The dynamic duo takes on Buffalo
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Tara Green was 19 years old, finishing up her second year at Salt Lake City Community College, when her pregnancy test read positive.
She is now 24, finishing up her sixth semester as a communication and psychology major at UB, with her 4-year-old daughter, Kaiya, by her side.
Green moved from Salt Lake City, Utah, to the Queen City two years ago. She balances being a straight-A student and a mother with the help of her friends, family and UB facilities. Specifically, the Early Childhood Research Center (ECRC) on UB’s North Campus has helped her and approximately 20 other student/faculty parents on campus by providing a quality pre-school for children.
It wasn’t unplanned, but it wasn’t planned either
The pregnancy was a surprise – a welcome one, though.
Green and her boyfriend, Dakota Sherman, had been dating for two years at the time of her pregnancy. When Green told Sherman she was pregnant, he could not hold back his tears.
They were tears of joy.
“I just felt like [Kaiya] was the answer and the link to where I needed to go next,” Green said. “I sat down on the bed and that’s what I said to [Dakota] and he said, ‘I’m willing to support anything that you want to do, but I’m really, really happy.’
“He didn’t exactly know how I was going to feel. He always knew that I didn’t want to be a parent and that it wasn’t something that I was going for. I was always focused on my career and my school and what I wanted to do for myself.”
Green’s biggest concern at the time was her schoolwork. But she was prepared to add her daughter to her list of priorities.
Even though the pregnancy wasn’t planned, everyone always knew the two would form a family, according to Green. Although marriage may not have always been in the picture, having a child was.
In Utah, it is culturally acceptable to start a family at a young age, Green said.
According to a report done on health.utah.gov, teen births in Utah account for approximately 11 percent of all births in the state. In 1997, adolescents ages 15-19 gave birth to over 4,494 infants. This birthrate has remained fairly stable since the early 1980s.
Green was unaware of the cultural difference she was going to encounter upon arrival at UB.
Green took a year and a half off from Salt Lake Community College to clear her head and focus on her pregnancy. When the stress of life got the best of her and Sherman, they began to take it out on each other.
They decided they needed a break.
That’s when Green decided Buffalo was the right place for the two most important things in her life: an education and Kaiya.
She wasn’t getting the education she wanted at her community college. Buffalo was her first choice because her grandma is a UB alumna and her grandpa was once a professor here,
Her family was skeptical about her making the move, and Green was scared.
“When you’re so engrossed in where you live and you have so many friends and so many family members, to get rid of that and just go into something so completely unknown, feels just like that: unknown,” Green said. “You don’t know what to think. You don’t know what to feel; you just kind of jump off of a cliff and hope that it’s only two feet and not a thousand.”
It’s been two years and Green is discovering her jump was not a thousand feet. While there are times she misses the family-oriented lifestyle in Utah and simple things like having the time to get a cup of coffee with a friend, she is managing here.
“When people find out that I have a child [here], their first question is ‘how old are you?’ I’ve never been asked that in Utah,” Green said. “Even when I was younger – 20 years old – I’ve never been asked how old I am when people found out I was a parent.”
The cultural difference was shocking to Green at first. Now, though, the constant questions and looks she receives on campus make her appreciate her life and capabilities a lot more.
Green knows she is not superwoman; her hair is not always made perfectly and her make up is not always on. With her and Kaiya’s crazy class schedules, the two have to grab quick $5 meals at Wegmans sometimes and her house isn’t always spotless.
She does not consider her challenges to be any more difficult than other students’; she believes they are just different. When life gets overwhelming, she knows it’s necessary to take time to herself and breathe, just like anybody else.
“The way I really keep it together is the people that I keep close to me,” Green said. “My friends, my family, my professors – and then [Kaiya]. She is so strong. She is so mature for her age. She is so independent. But that’s the way I’ve had to raise her to really survive out here. I have to rely on her a lot, and she’s become a very unique individual because of that.”
Green said ECRC has been a blessing to her family and a huge reason she’s capable of succeeding here. The large wooden playground outside of Baldy Hall is where the duo spends their free time, and Green volunteers at the center as often as she can. Green believes the women working there combine with the learning atmosphere to create a wonderful program for Kaiya.
Kelly Kantz, director of ECRC, said the staff has enjoyed watching Kaiya blossom over the past two years.
“We’ve just seen a huge change in her – like most of the kids – but Kaiya is incredibly outgoing and she’s just very cuddly,” Kantz said. “She’s really smart like her mom. She soaks in every opportunity that we put out, and then she drives us, too, by the questions she asks and just the things she does. She’s a treat.”
Green refers to Kaiya as “little miss popular,” and “little miss independent.” The programs at ECRC help Kaiya embody that characterization.