My mom had me at the age of 20, unwed. She is part of a large Catholic family.
That was 31 years ago. Today, my parents, sisters, and I discuss my moms' and my early years in an "against all odds" way-- "despite the fact the her parents momentarily disowned her... despite the fact that we were poor... despite the fact that my mom was uneducated... despite the fact that my biological father was an alcoholic... WE MADE IT, against all odds!"
It's more obvious than ever that my mom and I made it despite many odds. I feel ashamed to admit that until now, I've never considered so deeply how privileged my less-privileged experience was.
I was born more audacious than my mom was prepared for. I was born energetic, risk-averse, and curious. My mom's attempts at constraint and protection were only necessary to a certain extent. Ultimately, I was a white girl in a white world and that was better than being a Black or Brown girl in the same world.
My mom got herself into trouble; I got myself into trouble; we are still getting in trouble. These last few days, my past experiences and decisions have been keeping me up at night. I wonder: If my mom were Black, how would my experience be different? Would we even be alive?
If my mom were black, would our lives have looked like this?
My mom gets pregnant at age 19. She immediately receives the healthcare she needs.
My mom's parents are able to care for her and myself in our early months.
My mom is not questioned when she applies for, and receives, food stamps and housing assistance. She only needs such welfare for one year.
My mom is able to apply for jobs and earn an income, despite being less educated, young, and limited by childcare.
My mom is able to get childcare.
My mom is able to search for apartments in a variety of neighborhoods.
My mom is able to find an apartment she can afford. And even if she can't really afford it, she isn't questioned extensively by her landlord.
When my mom is forced to call the cops when her alcoholic baby daddy comes knocking, the neighbors don't call the cops, too.
My mom isn't shot by those cops, and neither is her baby daddy.
My mom is able to, in good faith, claim economic independence from her baby daddy, to relinquish his requirement to pay child support. Because she knows she can get a job and that her family can help her.
My mom has options when considering how to raise me.
At a company picnic, the man who is to become my adopted father, who doesn't yet know me, starts casually playing games with me.
My mom eventually introduces this new boyfriend to her family. They welcome him.
My mom has a variety of choices when considering where she and my father will be married.
Nearly 250 people show up for their wedding, glad to support this beautiful couple.
My dad is able to adopt me, two years later, with unquestioning support from the judge.
Our family is able to relocate, finding new jobs and new homes, at-will and often.
My parents are playful with their livelihoods, starting small businesses, renovating our homes, decorating their children's rooms.
My parents have options when considering which school to send my sisters and I to.
My mom returned to school at age 30 to earn her first degree.
My mom lets me play in the street for hours into the night. She lets me walk to school. She lets me explore my suburban world.
My mom allows me to choose which sports and hobbies I pursue, from a myriad and never-ending stream of options.
My mom attends every event where I am nominated a leader in my endeavors-- Team Captain(s), 3rd in Class GPA, Student Body President, etc.
My mom receives me when I am returned home by the cops, or come running from parties busted by the cops, in one piece and alive.
My mom's hard work elevates her through the ranks of various non-profit companies, until she became an Executive Director. My mom asks for, and is awarded, substantial income raises.
My mom encourages me to attend, and pay for, an expensive education. She has faith that I will be gainfully employed thereafter.
My mom accepts my boyfriends, and they accept her.
When I mess up, my mom and I recognize that I have many opportunities to rectify the situation.
Society recognizes my mom and my mistakes as bad decisions, not an expression of who we are as people.
My mom reads every resume I send her from every type of job I can find. She knows that I will not be limited by my skin color, my name, or my education when applying.
My mom watches when the local news features me on a story about "the New American dream."
When I struggle with an eating disorder, my mom finds me treatment and is able to get a loan to foot the bill.
My mom knows that I am being cared for in a compassionate, non-judgmental way.
My mom supports my travels and international relocation. In some cases, like my visit to India, my mom acknowledges this is an opportunity to feel like a racial "other."
My mom instills in me the belief that, if I work hard enough and creatively, I can find within our society the things I need to live a happy, healthy, and prosperous life.
I can only write some of these questions. They get stuck in my throat when I try to speak them.
Like, "If my mom were black, would my adopted father have played with me at the company party? Would the judge have approved his adoption decree?" I think that my dad would have played with me, even if he is white and my mom were black. I think that the judge would have approved a mixed-race adoption. But... if they were someone else... or more white people were watching... would they have made the good decisions that they made? Would anyone in that situation have done so then? Would anyone do so now?
Emily Stewart is an insatiably curious merrymaker and busy-body.
Everything on this website is Copyright © 2017 by Emily E. Stewart, Sole Trader. All rights reserved.
Special thanks to Paul K. Porter, who's pictures appear most frequently on the site, for being the best yoga retreat photographer EVER.