Balancing act

Hollan Holm

Ca’Linda Stuart sits her 9-month-old daughter, Saliya, in the saddle of a rocking horse on the other side of her living room.

While the Smiths Grove freshman folds clothes, warm from the dryer, her daughter chews on the end of a jump rope.

Caring for a child makes it hard for Stuart to keep up in her classes.

“I’m having a hard time in biology,” she said. “I’m not interested, so it’s hard to learn. I have to memorize everything.”

After spending a while bouncing on the horse and chewing, Saliya raises her hands and squeals.

“That means she wants to leave,” Stuart said. “I love her to death, but she’s hell on wheels.”

On the other hand, her daughter can be the greatest thing in her life.

“Sometimes, she’s the only friend I’ve got,” Stuart said.

Student life

On paper, Stuart is like some other 19-year-old college students – she fills in ‘undeclared’ for her college major.

“Repetition is what teaches me,” said Stuart, a valedictorian at her high school in Warren, Ill. “When you’re in high school, tests are based on memory. In college, things are different, teachers tell you what something means.”

Because she has a child to care for, Stuart can’t make the 20-minute drive into town for evening tutoring help.

Lessons already learned

She pulls her daughter off the rocking horse and sets her down on the maroon carpet of the home she shares with her boyfriend, 41-year-old Joe Cash.

“I don’t look at age as a barrier for anything,” Stuart said about Cash.

Stuart’s relationships with older men began with a marriage to a 48-year-old. But she left her husband after becoming pregnant from another man. She chose instead to live with the baby’s father.

“I got with the father more out of love for the child,” Stuart said.

But living with the father only brought her poverty and hunger.

Stuart started visiting Cash while she was pregnant and in need of something to eat. Eventually, she broke up with Saliya’s father and moved in with Cash.

Living with Cash brought stability back into her life.

Stuart said she wants to keep Saliya from experiencing the child abuse and molestation she experienced when she was growing up in Illinois.

“I love my little girl too much to put her in a messed up situation,” Stuart said.

Stuart said she and her sisters were removed from their biological parents and placed in a foster home.

She was eventually separated from her sisters and sent to a group home when she had trouble coping with the abuse she received earlier in her life.

She threw tantrums, while her sisters coped with the abuse, Stuart said.

“It wasn’t because I was a bad kid, I just didn’t know any better,” Stuart said.

“I just want people to see that I’m a normal person.”

A day in the life

While talking and folding clothes, Stuart will look over at her daughter across the room and click her tongue. Saliya clicks back.

“The reason why I do this stuff in the morning is because I don’t have time at night,” Stuart said.

Between class and housework, Stuart has a full-time job – motherhood.

On a typical day, Stuart said she gets up at 5 a.m., washes clothes and dishes and packs a lunch to take to campus. At the same time, she gets her child ready to take her to the babysitter who lives around the corner.

With about 15 or 20 minutes left before class starts, Stuart zooms out the door and down 31-W, parks and goes to class.

When she gets out of class, the rest of her day begins. She’ll typically pay bills and buy groceries in Bowling Green. By around 4 or 5 p.m., Stuart picks up her daughter from the babysitter and brings her home.

At home, Stuart spends about an hour just with her daughter. After that, she takes out the garbage, cleans her daughter’s bottles and feeds her and Cash’s 10 animals – cats, dogs and horses. At the end of the day, she squeezes in time for television and studying and is in bed by 10:30 p.m.

Her boyfriend admits he doesn’t help her much around the house.

“I’m the provider,” self-employed Cash said. During the day, he installs mobile homes. At night, he drives a limousine.

“She’s doing good,” Cash said. “She’s raising her daughter. She ain’t got no help, other than me.”

Cash also limits his role in caring for Saliya – he doesn’t do diapers.

“I’ll take over after she’s potty-trained,” he said.

Stuart’s daily schedule isn’t the only thing that’s changed, her spending habits have been altered since her daughter’s birth.

“I used to go get my nails done every week,” she said. “Now when I go to the mall, it’s only the baby store.”

She decided to come to college so her daughter will be proud of her.

“I see her getting older,” Stuart said. “I want to make something out of myself before she can realize it.”

To help her accomplish this goal, Stuart was given $6,000 in grants to help pay for her education at Western.

Speaking out

Stuart was studying for a recent Western Civilization test, but her daughter thought otherwise, crying until Stuart rocked her to sleep.

“I couldn’t deny her little face,” she said. Stuart continues to try in her classes despite distractions.

“I won’t skip because I’m scared the teachers will notice,” Stuart said. “I’m too big a part of the class.”

Her part in class, asking lots of questions when other students around her might keep quiet, has made her afraid that some of her teachers are mad at her.

Stuart’s freshman seminar professor Chris George said she adds a different perspective to the class discussions.

In addition to sides of discussions, Stuart differs from her classmates in her work ethic. Stuart said she tackles assignments as soon as they are handed to her.

“Honestly, the difference is she understands she has to do it,” George said. “(The other freshmen) have to still be led by the hand.”

Stuart can’t take “care-free” college life for granted because she has a child.

“I can’t go to the parties other college students go to, because I’m a mother and I have to take care of her,” Stuart said.

Her physical well being is affected by her dual life – student and mother. Stuart said she’s often running on nothing and can tell she’s not eating properly.

“I’ll eat cereal, and I’ll be so tired,” Stuart said. “Sometimes, if you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll feel bad.”

Sounds like something a mother would say.