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Learning Curve: We Meet A Mother Of 4 As The School Year Begins


This is the first week of school for thousands of students across this country? And it's going to be a school year like no other. Some will return to actual classrooms with social distancing and masks. Other students will be at home navigating technology while their parents try to manage work. All this year on our show and at Weekend Edition Sunday, we're going to be hearing from teachers and parents as they find their way through all this. We're calling the series Learning Curve. And this morning, we're going to introduce you to Sharay Timmons in Charlotte, N.C. She goes by Sky (ph), and she is going to introduce us to her kids with just their ages, no names, to protect their privacy.

SHARAY TIMMONS: I have four children, three boys and one daughter ranging from 13 - he's my oldest boy, you know, he likes to stay to himself, and he loves to draw, though; 11 - that's my sweetheart, my special little guy (laughter); 9 - that's my athlete, that's my busybody; and 7 - my daughter, that's my cheerleader.

MARTIN: School started for them last week.

TIMMONS: Classes start for my two big boys about 9:15. Once they eat breakfast, I might let them watch a little bit of TV or, you know, make them go in their room and read a book for the time being. And probably about 10:45, I start getting ready for work, and then I'm out the door.

MARTIN: She is out the door as in she has to leave her kids to go to work every day. She's a clerk at a local grocery store. There is no teleworking for Sky. She's a single parent. Her sister has been helping out with the kids for the past few months, but she just got a new job and can't come anymore. Sky's worried.

TIMMONS: Because I can't expect my 13-year-old to do his remote learning and watch every move that his brother and sister are doing.

MARTIN: But she doesn't really have a choice, which is where the pandemic has left so many families, especially those who were already just holding on by a thread.

TIMMONS: I'm 36, and I was 34 when I had to send my kids back to Michigan.

MARTIN: Sky had to send her kids away because she had hit a low point. She had no job. She got evicted from her house because she couldn't pay rent.

TIMMONS: So I ended up having to go to court because I had to leave the place and - hold on one second.

MARTIN: Now, at this point, we should say Sky is talking to us from her car while she waits for her son to finish a dentist appointment. And she pauses our conversation when the dentist comes out to talk to her because mothering means multitasking.

UNIDENTIFIED DENTIST: He did good. He's been crying because he was nervous.


MARTIN: She wraps up that conversation, and then she's back to recounting one of the toughest moments in her life.

TIMMONS: Yes, ma'am. So sorry about that. OK. No interruptions. What was I saying? So it was just, like, downhill. I was just going down, down, down. I think we stayed in a car, like, two nights. The school my kids was going to, a family donated, like, $600 for me to take them on the Greyhound, got in touch with everybody's dad, and I dropped them off up there. My oldest son dad kind of, like, abandoned him during the time he was up there, so I ended up getting him, like, in July of 2019. My dad died in October 2019. So when I went up there, I got my daughter. And when my sister died in April, I went up there, and I got my other two boys, and I brought them back down here.

MARTIN: That's a lot, lady.

TIMMONS: It is a lot. But, you know, sometimes I don't look at what I've been through. Sometimes I feel like I'm not - it's not enough, you know. I don't know why I feel like that, but I feel like there's more that can be done, you know, me being - you know, doing better and being a better role model for them.

MARTIN: So there's a lot going on in your life and in your family's life. How does the school, the education part of it, complicate things, the fact that you don't have a safe place for kids to be during the day?

TIMMONS: Well, where we are is safe. It's just I don't have - like I say, my son is old enough to keep the kids, but it's not his total responsibility to make sure that everybody is doing what they're supposed to do. Now, I do have access, you know, to the phones, you know, so while I'm at work, I definitely call and do my check-ins. And at this point, you know, for me, that's the best that I can do, you know, because I don't look for handouts. I don't need no pity parties. I don't want nobody to feel, you know, sorry for me because there's so many other women and families out here that's going through the same thing, you know, and we move in silence.

MARTIN: But Sky is speaking out now, and it's helping her. Last spring when schools shut down, she and her kids used a hot spot they borrowed from the library to get Internet access. A local TV station found out and did a story about her, then an anonymous donor paid for Sky to have an Internet connection of her own. And between the school and other donors, her kids now have the computers they need. But every day from noon to 6 p.m., Sky still has to leave her children alone.

TIMMONS: As of right now, that's my main concern, the time I'm at work, especially with the two little ones because those are the ones that I really got to worry about.

MARTIN: She has to push those worries aside for now, though, and take it a day at a time with an eye on the future. She herself is also studying online in the mornings trying to finish up her bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

TIMMONS: I'm still pushing. I got goals out here that I'm trying to make. So just having my kids back with me, though, is just the tip of the iceberg because as a mom without your kids, sometimes you lose your direction. And I felt like that's where I had lost my direction a little bit. But now I'm back on track.

MARTIN: As she's been talking to us, Sky has made her way back home now, and one of her sons has interrupted. He doesn't know how to help his little sister sign into her online school account.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Unintelligible) Supposed to do? 'Cause I have Friday and...

TIMMONS: I'll talk to you in two seconds. I'm listening. That's my son coming to ask me about my daughter's Canvas.

MARTIN: It is clear Sky has to wrap up our conversation at this point. Her kids need her.

TIMMONS: Now, what's going on? Siana (ph) can't get on her Canvas. Go wash your hands.

MARTIN: That was Sky Timmons and her kids in Charlotte, N.C., for our series Learning Curve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.