FCYU125 cover image See all stories from issue #125, Summer 2016

RK-IL image Get great stories in 'Transition to Adulthood Resource Kit'
ISBN: 9781935552185
Building a Better Life
I want more stability than my parents have

Names have been changed.

This is a very important time for me. I am 16, a junior in high school, and the decisions I make now could pave the road to the life I want. I want to come home from my job to my wife and kids in a great house. I want to be a firefighter or a lawyer and make enough money to buy what I need and what I want.

youthcomm logo

I’m on that road. I have a great girlfriend whom I’d like to marry and have kids with. I’m going to high school and getting good grades. In my free time, I write at Represent and am learning film in a teen film program. I only have one problem: My parents are holding me back.

I don’t live with my parents, but every time I visit, my mother puts me down. It’s her fault I was put into foster care, but she says things like, “If you were home, I bet it would be a lot easier for you to get places in life.” She ignores what I am achieving.

Last year I took the PSAT and got a high score. I got eight letters from colleges. I told my mom and all she said was, “That’s great, but why do you need those papers if you’re not going to college?” She says that I’m too lazy to go to college.

I entered the foster care system when I was about a year old; I don’t really know why. I returned a year later and stayed with my parents until I was 12. In those years at home, I remember my mother putting me down and not praising me when I did well.

In the 2nd grade, I helped a girl who was hurt when nobody else did and took her to the nurse’s office. When I got back to class, the teacher gave me a merit—a chip that acknowledges you for doing something good. I was proud of myself; I told all my teachers and my friends.

I thought my mom was going to be really proud of me, too. When I got home, with the biggest smile on my face, I said, “Mommy, I got a merit today because I helped a girl when she fell.” She took a look at it, looked at me and yelled, “You should be happy because you’re helping someone, not because you got a merit!” She made me clean up the yard and pull up all the weeds that were growing next to the fence. I cried myself to sleep that night because I thought my mom was mad at me for being happy.

Hungry for Praise

When I was 12, my mom hit me because I came home late, even though I’d been at the library doing homework. Again, it seemed like my doing well made her angry. Isn’t doing homework supposed to make your parents happy?

After that I ran away, and I kept running away until Child Protective Services (CPS) removed me from the home and placed me with my godmother. I was with her for two years, but then I got really depressed. When I was 13, I told my godmother I wanted to kill myself and she took me to a mental hospital called Holliswood. My social worker told me that I was going to be there for only a week or two, but I was there for two months because CPS didn’t have anywhere else to put me.

Holliswood helped me find coping skills to deal with my depression. I did music, drawing, reading, and basketball there. Before, I just thought of these as things I did, but the hospital staff showed me I could use them to calm down or bring up my mood. At the hospital, we would play pickup basketball games. People cheered me on and said I had a lot of talent. It felt great to hear people tell me I had a skill.

My mom and my dad didn’t tell me that doing things I enjoy could make me feel better. They didn’t praise me. When I’d ask my mom to watch me play ball, she’d say she had better things to do.

Most confusing of all, my mom tells me to lie. When I first went into care, I wanted to come home, and my mom said, “You know you could be home right now, don’t you? All you have to do is tell the CPS people that you lied about me hitting you.” I countered angrily that I didn’t want to lie. I often get upset thinking about this. How does she think it’s OK to abuse me, then tell me to lie about it?

Singing in the Shower

After the hospital I was briefly placed into two different foster homes. Then I moved to my current foster home, where I’ve lived with Marta Reyes for three years. Ms. Reyes is my mom—notice how I didn’t say foster mom, but mom. She encourages me and praises me. She teaches me things like how to sing in the shower, and the way to comb my hair so my hairline won’t recede.

My mom, Ms. Reyes, gives me all the support I could possibly ask for. When I tried out for the basketball team, she told me there was no way I wouldn’t make the team. She watches me play at the park across the street and notices how often the other guys pass me the ball.

Ms. Reyes also helps if I have a problem with my birth parents. Once I got into an argument and screamed into the phone, “Go to hell, Mom—I don’t need you!”

