Tag Archives: child development

Orphanhood and Batman: Redifining Foster Children’s Labels

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It has been a long time since anyone looked at me and used the term “orphan,” but it happened this week. In a clinical sense, the word may fit, but its connotation implies weakness. As my mini me told me, “Aren’t Batman and Superman both orphans? So that’s it, you are my Batman.”

While I do not look good in capes, I do want to redefine the term “orphan” away from the idea of victimhood of foster children, and instead define it by eternal superpowers. Orphans do not have parents as children and are raised by strangers. While they do lose the grounding of being consistently parented, foster children have an inner strength that others do not gain until adulthood. They can use that energy to become their own heroes as adults.

Foster children are children who are taken away from biological relatives due to abuse, neglect, or parental addiction. They are placed in temporary homes until they can be reunited with a safe family member, or even adopted. Many are left in children’s homes or on the street. Homelessness, academic failure, drug use, and suicide rates are very high for former children in care. My goal as a former foster child, is to help others become advocates for themselves, create their own family, and encourage girls in foster care to redefine their strength as they become women.

I was taken from my mother and placed in foster after I was found in her basement starved, abused, and left to die. For years, a lingering court case against her and others kept me as an emotional prisoner to her apologies and to biological connections I lost forever. I was adopted, but both of my adoptive parents died within months of each other, when I was 13. Orphan-hood was in my blood it seemed and so I navigated alone. I watched foster brothers and sisters come and go, some living a life of crime, depression, and drug use. Others, who succeeded, went on to love themselves and won their internal battles against those who left them at their most vulnerable.

Without any guidance, good or bad, as a developing child the brain takes in the environment with little shelter. For some orphans, we see only the bad and keep ourselves in a bubble. For others, they absorb attention and affection anywhere they can, and often the abusers of the world hone in. Orphans are, after all, a weak link. In some ways, this is true. My weakness was and is a codependent helping of others. Out of guilt and maybe shame, I blamed myself for whatever happened in that Brooklyn home as a toddler and infant. That guilt led me to try to fix anyone and anything. It led me to poor boundaries personally. My real solace was found in being alone. When I was not fixing friends or lovers, I sought out time with myself by wandering aimlessly to recoup. It gave me a convenient excuse for not taking care of my own heart. 

While my past did dictate my solace, it did not lead me to victimhood, in fact I was determined to rewrite my story. I  had loose connections with some foster brothers and sisters. Some were good influences and believed in my few talents. I never drank or partied, in fact I was basically a very short adult, even as a teen. I studied hard and became absorbed in books. What my favorite writers like Emily Dickinson or Sylvia Plath could not heal for me was a sense of belonging to something. I was introspective, very much self-aware, and a mother hen. As I look back, I grew very attached to women teachers, friends’ mothers, strangers even. I sought out maternal attachments everywhere.

Some were positive, some were not, but I concluded that rather than seeking out answers from the past, searching for long-lost family, (which proved disastrous emotionally), having my own child was the biggest part of my healing. After years of quiet envy listening to friends complain about their parents, siblings, extended family, I wanted something of my own. On January 22, 2003, whatever higher power exists, decided I needed a little blue-eyed girl to put my heart into, to build walls around, and to help design her own future with strong roots.

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It has been 12 years of non-orphanhood for me! In my eyes, becoming a mother shatters that term altogether. I finally got the normal I heard so much about. It has not been easy. Everything I wanted for her did not happen as I expected. But I got the up all nights, the lioness protection, the graduations, the crying, the sadness, the pain, and the joy of childhood laughter. For the first time, I found myself playing hopscotch and picnicking in the park. I started to love who I was and was proud of my new lineage. I had photos to hang on the wall, photos that resembled me, the good parts of me. With this new piece of me, I strived to become better. I stumbled a few times, but she helped me believe in myself and improve myself. I am forever in her debt.

