Tag Archives: children and family

The Ties That Bind: Motherless Mothering

“I am sorry I was born and caused you so much pain.” The scribbling in my old dusty notebook brought back an old familiar pain, long forgotten and buried in the rubble of my foster sister’s basement. As an introspective young girl and a bit of a loner, I filled notebook after notebook with endless internal observation. My private thoughts were not entirely meant to be private. Someday I hoped to hand them to my mother, who I was taken from at 5 and saw sporadically through my elementary school years. I never had that chance. In 2004, holding my own newborn daughter in my arms, I was told my mother died years before and did not want me notified. In my daughter’s big blue eyes, I found a solace that notebook never brought me. Motherhood closed the door on most of the past, but not all.

Me and my girl.
Me and my growing mini.

The day I found out I was pregnant with my mini me, I sat in my car crying alone before I called anyone with the news. Fear, excitement, nervousness washed over me. What would she look like, a relative? I knew none. I never even saw a baby photo of myself: What mysteries would my genes bring? Would I know how to be a mother? I never really saw one for very long. Before having my daughter, I envied my friends families with their normal family struggles and battles. Their photos on the wall. Their smiling parents at games, graduations, their shared expressions, their family fights, and their tangled emotions. I was envious but just carefully observed. Now, with this new person growing inside me I had the chance to see myself in someone else. I had the chance to undo the past and bring a loved person into the world.

Anytime the umbilical cord is snapped, unnaturally broken, or tethered, the child on the other end suffers. The world seems so large and life feels so alone. As a foster child, the disconnect and mystery surrounding my young life appeared in every friendship, relationship, failure, success, happiness, or sadness.

Continue reading The Ties That Bind: Motherless Mothering

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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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What’s in a Name: Fostering Identity

 

Me and Mini me
Me and Mini me

When my daughter was born, I studied her face. It was in her little eyelashes and wide forehead that I searched desperately for a piece of me. I had and still have never seen an infant photo of myself and I was curious that my “first” biological relative would resemble me, a trait I had never witnessed. Over the years, the lack of relation that foster care emphasized, impacted me in different ways. Family trees that were empty, medical appointments with an empty page, the albeit odd tale every time I met someone new. A feeling of aloneness in the universe that nothing seemed to fill. The somewhat jealousy over friends’ family ties, positive and negative. The relentless search for identity through older men who generally wanted a flashy confused girl on their arm and not much more. So finally, here was mini me..the tie I wanted, the bond, the answer, the connection I needed. A big piece of a foster child’s personal history is always missing, regardless of bonds with siblings that come and go, or later, lovers and spouses. Adopted children do feel something similar, I imagine, but when you have also have a disconnected or abusive connection to some biological family, that estrangement is doubly confusing. It was one wave of delirium after another. But identity is not just in appearance, or a link in appearance though if you think about it, that is how we recognize connection. I was adopted eventually, and my adoptive parents died soon after. My identity was always changing it seemed, as was my name. Continue reading What’s in a Name: Fostering Identity

Not All I Can Give

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Me and Mini me starting off the New Year right and cold!! I love seeing her little smile as we squish a new friend in between us down the hill. Seeing mini me’s face light up makes the world feel right. I am so blessed.

This new year started off surrounded by people I love and by new people I had never met. While the holidays are generally a mix of gratefulness and a looking back for me, I took careful stock of the smiling faces on New Years Eve. It gave me hope for deeper love in my life. Resolving to love and live better, I opted to assess what I have in my life and what I need. This churning of ideas and desires in my head can be overwhelming. Realizations sometimes come to me at odd hours. I am still sometimes a scared little girl awake when the sun is still hiding. At other times, I am a woman of great strength, great passion and quite charming. This is a part of me I need to see more.
With the temperatures at an all time low, I think of the thousands of children who may not have the warmth of inner strength to draw upon. Stories of young foster children stuck in cold city shelters plagued me this holiday season. My gratefulness for the chances I have had as a former foster child, and the warmth I have in my life now as an adult, builds me up in confusing times.
My resolve this year is to tap into the reserve of strength I have and impart that strength on others rather than let ghosts of the past blur my vision or block my path.
Selflessness is the only way to feel alive, whether it be selflessness as a parent, mentor, advocate, teacher, friend, lover or artist. It is all a giving. This new year I need to take less and give more.