Crystal Bristol smiles as her 10-month-old son Zane wiggles and jabbers in her arms as she sits outside Rogers Student Center. Sometimes she gets distracted from the conversation because Zane wants to show off his giggly grin. She lets him down off her lap and with the help of his Aunt Sunny he wobbles around trying out this new concept called “walking.” Zane’s balance isn’t quite right yet, but he’s working on it.
Zane’s mother and her sister, Sunny Savage, know about balancing. They both perform an intricate balancing act, making daily performances for a crowd of three children each. They help each other juggle kids and school schedules, homework, jobs and transportation.
“If we didn’t have each other we wouldn’t be able to do this,” said Savage. “We really really count on each other so much.”
Bristol, a business administration student admires the hard work her sister puts into her education. After seeing her sister, who will graduate this summer with a degree in social work, manage class, kids and two jobs, Bristol decided to start college as a business administration major.
“My sister’s a big inspiration,” said Bristol. “I see her do it and she’s a single mom.”
The sisters live next door to each other, so sharing rides and helping each other out is convenient. Their kids have made it easier for them too by helping out with housework and encouraging them with their college coursework.
“My older kids help out a lot,” said Savage. “They do all the laundry now, most of the housework. Of course they contribute most of that anyway.”
Despite the demands of such a hectic lifestyle, both young women smile and laugh as they talk about their experiences as moms in college.
“Have you ever been to the Testing Center?” asked Savage. “You get behind those glass doors, you look up and you see [the kids] running and you can’t leave. You can’t leave the testing center once you get in. You can’t say ‘Oh hey, my kids are running wild out there.’ You’ve just got to grin and bear it and finish your test and hope nobody recognizes you.”
Even with their sisterly support system in place, Savage and Bristol say they wouldn’t mind a little help.
“I think if TJC would offer some sort of a day care program, that would really be cool, if it would be affordable,” said Savage.
Nursing student Diana Sanchez sees her education at TJC as an opportunity to set an example for her 14-year-old daughter Heather.
“She went with me when I registered, and it really did excite her” said Sanchez. “I’m going to have to finish and I want her to see me finish.”
Like many other nursing students, Sanchez manages to keep up with school, kids and a full-time job.
“I usually get up at about 5:00 so I can start ironing clothes,” said Sanchez. “I do a little cleaning in the morning because that’s the only chance I get.”
After getting the house in order, Sanchez drops her three children off at school on her drive to work. After work she goes to her evening nursing classes, followed by homework back at home until she goes to bed around 11. The next morning she does it all over again.
“There’s times when I do get overwhelmed and I just have to sit down for a minute and cry and get it out and then I’m ready to go again. I’m ready for another week.”
Sanchez views her balancing act as an opportunity rather than a challenge.
“It’s extremely hard and it is tiring but I wouldn’t change a thing. It really shows my daughters [the importance of education],” said Sanchez.
Sanchez’s determination to succeed in school stems from her concern that the Hispanic community often doesn’t put a strong emphasis on education. She hopes her academic endeavors will help her own daughters overcome the cultural attitude that affected her own education.
“My father had me get out of school in the ninth grade to work because work was more important than education.”
Balancing school and work and family means Sanchez sacrifices personal and social time in order to spend quality time with her children.
“All my spare time is with them,” said Sanchez. “If I’m not studying, I’m with them.”
Yolanda Ray, nursing student and mother of four, thinks any mother who wants to go back to school should at least give it a try.
“If you’ve got a goal set, keep going,” said Ray. “There may be stumbling blocks but you get over those and keep moving. Just don’t stop.”
Much of Ray’s support comes from her own mother.
“She has been the best mom and friend and caregiver and laundry lady,” laughed Ray. “She has been so supportive. Without her, God knows, I could not have made it this far.”
Ray’s youngest daughter, nine-year-old Shaiambreotti, thinks it’s “cool” that her mom is in school like she is. She says she plans on following her mother’s example and go to college when she’s old enough. She already has the right attitude too.
” I like reading big big books,” smiled future college student Shaiambreotti.
Don’t forget! Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 11.