TIME Parenting

Mom Threatens to Blow Up School After Daughter Fails Exam

Allegedly made the threat to a guidance counselor

A New York mom is accused of threatening to blow up her kids’ high school after she found out her daughter had failed a major state test.

Karen Shearon, of Staten Island, allegedly told the guidance counselor at Susan Wagner High School “I am going to blow up the school,” after the counselor called to inform her of her daughter’s failing grade, according to a criminal complaint first reported by DNAinfo.

She was arrested yesterday for aggravated harassment in the second degree, but has not yet been arraigned. Shearon has not yet made any public statements.

TIME Parenting

16 Clever Ways to Entertain a Child Who’s Home Sick

girl-drinking-from-cup
Getty Images

Watching Frozen isn't the only way to brighten up the young one when they're feeling under the weather

Take a Stroll Down Memory Lane
Pull out your child’s baby book or family photo albums and leaf through them together. Children rarely tire of remembering vacations or hearing about the day they were born—and thinking about the good times can distract them from their sore throat or crummy tummy.

Create a Secret Hideout
Forts or special nooks are cozy places for kids to pass the time while they’re recovering. Drape blankets over chairs or create a tent in a corner. Fill the space with a sleeping bag, pillows, favorite stuffed animals, a child-safe camping lamp or flashlight, and some books or toys.

Play Hospital
Misery loves company, and so do most sick kids. Set up a doll or animal hospital and let your child play MD, tending to stuffed patients and dispensing Band-Aids with abandon. Just say “ahhhh”!

Hit the “Spa”
Run a hot shower and let your child sit in the bathroom, soaking up the steam, for 15 minutes. The warm, moist air will help alleviate coughs and soothe the nose and lungs. Plus, misty mirrors are great canvases for budding Rembrandts. Warm baths can also help, and bundling up in pajamas and fluffy robes afterwards brings extra comfort.

Close Your Eyes and Listen
If your child isn’t up for much activity, try listening to audio books. Pick a favorite story and hear it in a new way, or find the latest book everyone’s talking about at school and settle in. If stories aren’t your thing, try lullabies.

Stick With Magnets
Pull out a cookie sheet and fill it with magnets, so bedridden kids can play without running around. Younger kids can use letters to make words; older kids can use poetry sets to unleash their inner bards.

Make Ice Pops
For sore throats, nothing says “I love you” like popsicles. Try some of these recipes to soothe swollen tonsils. Or use the Zoku popsicle maker to make frozen treats in minutes.

Pull Out the Play-Doh
Make homemade Play-Doh and let your child create mosaics, mazes, and a mushy multitude of other options. You only need flour, oil, salt, cream of tartar, food coloring, and a stove. Essential oils are great additions (try peppermint, lavender or eucalyptus to help clear the nose and lungs).

Give Presents
Next time you’re at the dollar store, pick up a few toys or games your child might like. When your son or daughter is sick, you can wrap one up and give them a “Get Better” present.

Try Out Tattoos
Face paint might be too much for a sick day, but temporary tattoos (favorite superheroes, dinosaurs…even glitter hearts) are an easy way to make a dull afternoon a little more colorful. And if your kids start looking like Kat Von D, they can wear long sleeves when the fever breaks.

Get Into Graffiti
With Crayola Window Markers, your child can create designs or doodles on any glass surface—from cups and windows to picture frames. She can play graffiti artist to her heart’s content, but her masterpieces will wash off easily with soap and water.

Travel Back in Time
Travel back in time with nostalgic toys and games like Smethport magnetic boards, Shrinky Dinks, Mr. Potato Head, Cooties, Operation, and Silly Putty. They’re all readily available in stores and online, and (a blast from the past) none of them involves staring at a screen.

Tour the Globe
Use a globe or map to pick fantasy trips—from Disneyland to Denmark. Talk about why you want to travel there and what you’d do, even if you’re just making it all up. Check out National Geographic’s website for stories and stunning pictures of destinations both far-flung and domestic.

Make Astronaut Tea
Mix equal parts (roughly 20 ounces each) powdered Tang and powdered sweetened lemon ice tea in an airtight container. For an extra kick, add one teaspoon each of cinnamon and ground cloves. Shake well. Add 2-3 heaping teaspoons to hot water and enjoy. It’s full of sugar, but your little astronaut will probably be over the moon.

