Terrible, Thanks for Asking

Leticia & Anthony (Part 1) - Transcript

This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “Leticia & Anthony (Part 1).” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.

Listen to the episode here.


Leticia: I'm crying, holding the baby. Like, I'm never going to keep this baby safe. Like, I just remember all these thoughts of, like, “He's going to die.” And that was my greatest fear his entire life: I'm going to fail and he's going to die. 

I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” And that was our guest, Leticia Ochoa Adams, talking about holding her first baby, Anthony.

It is a helluva thing to be a mother. Not just to care for an entire human being but to wear that label: MOM. MAMA. MOTHER. We have high expectations of mothers in America: that you sacrifice everything for your kids, that you “put them first” and “balance it all.” And we also have ... very, very few safety nets and support systems for mothers.

We’ve explored this in previous episodes — how mothers still bear most of the responsibilities around parenting and household work, how women in America don’t have maternity leave. And wait — there’s more! 

For a long time, psychology blamed mothers for all kinds of things. Not dads! Moms specifically. I found a Washington Post article from 1987, when my own mother had four children and a job. And this article appeared and it’s called “Haven’t We Blamed Mothers Enough.” And the thesis of the article is like, mmmhmm, yes we have. 

The author of this article, Paula J. Caplan, studied hundreds of articles from mental health journals over a span of 12 years. And I’m quoting her now:

“In the 125 articles in our study, mothers were held responsible for 72 different kinds of psychological disorder in their children, ranging from agoraphobia to arson, hyperactivity to schizophrenia, premature mourning to homicidal transsexualism. Even last week, a new study laid some of the blame for girls' relatively poor performance in math on their mothers.

In the articles we reviewed, not a single mother was ever described as emotionally healthy, although some fathers were, and no mother-child relationship was said to be healthy, although some father-child ones were described as ideal. Far more space was used in writing about mothers than about fathers. Furthermore, fathers were often described mostly or only in terms of their age and occupation, whereas mothers' emotional functioning was usually analyzed (and nearly always deemed essentially "sick").

This collective portrait of pathogenic mothering is not only scientifically implausible but also socially destructive. As long as mothering is assumed to be the only or primary cause of children's psychopathology, then all that remains to be done is to figure out which kind of bad mothering is to blame.”

Okay, I’m done quoting. Let’s repeat that last line. “As long as mothering is assumed to be the only or primary cause of children’s psychopathology ... then all that remains to be done is to figure out which kind of bad mothering is to blame.”

Imagine a culture steeped in that kind of thinking and research, the perpetuation that if your child is not 100% okay, whatever that means, it’s your fault as the mother. 

We’re all a product of our experiences, and the experiences of the people who raised us, and who raised them. This is the story of a mother and her son, but it’s also the story of a mother and her mother, of breaking generational trauma. It is a story that is filled with ACES — Adverse Childhood Experiences (we did a few shows on that a couple of years ago). ACES show a relationship between a person’s childhood and their mental and physical health as adults ... not in a way that blames or targets mothers, but in a way that changes the conversation from, “What is WRONG with you?” to “What happened to you?”

So let’s start with what happened to Leticia. Leticia grew up in Texas, on the same street as her aunt and uncles and grandma and cousins.

Leticia: We had the kind of family that kind of all lived together. We all had our separate houses, but we lived throughout our day together. Like, everyone congregated at my godmother's house in the morning for coffee and breakfast, then all the kids went to school, and then we all got off the bus after school and we congregated at my other aunt's house, and then we would talk to my grandmother and then ... and it sounds so sweet and kind, but we were all dysfunctional. [laughs] So there was a lot of drama, a lot of gossip.

There’s also a lot of abuse, emotionally and sexually. And growing up, Leticia wants to get out of there. To get married and start her own family and do things differently. And her biggest dream growing up is to be a Texas Supreme Court Justice. 

Leticia: Sandra Day O'Connor was like one of my favorite people. Like, all my friends had posters of New Kids on the Block and I had New Kids on the Block and Sandra Day O'Connor. Like this little Mexican girl just with this random picture of a Supreme Court justice. 

She misses a lot of school in high school. There’s work, there’s family chaos ... there’s a boyfriend, who lives next door to her.

