Adolescent Medicine

From picking cans to making graphs, the journey never ends

By Cecilia Arevalo and LaShawnda Brown
Published on LatinoLA: February 5, 2002

Adolescent Medicine

Cecilia: I am tired from my head to my toes. Tired of my thoughts of my feelings. I wish I could go home and sleep and not think and not see and not hear and not know. Because every day my eyes see, my heart feels and it hurts and it wears me down, it slows me down and I can?t sleep. I just toss in bed playing images in my head of the old man and his cart. The old man walking down the street looking for trashcans, searching for bottles, cans, plastic whatever is worth a nickel or dime. At the same time I am taken back to the days when I looked for remains worth nickels or dimes. I think of the days when all the familia went to the beach just to look for cans. Cans that I now put in the trash can. Cans that one time provided money for food or school supplies. Now that money seems like too much of a bother to put in a bag and recycle. I am tired. Remove me from my feelings from my thoughts.

I feel guilt. Oh so much guilt that it makes my feet heavy and my hands week. So week that I can?t find the strength to be a good mother. Just this morning as I was rushing to work, thinking if I had packed enough clothes for my son, if he was covered enough for when I took him outside, thinking did I pack my lunch, thinking where are my car keys, thinking where is my purse. And as I was thinking I sat him down and not paying attention, because I was thinking, he fell. He fell on his face. He cried loud and turned red. I knew he was in pain. He was hurting. I did not pay attention. I let him fall. My little six-month baby fell!

How much more of a failure can I be? I am a negligent mother. If only someone from family services or family preservation organizations knew? I would be sent to parenting class. They would start a file on me. Before I know it they would probably try and take him away. And they have every right to do so. I let him fall. I was not taking care of him. I was too caught up rushing out, rushing out to my mother?s house.

My mom's house, where I grew up, where I survived, where to many of the women I am a hero. A success story. A professional. A career woman. Why? Because I go to work, because I bring home income, because I don?t need a man to support me. Because I graduated from college. And I have a car, and I am not on AFDC. Because I know it?s Aid to Families with Dependant Children and not welfare. If they knew. If only they knew.

I am not different. I am not a hero. Money earned from me is just as good or as bad as the money from anyone staying at home taking care of children gets. The money put in my checking account is no different than the check put in the mailbox. It is government money. The government prints it. The government endorses it. It is all government money. It is money taken from everyone and reused and recycled. Economics. The only difference is I create graphs and charts and paragraphs and lists of made up problems and solutions. Research they call it. About why the family is deteriorating. I pretend to help solve problems as if I understood peoples needs. An up and coming professional they say.

And all the while I need to feel taken care of. I need a hero. Look at me. I depend on an institution to approve and disapprove what I can and can not do. I am not anything special. So don?t look at me, don?t ask me, don?t expect. Just let me be.

LaShawnda: Don?t be tired. It is easier than you think. Be encouraged! Encouraged to change the lack of cans that the old and young still needs to survive. Be encouraged that you deserve not to have to pick up cans anymore. And save cans in remembrance of your struggle. I get tired, too. I remember going to the beach with my class when I was younger and I saw a family. They were picking up cans together. That is ironic that you could have been that same little girl that I saw looking into her Daddy?s eyes with a smile as she dropped on crumpled can into the bag. I think that little girl deserves to be successful today. She deserves to smile as she drops a crisper ?can? into her Daddy?s bag today. She doesn?t know have to fill his bag or anyone else?s bag anymore. That little girl is now a woman, but only one woman still the same. She should not feel sorry for the people picking up the cans because I am sure that when she thinks back on those can days, as I think back on roaches and government cheese and loneliness, you find laughter and love that has always been there. That is all we ever really need that is all the old man with the cart needs. That is all your son needs.

When your son looks back at his ?cans? whatever that may be, he will see the way you look at him. He will see the love. And no matter what kind of mother you might think you are, he will love you, simply because you are his mother. If you ask him in twenty years if he was cold when he was six months, he will smile, kiss you on your forehead and say, ?I love you mom.?

And the need. I still struggle over the graphs and charts and lists and solutions. The endless cycle of emerging needs and service and need and service and unmet need and service and immediate need and service and after it?s enough already it happens not to be enough. The need is not addressed, the need is not properly identified, the service in not properly designed, and the design is not properly implemented. The cycles turns to blur and soon I begin to think that the only reason why we come to work instead of waiting at home for a check in the mail is because our degrees won?t let us, our toughs won?t let us, our imagination won?t let us be limited. But our jobs with the lists and the graphs and the paragraphs won?t let us reach the imaginable day that need is seen as love from those close to you and the service is designed to just have someone pick up that can when we?re too old to bend.

Don?t feel guilty for living life. Don?t feel guilty for being the best that you can be, as a mom, daughter, friend, a whatever. You do your best, give your best and save a little bit for yourself and the nights will gel less restless. Sometimes the journey to peace in adult life seems very long and we get restless. That just means that you still have a spirit and awareness and integrity. And you would not want to lose that, would you?

About Cecilia Arevalo and LaShawnda Brown:
Cecilia Arevalo: From El Salvador, she has B.A. in Mass Communication from CSU Fullerton & works for the American Red Cross. La Shanda Brown: An African American woman, she has worked as an evaluator of social services for the past eight years.

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