I’m not going to lie and sugarcoat how I feel about parenting. When I describe it to friends who don’t have kids, my parenting spiel usually goes something like this: “It can be the best of times, it can be the worst of times.” And as my son graduated from high school this past weekend, I couldn’t help breathing a sigh of relief that we both survived the first 18 years of each other.
In every group of friends, there’s always that one who’s adamant about not having children. I was that friend. I vowed that children were not going to be a part of my equation. Changing diapers, late-night feedings, tugging around strollers? Yeah, I had better things to do with my time, until the time came and I realized, yup, those were things I was going to have to deal with. My pregnancy wasn’t planned, and if reality TV had been big back then, I’d have fit right in with those people on Discovery’s I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant series.
The TL;DR version of my story goes something like this: I passed out on the train platform in Elizabeth, N.J. Once I got to the hospital and woke up, the doctor asked, “How far along are you?” I replied, “I was only a few stops from Penn Station.”
Unfortunately, he wasn’t asking about my work commute. To my surprise, I passed out because my iron levels were drastically low because I was pregnant. Eventually they estimated that I was six months along.
Six months. I was that friend who always said she wasn’t going to have children. And here I was, about to pop one out any minute now. My brain didn’t panic; I just knew that I had to have a plan in place. But it seemed that the only concern the doctor had was with my weight and the fact that I didn’t have any prenatal care. I was sent home with prenatal pills and told to start gaining weight or I’d have a low-birth-weight baby.
Fast-forward three months, and I’ve only managed to gain about 10 pounds and my son is two weeks late, so they decide to induce my labor. Then comes the meconium aspiration. Meconium is the first stool that an infant releases and is normally stored in the infant’s intestines until after birth. However, sometimes (often in response to fetal distress and hypoxia) it is expelled into the amniotic fluid prior to birth or during labor.
The doctors needed to act fast, and since I wasn’t dilating fast enough, they had to do an emergency cesarean section. My doctor warned me that not only could my son spend a few extra days in the neonatal intensive care unit, but he’d probably not weigh more than 5 pounds.
Fast-forward 24 hours: I’m being cut open, and shortly after, the doctor pulls out this big-ass baby. The doctor’s first question was, “Where were you hiding all of this kid?” My son was 8 pounds 10 ounces and 23 inches long. Yeah, he was probably hiding somewhere under my lungs, because during my last three weeks of pregnancy, I couldn’t breathe at all. My son did spend three extra days in the NICU, but once I had him home, I remember staring at him and asking myself, “What now?”
“What now?” has been one question I’ve asked myself repeatedly over the last 18 years of being a single parent. Especially during some of the most interesting times in parenting.
There was the time he was 3 months old and famously threw up projectile vomit like an erupting geyser. There I was covered in vomit, asking myself, “What now?”
There were those times I spent hours in the ER because of his asthma, and of course I asked myself, “What now?”
There was that time my son was in kindergarten and we had just moved to a not-so-nice part of Prince George’s County, Md., from New Jersey. There were a bunch of guys sitting in front of the building smoking weed, and my son goes up to them and asks, “Don’t you niggas have jobs?” On top of me being scared for my life, I could only think, “What now?” Did I need to move? Was I going to get killed? Yes, we did eventually move, because my car ended up being vandalized days later.
Then there was that time my son decided he wanted a gerbil, so of course I went out and got him a gerbil. As we’re driving home, somehow the gerbil “gets out of his cage” (yeah, magically), and unbeknownst to me, the kid was fucking scared of the damn gerbil. My son and nephew are both screaming in the back seat, and there’s a fucking gerbil running around in the car. I pull over to the side of the road, and the gerbil is under my feet. So I kicked the gerbil out of the car. “What the fuck now?” RIP, Gerry.
There was the time when my son was 10 years old, and he came into my bedroom with his hand open.
“Mommy, this stuff just came out of my penis.”
I immediately knew what had happened.
“I hope you didn’t touch my doorknob!”
As I said, it’s been the best of times and the worst of times. And this last year has definitely tested my patience. From my pristine Mustang being wrecked to dealing with a kid who’d rather make beats in his bedroom than study for the SAT, to sitting in the doctor’s office and the doctor asking, “Are you sexually active?” and him answering, “Yes.” And my face immediately doing a “WTF?” There are a few other incidents that I won’t even embarrass him with (yes, he reads my stuff). It has been a year of surviving parenting.
On Saturday, after 18 years of making sure homework was done and tests were being studied for and waking him up every day at 6 a.m., of course, graduation day wasn’t without drama. And I partly take the blame for it. Word of advice: Never, ever buy a cap and gown from Amazon.com. I figured I’d save the $85 Jostens was charging for something he’d only wear one day and bought a $20 cap and gown from Amazon. On graduation day, my son had to arrive early, but as I was leaving my house, he called and said he was going home because the Amazon seller’s “maroon” color wasn’t his school’s “maroon” color. FML.
I kirked out.
“So what, your cap and gown isn’t that maroon!” I yelled into the phone. “Your ass better be at that school when I get there!”
I pulled a quick U-turn and was about to head home to drag him out of the house. My mother and family didn’t travel two-and-a-half hours on a Saturday morning, and his family in Texas didn’t fly out, for him not to show up for graduation because the maroon was off. We eventually saw each other on the road, and he came to his damn senses and headed back to the school and was given a cap and gown from his guidance counselor.
But wait, there’s more.
During graduation, everyone is lined up alphabetically by their last names. But where is my son? His last name ends in “C.” Everyone’s wondering where he is. His paternal grandparents are looking. I’m looking. My brother is looking. We’re all like, “Ummm ... where’s this kid?” I forgot to mention that my son, who bucks the system every chance he can get, decided not to attend graduation practice, so he was placed at the end of the line.
My son, whose last name begins with “C,” was the last person to receive his diploma. As he walked up to the podium, the vice principal said, “And last but not least, __________.” With the biggest grin ever, he walks across the stage, with his friends yelling for him.
I’m quite sure, even though it’s been 18 years, the “What now?” questions won’t stop. Because there’s college in August. There’s tuition. There’s me tracking his every move on his cellphone and the tracker device that I’ve installed in his car. There’s the dashboard camera that I will also install. There’s the president at his school whom I plan on meeting during orientation after realizing he follows me on Twitter. There’s the fact that I’ve already put feelers out to people in his school’s area to keep an eye on him.
I’ve survived 18 years, but please give me the strength to survive these next four without having too many “What now?” incidents or ending up a straitjacket. Parenting is hard as hell. But I’ve managed to raise a kid filled with compassion, empathy and patience who is now a young man going out into the world armed with the tools to survive it. I need a vacation