I remember that day clearly, the smells, the brisk weather outside, the overwhelming immobilizing feelings of fear, the stares, the looks. I remember the stillness, the way everything seemed to slow down, and I just moved like water flowing throughout the day. This single moment was changing the rest of our lives. Not really grasping quite what was happening but knowing this is where we were supposed to be. I remember praying the way my grandparents had taught me to, asking for help and guidance, trusting in God that everything was going to be okay with this uncertain future we were facing. To be honest I was terrified. The upside was that the faces surrounding us were unfamiliar, yet warm, and the voices were foreign yet reassuring.
The sound of the police sirens, seeing my mom and stepfather run and try to escape to only be caught. They seemed so small, so weak at that moment. I remember my heart beating so hard that any second it would burst out of my chest and so loud it was deafening. The way my body started to tremble, the cops protectively surrounding me and my baby.
As I was walking up the stairs to the police station, I thought I had sealed our fate. My stepfather’s face was in the foremost of my thoughts, with him repeating the words, “If you tell anyone I will kill you and your family” echoed inside my head over and over. And with each step, his voice got louder. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other protectively surrounded by the policemen. They led me into a room where I sat in a chair where I was hit with an overwhelming sense of dizziness and nausea. I asked for a trash can to prevent throwing up on the floor. I felt like a sitting duck. Is this what it feels like to know you’re about to be killed, to not be in control, to finally be free yet so incredibly vulnerable? I didn’t know what to think. They just started asking me questions about my mom and stepfather, and I answered quickly in between the waves of nausea and body trembling. Anxiety, at its finest, my old and very controlling friend. I remember looking into the detective’s eyes as they questioned me and this small part of me felt safe for the first time in a very long time. They had this strong yet calm energy that you just knew if you had a chance at life, a chance to be free, they were the ones that would make that happen. I clearly remember one of the detectives that stayed with us throughout our case. He had kind eyes. Eyes that were no stranger to tragedy. I didn’t know where my daughter was but they assured me she was safe and I knew they meant it. I knew I couldn’t hold her during my questioning, which caused my hands to sweat and to tremble to the point I couldn’t grip my cup of water. Finally, the questioning stopped and they said that they were going to take us to a foster home. “A what?”. I wasn’t familiar with that at all. I never knew anyone in foster care, but I knew that we would be safe and that was all that mattered.
The car ride felt surreal, like a movie I was watching. I looked at my daughter with hope, love, and determination to protect us and have a better life. We pulled up to our new house and although we were in the same city it felt so foreign like we were in a different country. The detective walked us up to the house and introduced us to our new family and reassured us we were safe and left. I remember smiling and trying to make small talk. I felt so numb, so scared, so conflicted by the feeling of freedom from abuse and fear that came with it. It was the first time in a long time that I couldn’t feel his eyes on me. I felt a sense of calmness come over me knowing the detectives had them in jail. I was coming to terms with the fact that we were still alive. Finally, we had made it out! A few days later, I received a call stating they had to let him go for lack of evidence and that we may be in danger. The waves of fear and nausea came back like humongous tidal waves that were so strong, they shook me to my core. “This is it, he’s going to find us”. The feeling persisted but, the detectives and our new family were able to keep us under the radar and he never did find us. Meanwhile, enough evidence was gathered to put him back in jail until the jury trial. We were able to move on in this new life as foster children, the mother/daughter duo. After they were officially in jail, things moved on. The sun kept rising and the days moved smoothly. We now had a social worker/ caseworker, a CASA, foster parents, court dates, and lots of adapting to a “normal” life. We moved through a few foster homes and learned a lot along the way. Our social worker was with us every step of the way she was amazing. She always came to check on us and make sure we were doing well. I always looked forward to seeing her and spending time together, I felt safe with her and I knew she genuinely cared about us. I know her job wasn’t easy and I only hope she knows her care and compassion made a huge impact on our lives. She was an incredible role model, I remember always looking up to her with so much love and respect. I wanted to be like her when I grew up; beautiful, smart, strong, kind, and compassionate.
Some brothers and sisters would get separated from one another. An emotional roller coaster I had seen others go through and wouldn’t wish on anyone. For me though, I was an only child which simplified that aspect. Now we add in the fact that I am a teenage mother with a newborn baby that I fought to keep with every piece of my being and boom things get a little complicated. Thankfully with the blessing of the judge and an amazing support system of lawyers and my social worker, my daughter and I were able to stay together as a package deal. God is good.
I didn’t have any hope of ever being adopted. That was never something that had even crossed my mind since I was going into foster care as a teenager and most people would prefer to adopt a baby. I can’t even be upset about that because it’s understandable. Babies are a lot cuter and more fun than an emotionally disturbed teenager. Let’s just be honest about it. Have you ever seen a pound full of puppies? Nope, yep you get where I am going with this. I was old enough to understand the reality of that and I accepted it. Looking at things logically not emotionally became my means of survival. My biggest wish was just to find a family that would genuinely love us.
Que reality, no longer are you your mother’s daughter, but a warden of the state. You are now a daughter of the government with the judge being your father. Better known as, “that foster child” by your new family, you enter into a strange new world. Standing there lined up with your foster parents and their biological children as they introduce you one by one, “This is our daughter Jessica, our son Jacob and our foster child Renee”. You cringe every time its said and yet you also find compassion and understanding from where they are coming from because, after all, you are the foster kid that’s just the reality of it. No harm no foul.
