What’s a good age to be a mother? Probably not 16. Or 17. In 1970, the year I had my son, it was 21.
Pregnant at 16
“Grandma, did you want to give my daddy away when he was a little baby?” I’m sweeping the floor in preparation for my eight-year-old granddaughter’s birthday party when she asks her question. In a couple of hours the house will be overflowing with pizza and kids and presents, but right now, an emptiness seizes me in the pit of my stomach.
“No,” I say. “I didn’t. It was sad to give him up.”
“Why did you do it then?”
“It’s what girls had to do in those days if they had a baby too young.”
“How old were you?”
“I was sixteen when I got pregnant with him.”
“That’s so old. That’s a good age to be a mommy.” She’s sitting at the table with a glass of milk and a cracker, her eyes wide as she watches me. I must seem ancient to her.
“Not really, I say.” And then I explain about high school and college, and how a baby should probably have a grown-up mother.
“Bompa and Grammy said that the first time they saw Daddy they knew he was the baby for them!”
“I bet they did,” I said. “Your daddy was a really beautiful baby.”
Now a grandma
A couple hours later we’re all singing Happy Birthday together–Bompa, Grammy, and me–along with a the other guests. I’m wearing a black fringed shawl as a gypsy skirt, a scarf wrapped around my hair, borrowed bangles, and silver hoop earrings. It’s a costume birthday party. There are pirates, a witch, an old man, a couple of versions of bat girl, cat woman, and a knight.
I think of the first time I met my son’s adoptive parents twenty years earlier. I stood in my hotel room that evening changing into and out of every article of clothing I’d brought on the trip. A costume party might have assuaged some of that nervousness. I’d probably have chosen to be a saint or a nun. Maybe the first woman president or a high-powered executive to disguise the bewildered and shamed teen-age girl that lived inside me in those days, not far at all from the surface.
After the cake has been devoured, the games played, the princess unwraps her presents. She sits on her chair next to her mom, dutifully reading her birthday cards, one minute in the reality of party thank yous, the next in whatever fantasyland her new toy conveys her to.
At the end of the evening my son’s adoptive father comes up to me to say good-bye. “I’ll bet you haven’t had a hug yet today,” he says.
“Not from a tall person,” I say. He laughs. My son’s mother and I hug, too.
In my perfect fantasy world, I would have kept my son. I would have decided that 17 was a good age to be a mother. But in the post-reunion reality that I live in, I can’t imagine things being any better.