Twenty-six. That's how old I was when I had my son. It hardly falls under the umbrella of the teen years, but, in my middle-class suburban community the mid-20s are essentially the extended part of adolescence that in no way comes close to touching adulthood. I might as well have been 16 and pregnant.
When my son was three, we went to the playground every day. And every day, the other moms sat together, hovering over some magazine article or a book (this was in the pre-tablet, pre-everyone-has-a-smartphone days of 2003). I stood somewhere around the slide, cautiously watching my three-year-old climb up the slide while keeping the other moms in sight. They laughed, they gently nudged each other in that "insider" way, and they slyly looked over at me. To them, I was a nanny.
Why? Because when you see a 20-something with a preschooler, she's obviously not the mom. Right? I mean, what suburban mom didn't fill her 20s with late nights of drunken karaoke, interning for a ridiculously demanding grinch while putting off getting married, buying a house and starting a family until she was well on her way to 40?
Sure, there are the obvious issues surrounding motherhood. There's the financial part: If I have a kid now, I'm poor because I haven't started my career yet, have no savings and have 10 to 30 years of student loan payments to look forward to vs. I've had a career for years and actually have a 401k. There's the maturity part: I'm still hanging out at bars and sleeping in until noon vs. I already wake up at 6 a.m. to go to work, have started looking into getting a minivan and am definitely not a credit risk.
It wasn't until the playground parents shunned me, assuming I was actually a nanny and not a full-fledged mommy like they were, that I realized there was anything odd or off about getting pregnant before 30.
I started to think back about the first few years of my son's life. Were the playground parents the first people to assume that I was "nanny age" and not "mommy age"?
There was the time when my mom and I took my then-newborn son out shopping. As we made our way out of the Gap, an older man stopped us, looked at my slender mom, smiled and said, "Wow, honey, you look amazing for just having had a baby!"
She smiled, basking in the glow of that man unknowingly saying she looks young, and said, "I'm the grandma."
Stunned — that was look on the man's face. He looked at my mom, he looked at me, and he walked away mumbling something that sounded like, "Oops, sorry ladies."
Since when did being or looking young preclude me from giving birth?
A decade or so later, I have plenty of now-40ish friends who are spending their days pushing around strollers and moaning over their sleepless oh-my-goodness-the-baby-won't-stop-crying nights, as I'm having actual conversations about what the hell is wrong with Donald Trump with my teenage son. It's funny — while I felt like a mommy-outcast for having a baby in my mid-20s, my 40-something friends worry that they were too old to become first-time parents.
Yes, I might have traded late-night beer bottles for even later-night baby bottles. I might not have had a solid career, mounds of money in a secure savings account, or a shiny new Volvo station wagon in the driveway when I had my son. But none of that made me any less of a mom than the playground parents.
No one tells you that you're too young to get a job at 26. Instead, they applaud your ambition. No one says, "Hey, don't buy that house. You're in your 20s and way too young." Instead, they call you "mature." So, why take that sly eye towards me on the playground, wondering how someone so young could possibly mother a child?
As a now-40-something, I couldn't care less how old you are as a first-time mom. And I get it — being a mom in your 20s (or a mom at all, for that matter) isn't for everyone. But being an older mom isn't for everyone either.