(Copyright 2001. The Tattoo. All rights reserved.)
Making a permanent impression since 1994
Two kids and a job at 18
By Mike Nguyen
You can’t tell Anna is only 18.
Holding one of her hands recently was her daughter, a shy three-year-oldgirl in yellow pajamas, and on her other arm was another girl, a smiling seven-month-old stuffed in a puffy pink jacket.
"She's a really happy girl," Anna said about her youngest daughter, Aisha,and "she barely ever cries."
A content, healthy baby is one of the simple pleasures Anna is grateful for.
While other 18-year-olds are starting a new chapter of their lives incollege or other typical post-high school pursuits, Anna’s been hit with reality since she was 16, when she became pregnant with her oldest daughter, Michelle.
Before Michelle was born, she married the child’s father. They both work tosupport the family, and he attends UConn. With two little children, two jobs and not much income, it’s not easy.
Anna is one of five especially needy Bristol teenagers that The Tattoo isprofiling this holiday season.
The project, called The Tattoo Christmas Presence, aims to spur kindhearted readers to donate gifts or checks to help those teens have a merrier Christmas. The Tattoo enlisted the help of The Family Center and the Bristol Emergency Shelter in finding teenagers to feature in the stories.
Anna wasn’t ready to be a teenage mother.
At first, she said, "I was kind of embarrassed." She remembered wishing she could "freeze them in time" so she could be a normal teenager "and come back when I was ready."
But Anna couldn't, so she had her baby at 17 and finished high school.
"It was very hard. I'd sometimes wake up with morning sickness.," she said.
"If I had to do it again, I don't know if I would be able to do it. It was horrible. I would wake up early, get them breakfast, and go to school. I'd be up all night."
Reflecting on how life would've been without children, she said, "I'd still be having fun, hanging out rather than worry about them getting sick."
When she got pregnant, Anna moved away from home -- leaving behind friends and the regular end to an already stressful high school career -- and married the baby’s father. She’d been seeing him since she was 13.
"I wouldn't say I was in love when we met," Anna admitted. "We fell in love when I got preg-nant. [Our love] just keeps going, [and] getting stronger."
"He's always there for my kids. I'd be scared to lose him," she said. She's thought about life without her husband, and said she’d be scared of her daughters asking, "Who's my daddy?"
Her husband works and attends college.
Two years after Michelle was born, Anna had her second child, Aisha.
"The second time around, it was harder," she said, but added her first pregnancy was still diffi-cult with school and everything.
The Family Center and her own family helped her through the difficult times, Anna said.
"They helped in every way they could," she said, providing her with a job in the baby room at Bristol Central High School where the children of students can stay while their mothers study.
Anna said her biggest support came from her father-in-law and her own mother.
But at first, she said, her mother wouldn’t talk to her for a month.
"That was hard," she admitted.
Eventually, her mother became very supportive, even organizing a baby shower that brought many essential items for her kids and giving her two cars for transportation.
Anna has looked ahead to her own relationship with her daughters and worries they’ll make the same mistake that she and many teenagers make.
Gazing at Michelle searching for a toy, she said, "I want her to be a kid. I hope she will go to college. I hope they [Michelle and Aisha] have a good life."
Anna even sees possible careers for her kids.
"Michelle, she’s playing with doctor things a lot. She might be a doctor. Aisha, she has a strong voice. She might be a singer."
But for the present, Anna balances priorities between her and her children.
"When I want a pair of sneakers, it’s hard," she said. She has to think about what her children will eat or what they need.
"I’m always the last one. I have to think about my kids," Anna said. "I want my kids to have it better than I have. I see other kids with good clothes and I wish I had that for my kids."
While caring for her daughters, working 16 hours a week, and also cleaning houses on the weekend for extra money, Anna hopes that she can get one nice night out for herself or with her husband.
"I have to save a little just to go out," she said.
Her wish is to one day be able to take her family to Disney World. She said she’s trying to save for that trip.
For now, Anna hopes that she can get some diapers for Aisha, "stuff for my house, and clothing for my kids."
Possible donations for Anna would be gift certificates to a restaurant or the movies, a babysitter for the night, toiletries, and non-essentials for the home.
Anna said she never regrets having both Michelle or Aisha, no matter how much she has to endure. She said she hopes, most importantly, that young girls wishing to fool around or wanting to have a child will think and "just to be careful, because you might mess up your life for a moment of fun."
She added, "Don’t rationalize it. Life’s too short, have fun. Be a kid."
Donations for Anna and other struggling teens can be dropped off at The Bristol Press, 99 Main St., during normal business hours. Checks may be sent to The Tattoo’s Christmas Presence/ c/o Steve Collins and Jackie Majerus, P.O. Box 483, Bristol, CT 06011-0483.
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