Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Learning Contentment

I got pregnant with my son, Ashton, when I was 19. Jeremy and I were already engaged, wedding date set, etc. However, getting pregnant out of wedlock, especially having been raised the way we were, is quite a blip on the radar screen of our life. 9 years later, it’s still something that I regret. I don’t regret Ashton by any means; I wouldn’t trade him for the world. But I regret the disappointment of our families, the fear and anxiety that Jeremy and I went through, and the judgement passed on us by others. The day  the blood tests confirmed my pregnancy, Jeremy had to go to the bank to cash a paycheck. I sat in the car with the windows down, wiping tears as steadily as they streamed down my face. A car pulled in a few spaces away from me, full of teenage boys. They sat there, music blaring, joking, occasionally looking at me, at the crazy girl sitting in a clunker openly weeping. After a few minutes, one of the boys got out and walked over to me.

“Are you okay?” he asked me.

I kind of laugh-sobbed, and choked out that yes, I was okay.

“You seem kind of like you’re having a hard day. My friends and I couldn’t help but notice that you are a little stressed. We wanted to give you this,” he said, handing me a little stuffed animal out of the back of their car. It was Max from How the Grinch Stole Christmas, reindeer antler and all. “I hope you know things will be okay. Whatever it is, you will be okay.”

All I could do was cry harder and thank him from my heart. I never saw those boys again. I don’t even remember what they looked like. And I don’t think they’ll ever know what a balm they were to me on the day that I thought was the end of my life. I still have Max. My baby’s very first gift, from a total stranger.

Jeremy and I got married in July of 2003, when I was 5 months pregnant. We decided not to change the wedding date, because everything was already set. I wasn’t showing much, and it was easy to hide under a poofy wedding dress. When we went back to visit our home church a few months after our wedding, just a few weeks before Ashton was born, in fact, we faced a lot of stares and snide comments. Comments like, “Well that certainly was fast...”, and “Now I can see why you were in such a hurry to get married!”

That first year of our marriage profoundly affected me. We never really had a “newlywed” phase. We went straight from being newly married to new parents. We had no idea what we were doing. We were exhausted, scared, practically estranged due to sleep schedules (or the lack thereof) and my insane hormones. I became resentful of my life. Adding 2 more kids in the next 5 years did nothing to boost my morale. I went from getting judgmental looks as a pregnant 19-20 year old, to getting judgmental looks for being a 25 year old with 3 kids under the age of 5. I caught the tell-tale stares at my left hand, the grandmothers in the grocery store saying, “Well, you’ve certainly been a busy little girl, haven’t you?”, even childhood friends posing queries about birth control.

I wondered what I would do if I could go back. Would I trade my kids, even as much as I loved them, to be able to have a “do-over”? Sometimes, I’m ashamed to admit, the answer was yes. When I looked around and saw other women my age going to college, traveling- honestly, even just leaving to go to the grocery store without it being an ordeal- I would fantasize about what it must be like, to be young and child free, unencumbered, with places to go and adventures to have.

But these are all choices I made. Not going to college, getting married early, having kids (even the ones that were a “surprise”), this is the life I chose, no matter what others might think of me for it. For the longest time, I have chafed under the weight of my choices. I’ve tried to learn to escape them, through books, movies, music, daydreams (if you've guessed that this has been one of those weeks, you guess right).

Before any of you think I'm an ungrateful wretch, hear me out. I know, in my heart, that I have a good life. Sometimes my head doesn’t want to agree with me. It has taken me 9 years to even begin to understand what it means to “learn contentment”. It may take me another 9 years to actually learn it. I’m starting to be okay with that. Just like those boys told me on that day, years ago, whatever my life is, however I may feel about it at times, I will be okay. I’m willing to learn contentment. I have a patient Teacher.

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