The deepest principle in the human nature is the craving to be appreciated. — William James, author
Erica handed the food stamps to the grocery store clerk. She tried to appear natural, as if it didn’t bother her that the government,
not she, supported her child. Two-month-old Kayla lay fastened in the shopping-cart baby seat. The clerk had smiled at the baby but didn’t ask Erica any of the friendly questions new mothers typically get. Instead, Erica spotted something else in the woman’s gaze. Disapproval, with a hint of accusation.
Erica tucked her change into her jacket pocket and loaded her few bags of groceries into the cart. Before reaching the exit Erica noticed an elderly woman approaching. The woman’s eyes fastened intently on Kayla. At least someone’s interested in giving my baby some well-deserved attention, Erica thought.
Kayla’s pacifier wiggled up and down with each suck. Erica started to smile as the woman’s frail hand reached toward Kayla’s face. But instead of stroking the baby’s cheek, the woman plucked the pacifier from her mouth.
“That thing’s nasty.” She dropped it into Erica’s trembling hand. “Don’t you know not to use those things?” The woman stalked away before Erica could respond. Heat crept up Erica’s neck to her face. Ignoring the customers who had witnessed the scene, she hurried to her small, blue hatchback.
Erica struggled to hold back the tears. Did they think she was a bad mother? That she was a failure because of her age?
Erica fastened Kayla in her car seat with a peck on her forehead. She then plopped the groceries into the trunk and slid into the driver’s seat.
It was always the same. The looks. The comments. The lack of respect. Even a few weeks ago at the doctor’s office, her valid concerns for her daughter had been ignored.
“It’s just colic,” the doctor had claimed, rushing off to visit the next low-income patient. It was only Erica’s persistence, days later, which brought more tests and a better diagnosis. Having a baby at her age was difficult enough, but the reactions of those around her made being a mother all that much harder.
What if they’re right? she wondered. What if I can’t do this? What if they know something I don’t?
Erica thought back to just one year ago. She’d worked hard at school and her report card reflected those efforts. She’d trained her body to perform on the soccer field. The stellar plays and winning season were her rewards.
What about this motherhood thing? She tried to do it right. Erica gave her baby plenty of time, attention, and love. She even practiced the baby massage techniques she’d learned in her Teen MOPS group. But was her hard work paying off? How could she know when there was no report card or scoreboard to judge her efforts?
Erica’s hands gripped the steering wheel as she thought back to the question she’d heard many times. “Just how old are you?” She always told the truth, and she always received the same look of disapproval. Perhaps these people at the grocery store, at the doctor’s office, knew something she didn’t.
Erica glanced back at Kayla, now asleep in her car seat. Could she do it? This mom thing? Or was she just a kid playing dress up, fooling no one except herself?
I do feel inadequate. I cry sometimes and have even had a few anxiety attacks, but therapy is a luxury for us working poor. — Travis, Michigan
Some people have given me dirty looks when they see me with my baby. Others look at me and sigh. But some people are very nice when they see what a good mom I am. — Diana, Washington