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Life as a Foster Child
A throw away kid...
This is my story as a foster child. I hope it helps someone understand us, especially the foster parent. I hope it makes the case workers really listen to us. I hope it changes the system, but I'm afraid it won't.
Me, before it all began...
Don't let me mislead you, I am not a child now, but I remember everything. I remember thoughts and feelings, I remember the looks and attitudes of those around me. I was a watcher, a silent, withdrawn watcher. In a way, I still am.
I was taken from a stay in the hospital to the social worker's office. There I met my younger siblings, ( I was the oldest). I didn't know what was happening, but I don't think I cared at the time. I was already broken at this point. I had already shut down emotionally, a child in a box, detatched, going through the motions. I was 7 years old, and very small for my age.
I had no memory of the particular incident that put me in the hospital. It had just happened, and my mind protected me from the memory, it still does to this day.
Yes, we should have been taken.
Don't get me wrong, child services were right in getting us out of that home. It was horrible there. After my mother divorced my dad she married a psycho. No, really, he was clinically psycho. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and even his parents warned my mother to stay away from him. She didn't listen. She moved in with her very young 5 children. I remember so many horrible moments with that monster. So when I finally ended up in the hospital, it was good that we were immediately taken out of the home, but then came foster care.
This is to all of the foster parents, we don't like you. You have to earn that right. You have to earn our trust, what little we have left, and it won't be easy. Oh, and something else. Don't expect us to be grateful for what you are doing for us. What do we have to be grateful for, anyway? We were ripped from everything and everyone we know. We were thrown to you, and you want us to be grateful? We didn't choose you, and we know you will probably never love us. You are strangers, you are dangerous, you are another set of adults we have to listen to, another set of adults who can hurt us. You have power over us, and we are helpless. Our life lays in pieces around us. We are shattered, damaged, broken. How can you expect us to be grateful?
The five of us
Of all the foster homes I've been in, one stands out as a shining example above all the others. They were an older couple in Eclectic, Alabama. I only remember their last names, the Hayes, and their son was the local pastor of the church we lived near. This was the first foster home, and I wish we could have stayed, but tragedy struck the family, and then we were gone. I think Mr. Hayes died, which is why we had to go.
Let's not focus on that though, but on how great this couple was. First of all, they NEVER hit us. They just talked to us, and tried to teach us. What matters most is they never hit us, or yelled at us.
We had routine. Everything was structured, and we knew what to expect every day. Don't you see how important that is to us? No surprises, no chaos, no changes. At least while we were with them. I remember regularly eating pancakes for supper and watching Kung Fu on TV. It didn't matter that I didn't understand the TV show that well, it was the tradition of it that was comforting.
The one thing I loved there was sitting on the porch swing and singing. I rarely talked, rarely smiled, but I would sing. It was freedom! It was expression! My siblings would join in, and you clapped for us! You smiled at us. You made us feel special, and you didn't take our song from us.
They NEVER hit us, did I say that already? Yes, it's that important. We know pain, you can't hurt us anymore than we had been hurt already. Does it make you feel better when you make us cry? That is what we've been taught. The Hayes never hurt us or yelled at us. I think they really understood. They were wise and patient. They were good. I truly honor their memory. They were the only ones...
We don't like you, and we don't have to. We really don't like you, and we know you don't like us, you just like the dollar sign that comes with us.
I won't give their name, because I don't want to hurt their relatives, but they lived in Red Hill, Alabama. They ALWAYS hit us. Many times. My brother got the worst of it. He was willful. He was only 6 years old. He was a boy without love. Don't you understand that? Why did you make him work so hard? HE WAS ONLY 6 YEARS OLD! He had to feed all the animals before school. A lot of animals for a 6 year old, even horses. He would get the switch if he missed the bus. He would get the switch if he couldn't feed all the animals. He would get the switch for so many things. You taught him anger. You taught him hate. You broke him, and he stayed that way.