Create a Scavenger Hunt
If your kid is up to it, ask him find 10 things that are blue or 20 things that start with the letter S—or hide his favorite stuffed animals around the house and give him 20 minutes to find them. Reward him with Popsicles or tomato soup with goldfish crackers.

Take a Short Walk
Sure, it’s tempting to stay in bed all day, but so long as your child is comfortable and not running a fever, a short walk can do wonders to clear out a cough and get the blood flowing.

If all else fails, go ahead and pull out the movies or turn on the TV. Sometimes, mindless entertainment is truly the best medicine.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

More from Real Simple:

TIME Family

This Chart Shows Most Americans Agree with Pope Francis on Spanking

Pope Francis Leads Mass With Members Of The Institutes Of Consecrated Life
Franco Origlia—Getty Images Pope Francis speaks during a Mass at St. Peter's Basilica on Feb. 2, 2015 in Vatican City.

Spanking isn't all that controversial for most parents in the U.S.

Pope Francis angered child abuse activists this week when he suggested it was ok for parents to discipline a disobedient child with a smack “if dignity was maintained.”

The comments, apparently in support of corporal punishment, fly in the face of consistent research that’s found spanking has essentially no positive effect on children and may actually harm them in the long run.

Still, as it turns out, spanking isn’t all that controversial for most parents in the U.S., black or white, high school dropouts or college graduates.

More than three quarters of men and 65% of women in the United States say they support giving children the occasional “good, hard spanking,” as TIME highlighted in parenting feature The Discipline Wars.

Sources: Child Trends’ original analysis of the General Social Survey 2012

The numbers are only marginally lower than in 1985, when 84% of men and 82% of women said they supported the practice.

Views around the world are somewhat mixed—43 countries, including Francis’ native Argentina, ban corporal punishment. Still, all of North America and most of Western Europe either explicitly allow it or have no laws on the books.

But even supporters of the occasional spanking draw the line somewhere. The father who prompted Francis to discuss the issue in the first place, for instance, said he would never try to “humiliate” his child. In his remarks, Francis said that parents should only “correct with firmness” when it is done “justly.”

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TIME Books

Teens Crave Young Adult Books on Really Dark Topics (and That’s OK)

Gayle Forman
Dennis Kleiman—© Stomping Ground Photo 2014 Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman is the award-winning New York Times best-selling author of the novels: If I Stay, Where She Went and the Just One Day series. Her latest 'dark' book, I Was Here, follows a young woman in the aftermath of her best friend's suicide.

It's time to stop worrying that great YA novels about risky behavior or even death will be a bad influence on kids

When I was 12 years old, I became an avid reader, my bookshelves stuffed with paperbacks like Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Wives, Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight and Harold Robbins’ Dreams Die First. Much as I loved reading about groupies and spies and Hollywood wives, and drug addicts and murderers, I was not one of them. I hadn’t even French kissed. Though some of the girls at my school were already sexually experienced, in spite of my racy reading, I was not. I wasn’t much into boys, at least not ones who existed off the page of a juicy book.

I think about teen-reader me a lot when I hear about adults bemoaning the dark material in Young Adult books. (Interestingly, I rarely meet these folks; only read about them.) Because the concerns seem partially predicated on this idea that you become what you read. By that logic, I would’ve become a cocaine-snorting groupie years ago, or a lunatic or a murderous Russian. Because by 10th grade, it was Vonnegut and Dostoyevsky I was obsessed with. Partly because by this time, I’d become a wee bit pretentious. But partly because the kinds of books I would’ve loved to read weren’t being written yet.

The other concern with dark YA seems based on a worry that these intense stories—which sometimes deal with issues like self-harm and addiction and abuse and even death—could irrevocably damage fragile minds.

Huh.

I’m never all that sure what makes a book “dark” in the first place. It seems to vary with seasons, or the trends. Are dark books the ones that allegorically explore serious subject matter, like warfare (The Hunger Games) or the human capacity for destruction (Grasshopper Jungle)? Or at they the ones that reflect our actual world, including the capacity for human cruelty and kindness (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian) or the messy stuff of human mortality (The Fault In Our Stars)?

