Dear Childfree College Student, I Already Know That 'College Is Not A Daycare'

by Sarah Hinkle
Sarah Hinkle

First, let me start by saying: I loved your hair today. It looked beautiful, like one of those Pantene commercials you see with the celebrities twirling their heads around. That must have taken you hours this morning — in between deciding which Victoria’s Secret Pink sweats to coordinate with your berry-infused water and which of the 50 shades of mint polish you should put on your pretty nails. I don’t envy the multitude of decisions you have to make regarding your self-care — it has to be draining to have all of that free time for things to air-dry.

Secondly, in regard to your pointed statement (in front of my daughter) about college “not being a daycare,” you’re right, because at daycare, people leave their children and go to work — or college — without them. And as you pointed out, I had none.

Today was a challenge. Today, I chose reality (well, it chose me first). And I chose to embrace it the best I could instead of slinking away in shame over being seated in a college lecture with my daughter by my side or making excuses for her presence to you.

I could tell you the initial reason why she sat next to me in class, quietly watching Gnomeo & Juliet and doodling, because having nowhere else for her to go (school closed, two babysitters fell through) is clearly not obvious to you. To your apparently childless self, it probably wouldn’t make sense anyway. The next few reasons won’t make sense to you either, but someday, when you’re a mother, or maybe when you’re an actual grown-up, and an imperfect one (like all of us), you’ll understand that it really wasn’t my desire to impede on your right to learn with adults only. In fact, this had nothing to do with you.

See, it’s just me and my two amazing kiddos kicking butt in life. After several successful years in retail, I made the choice to continue to pursue my master’s degree. Crazy, right? Single mom, moves to a college town with a 10-year-old and 4-year-old to get an education.

I am a full-time student. I work, have a home, and have children to care for 24/7. I have no help, am not on any type of financial aid or public assistance, and work hard for our livelihood, great schools for my kids, and my degree.

I don’t expect you to understand the weight or reality of that, except that life isn’t perfect and no day has certainty. Priorities and timelines change, and it is generally a go-with-the flow environment in our world. It is hard. We struggle.

And every day when I drop my kids off, or kiss them goodbye, I have to tell myself that the challenges we face are a temporary, but fruitful, choice motivated by being better, providing more for our lives, and positively impacting the world.

I also remind myself how fortunate I am to have the opportunity for education, employment, and also a safe place for my kids to be when I cannot be there with them. But today, I’m the safe place. The go-with-the-flow option is me. And you know what? That is okay.

Today, my daughter came to class with me.

She was blown away by the size of the school, intimidated by the amount of people pouring into the lecture hall, and stared anxiously as the professor began our class with his booming voice. I have to say: I know the feeling. That has been my emotion since I returned to school after years of being away, and especially today with the challenge of balancing priority and responsibility.

What my daughter saw next, though, seemed to comfort her, and put me right in my place. She saw me sit next to her in pride as I included her in this big-girl experience of a college lecture without hesitation. She saw me asking questions when no one else was, answering questions, taking notes, nodding my head in understanding, getting something wrong and figuring out the right way to do things.

She saw my desire to learn. She saw me learning and simultaneously parenting her through a nosebleed incident, regardless of the looks or whispers. She saw me…trying.

And then she put down her iPad, asked for paper to write on, and began to scribble the way I was. She began to draw her versions of the diagrams I had drawn. She began to mimic everything I was doing.

Suddenly, it became obvious that this experience was bigger than just a schedule challenge and time management tactic. This was an impactful and empowering moment for both of us. It didn’t matter that her school was closed today, that sitters flaked, or that I initially had some serious anxiety and feelings of failure about having to bring her to class.

What mattered was that she got to come, and I got to have her there, and we embraced it. What mattered was that, today, she got to see what her mommy is working so hard for. She got to experience where I go when I kiss her goodbye five days a week, leaving her until nearly dinnertime. She got to see a part of my life that she hadn’t seen before. And today, she was inspired — by me.

Today, she got to see Mommy try. And once I realized that she was seeing that, and following my example, no one else in that room mattered, including you.

See, I’m raising humans. I am a human, and an imperfect, schedule-challenged one at that. I understand that you view my daughter’s presence as an inconvenience, and that is unfortunate, especially for me as a woman who pulls for all women pursuing educational and life enhancement. I choose to view the situation differently, but am grateful for the reminder that not everyone shares my perspective.

It’s a reminder to me that I am an example to my children of what it means to overcome adversity and make the absolute best of one’s opportunities, all while keeping my personal priorities and responsibilities in check. I have the opportunity to instill in my children the importance of doing whatever it takes, no matter anyone’s opinion.

Little eyes are watching me, and they see that I’m able to face a challenge and remain steadfast in my goals without allowing someone to minimize me, my efforts, or my children. For my daughter to witness my vulnerability and strength in spite of criticism is a lesson for her in conviction, and ultimately, how success is achieved.

Does my daughter have the capacity to understand this now? Maybe not fully, but she’s learning through experiences like this, and we’re on the right path.

It is in moments like this one — when I’m ear-deep in a phospholipid bilayer lecture and look over to see her little hands doodling DNA double helix strands alongside hearts and her name — that I realize what an amazing journey I am on. It’s in moments like this when setting the best example possible for my children takes priority over someone else’s opinion. It is in moments like this that I realize I’m doing my best in parenting, in leading by example, in furthering my education, and in succeeding.

This is the reality — our reality, not yours. It is what it is, and today, it was a huge life moment between a mother who was trying her hardest and a daughter who was empowered by witnessing her mother persevere no matter the challenge. That is education. And today, we both got a bigger dose than we expected.

Today, my daughter came to class with me. Was it a big deal? Yes, but in ways you don’t understand. The only inconvenience here is your judgment.

I can’t wait to hand my daughter this drawing she made in class today on her graduation day. I hope that someday I get to attend her lecture and doodle too.

P.S. I’m sorry I corrected your answer in front of the entire lecture hall. While my petal pink My Little Pony glitter polish was drying last night, I was studying lecture notes.