Sunday, March 25, 2012

40 To 40 Day 6: On Being A Foster Child

I just want to say up front that as I talk about this, my birth-mom and I have worked past all of this many MANY years ago, and we have a very close relationship. There is no resentment, no abandonment issues, no animosity on my end.

I'm not going to get too deep into how I become a foster child. That will be coming, because I'm more serious than I've ever been about turning my story into a book. I'll start with the afternoon I first went into a shelter. It was the day before I turned 17. April 27, 1989. Happy Birthday to me, right? I had been staying with my 25-year-old boyfriend for a few weeks prior (this was approved by CPS- go AZ!) while they waited for a space to open up for me.

Being a Ward of the State really sucks. No matter your age, you are following the same rules in-house that a 6 year old would follow. I did get some allowances due to my age. I was able to stay in my high school, and I took the bus to and from the shelter. My case worker picked me up for any doctor or therapy appointments I had. When school ended, we all had to go to the Boys and Girls club. Since I was the oldest, I didn't have to participate, but I did work as a volunteer. I really enjoyed that. I basically just stayed quiet, followed the rules and didn't rock the boat. After seeing a couple of kids run away from the shelter, I figured out really quick that it would work in my favor to be a team player, no matter how frustrating the situation was to me.

The uncertainty of my situation was always looming in the background.   I felt out of contact with any family, and information was given to me sparingly. So imagine my surprise when before school ended I was told that there was a family out there who was interested in taking me in. I was even more surprised when I found out it was a friend of mine who I was in orchestra class with- the always kind of quiet and reserved Katie Radin. We were never really close friends (it's so weird typing that now), but always part of the same group that hung out together. I didn't even really know her parents very well. But I was excited- and nervous. I knew I had family in New York that was more than willing to take me in, but with all the changes that were all ready happening, I liked the idea of staying where things were all ready familiar to me. I could finish up at my high school where my friends were. I could still see my brother and sister who were still with my Mom. Eventually, I was able to re-establish my relationship with her too.

After that, details are sketchy to be honest. I barely remember going out for dinner and meeting the people who will become more family to me than I ever could have imagined. I know we had Chinese food. Other accounts might tell you I had a "deer in the headlights" look to me. Soon we were approved to have weekend visits, which is how I spent the end of the school year and the first part of the summer. By mid-summer I moved in, as they were finishing up certification and getting the house ready to pass inspection.

Which was hilarious in itself. Remember the blanket rules that apply to everyone no matter your age? Well, same with home inspections and what's required. So this 17-year-old girl had to live in a home where all dangerous liquids were locked up tight- and I'm not just talking about liquor. Cleaning supplies, laundry soap, it all had to be under lock and key (the ongoing joke in the family was about my huge laundry soap habit). However, as soon as the home inspection was over, they were never locked up again.

It was also the beginning of re-meeting family on the east coast that I never saw much of growing up. I was reunited with my Dad and that side of my family, as well as my aunts and grandparents on my Mom's side. I spent two weeks in New York in the summer of '89, and it was overwhelming and awesome.

I came home with 2 new ear piercings and in contact with about a hundred more family members again. The piercings were just the beginning of going through pretty much ALL of my teen years during my senior year of high school... and the piercings were on the easier end of it all.

But THAT, my friends, is a story (or set of stories!) for another time. Overall, I was one of the lucky ones. So many kids slip through the cracks, are forgotten and just age out of the system and have nothing. Or they bounce from home to home until they age out. Or they age out and end up in jail, or in the same situation that put them in the system in the first place as a kid. I try and be grateful every day for how my life turned out, and most of you know I'm finally at a place where I can pay it forward when I became a CASA last fall.

It's all about the children. There's no future for anyone if we don't take care of them. I know this from first hand experience.

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