The dynamic duo takes on Buffalo
Satsuki Aoi /// The Spectrum. Tara Green walks alongside her 4-year-old daughter, Kaiya. Tara balances her studies and motherhood
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.
Kantz credits the success of the ECRC community to the teachers. She said the graduate students who work at the pre-school are so dedicated and committed to their careers, which leads to them not only providing help for students but for the families of the students as well. She also said Green has been integral to the community, which provides services for approximately 45 pre-school students and families.
"She comes in and she helps in the summertime with swimming," Kantz said. "She's there with Kaiya but she also helps with the other kids as well, so it's great to have her participate. She's friends with the teachers as a result of the help she's provided."
Both Kaiya and Green are currently in their sixth semester at UB. They are both excelling. Green credits Kaiya for her good grades and desire to succeed.
"I can honestly tell you, when I was going to school before she was born, I [was getting] F's on my transcript," Green said. "But I'm in the advanced honors program here. I get A's now. I get my work done. [Having a daughter] just made me realize how important life is and how much you can get out of it if you put in the work. Not only if you put in the work but also [when you realize] who else it's going to affect."
Green said she could never repay or thank Kaiya enough for having the strength to feel the backlash of her mother being a full-time student and for inspiring her to be the best she can be.
Rekindling love and looking to the future
Green and Sherman reconciled and rekindled their relationship. This past summer, Green was taking a test for a class in Lockwood Library. Sherman walked into Lockwood and proposed to her.
She said yes.
Kaiya and Green have both missed Sherman for the two years they were apart.
"There are such little details that happen every day that you can't live unless you're there," Green said. "You can't see it. You can't feel it. I send as many pictures as I can. We do a lot of Facetime and things like that, but he misses so much and that's really what it is. He misses that slight inch that she grows or even the quarter inch. You wake up one day and your kid is huge; you swear that they grew over night and [he] can't see that."
In a couple of weeks, Sherman will be moving from Utah to Buffalo to join his family. Kaiya and Green are looking forward to having him around.
After graduation, Green hopes to do some sort of non-profit work. She wants to work with her community in Utah because while she believes her hometown is beautiful, she knows there are some societal issues. Education is one of them, and Green hopes to better the schooling system because of the value she places on her studies.
Kaiya misses Utah a lot; she talks about the mountains and skiing, but she is enjoying walking around UB's campus with her mom and interacting with others. According to Green, Kaiya believes everyone is her best friend and is truly one of the happiest, loving and most caring 4-year-olds. Buffalo has done Kaiya well.
Green is expecting to graduate this year on Mother's Day and hopes to walk across the stage, holding her diploma in one hand and Kaiya's hand in the other.
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