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A Safety Net For Cheyenne Young Mother Left Baby Behind When She Discovered The Real Work Of Raising Her Daughter

Beverly Vorpahl

Martha Rhodes was a mother at 18 and a grandmother at 35. More than a grandmother, however, she’s mom to Cheyenne, her daughter’s daughter.

Martha intended to teach 17-year-old Lekecia a lesson about life when the girl told her parents she was going to have a baby.

Lekecia’s girlfriends had filled her head with stories about how easy it is to go through pregnancy and childbirth, thanks to epidurals blocking out much of the pain. And how easy it is to raise a baby - especially if she lived at home, with mom to help.

Martha would have none of it.

She wanted Lekecia to live in the “real world.”

Martha wouldn’t allow an epidural to be administered until Lekecia’s labor pains were extreme and the doctor said she couldn’t endure any more.

She also wanted her daughter to know Cheyenne was a real baby with real needs, not a doll that required no care and could be set aside. So, Martha didn’t help Lekecia much with Cheyenne’s feedings.

Lekecia discovered her new life wasn’t much fun that first month. She had to get up in the middle of the night to feed the baby; she couldn’t laze in bed in the morning because Cheyenne needed to be fed, or her diapers needed to be changed, or washed, or the formula had to be mixed, the bottles sterilized.

Lekecia couldn’t go anywhere because Cheyenne couldn’t be left alone and taking her was a nuisance. She couldn’t yak on the telephone with her friends - Cheyenne always needed something.

“Lekecia realized she didn’t want to deal with it anymore,” Martha said, and hit the streets.

“My daughter’s been a runaway for two years. She don’t want to go to school. She don’t want to live here. She’s at a point where she don’t want to really be responsible for a baby - because she’s a teenager and don’t know better.”

Now the family doesn’t see Lekecia unless she wants something.

While Cheyenne is the light of her grandparents’ eyes and the joy of their hearts, Martha says it’s not been easy to start another stint of mothering.

It’s more tiring, for one thing.

The hardest part is getting up repeatedly during the night. When Cheyenne wakes - again - at 5:30 in the morning, and is changed and fed, she blissfully snuggles down and goes back to sleep.

Not Martha. She’s awake and up for the day. So, when her husband, James, 50, comes home from work, she escapes for a half-hour nap.

“I forgot how much you have to go through raising a baby,” she said.

Martha doesn’t belong to a support group, but friends and family help out from time to time. In recent years she baby-sat to help sweeten the family income, so her parenting skills didn’t have a chance to rust.

But Martha marvels at young people of the ‘90s compared with her childhood in the South.

Today’s teenagers don’t respect their parents or elders, she said. They want and expect more now and become lost in the process of searching for that illusive “something.”

Martha said she was reared to bear children, the sole career choice for girls in her circle.

She doesn’t understand her daughter’s reluctance to accept responsibility as a mother but thinks it’s because Lekecia is young and succumbed to peer pressure.

Her immaturity put Martha and James on the spot.

Still, Cheyenne presents her grandparents with far more benefits than liabilities.

“Cheyenne’s my whole life,” Martha said. “Even if I’ve just gone to the store, when I come back, Cheyenne looks up and claps her hands and crawls to me and gives me a big hug.”

It’s Grandpa James, however, who really surrendered his heart to this “little woman,” as he calls her.

He’s never been a father before. He spoils Cheyenne with gifts. He gets down on the floor to play with her and lets her crawl all over him, and when she pulls his beard, he yowls great false cries of pain.

When James goes outside to garden, he spreads a big plastic sheet on the ground where Cheyenne can play while he works.

“He loves this little woman,” Martha said.

Cheyenne calls them Mama and Dada now, but when she’s older, they’ll explain they’re her grandparents and have her call them Grandma and Grandpa.

They feel Lekecia “will come back sooner or later,” Martha said. “We know it will be hard, but we’ll accept it. We know she’s not ready for the baby now, but I think five or six years down the road. …”

Speaking of her husband, Martha added, “It’s going to be hard if my daughter ever comes and gets her. It’s going to hurt his heart a great deal.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Photos (2 Color)

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