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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

A Day in the Life of a Student-Parent

At+about+1%3A00+p.m.%2C+nearly+sixteen+hours+since+I+last+slept%2C+I+am+going+to+wake+up+my+friend+so+she+can+watch+the+baby+while+I+take+an+English+class+at+UMass.
At about 1:00 p.m., nearly sixteen hours since I last slept, I am going to wake up my friend so she can watch the baby while I take an English class at UMass.

I am writing this article at 2:36 a.m. I fell asleep at 7:30 p.m., but I woke up and haven’t been able to fall back to sleep. At 4:30 a.m. I am going to go into the kitchen and trade places with my friend who lives with me for free in exchange for childcare. Then I will hold and rock my infant daughter while she screams, play with her while she vomits and generally try to distract her from how sick she is.

At about 1:00 p.m., nearly sixteen hours since I last slept, I am going to wake up my friend so she can watch the baby while I take an English class at UMass. When I get home, I will do about half an hour of reading, play with the baby for a couple of hours and get on my computer for a conference about my online class. My aunt will come by with a special amino acid based formula that will hopefully make the baby start eating and stop screaming. I will prepare the formula and see if she drinks it. I’ll pass out, wake up and do it all over again.

In some ways I am unlucky. My daughter’s allergies are so bad that she’s allergic to most of the formulas which claim to be hypoallergenic. I left my ex-husband halfway across the country—he has only seen his daughter once. I wouldn’t trust him to babysit her even if he was around, and he hasn’t been able to help much with expenses.

In some ways I am very lucky. My parents pay for me to have a place to live, the state of Massachusetts pays for me to get part-time daycare, and between my friend and my aunt I have enough coverage that I can attend classes and do homework. I’m always stretched too thin, and I never sleep, but I’m getting straight A’s. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I might have a future that doesn’t involve the food service industry.

A lot of people, including many UMass students, have no idea how much work it is to be a parent, and that’s okay. I wouldn’t expect people in their late teens and early twenties to be thinking too hard about child rearing. I never really thought about it until the day I stood in a doctor’s office and listened to my baby’s heartbeat.

My life is not over because I have a baby, but there are certainly things I can’t do. I can’t make spontaneous plans. There are certain hours during the day that I can leave open to do homework or write for The Mass Media, but outside of those hours I need at least a week’s warning to get anything done. After two weeks of planning, I recently went out to dinner for the first time since giving birth.

I do not drink, smoke or date. I do not watch TV or movies. I do not feel jealous of people who can do these things, except maybe when my ex-husband posts pictures of himself on Facebook watching a cool band in a hazy bar.

Being a mom has mostly been about endurance. Eventually, sick babies get well, and allergies get under control. Eventually, you get the hang of doing everything on little-to-no sleep. Eventually, the man you married and divorced gets a job and starts paying his child support.

The real kicker isn’t my daughter’s all-night screaming marathons or even my own poor health—it’s lack of understanding. It’s trying to find out if I have to attend Freshman Orientation only to have the staff member in charge tell me that I shouldn’t go back to school at all. It’s telling some guy that I have no time to give to anything or anyone, only to realize that he doesn’t really get it and he’s about to ask me out anyway. It’s the discovery that while UMass Boston has an affiliated daycare, that daycare is a long walk from the campus center and won’t take kids under a year old.

There are ways in which UMass is great for moms. At a commuter school, nobody makes too many demands on the time when I’m not in class – I get to pick the level of participation that works for me and live in the place that’s best for my child. And an older student body with more returning students means that I’m more likely to meet other mothers.

What I find most frustrating about being a student-parent is dealing with people who can’t or won’t empathize, but that’s people for you. Some people are just insensitive. At the same time, it is also true that UMass Boston’s urban mission means concern for all students with pressing responsibilities outside of the classroom, including moms, is greater here than at any other university in Boston.