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Surviving Your First Year As An Adult

Updated on December 11, 2018
Rosana Clarkson profile image

All names of said persons have been changed, lest they all look for me and dismember me eventually.

Living Independently As An Emancipated Foster Youth

Living as an adult on your own for the first time can seem overwhelming, especially if you are a youth who is emancipating out of foster care. Although the phase through which a young person crosses this critical bridge can be generalized at about age 17-25, the years from 18-20 can be particularly difficult, as this is right at that transition from teen to adult.

As a former foster youth, I know first-hand that being an older adolescent facing new responsibilities can be challenging; even those who have healthy, nurturing families and strong social supports or networks of resources, or all three, more easily available to them can become intimidated; but for those who had come out of dysfunctional/abusive family backgrounds or had grown up neglected and abused by foster care staff, gaining a strong grip on one's independence and survival as a grown-up can seem especially scary.

If this is your situation, take heart. Do not expect that turning 18 makes one an instant expert at life. From one perspective, the new influx of adult obligations can seem like an avalanche for which you are fully unprepared; from another perspective, it can be fun. There is so much you can now do without fear of missing a curfew or getting grounded forever:

  • pilot a plane
  • drive fast motorbikes
  • book a cruise
  • travel world-wide
  • party all night at clubs
  • book a room at fancy hotels
  • be or become anyone you want, and, thereby, make any abusive parent/foster parent/bully jealous, perhaps even sue them in court for all the mistreatment they gave you when you were a child if you so please
  • oh, and sky-dive

I well recall the sense of liberation and adventure that overcame me after I hit legal age. Realizing I was now the captain of my own ship, I took total advantage. I got to splurge on fast food and violent video games, spurn underaged punks who attempted to flirt with me, and make out all night with a cute boy at overnight raves in abandoned ware houses in the seediest sides of Los Angeles, (yup, I know, I was bad). So it was difficult not to get carried away. I had much to learn, as any young adult will, and, like anyone learning to ride a bike for the first time, I realized I could expect a few tumbles. In my case, I had to depend on training wheels for a very, verrry long time.

Meal Planning and Preparation

Shortly after I left the girls' group home that housed me as a teen, I temporarily moved in with one of my former fellow residents, LaLa, who was now emancipating out of the foster home that later took her in.

Though LaLa's foster mother and grandmother could conjure up delectable miracles in the culinary department, I was given plenty of praise about my cooking as well, ("At least your food provides an excellent insect repellent.")

I can't say that my talents in the kitchen have changed much, but I've concluded that my feeling rejected by a fruit fly in favor of cat poo is a strong indicator that I need to go out more.

To prevent from inadvertently poisoning LaLa and her foster family, I ordered take-out and delivery whenever I could. Ordering my first pizza felt like a new milestone to me, so I allowed myself to have fun with it.

One evening, when only LaLa and I were at home, I ordered something from Domino's with the works, and when the pizza man arrived, and LaLa answered the door, I boldly asked, "Would you like to join us?"

"Shut up!" LaLa hissed from the side of her mouth, blushing.

"Would you like to join us?" I repeated, to make sure he heard; after LaLa retrieved the pizza and the guy left, I felt a momentary triumph, having gotten a good laugh out of the dude, and certain LaLa knew I was only kidding.

"Rosssiiiieeeee!" she screamed, pouncing upon me on the couch where I sat, and preparing to slaughter me. "You stupid *&%$#@!!!!! He heard you!"

"He did?" I asked, using a pillow for a shield as she violently pummeled me. "Good. Was he cute?"

She opened the box of pizza and shrugged. "Meh."

We both ended up liking the pizza better than the guy, but I guess it's fair to say that our tastes in men tended to differ from our tastes in food, which was mainly junk much of the time. I was simply happy to finally be in agreement with LaLa about anything.

So a recommended book for those just learning to cook would be Cooking Basics For Dummies by Bryan Miller, Eve Adamson, and Marie Rama, for which, if I had not allowed myself to be so insulted by the title, I think I would have given a fair chance much sooner.

