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December 05, 2006

The Noey Effect

Kelly’s column is represented here with permission from The Hills Newspapers.

My seventeen
year-old babysitter, Noey, doesn’t know how to work our TiVo, nor does she want to know.

Noey is an industrious first-generation American with her eyes on Stanford. She studies all the time. Doesn’t care what time we get home since by her calculations, she’s getting paid to prep for the SATs and finish her AP Chemistry homework. Every time she comes, she asks if it’s okay to use my computer. “Just checking,” she says when I say “Of course, Noey.” “Thanks a lot,” she adds, in a tone so genuine it makes me wonder if my kids have ever sincerely thanked me for anything.

Noey, I should mention, is fit for the cover of a magazine. She has the kind of face that makes some girls stop trying and just coast along on the perks that come with show-stopping beauty. I keep telling her she could make money a whole lot faster than $12 an hour if she was willing to send a couple photos off to the nearest modeling agency.

But that’s not her style. She wants to be a doctor.

Noey’s parents are Nicaraguan immigrants who work as Custodial Managers at UC Berkeley. They found a high school for her in Albany, even though it’s five towns north of their home, because it’s the kind of high school that sends its graduates to college. When Noey matriculates, she will be the first in her family to walk the halls of a freshman dorm looking for her name on a door, or comb through a university bookstore filling a basket with $400 worth of textbooks, or harbor a secret crush on the guy in Chem Lab.

But that’s where Noey is headed.

When I ask her why college is so important, she says, “That’s why my parents came here. That’s why they left everything behind.”

When I was seventeen, I could be found in front of the mirror, wondering if my hair looked better in French braids or a bun and rolling my eyes at my mother who was always calling up to me to “Get downstairs now!” When I was finally satisfied with my locks, I’d slip on my Mia flats, noting the scuffs on the toes and wishing for a fresh pair. I rarely said thank you spontaneously and was quick to remind my mom, in our regular showdowns, that at least I wasn’t pregnant or on drugs. It wasn’t pretty.

And my girls – they are the luckiest kids in America. Piles of books in every room. So many clothes that when they’re all clean, they don’t fit in the dresser. Soccer, choir, summer camp. Trips to the circus, the beach, the Big Apple. And perhaps the ultimate luxury: a well-rested, at-home mom, not to mention a father who can’t wait to get home to them.

But there are things Noey has that I can’t give my children. There are advantages to “disadvantage.” Noey appreciates a Coke. She saves the last bit of cream cheese because if you really scrape around the sides, there’s enough for another bagel. She found an SAT course that is half the cost as Kaplan, but just as good. She’s more resourceful and self-sufficient than some forty year-olds I know.

But she has one more thing I wish for my kids—the thing that makes the world her oyster. Noey has the pride and the insight of the entrepreneur, the person who takes an idea about what could be and makes it real. She came by her daring and will honestly, through her parents.