My husband says that there are more rocking chairs in Nicaragua, than people, a most necessary piece of furniture in a country with two types of weather – hot and hotter. Their open backs made of wicker or wooden slats allow the heat to escape the body; the swaying movement as you rock circulates the air around you, making a bit of a breeze. What a relief!

After the sun sets, which happens at more or less the same time throughout the year, doors open and neighbors come out hauling their rocking chairs to sit and rock in their very wide sidewalks. Wide open front doors allow the movement of a slight breeze coming from the indoor courts through the house and back.

Let’s sit and rock together as I tell you a story of how my parents grew up and how they used their experience to guide me from an early age so I would be prepared to take advantage of opportunities open to me all through life. Through their efforts they show what I am calling “Intentional Parenting”.

Neither of my parents were raised by their biological parents; however, they were given love and support the way their aunts who raised them knew best.  My father was born to a family of modest means.  The engine of the household was my grandmother, Julia Perez.  She raised her 8 children from income provided by her own small business which consisted of selling dry goods from her living room, where she had shelves and a counter built to hold her stock and deal with buyers and sellers.  Her customers were the neighbors and people living near-by.  She sold sugar, beans, rice, coffee, tortillas, crackers, bread, ice – you get the picture. You can envision a woman with ambition and drive, intelligence and cunning.

Because she was so busy with her small business and running her household of 8 kids, my father was raised by his Aunt Ventura, a cousin of my grandmother’s who was unmarried and had no children of her own. Aunt Ventura realized that Alejandro, my father, was very intelligent and that discipline was necessary to hone in his talents towards a successful future.  She emphasized the importance of education, getting him tutors to supplement his school learning so that he could take advantage of his innate talents.  When my father was in Secondary school, Aunt Ventura got him a tutor that would teach him bookkeeping so that he could start thinking about a career.  My dad was inclined to study Law and with his earnings from a small job and Aunt Ventura’s help, he put himself through law school and finished with a doctorate degree in Jurisprudence. You can imagine a young man with innate talents that was encouraged and supported and grew in confidence, building one success upon another.

My mother was an orphan at the age of 8. Her mother had died when my mother was 3 years old because of complications after giving birth.  Mother’s father died when she was 8.  She was then adopted by her Aunt Isabel who was married but had no children. Growing up, my mother would had liked to attend a university, but in her time and in her country of birth, Nicaragua, she was discouraged from doing so. Of course she was disappointed but her experience led her to encourage me, her daughter, to take advantage of every educational opportunity and succeed in life from my own steam.

Much has been written lately about the importance of early childhood education.  Statistically there is much to be gained from early schooling and a continuation of effort throughout childhood and adolescence.  Policies are widely discussed currently in all strata of government so that those without means can enroll their children in early development centers as much as those with means. This is a wise investment. Look at my experience. I’ll move on to tell you my story as we rock in our rocking chairs.

As we rock, let’s imagine that this is happening today. I am a 3 year old standing at my front door when I notice children older than me walking by our house on their way to a pre-school down the street at the home of Dona Corina, the teacher.  At this age I can speak clearly. “Mama. I want to go with them”, I say, pointing to the group. My mother knows these kids are going to a pre-school run by Dona Corina, a neighbor, out of her home.  She knew that these kids were older than me; however, with the intention of supporting my curiosity, my initiative, my exploratory spirit, she inquires with Dona Corina and asks “Would you accept my daughter, even though she is a bit younger than your other students?” “Of course”, she says.   She says, she could start teaching me my ABC’s and numbers. Intentional parenting means that you must find the right allies in your quest for the development of your child, beginning willing teachers, counselors and mentors. 

This intentional parenting continues when I reach the age of 5.  I start Kindergarten at an all-girl Catholic school run by nuns. Are you rocking with me? There is never a question as to whether I would attend an all-girl Catholic School.  The question is which one. My parents are devout Catholics in a predominantly Catholic city and country.  In fact, my mother goes to church every day, praying her rosary and novenas to one saint or another.  Her devotion is heartfelt.  I still find myself saying her prayers when I feel challenged or frightened.

The school closest to our house is chosen by my parents.   On the first day of school, my father walks me to school and goes in with me.  We come into a big hall where there is a gathering of students.  Everyone seems so tall.  In this school you can start in Kinder and go all the way to High School, that’s why there are some very tall girls in front of me. This is a new situation.  I feel somewhat scared. I am glad to be with my father. Intentional parenting means you support your child as she is challenged by unfamiliar environments.