Leticia: I was working at Long John Silver’s after school, so I went and bought a pregnancy test, because I just felt like every time I walked into work, I had to go straight to the bathroom and barf. So I was like, this seems like maybe I need a pregnancy test. So I went and bought a pregnancy test, went to work, came out positive in the Long John Silver's bathroom in Amarillo, Texas at 16. And I just walked out, and I remember being terrified and ecstatic because I thought, like, this is it. This is my way out of my mother's house. My mom and I have a very weird, complicated relationship. And I just felt like this is freedom. All my aunts had moved out from my grandmother's house by getting pregnant. So in my family, this is the way you get out. And so I went home, tried to figure out what I was going to do, tried to figure out what I was going to do about school.

There’s no question to Leticia that she’s going to keep this baby. This baby is going to make Leticia and her boyfriend into a family. They’re going to be able to leave their block — and their very intertwined social and family circles — and start over.

Leticia is so excited to tell her boyfriend. She walks next door to break the news. 

Leticia: And the first thing that came out of his mouth was, “Well, I think you should get an abortion.” And I was angry because I was like, no, that's not how this is supposed to go. Like, you're supposed to marry me. I'm supposed to come live at your house. Like, I'm free from my mom and my family, and we're supposed to, you know, have a nice life, and you're going to help me and I'm going to go to college and blah, blah, blah. And he didn't want any of it. And so at that moment when he said that, I felt like what? Hold the phone. And then it became a question of what am I going to do? Like, up until then, it wasn't a question of am I going to keep the baby? Am I not going to keep the baby? Like that was a foregone conclusion. And then I was just trying to figure out the rest from there. Right? And so now it comes this question of like, what am I going to do? And out of pure spite, him and then everyone in my family telling me that I should get an abortion, and then going to a clinic to get a positive pregnancy test and having all those nurses tell me that that was the responsible thing to do. I just felt like, no! Everyone’s telling me to do this. That's the first way to get me to not do something, is by telling me to do it. It's just inherent in my personality. And I was like, “No. I'm going to have my baby and I'm going to raise him, and go to college, and do everything that I planned to do.”

But it’s hard to be 16 and pregnant and newly single, living next to the ex-boyfriend who told her to get an abortion. Leticia is still missing a lot of school. Truancy letters start arriving, notifying her that she won’t be getting credit for the classes she isn’t actually going to. It’s all a lot.

Leticia: So I just went to my principal and I said, “Hey, I think I'm just going to go ahead and drop out, and I'll just come back to school later so that I can figure out what I'm going to do and this and this and that.” And I'll never forget. Mr. Avery was my principal. I went to a predominantly Black school. He was a Black principal. And he was like, “You do not have to quit school. We can help you.” And I said, “Yeah, but I am so sick. Like, I just can't do it.” And he said, “OK, I'll let you check out of your classes if you make me one promise.” And I said yes. And he was like, “As soon as you turned 17, you need to go get your GED. And then I want you to not forget about college, ever.” And I was like, “OK, I can do that.”

I'm getting bigger. I'm feeling Anthony move around. I could feel his knobby little knees and his knobby little elbows. And I was like, oh, he's so cute. He's my baby. And then he's born and I was like, “Oh, wait, no, I can't do this.” There's a whole other situation than just rubbing your belly and being like, “Oh, baby, you're so cute,” right? 

Nora: I mean, I was 30 when I had Ralph and I was still like, “Oh no, I can't take him.” They’re like, “You can go home now.” I was like, “Oh, I really can't.”

Leticia: “I feel like I need more time in here.”

Nora: “Yeah, no, it's good. You could carry him for me. Are you sure I'm qualified for this?”

Leticia: Yeah. And then like I changed his first diaper, and it was a mess because it's like that sticky black poop, right? And so it was like everywhere — on the sheets, on the baby, like, on my forehead. And then the nurse walked in and said something like, “How are you ever going to take care of this baby?” And I just looked at her and I was like, “OK, well. I'm going to take care of the baby now.” Because, I mean, like, I literally am fueled by spite. And I took him home, and he fell off the couch, like the first hour I had him home. He fell off the couch. And I just cried. I mean, I just was holding him, and I was crying. And at the time, his biological father lived next door to me, had another girlfriend. So I look out my living room window and there is his biological father and his new girlfriend, and they're just like, chilling in the front yard. And I'm crying, holding the baby. Like I'm never going to keep this baby safe. Like, I am not capable of giving him a good life. I just remember all these thoughts of, like, he's going to die. You know? And that was my greatest fear his entire life.

We’re going to take a quick break.

We’re back. Leticia’s biggest fear, as a 16-year-old mom, is that she’s going to fail. That Anthony is going to die. 

