Shari Smith, a 21-year-old Temple junior just getting off work, rushes to the daycare to pick up her 2-year-old son, Shamar. Smith has half an hour to bring her son home, wait for a babysitter and get to class on time. This is only Monday.
Inevitably, Smith arrives 15 minutes late. Lateness is a cardinal sin in most classrooms. Ten percent of her grade is based on attendance; and in this particular class tardiness equals absence.
This is a classic example of the challenges Smith faces while majoring in criminal justice, taking a full course load, working two jobs and raising a son.
There have been times when Smith had to bring Shamar to class.
“What am I supposed to do?” Smith asked with exasperation in her voice. “It’s frustrating because I’m there every class.” Smith said she doesn’t want special treatment, just a little understanding.
Smith has not let motherhood stop her determination to complete school. Smith found out she was pregnant in late August before her sophomore.
“I had a lot of feelings,” she said. “I wasn’t scared, I was just shocked.”
To avoid having the baby during finals, she took a year off.
“It didn’t even cross my mind that I wasn’t going to finish school. I knew that I was,” Smith said.
When it came time for the fall semester to begin, Smith found it a huge challenge to balance parenthood and college. With her son only four months old and nursing, she would pump the night before so that he would have milk for daycare.
In the morning she dropped Shamar off at daycare and then went to work and classes. After class she returned to work until 5 p.m. She took two buses to pick him up from the daycare that closed at 5 p.m. The very first thing she would have to do when she returned home was to pump.
“I would nurse him on one breast and pump on the other,” Smith said, chuckling. “I was on a tight schedule.”
After bathing and putting her son to bed around 7:30 p.m. she finally got a chance to study.
Now that her son is older, Smith is dealing with new situations and demands.
“Now it’s easier because he can talk and tell me what’s going on, but it is difficult to get my work done because he is so active now,” she said. “It is difficult to get on the computer, because when I’m sitting there he’ll jump on my lap and touch the keyboard and play with the mouse … he needs a lot more of my attention.”
Smith’s schedule is just as tight now as it was when Shamar was a baby. After class and work, she feeds him dinner. After dinner her son just wants to play, so she cannot begin her homework until 9 p.m., once he is asleep.
The most challenging aspect of being a single parent and a student, according to Smith, is getting her work done. This challenge is often offset with the help of Smith’s mother, who sometimes keeps Shamar busy while she does work.
Finances are another story. Smith packs the brunt of the responsibility, but living with her mother is a big help.
“Children cost so, so, so much money,” Smith said. “Before I can do anything for myself I have to think about him.”
She schedules classes around her jobs, working 20 hours at a Social Security office and 10 hours at work study. She took on a work study job because she would be unable to receive subsidized daycare if she did not work at least 25 hours a week. Child Care Information Services, through which she receives free childcare, does not consider college hours when determining eligibility. This gives Smith the decision of either working more or losing daycare.
Smith’s job will not allow her to work more than 20 hours while in school. With the daycare closing at 5 p.m., there are only so many hours Smith can work during the day. The alternative was welfare, which would pay for daycare and had no hourly minimums; however, she earns too much money working with the federal government and would have to quit that job.
“Quitting school wasn’t an option, nor was quitting work.” Smith said. Despite challenges, Smith remains dedicated to her son. She even saved money to buy a car.
“It was too hard carrying him on public transportation. I didn’t want him to go through that, you know, the waiting at the bus stop forever in the cold,” she said.
The junior attributes her success to writing while carrying her son.
“When I was pregnant I kept a journal, the very first thing I wrote to my son was, ‘If I don’t finish school it is not because of you’ … there is no stopping me,” she said.
Always loving a challenge, Smith said there is nothing she cannot handle.
“I am doing it all for [Shamar],” she said.
Smith, although struggling to stay afloat, does not regret having a child.
“I don’t know how it would be if I didn’t have him,” she said. “I swear everything happens for a reason.”
The young mother is more responsible, values life more and is much happier.
“I am proud of myself,” Smith said.
Denae M. Patterson can be reached at email@example.com.