Intentional parenting means your children are comfortable telling you about their wishes and confident you will consider them. Mid way through Elementary I tell my parents that I do not want to go to my school anymore. Kids in our neighborhood are being picked up by a school bus and taken to Colegio Frances which is somewhat farther.  Riding the bus with other girls seems like a lot more fun than walking to school. I guess I am a wanderer even at this early age.  My father who adores me says that if that is what I want I’ll be more motivated to do well in that school, so I am enrolled in the Colegio Frances.

Intentional parenting means that you continue to look for opportunities for your children with an open eye and ear. When I am about to finish Primary School, my mother hears of a school called Colegio Teresiano, also Catholic and run by nuns, where they teach English and where I can finish the Secondary grades in a bilingual setting.  However, this is in Managua, about a 45 minute to an hour drive by bus from Granada.  Not to worry, my mother finds out there is a school bus that can pick me up in Granada and take me to school. So she makes arrangements for me to be picked up.

Are you still rocking with me and feeling the breeze that comes from your court yard? To this day I remember being matriculated by my mother in Colegio Teresiano.  I am interviewed by a nun who conducts a test of my Grammar and Math skills.  Before taking me to be enrolled, Mother does not tell me that there is an admission test, as she thinks this can worry me and stress me or maybe convince me that I do not want to go to school there.  So, here I am on that day, apprehensive as I may feel, between my mother and the nun, and there is no other way but to move forward with their program.  In the nun’s assessment I am slightly behind in either Grammar or Math – I don’t remember, but I will make a good student and catch up. At this time I am 11 years old. 

To enter bilingual instruction, Colegio Teresiano offered an academic year in an English immersion program.  After that, I would continue into Secondary school taught in 2 languages, English and Spanish.  The academic year spent learning English is challenging.  The bus picks me up at 7:00 am to take me to school in Managua.  We arrive close to 8 am and begin lining up in formation according to grades.  We sing the National Anthem and proceed in line to our classrooms, dressed in pressed brown and white uniforms and brown oxford shoes worn with white socks.  There is no chewing gum allowed as we should not ruminate like cows, we are told.  The nuns could smell gum a mile away and give you the third degree about it.  So, why bother. They run the show. This is another assumption that helps me understand the environment that I am in.

Just before completing Secondary school, representatives from the American Embassy come to my school to offer us the opportunity to apply for scholarships to study in the US.  A friend of mine and I decide to apply.  Maybe we could come to the US together. Because of my parents’ intentional guidance, I feel confident that I can succeed at this.

Let’s move on with our story.  The application process involved taking a test of English as a Second Language (TESOL).  We pass the test and are invited to interviews.  Of the questions asked in my interview I still remember this one: “Are you a member of the Communist Party?” to which I responded “No”. The Cold War is in full force at the time and this is definitely a very important question to the Americans interviewing me.

A few weeks later I receive a letter telling me that I am being offered a scholarship to study at Findlay College, in Findlay, Ohio, now University of Findlay. I accept.  My friend is offered a scholarship to study in one of the Dakotas, either North or South.  She accepts.  This is definitely not our original plan; however, we are very pleased and excited with the next step.

Rock with me some more.  My father, who loves Geography, checks our maps to find out where Findlay is and what airport I should fly into. This turns out to be in Toledo, Ohio. We are all excited about my next step.  The adventure continues, as shortly after that, I am offered the opportunity to participate in a 2 weeks acculturation program at Chatham College in Pittsburgh, PA.  This seminar is attended by students from all over the world. We listen to lectures and discuss how American culture is unique and different from ours.  I make friends with a student from Japan, one from Jordan, one from Afghanistan and one from Pakistan.  I wish I can see them again, sometime before I die. 

Do you see the importance of Intentional Parenting now? When I am barely 11, my mother sets me off on a road that leads me from Nicaragua to these United States, starting with the Mid-West and later the East and West Coasts, following a destiny that started to be laid out for me when I was a child.

For the last 25 years of my career I started employment as a faculty member in a California Community College, looking for promotions every 5-6 years and becoming a Director and later a Dean, Vice President and President – but this did not happen in an instant – it took 25 years, a lot of hard work and following opportunity where it was available to me.  Moving to the latter position as President of Chabot College was only possible because I had the appropriate scaffolding necessary to move up through preparation that started way back when I was just a toddler. My work environments were always competitive, fast pace, with many political waves that needed skillful riding to stay afloat. Each step supported the next one.

It is with great relief that now, as a senior citizen, I can live a comfortable life due to the opportunities open to me and the remuneration I received because of the intentional parenting that my parents adhered to in a very natural way.

I ask you, “Do you guide your children using this intentional parenting? Is every effort you pour into them with an intention to help them develop so that they think critically and make the best choices from the menu of opportunities open to them in the future? At what age does this start? Based on my experience, the sooner the better. My parents started me on my journey at the age of 3. I owe them so very much.

Celia's Aunt Sama dancing with Celia's Father.