Giggles that chase
for a look
and they’re off
sun streaked hair
Riding high on laughter
Eyes full of wonder
twinkling on the water’s surface
as they jump in
of carefree happiness
in the glow
of California desert nights
The four of us walked along
the cool night air gently biting our cheeks
Laughter and mirth filled the air and nothing else was there
Surreal to look around and see the crystal like sharpness of this new reality
A gift, really.
The smiling, silly, quirkiness of Iza as she contorts into a hundred personalities: she makes me believe in things beyond what is here and tangible, the unattainable becomes feasible with her, she IS magic surrealism.
She’s a dream all in her own.
She makes waves of laughter; raining bubbles of giggles wherever she waltzes through.
And that is her: etheral in her magical purity – untouched by the gray all around.
The balance of her comes bounding by – her sister – so logical and angular in her gist of existence.
She’s kindness measured by well-meaning. She pulls you up and makes you see it for what it is but never unkind. She is loving and profound, deep in her perceptions, observant and uncanny, real and steady. A beauty that runs deep.
And now I see the charge I have been given. No longer a child to begrieve what may have fallen; I am now a witness to beauty that unfolds for all to see.
They endlessly give me the desire to go on to the next horizon. To reach for that line where the sky meets the distance of the land.
I tailed my dad wherever he’d go. I was his shadow whether he cared for it or not. The best times spent were when he found himself among his native land, his native tongue, his learned ways.
The small town where the sun comes down hard, making the top of your scalp prick up and take notice; where the arid wind blows red earth onto your skin, your clothing, and sticks to your tongue.
He would sit around the kitchen table with my abuelito in the morning, the horizon an hour away, drinking a cup of the oily black cafe de olla. Eventually he would make his way to the labadores where he would find his childhood friends drinking and retelling stories I grew to memorize verbatim. After a few more refreshments their thirst for adventure grew until they were finally moved into action. This day as I crouched behind a walnut tree I heard as they prepared to go on a hunt for rabitts to test their shot.
They hastily stamped out their fire and scurried over to their horses where they mounted the remainder of their drinks, food, and the long tantalizing metal of a gun.
The desert laid before me as I walked about 30 feet behind them, keeping a slow quiet stride so they wouldn’t notice Pepe’s girl trailing them.
When they stiffened, I knew this was the spot and my muscles were so frozen that I soon began to ache in every unused muscle of my body. My father turned and looked directly at me where I lay pressed to the ground and motioned with his finger to wait and remain still. One of his friends took aim, shot, and was rewarded by the dust cloud of the wild hare kicking up its last step and laying down to later bed fed to a family. A chorus of congratulations and hearty manly laughter broke out and when I looked up, my father was there, with his hand outstretched for me to join them properly.
We spent the evening walking and following a scent/trail and when they would relax, I would run to and from them as fast as I could with their cheers giving me fuel to pump my little legs even faster. I looked out onto the furthest point where land seemed to kiss the sky and I thought if I ran fast enough I would be able to jump onto the clouds from that point. I spent the day running at full speed trying to reach the blue sky but it kept slipping away from me.
As dusk came it brought colder temperatures and a change in the group’s mood with it; everyone said their goodbyes and parted their ways, my dad and me walking hand in hand back home with a conejo and his rifle hanging over his shoulder.
This memory comes to me as I walk with my girls and I see some of my qualities in them; how amazing it will be to see them grow up with love, patience, encouragement, and nurturing.
How far they will go.
Hope for Happiness. But no longer just for them, for me too, for us. Hope for us all.
This is hard to share because there’s a certain shame and stigma to going through this in a first world country, but it’s important to know that it happens, here in our country, and that it is more pervasive that we like to admit.
When I had you Bella, it was so hard to leave you. You were such a little thing, born a bit early; you weighed 5 lbs. and 8oz. When you would curl up your tiny limbs up to your chest, you could easily fit inside a shoe box. How could I leave you? I only had six weeks with you before it was time for me to go back to work and when I went back that first day I couldn’t help it; the tears kept streaming down my cheeks and it hurt so bad to be away from you. I had taken one of your undershirts with me to work so I could smell your scent while I was away but it only made my emotions come tumbling down and the sobs rise in me uncontrollably.
I didn’t have to be away from you for long.
That week I went to a doctor’s appointment and they told me, “Congratulations, you are pregnant.” The doctor didn’t see you on the floor in your car seat and when he saw my shocked face and his eyes fell upon you, he understood. He was very kind and recounted a personal story of not being able to have children with his wife and how I would see how very lucky I was to have you both down the line. What a wise man indeed.
I gave my notice at work the following day and decided to stay home with you because the health insurance would be more affordable if I didn’t work and we only had one income in the family.
But times were lean.
When Iza came smiling into the world, I couldn’t imagine a life without the two of you. My two little joys, my two angels. No love had ever felt truer, clearer, or everlasting. What startling beauty I found in your little faces.
