A typical Monday morning for senior Beth Greene begins at 4:45 a.m. when she gets her 3-month-old baby Sebastian up to get him dressed and changed. Then, after packing diapers, formula, nose spray and a jacket, she drops Sebastian and her 3-year-old daughter Aurora at Mom’s House, a free day care center in Johnson City, N.Y., and drives an hour to Ithaca College to make her Gender, Environment and Global Change class at 10 a.m.
A 24-year-old non-traditional student, Greene is in her second year as a writing major with a sociology minor. Greene transferred to the college last year after graduating from Broome Community College in Binghamton.
Greene said she came to the college because she wanted to be a part of a good writing program. She said she considered other schools, but when she got accepted to the college she received a scholarship, which helped her decide to go.
Greene became pregnant with Aurora when she was 20 and became pregnant with Sebastian last year with Colin Tripp, Greene’s fiancé.
“Both of them are actually planned, which sounds really, really crazy considering how young we were,” Greene said. “So we were excited and a little bit overwhelmed. Aurora was planned, Sebastian was planned a little bit better.”
Greene said many people ask her and Tripp if they are going to get married soon, but she said they are in no rush because of their financial situation.
“I just want a house, that’s all I want,” Greene said. “For us, paying for a house is more important than paying for a wedding. Especially after you’re with someone for so long, and you have children with them, and you’re living with them — it’s like you’re married anyway.”
Greene and her children reside with Tripp and his parents in their home in Whitney Point, N.Y. Tripp’s father, James Tripp, said their living situation works because of the layout of the house.
“We are fortunate that the layout of the house is such that we can separate from one another,” Tripp’s father said.
Greene said her family has been supportive of her, but when they first learned she was pregnant, her father cried and her grandfather complained, saying Greene was always going to be single. Greene said she and Tripp decided to have children together so early because of their age — they wanted to be able to still run around with their kids while they were still young.
“We both plan on walking the Appalachian Trail someday, and we weren’t going to wait until we were 50,” Greene said.
Being a young mother has been difficult, Greene said, especially when she first began attending classes at the college and sleep was scarce.
“The first two semesters here, I struggled,” she said. “I was tired, I was trying to get all my work done, I was staying up until 2 a.m., and I was miserable.”
Though Greene and Tripp sometimes struggle to balance school, an internship and being a parent, they make it work, Tripp said.
“We want to move forward and better ourselves,” Tripp said. “We’ve had some difficulties. It’s hard when I’m at a job making just a little bit over minimum wage and taking care of a family.”
However, through better time management, Greene said she figured out a way to get the amount of sleep she needed and to complete all of her duties. Greene is attentive in her classes this semester and sometimes relates class concepts to her life as a parent.
“This semester, I went in with the attitude, ‘I have to get sleep to run at my best,’” Greene said. “So I will work until midnight and after that, whether it’s done or not, I just have to accept that and see what I have to get done the next day.”
While playing in Tripp’s parents’ backyard on a Sunday morning in November, Greene grins as she chases after Aurora, who cartwheels across the yard and hunts near the playground for beetles. Tripp scoops up Aurora and throws her on his shoulders, while she lets out a squeal.
Inside the house, Greene wipes Sebastian’s spit from her jeans and sweater while he sits smiling in her lap. She then teaches Aurora how to properly twirl spaghetti, but Aurora disregards the lesson and lowers the spaghetti into her mouth noodle by noodle.
In addition to the five classes Greene takes at the college and raising her kids, she is in the beginning stages of trying to get free day care in Ithaca so she could spend more meals, such as her free lunch hour, visiting her children.
“Cornell University has a day care on their campus,” Greene said. “That day care is specifically for Cornell staff. So even if there are students on campus who are parents, they can’t take their children there.”
Greene said she believes Mom’s House, where she also has an internship, has room to expand. However, she isn’t sure the college’s campus is suitable for a program like Mom’s House because of the average enrollment fee of at least $220 per child, Greene said.
“I believe the City of Ithaca is an ideal location, because there are so many campuses in the area,” Greene said. “It needs to provide free day care, it needs to provide a good location on a bus line, and it needs to be neutral [in terms of gender and class].”
Though Greene said she doesn’t think the college is a suitable location for a day care, she said there are many things the school can do to help launch a program.
“One of the things the college can do to help the initiative would be a large donation — either an operational donation or some sort of donation fee for scholarships, because financial aid is also diminishing,” Greene said.
Tripp is planning to go back to school once Greene graduates and has a steady job. He already has a business degree from SUNY-Cortland, but he wants to return depending on where Greene’s job is. She said she wants to have a job in the education industry, most likely as a school principal or superintendent.
“If I get a job in the area, he can easily go back to Cortland or to [SUNY-Binghamton],” Greene said. “If I don’t get a job in the area, I have to make sure that it’s somewhere where there is access to multiple different universities.”
The family is getting funds from Tripp’s job at National Grid as well as from their families. Greene said she feels like her family is part of the “missing class,” because Tripp makes enough that they aren’t eligible for food stamps, but at the same time they struggle to make ends meet.
“We don’t make enough to really survive, we don’t make enough to ever go on vacation, we don’t make enough to buy nice things often,” Greene said.
Greene said Tripp’s parents help her buy groceries and her dad babysits for free.
Tripp said he’s proud of Greene for wanting to start the day care initiative, and he supports her as a mother.
“It’s great,” Tripp said. “I mean, I back her up in anything she chooses to do. I would support that 100 percent. Beth managing to intern at the day care, driving an hour to college, driving an hour back — what she does is amazing to me.”