Leticia: I wanted a better life than what I saw my family having. And there's so many things there. There's the poverty. There's the generational trauma. There was the dysfunction. There was the infighting. I mean, we were like a little colony of prairie dogs. You know? Everyone knew everything, and we were super close. But we also weren't close. Everyone was so mean. Like, no one really loved one another or had each other's back or supported one another in anything. It was constant nipping at each other, you know? And I just wanted out of there. As soon as I turned 17, I went and got my GED. I got one of the highest scores at that community college. And everyone's very proud of me. My OBGYN threw me a party for getting my GED, and he was very nice to me. He always talked to me about mothering and sent me to parenting classes.

Those are the people who support Leticia, who believe in her and help her to believe in herself.

Leticia and Anthony spend the first two years of his life living with her mother, Leticia trying to work enough to get out there on her own and fulfill that promise to Anthony — that the two of them would be out of there, together. But when Anthony’s 2, Leticia has to break that promise, at least for a few months. She moves to Houston to work, to make more money. To get a job.

Leticia: And I went to the airport, bought a ticket. It was like back in the old days, you could just show up at the airport, buy a 69 dollar ticket to Houston, Texas and leave. Like, that's it, you know? And I landed, and I had a hundred dollars in my pocket. I was picked up by a friend. I stayed with this friend for a while till I found a roommate, an apartment. 

It’s awful. It’s horrible to be away from Anthony. Leticia calls him every day, and the two of them cry together on the phone. But Leticia is working constantly, saving money to make sure Anthony can get out of there, too. And after a few months, she goes back for him.

Leticia: And I'm like, OK, here we go, we're going. And I went and got my kid. I was like taking my kid back. And so it's me and Anthony in Houston, Texas. I didn't realize there's 3.5 million people or however many — a gazillion people live there, including serial killers. Right? [laughs] It's just like ... I just go take my baby to this big giant city, and we're going to live our life. And it was really not even scary because it didn't have the comprehension of the vast amount of horrible things that could have happened to us. 

At this time, Leticia is 19, and Anthony has just turned 3. It’s the two of them — a team — in Houston. Doing their very best. But again, Leticia is 19.

Leticia: It's just kind of plugging in things that I didn't have. I didn't have a stable relationship with my mother. I didn't have a cool, fun childhood, you know? Like, Anthony was like at pool parties at our apartment complex. And everyone's just like, “Hey, Anthony!” Like these drunk 19- and 20-year-olds are like high fiving my baby at a pool party! [laughs] Like that's Anthony's life, you know, he's the 3-year-old at a pool party, at an apartment complex in the Houston summer. And my roommate was the lead singer for a cover band. So she would do all of these events. And Anthony's like this 3-year-old is just getting carried around by Houston Rockets because they're so tall. And he thought it was so cool. And so, like, they're just carrying my baby around while I'm waiting tables. And my roommate singing. Then I ended up working at Hooters. And we had a radio DJ there doing an event, and I didn't have a babysitter. So my regulars were taking care of my baby. And then they handed them over to the DJ and he was like, “Hey, you want to be on the radio?” And that was Anthony's life. He had like this really cool, lit life like, for a 3-year-old. He was having the kind of life that adults wished for in Houston: access to places and people that others would have died to have. You know? And here's just my kid just getting carried around and passed around and high fives. And he just really loved it.

In between working and taking care of Anthony, Leticia is also looking for a partner. A husband. A person she can create a solid family unit with. She’s waiting tables, and one of the bouncers catches her eye. His name is Ben, and the two of them get to talking. They get to dating ... and then, Ben meets Anthony.

Leticia: He looked at him and he said, “Hey, are you going to be my dad?” And Ben was like, “Yeah!” And they sat on the couch and watched football for like the next four hours. I felt like I could do something for my child that I couldn't do for myself. I couldn't give myself a father. I couldn't make his biological father be a different person. But what I could do was marry this man and let him have a dad. And of all the things that Ben has been to me, I can say 100% certainty that he has been the absolute best dad to Anthony. I knew him for two solid weeks, and we got married. 

Nora: Because 19. Again. This is, this all tracks.

Leticia: This is the life choices of a 19-year-old. 

Not every 19-year-old, but a 19-year-old who has been a mother since she was 16. Who has been aching for a stable family unit, who has experienced abuse as a child and just wants ... love.

Ben becomes the person that Anthony calls Dad. He’s a good dad, but the marriage has problems. Leticia and Ben have miscarriages and eventually three more children together. Ben struggles with addiction, and that struggle turns into physical violence against Leticia. Violence that Anthony sees.

