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Following love to grad school does not work out as planned

A college-bound Cuban challenges traditional expectations, hell-bent on leaving restrictive parents and Miami behind

Assisting and Avoiding Mom
After tumultuous years, she is still devoted to family—from a distance
My dad took off unexpectedly. Everyone who knew him—family and friends alike—insisted drugs had to be involved. He abandoned a kindergartener, a toddler and a sick daughter, along with his wife. Almost out of the blue, he disappeared. We discovered him a few days later living with a woman whose computer he had repaired. He screamed that he hated us all and that he was never returning home.

Dear old drug-free Dad left us destitute and homeless just as winter began. He had stopped paying the rent. The landlord, a friend of my dad, refused our money and evicted us, since only Dad was on the lease. Mom, the babies, and I lived in our car for two months. Although I had a chronic heart condition, I promised myself and assured Mom that I'd pour what energy I had into helping her make sure we all first survived, then prospered again. My parents taught us that's what families do, even though Dad's philosophy obviously was "do as I say, not as I do." It was hard, but in retrospect, keeping my promise far outweighed the difficulty of those weeks.

Today, we have technically escaped homelessness; we live with my maternal grandmother in Philadelphia. But now I need to escape from home—and Mom.

We were always close, but over the years, she nearly absorbed my individuality and acted as if I were an extension of herself. Everywhere she went I had to go, too. When I went job-hunting, she tried to apply everywhere I did. She assumed I shared all of her interests. Her plans more than included me; they depended on my wholehearted participation, which I violently rejected, to her dismay and bewilderment. When she volunteered at church, she meant we volunteered. My money became her money; she depended on me to supplement groceries, then cover car insurance and repairs and more.

I'm happy to help my mom; I just don't want to be her, or be her partner. I'm an adult, needing to live my own life and pursue opportunities as they present themselves. I returned to college, more than 300 miles away in Virginia, to finish the degree illness had interrupted. I then went on to grad school at Syracuse University, also more than 300 miles away.

Now that I'm finished, Mom's ever-present pride in me these days is limitless. She encourages me to go out and excel in my career wherever I go—preferably at the firm of her most recent employer, or near enough that we can rent a place together.

In most Native American cultures, all adult family members help raise the younger ones. In African American society, daughters are expected to help their mothers. And Latino daughters traditionally live at home until marriage. All these values from my ancestry converge in the way I was raised, and I accept them—mostly. I want to help my family and my greatest desire is for them to have their own home. I just recoil from living in it with them, mostly because I fear Mom's life and mine will again begin to revolve around each other.

Still, as I chase my dreams, in the back of my mind I've already earmarked a portion of my salary to help however I can. Even as I look for a better place to live, I consider whether there is room for my family if they need it. I've reserved part of my future vacation days for the family emergencies that will surely come. But until Mom is solidly and completely self-sufficient again, I'll never truly be comfortable in my own life.

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