Since we celebrate Mother's Day this weekend, I decided to ask a mother -- Constance Warren, of East Baltimore -- what motherhood is like.
"It's rewarding sometimes and at the same time it's frustrating," Ms. Warren answers after considering my question. "When you become a mother, that's it. Playtime is over. You stay a mother 365 days of the year for the rest of your life. That's serious business. There are so many things to think about, worry about. So many things you have to do."
Ms. Warren is 17 years old. She's intelligent, well-spoken, attractive. We are sitting in a conference room at the Laurence G. Paquin School on Sinclair Lane. This is a place where expectant mothers and single parents in middle and high school JTC can continue their education while receiving special training and support for their new role as mothers. Ms. Warren, in the 11th grade, often serves as a spokeswoman for the school. She has traveled across the country, explaining the school's mission. She has talked to Baltimore-area students and appeared on television. She maintains a B-plus average and plans to major in broadcast communications in college. She seems destined to become one of the Paquin School's many success stories.
"I always tell people that my motto is: Knowledge is power," Ms. Warren said. She tells me all the proper things: That a good
education is important, and that young people must think about their future and have goals. She discusses how important it is that teens not engage in unprotected sex. The Paquin School would be proud of what she said.
But Ms. Warren's 2-year-old daughter, Tatiana, is with us for this interview. So I get an example of what motherhood is really about. Tatiana is a sturdy, bright-eyed toddler in a blue jumpsuit. While her mother is speaking, Tatiana rushes over to a decorative ceramic urn sitting near a window. She climbs up on a nearby chair, lifts the top of the urn and struggles to raise herself high enough to peek inside.
"No, Tatiana. That's a no-no," says Ms. Warren, lifting her daughter away from the pottery.
Tatiana looks around, finds a piece of chalk and an eraser and starts to put them in her mouth. Her mother takes those away and offers her a set of keys to play with. Tatiana immediately goes to a wall socket and tries to stick one of the keys into a plug.
Ms. Warren leaps to her feet. "No, no, no, Tatiana. That's dangerous. Never ever do that."
Deprived of the keys, Tatiana empties a trash can onto the floor. She climbs onto the table top to examine my tape recorder. She goes back to the ceramic urn. And Ms. Warren looks increasingly flustered.
"Taking care of a child isn't easy," she is saying -- or trying to say -- while keeping an eye on her daughter. "But taking care of a child isn't an option, it's a have-to. She's my responsibility. If I don't raise my child, who will?"
Ms. Warren attends school all day. After school, she works at a fast food restaurant until around 8 p.m. She then picks up her daughter from a baby sitter, feeds her and prepares her for bed. By about 9.30 p.m., mom has time for herself -- for studying, cleaning, preparing for the next day.
Her family, she says, have their own lives and are not able to extend much help. Tatiana's father, a 23-year-old college student in Norfolk, Va., is interested in being a father, she says, "only when it's convenient for him." (You must understand that Ms. Warren is not complaining about any of this. She simply is explaining to me -- because I asked -- what motherhood has been like for her.)
"I'm alone," she says. "It's just me and my daughter. If anything, the Paquin School is my family. They're the ones who've always been there for me."
As she is saying this, Tatiana is circling the conference table at a run, her arms flapping, laughing merrily. Ms. Warren, who was composed and articulate at the beginning of our interview, seems now to have wilted.
"I just go on, trying to be strong, trying to be there for my daughter, trying not to let her see my pain," she says wearily. "I'm focused on the future and on what my goals are for me and my daughter. Someday, I know it's going to be great. For both of us."