Leticia: When his dad would hit me, or we'd get into huge arguments, or there'd be a big blowout or whatever, Anthony was the one that had to call 911, which was really traumatizing for him, because calling the cops on your father is very hard, especially when they end up arresting him. Or they— one time they arrested me because I had tickets. I had warrants for tickets. And that's even more traumatizing because he was calling to get me help, and I ended up in jail. 

And this feels to Leticia like she is failing Anthony. Failing on that promise she made to him when he was a baby. And she does her best to protect Anthony and the other kids from the truth.

Leticia: I had sheltered him from his biological father. He knew that Ben was his stepdad, and he knew he had a biological father. But I always put it on me. Like, “I acted crazy. I blah, blah, blah. I was young. I did this.” So that he never felt as if his biological father didn't like him, like it wasn't about him. It was about me. And I did the same thing with Ben. Like, “Ben loves you, but he has a problem,” and this and that. And most of the time, I wouldn't even tell the kids that he was struggling with drug addiction. I would just tell the kids, like, “I put a lot of pressure on him.” You know? “I always brought it on myself.” And this time there was nothing I could do. It was a struggle for Ben. He really tried so many times to be a good father. And he is a good father. He loves his children. There's no doubt in my mind. And I tell them that every single day. 

Leticia leaves Ben and moves with her kids back to Amarillo, Texas to live with her mother. She’s now a single mother to four kids. She has to work 60-hour weeks to make ends meet. And she’s not even 30 yet. 

Leticia: Anthony is going to school, and his siblings are staying home, so my mom's like the wife. Anthony's like the babysitter. And I'm like … I don't want to say the husband, but like I'm the one that's working. So Anthony's like the one that gives me the updates every day, like, “This is what the kids ate. This is how the kids are doing. This is, blah blah blah blah blah, this is what my homework is.” So he’s kind of like almost taking care of himself and then giving me updates on the kids. And I'm trying to just get our own place and get our own life. And I'm back to this back to square one, right? Where I'm by myself, but now I have three more kids. 

The pressure is immense, and when Leticia isn’t working ... she’s partying. 

Leticia: And by the time Anthony is about 12 years old, I am just at clubs all the time — drinking, dancing, and sleeping with multiple people. Gang leaders, randos, doesn't really even matter. Someone could literally say like, “Hey, your hair looks nice today.” And I'm like, “Hey, you want to sleep with me? Let's go.” And I'm drunk 90 percent of the time. Like wasted. Not even just kind of like, a little buzz. Like I'm wasted 90 percent of the time. Everyone in bars knew me. They knew my face. I was a regular. They knew what I drank. I had a schedule, and my schedule did not include my children. My schedule included like, what specials are happening at what bar. And I would drop my kids off at school in the morning, because I felt like that checks the mom box, you know? And Anthony is about 12 years old and he finally just tells me, like, “You're wasting so much time trying to meet these men, when you could just be spending time with me.” 

And I was just like, oh crap, you know? Because what happened is I was dating a guy Anthony didn't like, and Anthony had this super huge tendency that if he didn't like something I was doing, he would throw away whatever it was he felt would stop me from doing it, right? So one time I was working too many doubles at Hooters, and so he decided to throw my shorts and my panty hose out the back window of the truck as we're going down the highway, because he's like, “You can't go to work if you don't have a uniform.” That was when he was like 6 or 7. And then this time he threw away my cell phone. He was like, “OK, you can't talk to this guy if I throw away your cell phone.” So he threw my cell phone away, and I was like, “Anthony, what the hell is your problem?” And he just told me straight up, like, “My problem is, is that you're spending all this time with these men and you could just be spending time with me and the kids.” It was always me and the kids, like it was Anthony and the kids. That's when I started thinking, like, what do I want? How am I going to change this? What is the goal? What's happening here? 

What’s happening here is childhood trauma and generational trauma.

Leticia: Because I do have this idea that the way to normalcy is a husband and wife and the kids, I'm the wife and I need a husband. That was just my thinking, and I started dating, quote unquote, because I had so much childhood trauma. I was sexually abused as a child. I just thought of sex as a transactional action, like, I give you sex, you help support me and my children. It was just so ingrained in me that this is how that system worked. So I'm trying to operate from that system, and I'm passing on that system to Anthony, who thinks like, “I'm the oldest son. So I have to make sure that my mom's OK, that my siblings are OK.”

Nobody is okay. Not Leticia. Not Anthony. Not the other kids. 

Around this same time, Leticia loses her best friend, who dies in a car accident. It’s a friend Leticia has worked with, partied with, confided in. And on its own, that would be enough — enough suffering, enough shock — but with everything else, it’s enough to literally LAY HER OUT.