Your once shiny kid appeal has now been tarnished and you are seen as a project and unfortunately with some foster parents as a paycheck. You are a lost child that people automatically hesitate to leave alone in their home for fear of you stealing something. When dropped off at a new foster home you get the once-over from head to toe from your new parents hoping for a final look of approval. You spend the first few days running all their errands with them so they can get to know you. Yet, you know its partially taking you with them because they aren’t certain they can trust you being home alone. You learn about their religion, their rules, their background. With each new home its a new lifestyle, different flavors of food, tv shows, bedrooms, beds, surroundings, triggers for each set of parents that upset them. Different bedtimes, prayers, and nationalities. You now have a list of rules that you have to follow with every new home transitioned into. Then you go to “your” room its funny how any room with four walls and a door can become a bedroom the feeling was never there though, you know that warm feeling when you walk into your home and snuggle into your bed and everything in the world just seems right? It was more like staying at your aunt’s house for a visit and you were grateful for a warm meal and a roof over your head and a place you can live without being abused. You try and make your bed every morning to do everything you can to fit in with your new family. Adaption at its finest, a chameleon has nothing on your blending skills. You want them to like you, but is it even possible? Do they dare say, “I love you” and genuinely mean it? You want approval and to feel a part of something, to feel wanted like a “normal” person, not an outcast. You sit there quietly listening to them run through the legal jargon, here is my number if she acts out, possibly steals, or if she becomes violent. None of which were even possible for me to do with my character. I wasn’t a troubled kid, but I was a foster kid, and that seems to go hand in hand. No longer are you part of the “typical teen” crowd but you now belong to this group of kids that are lost. Trying to find out who they are now, looking at each other each night with blank looks not knowing what to say. Sleeping in a room with other abused kids who tend to sleep with one eye open since we are hard-wired to be ready for the next fight against our perpetrators. All of us sitting on our bed’s trading stories of abuse and violence as that was our norm. Left to fend on their own without the love of a biological mother and father but to hope for a new family, one that would undoubtedly make up for all the hurt the original parents had caused.
You are now officially in, “The system” Your car, bank accounts, and life are now accessible to people you don’t know but yet are told you can and must trust. You’re just one of the many names within a long list of other names of babies and teenagers that were tossed into the gray area as a consequence of your parent’s lousy life decisions. Decisions that you had no control over and yet here you are paying for. You are now saying words like foster mom and foster dad. Which is ironic, since for me anyway, mom was the last word I ever wanted to say again referring to a parental unit. (Yes, I know the wound was still open and the bitterness took time to fade). The words Mom, Dad, and Parents felt so foreign all of a sudden. Addressing complete strangers this way, they didn’t hold the same emotional attachment to them. To say them was difficult, to say the least. Yet you have to because these new people in your life have gone through training, classes, and paperwork to become foster parents and you have to give them the respect of addressing them as such. Okay here is a glimpse into my thought process of getting comfortable with using these all too common words, here we go; foster humans, I mean foster people, my fam, the court-appointed humans? Nice people, who took us in? Nope, nothing works so you mentally prepare to once again use the words Mom, Dad, and Parents. They choke in your throat the first few times, the way your jaw would clinch after saying it. You can feel the hurt, the sting of the abandonment fresh like an open would. The good news is over time you do go numb to it and they just become another word.
I never was attached to any of my foster parents like some of the other kids. I wanted to be, I tried to be open, to form a bond, to try and love them, but maybe I just didn’t know how to let that wall down yet. Some foster kids got the fairy tale. The fairy tale of a family taking them in and loving them forever. I never had that experience but I knew it was out there and that was comforting. So as we moved from home to home the words mom and dad just became another three letter word. I would generally address my foster parents by their first names though because life was just easier that way.
By being a foster child you are now labeled by most as a problem child. Somehow the words, “foster” and, “problem” became synonyms. Some foster parents even look at you with a look of fear when you first walk into their home. I get it though, its fear of the unknown which is a basic human emotion that all parties involved feel each time you go to a new home. You sit there next to your caseworker on a couch in the living room while they go over paperwork. Paperwork that shows your history of what happened to you and all the legal jargon. You sit there like an item on display wondering if the welcoming smiles are real. If they are going to still be this nice after the caseworker leaves, wondering how long you’re going to be in this home? Wondering what the other foster kids are like, your mind races with questions. But you sit there smiling and nodding like your supposed to because after all where else would you go? What other choice do you have? This is whats best for you I was told, so who was I to question that? Anything was better than being with my mom and stepfather.
Your new foster parents hear your past and are confident that you are going to act out. You see the look of unease as they read through the papers sure that there is no way that you didn’t become a product of your environment. And yet they are still are willing to take you in so you breathe a sigh of relief and start to take in the notion that this is your new temporary home. You try your best to assure them that everything will be okay, that your fine, that everything is fine. I learned quickly that it was important to fit it with whatever family you’re living with just to keep things at ease in the home. I always thought as foster parents it has to be hard on their end as well to have kids come and go and not know who they are bringing into their home. But they still do it out of the goodness of their hearts so it made me want to do whatever I could on my end to make it an easy situation as well.
You adapt to their eating habits and tell them how good their cooking is whether you liked it or not. Why? because it’s a hot meal and someone is cooking for you because they care about you. You go to church with them even if its a religion you have no clue about and have no intention of ever converting to, but it does give you a ton of life experience in learning about different cultures.
Life is a journey you have to remember to enjoy the ride. Being in foster care was a huge blessing even with the ups and downs. It showed me there are really good people out there that sincerely care about others without expecting anything in return. I had a chance to see a “normal” family function without abuse. I was able to get my G.E.D. and go to college. Then for college, I was able to get scholarships to help pay for school. Tateonna was able to get the care she needed and I had a great support system that taught me how to be a good mother to her. God really does not give you more then you can handle. I would love to hear from you about challenges that you have overcome, everyone has a past and we all fight our own battles but in the end, we emerge stronger.