In January of 1996, I was going about my business at college when I abruptly realized that I was probably pregnant.
I wasn’t in terrible shape mentally, considering the enormity of this bombshell. My fiancé and I had already bought a house the previous October, had already set our wedding date for that upcoming June, and had already begun the makings of a nice little start in life.
So anyway, I was talking to a classmate that day about our schedules for the new semester, and suddenly interrupted myself to blurt, “Oh shit. I might be pregnant” (paraphrasing, but that feels like how it probably went). She took it in stride, because college, and asked me when my last period was, to which I replied, “Uh…November maybe?” And then she was like, “Oh shit. You’re probably pregnant.”
That hunch paid off later in the week after a visit to the doctor’s office, when I received official confirmation. I was 20 years old, and could barely take care of myself, but for whatever reason, I felt pretty great about this baby, in spite of the fact that I had never fantasized about being either a wife or a mother.
I felt pretty great about this baby – provided, that is, that it was a boy.
See, I was a girl. (Hell, I guess I still am.) I knew girls. And I knew I didn’t want ANY part of what girls brought to the table. I couldn’t even fix my own hair (then or still). I remembered crying when my mom even brushed mine. I remembered mean girl tricks, beginning in the THIRD GRADE and moving along right into adulthood. I remembered just preferring to be friends with boys from an early age, because they were so much easier to understand. It’s not that I identified as a boy, but I did identify as barely a girl.
Periods. First dates. Lots of crying. Dramatic showdowns.
Nope, nope, no way, and NOPE.
Fast forward to my July ultrasound, where my new husband and I tried, and failed, to understand the blurry blob we were looking at on the screen. When the tech asked if we wanted to know the sex, we both blurted “YES!” And when she revealed that it was a boy, I was – we were – overjoyed. Thrilled. I felt like Jimmy Stewart at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. “It’s a boy! It’s a boy, old movie house! It’s a boy, Mr. Potter!” I told EVERYONE. Even and especially if they didn’t ask, or showed no interest.
And then, by the next day, I began to freak out that there was a mistake and it was actually a girl, and oh god what if it WAS? To prepare, I halfheartedly bought a couple of dresses at a yard sale, and painted the nursery a neutral yellow – you know, to be safe. It was only when we had checked into the hospital and the nurses said they needed a name for a boy AND a girl that we hastily settled on a girl name – Alanis Marie, after my favorite singer, plus my aunt’s middle name. Boom. We had all our bases covered.
But then…it WAS a boy.
There was no feeling, before or since or ever, that has compared to the feeling I got when I met my son. I couldn’t believe I was looking at the person who had kicked the remote off my stomach from the inside, who had taught me what heartburn was, who had hung with me nonstop for what felt like 17, but was actually just past nine, months. My baby. My angel. My special purpose.
Man, was I glad he wasn’t a girl.
I continued to be glad, all through his non-dramatic, super-chill childhood. When I didn’t have to have the sex talk with him because I was a girl and he was a boy, and really, what did I know? When I didn’t have to talk about periods. And when he was in first grade and decided to grow out his hair to donate to Locks of Love, he brushed it and cared for it himself.
I got pretty lucky all the way around with the kid.
He had a couple of girlfriends, one in middle school, one in high school, and I adored them both (and still think very highly of them). But then he turned 16, and morphed right into a punk.
His dad and I were lucky to have made it that far before there were problems. Most parents didn’t have that luxury. But Hunter packed a lot of worry into those last two years of high school. And I came to not trust anything he said or did (anyone who’s navigated teen-dom, or known a teen, or watched a show about teens once, should know what I’m talking about here).
It was at the beginning of his senior year that he and I got a house on our own. I was going through a divorce with his stepfather. It felt like a great idea – almost a sitcom. We’d both have a fresh start, hijinks would ensue, the laugh track would be on perpetually, and maybe there’d even be a Hallmark movie about us.
That rosy outlook lasted almost no time at all. Soon after we got our little house, I woke up in the middle of the night and heard…a girl’s voice in the next room. I really, really wanted to know who this person was, but I also really, really knew I needed to be at work early. Hunter was 18 at this point. I was jaded. I told myself to find out who she was, and make sure he knew that I was not EVEN about this little sneak-around, even though I had absolutely done the same kind of shit myself when I was a senior in high school. At the very least, I vowed, I’d tell him to be careful.
