Oh to be 16 again. For every girl that birthday is different, and not everyone celebrates it as a huge milestone. For me, however, it was a day I looked forward to the most since my grandma always made it sound like this amazing turning point. Turning 16 was almost as exciting as turning 18, it was sort of like a “coming of age” celebration. It’s the age driving became an option, if we were mature enough, my sister and I could date, and it was my “golden” birthday. (It’s been brought to my attention that not everyone is aware of what that means, but it’s simply the birthday where your age corresponds with the date of your birthday. So for me, my 16th birthday was even more special since I turned 16 on the16th). I was so excited to be turning 16 because of all these milestones I would finally arrive at, and honestly, though I didn’t start driving until I was 20, it was everything I hoped for. I could finally date! And I finally felt “old enough” to be the age I was. (Most of my life everyone assumed I was older due to my maturity). That birthday proved to be the best one I’d had up until that point, I still recall how excited I was and hope I can create that same memory for my own daughters.
I ended up not dating much, I realized I was a pretty sensitive person and couldn’t stand the thought of getting attached to someone who could potentially break my heart. Nonetheless, going on dates was a fun time for me because it gave me a little freedom and time to enjoy things like going to dinner, the movies, miniature golfing, etc. My youth, however, was short lived because about 3 months after my brother was killed, my (now) ex and I talked about getting pregnant so we could get married-which I know sounds bizarre but it was the only way I could convince my grandparents getting married was a good idea. I was asked last night if I regretted that decision since it caused a lot of (obvious) turmoil. My (short) answer is simply this: absolutely not.
It still feels surreal that I’m celebrating my oldest daughter’s 16th birthday, though I’ve been thinking of this day since she was born. I don’t feel old enough to have a 16-year-old, maybe because I shouldn’t be. But remembering the day she was born is so significant in my mind because it was the day I became a mother for the first time. And, regardless of my age, I know I wasn’t alone in my fear since no one knows what they’re doing with their first baby. I remember when the doctor laid her on my stomach and cleaned her off, I wasn’t sure what to think. It was a strange feeling to see this little person I’d dreamed about for 9 months. She was so little (though she was 8 pounds, 9 ounces) and all I could think was, “wow, she’s finally here”. I was momentarily sad that she looked nothing like me, but I didn’t focus on it because I was in awe that I had just given birth to a little girl. Before I found out the gender, I’d prayed for a boy so I could name him after my recently deceased brother, but God had other plans. One of my aunts specifically asked me not to name her Davida, which still makes me laugh to this day. The night she was born I was sitting in the hospital bed, wanting to go to sleep but not wanting to leave her in that rickety old plastic bassinet. I asked one of the nurses if she could sleep with me in my bed, and she replied, “of course honey, she can sleep wherever you like”. I was beyond excited to have her in bed with me, and it created the tradition for the rest of my babies.
I don’t think any amount of books you read ever prepares you for the realities of having a child. And I certainly recall feeling horribly unqualified to parent an infant, regardless of my love for babies growing up. She wasn’t able to nurse long due to what the doctor called her being “tongue tied”, and I felt sad that she would be missing the amazing nutrients from breastmilk. But I did what I had to do and bottle fed, and actually enjoyed being able to let other people hold her while she ate. Being born so close to Thanksgiving, she was so tiny at her first one. Everyone passed her around and adored her, I was so proud of my accomplishment. During my pregnancy I vowed to myself to be the best mother I could be since I knew what it was like to not have one at all. Unfortunately, life got in the way and unforeseen circumstances would prevent everything I’d dreamed of, but God has a way of providing healing and I still look at her as one of my greatest accomplishments.
One of my favorite memories of her is right after my first son was born, I was feeding him and my hormones kicked in. At the time, we’d decided not to have any more kids and I was incredibly sad that he would be my last baby. Alyssa could hear me crying from the other room and asked what was wrong, but I told her nothing because she was only two and a half at the time, and I didn’t think she’d understand the term, “baby blues”. She came out and looked at me, saw that I was crying and asked again what was wrong. So I told her I was just sad that I wasn’t going to be having any more babies. She promptly climbed into the chair with me, laid her head on my shoulder, and said, “it’s okay mommy, I still love you”. I, of course, began to sob even more and hugged her tightly.
I know they say your first child is the one you learn the most from, the one you make the most mistakes with, and typically the one you feel you screwed up the most. Most moms I’m sure feel like they completely screwed their first kid up, but I think because I was so young and felt the pressure from so many people around me, I thought I was the worst mom in the world. To watch your firstborn grow into a person with feelings, ideas, flaws, successes and failures, is by far the scariest adventure. I’ve seen how God used my troubled past to help her grow and become the young woman He created her to be, and have been reminded that in order to be what I never had, I needed to offer compassion and grace in the midst of her trials and mistakes. Being a mother has changed me far more than I ever imagined when I got pregnant, ways that I am still amazed at to this day. We, in a sense, grew up together, and I really don’t think that’s exclusive to teen or young moms. Each of my children have taught me something I didn’t know before and expanded the depth of the love in my heart, for them as well as others in my life. Knowing you have people around you, watching and learning from you, forces you to take responsibility for your actions and be intentional about your life. I’m constantly aware of my tone of voice, attitude, critical remarks about myself and occasionally other people. I know I’m not perfect and my goal is to teach her, and all my children, that perfection is an illusion and it’s our imperfections, especially as mothers, that make us special.
She’ll never know what it’s like to not have a mother during her childhood or teenage years. Someone who comforted her when she was scared, who changed her sheets after throwing up, who picked out fashionable outfits for the first day of school and picture day, or to take a thousand photos of every milestone. The person who helps you get ready for proms, dates, and most significantly, your wedding day. (I will admit, this was the most exciting realization in my mind once the doctor announced I was having a girl) And though she’s blithely unaware of all the sacrifices a mother makes, as are most kids, one day she’ll become a mother and understand how much love you never knew your heart could contain when that sweet little baby comes out and looks at you with innocent eyes and a love that could only come from the One who created us. I truly feel children are God’s way of revealing to us how deeply He loves us. It’s indescribable, immeasurable, unexplainable.
I never knew becoming a mom would change me as much as it has, and that alone is reason enough to not feel regret for choosing to have a baby so young. Even with everything she and I have been through, and only really developing a bond in the past 2 years, I am so thankful God chose me to be her mom and that she’s the one who made me a mom for the first time.
So, to my sweet 16 year old daughter, here’s a little piece of my heart:
I promise to be by your side for every major milestone you go through, as well as the little ones. I will always push you to be your best because that’s my job, and I know you have it in you. I’m sorry for all the mistakes I’ve made along the way and pray you’ll forgive me, knowing I was learning right along with you. You made me a mommy, and you make me want to be the best mom because I know what it’s like to not have one. You make me proud to be your mom whether or not I say it (or show it). You have a beautiful heart and I am so in awe of how God is growing you into the woman He had in mind when He knitted you together in my womb. I’m so glad you weren’t a boy because I wouldn’t have the deeply rooted desires in my heart to give you what I never had. You’re a strong, dominant, free-spirited child of God and I know you’re going to make an amazing wife and mommy someday. Thank you for loving me, even when I didn’t deserve it, and for helping me realize that life isn’t perfect but the journey we’ve had together is worth every single heartache and failure we’ve gone through. As I go through this precious milestone with you, I hope you realize how much you’re loved. I hope you begin to see yourself the way I do, the way God does, because I never want you to doubt how amazing you are. I love you more than words can express, more than I ever thought I could, and I pray your birthday truly is a “sweet 16”!