Friday, November 10, 2006

National Adoption Month: Attack of the Nerves

Taking Saturday off to visit Berkeley, California...where I broke free from my adoptive parents to begin college and where I immediately felt....LOST. Not because I was lonely. No. Because I was totally unprepared for the demands of college life, its financial costs, its emotional burdens.

While my adoptive parents refused to pay for my college education, they insisted on driving me the 400 plus miles. I resisted. At first. But finally caved in. Within hours of arriving, my adoptive father began complaining of a stomach ache. I spent my first weekend in Berkeley in the Alta Bates Hospital emergency room with my dad instead of moving into my co-op. My mother said, "You made him sick. You take him." By this she meant by choosing to move away I had caused his illness and now must pay the price. So I did. That was 25 years ago. The compliant, dutiful daughter. It was a classic case of attaque de nervios...an attack of the nerves...a documented affliction that sends Latinos into hospitals seeking help...unable to distinguish between mental and physical distress.

I didn't see them for a year, at least. Out of self-protection. It was hard enough to go to school and work five nights a week as a legal secretary to pay the bills. At least I didn't have to wait tables! The distance between us began. And grew. Until years passed between our visits. It was the only way I could survive. Instead of support and pride, I only heard grim predictions and ridicule.

An expert I interviewed on the subject of Latinos and adoptions, a woman who grew up in my general neighborhood, was an unexpected comfort. The problem, she said, wasn't just my adoption. The problem, she said, was also CULTURAL. Mexican (American) girls are not encouraged to be independent. A good girl stays close to home and takes care of her parents. She is loyal. Often, daughters are preferred over boys for this very reason. Girls are easier to handle. This is true, so the research says, of adoptions in general. Girls are preferred.

How very VERY disappointed my parents must have been. My education the ultimate threat. What confusion and loss they must have felt that weekend. What anger. What sense of betryal at their ungrateful, adoptive daughter...to choose something other than them. They left...defeated...my father gray...my mother fuming.

But there is a new generation on the horizon. My daughters. Teenage girls with a ridiculous load of advanced standing high school classes and a eye toward Berkeley. At 14 & 15, they already know the libraries, the bookstores, the cafes and to avoid Telegraph Avenue at night. It's now nearly impossible to get in to the university. I couldn't do it today. But they eye it with hope...it's a goal...and it gives me the greatest pleasure to show them around...this place of so many happy and sad memories. My girls help me make sense of my college struggle. The alienation. The isolation. Wherever they go, they will have encouraging words and financial help. And I vow, if ever and wherever they go, I will NOT have an attaque de nervios!

4 Comments:

Blogger kim.kim said...

Your blog is pure gold I am adding it to my links. You might like to read Liz's blog too, she had difficult adoptive parents too and then found her other parents who were just as bad.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Being Me said...

Nina,
Wow! You write so well. Thanks for all your recent posts. I love what you are doing for your daughters too.

In the first 3rd grade class I taught (1980)I was shocked when Guadalupe's mom told me it really didn't matter if Lupe learned her multiplication tables, as long as she remembered to give birthday cards to her classmates. You have burst through tremendous psychic barriers and I feel proud to be your witness.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Being Me said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nina! Thank you so much for this blog! I find so many of my feelings in your words and its the first time in decades that I don't feel alone at the core anymore. Coming from an extremely tricky background, not ever having known my biological parents, I attended college too and thought I had it made. Now I have a Ph.D. and have come to realize that alienation is not to be overcome by academic titles or miles travelled. However, realizing that recently opened up a new perspective and led me to deep pain and to things as wonderful as your blog.
I, too, have raised a teenage daughter who now wants to attend college soon..and she will have my support - for college or any other world, oh yes.

Thanks for writing your feelings!

Jana

11:42 AM  

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