Life Skills For Emancipating Youths

I guess I should also address the other side of the spectrum, in which some young people are too anxious to become adults, so it is important to remain balanced.

Me and my Homeboy Weiner, who lived in a boys' foster home not far from the girls' placement I stayed in, and who I then later met at a life skills class for older foster youths, which was provided by the state, were a regular pair of walking fireworks after we turned 18 and left the system. We both just oozed freedom, ("I can't wait for somebody to run over me in a huge truck so I can sue them for millions!") and yet we found ourselves getting kicked out of every bar we entered into each time we tried to celebrate.

"What's so cool about being considered legal if we aren't even considered legal enough to drink?" Weiner muttered as we loitered outside of the last bar, taking in the obnoxious patrons, the loud, weird music, and the barroom brawls with yearning.

"Yeah, we get carded everywhere," I whined. "I'm sick of looking so young and cute."

Weiner snapped his fingers. "I know. Let's make ourselves look old and ugly...with plastic surgery!"

"Are you crazy?" I shouted. "Do you know how many hub caps we would have to steal to come up with that type of money?"

We wracked our brains further, and then I said, "I know. Let's commiserate over all the things that stress us out on a regular basis, like school loans, car insurance, cheating mates, how much our parents abused and traumatized us when we were little and how much the foster care system screwed us even more after that, and then maybe by next week we'll acquire enough gray hairs and beer bellies and facial wrinkles to ---"

"Get lost!" the bartender screamed.

Weiner and I decided it was best we come up with a legitimate way to make money...and then pay someone to illegally purchase beer for us regularly, so we tapped into the knowledge we had acquired in the life skills classes we had taken, which were provided by on-site staff from our respective foster care residences, while we were being prepared for life as emancipated foster youths.

L.I.F.E., an acronym for Living in Full Emancipation, was the name of the course that Weiner and I, along with the other older foster kids, participated in, in which we were given info. about finding and maintaining employment, housing, and transportation, along with college, family, and meal planning, and then maintaining a monthly budget, and other knowledge we would need as independent adults.

At the instructors' requests, Weiner and I happily volunteered to enact a job interview, with me being the interviewer and Weiner being the interviewee. I think role play went a long way towards our easing any anxieties we had about being interviewed in the real world.

"H---eyyyy, Homey, wusssuuuup!" we cheerfully greeted each other as we acted out our scenario in front of the class, low-fiving, hooking thumbs, and bumping fists. We sat in our respective chairs, joyfully facing each other.

"So why did you leave your last job?" I asked, looking through Weiner's simulated resume, which consisted of many crude drawings, including a few depicting the female form.

"I was caught drinking," Weiner boasted.

"Oh," I said. "Ohhhhhhhh!" I sat back, nodding, and struggling to regain my bearings. "Brutal honesty like that is much appreciated in our firm. Do you plan on coming to work intoxicated and creating a ruckus for all of your colleagues?"

"Of course. Whatever the job requires."

"Well, okay. And tell me more about yourself."

"Well, I like playing my guitar, hanging out with my lady, sneaking into porn movies, getting wasted at late night parties, and throwing maple syrup balloons at police cars."

"I like you. I like you a lot. When can you start?"


We switched roles, with Weiner being the employer and me being the prospective employee.

When our new scenario began, I sashayed into the room, smiling seductively; Weiner looked pleased.

"Have a seat, Ms. Clarkson," Weiner said. "So, tell me about what you have to offer our company."

"Well, I'm driven, articulate, diligent, computer-literate, and very, verrry good with people," I said coolly, slowly uncrossing and then crossing my legs, and then swinging my leg back and forth over my knee, wearing a mischievous smirk and allowing myself a moment to wonder if anyone in the class would recognize this as the obvious movie reference it so notoriously was. I don't know if anyone did or not, but Weiner looked even more pleased.

"So," he continued, "I take that to mean, that you consider yourself more of an extrovert, than an introvert?"

"Well, I actually consider myself to be more of a perverrr....errr, uh, ambivert. A little of both. I know when to open up and I know when to shut down, whenever the time calls for it."

"Hmmm...yes, that certainly explains it." He smiled pruriently.

