Stepping back in time a little, to when our daughter, Michelle, joined us…
Having a new bundle of joy in our home that alternated between crying, pooping, eating and sleeping was a lot more fun than I remembered it to be. When the children from my first marriage were babies, I was gone a lot, but to be honest, I was not that far past being a babe, myself, at that point. I was hardly prepared to comprehend the gravity, or the joy, because I was so swept up in the frightening responsibilities.
Now, however, was an entirely different matter. I was finally truly ready to be a father, in every sense. The wonder of her tiny fingers, her perfect face, the wrinkles her smiles brought at the corner of her mouth…all struck me with a force I had not anticipated. I love my older children tremendously, but I had never seen them, at this stage, in the light in which I was now seeing Michelle. I feel as though I was cheated, by not having enjoyed them the same way.
Or perhaps I had cheated myself.
Anyway, every little thing became an adventure. Watching her eyes light up in pleasure, when she saw something that pleased her – seeing her wrinkled brow when she was confused or puzzled, gave me such pleasure. I determined that this little girl was going to have a good life! One full of love, and opportunity, and even more of the joy that I was just learning to fully appreciate – of a marriage full of love, and a family that made ANY sacrifice worthwhile.
When we enrolled Michelle in pre-school, it was a little traumatic for Coco, to let her out of her sight, and entrust her well-being to others. I was less impacted by it, because I recognized the necessity, and besides, I had already had kids. They had gone on hunting trips, ridden in rodeos and rappelled down high cliffs. They had accompanied me on sailing trips, when we nearly capsized in twelve foot seas. My son is a police officer, and my daughter and her husband guide elk hunters in some of the most rugged terrain in the country. So, my heart had already climbed into my throat so many times that I was used to it, and I knew that the bumps and scrapes, God willing, would heal, and that they were a just a part of growing up.
And during those first weeks and months of constant interacting with other children and other adults, we learned something else. Michelle was bright, outgoing, and learned quickly. She got along with just about anybody, and was sought out as a friend and playmate. She was competitive, without being mean. None of this surprised us, of course. It just re-enforced what we already knew. Our daughter, quite simply, was the best and brightest, and would succeed in every endeavor!
The first three years of elementary school further illustrated that she was, indeed, intelligent, and eager to learn anything new. She excelled in math, and continued to be a favorite with her teachers and her classmates. She also began to exhibit an above average physical prowess, often beating even older boys at gymnastics, ball games and running exercises. Most boys don’t particularly like being beaten, by a girl, in areas that are traditionally, “men’s” arenas. But Michelle’s popularity, and lack of any mean-spiritedness, kept that from every becoming an issue. By the time we relocated, because of my new position in Tijuana, she had already become a self-assured little girl, that was frightened by few things (well, except for those that have eight or more legs).
By the time we arrived at our new home, we had already had an opportunity to explore our options for Michelle’s continued education. Because it was late in the school year, we decided to put her into a private school, for the last several weeks of third grade. The school informed us that she would have to take an entry examination, to place her in the proper level.
The results of that test would determine whether they would have to place her in second grade…..
I came pretty much unglued, at that! No way, was I going to allow them to move her back, when she had been alternating between first and second place in her class, for two years!
The school was concerned about the fact that although Michelle understood and spoke both English and Spanish, she had never seen a word written in Spanish. They said, of course she would be in a bi-lingual program, but that still, much of the material would be in Spanish, so she would almost certainly have to start from scratch.
I balked at the idea of a bilingual program, as well. I knew that she would be able to adapt. Children that age are like sponges, and can learn new things so much easier than adults. Total inundation would be the best course. They argued, but lost. She took the test, and made a score of over 90% – a higher score than most kids made on the test, at the end of the school year, with Spanish as their first language.
She went into third grade and within three weeks, she was in third place in her class. By the end of the year, she was alternating between first and second place with another little girl, a Korean who had arrived only three weeks prior to Michelle, with NO capability in either English OR Spanish!
I know this probably sounds like just typical bragging about my daughter, but it really isn’t. She even surprised us, the way she landed on her feet, and quickly grasped not only the language, but the inherent difference in curriculum.
Education in Mexico is federally regulated, rather than being handled by the state, as is the case in the US. This allows for more uniformity, of course, but it has also enabled them to successfully demand that students perform to a higher standard. Consequently, the subject matter is typically two to three years ahead of what one would encounter in California. When Michelle was in fifth grade, she began the year studying differential equations in algebra – something that will be lightly touched upon at the end of the sophomore year in high school, in San Diego, and not really dug into, until the junior year.
As a result, Michelle has received an education that I feel is far superior to that available to her in California – or any other state, for that matter – without being enrolled in a college level course of study. At sixteen years of age, she has already completed the standard course of study, and is more than halfway through her preparatory school. She can be enrolled in the university at the age of seventeen, having already completed the basic battery which would typically occupy most of a college freshman’s year. She could easily be a physician by the time she is twenty two years old. This would also apply to any of her peers that simply apply themselves and get passing grades. Higher performance could accelerate the process even more. And Coco’s deep involvement in Michelle’s studies, since the beginning, has had a major impact.
The only reason I go into such detail, is to give the reader a different perspective. In many states, we have recently read of instances where 60-70% of a graduating class is deemed, by virtue of their final exams, to be functionally illiterate! How can this happen? How can we have allowed this to happen? And even more importantly, can we continue to allow this? These kids represent the future of our country! A good argument could be made that they are the future of the world! If a country such as Mexico, that doesn’t enjoy the same vigorous economy that the US has, can manage to achieve this level of excellence, on a national level, how is that not ONE of our FIFTY states can match it?
Something that I think each of us would do well to ask ourselves.
And while we’re at it, we should ask our government, too!
You will read more about my daughter in another chapter. Right now, I would like to share my ideas on…
This was written a couple of years ago. My baby has since graduated from her prep. school, and will be starting medical school at the university here next semester. She wants to be a surgeon.