By Dwight Hobbes
It's one of those things that are heartwarming even while it's heartbreaking. I'm on the bus, watching this lovely young lady and her baby. The lady, actually, is a teenager. Between 16 and, well, let's just say that if she was much beyond 17-years-old that would be pushing it. And the child, maybe three-years-old, tops. She's clean and well-dressed; and so is her baby. She looks at me and I stop staring, fishing in my shoulder bag to go through my mail. It's one of those things that are heartwarming even while it's heartbreaking. I'm on the bus, watching this lovely young lady and her baby. The lady, actually, is a teenager. Between 16 and, well, let's just say that if she was much beyond 17-years-old that would be pushing it. And the child, maybe three-years-old, tops. She's clean and well-dressed; and so is her baby. She looks at me and I stop staring, fishing in my shoulder bag to go through my mail.
Then she asks, "Excuse me. Aren't you that guy from the paper? From Insight?"
It turns out that indeed, I am, and we find ourselves getting off to a nice, polite little conversation. The more we talk, the more that two-edged feeling assails me.
This, clearly, is nobody's knucklehead. Melody – I cannot recall her name, never the less, I've changed it for this piece; and besides, the conversation took place months ago, lasting a few minutes on a bus ride – completely dispels the stereotype we too often see borne out in front of our eyes. Instead of being brash, she has that ever-increasing rarity among today's youth: manners. Instead of butchering the English language, she communicates in sensible sentences. Instead of giving the kid Kool-Aid and barbecue-flavored Cheese Doodles for a snack, she has a piece of fruit handy for her child. And to my joy, Melody has a head on her shoulders. Never mind exactly what we talked about – I'm sure she doesn't remember any better than I do – it was about the quality of the interaction: the young lady was respectful, curious and, little one in tow, inhabited her circumstances, facing the day with a positive attitude. In a day and age when throngs of adolescent girls are consigned, trapped by a snotty attitude, foul mouth and self-sorry outlook to sustain the reality of welfare queens, she is a bright, miraculously shining exception.
On the other hand, Melody has no business bearing a child at her age. Not if she's going to get anywhere in life. How's she going to go to college? If she even gets in, how will she juggle the full time jobs of being a mom and being a student, either of which is enough to tax one's wits or nerves into a state of constant overwhelming stress? And, the fact is, without college – at least an associate degree – where else you goin' work today except getting paid chump change to take orders at McBurger Thing? That is a vaguely viable means of starting employment, but by no means anything anyone wants to count on as a career.
I step off the bus, thanking Melody for saying, "Hi" and, pushing on home, wish her all the best.
There are, I remind myself, successful women who've transcended Melody's situation and who've done so with room to spare. Sharon Sayles Belton, after all, was a single mom who didn't let it keep her from becoming mayor of Minneapolis – and, while we're at it, the last Minneapolis mayor nobody could accuse of kissing up to the police department. And of course you needn't grow up and be mayor to still amount to something.
At length, I'm reflecting on the young lady's comportment and feeling hopeful. Because, bottom line, it really isn't so much about what kind of load you carry in life. Not as much as it is about how you carry yourself. And I'm here to tell you that young Miss Melody carries herself like a winner.