I am the child of a teen mom. Yep, my mother was only 18-years old when I arrived. My father was only a year older. There they were, kids, just starting out in life, and here I came, born on the front seat of my dad’s Ford Fairlane on the way to the hospital.
The year was 1954, and my father was in the Army, stationed at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina. My parents had so many things going against them—lack of education, lack of money, lack of experience. So many lacks!
And yet, there they were, happy to have each other, and happy to welcome me.
Of course, that was half a century ago; times have definitely changed. Nowadays when we hear about teens having babies, it rattles us. We can’t help but think about all the disadvantages that come along with parenting at such an early age. For so many teen moms, parenting spells the end to a higher education; it means a life of constantly trying to make ends meet. Statistically, it puts their children in a lower socio-economic caste, and that all by itself creates huge problems.
I’m not at all advocating for teen parenting. I think it’s risky for everyone—parents and babies alike.
However, in my book Keeper, it was important to me that Signe become Keeper’s guardian while she—Signe—was still a teenager, not because I wanted to make a point about becoming a teen parent. Rather, it was my way of saying that when put to the test teens are capable of so much more than we tend to give them credit for. In a million ways it was an homage to my own teen mom.
Is it a perfect situation for a teenager to become a mother? No. But the world is not perfect. And I worked hard in my book to show that Signe took her responsibilities so seriously that she did whatever it took to care for Keeper. Just like my own mother did for me.
So what does all of this have to do with wishful thinking? Keeper is all about wishing. Wishing on stars, wishing on mermaids, wishing on the blue moon. And here’s what I think: that wishing is how we start out. We wish for all kinds of things, for wealth, for happiness, for material gains. But at the end of the day, when there is love in the mix, there is actually space for wishing. My mother loved me and continues to love me, and because of that, I have had room for wishing. Love makes that room. What I wanted to show in Keeper was that Signe would have loved her tall, lanky girl regardless of whether she was fifteen or fifty. And as a result, Keeper knew what love meant in her own life.
Signe’s huge capacity for love had nothing at all to do with her age. It had to do with her heart. So here’s a wish on my part: that we spend less time asking about age, and more time making room for wishes. That, as Keeper would say, would be “Cooleoleo!”
--- Kathi Appelt
--- Kathi Appelt