“Hey sweetie. Did I wake you?”
“Yeah, but I need to get ready for work anyway. It’s okay.”
“That’s what I figured. Just thought I’d try to catch you to say ‘hi.’”
“Awww, thanks Mom.
“So how’s work? We got the article you sent us about that city council meeting. Exciting.”
“Oh yeah. They might put in a second stoplight. So you know, it’s big news around there.”
“I don’t remember reading that part?” I could hear the distinct crinkling of newspaper print.
“I’m joking Mom. They send me to those small-town meetings because none of the real reporters want to go.”
“Well I’m sure the people who live there like reading about their town. And it is your name in the Orlando Sentinel, sweetie. That’s big time!”
It seemed that Mom was in her usual chipper mood. Today was the day.
“Okay Mom. I’ve got to tell you something. Are you sitting down?”
“Um… I am now.”
“I don’t know how else to say this so I’ll just say it. I’m pregnant. About 8 weeks along. I don’t know if I’m going to even go through with having the baby yet. I’m still trying to figure this all out.”
“So wait… You’re pregnant, and Brian LEFT you!!?” Mom was angry, referencing the break up I had with my long time boyfriend over two months prior.
“Well, there’s an interesting story there. The baby would not be Brian’s, if there’s a baby in the end. After Brian and I broke up I got drunk, and well, never mind. But the dad, I guess he would be, is not Brian. And this dad, of sorts, does not want to be a dad. So you see if I decide to keep the baby I will be doing this parenting thing by myself.”
Silence. I continued.
“And I know that this goes against all of your morals and that you and Dad didn’t raise me to act like I did, so I’m sorry for that. I understand if you are upset.”
I could hear Mom’s lips carefully formulating what she wanted to say next. I braced myself. In high school, Mom found my birth control pills in a coat pocket while she was searching for my car keys. She cried. My dad waited until the two of us were alone on a long car ride to bring it up.
“Are you having sex?”
“What? No Dad. I just take it because I have bad periods. Cramps and lots of blood. My friends told me it helps with that.”
“Did a doctor tell you that?”
“No. I went to Planned Parenthood.”
“Well then you won’t care if we keep the pills. Since you aren’t having sex.”
I was cornered.
“That's fine, I don’t care. Just tell Mom not to cry. Tell her I’m not having sex, please.”
Several years and a college degree later, I believed I had just confessed my Mom’s worst fear. That her birth-control-toting high schooler really was a promiscuous tramp whose sins had led her to the gate of unmarried, single motherhood.
Mom was still silent on the other end, lips curled in preparation. I would have assumed she hung up on me, if it wasn’t for the sound of the Ellen DeGeneres Show in the background. Maybe Ellen’s dance moves had inadvertently lessened the blow. Or maybe I had underestimated my Mom’s mentality. But when Mom finally started talking, her response was not what I predicted.
“Morals? God doesn’t care what morals we humans put in place. He has a plan for all of us. This baby is a gift – part of God’s plan for your life.”
Now I was frozen in a lip curl. She continued.
“Now I imagine that you are frightened, lonely, very anxious about being pregnant. You know I’ll respect any choice that you make. But don’t feel like ending it is your only choice. Just take the time to really soul search and pray about it.”
I was shaking my head and holding back tears on the other end.
“Can I tell your Dad?”
Before the call, the answer would have been a “no way.” No need to ruffle the feathers of two parents in one day. Now I suddenly wanted him to know.
“Yes. Just don’t tell a whole bunch of other people. Well, don’t tell anyone else. At least until I know what I want to do.”
“Sure sweetie. Probably good not to tell your brothers. They would come down there and kick this guy’s ass. Well, have a good night at work. Oh – you aren’t carrying heavy trays of food are you?”
“No Mom. People are helping me.”
“Have you been throwing up?”
“Actually, no. I’m tired. But otherwise feeling perfect.”
I could tell she was beaming on the other end.
“That’s a good sign sweetie.”
“Not sure if it’s a sign or not. I’m just happy my head isn’t in a trash can.”