How I Got Through College as a Single Parent

Hump day, whaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!? This week has been dragging for me! I thought it was Wednesday yesterday and that has just thrown everything off. Boooooooo!!

You may or may not have noticed this about me yet, but I am kind of a type-A freakazoid. As such, I like to try to plan as many things out as possible so I can be prepared everything. Well knowing that we're moving in less than 5 weeks has me seriously trying to plan and get shit organized, because moving is so stressful and I'm hoping to make it as smooth as possible for everyone. However I'm also kind of in panic mode and feeling a lot of pressure about it too. There's just so much to do and really not very much time to do it all. I've actually started a spreadsheet with three columns labeled "Things to Do", "Things to Buy", "Things to Pack" - type-A right hurrrrrrrrrr!!

I'm not sure why I told you that other than to get it out and in the universe, maybe? Anyone have any tips to make this easier?

Also, I wanted to mention that Le Tote has another seriously awesome deal going on right now that I want to make sure to get out to you guys in case you're thinking about joining. Now through June 30, you can get 60% off the first month of a Le Tote subscription by using the code SAVEME60. This is not a joke...60% is a LOT of savings! So head on over and get signed up and try it out - don't miss out on this deal!

My last Le Tote box was FIRE and I love all four of the dresses, but I especially love this one. It's soooooo pretty and the pattern is unique and I think it's pretty flattering!

As always, I would never recommend you try anything that I myself don't use on the regs. I love Le Tote and it has saved my work wardrobe right now while I'm still in-between sizes trying to lose this baby weight. I am a part of an affiliate program with Le Tote, so if you decide to sign up using my link I will get a small commission as a thank you. Thanks for your support!

Today I wanted to talk to you about something that I happen to have a lot of experience with, but it is a huge challenge that may seem insurmountable to many people. 

I've mentioned this a few times in different posts and here, but to those who haven't been reading for a long time or may have missed it, I was a single mom to my son Justin for a very long time. My ex-husband and I separated when Justin was less than a year old and from that point forward, I was a single parent. Just in case you're not sure, I'd like to reiterate...

Being a single parent is really hard.

It's also extremely rewarding and can be lots of fun, but when it comes down to it, it's really, REALLY hard. As a single parent, you are completely responsible for the well-being of another human. That human is 100% reliant on you for everything and you have to make sure that you are able to provide that human with what they need in life AND give them love and support and all that good stuff. 

When I got divorced I was still in the Air Force but I knew I didn't want to make the military a career and as such, I separated as soon as I was able to and began my first semester of college pretty much immediately. At that time, I thought I wanted to be a nurse and enrolled in a local community college back home in Illinois. This leads me to my first two tips for successfully getting through college as a single parent. 

Join the military

First off, there are a few states out there that will give you 100% free tuition if you join the military and come back to that state once you separate. Illinois (and Texas...maybe Alaska and Connecticut) is one of those states and as such, I was able to use my GI Bill to cover some of my living expenses. Join the military and do your service. I am a huge advocate for the military because it gave me some seriously awesome experiences, some fantastic friends, insane work ethic and free mother effing college. 

It is possible to be in the military as a single parent - you'll need to make sure you have help and may want to look into the reserves or guard, but you can do it if you really want it!


Go to a community college

For some reason community colleges tend to get looked down on as not being as academically advanced as 4-year schools, but that was not my experience at all. Most of my favorite professors from my college career were in the community college I attended - they were more accessible and helpful than the professors at the university I transferred to after 2 years and they really seemed to care more about my future. Plus community college is exponentially cheaper than a 4-year school so you are able to get a degree for a much smaller cost.

I chose to get a 4-year degree in business (specifically marketing) after changing my mind on my major, but there are several 2-year degrees that you can get amazing jobs with - nursing, engineering, paralegals, etc. You can also always look into trade schools, however I'm not sure how grants/loans/scholarships work for those. 

Talk to a counselor and figure out your options and then go from there.

Take all the help you can get

This includes loans, grants, babysitting from family and friends, live at home, etc. - don't think you have to do it all on your own and I highly recommend you don't try to do it on your own. When we first moved back to Illinois Justin and I lived at my parent's house for over a year. I had a lot of debt when I got out of the Air Force, so I wasn't able to afford living on my own at that time. After about a year I moved in with a friend from high school and lived there for a little while before I found a really cute, cheap, and tiny apartment in the town where my 4-year university was located. That being said, I still needed help with babysitting and hugs from my mom on bad days, so we spent a lot of time hanging out at my mom's house or driving down to my dad's in St. Louis when we wanted a weekend away. 

Sometimes you just have to play giraffe football...a really weird game we made up one day at my mom's house when the power was out...

