"It had never dawned on me that people made judgmental insinuations about my parents’ marrying and having me when they were teenagers."
A Sure Bet
“I’ll bet you a Barbie doll my mom’s younger than yours.”
I wasn’t confident about much as a child, but this much I knew. My mom was the youngest mom in the whole wide world. I would have bet Barbie’s townhouse and her beauty salon on it.
I was so confident about this that each time I placed this bet, my Irish Catholic guilt spread like an ink stain upon my conscience.
“You’re on,” said my newest challenger.
“Well my mom’s only …” With a smug tone I would give the number that was seventeen years higher than my age on the day of the bet.
“You’re so lucky your mom isn’t too old to play with you,” was a common response made while handing me the coveted doll.
Clutching the coveted prize to my chest, I closed my eyes and traveled to the nearest confessional.
Hail Mary full of grace…
As I got older, pride overwhelmed my penitent spirit, so I upped the ante. My mom would have grounded me for life if she knew she was helping me to win a pack of smokes. My competition paid up when I revealed my sure bet, but now they did so with a quiet snicker.
In June of 1980, my high school graduation and eighteenth birthday were quickly approaching. I was working out my plans for the future.
“College is your trump card,” my parents said. They were counting on me to earn the first undergraduate degree in our family.
I, however, was madly in love and wouldn’t consider any options that didn’t include Wayne. My mom suggested that if he and I were destined to grow old together, my college education would only strengthen our future. She blindsided me with those sappy clichés I loved to doodle on my notebook covers.
“Love conquers all.”
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
“Honestly,” my mom said, “The personal growth you experience at college will benefit your relationship with Wayne.”
I slammed out of the house.
At first, my friends were sympathetic.
“How can they stand in the way of true love?” cried one.
“Why do they think they know everything?” said another.
And then one of them threw my winning bet right back in my face.
“If your mom’s only seventeen years older than you, think about what she was doing at your age.”
It had never dawned on me that people made judgmental insinuations about my parents’ marrying and having me when they were teenagers. I had always bragged about my mom’s age. But I had taken the gift of her youthfulness and made it a game. Now, my opponents had turned the tables. How could I convince them that her young age was a positive force in my life? How could I continue to believe it for myself when she was discouraging me from following her example?
Four months after I turned eighteen and my mom turned thirty-five, I got married.
Before she turned forty, I blessed her with two grandchildren. We were allies on the mommy front.
Through experienced eyes I could see the struggles she faced raising my three younger siblings and me. She helped me face my fears and frustrations as a young wife and mother. My mom never once said to me, “I told you so.”
Our minimal age difference became fun again.
“Your children are so well behaved!” was a compliment my mom received quite often when she was out with my kids and me. She would smile, pat me on the shoulder and say, “Yes, my daughter’s grown up quite nicely, and she is such a wonderful role model for her own children here.” Keeping people guessing our ages and relationship to one another turned into our own private game.
In June of 1997, it was I who was fast approaching thirty-five. I was visiting my mom who had been hospitalized with complications of Scleroderma, an autoimmune disease. Her body went into overdrive when producing collagen, which progressively constricted her heart’s desire to keep its natural rhythm. Between labored breaths, she talked about our upcoming August birthdays.
“Every year we receive the gift of knowing each other and ourselves a little bit more,” she said.
Her optimism couldn’t squelch my petty fear that we’d probably be eating cake from the hospital cafeteria.
“How can you envision the future when you have to fight so hard to live today?”
“As long as I have breath, there’s faith,” she said tenderly.
“When there’s no more breath, there is eternity with God. Believe that, Lynnie. Celebrate God’s gift of life, and do not be afraid.”
On the very next day, at the gentle age of not quite fifty-two, my mom found eternity.
It was excruciating to turn thirty-five without her. I felt cheated. How could I raise teenagers without my mother? Year after year, I continued to chastise myself for every time I had bragged about her age. How would I ever live beyond my loss?
Hail Mary, full of grace...
It’s taken me six years, but I’ve finally got it figured out. I fear that I could die young like my mom did. But mostly I appreciate my age. It is a helpful calculator; adding up the joys, subtracting the pain, and multiplying my blessings to the tenth degree. I rejoice where I am – at forty-one. It’s the age for exploring untapped resources and unearthing buried treasures from years gone by.
Both of my kids are in college now and love to point out that they must have the youngest mom of all the kids on campus. My playful soul encourages a response from my knowing heart.
A delightful smile sneaks across my face as I advise them: “Don’t make any bets on that!”