My dearest Alex,
It was a little over twelve years ago when I first held you in my arms. I had to wait for a week to do that because that was how long you stayed in the incubator. And look at you now—all set to start the next leg of your journey through formal education!
It isn’t easy growing up, is it? Remember those boys from your fifth grade, in the other school, who taunted you with obscene gestures and who tried to hurt you when you wouldn’t pay them attention? And remember how you fought back? Well, sometimes, the overly protective mother in me wishes I can be there to defend you and to make sure that no one hurts you. And the rather cock-eyed optimist in me hopes that such a thing never happens again. But I cannot protect you all the time. In fact, it wouldn’t be fair for me to even want to do that. I need to be brave enough to let you learn life’s lessons on your own, at your own pace and on your own terms. Know, though, that I will be here whenever you need me—to talk to, to share your thoughts with or just to hold and comfort you.
Adolescence can be an awkward stage. No longer a child but not quite a woman. Sounds like a Britney Spears song, huh? My mother used to tell me that high school was for “fun” and serious studying did not begin until college. As though high school was nothing more than a chance to hang out with friends, see movies and go to parties. Well, maybe, that was how it was in the 1950s when she was in high school. After all, during her generation, it was only the women who were dead set in having professional careers that took their education seriously. It was a generation when the most popular career for women, often straight out of high school, was to get married and have children. Many of her contemporaries did take on jobs after marriage but not so much for self-fulfillment but often just to augment their husband’s incomes.
It is in high school when boys swarm all over like flies… oh, butterflies, I mean. Nothing new to you, eh? I bet you remember “G” from kindergarten who sang love songs to you and carried your books from the classroom to the school gate. Sweet, wasn’t he? Well, until he decided to be sweet to another girl. There will be more of them in high school. You will have crushes and you will find your puppy love… all part of growing up. Nothing to be ashamed of nor embarrassed about. Nothing you cannot talk to me about.
Growing up can be fun. It all depends on how you handle yourself. But beyond the fun, growing up is your preparation for independence. How well you learn life’s lessons as an adolescent will affect how well you will handle being an adult. And how well you learn your high school lessons will affect your career choices later in life. It is finding the right attitude, and the right balance between learning life’s lessons and high school lessons, that make high school and adolescence a fun and memorable stage in life.
It is the inability to find the right attitude and balance that makes the transition from childhood to adulthood either a tragedy or a success. There are some who, with their insatiable appetite for hedonistic experiences, put the fun ahead of all else. They are having so much fun that there is little time for studying. They get by with their “codigos” and by sucking up to the teachers. There are some whose parents make enough donations to make sure that their children’s “little” indiscretions will be overlooked or forgiven. There are as many forms of cheating as there are flowers on a summer day.
Many people justify cheating, especially in high school, as part of being young–of being “cool”. But, is it? Do it once or twice for the sheer adrenalin rush and, perhaps, it is. Just like the few surreptitious puffs of marijuana. Doesn’t make it right but life isn’t a string of all the right moves. But making cheating a way of life… well, cheat your way through high school and there is a good chance you will cheat your way through most of everything else in life. For many, not getting caught in their youth, or being forgiven because of their youth, is like an aphrodisiac. The more successful they are with their cheating, the more brazen they become. You read about scandals in the bar exams and you’ll understand what I mean. It makes me wonder sometimes if corruption in government and business can be traced, in part, to unchecked attitude problems among the youths of generations past.
High school can be a grueling ritual as adolescents and teenagers fight hard to find and establish their identities. Some will try to put you down because it makes them feel above you. And because some of them never do find their identity nor clarify the reason for their lives beyond their physical existence, you will encounter their kind throughout life. Be magnanimous and try to understand their petty insecurities, most of which stem from their inability to rise above their own trivialities. But never—ever—let them succeed in making you feel bad about yourself, what you stand for and what you believe in.
Life isn’t easy and there will be a lot of temptations, disappointments and frustrations. Some, you may be able to avoid; others, you will have to overcome. You may stumble at times and it will hurt. I will not sugarcoat it for you. How well you face them and rise up from them, and be even more courageous in facing what lies ahead is the true measure of the depth of your character.
It is from Teacher Emma, your school directress, that I learned this: “Excellence is not a goal; it is a standard.” Find your own definition of excellence and do not feel limited by norms because norms can stunt your growth as a person. Go beyond society’s standard for excellence. Dream big, Alex. Spread you wings and soar. You have us, your family, to support you and cheer you on. All the way.
Erratum: Relative to my March 30 column, the domain of Global Voices is at www.globalvoicesonline.org and not at www.globalvoices.org. I am not affiliated with the latter.