I WAS ONLY 8 YEARS OLD! I remember all the work. Washing handprints off the walls. Polishing your silver. Cleaning your oven. Stepping on tiptoes to hang out your laundry. Staying up after you've gone to bed so I could iron your clothes. Washing your dishes. Vacuuming your whole house, upstairs and down. I didn't want to get hit. I still did, and I can't remember why. You made a game of it, jump the switch. We would be lined up, the youngest is 3 years old. Jump the switch while it tore at our ankles and bit into our legs. You enjoyed it.
Why else would you do it? You were paid to hurt us. We stayed with you the longest, and we paid for it.
As if that weren't enough, you made us sing. Wasn't that so cute, 5 little kids singing for your guests. You took the one thing that belonged to us, our voices, and made us entertain your friends. We don't like you or your friends. You sold our voices to your friends.
All the work, all the pain, all the misery, and we never said anything. We learned it didn't matter. We learned there were consequences when you talk.
I remember it being an unusual day to start with. We were going to the store! This didn't happen often, going out. It was a thrilling event, and we were somewhat excited, or at least as excited as troubled children can get.
We arrived and were on our best behavior. Our eyes scanned the aisles, looking for things children look for. Candy, toys, soda, GRANDMA! It was grandma! Our grandma! She was here! We ran to her screaming her name, which was, of course, grandma, and she bent down and scooped us into her arms. We felt love like nothing we've felt before. Our wonderful grandma tried to sneak us out of the store, which was impossible since we made such a ruckus! Instead of being rescued, a man in uniform was called and our grandma was forced to let us go. What started out as a wonderful day became a day of sadness and loss.
The social worker came today. This means we are leaving, but she didn't take us all. She only wanted two of us, the two little ones. They get in the car and then they are gone. This is something new. Something different. Where are they going? Are they going home? Are they going to Grandma? Why didn't they want the rest of us? Please don't leave us here with these people, please.
Another school. Another teacher. A bunch of kids looking at me. The kids. They are different than me. They are happy when school is over. Not me. I don't want to leave, but I don't say anything. I do what I'm told.
My desk is next to the teacher's desk. I like being close to her. She is nice. I was sitting at my desk silently doing my work when a stick of gum was slid to me. I looked up, and it was the teacher! She smiled. I quietly opened the wrapper and popped the gum in my mouth. She didn't give anyone else a piece, only me. She snuck a stick of gum to me every day after that. Every day I thanked her with a smile.
Teacher, I wish you knew what you really gave me. To you, it may have been a simple piece of gum, a small token of kindness. To me, it was so much more. It was something all my own, something precious no other kid in that room had. That little stick of gum made me feel something I had never felt before... worthy. Some may say you were just giving a stick of gum to a troubled little girl, but I like to think you were listening to God's whisper.
The social worker came today. How many of us does she want? Will I be left here alone? I had to pack too, but I'm so scared. What if the next home is worse than this one? What if they leave me here? I'm a good girl. I have to be good so God can find me. I'll be good if you let me go to Grandma, I promise.
We all got into the car, my two other siblings and I. We went to another home, and the two little ones were there. I remember seeing them, but I was so locked within myself, that I didn't react to their presence. Just standing there, maybe I said "Hi", I don't know. I had to sever the connection to them, because they could leave again. I severed the connection to all my siblings. I existed with them, I didn't live with them. I just stopped living altogether.
It sounds cold, heartless, selfish, I know. I wish I had been stronger, but I was just a kid. I was the oldest, and they looked to me for strength, but I was so dead inside. Oddly enough, they still looked to me when something different happened, something good, something bad, anything. They all looked to me for...what? I don't know. Perhaps they saw my detachment as strength, but it wasn't. It was merely survival.
The Visit With Our Real Daddy
We were ushered into the social worker's car. This usually meant that we were going to stay with a different family, a different set of rules, a different lifestyle, everything different. We were taken to grandma's house! What? Can we stay? Is our nightmare over? Do you know what made this better? Daddy was there. Our daddy. Not someone else's daddy, not a fake daddy, not a foster daddy, OUR daddy! He should have gotten custody of us after the divorce. He could afford it, he had a good job, he worked for the Army Corp of Engineers, but we were given to our mother. Big Mistake. It didn't matter now, because it was daddy, and some woman.