Because if those books are dark, and that’s a problem, I’m confused. Are these not the same subjects young people are encouraged to engage in at school, by reading the newspaper, or canonical texts like The Iliad (warfare) or Macbeth (the capacity for self destruction) or To Kill A Mockingbird (kindness and cruelty) or A Farwell to Arms, all Emily Dickinson poetry (that messy morality business)?

But for a moment, let’s put the question of whether books are dark aside. For a moment, let’s just say that some YA is dark. And….so what?

Literature swims in the murkier waters of the human condition. Conflict and matters of life and death, of freedom and oppression—it is the business of books to explore these themes, and the business of teenagers, too.

New brain mapping research suggests that adolescence is a time when teens are capable of engaging deeply with material, on both an intellectual level as well as an emotional one. Some research suggests that during adolescence, the parts of the brain that processes emotion are even more online with teens than with adults, (something that will come as absolutely no surprise to any parent of a teenager). So, developmentally, teens are hungry for more provocative grist while emotionally they’re thirsty for the catharsis these books offer. Of course teens are drawn to darker, meatier fare. The only surprise about this is that it’s a surprise.

There may be another reason for the appeal. Adolescence is a time when teens are statistically more likely to come into harm’s way, and thus more likely to witness harm among their peers. According to the National Institutes for Mental Health, teens between 15 and 19 are about six times more likely to die by injury than people ages 10 to 14. Is it any wonder that they want books to help process what they’re experiencing around them, often for the first time?

That increased death rate, however, is a chilling statistic, particularly if you’re a parent. Seen through that lens—the fear of something terrible befalling a child—the wariness about dark YA begins to make more sense. Because if your child doesn’t read about death, about abuse, about rape, about suicide, then these terrible things won’t happen to him or her. 'I Was Here' by Gayle Forman

But that is a form of magical thinking, and no matter how well intentioned, it’s wrong. Because books don’t create behaviors. It’s possible they reinforce existing behaviors, but those behaviors are already present, not created by a novel. A novel won’t turn a bookish drama geek into a promiscuous drug abuser any more than it will turn a promiscuous drug abuser into a bookish drama geek, unless the seeds of those transformations were already planted.

What books can do, however, is reflect an experience and show a way out of difficult, isolating times. It’s why Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak has become such a touchstone, giving young women a voice to speak about sexual abuse, or Sherman Alexie’s Part-Time Indian has been a life raft for young people who can’t see their way out of existences straightjacketed by addiction and deprivation. I don’t believe that books, YA or otherwise, have the power to save lives. That’s a bit too grandiose for my thinking, but seeing your experience, your sometimes difficult experiences, reflected can be a powerful incentive to reach out and get the help that could indeed save a life.

I suspect that most teens who read and love “dark” YA have little in common with the struggling characters they relate to. Whenever I ask teenagers why they’re drawn to books like my novel If I Stay—in which the main character loses her family in a car accident—they overwhelmingly say the appeal is seeing an ordinary teen forced into an extraordinary circumstance. Reading about everyday fictional teens rising to the occasion (and, spoiler alert, in YA books they almost always do) allows actual teens to imagine themselves doing the same, within the lower-stakes conflicts and contexts of their own lives. This is empowering, and hopeful, words that I would use to describe many YA books. Even the dark ones. Especially the dark ones. These “dark” books may seem to be about death, about illness, about pain, but really they are about life. The kids get that, even if the adults sometimes, do not.

Some of my favorite “dark” YA books:

(Gayle Forman’s best-selling novel If I Stay was made into a motion picture in 2014. Her latest novel, I Was Here was published in January 2015. )

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

This Barber Is Punishing Unruly Kids By Giving Them Ridiculous Old-Man Haircuts

Comb Still Life
Nancy R. Cohen—Getty Images

If they want to act old, they can have a bald spot

Do your kids talk back to you because they think they’re grown-ups? Well now, they can look like one, thanks to a genius barber who designed a special haircut to punish obnoxious kids.

