Being forgotten is far worse fate than just about anything else, especially around the holidays. For some foster children, every holiday, birthday, wedding, or celebration comes with a lonely reminder. Over 400,000 American children who have been taken from their birth parents due to abuse, neglect or parental addictions are forever encompassed in homelessness, poverty, sometimes further abuse, or temporary foster homes, never to be adopted. Sadly many are living on the street, being kicked out of foster homes and spending the holidays finding free meals, trying to stay safe if possible.
When I first entered foster care, the holidays were a confusing time. I have a younger adopted brother, who is the closest I have to a real sibling. He came to my home as an infant. Each year, his real mother and family would send a big holiday package of odd gifts/photos. I watched him dig into gifts and felt a familiar sting each year. My own mother who had basically vanished after I was 10, certainly was not sending any gifts, or making any calls; in fact she was clearly half way across the country having other children. I was a long forgotten memory, if that, to her.
To me the arrival of my brother’s Christmas package every year made me feel very alone in the universe, as many foster children do this time of year. When both of my adoptive parents died after I was 14, I continued to live with a foster sister. Holidays were something I tried to avoid altogether. The family movies on television, the tearful reunions in movies, the children giving parents santa lists..to me it all seemed foreign. The death of my adoptive parents, and the abuse/abandonment from my birth parents seemed glaringly painful around Christmas.
I watched other foster children come and go during the holidays, some who lived on the street for many years, some who were with us for a month or two while the courts sorted out their family mess. Some stayed a Christmas or two, and were grateful for the court’s holiday parties which gave us gifts marked “boy” or “girl.” No matter what our different circumstance was each year, we all bore similar emotions during the holiday season. That hodge podge life was all we knew and we made the best of it.
Life was always starting from scratch it seemed and I felt very alien. I made loose connections with some foster sisters in particular, but otherwise was always on the outside looking in as I watched their family come together. Holidays always brought some fantasy of a note in the mailbox or some type of long lost reunion with tearful apologies. None of that ever came and instead I watched on with envy as my brother disregarded the family gifts that arrived, swirled in some type of mystery.
The tales of Christmas stories in Macy’s windows, the Santas on the street, it all seemed like some type of stage setting. Eventually I mentored other younger foster and homeless children around the holidays. Through helping others, I gained a sense of purpose and moved past the holiday fantasy life as I became a young woman.
I attached to friend’s family traditions, and put my self like a cardboard cut out in their holiday albums.
I spent many years tapping into emotional connections with friends and lover’s families just to have a sense of belonging to anything during holidays. This is true of many foster children and is important to understand if you are a caregiver of these transient children this season.
As an adult now and a mother, I have the privilege of Christmas shopping for mini me. It is a blessing I never take for granted. Holidays still can be a reminder of an aloneness, when I hear friends talk of their aging parents, their “boring” traditions, but they now also bring a sense of healing. I do get my dream holiday each year now, as I watch my own daughter stumble down the stairs living what I always wanted as a girl; seeing a mother look on in excitement while a tree lights her child’s face.
** Please follow as I compile a list of what you can do for our transient/homeless/forgotten children stuck in the welfare system this holiday.
- CASA Christmas stockings a bright spot for hard situations (wenatcheeworld.com)
- Houston children found by dumpster remain in foster care (newsfixnow.com)
- Adoptive parents celebrate foster children in Nassau (newsday.com)
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