You never know what articles are going to really hit you until they do. Just today I was browsing my Facebook feed when I came across this Huffington Post article:
Professor Comforts Student’s Baby in Class to Let Mom Focus on Studies
I almost started crying, which seems like a weird reaction. The story is about a 33-year-old college student who, after her babysitter canceled, was forced to bring her 4 month-old to class with her. When her baby became fussy, her professor picked up the baby and carried her around for the rest of class so that the student could focus. It is, of course, lucky that the baby found the professor soothing, certainly, it’s possible that the baby could have been really unhappy with the strange person, but probably she was just happy to be bouncing around a little. Babies are like that.
Probably this story resonated with me because I was also a non-traditionally-aged college student at 33 and I, too, have a child that I had to take to class with me. For us, we were between the ages of 32 and 34 and 6 and 8, but it’s stressful no matter what. My husband works a 9 to 5(ish) job, so I dealt with childcare. In my first semester, I managed to schedule my classes so that I could get my son on the bus and off every day. Even so, there were days that he was off school and I wasn’t. That first semester I think I brought my son to two different classes. He’s honestly pretty well-behaved, but being 10 to 15 years older than your classmates is stressful enough without having that underlined by the the presence of your child. Even when the child is cute and well-behaved, the stress of feeling like a sore thumb when all you want to do is focus on class is a very uncomfortable feeling. During one semester my husband and I worked out a schedule that involved my son being at his office on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, but it wasn’t really tenable for more than that one semester.
I was very lucky, though. Never once did I have a professor who complained about my child being in class or tell me that I couldn’t bring my child to class. In fact, in my very last semester, my child came to almost every session of my History of American Environmentalism class. It wasn’t intentional. The previous year I’d had him in an aftercare program that enabled me to expand the hours during which it was feasible for me to take classes. Unfortunately, a daycare center near my son’s elementary school closed down and caused an overload of the aftercare program at his school. At the beginning of the semester I was left crossing my fingers to get called off the wait-list, and I dropped by my professor’s office before the first day of class to let him know that I was having a childcare issue. He was so kind about the situation, and at this point I had been able to relax a little about the idea of having my son with me, that I felt a little better about it.
Really, there’s a much bigger story here about the serious shortage of affordable childcare in the United States. Still, there I was. As the semester wore on, we had to come to terms with the fact that space just wasn’t going to open up and my son would have to be with me, with a few exceptions. A few times he had playdates with a friend (whose mom also happened to be a professor/friend of mine). Mostly though, he came to class.
We shouldn’t have had to do that, but I’m grateful that – like the woman mentioned above – I had professors who were so kind and so generous with their classrooms and whose generosity went a long way toward lessening the stress that I felt in having to bring my son to class with me. My professors at Penn State Altoona went the extra mile for me, and I’m not entirely sure that it’s possible for me to express how grateful I am to them. And, although I knew before that I appreciated them, I’m not sure I realized how much until now.