The barbers at Atlanta’s A-1 Kutz came up with the “Benjamin Button Special” to punish kids who “act grown,” by shaving their heads so they look like old men. Barber Russell Frederick and his staff are even offering the haircut for free.

Frederick told the Washington Post he first tried the haircut on his own 12-year old son after he was slacking in school, and said his grades “dramatically skyrocketed” after he got his bald spot.

(h/t Washington Post)

TIME Opinion

Judging the Couple Who Locked Their Kids In a Car to Go Wine Tasting

Schadenfreude is modern parenting's favorite spectator sport.

A Washington, D.C. couple is under arrest after leaving their two young children locked in the car while they were wine tasting at a local restaurant. Yes, wine tasting.

The parents, identified as Christopher Lucas, 41, and Jennie Chang, 45, left their 22-month-old boy and 2 1/2 year-old girl strapped in their car seats in a locked car while they went to go wine-and-dine at a restaurant near the Ritz Carlton. The temperature was hovering near freezing, according to the Washington Post, and neither child had a hat or gloves; one had bare feet. The parents felt like it was okay to leave their kids locked in their Volvo, because they were at a restaurant just around the corner and had left an iPhone on to monitor the two children.

“I left to go inside the restaurant,” Lucas said, according to the report, “but I’m watching them.” The parents were gone for an hour and according to police who checked surveillance cameras, they never came to check on their children. A resident of a local apartment building called police after watching the car for 20 minutes, according to the Post, while, NBCWashington reports that another passerby dialed 911 after hearing the little girl sobbing.

The children were brought into a police car to be warmed up, they were checked out by paramedics and were in good health, police said. The parents returned as police were investigating, but the children were turned over to D.C. Child and Family Services and the Lucas and Change were arrested on two counts of attempted second-degree cruelty to children, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence. Their own stupidity, though, will last a lifetime.

To be frank, it seems clear that the parents are idiots. Lucas runs a software company and Chang works for the USDA, they drive a Volvo, and they live in a townhouse, according to the Post. All solid life choices. Despite this: idiots. Idiots for drinking wine while their children were locked in a car in near-freezing temperatures. Even bigger idiots because these parents clearly had the resources to hire a babysitter for the afternoon. Luckily the children were fine, which is what makes this case so prime for one of the favorite pastimes of modern parenting: Parental Schadenfreude.

Schadenfreude is taken from the German and means “harm-joy” and it’s usually used to connote some pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. In this case, the chucklehead parents. To be clear, this is is not about the kids. The kids survived the parents’ lousy idea and were just the innocent victims of some astoundingly poor parenting. These parents were arrested for making not just a bad choice, but an astonishingly bad choice. These kids weren’t left alone in a car for five minutes while the parents ran into the mini market, they weren’t napping in strollers while their parents watched from inside a coffee shop, nor were they 9-year olds playing at the park while the mother worked. This isn’t free-range parenting or an unfortunate but understandable reality of impoverished working parents. It’s two seemingly well-educated, upper middle class parents who left their toddlers alone for an hour while they imbibed at a tony restaurant around the corner. This is not a mistake that most of us would make. Hence the schadenfreude.

There’s a certain glee that comes with watching other people screw up worse than you, especially when it comes to modernity’s high-stakes parenting. While you may leave your sleeping infant in a car for a minute to buy a gallon of milk or forget to pick up your kid from preschool before 6p.m., not bother to check for trans fats, like, ever, or even drop the baby while trying to cram him into an Ergo, you’re still not even close to locking your children into a car in near-freezing temperatures causing concerned strangers to dial 911 while you’re cozied up around the corner noting the subtle flavor profile of a glass of Rioja.

Thanks to your passable parenting skills, you can click on the headline as you scroll past it on your newsfeed and shake your head in disbelief at the mistakes of others. You can nod along with the local newscasters as they decry the poor decision-making skills of those parents. You can even recognize that parents with two children under the age of 2 probably really needed a glass of wine, while still rolling your eyes at their child care choice. You can understand it, but you would never ever do it, so you can tsk tsk tsk away.

In short, thank you to the police for doing their job and protecting those children and thank you to these parents for making almost everyone else look good by comparison.