We stayed a few hours, and the dreaded social worker came back. So gullible we are, so naïve, so young! We wouldn't get in the car, would you? But we were offered a soda. A soda? We were fooled into getting in the car for a soda? Yes. Oh, how young we were.
The visit with dad. I'm taking the picture. Notice my siblings clasping their hands?
Going Home For Real This Time
I remember standing outside with my siblings. That woman wanted to take our picture. That woman who is standing with my dad. We didn't know what was going on. We have become completely jaded by now. Never trust anyone again. Never. Adults lie. Adults hurt you. Adults are dangerous. Adults can make you do anything they want. Adults have complete power over you, and you are nothing. Never trust anyone. Ever.
We went home, to my dad's house in Titus, Alabama, and that woman lived there too. My dad's new wife. Our step-mom. This will sound cold to those who haven't been there, but for a long time, our house was like another foster home. Do you understand? Another house, another set of adults, another set of rules. We were not normal children. We were not happy-go-lucky kids. At least not the older 3 of us. The 2 youngest don't remember much about foster care, but does that mean they weren't affected?
Our first Easter with dad and new mom. I'm the girl on the left (in the back).
Rise Above or Fall
It wasn't easy for any of us. Not our father, who had to live with the knowledge of first, losing his children to the ex-wife, and then to foster care. A man denied custody because he was a man, and because he was single (wasn't that ridiculous). Not for our new mom, who had to be a mother to 5 troubled kids she had never met before.
But especially not for us, the kids. This affected us for the rest of our lives. We know that bad things can happen no matter how safe you feel, or how good you are.
But you have a choice...rise above and become one heck of a strong person, or fall. No matter what you feel, no matter what people say, no matter what reasons there are, you can rise above. Don't you see? If you fall, if you let this beat you for life, they win, you lose. You are out of there, away from foster care, away from what put you in foster care, but you are still trapped. You are your own prisoner. Refuse to stay locked up. You have the power now. Don't let your past hurt you or turn you into a shadow of a person.
What I've Learned
I've learned not to sweat the small stuff. I really don't even sweat the medium stuff! It takes a lot to get me angry. I am very patient. I can be really compassionate and empathetic, but only to a point. I expect you to help yourelf. I expect you to be strong too. Don't whine on and on about how bad your life is. Is it really that bad? Don't tell eveyone your sob story because, let me tell you, someone out there can top it, and they don't go around expecting sympathy from everyone.
I am also very logical. It took me some time to learn emotions, or rather, how to show emotion. I'm still learning. I still hide my true feelings a lot, though my Asperger's Syndrome may have something to do with that.
It doesn't take much to make me laugh. I can laugh at the simplest things. Allowing myself to laugh was something I had to learn. It was the easiest to learn, probably because I am so hopeful, even when it seems there's no reason to be! I can hardly understand why I'm so hopeful, but I know just how bad it can get, and I know I am a survivor.
All those other emotions are the ones I still have to work on!
There are many programs set up to help foster children and especially those who have aged out of foster care. Most of them have no real family to fall back on, many are thrust out into the world with nothing but a few belongings. Research shows that 1 in 5 foster children end up homeless, and some studies have found that nearly half of all foster children become homeless at some point after they leave foster care. This is a wonderful site with useful links and many great ideas to help these children and teens: Volunteer Guide. Please check it out!
Times are tough, I know, but they've always been tough for these kids. Help them when no one else has.
Struggle and triumph of a life captured in words.
BigHouse Foundation of Lee County, Alabama
A young foundation for foster children founded by Micah Melnick. We need more of these...
Please keep your comments clean. I want to give everyone a voice, but there have been some heartfelt comments I couldn't approve because they were too graphic. I must keep this site accessible, because children of all ages are in foster care and come to this site.