LONG BEACH, Wash. - Kelly Bateman didn't expect to have children until she was older, at least 25 or 26. She dreamed of having her education out of the way, owning a house and car, having money in place. But things didn't work out that way.

"It's all coming at me at once, but I guess that's life," she said.

Bateman was supposed to graduate last year, but ended up moving out of her home, moving five times during her senior year. She re-enrolled over the summer at Ilwaco High School, but after her first semester this year she found that she was pregnant and transferred to the alternative school, Tlohon-nipts.

"It's sort of been a rollercoaster ride for me," she said. "But I think I've been staying focused on my future plans."

This is the positive attitude that Bateman keeps with her as she prepares to graduate and begin a new life as a mother.

Bateman visited Tlohon-nipts for the first time since giving birth to her daughter, Caydence Michelle, a couple of days before. She was also preparing to go to California to see her boyfriend Zack Graff, and father of her daughter, graduate from U.S. Marine Corps boot camp.

"We've been dating for over a year," she said.

She said she plans to enroll at Clatsop Community College in the fall, working toward a degree in counseling, then a doctorate. Her boyfriend will likely be stationed in California, so her permanent residence is in question.

Bateman said that she thinks having a baby has changed her for the good, as she quit smoking and partying. "I feel like I'm more mature and I make better decisions."

She said she has also opened up a bit more to Graff's family, whom she lives with - Graff's mother was even her birthing coach.

As for her future, Bateman said she is excited and scared.

"I'm excited that I'm finally graduating," she said. "It was a while, but I did it. I'm happy that I went through it all and finally completed it and got my diploma rather than a GED."

But she said that excitement is tempered by fear.

"I'm scared about the future because I don't know what it holds yet," she said. "Everything is still up in the clouds."

- Damian Mulinix

Damian Mulinix is a staff writer for the Chinook Observer