BIO: Paige Adams Strickland is a teacher and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. She is married with two daughters and four cats. In her spare time she reads, gardens, teaches Zumba ™ Fitness and enjoys travel, movies and spending time with family and friends.
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ADOPTED?
This is Chapter 15:
I have a new tutoring student who lives in my neighborhood and goes to the high school where my kids will one day go. His mom calls to set up his appointment because he is in danger of failing Spanish, and exams are coming. His name is Nick, and I will be meeting him at my house on Tuesday evenings at seven PM.
The silver Volvo station wagon arrives, and the mother hops out. She’s like most of the moms in my suburban neighborhood: petite, wearing a black track suit, has her blonde hair pulled back in a high, tight pony tail and headband. Her Nike tennis shoes are bright pink and look stylish. She’s headed to the Sports Club while Nick is learning Spanish with me. Nick slides out on the passenger side and heaves a large, blue backpack over his shoulder. The straps are frayed. Nick has curly black hair, dark, almond-shaped eyes and a coffee-colored complexion. Mother and son make an interesting pair. “Bye now! I’ll be back in an hour!” she says as she hands me a check and bounces back to her car.
I work with Nick, reteaching him how to use object pronouns in Spanish sentences. He doesn’t know his vocabulary too well, which makes learning a challenge. I’m figuring that we’re going to have to spend some time on vocab drills before I can make much headway with this guy. During the lesson, he volunteers to me that he is adopted and was born in Guatemala.
“Well, I was kinda wondering when I saw your mom, but I didn’t want to be rude, “ I say. He chuckles. “I’m adopted too, “ I add, “but not from a foreign country. I’m a native of Cincinnati. I used to lie about it and fool people since I looked like my parents.” He grins.
I ask Nick if he remembers anything about Guatemala, but he knows nothing but Ohio life. He was an infant in an orphanage. He will probably never be able to find his birth parents. Spanish should have been his native language, but it isn’t, and now he’s flunking it fourth quarter in school. That’s ironic.
He’s my student, so I feel like I must maintain that professional distance, but I would love to get personal and ask him if he hates his status or is ashamed about being adopted like I was. I want to know if he feels isolated, weird or like a freak of nature the way I felt when I was in high school. Does he feel controlled by society’s secretive laws? How does he cope with being so obviously different from his parents?
“But for my culture report, I did pick Guatemala”, (which he pronounces ‘Guaddamala’ like people from Ohio do). He finds the reading / culture section in his text book, and I help him muddle through the paragraphs written in Spanish about the land of ancient Mayans and the social activist and author, Rigoberta Menchú. He’s also found a nice collection of on-line photos and a couple of recipes for ceviche and tres leches cake and a map of Ciudad Guatemala for his report. As we research, he learns that Guatemala has been a country with serious social problems like drug trafficking and civil unrest since the time of his birth and before. He carefully studies the Google images of his war-stricken native land. They are photos of sad, hungry, abandoned children, bombed buildings and a memorial wall representing persons killed. I’m not sure what to say as he takes in this information while saving pictures to his project files.
This is his only way to connect with his origin for now. We wonder if the war or a drug cartel played a part in his relinquishment for adoption, but probably no one will ever know. Maybe someone felt he would be safer in an orphanage, where a privileged North American family might seek to adopt. Maybe his village was raided by rebels and he survived. If he learns Spanish well, he might have a chance to discover a few things about his birthplace and the circumstances one day if he can decipher legal documents.
I just found a way to motivate this kid, and that makes me feel like “Super-Tutor”!
I used to think that had we not been able to conceive our own beautiful children, I would want to adopt a baby from a Hispanic country. I would at least be able to teach the kid about their first language, delight in the music and share an interest in current events, food, arts and crafts. I’d be the perfect adoptive parent for a Hispanic kid, but I selfishly must confess, I am thankful for our good health and ability to have natural/ blood children who look like us and have our mannerisms. I missed that connection growing up, but my parental experiences make up for not having much of an identity when I was a kid. I am incredibly thankful for my daughters and can’t fathom having to live without them in my life.
I work every week with Nick from Cincinnati, by way of Ciudad Guatemala, and his grades slowly inch up from D-minuses to Bs by the time he takes his June exam. A few years later, by chance, I run into this same young man at school picture day. He’s now working for Lifetouch, the company that takes all the school photos, and in the gym, when they herd all the kids and teachers into lines, I make sure to get in Nick’s queue. While posing for my portrait, he remembers me.
“Hey, you’re that Spanish tutor, right?”
“That’s me!” I reply. We only have seconds because the gym is packed, but I ask him how he’s doing and where he’s going to school these days. He’s at Cincinnati State for now and probably majoring in business. Photography is a great college job for him, and as fellow adoptees, he and I understand more than anyone else why all pictures matter.
Paige’s first memoir can be purchased by clicking this link.
Paige L. Adams Strickland