Grab your superhero lunchbox and become part of the non-traditional, kid toting crowd


by Jennifer Mullins

Have you ever come home to compare notes with your 6-year-old, competing to see who had the better day at school? Have you reached into your book bag for your textbook and come up with a tattered copy of Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham? Or have you found yourself the odd one out when you mentioned to your study group that you can’t meet on a particular day because you can’t find a babysitter? You aren’t alone.

I am the mother of two and married to a wonderful man. However, I am often a single mom managing the home life while my husband is overseas serving in the U.S. Air Force. My 5-year-old daughter will be starting kindergarten this year and my 2-year-old son attends full-time care at a daycare center. I am beginning on my 11th year of college and hoping to graduate next May with a bachelor’s degree in Public Relations. Talk about the non-traditional student.

I can certainly sympathize with all of my non-traditional peers. Not all of us are parents; some of us are returning students after years of career experience. Others are students who have just had life get in the way. We aren’t crippled, we just aren’t traditional. In some way we add a little spice to every class with unique and different perspectives.

I don’t believe it hit me that I was a non-traditional student until my husband was sent to Saudi Arabia during the spring semester. I had been taking evening courses so I could continue to do home daycare during the day and stay home with my youngest child. Suddenly I was forced to look for evening daycare (which was virtually impossible to find) and figure out how I was going to attend study groups while I was the single parent for two to three months. For those of you out there who are single parents, I have nothing but the deepest respect for you.

To be a student you must have balance, compromise, confidence, faith, perseverance and determination. Being a parent and a student requires an added amount of these. A parent must balance between finishing that term paper and getting your kids fed. A parent must compromise whether you are going to pay a sitter to take your kid to school so you can take that 7 a.m. class or fit the class into the next semester so your child can have the pleasure of you taking them to school. A parent needs confidence that even though you have a huge jelly stain on your shirt from your kid using you as a napkin as she hugged you before running to school, your peers will still take you seriously. Faith is needed in a daycare provider or family member to be there when you cannot; perseverance is necessary to keep going even when things seem too difficult to go on. Determination means getting through the most difficult class you are taking even if it means you only get a C.

The reward for being the most determined and dedicated parent and student you can be is not just the degree at the end of the long 10 or so years of plugging away at courses. Your reward is the proud little face you see at the end of every day. To your child you are a superhero. You work hard to model the importance of education. You show what it means to do your best at everything you try and that nothing is impossible if you decide that is what you want to do. It may not seem like anyone is watching you and learning or appreciating everything you do but you can be sure there is.

So grab yourself a superhero lunch box, give yourself a big pat on the back and get over those first day of school jitters. You’ve got an example to set. When you think you just can’t do it anymore open a *Gateway and see what inspiration I can pass on. I’ll be here every other week to pat you on the back and remind you we are a non-traditional crowd that keeps on ticking. (Can you tell I’m a Public Relations major?)

Until next time, as my daughter always says, “See ya later, alligator!”