TIME Parenting

Parents, Calm Down About Infant Screen Time

KNUTSFORD, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 29: In this photograph illustration a ten-year-old boy uses an Apple Ipad tablet computer on November 29, 2011 in Knutsford, United Kingdom. Tablet computers have become the most wanted Christmas present for children between the ages of 6-11 years. Many parents are having to share their tablet computers with their children as software companies release hundredes of educational and fun applications each month. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Christopher Furlong—etty Images

Christopher J. Ferguson is associate professor and department chair of psychology at Stetson University

Too much of the wrong kind of media can hurt infants, but that doesn't mean you need to practice total abstinence

Parents of infants face hard choices about how to raise their children, and sometimes misleading information can get in the way of their decisions. Take screen time: readers of the Guardian were recently treated to the claim that allowing toddlers to play with iPads or other small screens could damage their brains. It turned out, however, that the story (since corrected) was not based on an actual research study, but a press release regarding a commentary in the journal Pediatrics. The story was one in a series of claims in recent years that tablet use hurts infants’ development—scary headlines that too often mislead readers about research that is much less clear or consistent than claimed.

Both journalists and scholars are responsible for needlessly scaring parents. For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has long called for complete avoidance of screen time in infancy. Yet a number of scholars and commenters have criticized the AAP for being both unrealistic and ignoring data that doesn’t fit their scarier message. One of the top experts in this area, Deborah Linebarger has said that the AAP should present all data on screen time rather than ignoring data that suggest positive benefits of media while sensationalizing flawed studies that find negative relations. So what does the research really say on screen time for infants?

Well, it’s complicated. First, claims that exposure to screens (including television) is associated with reduced cognitive development in childhood are controversial. In one of my own recent studies with coauthor M. Brent Donnellan, we found that total abstinence, that is to say families following the AAP’s recommendations, was actually associated with lower cognitive development, not higher. But this doesn’t mean that anything goes—no one is suggesting that we sit baby down for a Terminator marathon.

The non-profit group Zero to Three recently released screen time recommendations for infants. As they note, it really is not so simple as to say that screens are or aren’t good for infants. Nor is abstinence the answer. It’s more about using screens in a quality way, as when caregivers engage with infants while they watch and explain what they are seeing. Screens such as iPads or smartphones can actually be used in ways that promote babies’ cognitive and social development. But as they write, moderation is key: “the need for limits is still important because research clearly shows that it is active exploration of the real, 3-D world with loving, trusting caregivers that is most critical for healthy early development.”

In another recent study, presented by Deborah Linebarger at the American Psychological Association conference in 2014, researchers found that parent-toddler interactions around media were most crucial for toddlers’ language development and that media that shows real characters in real situations is associated with better language development. Too often newspaper headlines and the AAP present media and parenting as a kind of zero-sum game. But media can be intelligently incorporated into smart parenting.

Who the media was designed for in the first place is important too. One 2010 study by Rachel Barr and colleagues found that infant exposure to adult-oriented media was associated with less cognitive development, but exposure to child-oriented media was not associated with any cognitive outcome.

So, given that the data is often complex and contradictory and even scholars debate these issues, what should parents do? Is it ok to let the little ones have a bit of screen time? Probably, so long as it’s not replacing interactions with parents and it’s using media that is educational or geared toward children and shows real characters in real situations. Don’t think of media as an either/or but something you can use with children and talk to them about. Sure, if you’re letting your infant watch CNN alone for hours on end, you’ve probably got media wrong. But total abstinence for toddlers isn’t necessary. Pressuring parents with total media abstinence, particularly with nonsense claims of damaged brains isn’t good science. It’s just frightening and shaming parents.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Advertising

Here’s Why Nationwide Ran That Depressing Super Bowl Ad

It was to raise awareness about the number one cause of death for children

Nationwide Insurance has been getting some flak for its super-depressing Super Bowl ad about a child’s death, and now the company is telling its side of the story.

“We were not trying to sell insurance with this ad,” says Nationwide CMO Matt Jauchius. “We were trying to save kids’ lives by making people aware of this.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), accidents are the number one cause of death for children, and Jauchius says that’s been true since the 1950s. In fact, he said, if you average the number of children who die in accidents per year (9,000), it comes out to about one per hour. That means that over the course of the Super Bowl, four children could have been killed by preventable accidents.