For other fellow successful orphans, a strong network of close friends, or animals, or successful relationships, became their family, but the commonality is that we all tried to rebuild what many people took for granted. While my girl cannot be my only grounding, which I’m learning painfully as she gets older, I finally have let myself become more vulnerable to a deeper adult relationship and a sense of not being alone. I may even have another child or let someone lift ME up when I need it. For this orphan, that is a huge feat.  After all, what I want my daughter to see, and other former foster children to see, is that Batman or not, every orphan has the opportunities to find success amidst the ruins of our childhood enemies.

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It’s My Party-Celebrations and Foster Children

2002, NY. Pregnant with my mini me and glowing!
2002, NY. Pregnant with my mini me and glowing!

Today is my Mini Me’s 12th birthday. Her big blue eyes have been rolling all week, because I dragged out baby pictures left and right all week. Mini me sighs heavily, simply because a  recollection of our connection, is already very real to her. For children in foster care, this day of birth comes with a painful clause in small writing. It is a reminder that their personal past has been erased or deleted. It is a reminder of  a history often long gone or wrought with pain.

Birthdays are a celebration of life, it is a mark of importance of the child to his or her family.  Foster children have been abused, neglected, or lived with a parent with addictions who is gone, and so this validation of importance is not fed.  The violent, or tragic separation or abandonment, of children by their parent or both parents rings loudly on this day. A connection to the happy event of their birth is often not ever born or shared with them. Generally, the day is wrought with mystery, confusion, or even memories of physical pain.

Continue reading It’s My Party-Celebrations and Foster Children

Handle with Care: Time to Step Up

In 2013, the state of Texas was startled to see the number of children’s deaths in foster care rise. The state passed legislation this month demanding regulations and oversight of foster homes. It includes stipulations that frequent home visitors be assessed, community relationships be monitored , that work, finances and mental health issues be looked at before children are placed in temporary homes. Some of these basic ideas are truly monumental. My hope is that other states jump on the bandwagon.

Me, a year after entering foster care.
Me, a year after entering foster care.

Several states have lost control of public and private sector social service systems that literally leave kids out in the cold. Florida felt the heat after two foster children who were unknowingly missing for several years, turned up dead. They suffered years of abuse from parents who continued to take stipends for their care after their deaths. New York, Texas, California, Florida, Alabama have all had very public tragedies unfold. In some states, “lower” level sex offenders have been found taking in foster children.

Very few states have made it officially unlawful to even place children in the care of parents whose spouse/boyfriend/son/daughter are sex offenders. What does this reabuse already do to weakened foster children?
The truth is the system is overwhelmed. With nearly 400,000 children officially in foster care in America, solid families are few and far between . The New York Times reported on a homeless foster child this winter living in and out of shelters in NYC. Her story is nothing new, but it was a startling piece on a loss of childhood. Displaced foster children are the face of homelessness in America. It is a distressing trend. They live on cots next to offenders, violent criminals, the mentally ill in some cases. And they are CHILDREN.

Children are put in foster care due to physical/sexual abuse, neglect, or because of a parent’s drug addiction. The intent is for the child to be temporarily placed until they can be reunited with a biological relative or rehabilitated parent. Oftentimes, that reunion doesn’t happen and children are shuffled from home to home.

I was put in foster care at age 5 after I was found locked and hidden in my mothers-basement abused, not fed, unable to walk or speak. I was found with other siblings who were also abused and left like dogs to rot in the dark. While my experiences were painful, they helped me grow into a better person. And more able to appreciate the chance to be a mother and have a relative/family of my own. They make me love stronger: I know the value of my life because I was nearly robbed of it.

I saw the shuffling of kids in and out of the system. Some are probably still on the street. Some are dead, some are in jail, but others are very successful. Some found their rock in foster care, had a school mentor, were successfully adopted or somehow left their ghosts behind.

Abused children are sometimes at risk for reabuse. Without the protection of a solid foundation they are often left flailing in the wind. While foster care is intended to be a refuge from instability; neglect, violence, sexual abuse, starvation, torture and even murder happen in foster care here in the United States. Sadly abuse happens even more so in biological homes.
Continue reading Handle with Care: Time to Step Up