By Marlene Peralta, 18
Last year when I finished high school, I wanted to go away to college. I thought it would be the best thing for my future. I'd be by myself, learning to be independent, and I wouldn't have all the interruptions I usually have at home, so it would be easy for me to study for exams.
But when I told my mother that I wanted to go away, she said she needed me to stay with her to take care of my eight-year-old brother and one-year-old sister.
When my mother told me this, I said to her, "You are selfish, because you know that if I stay here, it will not be easy for me to study."
But she said, "The selfish one is you because you know that I have a lot of responsibilities and I can't handle them without you."
After the conversation ended, I almost cried.
All through high school, I missed out on a lot of opportunities because I had to take care of my brother and sister. I couldn't be part of the volleyball team at my school, even though I've played volleyball all my life, because I had to pick up my brother after school. I also wanted to be part of a Hispanic club called Aspira, but I couldn't go because I had to be at home looking after my brother and sister while my mother was at work.
It always seemed unfair to me when my mother would go to the mall or somewhere else where she could take my little sister with her, but she didn't, making me stay in the house taking care of her.
When I thought about all the things like that that had happened in high school, and about the fact that they might happen all over again in college, I wanted to cry.
My mother works as a home attendant, taking care of an old lady. She works long hours to earn enough money to support us and to save money because she is trying to bring my grandparents to this country from the Dominican Republic.
The days when I can't look after my brother and sister are hard for her. She has to ask for permission from her job to pick up my brother at school, and she has to rush there and back.
After work, she usually cooks dinner and bathes my sister at the same time, which makes her frantic. And then she doesn't get to rest until after dinner, when she's finished washing the dishes.
Seeing the hard work that my mother has to do makes me realize that she really does need help. Still, it can be hard to get used to, especially because, when I was younger, I had a lot of responsibilities, but I also had a lot of free time to be involved in activities.
Right now my mother is trying to work fewer hours to free me of the responsibilities at home. She wants me to take the time I need to work hard in college.
But I feel leaving home and going away to college is the only possible way for me to escape from these responsibilities.
It is important to me to be responsible and help my family, but it is also important to do what I need to feel good about myself. Going away will help me to be more independent and to be able to make my own decisions about my future.
I have to begin thinking about myself, and not just in terms of schoolwork; I am young and I need to have fun now. I need to play my real role, which is to be a teenager, because for too long I have been playing the role of an adult.
(c) New Youth Connections, New York