California’s Mother of the Year is from Soquel
Forget apple pies and crocheting, Susan Tatsui-D’Arcy is a Renaissance Woman
By Brad Kava
Before career woman Susan Tatsui-D’arcy had her first child three decades ago, she thought she’d hire a nanny, so she could run her corporation during the daytime.
But one look at her daughter and she knew she wasn’t leaving home. She didn’t want to leave her job either, so she came up with a plan.
She hired a nanny, of sorts, who was more like a teacher and she brought in other kids whose parents could share the expense of the childcare at her house. She worked upstairs, while the kids and caregiver were downstairs.
It was such a success, she wrote a book now called The Millennial’s Guide to Free Child Care about the process, something she hoped would help cover childcare expenses for parents who couldn’t afford daycare.
“One of the toughest things for mothers trying to get out of poverty is to find a way to work and have their children taken care of,” she says. “It’s impossible to get ahead if you can’t afford to do both. One of my main goals is to show women how they can put together a plan to do it.”
A few years and a second child later, she wasn’t happy with the options she saw for sending her kids to school, so she repeated the process, hiring top teachers in the area, in drama, in science, in math and arts to school a group of children in her home and created what she called Merit Academy. She wrote extensive curriculum books for what the teachers should do every day, for students aged 18 months to 18 years.
“I knew that young kids only have a 20-minute attention span,” she said. “So I filled the day with things that were fun and educational.” With three to five kids in a class, they got plenty of attention and did science experiments like figuring out how many cups of water would fill a container. They learned phonics, they gardened. They kept moving to keep things interesting.
“By 3 my kids were reading,” she said. “By 5 they were writing their own books!”
The Academy, in her stunning hillside home in the Soquel hills off Rodeo Gulch, has a theater, aquaponic and hydroponic gardens, a weight room and sewing station, and resources for all kinds of student interest.
Much of her teaching has to do with saving the environment, a project she took so far that she had a class of students drive a hydrogen-powered car up the coast and meet then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and inventors around the country.
When you walk around her house, you feel like you are in the presence of a modern Leonardo Da Vinci. She built her own furniture—no IKEA here– including a bed with hidden storage for her skis and equipment and hidden closets that keep things like the satin wrapping sheets she uses instead of wrapping paper, a full professional facial station that she, her daughters and friends bond over. Her shoe racks are to die for—they are on giant floor-to-ceiling lazy Susans tucked into a corner.
She likes to do things herself and encourages her students and kids to do the same. When she took her kids on a trip around the world she made them spend a year researching the countries they would visit and create a guide book for the family. It worked.
Her oldest daughter, Nicole, is now an emergency room doctor; her younger daughter, Jaclyn, just got her MBA. They were the ones who nominated her mother for the statewide award given by California American Mothers. She is now eligible to be the national mother of the year.
“They are done,” she said. “I feel like I’ve completed my mission.” But she still teaches and consults with families around the country.
She spent 15 years creating 1,500 page biographies of her daughters’ lives and has an organized closet full of videos of them growing up.
“She organizes her life and executes it,” said Michael Beck, 30, a former student who is now an engineer. “She has a vision and she gets it done. And she has so much faith in youth. It’s refreshing and inspiring.”
Craziest moment in parenting?
“My 14-year-old daughter wanted to make alcohol fuel from rotten veggies so she asked me if she could buy the materials to make it. I gave her my credit card and she ordered the parts online. A few days later, I received a phone call from the FBI inquiring about my purchases of parts to build a 5,000-gallon still!
I put them on hold, so I could talk to my daughter. She had decided to build a big still so she could make enough fuel for the year! Luckily, the FBI had a sense of humor!”