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Southern California's Young Faces : Cover Story

Big Boy

Being 2 Was Easy for Adrian Salcido. Adults Were Patient, They Expected Little. Being 3 Is an Entirely Different Gig.

April 22, 2001|MARY MCNAMARA | Mary McNamara is a staff writer with The Times' Southern California Living section. She last wrote for the magazine about fashion at seaside resorts

What's it like to come of age in a place defined by outsiders and their cliches: surf, gang turf, Hollywood, Vine, the land of milk and honey? Do our children grow up too soon? Is Southern California the great springboard to a life of opportunity? On the following pages you'll find 17 children who are moving toward adulthood. Their stories are not the stuff of headlines or extremes: young criminals, star athletes, child movie stars. Rather, we went in search of "typical" kids. We talked to teachers, parents, tutors, coaches, counselors and school officials. Scores of names tumbled out. We then asked a dozen writers to spend time with these kids, and to try to find the small slice of each one that said something about their lives in Southern California. It is, we hope, a telling collage.


Like many men of his generation, Adrian Salcido has sleep issues. At night, he'd really rather not, thanks. But once he has succumbed, he doesn't appreciate being wakened. No matter that the call comes at the same time each morning, no matter that it is a loving voice coaxing him into consciousness. With few exceptions, his reaction is the same.

"Nooooo." It's a muffled, sleepy yell, rising in pitch as it segues from general objection to personal request. "Mooooom. Moooooommmmmm. Moooooommmmmmmmyyyyy."

"I'm right here, mijo," his mother calls as she heads to the bedroom. "And so the drama starts," she adds to herself, to the angels and saints.

"Don't want to get up," Adrian growls. "Don't want to go to school."

By then it is too late. Riding on his mother's hip, he emerges from the darkened bedroom, blinking big brown eyes, once, twice, three times, before burrowing his face into her shoulder.

It's not easy being 3.

When you're 2, life is simple. People are amazed that you can handle a fork. They applaud your every syllable. No one pushes you to use the potty or brush your teeth or pick up your toys. Oh, your parents and teachers may say "use your words," but they don't expect sentences. When you're 2, everyone knows that you'll have tantrums and throw food; you'll say "I sawy" once in a while, and they can't stop telling you what a good boy you are.

But when you turn 3, everything changes. Suddenly, you're a Big Boy, and Big Boys eat all of their lunch and never bite and let mom brush their hair. Big Boys use the potty, or at least try to, and they don't cry when dad turns off the TV.

Not that there aren't Big Boy perks. The food is better--the finicky appetite of a 3-year-old brings out the inner-cooking-show-host in any mom. This morning, at 6 a.m., Veronica is making Adrian spaghetti and garlic bread.

"The kid doesn't eat anything," she laments, putting a piece of the bread along with half a banana, a bag of chips and some Nilla Wafers on top of the container of spaghetti in Adrian's lunch box. It's true. Adrian has turned down all manner of breakfast items: toast, yogurt, cereal.

Adrian turned 3 a few weeks ago. Among the birthday presents are an automated Thomas the Tank Engine train set and some very cool Batman accouterment. When asked what his favorite video is, Adrian's face assumes the slightly pained expression of a movie star about to beckon for intervention from his publicist. "Toy Story," he says. "And 'Toy Story 2.' "

Not that Adrian is unmoved by other motion pictures. After refusing breakfast for the third time, he waits until his mother is in the bathroom and his father is bent over the ironing board before slipping a tape into the VCR.

As Veronica and Javier get ready for work, Adrian converses about his friends (day-care buddies). Then his mother changes him out of his pajamas and into jeans and a red sweater, herds him into the bathroom to wash and brush his teeth, and gathers up purse and lunch box and backpack and wiggles Adrian into his coat. She does all of this in one sweep, her movements borne of stress, natural efficiency and lots of practice.

"Things have been kind of crazy around here lately," Javier says. Veronica has a relatively new position as a recruiting assistant at Ernst & Young, and Javier is working as a paralegal while beginning his own private investigation firm. Still, today is Thursday, and Tuesdays and Thursdays are Daddy days--Javier leaves work around 3, picks up Adrian at day care and takes him to the park until sundown.

Adrian and his mom are headed out the door when Javier says, "Hey, my besitas, where are my besitas?" Adrian runs back and kisses his father twice.

Veronica takes Huntington Drive from their Arcadia apartment toward the day-care center, which is near her downtown office. Adrian reads along with an audiotape of "The Lion King." Through San Marino and South Pasadena, he practices his Simba roar. By Montecito Heights, he is singing "Hakuna Matata." As Veronica points out her old neighborhood of El Sereno, he is doing a very animated car seat dance to singing by Timon and Pumbaa. "Oh, wow," he says, as the skeleton of the new Walt Disney Concert Hall flashes by.

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