Juggling student life with motherhood

By Sarah Thong

Madam Lai’s semester has just ended and she now has more time to spend with Amberly.  She usually teaches Amberly how to draw simple designs with markers.

Madam Lai’s semester has just ended and she now has more time to spend with Amberly. She usually teaches Amberly how to draw simple designs with markers.

While many students focus on getting good grades, others have to balance similar aspirations with commitments at home.

Madam Jennifer Lai, a final-year student from the National Institute of Education (NIE), has to manage her studies while taking care of her one-year-old daughter Amberly Oomur.

The 37-year-old, who is married, also had to defer her studies for one semester last year to care for her newborn child.

Madam Lai gives tuition during the weekend to earn additional income. She often has less time to play with Amberly when project and work deadlines draw near.

Madam Lai gives tuition during the weekend to earn additional income. She often has less time to play with Amberly when project and work deadlines draw near.

To document her memories with Amberly, Madam Lai created the mural In Your Eyes, which was featured in an exhibition housed at the NIE Art Gallery.

The exhibition, named V: A BA Grad Show, took place from 25 Oct to 4 Nov.

It was organised by Madam Lai and four other students as part of a final-year project (FYP) under the Studio Specialisation module in NIE, where students are taught how to create their own art exhibits.

Madam Lai removes her artwork on the final day of the V: A BA Grad Show exhibition. Her piece, titled In Your Eyes, depicts Amberly’s first experience with bubbles.

Madam Lai removes her artwork on the final day of the V: A BA Grad Show exhibition. Her piece, titled In Your Eyes, depicts Amberly’s first experience with bubbles.

The mural showcased many brightly coloured paintings of her daughter and was inspired by Amberly’s first experience playing with bubbles.

“I really liked the expressions of joy on her face when I first introduced her to bubbles. That’s why I created this artwork: to immortalise this scene and show her bubbly side. I also wanted to show that moments of togetherness should be cherished and enjoyed,” Madam Lai said.

Balancing her responsibilities as a mother and student has not been easy, recalled Madam Lai, who had decided to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree in July 2014 as she wanted to improve on her skills.

She currently majors in Art and Drama.

Madam Lai (left) talks to her FYP groupmate from the Studio Specialization module at NIE.

Madam Lai (left) talks to her FYP groupmate from the Studio Specialization module at NIE.

“I wanted to upgrade my skills as a teacher so that I can get a higher salary and support my family financially,” she said. She was previously working as an art teacher and coordinator at Dunearn Secondary School.

But with the birth of Amberly, she found that she had to sacrifice most of her personal rest time to finish her projects and spend time with her child.

Sometimes, she even has to stay up until four or five in the morning if there is a deadline to meet the next day.

Schoolmates of Madam Lai posted congratulatory notes on her exhibition wall. As she is older than her classmates, she often looks out for her classmates by checking if they are coping well with their work. “It’s not a big deal being older and I’m okay with being their classroom ‘mum’,” said Madam Lai.

Schoolmates of Madam Lai posted congratulatory notes on her exhibition wall. As she is older than her classmates, she often looks out for her classmates by checking if they are coping well with their work. “It’s not a big deal being older and I’m okay with being their classroom ‘mum’,” said Madam Lai.

For the FYP exhibition, she and her classmates only had six weeks to create and install their individual art pieces, as well as to produce their own posters and decorations.

To complete her artwork and other assignments, she often had to remain in school until late at night, and left Amberly in the care of her maid until she returned home.

Madam Lai said: “It is an uphill task (to balance schoolwork and family) but I just do it. This keeps my brain working so that it won’t be stagnant.”

“Now that the semester is done, I have more time to manage my thoughts and take charge of household matters.”