Jauchius notes that there is no insurance policy explicitly advertised in the spot. Instead, the ad was designed to promote the company’s Make Safe Happen program, which raises awareness about preventable accidents and offers tools to help parents make their homes safer (like checklists organized by age, or room in the home.)

But what about criticism that the ad’s tone was too depressing for Super Bowl Sunday? Jauchius disagrees, citing ads about cyberbullying and domestic violence that also ran during the game. Plus, he notes, what better time to raise awareness than when millions of Americans are tuned in at the same time?

“Some people would say that the Super Bowl is not the place for these kinds of ads that are trying to do social good,” he says. “But if all of this saves one kid’s life, it’s more than worth it.”

TIME Parenting

Why Amish Kids Are Happier than Yours

happy amish kid
Mark Wilson—Getty Images

...and probably more obedient.

Modern parents face tons of advice – a lot of it conflicting. New research seems to come out daily, and new experts are always spouting new ideas.

The Amish, on the other hand, hold onto old ways, with limited technology and a simple life. But Amish families are also marked by strong bonds, as novelist Serena B. Miller recognized as she did research for her historical novels about the Amish community. And she found Amish children to be “obedient and
content… and remarkably happy.”

Here are five secrets parents can learn from the Amish, as offered up in Miller’s new book: More Than Happy: The Wisdom of Amish Parenting.

  1. Extended Family. One big hallmark of Amish culture: children grow up not just with their immediate family, but in a broad network of people who know and care about them. And that network doesn’t have to be perfect to work. “Family,” Miller writes, “even flawed families with eccentric relatives—is important to a child’s wellbeing.”
  1. Imperfect Hospitality. The Amish nurture community by welcoming a steady stream of guests into the home. But they don’t try to have everything perfect before guests arrive. And they don’t apologize if things aren’t just right. They know that “most people care a whole lot more about being welcome than the condition of your home,” as Miller writes. And it’s an attitude that teaches kids to live without shame.
  1. Hands-On Skills. Amish make sure their kids have hands-on skills, even if they also have a higher education. And, those hands-on skills can build perseverance, attention to detail, and confidence that can help kids succeed in any other part of life.
  1. Practical Forgiveness. Forgiveness is a crucial aspect of Amish homes, where it is practiced daily, and seen as a way to show respect to loved ones. It also, Miller observes, provides Amish children with “a sense of security,” because in a climate of forgiveness, they know that “making a mistake is not the end of the world.”
  1. Creative Boredom. You might think that because the Amish world isn’t filled with technological devices, Amish kids would be more likely to get bored. In fact, the opposite is true. Because Amish kids don’t have a TV show or game to turn to if they feel a twinge of boredom, they have more opportunities to “use their own creativity to amuse themselves,” Miller says.

Ultimately, all Amish parenting is rooted in the faith at the heart of Amish practice. The Amish aren’t known for trying to convert people, but for the integrity of their lives. And as one old Amish man who Miller interviewed observed, “From what I’ve seen over the years, that is also the most effective kind of parenting.”

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TIME Education

Going Back to School With My Teenage Daughter

college
Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

It wasn't easy for my daughter to have her own college experience while I sat behind her in geography class

Walking into the college classroom on the first day of the semester, the young woman in front of me introduced herself to those sitting around her and smiled. She then looked over at me and said, “Mom, I’m not going to help you with this class. You’re going to have to do this on your own, I’m sorry.” I don’t remember even asking.

Earlier that week, Stephanie—the youngest of my four daughters—and I were sitting in a courtyard at our school, Chandler-Gilbert Community College, when she told me that she was dropping one of her classes and needed to add another. I told her I was taking geography and since she needed that class as well, we could take it together.

She gave me ‘the look’ with a resounding No. Then she changed her mind: Yeah, ok.

There is nothing quite like attending college with your daughter. For all the difficulties of getting your children educated, nothing is more challenging than trying to educate yourself at the same time.

The journey started years ago, when our family was living in North Carolina. I was a stay-at-home mom with hopes of returning to school once Stephanie started kindergarten. Eventually, I wanted to become a teacher. My dream was that my daughters and I could go to school together during the academic year and have family time during the summer.

