Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Changing Role of Adolescent-hood

As you may remember from last week, I've been on vacation in Hilton Head. And I should note that I'm tan. Very tan. Yay!

I'm home now, and just in time, as the island is currently under mandatory evacuation due to Hurricane Hanna. (I hope my cousin Natalie left last night after work rather than get stuck in potentially up to 8 hours of standstill traffic leaving the me, it sucks...been there, done that.)

Anyway, I got to spend some quality time with the relatives on my mom's side this past week (I've got some of them in the picture at the top of the post...from left to right: my grandmother; my cousin Lauren, who is studying for the MCATs at the moment because she takes them a week from tomorrow; me; my Aunt Bobbie). It's always a treat to see them, especially my grandmother.

My grandmother, who we call Gaga, will be 90 in May. She was born in NYC, and grew up in Spanish Harlem, the daughter of Ukrainian immigrants. Gaga was the oldest of 5 children, so when she graduated from high school at age 15 at the height of the Great Depression in 1934, she couldn't afford to attend college, despite her fervent desire to go. So off to work she went, to help her mother and stepfather (her father had passed when she was younger) provide for her younger brothers and sister.

Yes, age 15. At an age when most teens today are going to Homecoming dances and football games, my grandmother was out in the working world and essentially raising a family (albeit her siblings) because her parents worked long, long hours and money was extremely tight. She sacrificed her own teen years so that her siblings teen years would be a little better.

She married my grandfather, her high school sweetheart (a neighborhood boy...son of Puerto Rican immigrants), at age 19. Had she followed her dreams and gone to college straight out of high school (remember, she graduated really young), she would have graduated by then, but that wasn't in the cards.

But she never gave up her dream of pursuing higher education. After raising five children, Gaga started commuting into the City to attend Hunter College when my Uncle Dick was in college, my mom was in high school, my Aunt Cookie and Uncle Peter were in junior high, and my Aunt Bobbie in elementary school. She majored in Spanish and French, and then got her teaching certificate.

So in the 1960s, more than 30 years after she graduated high school and started working, Gaga became a high school Spanish teacher. She retired in the early 80s (I remember going to the Spanish class Christmas party when I was 3 or 4 and getting to take a whack at the pinata), but to this day, continues to help tutor students in Spanish.

My grandma, whose teen years were not conventional by today's standards, taught me the importance of education and achieving your dreams, no matter what the odds. She's my hero.




  1. That is so wonderful--I love, love, love hearing stories like that. What an inspirational woman!!

  2. Glad you had a good vacation. Gaga sounds like a wonderful woman. Think of all the lives she's touched by overcoming the odds and being true to herself.

  3. Gaga is my hero too! Wow. Very impressive!!!

    Welcome back to the real world. I returned Saturday from my beach getaway..and yes, I, too, have a great tan. :)

  4. I can see why she's your hero, Amanda!

    It reminds me of my grandmother's story, except it was high school my grandma had to skip in order to work to help support her siblings...but it was around the same age. Maybe the schools ran at different speeds in different areas!


  5. That's so cool, Amanda! My grandmother was a teen around WWI and came of age during the depression. She went right from her family home to her husband's home. My Grandpa had to support the family at age 12, and he was the mainstay for Grandma the rest of his life. When he passed away, my grandma was alone for the first time in her 67 years.

    So many things are different these days—do kids really grow up faster these days? Maybe it's the way they're growing up, the values their learning. Those are definitely different!

  6. She sounds like an incredible lady.

  7. Excellent point, ghost girl. In many ways, teens are "kids" for much longer today than they were in our grandparents' time, in the sense that they don't have responsibility or are not forced to have adult responsibilities until much later in life. I read somewhere that in many ways, what was once considered classic "adolescenthood" is remaining in young people well into their 20s, in the sense that they're allowed to "not become a grownup" until well after they've become adults, if that makes sense.

    For example, I'm 31, and I'm constantly saying how I'm too young to have kids. Um, by what standards? LOL! My niece and nephew told me that Mr. Brice and I may be adults, but we're not grownups because we don't have kids. I thought that was interesting.

  8. Your grandmother and my grandfather have a lot in common. He went to work in the coal mines at age 14 to support his family after his stepfather died.

  9. Anonymous6:11 PM

    What a lovely story. So inspiring! You're so lucky to have her, Amanda. You must have had a great trip!! Treasure the time you get to spend with her -- dancewriter

  10. My niece and nephew told me that Mr. Brice and I may be adults, but we're not grownups because we don't have kids.

    LOL! But I think you've hit on the fact that kids aren't forced into responsibility these days. They are allowed to be "juvenile" for good or ill. (mostly for good). However, they are encouraged to become "worldly" at younger and younger ages all the time. Just look at the way six-year-olds are dressing! ...and who they idolize...

  11. That is a great story. Thanks for sharing. :)