Friday, January 17, 2014

2014: Let it be a Positive Trajectory

I haven't posted in almost a month. I have started and stopped 5 different pieces. I keep asking myself, "What does that have to do with being a teen parent"? I finally answered myself yesterday, "Everything." The way I work and live today are direct results of the the way I worked and lived while I was raising my son. I have to say that I have been moving along a positive trajectory, which is why I am writing this blog and not sitting in someone's living room with a long neck and my cigarettes. I am thankful that today all I do is romance memories of getting drunk as fast as I could and as often as I could because when I was sober enough to understand the weight of the job I had taken on as a teen parent, I was scared nearly unto death.

I am a workaholic because after working two and three crappy jobs (see the earlier post) for most of my adult life it just seemed wasteful not to work 16 and 18 hour days. Even after my son was on his way to financial stability, I was still churning out the Benjamin's--just in case. The only real difference is that today I have only one job that I pour my hours into, and I make more money doing it. In my family that is the goal and I reached it. When other people hear my story, teen mom, welfare, put myself through college, son a college graduate, writes and publishes, they always say, "Your accomplishments are amazing considering where you started." At this, part of me wants to say, "Hells yeah, and it was hard." But, the larger part of my brain says, "Yeah, I know. Who would have ever expected me to be in the newspaper for anything other than a domestic abuse story or a drunk driving arrest. That long neck, abusive boyfriends, and weekend visits to my son in San Quentin are more along the lines of what I was supposed to do."

Charles Chesnutt was the first African American to earn a living as an author of popular fiction. Just prior to one of his last novels, he wrote a letter to his publisher instructing him not to advertise his work as being written by a "Negro" author. This was around 1900. Chesnutt wanted the merits of his work weighed on the same scale as his White contemporaries. When the publisher ignored Chesnutt's request, Chesnutt stopped writing. I am not equating my experiences with Chesnutt's, his burden was so much heavier than mine that there isn't even a number that can adequately describe it. Sixty years later Martin Luther King, Jr. would ask America to learn how to "judge a man not by the color of his skin but by the quality of his character." Some of us are real slow learners.

I bring up Chesnutt and King because I do have the experience of people expecting nothing of me. The scale of judgement used for me was not the color of my skin or my ethnicity. It was that quality of character that King discussed. Is it possible for an unwed, teenage parent who American society wrote off long ago as having the morals of a Guinea pig ever be a positive role model? Do we want kids to look at the poor, promiscuous, punter now grown into a proper person with all those letters following her name as someone to emulate? I think not. I think that those of us (teen parents) who move along a positive trajectory are meant to do so quietly and in gratitude for the breaks life must have given us. I think that is the role we are meant to play in American society. When you step out of line you must make every effort to step back in and be grateful if someone left a space open for you.

Because American society continues to believe that upright citizens do not have children before they are capable of supporting them, or allow their children to do so, I believe that writing this blog is very definitely career suicide (OMG she's a teacher) not because I am less qualified than anyone else but because of where I started. Once word gets out that a teen parent can also be a productive member of the community, well, who knows how many girls and boys will think that they can do it, too. This is not a life path I recommend but it is the one I chose. I am proud of my son and of my scholarly accomplishments. I believe that on a good day I am an extraordinary teacher, and on bad days I am still pretty effective. I plan to continue on my positive trajectory because now I am just curious to see where it takes me. Am I allowed to say that?