Another thing that I was lucky to have the option of having, was roommates. I actually lived with two different friends while I was in school and while having a roommate can obviously suck sometimes, it made it more financially feasible. Plus both of them were amazing and would hang out with Justin so I could run sometimes or when I had to go to the library to work on late-night group projects!

Financially there are a lot of resources for single parents. As a single parent you are able to qualify for a lot of grants, which are basically free money for school. Then there are always scholarship programs, especially for specific majors such as nursing, teaching, and social work. And there are always student loans, however I caution you against taking out too many student loans as they are a bitch to pay-off. I only had $25,000 in student loans when I left college and I've been out of school for 7 years and still have $16,000 left to pay. You will also want to be really careful about taking out student loans if you are majoring in something that doesn't pay very well or doesn't have a good job-outlook, since your loan payments can easily be $200-500 a month and that's a lot if you're only making $30,000 a year after school. Throw a kid or two in the mix and that's just not enough to live on.

Be careful with student loans!

Another thing you need to do is get over your pride and look into public assistance programs. As a single parent in college you will probably qualify for food stamps, free or reduced daycare, and possibly even housing assistance. There was a time in college when I did receive food stamps and I am not at all ashamed to admit it, because it helped me get through school and now I'm paying back into the system so others can do the same thing. I was also able to qualify for free or reduced child care the entire time I was in school, which helped a lot. 

Also make sure you're getting child support. Contact your local child support agency and have them open up a case for you if you aren't getting it. And if you are getting it but it's been a few years and you know the other parent is making substantially more money now, make sure you get it amended. It does take a little work, but you shouldn't have to do it on your own.

Do your research and don't hesitate to take every possible form of help you can get!

Now you may be wondering, how did I manage to get any studying done when I had a crazy 3-7 year old boy running around and being insane all the time? Let me tell you my secret...

Study at McDonalds or the park

We would spend hours at McDonalds or at the park on a regular basis - I'm talking 3-5 times a week. Obviously it needs to be a McDonalds with a playplace, but this is one of the biggest things I did that helped me graduate! Justin would run around like a crazy person for hours, making best friends and burning off energy, and I'd tune everything out and study, study, study. We would go to McDonalds when the weather was crappy or when I needed wifi (it's FREE!) and we'd go to the park whenever I needed to do some reading. And I always took breaks to run around and play with him, since life isn't fun without fun. Duh. 

Word of caution on this, you do want to always make sure you can see your child and that you've had several, maybe even hundreds of talks about not talking to strangers, bullies, and what to do if someone does try to take them (FIGHT AND SCREAM!). I always sat in the playplace and made sure I knew where Justin was and always kept him in my line of vision while at the park. 

Work your ass off

Going to college as a single parent is not easy...at all. I was lucky in that I had some money coming in with my GI Bill and qualified for grants and had my parents to help out with babysitting or small loans for bills that I always paid back immediately, however I still had to work my ass off. This includes a part time job, doing homework until 3 in the morning or waking up early to read, late night study and group sessions for projects, writing papers during vacations, etc. 

I remember very specifically going on several vacations with my parents and watching everyone else drink beer all day without a care in the world while I sat back and wrote a paper or read school books. I know, #firstworldproblems at least I got vacations (thanks mom and dad!); I'm not complaining, just telling you how I made this work. There were also a few times that I had to scramble all over trying to find a restaurant with wifi while driving back from a trip so I could turn in an assignment on time. At one point we were driving back from Florida and I'm pretty sure we stopped by 3 or 4 restaurants in the mountains in Chattanooga before I found a place to turn my assignment in. Did it make my vacation less enjoyable? Sure! But I knew it's what I needed to do to get through school and that those small short-term sacrifices would pay off in a big way in the end. I can't even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed going on my first vacation after graduation to South Padre Island and just being able to relax on the beach with my mom and my son without having to do any homework.  

I also worked a lot of part-time jobs - waitress, bartender, barista...waitressing or bartending is a great way to get some extra cash if you have the personality for it. And I firmly believe everyone should work in the service industry at some point in their lives since it's really hard work and teaches you how to work hard and not be an asshole (always tip your server). There were many weekends where I would work Friday and Saturday nights (my mom would usually watch Justin) and would easily make $400-500. This went a long way towards paying bills, having food, and having fun...

Take time to have fun!

Fun doesn't have to cost anything. Justin and I went hiking a lot, would go down to my dad's house in St. Louis and explore the city there, we went to every playground we could find, the zoo, children's museums, canoeing/tubing on the river with friends and family, etc. We'd often pick up a $5 footlong from Subway to share (remember when they were $5?) and a lot of museums/parks/things to do have discounts for students/veterans so everything we did was cheap. 

