Casey Anthony's trial has led me to reflect on the mistakes I made as a young, single mother.
When Caylee Anthony disappeared in 2008, I followed the news coverage with a sick heart. I hugged my then-6-year-old daughter a little tighter and whispered multiple prayers of thanksgiving for her safety. Caylee's story made me imagine what it would be like to have a child disappear, and those thoughts terrified me on a level I didn't know existed.
As it became clear that Caylee probably wouldn't come home safely, the nation learned more about her mother, Casey. A young, single mom with an irresponsible streak, it was obvious that she wasn't ready to be a parent. And as I held my own child, it wasn't only Caylee's story that scared me, it was Casey's. Just as Caylee brought to mind my daughter, Casey reminded me of myself when she was first born. Poll: Would You Date Someone Accused Of Murder?
When I was 21 and in a relationship that I knew wasn't going anywhere, I found out I was pregnant. I was in college and waiting tables in the evenings. I worked and studied hard and partied even harder. I could write a mean literary essay and nailed all my exams. I did not, however, know what to do with a baby. Regardless, I felt strongly that keeping my baby was the right decision. I had the support of my family and hadn't yet outgrown the assumption that I was invincible. People had babies every day, and I was close to finishing a college degree, intelligent and fully capable of being the best single mom ever. I was an idiot.
When I decided to keep my daughter, I considered finances. I considered how I would finish school. I considered raising her together with her biological dad—an idea I immediately vetoed along with his half-hearted offer to continue our relationship. I even considered how to schedule her days for optimum intellectual development. But along the way, it never occurred to me to consider whether I was ready to commit to being a parent. Casey Anthony: Porn Star?
Babies are all-consuming, and after my little girl's birth I was caught up in the recovery, the feeding, the awe of her beauty, my love for her—and the pressures of keeping up in school. Once I adjusted to having a newborn and she started allowing me a full night's sleep, the real consequences of being a young single mother blindsided me: I was bored and lonely.
I was 22, single and had a baby who went to sleep by 8 p.m., which is about two hours before most college students hit the town. My friends, celebrating our impending college graduation, maintained the high-energy party life that I'd previously participated in. My young liver cried out to be abused playing Flip Cup and doing shots of Jagermeister into the wee hours of the morning—the same wee hours when my daughter would awake needing me to be a parent. I was the only one with that level of responsibility, and sometimes it flat-out sucked.
The worst part was when I felt I was ready to date. I knew it would be hard to find someone interested in dating a young mother like me. I had to consider dates as potential father figures, when really I still just wanted to go out with someone because I thought he was cute and had a decent car. In short, I was far from ready to be a parent, and I made a lot of mistakes. There were nights that I, like Casey, allowed my parents to babysit so I could go to a bar and maybe even dance on it. I dated guys that I'm embarrassed to have dated, and I was selfish enough to think that all of that, which fell far short of putting my child first, was acceptable.
But I never put my child in danger. While I was selfish and immature, I still loved my daughter from the moment I laid eyes on her, and the idea of harm coming to her terrified me as much then as it does now. My story clearly has a much happier ending than Casey's. I spent my daughter's first couple of years growing up. When she was two, I began dating a man more amazing than any of the imaginary guys I thought I was missing out on when she was an infant. He was responsible, caring and totally hot. And he loved both of us.
Our early dates were takeout and rented movies in my living room after my daughter was asleep; about as far away from games of Flip Cup as you can get. Thank. God. All of a sudden, I wasn't bored, I wasn't lonely, and I was happy—both as a mom and as half of a healthy couple. So, naturally I married the guy.
He adopted my daughter, and we have two more wonderful, healthy children together. Parenting with my husband has been nothing but a joy. When we decided to add to our family, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was ready to parent the children we were bringing into the world. While it makes me sad that I wasn't ready when I had my first daughter, I'm so incredibly grateful that I was able to focus on the love I had for her and get both of us through my immaturity unscarred.
The part of me that remembers how hard those years were, the part of me that's ashamed of the mistakes I made—that part of me hurts for Casey Anthony, too. I believe that she contributed to the death of that sweet baby, and I'm disgusted with any parent who could hurt her child. But while it saddens me that Caylee has yet to receive justice, I know that Casey's acquittal won't bring her peace. For, despite not being ready to be a parent, I'm sure she loved her little girl, and she will never be able to bring her back. I came through my season of being a single parent stronger, richer and grateful for the experience. I adore my children and wouldn't change the circumstances that brought any of them to me. But last night when I hugged my oldest daughter goodnight, Casey's verdict fresh on my mind, I said another prayer of thanksgiving that my immature mistakes never brought her harm. And then I said a prayer for sweet Caylee, whose mother will never be able to say the same.