Then plans changed. Getting divorced and raising four daughters alone is not easy, but I decided to go back to school anyway.

It would be very slow-going—I was behind. Algebra wasn’t even on my high school transcripts. So I found myself in community college, taking middle school math, three levels below the minimum college algebra class required to graduate. But I didn’t give up. I enjoyed it. Going to school became my place to go to invest in myself while still having time for a young family.

At the same time I was taking those math classes, my oldest daughter Amy, an 8th grader, complained about the new teacher in her own math class. Her regular teacher had a medical issue, and Amy was having trouble understanding the substitute, an older man who told long, drawn-out stories that made no sense. So I suggested that we talk to him and see what we could do to help the situation. She agreed.

I had just come from my math class earlier that morning and felt I could handle this. We walked into the room and there was my college math professor sitting at the desk looking up and smiling at both of us. Amy looked mortified. — No! How could this be?

The two of us were taking the same class, which may have been embarrassing to Amy, but I thought it was great. I was happy to be with my girls and be in school.

He proved to be an amazing teacher. He set the two of us up in friendly competition. In the evenings, we would sit together and go over her homework. Amy looked at math as a puzzle and I turned his stories into a method that helped her see how to do the problems.

In her class, he would tell the students that Amy’s mom had gotten an A on her homework—and wondered what Amy could do to beat her mom. He got the class interested in the game. She knew my grades before I did, and it made her feel special. He turned that around and did the same in my class, and students would ask him about my daughter. It was fun. More importantly, we both learned. As a side benefit, it brought us closer.

We later moved to Arizona and Amy signed up for the high school marching band. Erin and Courtney—my other daughters—went to middle school and also signed up for band. Stephanie was in second grade. And I applied to Arizona State University.

Then reality hit.

Marching band for Amy included early morning practices at 6 a.m., Friday night football games and competitions every Saturday all across Arizona. Middle school involved field trips, teacher meetings and homework. Elementary school was filled with more field trips, class parties with baked goods and after-school activities. And I had a full-time job, I never signed up for classes at ASU after being accepted, and college went on the back burner.

The years flew by. One by one, daughters moved out, leaving Stephanie the last one at home. She started taking courses in high school that satisfied college credits. Since I was not working at the time, I decided to go back and finish what I started.

I went to my local community college to learn about my options. Stephanie came with me and together we looked at my transfer credits from North Carolina. Her face dropped when she saw my grades. The adviser and I looked at her and I asked what was wrong. Mockingly she said, “Mom, really? One B? Out of all those A’s? Why?” She couldn’t believe I had received good grades. Apparently my daughters thought I had made up my grades in college to ‘inspire’ them to do well in their classes, since that’s what moms do, you know! So I signed up and dug in.

Graduating with honors with an Associate’s of Arts Degree, Stephanie sat in the audience—she was just four credits short of graduation.

In fall 2012, we both transferred to Arizona State. I chose to attend the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Stephanie chose to be a photography major at the Herberger Institute. But when Stephanie visited Cronkite and saw pictures on the wall by photojournalism students, she decided to change majors.

As a mother, I tried to stay out of her way, planning my classes on a Monday-Wednesday schedule after finding her classes were on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She needed to have her own college experience.

But at the same time, there were moments when my daughter and I were peers. We laughed and cried during midterms and final exams. We rolled our eyes at difficult professors and homework assignments that made no sense. I also felt better connected to my other daughters and their educational experiences.

Stephanie took the fall semester off this year and spent time in Oregon and New York visiting two of her sisters. She plans to start at ASU again this January, and she should graduate next fall, having studied photography, journalism, and art history. Her goals are to get a master’s in anthropology and to work for National Geographic.

Graduation should come this spring semester for me, as there is one core class I need in order to finish. Stephanie and I have become each other’s biggest supporters and I couldn’t be more proud of all of our accomplishments. My daughter Courtney graduates this spring as well. Erin was the winner, having already graduated, but 2015 is our year!

Sandy Balazic is a single mom, a mini-doxie fan, an in-depth reporter for Cronkite News, an intern for NBC Sports Radio 1060AM and a soon-to-be graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

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