Get creative

This includes finding ways to study, things to do, and ways to make money. I am actually a 6-time egg donor, which obviously helped a lot towards getting me cash for school/living/fun stuff to do, but that's not for everyone and there are risks involved so I don't recommend it to people. Figure out things you can do to make your life easier or to get money and do it! Babysit, pet-sit, walk dogs, wash cars, rent out your 2nd bedroom as an Airbnb....do what you have to do to get through college, because I promise you, it's worth it for you and for your kids in the end. 

Push through it

I have actually had several people tell me that their lives just aren't as easy as mine or that not everyone can work as hard as I do...WHAT?!?! First of all, my life has not been easy in the slightest and I have had to work and work hard for everything that I have - literally nothing has been given to me. There were many times while I was in school where I just wanted to cry and give up (and I did cry a lot, actually). But I never gave up because I knew it would be worth it in the end and it has definitely been worth it. Yes, I am a hard worker and driven internally to work my butt off now, but I firmly believe everyone can work as hard as I do because I haven't always been this way. I was the laziest teenager who ever lived. I slept until 3 all summer and on the weekends, I never worked out, was crap about helping out around the house, and I barely put any effort into school. It wasn't until I had Justin that I realized I needed to get my ass into gear and really start trying to make something of my life so I can give him the best life possible.

Find something that drives you and motivates you and focus on that. Use whatever that is to keep you going even when times are tough. As I mentioned above, I cried A LOT through this process because it is a really hard thing to do, however Justin seemed to always know when I was down and he'd wrap his sticky little arms around me and give me big hugs and kisses and this kept me going. I talk about other things I do to keep myself motivated here if you want to check it out for more ideas. And when you go through that hard time and pull through it, whether it's a bad grade, your car gets repossessed right before Easter and you have all of the Easter stuff for your son in your car (true story - I used to be really terrible with money) or you have finally graduated after 2-4 years of seriously hard work, be proud of yourself. Because you did it. And it's SO worth it!

And then once you get that degree and start a job, you can start looking into fun things like certifications or advanced degrees because you are absolutely insane like I am...or just enjoy this accomplishment, since it's a huge one!

Thanks for stopping by - I'll be back on Friday with more shenanigans and insanity!

You Know You're a Real Runner If/When...

Hi folks! How are you doing? 

It's Friday Eve! 

(when you read that, fake like I'm singing it to you because that's how I meant it to come across)

So we've got Friday Eve going for us - is it just me or is this week dragging? Maybe that will mean this weekend will drag too (yeah right...). 

And if you've already subscribed but aren't seeing the emails in your inbox, they are probably going to your junk mail so check there!

Today's workout was a doozy. Like I woke-up and then farted around for 25 minutes avoiding it before I finally forced myself out the door. Just so you have some insight, I typically get up at 5:10 in the morning but I do not bounce out of bed all excited and energetic. Sometimes I hit snooze, but I'm almost always up and out of bed by 5:20, and I don't usually get started with my workout until 5:30-5:50 depending on what it is and how tired I am that morning. So I roll out of bed, go to the bathroom and look on Facebook while I wake-up, get dressed, make my preworkout drink, take some selfies and then I'm usually ready to tackle whatever workout I have planned. This morning I woke up and went to the bathroom and then did this:

That's me, face-down on my bed. I could not even. So I did that for a minute or two and then I finished getting dressed aaaaaand I threw myself on the bed again. Finally I was like, GET UP AND GO. 

That face is the face of someone who is forcing themselves to workout when they really wanted to sleep another hour. 

And that's the face of a person who just realized they have to get out the door RIGHT NOW or they won't have time to do their core workout and meditate after their run. 

So I did it. I went outside and ran my scheduled workout, which was 25 minutes of running at race pace. I don't really have a race planned right now, but know that I want to improve my 10K time so I ran at my 10K race pace based on what my 5K race pace was (THIS is the calculator I use to figure out all of this pace stuff). I warmed up with a 1/2 mile run and then pushed myself to run around an 8:14 pace the rest of the run. Dude...it was so hard. Like I really didn't think I was going to be able to keep up that pace for the entire 25 minutes. I'm talking I really had to push myself to do it and would feel myself slow down a bit here and there. But whenever that would happen I would concentrate on increasing my cadence and would naturally start running faster just by doing that. This is when having a music playlist with high BPM comes in handy because I just try to match my feet to the beat. I did it guys, but man was it hard!

And super sweaty...but I'm pretty sure I could walk 3.5 miles and end up this sweaty afterwards. I'm a sweaty, sweaty beast! Then I did my transverse abdominal workout for my DR that I posted about yesterday (check it out here), stretched, did a really awesome body scan meditation (great for relaxation) and got ready for the day.

