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When I was about 13 I had a class project for English due on the long short story “The Man Without a Country.”  I wrote something on notebook paper about a page long.  Not too much thought went into it, and the presentation was lacking.  I showed it to my mother who reviewed all homework in our house.  She was ironing in the kitchen and I had worked for a very brief time at the peninsula.  When she saw it, she said “You can do better than this.”  She was right.  She reminded me of a better piece I had written once before in which I had taken the point of view of first person, taking the role of the protagonist.  So I rewrote it, this time on typing paper and upon viewing the iron had the idea of “aging” it with the iron.  With her help we even lit a match and “aged” it further singeing the edges of the paper.  In that afternoon, I grew into knowing I did not want her to turn down another piece of work.  Unlike Philip Nolan in the story by Edward Everett Hale who was a man without a country, I was a girl with a mother.

As my mother approaches another birthday, I want her to know that with her I have always known I am a woman with a mother.  She encouraged us to learn to swim at an early age since she had witnessed several drownings as a child.  Chilling thought.  Her encouragement was not a simple nudge, she saw to it that we received expert lessons that translated into junior lifesaving, senior lifesaving and competitive swimming levels.  She sat by the poolside for hours every summer, assuring herself that my siblings and I would not only learn to swim but become expert swimmers at a pool, in a lake or ocean.  Her dedication saw me participate in a state ranked swim team, a big ten school swim team and even relax a bit on a synchronized swimming team.  We learned to sail on a lake and on a canal in Florida, with life jackets, and with the confidence of knowing that if the boat capsized…and it did several times…we would be able to handle it.

She continued to help me in school especially with Spanish.  At 12 I had no clue what verb conjugation was, but she saw me through it.  That experience reminds me today that my own students find it as equally challenging as I did when I first faced it.  After undergraduate school and jobs were scarce, she led me to a graduate program in Spanish literature.  Since she was a student also, she became my best friend always seeing my potential and affirming my experiences in Spanish.  Interestingly, although I was totally absorbed in Spanish my own father wasn’t even sure of my proficiency.  My mother though had an inkling.   One of the greatest compliments I received was when my father commented to my mother “I didn’t know G could speak Spanish.”  I traveled, I listened, I read and I studied.  Afraid for a long time that my Spanish wasn’t good enough, I grew into a young adult who cherished connecting with my father in Spanish.  Born and raised in Mexico, I thought he was the expert. My father was a rocket scientist, also proficient in Dutch and English.  My competitive spirit, although competitive outside the house, could not compete at home.  Then I learned, I did not need to compete…speaking with him was very natural.  We thought the same things at the same moment capturing the thought in Spanish, laughing at the same thing with a shared Spanish quip.

I marvel that my mother left her home in the Pacific Northwest and took a risk marrying my father in Mexico.  She left all that was familiar from her great state, yet embraced a new culture learning the language and ultimately dedicating herself to her bilingual children.  She is an expert in her field of bilingual education.  And, she refers to us as her first bilingual children since thousands of bilingual children have benefited from her influence.   As the “only child of only children”…she has repeated that many times…she and my dad raised four children!

“Ahhhh…eres la niña de Elena,” my mother’s bilingual friends comment when they meet me.  “Sí soy su hija,” I answer with pride.

Georgette Sullins and Georgette Sullins’s Blog©, March 3, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Georgette Sullins and [Georgette Sullins’s Blog] with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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