Family matters: Student couple raises littlest Eph

Working under a flurry of papers, tests, practices, rehearsals and meetings, many students may think they have concocted a recipe for sleeplessness. But those who complain about the rigors of Williams would do well to meet Tatiana Fernandez ’11 and Raul Cruz ’09, possibly the busiest people on campus. That’s because the couple has an added responsibility that few other students could even comprehend: a 16-month-old child.

The proud parents of the adorable Raul Jr. admit that balancing work and child-rearing has been anything but easy. “Since he’s been born we’ve basically had zero time to do anything,” Fernandez said. “We don’t have anybody to babysit or anything, so just managing work is really hard.”

“I always pictured myself having kids at a young age,” Cruz said. “It’s hard but really rewarding.” That hard and rewarding lifestyle comes with early mornings and late nights. The family’s day begins at roughly 7 a.m. when all three wake up. Out the door by 8 a.m., Cruz and Fernandez take Raul Jr. to daycare at the local Children’s Center before starting off to class. Having scheduled all their classes from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the couple is able to pick up Raul Jr. before 1 p.m.

Back at home, Raul Jr. naps while his parents eat lunch and plan for the remainder of the day. At 4 p.m. Fernandez goes to rugby practice while Cruz and Raul Jr. play outside, so long as the weather permits. At 6:30 p.m. the family returns and has dinner together before Raul Jr. gets ready for bed by 9 p.m. Finally with some time to themselves, Cruz and Fernandez generally catch up on work from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
As history majors with writing intensive classes, the couple has had to pull their share of all-nighters. “We do a lot in the middle of the night when he’s sleeping,” Fernandez said. “He’s just a lot of energy, as you can see.”

At this point Raul Jr., with a fistful of Fruit Loops, attempts to mount the table and distributes some of them by my computer. This generous instinct and his general good nature have made him a favorite on campus. With a toothy grin that pushes two chubby cheeks into a broad and infectiously gleeful look, Raul Jr. is a magnet for admiring passers-by.

“Since we live a drive off-campus, we don’t expect a lot of visits,” Fernandez said. “Raul Jr. has a lot of fun visiting the dorms though. He loves people. Paresky at its peak at about 9 p.m. is his favorite. He’s just a little ball of energy running around. He has lots of aunts and uncles here.”

The son of two athletes, Raul Jr. has become like a mascot at Williams sporting events. He attends all home basketball and football games, where he can watch his godfather, running back Brian Morrissey ’09.
“He even does a ‘Defense’ chant,” Cruz said. With this, Raul Jr., now perched on a giant Paresky sofa chair, slaps his two tiny hands together and shouts “defense” with a gigantic grin.

The 16-month-old likely has a bright athletic career ahead of him. Already the size of some three-year-olds, the little behemoth chases down two purple and gold balloons tied together. After retrieving them, Raul Jr. returns, and we resume our ongoing game of balloon catch that continues throughout the interview.

Caught up in Raul Jr.’s infant charm, it becomes easy to forget the hard road Fernandez and Cruz have charted as student-parents. “People were very shocked to see a pregnant girl on campus,” Fernandez said. “We got a lot of stares, and my friends heard a lot of snide comments. ‘Oh my God, there’s a pregnant girl in Paresky!’ was my favorite comment. You never see pregnant girls at a place like Williams. At first I felt like I was on display; everybody wanted to know who we were and everything about us. But our true friends have stood up for us through the whole thing and now I think everyone is used to seeing us with Raul Jr.”

Friends like godmother Nailah Wilds ’09 receive special mention from Fernandez, who served as a matchmaker to the couple when they began dating during their first years.

Fernandez and Cruz are also grateful to College administrators, assistants and financial aid officers who have helped through the difficult process. “We couldn’t have done it without financial aid,” Fernandez said. “Our parents thank God every day that we go to this school.”

Cruz, a native of the Bronx, N.Y. and Fernandez, who hails from Boston, have found rural Williamstown a change of pace. “Williamstown is a really good place to raise kids,” Fernandez said. “We’re not really used to rural environments. But it’s beautiful here and quiet and safe and you don’t have to lock your car. Plus, the community’s so sweet and friendly.”

Nevertheless, the couple will likely move back to Boston to be closer to family after Fernandez graduates in spring 2011. Fernandez then plans to enroll in a Ph.D. program in either history or American studies, while Cruz will likely pursue his interest in education. Cruz will look for jobs in the Williamstown area after he graduates this spring.

In addition to pursuing their careers after Williams, Cruz and Fernandez also hope to have more children. “We want to have lots of kids in the future,” Fernandez said. “We’re from big families so we can’t picture it any other way. But I think we should probably wait until we’re more financially stable and we can focus on school. Plus, Raul Jr. needs a lot of attention.”

As Cruz sees it, parenting will only get easier after their first child. “Some people say we’ve lost years by having a kid in college,” he said. “The way I look at it, we’ve gained years. We’ll already know what to do with a kid when other people are just figuring it out at a later age.”

Despite the difficulties of managing student life with parenting, Cruz and Fernandez have few regrets about their decision to have a child. “Sometimes I miss dorm life and living with friends,” Fernandez said. “But how many people my age can say they fell in love with the man of their dreams in college, had a child with him and a perfect family, and got to go to such an amazing school all at once? I’m pretty lucky.”