Leticia: And so one day, I got locked out of my house. So I was laying in the front yard and I was just like, “What am I going to do with my life? And how am I going to be a better mom? And what is this bullshit? Like, what is all this? And why is it so effing hard?” At the time, I felt like all I want to do is take care of my kids; make enough money to feed my children; to spend time with my kids; to have a nice, safe house for them; and a nice, safe neighborhood and be married. Like, I don't understand why this is so difficult. 

It’s been a year and a half without Ben, who now lives in Austin, Texas. Leticia is literally laying on the ground, floored by life. And then Ben calls. 

Leticia: He got sober. He was doing really well. He had a full-time job for a year. He was working for a friend at a strip club called The Landing Strip in Austin. And he was like, “Just come down here, you can bartend at the club, blah, blah, blah. I work during the day. You can work at night. That way we can trade off taking care of the kids.” And I was like, OK, yeah, let's do that. And Anthony was just so like, “This is it, Mom. We're going to be a family. We're going to do good,” and I was like, “Yeah, we're going to be good.” 

And so we did for like six months, we were all good. I was working, Ben was working, we were making money, the kids were going to school. Anthony was going to a really rough school, though. It was very difficult for him, even though he had not lived a privileged life whatsoever, this was just a lot harder for him. He had to take the city bus to school. There was no school busses, and there was just a lot of open gang activity, which I had sheltered Anthony from a lot of that back home, and I couldn't shelter him from it here. We got our car repo’d, so we were on foot. It was just a very hard time. 

And then Ben and Anthony went to a neighbor's house to go get something, I can't really remember what. And when they came back, Anthony's face was just drained of color. He was just pale white. And I asked him what happened and he said, “My dad is doing drugs again. And I saw him.”

Nora: Ohhhh, Leticia.

Leticia: Yeah, he was heartbroken. Like, it didn't just break his heart for his dad, but it's like ... for him, he said, “I just thought this was going to be different.”

“I just thought this was going to be different.” We’ll be right back.

We’re back, and Ben has relapsed again. Anthony has seen his dad doing drugs, and the trust in their family is broken again. And even though all Leticia wants for herself and her kids is a stable, functional family unit, this is it for her and Ben.

Leticia: I feel as if I didn't have Anthony, I would have fallen into the pit of despair. But not only was Anthony constantly encouraging me and reminding me that he loved me, and he saw me. Like, he didn't just love me because I was his mom. Like, he saw me, and he loved me. And he kept pushing me. Like, “Remember when I was 3 and you promised that we'd have a nice house and a fence and some trees? Like I expect it.” Like he expected it. But not in this like entitled way, but in this, “You're my mother. And you're a badass. And I know we're going to have this life.” And he would always say, “When I get old enough, I'm going to help you, and we're going to have it.” And he was so confident and sure of it. And it was ... he saw in me what my principal saw in me when he said, “You go get your GED and you get an education.” The thing that I can't see in myself, the awesomeness that I can't see in myself, Anthony saw me every day of his life from the moment he was born. And I dropped him on the floor [laughs] you know?

Anthony expects his mother to be okay, not because it’s easy, but because he believes in HER. Even — especially — when she doesn’t believe in herself. And it’s not as easy as just belief. Leticia is raising four kids while working more than full-time in an hourly job with no benefits. It’s not as easy as just BELIEVING in herself.

Leticia: This is what I tell people, it's like, if I was trying to hike up a mountain, and every once in a while someone would just pop out from a bush and push me all the way back down, like randomly. Like, you don't even know what the right choices are because no one has taught … like, I hate the whole idea when people like, “Just make the right choices and everything will be fine.” It's like, OK, buddy. But what happens if you have never had anyone give you the map of the landscape. Like, I was doing it all, like ... to figure it out, to learn, to learn what to do, what not to do. And so a lot of that means that I ended up copying people. I was like, “Who's the one person that I can look to and model behavior after, who isn't a crazy person, and is not God, but like kind of,” and obviously the answer’s Oprah. 

[AUDIO of Oprah yelling “You get a car! You get a car!”]

It's Oprah. So I'm going to watch Oprah. And this is the time when she starts having, like Eckhart Tolle doing these classes and talking about sexual abuse as a child, she's talking about all this stuff, and it's like giving me this vocabulary, like a map of the landscape that I didn't even know I was in. It's like, “Oh, that's what this is,” you know? Why do I hate Christianity? Oh, like this purity culture, and I'm a child who's been sexually abused. And it just sounds to me like y'all don't want me, and I am used gum or whatever stupid metaphor you want to use. 

