Last night I went to an industry party, which means I spent the entire evening dodging strangers.
Why? Because I can predict exactly when it will happen, and what will solicit the remark. I make great efforts to steer the conversation elsewhere, but tedious verbal gymnastics only delay the inevitable:
"You look too young to be a mother."
Sometimes this is a compliment, or a pickup line. But more commonly the sentiment is accompanied by crossed arms, puzzlement, dismay, and often, extremely rude questions.
Now that I'm forty this observation is also patently false - it isn't that I am literally too young, but rather, that I do not fit the stereotype of what a mother looks like. Whatever that may be.
Strangers are very clear that I should not have children at all. When they learn that my son is fifteen years old, they are amazed. When I mention my twenty-one year old daughter, they look queasy.
This is just my life, the way it has always been and will remain. I was a single teenage mother and the world at large will never forgive me, no matter how hard I work, no matter what I have accomplished.
During the early years I thought it would change as I grew older, that the intrusive comments and judgmental inquiries would abate, or somehow feel less caustic. I was wrong. If anything, it is worse now, because I've lost the rage that fuelled my ascent. I don't want to argue, debate, or explain.
On a basic level I also do not understand why anyone would question the choice to have kids, regardless of age or income or any other factor. Many of my friends are embarking on the adventure of parenthood in their late thirties and early forties, and that is a choice I would emphatically not make. I know that my body and brain are not up to it; I'm not willing to deal with the stress and chaos. The fact that I have more money now would not make any difference. I'm too old to have a baby.
My friends don't see it that way, and that is their prerogative. I don't judge them - I think it is pretty amazing that they are so optimistic, so willing to take on a massive challenge late in life.
The fact that a fair number of these friends are the very same people who were snarky about my family status twenty years ago is interesting. But it would be rude to ask them why they waited - it might hurt their feelings, or trigger traumatic memories, or whatever. And fundamentally it isn't any of my business.
Just like it wasn't their business to ask me what I was thinking back in the day.
When people say it must have been hard to be a teen mom, I shrug. When pressed I say "No. Poverty, violence, and cancer were difficult. My children were the good part."