I seem to recall the class facilitators later admonishing me in something to the effect that my womanly wiles would not get me anywhere in the long run, and I heartily agreed with them, but only because I feared getting kicked out of the class. I actually have received numerous freebies in this way. All I have to do is giggle and flirt and bat my lashes and then boom, I get a free ride in a taxi, a free cup of coffee, and a free pass for speeding. We ladies just have to know how to strut our stuff.

So a good resource for housing and job development would be Job Corps at, a free nation-wide education and job-training program for youths age 16-24.

CAFYES - Foster Extended Opportunity Programs and services, or Cooperating Agencies Foster Youth Educational Support at offers services for former foster youth age 25 and younger.

Locating and Maintaining Housing

One of the main anxieties my L.I.F.E classmates expressed about finding housing was their fear of being alone, which is why the teachers suggested that finding a roommate, possibly through online and newspaper ads, or word of mouth, was one way of avoiding this sense of social isolation, as well as of living more economically...even though there were also disadvantages to consider.

My first roommate, Toodles, was cool. I had just turned 19 when I moved into my first apartment with her; she was a little older than I was, 24 or 25. I liked that she was close enough to my age that she could still empathize with the difficulties that often come with living on one's own for the first time, however, her being at a later stage of young adulthood gave her a few miles of experience on me that made me the bad roommate and the one who posed a problem. She probably later found that in allowing a woman who was technically still a teenager to move in with her, she had made a fatal mistake.

I think I also additionally weirded Toodles out in how I constantly screamed at, cussed out, and threatened inanimate objects as if they had done me some horrific and unforgiveable wrong, or were all at fault for most of my life's woes.

Generally, my roomie observed me compare home furnishings, decorations, and appliances to human beings with whom I had long-standing vendettas and towards whom I was still harboring a venomous grudge.

"Go ahead. Make my day," I growled at the coffee maker.

"Ain't so pretty now, are ya, Pretty Boy?" I asked the juicer.

"See you in hell, Microwave," I said in a savage tone of voice, effecting my best mad scientist cackle as I tossed it in the dumpster, brushed my palms, and then gloated as the garbage man sent it away, giving me an odd look.

Once, Toodles witnessed me search for my car key, as I violently deprived sofas of their cushions and amputated chests of their drawers.

"If you just cooperate and come out right now, I'll go easier on you," I lied.

A ruthless juggernaut, I soullessly annihilated a vase, a framed painting, and other innocent casualties; I seem to recall Toodles shielding the television with her body as I roared in frustration.

"You're just making it worse, my friend," I said, shaking my fist. "You can run, but you can't hide."

"Uh...Rosie?" Toodles said, making her way through the carnage.

"Not now, Toodles. This little punk has been jerking me around forever. It's payback time."

"But the key is hanging from a string around your neck."

"Yes, of course...knew it all along." I sheepishly grinned. "We were just playing...right, Car Key?" I threatened.

I don't think I mistook all household entities for psychopathic sadists who could walk and talk though. Even though I sometimes likened shoes and other articles of clothing with loose women who refused to remain in sync with ever-changing trends, I think I also occasionally compared alarm clocks, utility bills, and credit cards to female dogs in serious and dire need of obedience school.

On the plus side, I discovered that my victims couldn't talk or punch back, and they often had off or mute buttons even if they did tell me something I didn't like. The experience of shattering a dish who had never done anything to deserve it is an experience so cathartic it is just mind-blowing, and the best part is that it doesn't necessarily have friends or relatives who will come after you and avenge its untimely and undeserved demise. No one has ever been placed on Death Row for single-handedly murdering a laptop, that I know of; I would say that over the years, my computers and I have shared a confusing love-hate affair, (by which I mean, we love to hate each other).

By all counts, my Dell Inspiron 1520 should have divorced me by now, but it always graciously accepts my expressions of remorse, and pleas for forgiveness...although it seems shady for giving me serious battery charger burn after I stared at a site filled with exotic hunks for a little too long. Perhaps it is fair enough to say that we love each other, but we are just not in love with each other. I simply may have felt deceived by how enticing and cute it appeared on the outside and yet later proved to be so bewildering and infuriating on the inside.