Ms. Reyes asked, “D, what happened? Why are you speaking to your mother like that?”

image by YC-Art Dept

Exhausted, I replied, “Because my mom said that you only want me because of the check that you get every month and that she wanted me for me and not the money.”

“D, you know I love you and I want to adopt you but the agency has a lot of benefits for you; they help you get an apartment, they pay for your college, and your driver’s license,” Ms. Reyes explained with a smile.

I believe that she loves me to the max and truly feels that I will have a better life if I get the benefits of being in foster care. She tells me she cares and that she believes in my dreams and goals. She says that I will be something when I grow up.

Another time I came home from school crying hard. I tried to walk past Ms. Reyes because I didn’t want to talk about it, but she stopped me. “D, what happened?”

“Tanya broke up with me because she thought that I was messing around with different girls,” I sighed.

“D, I know that you didn’t have time to mess with other girls. If Tanya really loves you she won’t let you go,” my mom replied. I stopped crying after that. I felt that she was right, and she was. The next day Tanya and I made up. Tanya said she missed me, and she is still my girlfriend.

Divided Loyalties

Even though we’re close now, it took me a while to get comfortable with Ms. Reyes. At first I acted like I had in the other foster homes; I ran away, acted out, and stole. I acted on impulse, taking things I knew I couldn’t have and then getting bored with them really fast.

But even when I was misbehaving, Ms. Reyes didn’t give up on me. As I got to know her, I grew closer to her and started to feel like I was finally home. Ms. Reyes included me in all family activities with her daughter, my sister Caroline, like barbeques and trips to the water park. She treated me like her own.

When I feel depressed, she takes the time to listen to my problems. After I’d lived there for about a year, I told her about the problems with my mom. My sister was in the living room watching TV, and Ms. Reyes was sitting in the kitchen on her phone. I walked in and said, “Mom, can I talk to you? I really don’t have anyone else to talk to.”

She put her phone down and said, “What is it, D?” I didn’t feel comfortable speaking about my problems; I never had before. When I tried to talk to my birth mom about something that bothered me, she’d say she didn’t give a damn about my feelings. So talking to my foster mom was something new, and it was hard. At last, I just let it out in one big sigh. “I told my mom that I get $150 a month from the agency, and she thinks that I should give her the money because she needs it to feed my little brothers and sister.”

“D,” my mom said, “The money that I give you every month is for you, not your mom.” She then said angrily, “That money belongs to you. She has no right to ask for money because she gets a check from the government to feed the kids.”

Before, I was afraid to open up with anyone because I didn’t want to make my birth mom sound like a criminal. I didn’t want Ms. Reyes to think my mom was bad. When I finally opened up, she got mad because she felt that my mom was doing me a great injustice, and I realized she was right.

She lets me visit my mom, but she thinks it’s better if I don’t. I think she may be right. I go over there once every few weeks, and I come back all messed up from my birth mom putting me down.

Like Tetris

Ms. Reyes taught me that things can get better with kindness. For example, freshman year, I hated this kid Angel who messed with me for no apparent reason. So I decided to take my mom’s words and put them to use. I treated him kindly and offered him my leftovers when I didn’t feel hungry. I included him in group activities with my friends. He stopped being mean to me, and now he is my best friend.

Because of Ms. Reyes, I am excelling in school for the first time since entering foster care. When I got to high school, I was a timid little fellow, but then I met friends and opened up to teachers. I was lost about how to get a job so I went to one of my teachers. He told me that I needed a résumé and medical forms that say that I am qualified and fit to work.

I used to think that everything was just going to work out, like a circular gyro puzzle that falls into place on its own. But life is more like Tetris—the pieces drop down to you, but you have to build the rows. I realized that I had to take the opportunities presented to me and build on them.

My birth parents hold me back not just by putting me down, but also by providing a bad example. My dad wants to be a bus driver, but doesn’t even have a driver’s license. My mom wants to be a child therapist, but they do nothing to achieve their goals. Neither of them finished high school and they don’t go for their GED.

I want to be more mature than they are. My birth parents don’t have plans for the future. They just live in the moment. This makes me work harder to go to college and build a strong foundation for my life by making the right decisions now. I’d like to help my parents when I grow up, but I need my structure to be strong before they lean on it.