But times were lean and nobody knows how difficult times were back then.
We lived in a tiny converted basement that was damp all of the time and made Iza chronically sick. We would make weekly visits to the emergency room during her first months of life because her asthma and symptoms were so severe. I couldn’t sleep; I was so paranoid that I would collapse in exhaustion and not hear the awful purring sound coming from her chest. I slept with you, Bella, next to me and Iza on my chest so I could help her breathing fall into my own rhythm.
It was hard. But we found beauty in everything we rested our gaze on. When I took the two of you for long walks around the city, I pointed to the flowers and taught you the name to each one, I showed you my favorite buildings downtown, and hours later when we made our way back home, you were in a peaceful sleep and I comforted myself with the fact that you knew no better.
But the walks back were torture for me. Before I climbed up the steep hill, pushing and pulling the double stroller you and Iza lay in, we would stop by at the corner grocer’s market. I would pull out my change which I had previously exactly accounted $4.25. And I would make it stretch; measuring out exactly the amount of chicken, potatoes, tortillas, and a carrot or two that I would be making the following few meals with.
The grocer would “forget” to charge me for an item or two and try to give me change back. I would object but he would plead me to accept it with his eyes, and it was easier to relent than to look into his face full of sadness for me.
Once we were at the top of the hill, I would carry you on my left hip, pick up Iza and hoist her on my right hip, lean far back to balance the two of you without waking you, and fold the stroller with my right arm and leg, and carefully walk down the steps to our home. When I would lay you on our bed, I would stand there and look at the two of you and take in your perfect features, your smooth foreheads free of worry and the aches in my bones and pain in my heart would dissipate.
When dinner was done, I would serve the two of you and make sure I rationed and set aside the following meals in the fridge. Bella, you were so independent at such a young age that you would feed yourself in your high chair at just shy of a year old. You were such a neat lovely little eater. Such a good little loving companion.
And soon our home would fill with stillness; he would sit and eat his dinner without a word. His sadness was deeper than mine; I could never touch it. I would hold his handsome face in my hand and turn it up towards me, caress the stubble on his strong jaw and run my thumb lightly on his lips. But his eyes were so full of pain and defeat that I could never reach him.
The days got leaner and soon enough our daily fried potato tacos with cheese would become boiled potatoes and tortillas, with the vegetables saved for the two of you. And that’s when we would start to go for long walks that always seemed to end at grandma’s house right around dinner time. To keep her from realizing what was going on, I would feign that I was full. While you two ate with my parents and siblings, I avoided looking at the food and chatted excitedly with everyone, trying hard to keep my mind focused elsewhere. We would say our goodbyes and most of the time they would insist we stop by the following day if we were free and a weight on my chest would be released as I secured your meals for another day.
I can’t shake that empty feeling in my stomach, that gnawing hunger that clawed at my insides. Or the shame that I wish I could unhinge from my chest and lay it to rest. The two of you never went hungry; I always made sure the two of you were never acquainted with hunger.
We are at such a better place now; the three of us, but I can’t shake it, a sense of failure permeates my thoughts when I remember what now feels like a past life.
I will always make sure that the two of you never know hunger; whether it is for nourishment, affection, or love. I pinky promise, and we never break those.
I can’t help but feel the tightness in my chest as I see your little faces scrunched up with worry as you start school again. You cling to me and I have no plans to let you go. I want to hold the both of you like this, close to me, with my arms wrapped tightly around those two sets of shoulders that I never want to carry the weight of worries and fear.
At times, I regret my selfish motives in bringing you into this world. Did I do you wrong?
But that is an equally selfish and stupid thought to have. When I look into your little shiny eyes, I can see how much happiness you will bring into this world, many times over what you already bring to me and those that are lucky enough to know you.
You possess kindness, sweet dispositions, tender hearts that ache at other’s suffering, and a joyous ringing giggle that can bring a smile to anyone who hears its music.
I am incredibly happy and blessed to have you as my own, to lay claim to having had some say in how wonderfully you are turning out. No matter what other great things I accomplish in this life, the two of you will always overshadow them with your perfection of sweet little human beings that you are.
I am biased, no doubt, but I could care less about what others may think is an exaggeration; they have not met you. They have not felt the velvet warmth that fills my soul when you hold me tightly as I tuck you into bed. Nor you’re refusal to let go of my neck when I kiss you goodnight. That love that carries through when we look at each other, smile at one another, and cuddle up with each other is unparalleled.
It seems like I have been looking for a school since Bella and Iza were kicking in my belly: first there was the traumatic daycare hunt that aged me five years, then the pre-school stressor and now the hovering animal called Kindergarten. To keep other Downtown parents from my fate, this series will showcase schools and day cares that can save your sanity, beauty and youth.
Solano Elementary is the needle in a LAUSD haystack. I considered not sharing it, out of fear that my own kids will not be able to get in when you all rush to enroll. My excitement got the best of me, though, and I decided that this local school is too good to keep to myself.
