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My Fault?
My mother blames me for our family breaking up
K.O.
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When I was 11, my mom started working and I was put in charge of my younger siblings. My mom worked at a restaurant at night and would leave for work around 4 or 5 p.m. I was to make sure the house stayed clean, cook, and do the laundry.

My baby sister was just a few months old when my mom started working. She was attached to me ever since she was born. I loved to feed her and hold her. So once she got a little older, she was not able to sleep if I wasn’t by her side. I’d let her sleep with me in my bed so she wouldn’t wake up crying in the middle of the night.

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My other sister, Karen, who was just two years younger than me, was the rebellious one. She didn’t like to listen to me when I told her to do something. I would tell her to wash the dishes and she would start screaming or go lock herself in her room or just ignore me. We had many arguments.

My two brothers, Christian and Kelvin, were easy to handle. As long as they were able to watch cartoons or play their video games they’d do anything I told them.

At first I didn’t mind taking care of my brothers and sisters and doing the chores. But after a while I started to hate being the oldest because I had all the responsibilities. I also thought my mother was being unfair because I would ask her for permission to go out with my friends and she wouldn’t let me.

Sometimes, after she’d told me I could go out, she would disappear the whole day and leave me with the kids. I had no idea where she was. I would try to call her but she didn’t pick up. Sometimes she would listen to my voicemail and call back, telling me she was on her way home, or that she’d be coming soon. But she usually didn’t. She would leave money so I could buy food and wouldn’t come back until the next morning when we went to school.

One morning after I sent Karen and Christian to school, I started calling my mom on her cell phone and, as usual, she didn’t pick up. I was frustrated because I had to go to school with my other brother and I had a school trip that day. But I couldn’t leave home because I didn’t want to leave my baby sister alone. I didn’t know what to do. I was in the 6th grade, school started at 8:20, and it was already 9 a.m. My mother was nowhere to be found. Tears kept coming out of my eyes. I hated my mother at that moment.

At 9.30 I left my sister sleeping in her crib, and my brother and I went to school. On my way to school I was nervous, thinking about my little sister being alone. Once I got to school all my classmates were getting ready to leave on the trip and I started crying. My teacher asked me what was wrong, and I told her I had left my baby sister alone and I was scared for her.

Made to Lie

They sent me to the principal’s office and called Child Protective Services (CPS) on my mom, but my mom was already home when CPS got there and she denied everything. When I got home, my mom was angry at me for getting her in trouble and she made me tell the CPS worker that I had lied to my teacher so I wouldn’t have to go on the class trip. After that day, I never told on my mom and she never came home later than she had to.

Soon, I started to rebel. I didn’t want to obey my mother anymore. I wanted to hang out with my friends. But my mother wouldn’t let me. I would go out when she wasn’t home, but if I wanted to go out, I had to do it with all my brothers and sisters. Usually I would invite my friends over when my mom wasn’t home so I wouldn’t feel so lonely. Or I would go to the park with friends and take my brothers with me and get home before my mom did.

One day I invited my boyfriend over to the house while my mom was at work, and she came home early and found him there. She was really mad and I was scared. She kicked him out, and after he left she punished me. I had to be on my knees for over an hour.
In the middle of 7th grade, we moved far enough away that I had to change schools. It was harder to see my boyfriend, so I started cutting school to spend time with him. I would go to school once or twice a week, and as time went by, even less than that. Then the school called my mother and told her I wasn’t going.

Since my sister and I went to the same school, the school started calling about me cutting school and about my sister complaining that she wanted to be with her father. My sister used to say my mom beat her just so they would send her to her father. A CPS worker started coming to our house more often. Often the worker would find us home alone, and that would get my mother in more trouble.

My Brother Disappears

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One day my mother went to Staten Island with my younger brother and sister, and she left my other sister, brother, and me home as a punishment. She knew we loved to go to Staten Island to visit our cousins.

I got mad that she would punish us like that. But I also saw it as a chance to see my boyfriend, so I left the house with my brother and sister to see him. My boyfriend lived in a project and outside his building was a small park. My brother wanted to stay there, so I went up with my sister and left him in the park.

At the time my brother was 9 years old and I was 14. My boyfriend wasn’t home, so I rushed back down to the park. But my brother was no longer there.

I felt like my heart was going to come out of my chest. I was so scared thinking that I wasn’t going to be able to find him. I thought about what my mom was going to say if I went home without my brother. I knew she was going to beat me and not let me in until I found him.

After looking for my brother for a long time, I stopped a cop and asked him to help me find him. I described my brother to him and the cop eventually found him on the roof of my boyfriend’s building.

The cop started asking us for information, like my mother’s name, her phone number, and where they could reach her. I was so scared to have my mother know that I’d left the house, so I told them I didn’t know and that she wasn’t home.

He took us to the precinct, and more police kept asking us the same questions over and over. When we didn’t answer, they took us to a CPS building where there were other kids. They kept us there until they found a foster home for us. We weren’t able to go back home with my mother because she had a record with CPS. They kept us in the foster home.

They also took my other younger brother and sister from my mom and put them in a different foster home.

Not All Bad

I felt guilty. I thought I was responsible for my siblings going into foster care. I told my social worker and foster mom that I wanted my other brother and sister to be with us and that my little sister couldn’t sleep without me. My social worker spoke to my foster mom and she agreed to take them. She had enough room for all of us. Two days later they brought them to the foster home.

From what I could see, my mother did everything to get us back. She went to every court hearing and told me that she completed all her parenting classes. But after a year the judge told her that she wasn’t going to get custody of us. That broke my mother’s heart and made me feel like it was all my fault.

My three youngest siblings were given to my stepdad and my other sister was given to her father, just like she wanted. My father was back in Honduras, so I had nobody to take me. I stayed in foster care until I was 18. That year, I had a daughter, so the baby and I moved in with her father.

Sometimes I still blame myself. If I’d done what my mother had told me, none of this would have happened and we might all have stayed together in my mom’s house. My mom reminds me often that it’s my fault we all got separated and that we’re not the family she wants us to be. I feel it was partly my fault, but if she’d spent more time at home, this wouldn’t have happened.

Going into foster care also had its positive side. I started doing better in school. I got to enjoy my childhood, which I felt like my mother took away from me.

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(FCYU-2016-07-21)