"I had my family too early," my neighbor said.
We were standing in Loreena's living room -- my first time in her house. She had invited me over after asking me to help get her son's engagement announcement in the paper.
She was looking at Allison, running from one corner of the space to another, grabbing all of the baby-friendly items she could find. Then she plopped them on the floor in front of her. It was a smattering of stuffed animals and a birthday card she had received the day before that played music when you opened it.
"Everyone tells me how good I am with babies, but I think it's just because all my kids are grown and I'm too young for that," she said, opening and closing the card so Alli could dance to the birthday song.
I'd never really thought about it, but she did seem young considering her children's ages. I know her youngest is 29. I've heard all about him. He's a marine sergeant, stationed in Georgia and has had more than a few deployments to Afghanistan. He's getting married in October to another soldier.
I've met her daughter and her two grandchildren a few times. I know she listens to Jerry's radio show because she knew I had given birth before we had even gotten home from the hospital. Other than that, we mostly exchange pleasantries when we bump into each other outside. Every year I give her pears from our tree and she bakes us dumplings.
"I know what you mean," I said. "I don't think I could've handled motherhood even in my early twenties. I wasn't mature enough or selfless enough at that stage of my life."
"I was 16 when I had my first," she said.
After a few seconds, I realized I probably hadn't been able to hide the shock on my face very well, so I went with it. "SIXTEEN? Wow. I ... I can't even imagine. I couldn't take care of myself at that age, let alone a baby," I said. "How'd you do it?"
"I think your instincts just kick in," she said in a cooing voice meant for Alli. "And I had help."
I showed her how to submit the engagement photo and helped her fill out the form, promising to grab her a few extra papers when it ran.
Allison put an abrupt end to our visit when she started forcefully rubbing her eyes.
"Time for a nap," I said. "And a shower for me. Good god I think I have peach puree in my hair."
She had caught me on my back porch wearing mismatched pajamas watering my potted plants. No bra. Bed head. Glasses with remnants of Alli's breakfast where she had tried to pull them off my face. But the flowers were looking beyond haggard, so I had made the calculated risk of running into someone at my least glamorous.
Despite all that, Loreena has a way of making people feel at ease, so I shrugged it off and wished her a good day. She did the same, waiving good bye to Allison from our respective back porches.
Inside, I carried Alli immediately to her room, lowered her blinds and kissed her goodnight before closing her door.
As I started the water for my shower, I couldn't help but think about how different my life would've been if I had started having children 15 years ago like Loreena had. Allison would be almost driving instead of learning to walk. Would I have gone to college? Maybe commuted. Certainly not anything like the four years of independence I experienced. Or the five years of living on my own afterward.
The water felt good. Those are usually my favorite moments of every day -- the few minutes I get to myself if Allison isn't awake. If she is, I usually keep the far side of the sliding door open and she stands at the tub, throwing all of the shampoo bottles at my feet. Then I slide them up the back incline so she can do it again. And again. And again. Until I'm ready to get out.
It was an interesting day to have that conversation, I thought, working the shampoo into my hair. It was my first full day with Allison without any help since bringing her home. Jerry had left for the Steelers game with his buddies at 4 a.m. and wouldn't be home until after Allison was in bed.
The thought of having to care for a baby alone like that would've terrified me even a year ago. I wouldn't have known what to do. How to entertain her. Certainly not how to cook dinner and eat it while feeding her and clean up with her crawling around underfoot.
But not only did I survive it, we had a wonderful day. I loved every single minute of it -- from the peaches in my hair to taking a walk at dusk while she babbled incessantly.
Loreena was right. A woman's instincts really do kick in when she becomes a mother.
Regardless of when.