Nora: Oh my god that metaphor. 

For listeners who weren’t raised Christian or never had to hear this kind of metaphor, oof god, okay. It went around youth  groups for a long time. A leader would chew a piece of gum and try to hand it to someone else and say, “Oh, you won’t eat pre-chewed gum? Well guess what? Neither will your future spouse!” And that was supposed to discourage pre-marital sex ... which, I don’t believe it did. But the side effect is that is also makes people who have experienced sexual abuse (and even regular consensual sex!) feel like they are disgusting and used up, like a piece of pre-chewed gum.

But Oprah and Eckhart Tolle give Leticia a new way to see herself as a mother and as a human.  

Leticia: I'm just trying to be a good mom in a hostile environment. Like, everything about my environment was hostile, from my family to being a single mom to being a teen mom, to be all of it. Right?

It’s not just Oprah. Leticia goes to therapy. She finds faith outside of the version of Christianity she was raised in. And she has this gentleness with herself that she’s never had before.

Leticia: I told myself, like, it's up to me now. I have to take care of me. I have to take care of my kids. And it's not about anyone else. Like, no one else is going to come into my life. I give up on men. Like, I did that whole like, vow off men forever. Like, it's never happening for me. That's fine. It's me and my kids forever for life.

Life changes don’t always happen in ways that we can predict. But one of the most life-changing events in Leticia’s life happens on MySpace. When she gets a message from her first boyfriend from junior high, a guy named Stacy.  

Leticia: And he's like, “Hey, what's up? Do you remember me?” And I want to be like, “No, I don't, you frickin jerk. You dumped me in junior high for my best friend. And I hate your guts, and I've hated your guts forever. But no, I don't care about you.” 

Leticia does remember Stacy, and she does return that message. And they get to chatting. And it turns out Stacy is also divorced. He’s a dad of three, and he’s currently a contractor in Iraq. 

Leticia: And then before you know it, he's landing in Austin, Texas, and he's moving in with me. And Anthony is like, “What the heck? What is happening? Like, my dad literally moved out a few months ago.” He was so livid. He was like, talking to my mom. He's like, “My mom has some strange man moving in.” He’s 13 at the time. And then Stace makes the worst mistake ever. When he's meeting Anthony, he says, “It's nice to meet you, Andrew.” And Anthony is like, “Hey fool, my name is Anthony,” you know. And he's like, “OK, buddy.” And Anthony's like, “Did you just call me Buddy? Mom. He just called me buddy. What kind of whiteness is this?”

Anthony is NOT feeling Stacy, or being called Buddy. And he tries to organize his siblings into a rebellion.

Leticia: He's so pissed off about this whole Stacy situation that he talks his siblings into shaving their eyebrows off. He shaves his eyebrows. He gets Gabriel, the third one, to shave his eyebrows. He gets to Dan. Dan only does one eyebrow, because he's like, “Fuck, no.” Like, no. And then he gets to his little sister who is like, “No, AND I'm snitching.” [laughs] So me and Stace walk in that apartment, and all the kids are standing there in line just staring at me. First of all, I already knew something was wrong. Why are you all standing in line like we're in some weird army base, you know what I mean? Like, what's happening? So I start looking around like what did y'all do? What did y'all break? Like, you know, inspecting. I can't see anything. And then I see it. And that's just how Anthony was. Like he was like, “I know, I know what we can do.”

Nora: Yeah, “Stacy's going to see this and be like no. You think I'm going to hang around kids with no eyebrows.”

But Stacy can handle kids with no eyebrows or partial eyebrows. What he can’t handle is where Leticia and the kids live.

Leticia: Stace is like, I can't live here. Because we lived in the hood. And he was like, “I can't really live here, because the kids are in danger.” I was like, what danger? I mean, there’s just yellow tape everywhere, but that's like, totally normal. Stace is like, “No, we got to get the kids.” Because he wanted his kids too. He had three kids, and their mother was like, “No, my kids can't visit you in that apartment.” And I was like, “Man, what a stuck-up person.” I had all my judgments and opinions. But anyway. So we moved to the magical land of the suburbs, which was totally new to me, totally new to Anthony. My other three kids were little, so they were like, “Oh yay! Trees! Oh boo, raking!” They were just little kids that entered into an elementary school where they didn't have to walk there. They had a car. They had a nice house. They had a room to sleep in. They had a big yard to play in. But for me and Anthony, we were fish out of water. We were just like, “What is this place, and why is it so clean, and why are there sidewalks? What are you supposed to do with sidewalks?”

