Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Teen Pregnancy Rates Right in Our Own Backyard

As Texans, we thrive on being the best at everything. It began even before Texas entered the union as what was then the biggest state and carried on through the days of Friday Night Football and UT championships. And guess what - we are continuing with the "we're number one" attitude - in repeat teen pregnancy rates. Yes, that is right - the state of Texas leads the nation in the number of teenagers having two or more babies before they reach the age of 20. AND, do you care to guess which city is #1 in Texas? - you've got it. Big "D", little "a", double "l" "a" "s". DALLAS.

We can sit here all day and debate all the reasons why teens find themselves pregnant- it doesn't matter. What does matter is that children are having children and they are having more than one while they are still children. Children of teenage parents are more likely to:
1. perform more poorly in school
2. have fewer fine motor skills.
3. have more behavioral problems.
4. be raised in poverty.
5. drop out of school.
6. be incarcerated as adults.
7. be teen parents themselves.

So where does Hope Cottage fit into all this? By offering a free program to area high school and middle school students called "The ABCs of Adoption". This program
de-romanticizes teen pregnancy and also addresses the myths and misconceptions of adoption. Last year close to 1,000 teens went through the program and came out with some great knowledge about what being a teen parent really takes and the fact that adoption is an option for someone experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.

If you are interested in learning more about this program and education programs offered by Hope Cottage, contact Brooks at 214.526.8721, ext. 212.

And for once, let's let another state be number one!

At Last I Know Who I Really Am - Part III

They talked all summer, sprawled on the floor munching candy bars and drinking diet sodas. They pored over family snapshots. They discovered they sang in the same register, laughed in the same key. Betty's 24-year marriage was on the verge of dissolving when Shannon found her, and she was grieving still for a son killed in an automobile accident five years earlier. It had been a long time since Betty had had very much to laugh about.

Inevitably, the conversation would its way back to Gatesville and June 5, 19XX - to the morning Betty first laid eyes on Shannon father, Don Tolin.

"I was on my way to the drugstore," Betty told her, "when this young soldier stepped out of the bank. He said something I didn't catch, but I turned around and I guess I smiled. He said I had the cutest smile he had ever seen and he wasn't going to let anybody with a smile that cute get away."

That's how it began. Don was 23, college educated, a Yankee, a sharp dresser with a new red car. Betty was 15, a farm girl in the 10th grade.

Dating Don, "I was like a celebrity in that little town," Betty remembers. "It was all very romantic. We'd been going together for just about six months when he proposed. We talked about getting married when school let out. But then, come February, I found out that I was going to have a baby."

When Don heard the news, he suggested they elope, but Betty would not hear of it. "I'd always dreamed of a real wedding-of walking down the aisle and saying 'I do' with family and friends there in the church", she says. "I wanted the hole thing." Don tried a second time, came by her house and asked her to leave with him that very night. "He was in uniform-I'd never seen him in uniform before-and I probably should have guessed that he had been discharged and was heading back home to Indianapolis. But I told him no. And then I waited and waited. It finally dawned on me that he wasn't coming back. I threw his ring into the Brazos river. It just didn't mean anything to me anymore."

When the time came, Betty went to Hope Cottage and had her baby. She named her Donna Gayle and immediately put her up for adoption. Betty saw Don once after that-two years later, when his reserve unit returned to Texas. "That ended with another argument," Betty says. "He wanted me to help him find Donna Gayle. I told him I wouldn't disrupt her life. I knew she'd been well placed, that she had more than I could ever hope to give her."

Shannon swears that what happened next just...happened. "It was my birth mother I had always identified with and fantasized about," Shannon says, "but the more Betty talked about Don-he was so this and so that and so the other-the closer I got to thinking,'Hey, I want to know him too.'" Finding him, however, was something else again. This time she had no tattletale number with which to begin her paper chase. She started in Indianapolis and wound up calling all the Tolins in all three Indiana area codes. None of the Tolin families had ever heard of a Donald Lee.

She tried the Army Reserve Board. His records had been among those destroyed in a fire some years earlier. She asked Baylor University to search its transcripts. Nothing. Then Betty decided it might have been Mary Hardin Baylor, a community college close to Gatesville, where Don had taken classes. Its records had also been destroyed in a fire.

"I had worked at it almost full-time for a month and had come up empty," Shannon says. "Without something solid to go on I was flat stymied. But then, just before midnight on July 3, Betty called to tell me her brother-in-law, An Army officer, had turned up Don's date of birth. I new I had him then. If he was anywhere in the country, a computer would find him." She enlisted the help of a police officer friend. It took only minutes: Donald Lee Tolin, male Caucasian, 5'11", 185 pounds, brown hair, green eyes...This current address? Dallas, Texas-not 15 minutes from Shannon's own house.

Long lost fathers, she had been cautioned, tend to be more suspicious than long lost mothers. And indeed, it took some persuading by a go-between to get Don to agree to a Friday get-together with Shannon and Betty. "But I couldn't wait for Friday," Shannon says. "I went to his office ahead of time, walked in on him unannounced and told him who I was. He stood up and put his hand out to me. 'I want to touch you, but I just don't know what you want me to do,' he said. 'How about a hug?' I said. He came around his desk and almost squished my guts out!" They talked for two and a half hours. About his 15-year marriage, which had ended in divorce nine years ago. About his five other children. But mostly he wanted to know about Betty. Was she still just as cute and sweet as he remembered?

The reunion on Friday couldn't have bone better. Shannon's husband, Robert, says with a grin, "You could see there was something between them the instants he walked into the restaurant and picked her up and hugged her. It was like they'd never been apart." As they were saying their good-byes in the parking lot, Don Sidled over to Shannon and whispered, "You know, I'd really like to see Betty again, but I feel kind of weird. What do I do?" "Call her, " his daughter advised. He did. And a few weeks later when he and Betty were out for a drive, he said "You know you're going to marry me, don't you?" And Betty replied, "If you're asking me, I said yes once before and I'll say it again. Do you think we should elope?" "Hell, no!" Don thundered. "You've held out for a wedding for 27 years, and, by God, you'll get one!"

On Saturday, November 22, 198X in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Donald Lee Tolin took Betty Jane Parrish to be his lawful wedded wife. Family and friends-Shannon's "other" father included-looked on as they exchanged their vows. Young Obie Frazier, Shannon and Robert's son, was the ring-bearer. And Donna Gayle Parrish/Shannon Moore Kincaid Frazier was-appropriately enough - matron of honor. It was, Shannon says, the beautiful happy ending that she had dreamed of all these years.

"Everything all fell into place so neatly I'm convinced it was meant to be. But that doesn't mean there wasn't some hurt along the way. It was very difficult, for example, for my mom. For 26 years she'd thought of me as completely hers. But she's gradually come to terms with the idea that I now have two sets of parents. She's still Mom to me and always will be. Betty is Betty." Shannon pauses and grins. "Shoot," she says. "If you don't have two mothers and two fathers these days, you're nothin'!"