I spent a lot of time in my own mind as a foster child, dreaming up my ideal holiday that would not ever come. For me, the lights of Rockefeller Center scripted fantastical stories that eased the pain of being forgotten.
While most of the world, no matter what tradition, awaits big family meals and the exchange of gifts; for children lost in the child welfare system the holidays can wreak havoc on their fragile souls.
After being found in a basement, beaten, burned and starved at age 5, I entered foster care. The ferocious court battles, the on and off again appearances of my illusive mother, plagued me well into my teen years. Often during holidays, I wondered where my mother lived and if she too saw the crystal star at the top of the grandest tree in the world. I wandered. I made excuses for her in my mind.
Certainly I was loveable or at least I hoped so, but alas dreams stayed dreams. I held my breath each year, thinking some knock would come to the door..a long lost sibling explaining the big mishap. My father maybe? I would’ve settled for a man with a familiar feature walking down my street, even. Maybe my mother would run to me, presents in hand, cloaked in her long dark hair at the door, looking for absolution! The stories spun in my young mind over and over again each Christmas.
Many foster children feel discarded like yesterdays trash around the holidays; discarded by those who brought them into the world, by a child welfare system that doesn’t protect them, and by the fairy tales they hear other children recite. It is a childhood interrupted by an all too soon reality.
My childhood Christmas came decades after my childhood, when my daughter was born. Because then..I did not need answers anymore. I had my own link, someone belonged to me.Every other sense of my own family seemed to fail, but not my blue-eyed girl depending almost solely on me.
A girl whose eyes lit up next to the big tree. A girl who still waits anxiously for Santa. A girl whose heart is so big that she leaves an unmarked gift under the tree every year for a girl in foster care.
Becoming a mother saved my soul from a past that did not want to let go. All former foster children can be saved, with a sense of belonging to something unconditional, far from the discard pile.
The truth is thousands of American foster children sleep in several strangers’ homes a year, in homeless shelters next to pedophiles, on the streets, in cold county homes, and in social service offices. The less support these children have, the more likely they will become some of the tragic numbers of trafficked children, of suicide victims, juvenile offenders, or of drug addicts. The list goes on.
For these young faces, the lit candles and bright lights of the season is a reminder that they were forgotten, that their childhood will never happen.
What their abusers, or neglectors, stole from them was what we all see in our children’s eyes on Christmas or Hanukkah. It is the light of hope, of wishes, and of reindeer.
As you all reach into your heart this season looking for a way to give back, remember our forgotten children. Organizations like the Dave Thomas Foundation, New Yorkers for Children, The New York Foundling, CASA, One Simple Wish, Treehouse and Bags4kids are just a few places to start. Most city police or fire departments also will accept unwrapped gifts for foster children. Consider giving a foster child a reason to believe.
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