At 17, Katherine Arnoldi found herself without a job, without a home, and without much self-esteem. What she had, however, was an infant daughter to raise and support who would change her world in more ways than she could have imagined. Like every mother who wants her child to have a better life than they have themselves, Arnoldi knew that the only way to ensure a good future for her daughter was to pursue a life different from the one she had always known.
Growing up in a dysfunctional home and spending her teen years in a whirl of “factories, battering boyfriends, and dangerous housing and neighborhoods,” she realized this simply would not suffice for her daughter. Although she had neither financial nor emotional support, Arnoldi knew that the only green light in her dark tunnel would come in the form of a college education. She felt that children are more likely to do what their parents actually do as opposed to what parents tell them to do, and never gave up her attempt to finish college.
When she learned about financial aid, she knew that her goal would be attainable. Arnoldi graduated with a Bachelor’s degree, and then completed a Master’s. The theory worked — Arnoldi’s daughter went on to attend not only college, but also medical school. By 1999, the Manhattan-based Arnoldi had honed her skills as an illustrator and she had published a graphic memoir detailing the winding road of her life — from the exuberant joy on the birth of her daughter to the crushing despair over finding her way in the world while being a single mom. The Amazing ‘True’ Story of a Teenage Mom (Hyperion) is the creation that came from realizing that her dream in life might still come true — just because she was a teenage single mother, she could still be productive and successful. In an ironic twist of life that often comes with mothering, instantly recognizing her child’s value helped Arnoldi acknowledge her own self-worth. “By fighting for my daughter, I had to call on my own talents, intelligence, and capabilities. In other words, honor, respect, and consider them worthy.”
Arnoldi now lectures to teenage mothers and helps them see the possibilities that life and education have to offer them through her honest and thoughtful telling of her own story. She also helps the girls fill out prepaid college and financial aid application forms in order to start them on the right path leading to college. “Just like me, these single moms know that just because they have a child doesn’t mean that they aren’t humans with desire and potential,” she says. When asked whether she thinks conditions have improved since the ‘70s for teenage mothers, Arnoldi says she believes they have become more difficult. Teen mothers face unbelievable hardships and prejudice, stemming from one notion that once a girl becomes pregnant, they are a financial drain and social outcast. On the contrary, Arnoldi points out, many teen mothers work twice as hard on their education, careers, and finances in order to provide for their children. “Denigrating teen mothers is no way to curtail teen pregnancy,” is Arnoldi’s belief. Rather, she feels that women helping and supporting other women is the only way to a healthy society. “The only proper response to any mother and child is compassion, assistance, and empathy. Single mothers, teen mothers, married mothers; all mothers need help, understanding and nurturing themselves! Whether they are trying to get down the subway stairs with a stroller, waiting in a food pantry line, or trying to hail a cab after a Chelsea Piers ballet class, all mothers could use a hand, a smile, and a kind gesture! That’s why I made Thanks Mom, to pay tribute to the work of mothers”.