Anthony does his best to walk on the sidewalks, to fit in, to try to be a fish in these new, strange, suburban waters. But it’s hard. One day, Anthony and his brother and a few friends went to a pool in the neighborhood. The pool is a part of a homeowner’s association that the family doesn’t belong to, but it’s hot, it’s Texas, and they’re kids who want to swim.

Leticia: So they went into the pool, and some lady called the police on the kids. So it's Anthony, his two Black friends, and my son Gabe, the blonde-haired one. So they're walking back home, because the lady was like, “Hey, I called the cops,” and Anthony was like, “Screw this. Let's leave.” So they're walking home. Cop stops them, puts Anthony and his two Black friends up against the car and tells Gabe, “Go home,” the blonde-haired kid. And Gabes like, “What? That's my brother.” And the police officer was like, “I said go home,” and he starts kicking Anthony's legs apart and starts frisking Anthony. And Gabe is like, what the hell is happening? So he runs home and he’s like, “Mom, my mom, the cops have Anthony, the cops have Anthony.” And I was like, what? Like, what happened? And by the time I get halfway there, they had already let Anthony go and his friends go. And I was like, what happened? And Anthony told me everything that happened and Gabe was like, in tears. And he's like, “What was that? I told him Anthony's my brother.” And that's when me and Anthony were like … crap. Like, oh, man, what did we do? Because we were both, like, under the understanding that we had made it. We were where we had planned on being: in a nice house, in a good neighborhood, going to good schools. We had made it, right? And now it was like we don't belong here, but we're stuck here. 

They’re stuck here. And they really do their best to make the most of it. Anthony gets into sports — football, even though he’s scrawny — he works out, he does his best. He works hard at school and gets decent grades.

Leticia: And he started working with my husband, who owned a pest control company at the age of 15. And 16, he was a legal employee. He was our first employee, you know?  And he was a great pest control guy. Like the best. Like, it's not like that big of a deal in like, a prodigy sense for the world, but for my husband, it was like, “Anthony's a prodigy, like a pest control prodigy. This is amazing.” And Anthony was so proud of himself and he knew what he was talking about and he was comfortable in his skin. And then a school counselor told him, “Yeah, well, you should get used to that manual labor, because you're just not cut out for college.” And Anthony was like, what, like? This is a good kid. Like he's been mowing lawns in the summer since he was 13 years old. 

Nora: Also, like this is just the exact opposite of what your principal in, like, a “bad” school in a “bad” neighborhood told you.

Leticia: Yes. 

Nora: And you get to the place ... that you've dreamed of getting to, and someone tells your son to think smaller. 

Leticia: Yeah. And the whole time, he had been raised in this idea of: finish high school, don't do drugs, don't get involved with drug dealers, don't become a statistic. Like I told him that almost every day of his life, like, don't become a statistic. Don't be who they say you are. Do better. Do good. And he lived up to all of it. And then here's this stupid lady with a stupid counseling degree at school who thinks she had the right to tell my kid that he was less than anything. And my kid, like, as a mom, I'm biased. But he was also Anthony. Like, I can line up one hundred people that tell you how awesome he was. He was kind. He cared about other people. He would drop whatever he was doing to help a friend. He literally had given his shirt off his back to homeless people several times, and his food. He would drive out of a drive thru and see someone with the sign that said, “I'm hungry.” And he would just hand them his food. Like, he sacrificed for himself, for his family, and this lady just took it upon herself to just like ... knock all that out, just with her words and just with her judgment.

Anthony had come home crying after this meeting with the guidance counselor. Leticia took her sweet boy’s face in her hands and said ... 

Leticia: “Anthony, you have been raised to know who you are and how awesome you are.” I mean, I used to write him love notes, like in the morning, on this little, like, dry erase board. Where I would be like, “You’re awesome. You're the best kid. I love you so much.” And I told him, “I didn't just say that because you're my kid, like, you're awesome.” I was like, “It doesn't matter what this lady says. Like, you're going to do whatever you want to do in your life. If you want to go to college, let's do it. If you don't, then don't.” But what I did was I enrolled in college because I was like, I'll be damned if any lady tells my kid what he can and can't do. And I'm going to show him you can do whatever you want. So I enrolled into college, and then I was like, what the hell did I just do? Like my first English paper, I'm like, “Um guys? So I just did this to, like, be a good mom.I had a 10th grade education, you know? Like I didn't know anything. Citations? Like what are citations? I don't know what any of these words mean. So I'm doing double work. I'm Googling, “What is a citation?” and, “What does Chicago format mean? What does MLA mean?” Like I'm doing double work, plus raising my kids, plus still working, plus helping my husband with his new business. But I didn't tell my kids that I was struggling with any of it. Every day I would tell Anthony like, “Went to class today. Got an A on my paper, got a B on my math quiz,” blah, blah, blah, you know what I mean? And he'll be like, “Wow, mom, like, you're really doing it.”