Anyway, I didn’t. But one day soon after, I came home from work early, and caught her there. To my surprise, it didn’t seem like he was trying to hide her, though. In fact, he introduced me to her proudly, and I knew instantly that this was something different. I was worried, first of all, upon discovering that she was a sophomore. And she looked like a young sophomore. Braces. Glasses. Just a fresh-faced kid, really. But she was bubbly from the beginning. Friendly. To be honest, on that first day, I was more worried for her, that he would break her heart, than I was for him.
I kept my guard up for a long time with them. It was not great, timing-wise, for my kid to get tangled up with an innocent, and especially a younger, girl. Hunter was going through a rough time, and I felt like he needed to really focus on staying well and graduating. Girls – any girls at all – were a distraction he didn’t need.
But she stayed. And the next month, when she turned 16 (on HALLOWEEN, my favorite day of the year!), she got a job at the movie theater I managed. And damned if I didn’t start to like her even more. She was funny. She was quirky. She did the work I asked all of my staff to do but few did.
And eventually, I met her parents, and two little brothers. And of course, they were also all great. And, most importantly, they loved my son. When Hunter managed to graduate that May, they got him a fantastic gift basket, beautifully put together in the colors of the college he had chosen to attend.
My only worry at that point, and it wasn’t even a real worry, was that these two had found each other too soon. Young love doesn’t often last.
Unfortunately, they were no exception. Hunter struggled at the college he had initially chosen. He shut himself off, and down, from the world. And,18 months or so after I first met sweet Shelby, they had broken up.
The difference between her and previous girlfriends was that, this time, Hunter didn’t bounce back and move on immediately. He didn’t carry forth, as if nothing had happened. He pined. He talked about her frequently. He didn’t have any interest in any other girls. He spent months like this, having dropped out of school, going through that awful period of fresh adulthood where you’re just not ready to grow up, but definitely not ready to stay a kid. And, eventually, he decided that he was going to pull himself together and win her back.
And this girl, this tiny little girl with the braces, this little girl who was maybe 100 pounds dripping wet, made him work for it. She didn’t put up with his shit. She didn’t accept excuses. She shut him down until he was ready to grow up. She blew him off until he was really ready to be responsible. (She told me later that her mom had taught her not to settle, and not to put up with less than she deserved. That was the day I realized that her emotional maturity at 18 far outweighed mine at 40.)
And it was then, when they were apart and I saw my son, for whom life had come effortlessly for so many years, work harder than he ever had to gain her trust, that I fell in love with Shelby, too.
I saw that they supported each other, and pushed each other to be better people. I saw that when one was down, the other was there with a hand to help. I saw that they were, truly, best friends. And when they got back together, it was better than any will-they-or-won’t-they TV couple. I’m not sure who was happier – me or them. (It felt like me, but we may never know for sure.)
Shelby graduated from high school, and went on to college at Northwest Missouri State University on an art scholarship (she is an amazing artist, and I don’t say that lightly). And Hunter followed. He got a job in a factory, which, as factory jobs have done for so many, quickly pushed him to go back to school. He put in double hours while maintaining a full-time job so that now, three years later, the two of them will graduate together. And after that? They’re moving HERE!, while Shelby goes to grad school and Hunter, hopefully, finds a teaching position.
This is all a long-winded backstory to the point I really came here to make (and anyone who knows me, knows that it’s pretty much how I always am): this beautiful boy, and this beautiful girl…got engaged today.
And my heart may explode before I finish writing this.
With Shelby, that whole “I’m not losing a son, I’m gaining a daughter” stuff makes sense. And the irony is not lost on me.
All of those years ago, and all of those years since, the last thing I wanted was a daughter. I didn’t want the mess. The drama. The loudness. The hair brushing. The makeup stuff. The fighting.
But Shelby taught me that a daughter was exactly what I was waiting for, all this time, without even knowing it. So it is that, long after I thought having a child was behind me, I finally got my little girl.
And guys – she. is. BEAUTIFUL.