Tag Archives: women

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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Isn’t She Lovely? Lighter Lasagna

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Often lasagna is like  a beautiful Italian woman in a tight red dress. She may look like a siren, but she may be good for you too.  Italians are known for overdoing it. We are impulsive, impetuous, extreme, but passionate. In the kitchen our personality is in full force all the time. Nothing is off-limits.

The new year is about shedding many things. In an attempt to embrace a new life.. ..I also let go of the calories and fat in my traditional Christmas Eve lasagna. Basically anything that does not add to your lasagna, needs to be left out. Sounds simple but it does wonders.

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Motherless Daughters and Womanhood

As a child in foster care, nothing was worse than seemingly meaningless holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. As an elementary school girl, being forced into making empty family trees and pottery gifts brought the sting of unworthiness and a not-belonging that was at times difficult.

Me. the year I entered foster care.
Me. the year I entered foster care.

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 children who were also abused. I did have adopted parents for a few short years, but they both died a couple of years after the adoption.

So for me, as a child, the idea of “parenting” was elusive. I heard stories and complaints about tough parents from friends. My friends complained about rules, regulations, bad marriages and the usual identity crises of my female friends with their mothers. To me, it was a foreign land.

Having a past that is strewn with missing links can make becoming a woman feel like a bad carnival ride. Lines are long and the scenery is dizzying.

Through years of mandated court visits with my mother, I found myself finally at age 10, studying her for those few quick moments with her. She was so mysterious to me. She was a violent woman, she was a neglectful woman, she had allowed abuses against me and other children. But she was always smiling and playing the part of victim during those visits. Her skin, her hands, her hair were like looking in a fast forwarded mirror. It was challenge not to feel a hatred and love or pity for this elusive woman who was so transient and confusing. I cared for her but feared her.

It was hard to catch up to my idea of her. Once she vanished for good, my young mind created fantasies of her. Maybe she was some lost, desperate soul who really thought the world of me, if only she could get past things that happened to her? If only. But truth is, that following year she was long gone, and at some point so was the fantasy of her, or of a father or male figure. And so I navigated alone and sometimes the compass I used was shaky at best.

I identified myself with friends’ parents, only to sometimes feel the sting of jealousy when I could see I was not truly apart of their circle. I did identify myself with other women, foster sisters, and again found myself as a person apart from them. Without sharing the same childhood or environment it was hard to build a deeper connection. Their influences though, were invaluable to me.

As I got older, it was easy to fall into place in lover’s families. I was always the first to attach to someone’s mother, more so than the man who shared my bed. I reveled in this idea of motherhood, womanhood, long before I was a mother or a woman. I found it intoxicating. This idea of steadiness, of sometimes craziness, this idea of protectiveness; it was foreign to me. It was also the driving force of many dreams.

Me and my mini me, 2013
Me and my mini me, 2013

Becoming a mother to me was the pinnacle of these hidden wishes. Looking at mini me’s face when she was born gave me a purpose. It was not just the purpose of creating a life, it also gave me some type of lineage; a source of pride instead of pain. I finally had someone who looked like me, someone who would feel that sense of protection,love, discipline, fairness from me….just as I had sought as a child.

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Midday Cravings: A Better Brunch

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Anyone who knows me, knows I prefer a lazy brunch to a harried early morning feast. A hot cup of coffee, a good old fashioned newspaper, and a lazy late morning brunch…thats me! The Italian in me prefers a brunch or late afternoon meal to late feasts. I need the whole day to work off my indulgences.

This is a very simple but healthy weekend fix that me and mini me adore. Some Italians call it a bulls eye.. It has so many names.. I just call it heaven.

I use a whole grain bread with a cleverly crafted center cut out (usually with the bottom of a glass). You can dip the bread in egg and milk, but here we did not because I made the bread and really wanted the flavor to shine through. I use some butter ( real butter) and slowly brown the bread on both sides adding some salt, pepper and oregano. I then crack an egg in the center, lower the heat and cover the pan.

Once the egg starts to cook, I flip over the egg and bread and add roasted red peppers or artichokes. Easy, simple and full of protein, fiber and omega 3s.

A perfect brunch, almost. Perfection is some jazz music and a nice mimosa on the side! Then off to a farmers market for our next fix.. Now that is my ideal day. Enjoy!!

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This work by menaanne.wordpress.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.