While I was running and trying to keep myself from stopping, I came up with the idea for this blog post. There have been a number of times during my running life that I have thought to myself "now THIS makes you a REAL runner" and I knew I wanted to share it with you guys.

Without further ado, you know you're a real runner if/when...

  • You spit on yourself while running because you were too tired to turn your head far enough to the left and it flies back in your face. And instead of being grossed out you just wipe it off and keep going without a moment's hesitation - this is what happened to me this morning and gave me the idea for this post. 
  • You come back from a run in the winter and have snot all over your sleeve/inside of your shirt where you had to wipe your nose during your run. Bonus points if you've actually blown your nose into your shirt *raises hand slowly*
  • You're convinced your child will love running as much as you do so you try to force them to run and sign them up for races without telling them...to be fair, we won this race and he did love that part, but he hates running overall. Which is a shame, because his form is perfect! Maybe someday he'll run with me again. And I can always try to brainwash Jules!
  • You spend over $100 on a race and then spend hours over the course of the next weeks/months looking up every review you can find of the race, studying the course map and elevation, and planning your race day outfit, gear, and fuel. 
  • You'd rather buy new running shoes than any other type of shoes. 
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  • You have a race day hairdo that you always fall back on #pigtailsforlyfe
  • You do everything you can to smile and have at least one photogenic picture during a race even when you feel like dying, but usually end up looking like a troll. I wish I could find the pictures from the first half marathon I ever ran...it was super windy and my face looked like I was in a skydiving picture but in serious pain too. It wasn't cute. This is the only photogenic racing picture I have and I'm kind of mad at myself for not buying it, but I'm a cheapskate and couldn't justify it. 
  • You have favorite items of clothing/equipment that you can't live without on your run. Mine is my Experia running socks. I may or may not wear them at least twice before washing them on a pretty consistent basis because I forget to wash them after my run and refuse to run without them. They're just that comfortable, people! No substitutions!
  • You regularly wake up before the rest of the world and run around for miles in the dark listening to music or podcasts or nothing and aren't even afraid of getting eaten by a werewolf or vampire because you're 99% sure you could out-run them anyway, even though you're normally pretty afraid to be outside in the dark alone. 

You really can't beat the sunrise in the morning. In my opinion it's worth waking up at the buttcrack of dawn and running around in circles for awhile in order to see it. Unless I did end up getting eaten by a beast of some sort, in which case I would say it wasn't really worth it and I should have stayed in bed that day. 

  • You regularly smile and wave at strangers when you pass them and get kind of butt hurt when they don't wave and/or smile back.
  • You've yelled "great job!" to a random person you pass on a run who is running themselves. I always make a point to yell out encouragement to anyone I pass while running who's pushing a stroller...because that ish is hard, yo! And just in case you have any doubt whether anyone will think you're weird for yelling positive stuff at them, I have had it happen to me a bunch of times and it always make me feel so much better/happier. I remember one 9 mile run that was hot AF and I thought I was going to die. Then this random older running dude yelled "you're doing great" to me around mile 6 and it literally made my run turn from crap to awesome. So don't hesitate to encourage each other out there!
  • You run in the rain/snow/sleet/humidity and like it. I remember this run like the back of my hand - I was training for a half-marathon and woke up excited to run. And then it was raining. There was a point in time when I would have just said nevermind and skipped my run, but for this one I put on a hat and went for my scheduled run. And I remember very specifically that I was running with a smile on my face pretty much the entire time and at the end I thought "I'm a real runner now"

Finally, the number one way you will know you're a real runner? If/when you go for a run.

It doesn't matter how long you run or how fast you are, just that you lace up those shoes and if you're me, more that likely dirty socks, and you get out there and run/jog/shuffle. 

And if you have ever wondered if you are a "real" runner when you pass someone who's faster/has cooler running clothes/wears 95 different gadgets/has "13.1" tattooed on their calf muscle, you are one already and have been one ever since you shuffled out there your first time. And you should be proud of yourself because not every does it, even though everyone can.

So kudos to you, runner!!

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That's some positive talk courtesy of me. Maybe I should become a professional motivational speaker or something? Can you say the f word when you do that for a living or is that frowned on? I better stick with blogging (not that I get paid to do this, because I don't). 

Now I'll turn it to you - when did you decide you were a "real" runner? Did you have a turning point like I did while running 8 miles in the rain like a loony tune, or have you always felt you were a runner? Or perhaps you think running is dumb and I'm insane. That's cool too. I respect your opinion. 

Have a great day and thanks for stopping by!