By TARA PRINGLE JEFFERSON
The judgmental stares start as soon as I pull up into the parking lot of the neighborhood playground.
Among the rows and rows of gleaming silver and gold Honda Odysseys, I pop the trunk of my 1997 Buick LaSabre, grab the stroller and head to one side of the car to unbuckle my 2-year-old daughter. Her hand in mine, we head to the other side to get her younger brother. I plop him in the stroller and take the kids to the maze of swings and slides.
The other mothers look up casually when they see me. Then they do a double take.
A young 20-something mom.
With two kids.
And I'm black.
I know what they’re thinking. I live in an area where if I see another black person, I stop and make conversation. We are that rare. So our presence in our predominately-white town is almost always met with questioning looks.
As my babies and I move to the different areas of the park, my daughter jumping from swing to swing, the other moms and kids scatter as we approach. Honestly, I don't mind, because I like my privacy and don't care for chit-chat when trying to keep up with two kids under age two. But it just feels awkward, and that awkwardness continues when it's time to go home and I get the disapproving stares as I load my kids into my car with the high mileage and loud engine.
True, I don't have the 2009 minivan of the year as I schlep my kids here and there. But you know what? I love my car just the same.
My husband (then boyfriend) purchased the car for me shortly after we discovered I was pregnant with our first. At the time, I had no car and no easy way to get to my doctor's appointments. That man emptied his savings account to get me that car to make sure we (me and our unborn child) were okay. For me, that car is a big honking symbol of our love, even more so than my wedding ring.
But they wouldn't possibly know that. Couldn't know it. When I get questions like, so, is their dad in the picture? I'm also sure they don't care.
To be a young mom is one thing. To be a young black mom? That's just asking for judgment.
I first noticed it with my first child, when I was in the hospital recovering after my C-section. Every doctor, nurse, janitor, even the lady that comes around to take the newborn photos, glanced slyly at my ring finger and casually made conversation like I was a single mom, even though my husband was sitting next to me and we were both wearing wedding rings.
People ask, Are you the babysitter? when I'm out with my crew.
Perfect strangers inquire about my salary and my ability to provide for my kids.
I've even been verbally accosted by two elderly women for, wait for it… sitting in my car with my daughter outside of the drugstore. They looked in my car, wrinkled their noses, and I heard one mutter, Babies having babies, as they walked away.
It seems like motherhood only comes in two forms: the confident/advanced in her career/30-something mom or the downtrodden/why-didn't-she-just-keep-her-legs-closed teen mom.
I fit neither of those categories. And I'm glad I don't.
I've learned more about myself, my values, my goals, my ambitions, my husband, and my friends in the past three years than I would have otherwise. I became a mother before I was ready, but who is ever 100 percent ready for the job?
Lots of people spend their 20s learning who they are. I'm spending my 20s learning who I can be, with my kids there to witness. I love that they will be there every step of the way with me. They've had a front row seat to every accomplishment I've had thus far. I took my final exams six days after giving birth to my daughter, my stomach throbbing from the stitches. I breastfed my daughter, then shrugged on my graduation gown and walked across the stage to grab my diploma. I got my first raise a few months after returning from maternity leave with my son.
They're here to see it all, from beginning to end. When it's all said and done, I will look back at my career and say, We did this together.
So when the other moms shun me on the playground, I don't let it bother me. I hop in my trusty, reliable boat of a car, and throw a glance at the angels in the backseat. Wouldn't trade it for the world.
Or a new minivan.
About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Tara Pringle Jefferson is an Ohio-based freelance writer. A wife and mom of two, she pens the blog, The Young Mommy Life, where she discusses the joys and challenges of being a 20-something mom. She is writing a book about the young mom experience, set to be completed whenever she gets a solid chunk of quiet time.