At 11:20 a.m. on May 22, 1995, I gave birth to a 5 pound, 10 ounce baby boy named Ethan Blake Higgs. I was 22 years old. When the nurses put the tiny bundle in my arms, the first thing out of my mouth was, “What do I do now?”
Clueless does not even begin to cover it.
This week, Ethan will turn 19, the same age his father was when I met him. Which means that, if he finds a girl as naive as I was and knocks her up, I could legitimately become a grandmother at any time.
Holy shit. Pass the Tylenol.
Anyhoo, Ethan was — ahem — a surprise. I was not trying to get pregnant. In fact, I was on the pill and had not missed a dose. Because he is in that mythical 2 percent of children born on birth control, I truly believe Ethan was meant to be. Despite the fact that he wasn’t planned, there was never a question about whether I would have the baby. I respect other women’s right to choose, but for me, there was no choice at all.
When Ethan was born, I was a college dropout with very few life skills and zero life experience. I was pretty much on my own from the beginning, despite being married to his dad at the time. (This is a man who slept through my entire seven hours of labor with his son. I think my mother finally kicked the cot he was dozing on when the doctor announced it was time for me to push. If she hadn’t, I have no doubt he would have slept through the birth, too. I'm not bitter about much these days, but that still pisses me off.)
The first day home with my new baby, I nursed him, rocked him and cried. Oh, how I cried. I was terrified, and I had absolutely no idea what to do with my mini-me except love him. I had scanned a few books and talked to other moms I knew, but I didn’t go to any parenting classes or do the ridiculous amount of research many of my 30-something friends (who are just now having babies, the slackers) do today. For better or worse, I learned everything on the job, and without a damn handbook.
It was hard. Ethan and I were alone a lot. We were on food stamps and had no money. His dad couldn’t hold a job for long, but he stayed gone most of the time (taking our car with him), whether he was working or not. There were many times when the only food in the kitchen was a gallon of milk and a box of macaroni noodles. Between not eating and breastfeeding, let’s just say I lost all my baby weight hella fast.
My life felt out of control in many ways, so I tried to create some semblance of order in our tiny apartment. I would put Ethan in his stroller and wheel him around with me so I could scour and clean every inch of the meager three rooms we shared. We took a bath together every day, with him lying across my legs. That method, imparted to me by my wonderful mother-in-law, felt safer and was much more enjoyable for both of us than using a baby bathtub in the kitchen sink.
We played, we took walks and we snuggled. And I talked to him constantly because he was my only companion. Gradually, I got more comfortable with being a mom, but it took a long time for my instincts to kick in.
I am so grateful now to have been home with my son for the first year of his life. I was present for every laugh, every tear and every single milestone. No matter how challenging it was, I wouldn’t trade those moments for all the tea in China.
When Ethan was 18 months old, I reached a breaking point in my marriage. Ethan and I moved in with my mom (God bless her). I went back to college and got my degree, then went to work full time. I eventually bought a house and moved us out on our own in 2004.
I did lots of things right during Ethan’s childhood, but I did a lot of things wrong, too. For one, I drank too much for several years, though I still managed to function, hold a job, cook dinner, help with homework, attend every sporting event and make sure all our basic needs were met. But I was not a happy person, so you can imagine how that impacted those around me.
Yep, it was just the two of us against the world for a lot of years. I tried to give my kid the best life I could, with the resources I had at the time. I didn't know what I didn't know.
Last year around his birthday, I wrote about my concerns for Ethan, his precarious journey and his future. His early teen years were hard on both of us, in part because his father came back into the picture after a 12-year absence. There was some good that came from it, but it ultimately blew up in a very public and emotionally taxing way.
A year later, I still worry over my kid because that’s my job, but I’ve seen some significant changes in both his attitude and actions. (He is talking about career ambitions for the first time, well, ever, unless you count aspiring to be Batman when he was five.) I am so proud of the adult Ethan is becoming. That itty bitty baby is now a sweet, kind, loving, smart and witty young man who towers over me.
He is bound to encounter plenty more bumps along the way, but that’s OK. Reflecting on my own journey as a mom has reminded me that no one’s path is perfectly linear. Mine had more than its share of sharp turns, roadblocks and potholes. And, if I am being honest, a couple of IEDs.
Nope, motherhood did not come naturally to me, but it's the best thing I've ever done.
So .... to my sweet Boog, Boogieman, Sugar Bear, Fred, George, Fleedledeets, E-man. I want you to know that it’s OK to screw up, just try to learn from your mistakes. If you can dream it, you can do it, whatever it turns out to be.
Happy 19th birthday, buddy! Love you to the moon and back.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.