Back in January we published an excel list comparing test scores and diversity of elementary schools surrounding Downtown Los Angeles and the school that people usually mention as a solution for Downtown — Castelar Elementary — did not look so stellar. I didn’t know about Solano back then, so don’t think I was holding back as part of some evil-minded selfish motivation for my own children. Anyway, they were too young back then for those thoughts to cross my mind.
Since then, though, I had heard good things about Solano Elementary, just slightly farther from the heart of Downtown. To investigate, I scheduled an interview with Principal Richard Hickcox.
To get there, I walked a couple of blocks to 8th/Hill and hopped on Metro bus 83. 20 minutes later I was at Broadway and Solano. A quick walk up the hill brought me to the 110 freeway. A moment after doubting Google maps I saw there was an underground tunnel to get across to the other side. That sight activated new fears of gangs and darkness, but as you can witness from this article I made it safely to the other side and the shining educational beacon that goes by the name of Solano Elementary.
The school’s ethnicity breakdown is 57% Asian, 33.6% Hispanic, 3.8% Filipino, 3.0 % White, 2.6% Black. They have an Academic Performing Index (API) of 915, they were awarded the Blue Ribbon Award this year, they consistently score above the target test scores and they have low enrollment.
Those are beautiful words to a parent — Open Enrollment means that you do not have to live in the area to apply to get in the school even though they are not a magnet or charter. The school currently has about 243 students and has pre-school through 6th grade.
Principal Hickcox was beyond generous with his time in speaking to me about his school because after 10 years at Solano, it should be referred as HIS school. His planned retirement is in three years and though his shoes will be hard to fill, I hope that the next up for the job is school coordinator Ms. Garrison. She is not only a 2008 Milken Educator of the Year recipient but also a clear indicator of what a good devoted teacher can do to a classroom. Her 4th graders scored in the 93rd percentile in English Language Arts and in the 100th percentile for Mathematics (2008-2009 school year).
As I followed Principal Hickcox to the auditorium/library/pre-school room it quickly became evident that he is efficient and resourceful; the pre-school room resides in half of the auditorium, there are “offices” for Ms. Garrison and teachers on the auditorium stage and shelves divide the pre-K from the computer lab/library.
The wonderful thing is that Principal Hickcox has taken what the budget cuts have left him with and made it work in the interim (cue monetary donations).
The library is brimming with books and even though it had a lot going on it still managed to look tidy and roomy. Little hands clicked and typed away at the Apple computers that were purchased with a donation from the Los Angeles Dodgers via the Adopt-A-School program. When was the last time you stepped into an inner-city LAUSD school and observed three and four year-old kids easily navigating a computer?
As we made our way into the award-decorated hallway; picture samples that the first-grade students had done celebrating Latino Culture caught my eye. At which grade level do the students learn to read I wondered out loud? “Let me show you”, Principal Hickcox told me as he led me into a class room whose walls were a testament to the hard work of the teachers at Solano; reading and writing prompts remind the student what is required in their thought and articulation process and another poster listed the grading rubric to explain what was required in order to have a successful paper in the class.
The students have major writing assignments, writing workshops available to them, homework club after school, and a six week writing process that preps them for college. They are tested and evaluated on their ability to write a six-week term paper and a two hour on-demand paper (one hour for prepping and one hour the next day for the actual writing process). Does this bring back nightmares of high school and college papers exams? Try doing this at the 1st through 6th grade level. Even the pre-K and Kindergartners have a book of the month to which they are required to respond using art and dictation.
The school motto says it all: “Believe in Yourself, Work Hard, Get Smart.”
There are cracks in the glorious trophy that Solano Elementary, and LAUSD would do well to make sure it preserves and improves such a prize asset.
Since the budget cuts that LAUSD went through, Solano Elementary lost two teaching positions. That forced them to have a Kinder/1st grade and 4th/5th grade combination class. There was even a move to make Principal Hickcox oversee two schools simultaneously, but that idea was fortunately abandoned after pressure from the parents and staff.
So now you’re in the know. There are solutions within LAUSD and though it will not be the answer for everyone, you should do your homework now and see if Solano Elementary meets your needs. With those test scores and zero tuition, it certainly meets mine.
Published November 19, 20019
This was our first Halloween in DTLA and it was safe, fun and family friendly. We went trick or treating during the day with my daughters classmates at the Lumbini Center. They had a parade in the school before we set off to Little Tokyo and made a killing worth of yummy eats. The parents each provided the candy, snack or treat. The school then mixed it up and handed it out to vendors throughout Little Tokyo. At first this bothered me and I felt cheated that we had to provide our own candy! Sheesh! But reconsidering, this was the smartest thing to do. You know where the candy is coming from, what not to bring in case of allergies, and you guarantee your little one a pumpkin pail brimming with healthier treats.