As I walk to my seat in my freshman Intro to English class, I feel this guy looking at me. I glance his way, and he is just smiling and kind of trying to make eye contact. I can tell that he is thinking of something to say. This should feel exciting. It is college. Isn’t this part of the experience? My mind is reeling with responses, and he hasn’t even said hi.
What should I say to him? “Hi, let me save you some time. I have a kid, so you don’t want to bother with me.” Or “I’m an 18-year old mom, do you still want to be friends?”
I can still feel him looking at me as I find me seat across row of desks. He eventually says, “Where are you from?” Do you live on campus?” It’s the usual small talk starter, however this innocent interaction gives me a panic attack.
I’m not a normal college student, but when I am on campus, I want to feel like one. I am not interested in this guy, but I just want to act like a typical young adult in this moment. I give a short response without revealing too much information. “I’m local, so I live off campus.” I leave the part out that I live in an apartment with my little family, and my plans are to change diapers and watch Baby Einstein while attempting to write my personal narrative.
Why do I feel like I need to give him my entire life story just because he says hi? I feel like I need to explain myself early because the longer I wait to tell people that I am a mom, the harder it is to confess.
Looking back, I obsessed about the choices I had made, or the choices that I would have to make for the rest of my life. I hated that once people found out that I was a mom, the rude and unwanted comments ensued. “How old when you had her, 12?” or “You can’t be her mom?” What was even worse than the comments were the looks. I saw people freeze at the fact that I had a child. I already felt shame, guilt, loneliness, sadness, embarrassment, and insecurities, so the reactions just reinforced those feelings.
It was complicated because when someone looked at me, I looked like the typical college student, so people asked if I was rushing a sorority or living in a dorm. Normal questions that led to years of anxiety. There were obviously deeper issues, but I didn’t work through those until many years later. There were people who I went to school with for four years, who never knew I was a mom. I avoided people and probably came off as aloof or snobby, but it was only my own anxiety.
However, even though I ostracized myself and believed that there was no way I could connect with my college peers, I felt an overwhelming feeling of love, purpose, pride, responsibility at home with my baby. Becoming a mother was the best thing that ever happened to me. Every decision I made was out of the love I had for my child. I wanted my daughter to have a mom who she knew loved her and who would be her role model.
Honestly, I didn’t know much about the college life, so I didn’t really know what I was missing. I wasn’t worried about tailgates and parties. I was worried about daycare and money. I didn’t realize everything that I had missed until my own daughter went to college.
When I think about this experience, I don’t know why it was so hard to just tell people I was a young mom. Maybe it is because to this day, people have something to say about me as a mother. Now, I see young moms who are flourishing in their roles as young or single moms.
As I reflect, I feel sad for the young mother who felt so alone. I realize that I missed out on potential friendships and experiences out of my own fear of being judged by a stranger. I didn’t have to choose between being a good mom or completely denying my youth. I should have accepted myself. I should have been proud of who I was. I should have realized that I was doing a good job of balancing college, work, and motherhood instead of being consumed with fear that people would think that I was less than.