Eden Bravo, who speaks with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader, has a dream for her four children, and she’s adamant that they are not to be like her.
Ever since having her first child at age 15, and enduring the consequences of only going as far as the seventh grade in school, Eden has determined that her kids will do better than her. She demands it. She inspires it. And she doesn’t mince words when she talks about her kids’ futures: “I’m hungry, desperate for (my) kids to have a better future.”
Her persistence has paid off. All four of her children have attended Washington Elementary School and maintained perfect attendance, and they’ve all made honor roll (except her youngest, who’s too young for that). That means they’ve never been absent, and have never even been late to class. Not once. That’s 11 years straight, from pre-school through high school, they’ve never missed one day of class. Let that sink in for a minute.
Now 37, Eden immigrated to America from Mexico with her parents when she was just five years old. She had to learn to speak and write English, even though she didn’t go far in school. Eden is a permanent U.S. resident and says she will become a naturalized citizen in five years.
When she was young, she says her parents didn’t push her to succeed, something she truly wishes they had done.
As a young mother, life was hard and money scarce. It’s still scarce. She did babysitting for 19 years to supplement the family’s income. She’s also worked in the fields, pruning grape vines, she says. Nowadays she works at a local packing shed, when there’s work available. Her husband, Jose, works in construction. He’s always at work, Eden says, so child-rearing has been mostly left to her.
Even in America, the land of opportunity, life has been hard and she doesn’t want the same for her children. She wants better. Much better. Eden and her family have fully embraced the American dream, and it’s the work ethic she strives to instill in her children: this is America and anything is possible if you work for it, she tells them passionately.
Crystal, the couple’s eldest, graduated from Chico State University last year. She majored in liberal studies and wants to be a teacher or work in child development someday. She’s the first in her entire extended family to go to college, much less earn a diploma, a fact that makes her happy. Like it or not, she is now the example for her younger siblings to follow. She finds herself helping motivate them and offering to tutor them, as needed, but says their mom is truly the role model. She confesses that she likes watching Netflix in bed, but she knows that luxury only comes after the work is done.
Her younger sister Angela, 19, is currently a student at Cosumnes River College. She wants to be a social worker when she graduates. Her brother Daniel, 14, is a student at Lodi High School. He wants to attend San Jose State University and work in the computer science field someday. The youngest, Hector, 8, is still a student at Washington School and knows what he wants to do when he grows up: become a math teacher.
All of them are motivated by their mother to do their best and to make something of themselves. She pushes them to excel and to complete assignments on time. She sets deadlines for them to finish school projects so they won’t be late.
Mom doesn’t drive, so everyone walks or rides a bike. It’s a 15-minute hike for Hector to get to school, and even longer for Daniel to get to Lodi High. When their mom wants to go to Walmart, she walks.
Money has always been tight, says Eden. “It’s been really hard, financially,” she says.
The family lives in an apartment in northeast Lodi, about 10 blocks from school. But they are happy to have the home they have. Sometimes there’s not enough money to pay for necessities. One time Crystal showed her mom holes in her shoes, but there wasn’t enough money to buy new ones. So Eden prayed for a solution. Her sister heard about it and bought Crystal the new shoes she needed. She and her kids also needed contact lenses, so she worked extra jobs and hours to scrimp and save enough to buy them. A woman of faith, Eden says, “God always helps us.”
At times there haven’t been many presents under the Christmas tree, but the family makes the most of it by playing board games on Christmas morning. Whoever wins the game opens the first gift. It’s all about family.
Sundays are always family day for the Bravos. They usually head to Micke Grove Park for a barbecue and games. It’s part of what keeps her family as tight-knit as they are. She and Jose feel family days have been instrumental in keeping her kids out of gangs.
Crystal says the hardest thing for her has just been growing up, dealing with all the pressures common to every young person. Her mom’s persistence about doing well and stepping out of her comfort zone hasn’t made things any easier. But she says, “(my) biggest supporter has been my mom.”
Her brother Daniel echoes his sister’s sentiments. Moving out of his comfort zone has been difficult for him because he says he’s naturally quiet and reserved. But thanks in part to the encouragement of his mom and siblings, he has learned to be more outgoing. In between school and homework, Daniel joined the Lodi High cross country team. Another lesson Eden’s kids have learned is to give back, so Daniel also finds time to volunteer at a local care home through the Salvation Army.
Eden says that she and her husband had an opportunity to move elsewhere where rent was cheaper, but they decided against it so their kids could stay at Washington School.
As impressive as perfect attendance is, Washington School Principal Susan Petersen says that from her experience only 10% of the student body manages no absences. However, the percentage is much higher at Washington School because, “Being ‘Ready to Learn’ is a core value of this site and the students and their parents have really embraced it.”
But every school is different. Liberty High Principal Tami Dillon says, “In my (nine) years at Liberty, I have yet to have a student with perfect attendance here.” To have four kids from the same family achieve perfect attendance, she says, “That is incredibly rare!” Her son Nick was the only one in Lodi High’s class of 2014 to have perfect attendance his entire school career, she says.
Crystal says her mom always preaches to “get out of your comfort zone. A lot of people put limits on themselves,” she says. But she and her siblings are used to stretching themselves and striving to do their best.
Eden says she would like to return to school herself to earn her high school equivalency certificate (GED), but has been hesitant. Her kids would be the first to remind her that she’s in America and she can do it if she works hard for it.
Eden says, “We’re not perfect,” and she knows she’s been tough with her kids. But she also says, “We’re happy because our kids are happy.”
Steve is a former newspaper publisher and lifelong Lodian whose column appears most Tuesdays in the News-Sentinel. Write to Steve at aboutlodi@ gmail.com.