Beyond the Books: Balancing school with parenthood

Sarah Lechowich’s days are quite full, with class and two young girls to care for.

Communications student Sarah Lechowich plays with her daughters Annika, 16 months, middle, and Gretchen, 3, right, Monday at a park.

Image by Marija Majerle

Communications student Sarah Lechowich plays with her daughters Annika, 16 months, middle, and Gretchen, 3, right, Monday at a park.

ItâÄôs Monday afternoon and Sarah Lechowich just got off work at her work-study job as a clerical aid for the University of Minnesota Program in Physical Therapy. She had two classes today and a meeting with an adviser.

Lechowich and Gretchen eat dinner at the kitchen table while Annika attempts to feed herself in her high chair.

For some, this might signal the end of the vital part of their day. For Lechowich, it is only the beginning of the part of her day when she can forget about books and exams and devote herself fully to being a caring mother of two. It is quite a walk from the physical therapy building on the East Bank to her childrenâÄôs daycare center about 25 minutes away. The walk is enjoyable for Lechowich, though, who is wearing a salmon-colored spring jacket and walking with a sense of purpose. The walk signifies her favorite part of the day. She is picking up her two girls from daycare. The wind seems to have picked up and the direction of the daycare is directly against the gusts. Lechowich, 32, a communications student at the University, says even though she is always happy to see her children, Gretchen, 3, and Annika, 16 months, they are not always in a hurry to leave. âÄúThey want to play,âÄù Lechowich says. âÄúI represent going home.âÄù After arriving, she leans into the room where Gretchen is playing and lets her know that they will be leaving soon. Annika is playing in another room in a red buggy with a few others. ItâÄôs a struggle to get Annika to leave, even though she is smiling from ear to ear. Melanie Seivert, lead teacher in the toddler room, said Lechowich is one of several students whose children come to the daycare center. The girls take after their mother, with light skin and brown hair. GretchenâÄôs comes down to her waist. If the girls were against leaving the day care, you wouldnâÄôt know it on the drive home. At the request of Gretchen, Lechowich leads her in singing the ABCâÄôs with scattered applause from Annika. The drive lasts 10 minutes and the family arrives home in the Como neighborhood.

Preparing: 16 hours earlier

Lechowich stays up until 1:00 a.m. finishing a proposal for her History of the Holocaust class, only to wake up two-and-a-half hours later to change AnnikaâÄôs diaper âÄî a nightly occurrence. Then itâÄôs back to bed.

Lechowich visits with her daughter Gretchen on the way home from day care.

Her alarm goes off as it does every day at 5:45 a.m. She hits snooze twice before climbing out of bed. After Lechowich makes coffee, Annika wakes up at 6:20 a.m., and at 6:43 a.m. she wakes up Gretchen and lets the two watch PBS. Lechowich then finishes getting dressed, does her make-up and hair, packs her backpack and fills her coffee to-go cup. By 7:25 a.m. everyone is dressed and with shoes, coats and hats they are out the door. Ten minutes later she drops the girls off at daycare, kisses and waves goodbye, parks and walks to campus, as she does every day. At 8:06 a.m. she arrives at the Student Parent HELP Center in the basement of Appleby Hall. Lechowich is the first person there. She prints papers and checks her e-mail while drinking her first, and certainly not last, cup of coffee of the day.

School: 9:05 a.m.