Anthony, like always, was there to cheer Leticia on. And Leticia was showing Anthony just what was possible for his future. That if he wanted to get his degree, he could. That his future was only going to be defined by him.

And it works. Anthony keeps working out, he keeps putting on weight, and his senior year of high school ... 

Leticia: Finally he got put on the varsity football team, and he was on the bench, and he didn't care. He was like, “Mom, I don't even care. I made it. I did it. I can do anything I put my mind to.” And I was like, you really can like, you're awesome. Same with skateboarding. Skateboarding, he would practice every single day. He would record his little flips. He had all these great talents, and he would work at them, and I was in this like, English class and then English II and starting to realize that I really loved writing. And so I would watch Anthony like, work on a craft, whether it was skateboarding or drawing, and then I started asking him like, “What does that feel like?” And he would be like, “Oh, man, you know, it just makes me feel alive. And I just feel so great. And it gives me energy.” Like he's like, “After I get back from the skate park, you would think I'm tired, but I'm not. I have so much energy.” And I was like, “That's how I feel when I write.” And he was like, “Mom, you should be a writer, like, you should do that, blah, blah, blah.” And I was like, well, I have to learn grammar first. [laughs]

That’s who Anthony and Leticia are to one another. They’re a team, a duo. An older version of those two kids — literally, they were both kids — who lived in an apartment in Houston where little Anthony rode around on the shoulders of NBA players. 

Anthony graduates from high school and goes to work with Stacy full time. He is in a serious relationship with a girlfriend named Arianna, who the whole family loves. And one day, he tells Leticia that he and Arianna need to talk with her. 

Leticia: So they come into my room, they sit on the floor and he's like, “So, um, Arianna's pregnant.” And I was like, “OK!” you know, “I told you not to get anyone pregnant before you graduated from high school. I mean, I guess you waited, you know? OK.” And he was like, “You're not mad.” I was like, “No, why would I be mad at you?” And I said, “Anthony, you're the best thing that ever happened to me. You saved my life. I love you so much. I have no doubt that if this is what you want to do, that you're going to be a great father.” 

And that was the end of that conversation. And then I was at all the sonograms. I was at all the doctor's appointments, and I was in the room when my first grandchild was delivered, when she came into the world for the first time with her big, giant head. And she was so cute. I loved her so much. And Anthony's face just like, went pale white. And it's the same look that he had the day that he saw Ben doing drugs. And I recognized it, but I couldn't place it. And so here he is, a dad with three dads who have somehow not met up to his expectations. And it's the same fear I had when he was a baby and I dropped him off the couch. And it's like, “How am I going to do this? How am I going to keep this child alive?” 

But then we all went to go eat as a family and it was the perfect, perfect moment, if there was ever a perfect moment in my life, it was when we were walking back from eating dinner to go to the hospital. Aaliyah was hours old. The air was crisp. The stars were shining. And the sky was a clear evening in Austin, Texas. And we're walking. And I just looked at my husband and I said, “This is the absolute best moment of my life.” Everyone was so happy and so like, baby high, and they passed the baby around. And Anthony was like, “That's my baby. It's like my freaking baby. Like, it's literally my baby.” [laughs] 

So that Easter, me and Anthony were standing in the kitchen. We're looking out at the backyard and like Tupac is playing and my husband's smoking a brisket and the kids are like, having fun. All the grass is green, and Arianna's holding the baby. We had just put up a pergola, which ... I don't even really know how to say that word yet, but yeah. And so we're like looking at the whole picture. And Anthony says, “We did it, mom. We are happy.”

And I was terrified. Like, the fear I felt the day he was born just struck through me like a lightning bolt. Like ... this is too perfect. 

We’ll be back next week with the rest of Leticia and Anthony’s story.

This has been “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I’m Nora McInerny. Our team is Marcel Malekebu, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Hannah Meacock Ross and Jordan Turgeon. Phyllis Fletcher helped on this episode and then she left us, but we still appreciate her. Our theme music is by Geoffrey Lamar Wilson, and we are a production of American Public Media. Okay, thanks everyone! Bye.