Making the Tough Choices

It’s a Saturday morning, and I’m meeting Samantha and her daughter for breakfast at the Olympic restaurant in Kernersville. It’s the second time in a few months that I’ve met Samantha for breakfast, but the first time that I’ve met her daughter. I approach them as they sit on the bench outside the restaurant. It’s a warm spring day with a gentle breeze that blows the mother’s and daughter’s hair around.  I say hello to Samantha and introduce myself to her daughter—a very cute three-year-old with wispy brown hair, purple Frozen sunglasses, and a sweet but shy smile. I try to give her a fist bump, but she isn’t having any of that. We all go into the restaurant and have a seat at the table. Samantha and I talk about how things are going for her as her daughter continues to be shy, hiding her face from me as she sits on her mom‘s lap. The conversation is mostly generic—how things are going, how her job is, how things are at home, how preschool for her daughter is. Samantha knows I’m interested in writing an article about her. I’m not sure if she understands why, however. I’m not sure she understands that she and her daughter are special. So, it’s my job to tell you Why.

Seven years ago, I was a fifth-grade teacher at a local elementary school.  In this particular year, I had a student named Samantha. Samantha was one of those students you don’t forget. She had what I would refer to as,”spunk.”

She had that personality that was never disrespectful, but she’d tell you the way it is, nonetheless. I liked those kinds of students. Was Samantha the best and the brightest? No. But she worked hard. And knowing what I know now, I have come to have an incredible amount of respect for her. You see, just like everyone, Samantha had a story. And, she has continued to have a story. One that I feel the need to share because I do admire this young lady and the obstacles she has not only faced, but is overcoming as we speak.

Halfway through our breakfast, Samantha‘s little girl starts opening up. I watch with lightheartedness as she sticks her finger into the small cup of butter and smears it onto the Minnie Mouse-shaped pancake that the waitress was kind enough to bring out, even though we didn’t order a pancake. Samantha tells me about her life. She’s only 19 years old. But she’s gone through more than some adults go through in a lifetime. At the age of three, her parents divorced. Three years later, her mother was killed in a tragic auto accident. In just the first six years of her life, Samantha was facing some very harsh realities.  Samantha’s father remarried, but divorced that woman later. Toward the end of her 8th-grade year, Samantha became pregnant. Needless to say, she was scared—scared of what lay ahead, scared of what her father would think and say, scared of the unknown. The father of the child immediately denied that it was his.  Samantha not only felt betrayed, but almost alone in what she was facing.  At school, other kids were more interested in touching her growing belly.   Behind her back, they were talking, as, sadly, most will do. She had one good friend who was supportive. But other than that one friend, Samantha was on her own. I asked Samantha if she ever considered other options. Her immediate response was, “Never.”   My respect for her grew profoundly. You see, as someone who was raised by my grandparents, later abused by my parents, and then adopted, I am very well aware that my own mother could have made a choice that would have resulted in me never existing.  Samantha made that same choice. She chose LIFE.  She could have taken the easy way out. But instead, she chose to carry through with her pregnancy and give birth to a beautiful little girl who would change her life forever.

Samantha asks our waitress for a box. Now, toward the end of our meal, her little girl is showing her bubbly side. She’s actually talking to me. I’ve earned some of her trust. For the record, Samantha finished her GED. She has a job and has also been working on painting. She has an interest in perhaps selling her work someday. She lives with her father, and while the situation may not be ideal, she stays focused on raising her daughter, working hard, and trying to keep her own life on track. She wants her daughter to learn from her own past.  And just like any parent, she wants a better life for her precious little girl.

I follow Samantha and her daughter out of the restaurant.  The sweet little girl with her purple sunglasses (a bit crooked on her face) carries her to-go cup of orange juice. I finally get that fist bump I was hoping for. I tell them both we will do this again in another month or so. As I get in my car and drive back toward home, I wave goodbye to Samantha and her daughter. I feel blessed to be just a small part of a former student’s life—a former student who has made some very tough choices, and whom I have all the respect in the world for.


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