Getting to the down side of critically injuring or killing much needed material possessions, I realized that vehicles have no sensory nerves that allow them to register any pain sensations no matter how much you might try to punch or kick them in the middle of busy highways, (or freeways, for us coo-coo-for coco puffs Californians). I was the one who always sustained massive cuts, bruises, and other serious injuries, so the fact that cars just continue to sit there and not do anything kinda takes the fun out of stuff.

So I'm sure the main, (and only), reason Toodles kept me around was because my being five-foot-ten was useful to her at times. I would always try to back out of it by attempting to convince her that being tall was not as fun as it looks. From the way my feet always hung off the edge of the bed to how my jeans usually somehow converted themselves into pedal pushers, and then how in elementary school I was constantly asked if I flunked a couple of grades and once, when a boy asked me what the Statue of Liberty was doing in L.A., I burst into tears and fled, and then was instantly knocked down flat by an overhanging tree branch.

"Nevertheless," Toodles snapped, "I would like someone tall enough to help me to change this light bulb on the ceiling lamp, so I'll grab a chair and you, uhhh....uhhhhhh...accept my assistance."

We stood on a chair, unscrewing the cover on the ceiling's light fixture. The light bulb was fairly easy to change, but screwing the outside cover back on was just a little tricky....with "tricky" being the operative word here.

"I'll hold it and you screw it," Toodles said.

"Wouldn't mind if I do." I screwed the associated nails back into the edges of the outer cover to attach it to the lamp as Toodles struggled to hold the cover in place. "But I don't want to be selfish," I continued. "If you prefer, we can switch sides. Or better yet, we can take turns."

I wanted to further suggest that we film it and share it with the neighbors, but the walls around us were pretty thin and I was beginning to worry that others might indeed be listening and wondering about what we might actually be doing. I also feared that Toodles might smack me very hard and knock us both off the chair if I didn't quit it, thereby causing us to accidentally drop all objects related to this complicated and baffling activity and ultimately make us unsuccessful at holding or screwing anything.

All I can say for sure is, I gained a valuable moral lesson that taught me that most things in life seem much easier to hold than to screw. I don't know if Toodles had a different experience or not, but the next time someone asks me to screw something for them because they are too short to reach it, I think I might just run for the hills.

A good reference guide here would be Popular Mechanics - How to Fix Anything. Essential Home by Roy Berendsohn.

Whistle Key Finder Keychain Sound LED With Whistle Claps, available at might also come in handy, in this context.

Anger Management for Dummies by William Doyle Gentry is another invaluable reference work I highly recommend.

Enjoying Your Adult Life

One day, after we concocted a series of nefarious plans to illegally get ahold of some hard liquor, Weiner and I sat on the front porch of his house together, triumphantly downing pint bottles of vodka.

"Wow, that was easier than I thought," I said. "All we had to do was wait until we were 21, and then produce proof of that with valid identification."

"Yeah, and it's not even as fun as I thought it was gonna be," Weiner said, "now that we're old enough to know better."

"And quite frankly, it tastes pretty do people drink this stuff?" I held my nose, took another chug of vodka, forced it down, and then shuddered.

"This blows." Weiner tossed the vodka in a nearby trash bin. "You know what, Rosie? Let's be different. Let's find real, legit employment, and live scrupulously and honestly, with genuine morals and values. For a change, let's be different from the majority of Americans!"

"Sounds fantastic," I shouted. "Any cool ideas?"

20 years later, while we sat playing Call of Duty: Black Ops, I nudged him and said, "Uh, Weiner? I don't think anything is gonna happen if we don't think of something."

"You're right," he realized. "But, oh well. What can you do."

"Uh-huh. Sure. Exactly."

"Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh," Weiner said.

"Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh," I said.

"Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh," Weiner said.

"Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh," I said.

"The most important thing to remember, above all things, is this," Weiner said, and then he gave me the most epic, profound, and life-changing advice I had ever heard in my life...which is why I regret that I totally forgot what it was. So enjoy your new-found independence as a free and legal adult, and have fun with doing whatever you choose to do.


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