Thursday, November 30, 2006

Adoption: Nature vs. Nuture (Nervios lives on!)

The scoreboard is filling up.

Temperament? Nothing in common with adoptive parents.

Outlook on life? Nothing in common with adoptive parents.

Intellectual curiosity? More in common with birth mother.

Love of reading? My adoptive parents never read a book in their lives and I started reading Jane Austen at 15. In fact, one of my favorite pastimes is hanging out at the library or bookstore. Birthmother not big reader, but does reference non-fiction.

Resilience? Definitely take after my birthmother...which, oddly, made me a fairly good candidate for adoption. While being adopted remains my biggest struggle, it's also not destroyed me, either. I was a good kid, a decent student and have enjoyed steady work, a solid marriage and parenting my amazing daughters...both great girls....which leads me to....


Adoptive mom scores a BIG one in the nuture column.

In fact, it's a win for the entire adopted extended family.

For those of you who have no experience with this affliction associated with Latinos, it's like watching someone falling apart. Life deals some unpleasant blow and the (usually female) recipient staggers, begins to cry uncontrollably, screams a lot, maybe throws things around and, sometimes, goes into a sort of disassociative state often leading to a trip to the emergency room or, at the very least, a call to the doctor's office. Later, the "patient" reports heart palpitations or clammy skin.

A sort of sliding scale exists. Attaque de nervios being the worst and just plain Nervios following second...ending with Susto, whereby the "victim" receives a fright (which may be mild or severe). All highly dramatic and mostly physical manifestations of psychological turmoil.

My adoptive mother suffered several bouts of Attaque de Nervios, once triggered by a simple question about my adoption and another time when I was a pissed off teenager who got revenge by intentionally not getting her anything for Mother's Day.

Daily life was like walking around a boobytrapped landscape laced with tripwires hooked to my mother's nervous system.

And then there was my adoptive dad. Perhaps my favorite story (sorry for telling it again). When they drove me to college (against my wishes-after all, they refused to financially help and I was footing the entire bill) my adoptive dad was soon discombobulated by nervios, which sent him to the hospital with a racing heart and stomachache, which the doctor diagnosed as an anxiety attack.

As it turns out, all these behaviors are LEARNED. My birthmother and her kin do not experience life in this manner. And usually, I don't either. But it's insidious, this affliction. Like a virus. Highly contagious. And it's possible it can lay dormant for many years until....your teenager does something upsetting and OFF YOU GO! Babbling away at her, heart racing, stomach flipping and, when her big sister stares at you as if you're absolutely insane and begins to argue (like a lawyer-in bullet points) her little sister's case...what comes out of your (okay, mine-I'm having a hard time admitting this) mouth? "Puleeze! Can't you see I'm a nervous wreck! I'm on my last nerve, girls. Seriously. My nerves just can't take this anymore."
And then I slammed the door and made myself a cup of tea, hands shaking. Behind that closed door must have been much eye rolling and giggling. I FELT ridiculous and acted ridiculous and when my husband came home, my daughter gleefully told him about my conniption fit.

Which is very disappointing when I despise Attaque de Nervios and all it symbolizes! Especially upsetting when one aspires to the Atticus Finch school of parenting, until one remembers that he was a fictional character who probably never had to take his parents to the doctor for upsetting them.

Damn!!! I wonder if there is some sort of Mexican-Catholic exorcism ritual for Attaque de Nervios?


Blogger Being Me said...

Oh Nina,

You handled it quite well it sounds--no trip to the hospital yet! Teenage daughters are definitely here to test our mettle. I used to call for a "time out" just so I could get away and cool my mind. Taking out the trash once became a blissful event, a constructive escape action. I go outdoors and look at the sky. It's ok. {{{{{Nina}}}}}
And this too shall pass...

1:01 PM  
Blogger LeRoy Dissing said...

An interesting phenomena that culturally allows a person to "lose it" from time to time. Sounds like a steam valve on a pressure cooker. It may be for functional than not and it certainly creates an experience for the memory banks! If you only had the "one" Nina, or even one every once in a long while, I would just take it as being normal. Most people would just call it a "fit" or as they say in upper Michigan, "getting their nikkers in a knot".

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Blogger MaeDay said...

Ahhh, the cultural/social differences in expressing emotion.

My WASP background does not allow any public display of emotion,and rarely in front of the children and certainly never a hissy fit...ever. Stiff upper lip, (martyrs in the making) prevailed.

LOL, I kind of like the , "Attaque de Nervios",routine!

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