Her first class of the day is Analysis of Argument . Today the class is discussing images and the arguments behind them. Lechowich explains the meaning of âÄúGuernica,âÄù a Picasso painting about the Spanish Civil War, but is cut short by the end of class. There is a 50 minute gap before History of the Holocaust starts at 10:45 a.m. Lechowich is not always able to get her reading done because her only chance to read is at school or after her girls go to bed, so she arrives early and begins reading âÄúNeighbors,âÄù a book with graphic scenes about Jewish children during the Holocaust. âÄúI canâÄôt read this kind of stuff at night, because I have my girls,âÄù she says of the bookâÄôs graphic content. Ten minutes before the start of class, she discusses the book with sociology of law, crime and deviance junior Aydrea Rickert who she usually sits next to. âÄúDid you start âÄòNeighborsâÄô?âÄù Lechowich asks. âÄúYes,âÄù Rickert replies. âÄúIâÄôm already disturbed,âÄù Lechowich says. Lechowich said itâÄôs important for her to find a buddy in classes so when she has to miss because her girls are sick, she has someone who can fill her in. In the past year, she has had to deal with her girls getting strep throat, ear infections and fevers. If they have a temperature higher than 100, they have to stay home from daycare. Last semester was especially brutal because she had to take some finals without studying. âÄúI canâÄôt plan on a cram night because if I plan on it, they wonâÄôt sleep, no question,âÄù she said. When the class starts, Lechowich hands in her proposal. Her topic, the HolocaustâÄôs affect on children in early childhood, stemmed from her girls. As with everything in her life, they played a role in her decision. At 12:16 p.m. she arrives back at Appleby Hall for a meeting with an adviser. After the meeting, she goes back down the hall to the Student Parent HELP Center and eats lunch and chats with psychology senior Amanda Delaney , who is also a parent. They talk about relationships and legal issues that parents deal with. Lechowich said she enjoys the support and camaraderie of fellow student parents at the HELP center. âÄúItâÄôs sometimes really tough. If I didnâÄôt have support, I donâÄôt think I would survive,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôs nice to have people who can relate to diapers and midterms.âÄù

Work: 1:47 p.m.

Lechowich chats with fellow student-parent Amanda Delaney at the Student Parent HELP Center.

Her job consists of mostly busy work. She stuffs and delivers mail, alphabetizes and collates material. She works 10 to 12 hours a week and welcomes the job, which doesnâÄôt take much effort. âÄúI need that downtime, because when I go home with my girls I canâÄôt be mindless, I canâÄôt just go home and zone out in front of the TV,âÄù she said. âÄúI have to be completely, 100 percent on.âÄù

At Home: 4:36 p.m.

Lechowich feeds Annika applesauce while Gretchen swings on a recently bought indoor swing, which lets the girls play inside during the winter, although Lechowich admits sheâÄôs used it at night when struggling with a paper. She also admits part of the goal is to wear the girls out so she can do homework in the evening when they are asleep. She tries to keep a balance between being a good student and a good mom. âÄúI end up having to give on the studying a little because I canâÄôt give on the parenting,âÄù she says. She tries to be an âÄúAâÄù student and an âÄúAâÄù mom, but admits that it is very difficult, Lechowich said. âÄúAll my attention and focus have to be with them, If IâÄôve had a bad day or got a crappy test score or something, I have to completely leave all that here and go home and be, like, âÄòSuper Mommy,âÄôâÄù she said. At 4:52 p.m. the family goes to the park right outside their home. Annika is kneeled next to a slide, focused on building a sand castle, with no regard for her pink outfit. After about 20 minutes, Lechowich unsuccessfully makes an attempt at using dinner to get the girls inside. âÄúDo you want to help mom make the spaghetti?âÄù she asks. âÄúSorry mom,âÄù Gretchen says, seemingly knowing her momâÄôs intentions. Annika is the first to be served in her high-chair and by the time she is joined by her mother and sister, her face is half skin, half sauce, but for all her giggling and smiling it looks like she couldnâÄôt be happier.

Lechowich colors with her daughter Gretchen before putting her to bed. Lechowich doesnâÄôt focus on schoolwork until her daughters are tucked in, usually around 8 p.m.

At 6:23 p.m. Lechowich finishes doing dishes and cleaning-up and takes the girls upstairs for a bath rich with the smell of lavender. After the bath, Annika gets a new diaper for the night and at 6:50 p.m. goes to bed. To LechowichâÄôs relief Annika goes to bed easily and now it is time to entertain Gretchen. Lechowich is visibly tired, but she lays out a large sheet of paper on the kitchen floor and draws with Gretchen. Hands and feet are traced. At the conclusion of each, Gretchen lets out a triumphant âÄúTa-Da!âÄù For the grand finale she gets her entire body traced by mom. By 8:20 p.m. both girls are in bed, but it is not time to unwind for Lechowich. âÄúI have to wait âÄòtil they go to bed and then I still canâÄôt have a bad day because now I gotta focus on my assignments for the next day,âÄù she said. She canâÄôt fully focus on school until 9:55 p.m. because Gretchen is restless and comes back down stairs twice. After an hour of procrastination, Lechowich calls it quits. Upstairs Gretchen is asleep, so she sets her alarm and settles into bed at 11:30 p.m. In roughly four hours she will change a wet diaper and repeat the cycle of a mother in a studentâÄôs life.